By Greg Carlson
Moviemaker Dan Glaser makes his feature-length debut with “Pinching Penny,” a locally created labor of love that will be screened at the Fargo Theatre on Sunday, September 26 at 2pm. Glaser shared some thoughts on the movie with Greg Carlson.
High Plains Reader: When did you know you wanted to make movies, and how did the idea for “Pinching Penny” originate?
Dan Glaser: Well, I actually started out as an actor. I must’ve done that for six or seven years before moving over to filmmaking. After my first year of college, I wanted to make the jump from theatre to film acting. So I took myself out of school and set out writing and directing a few short projects to try to get together a reel of myself as an actor before heading out to L.A.
What sprouted from that was the realization that what I really wanted to do was to make films and not simply act in them. The idea for “Pinching Penny” first came about while I was doing research on how to go about making an indie feature. I read that you should always make your first film a provocative one. Because even in the event that people hate it, they’d still remember it.
“Penny” was my attempt at a sort of raucous, unapologetic film. It was also an attempt to try and capture what makes a crime/dark comedy flick work (the guns, the girls, the violence), but throw in things I’d never seen done before. Try to subvert some of the tropes of the genre. I also wanted to do a substance abuse film that wasn’t about the usual suspects, namely drugs or sex. Thus the idea to have someone become addicted to consumerism. The drugs definitely make an appearance, but more as a backdrop with which I could compare the main character’s material obsession.
HPR: From start to finish, how long did it take to complete the movie?
DG: The project from idea to first draft took from mid-November of 2008 to early February of 2009, but the script continued to be refined from then up until production. A few scenes were even rewritten on the day of shooting to cut length or solve problems. We cast the following April, and held a few initial read-throughs and costume fittings between then and the start of principal photography. I worked the most with Steven Molony, Timothy J. Meyer and my sister Ginny before the shoot, since they were the actors who had to carry the bulk of the film.
Steven and Timothy and I did a lot of dialect work during that period as well. I think Tim actually watched “Trainspotting” two times a day for two weeks before the start of production to get the Scottish brogue down. We started shooting on August 7th and got the last of our pick-ups on September 22nd. I had the assembly edit done five days after that. I think that version ran two hours and twenty-three minutes. We cut around fifty minutes since then. We then traveled to L.A. and got it scored and the sound mixed professionally, wrapping post-production on June 18th of 2010. So from conception to completion, the process took approximately a year and eight months.
HPR: As a first-time feature director, you elected to wear many hats, including writer, producer, editor, casting director, location manager, dialect coach, colorist, and even sometime camera operator. Now that you have a project like this under your belt, do you plan to take on the same amount of responsibility on your next feature?
DG: Haha, absolutely not! I mean, it was an extremely beneficial learning experience and I’m glad to have done it. I think it’s given me a larger understanding of the inner workings of filmmaking as a whole and a respect for all of those positions that I don’t know I’d have otherwise. But I think it’s just too much responsibility for one person to handle if they don’t have to.
Most directors who started off independently will tell you there’s no way to get your first feature made without wearing most if not all of those hats yourself. But filmmaking is very much a collaborative art, and I’m really looking forward to delegating more on the next feature. It’ll benefit the film to have more people putting in their creativity. I’ll be allowed to turn more of my focus on directing and all of our collective ideas will push us to tell the best possible story that we can, in the most interesting and efficient way that we can.
HPR: Stylistically, “Pinching Penny” brings to mind movies like “Trainspotting” and the work of directors like Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino. What were some of the influences during the writing and shooting phases of production?
DG: “Trainspotting” was definitely a big one in terms of getting the ball rolling with “Penny,” as were the films of Tarantino as a whole. I piggybacked on a few of Ritchie’s ideas in “RocknRolla” that I was interested in seeing pushed further, and our ragtag ensemble is definitely a riff taken from Ritchie’s “Snatch,” as well as “Smokin’ Aces,” Joe Carnahan’s pastiche of Ritchie’s work. The Coen Brothers are also a huge inspiration for me, and their films definitely influenced the tone of the script. As far as visually, we took our cues from all over the place: the aforementioned films and filmmakers of course, but also the early work of Stephen Soderbergh, David Fincher and Darren Aronofsky.
The indie noir “Brick” by Rian Johnson was probably the most prevalent visual cue I drew from for the cinematography, as I saw it for the first time in the thick of pre-production. The low-budget sci-fi flick “Primer” was also a large influence on the visual aesthetic. But what was so thrilling about the project was that it started off as this sort of cluster of cues and ideas drawn from films that had really affected me, and through collaborating with the actors and the crew, it became more and more a film that stood on its own. It sort of organically took off from its roots and grew into something not of other films and filmmakers, but of our own. So at the end of the day, I’d like to think it’s got plenty of us jammed in there as well.
HPR: With the marginal exception of kidnap victim Penny, all the principal characters in the movie are, to some degree, dysfunctional – especially protagonist Alex, whose mania for material possessions exposes a grim, abusive, and oftentimes repugnant personality. Describe the ways in which you tried to invest the viewer in such a gallery of amoral figures.
DG: During post-production I saw “The Asphalt Jungle,” wherein each character embodies an individual vice. It struck me while watching that where I originally set off to make a cautionary tale strictly about consumerism, I think we instead made a film that examines vice as a whole. For Alex, that vice is greed. For Murphy, gluttony. For Teddi, lust. Even the side characters branch off into their separate vices of drugs, pride, power, fear, control, violence, etc. I’d even argue that Penny’s vice is falling for the criminal, with the full knowledge that it could possibly end badly for her. I’d love to claim this was something we had in our heads when we started shooting, but it’s rather something of a happy accident that we then tried to nurture during the later stages of working on the project.
As far as how we sought to invest the viewer in such lowlife characters, I’d have to say that I was really relying on the fact that everyone to an extent actually does have their own vice. We may not be as wicked or as exaggerated in our guilty pleasures as the characters in “Penny.” But we can find some sense of identification in the stylized and somewhat lampooning portrayal of them. In that regard we tried to approach “Penny” as a kind of farce, even in the way that we have the cast of characters billed at the forefront of the film, and a kind of curtain call afterwards. We just treated it as a particularly dark farce… one that loses its humor as the characters dig themselves in deeper. We wanted to take farfetched ideas and play them straight, trying to ground them in a gritty and desperate realism.
HPR: Following the public screening at the Fargo Theatre, what is next for “Pinching Penny”?
DG: During post-production we partnered with the two L.A. production companies, Stand Media and Black Satellite Entertainment. Black Sat is currently negotiating a distribution deal for us. So if all goes well, you’ll be able to purchase your copy of “Pinching Penny” this January at any major seller. Until then, see it this Sunday the 26th at 2pm on the big screen at the wonderful Fargo Theatre. Thanks so much for the support and we’ll see you there.
If You Go
What: “Pinching Penny”
Where: Fargo Theatre
When: Sun, Sept 26, 2pm
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