Last week, a member of the National Association of Film Critics conducted an interview with the director, writer, producer, and star of the independent film A Legacy of Whining, Ross Munro as part of our initiative to highlight independent film.
- What inspired you to get into filmmaking?
Like a lot of filmmakers, I grew up a movie rat- basically spending my movie-addled childhood in the various (now disappeared) movie theatres of my city Winnipeg, every Saturday. Sometimes I’d get there at noon and end up stumbling bleary-eyed out of the lobby and onto the darkened streets after I’d sit through a feature 3 times only to start dreaming of coming back the following Saturday. This craziness basically sealed my fate as a future filmmaker.
- What filmmakers would you say were your greatest sources of inspiration and who had the greatest influence on your filmmaking style?
I was heavily influenced by the New Hollywood directors of the 1970’s- in particular Francis Ford Coppola (will any filmmaker ever have a more impressive run of four films than The Godfather 1 and 2, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now…?), Scorsese and any films from that era starring the immortal Charles Bronson and Burt Reynolds. Later, I was able to find my way to the films of Fellini and especially the latest German directors like Herzog, Wenders and Fassbinder.
- What are your five favorite films?
Apocalypse Now, Citizen Kane, Slap Shot, Sunset Blvd., and Taxi Driver. Apocalypse Now is number one on my list of all time faves because the film comes across as a filmmaker’s last stand- the work of someone at a major personal and artistic crossroads who spares nothing while throwing everything he has at the screen in a last ditch passion project. In Coppola’s words, “the film isn’t about Viet Nam- it was Viet Nam!”.
- Which filmmaker currently working in Hollywood do you admire most?
Apologies to PT Anderson, probably Quentin Tarantino. We were both born in 1963 and grew up being obsessed with movies and I love the kinetic energy he brings to his films and how he’s able to take readily available genres but always adds his little touches that somehow make the movies seem wholly original. I also love how his films are always released as major events much in the way that audiences always eagerly anticipated a new David Lean or Hitchcock picture.
- Tarantino has many excellent films and the topic of which is his best is often hotly debated. What is your opinion on the matter?
With apologies to “Jackie Brown”, Tarantino’s most mature film, I still stand by “Reservoir Dogs” as my favorite QT joint. The machine gun, tough guy dialogue combined with the violent noir-ish structural mind bending announced to the world that there was a new cinematic sheriff in town. All of his present and future motifs all hit the screen running in this homage to hard-boiled heist flicks that always yields new pleasures upon repeated views.
- You wrote, directed, produced, and starred in A Legacy of Whining, quite the undertaking. What was the most rewarding role?
Even though I took great pleasure in writing and directing, I think the most rewarding role for me was actually taking a large acting part in Whining- it was my first time acting in a film and the adrenaline and challenge of chewing off so much was both terrifying and challenging. Wasn’t sure I’d pull it off but nothing’s gained without a lot of sweat and tears. I definitely couldn’t have pulled it off without the stabilizing forces of my wife Maria (who was the producer/art director/costume designer) and cinematographer Ron Heaps.
- How does directing yourself as an actor differ from directing other actors?
What worked for me was knowing that my success as an actor while being the director meant that I had to put a lot of preparation into all my directing choices well before I arrived on set. For instance, all the directorial choices regarding the look of the film would be dealt with in advance with the excellent crew we had- the cinematographer, art director, etc., because I knew my main focus was going to be on my own performance as an actor while on set. This also meant that I had to work with all the actors in advance as well to address any questions/ideas they had about their characters- and then I just let these talented people loose to do their thing when the cameras rolled.
- What lessons did you learn from the experience of directing your first film, Brewster McGee, and how did you apply them in A Legacy of Whining?
With my first feature “Brewster McGee”, I really threw myself into the fire while I was directing that film and for the first part of shooting my main goal was to survive- but as the shoot progressed I was finally starting to feel comfortable in the moment and actually start to feel that I could enjoy the process and because of that I was able to be a lot more confident in my directing abilities by the time my next feature A Legacy of Whining rolled around. Also, I felt much more in my skin being able to feel good about being a leader amongst the cast and crew I had on Whining as opposed to the moment by moment anxiety of being thrown into the deep end of directing Brewster.
- How would you describe your directorial style?
I would say I’m a cross between Sergei Eisenstein and Michael Cimino…but, seriously, I don’t think I’ve been able to indulge in a visual sense with my two features “Brewster” and “Whining”- I really look forward to growing in that regard with my future projects. However, I would say that the one trait I’ve been able to develop as a writer/director has been my love of creating (hopefully) interesting characters and relationships through comedic dialogue. I’ve always been inspired by classic 1970’s buddy films like “Midnight Cowboy”, “The Odd Couple” (I know- they are both technically from 1969) and “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”.
- You’ve made a number of short films in addition to your two features. Can you tell us about the differences between directing and writing for short films and for feature length films.
Regarding the differences in writing, oddly enough I feel it’s a little tougher to write for shorts as you have to be much more concise in your story and characters as you only have a shorter time to say what you want to say. Conversely, a feature script gives you the luxury of being more expansive with regards to developing characters and storylines. As for directing either, obviously the time to actually shoot the films differ immensely with the shorts involving less time but requiring more intensity while, perhaps, with a feature you can slowly works towards finding a great momentum and rhythm as you build through the longer shooting period.
