“Nose to Tail stars Aaron Abrams (HANNIBAL, BLINDSPOT) as a talented but abrasive chef struggling mightily with his personal demons and the relentless pressures of running a high-end restaurant. Over the course of one frantic day and night, he faces a rash of private trials and professional tribulations in a desperate bid to beat the odds and save the business that forms the very core of his identity and self-conception.” Director Jesse Zigelstein on NOSE TO TAIL which screens at the 2018 edition of Whistler Film Festival.
Congratulations on your film playing and welcome to the wonder that is Whistler Film Festival! So is this your first time here and are you planning to attend your show?
Yes, this is my first time at Whistler, and I do plan on attending the screening, especially since it’s also the world premiere of the movie.
When was the moment you said to yourself “I want to get into the movie business” and what have you worked on in the past?
I wouldn’t say I had any particular epiphany or eureka moment. I went to film school and afterwards duly held various jobs in the field, on the nonprofit side as well as in the entertainment industry proper, but I’ve always been ambivalent at best about the business end. My primary interest is in cinema as an art form.
So how did this movie come together?
It all came together surprisingly and gratifyingly fast. I finished the script near the beginning of 2017 and attached producers by the fall of that year. In January 2018 we started pre-production, found department heads and some other key crew members. The bulk of casting was done in March, and then we shot the film in Toronto on a very tight schedule over the course of three weeks in April. Editing lasted roughly from June through August. Post-production was largely completed by October. And now here we are presenting the movie to the public at the end of November!
What keeps you going while making a movie? What is your drive?
Caffeine certainly helps, and I should probably drink more water to counteract the dehydrating effects of all the coffee I consume on set. But the most potent stimulant is really just pure adrenaline. Given the conditions of low-budget independent filmmaking, you’re pretty much forced to function at a naturally heightened level of intensity for the duration of the shoot. I also tried to get a healthy amount of rest during production, even though the natural rush you’re riding makes it particularly hard to come down at the end of even really long and arduous days which results in the bizarre but undoubtedly common phenomenon of being utterly exhausted but still so wired that you’re unable to sleep. Hence the need for more coffee and more adrenaline and the cycle starts all over again.
So if you were to pick one moment that you would consider the biggest challenge of making the movie, along with the “a-ha, we GOT it” moment, what would each of those be?
Unseasonably cold weather was a consistent challenge, particularly for the actors who had the misfortune of being underdressed while in character for certain outdoor scenes, and a mid-April blizzard may have been the biggest obstacle, but luckily we had some hardy PAs who were able to shovel away the accumulated snow banks and preserve some semblance of exterior continuity.
As for the “a-ha” moment: at the end of the first week, when the producers came and told me just how many pages we’d managed to shoot in those five days — it was something like 40 in total, about half the length of the entire script — I did suddenly have the sense that we had really “got it,” that everything was coming together and the production would stay on track regardless of whatever other difficulties might arise.
Could we get technical for a second? For my tech-savvy and filmmaking readers, I would love to know about the visual design of the movie and how it was photographed.
The film was photographed in 2K on an Arri Alexa Mini. I’d say that eighty to ninety percent of the camerawork was handheld; the cinematographer, Ben Lichty, is a very steady operator. Ben also employed mainly practical lighting sources that were available at the location, and the film has a predominantly naturalistic look as a result. Since we shot almost entirely in one place, albeit divided into a number of distinct rooms or areas, Ben and I made an effort to ensure there was enough visual variety and diversity of perspectives in the depiction of the space, while at the same time using repeated, rhyming, or only slightly modified setups to create some unobtrusively recurring motifs and patterns, which lend a sense of unity to the overall design. During post we also did a fair amount of colour correction for continuity purposes as well as expressive effects, making subtle tonal adjustments in the palette to reinforce the particular mood we wanted to convey at any given moment.
After your WFF screening, where is the movie going to go next? Theatrical? Online? Any dream screenings or exact theatre in mind?
There are no confirmed playdates beyond Whistler as yet, but naturally I hope the film will have some kind of further life on the festival circuit during 2019. After that, we’ll have to see what other distribution options become available. I’m definitely a proponent of the theatrical experience, so it would be great to get some kind of big-screen release, even of a relatively limited kind. But I’m also aware of the potential for reaching a wide audience online, not to mention the comparatively lower barriers to entry for VOD and/or streaming platforms.
We do have a lot of people out there looking to be inspired and work in the industry in one way or another. What is a piece of advice that you would give to anyone looking to get into the motion picture business?
Don’t let the bastards get you down.
And finally, what is the single greatest movie you have ever seen?
TOUCH OF EVIL from Orson Welles!
This is one of the many movies playing at this year’s Whistler Film Festival. For more showtime information and on the festival itself, point your browser to www.whistlerfilmfestival.com!