- What’s your process for writing a film?
I usually buy a notebook that I dedicate to my new script and keep compiling ideas, characters, plot points, various scenes, script notes of all sorts. Then when I feel I’ve got many of the basic structural story elements and scenes fairly mapped out I then proceed to writing the first draft of my screenplay on the computer. I usually go to my favorite coffee shop, plug in and write for about 4-5 hours a day. If I’m on a roll I might get five completed pages but I don’t sweat it too much if I don’t make a “quota”. I also put on headphones and try to listen to music appropriate to inspiring the particular theme or genre of the screenplay I’m working on. For example, I’ve been writing a screenplay about a 1950’s small town rock n roll band so, while working, I’ve been cranking out lots of Chuck Berry and Elvis (that Apple Music subscription is really starting to pay off…)
- Would you be interested in directing feature length films that you did not write?
Absolutely- do you have a script for me? Seriously, I would welcome the challenge of interpreting someone else’s script and finding the essence of their story and trying to honor that material by bringing it to life as the director.
- What about writing a screenplay for someone else to direct?
That’s a no brainer for me- I’d love someone else to direct a screenplay of mine. I’ve even written a couple with the idea that they were going to be made by other filmmakers. It actually feels liberating to think that another director could direct it- I wrote one specifically with the fantasy of having Terry Gilliam take on the helming duties. Terry, if you’re out there reading this….
- What are some challenges to indie filmmakers that a general audience might not know exist?
Basically, one of the biggest challenges is always money- it can greatly impact so many things from how long you can shoot for, the look of your film, etc. Another challenge is that when you’ve finished preparing, shooting, and completing your film you tend to be rather exhausted but you have no time for recovery as you now must undertake the mammoth and never-ending journey of marketing and exposing your film to any and all opportunities including distribution, film festivals, social media branding. You really have to have the passion because you really are in it for the long haul that’s for sure.
- How do you secure budgets for your films?
Let’s just say I don’t have as much plasma in my body as I used to…but seriously- so far all the films I’ve been involved in making have been privately financed. We’ve always used our own money which has been extremely arduous at times but sometimes that was the only way to move forward with our projects. If anyone out there reading this wants to contribute to our next movie…well, you get it.
- Tell us about your experiences on the festival circuit.
We were very fortunate to have our short documentary film “Broken Palace” make the rounds of some major film festivals- premiering at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2014. It was an exciting opportunity as we really got to meet a lot of amazing film people, programmers, and, of course, talking with audience members and getting lots of valuable feedback throughout. We also took the film to Palm Springs for the prestigious American Documentary Film Festival where we were able to connect once again with fellow filmmakers and organizers and volunteers. With “A Legacy of Whining”, we played a couple of amazing film festivals before signing with a really dedicated and fast rising independent film distributor out of Los Angeles called Indie Rights who were able to place our film on all major digital platforms as well as working with them on creating our just released Special Edition Bluray/dvd for “Whining” which- rumor has it- is nearly outselling the Instapot on Amazon.com
- Earlier you mentioned a 1950s set idea for a film, can you tell us a bit more about that and about your other upcoming projects?
My producer/wife Maria and I always try to have many projects in various forms of readiness on the go. We are currently developing a couple of features- one about the 1950’s small town rock n roll band called “Downbound Train” as previously mentioned as well as a film featuring a transgender protagonist which was a finalist in last year’s Hollywood Screenplay Contest. Also, we are now in the editing stage of our new short documentary “European Tour ‘73” which focuses on an incident in my family’s past back in 1973. We are very excited to be close to bringing this one across the finish line as our last short doc “Broken Palace” proved a happy success for us as it played many film festivals across North America after premiering at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2014.
- What advice would you give someone thinking about making their first film?
The best advice always has and always will to just go out and do it. You’ve probably watched a lot of movies already (or you wouldn’t want to make the film anyways) so just stop procrastinating and put a pin in the calendar and pick your start date for shooting. And don’t worry that you don’t have experience- you only get good at something by doing it (unless there’s something I’ve missed somewhere). Hey, we all can’t be Orson Welles right out of the gate so just surround yourself with like-minded passionate people and dive right in. Do what you believe in and you can never feel bad about your choices.
- What advice would you give a filmmaker who is already making films?
Just to keep the flames of your passion burning as it’s easy to get frustrated or start questioning yourself in the process of filmmaking- it doesn’t matter how experienced you are as all the doubts and second guessing can seep in. Do your best and stay humble and know that you can always learn and improve even if you’ve won an Oscar or played Sundance.
Thank you for reading! Check out the links below for more information about A Legacy of Whining
Trailer of “A Legacy of Whining”: https://youtu.be/AnEUlrPdfxg
Link to Rent/Own movie on iTunes: http://bit.ly/Whining_iTunes
Link to buy Blu-ray/DVD:
Ross LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rossmunro1/
A Legacy of Whining Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nextoneproductions/