Local filmmaker Scout Wise talks about her CPT12 film debut tonight
Though it has been a few years since filmmaker Scout Wise produced her silent film Stan Needs a Maid, the Denver native is proudly part of a group of once-student filmmakers who will be showcasing their work tonight on CPT 12. Now working in the Bay Area as an associate producer on documentary films, Wise credits the UC Denver's film program for giving her the skills and real-life experience she needed to start her career in movie-making.
Comic Nathan Lund plays Stan in Scout Wise's Stan Needs a Maid.
In advance of Stan Needs a Maid's local television debut tonight, Wise talked with Westword about what it takes to make a movie on a student budget and how she landed local comedian Nathan Lund as the lead role in a story loosely based on the filmmaker's own dad.
Westword: Why did you choose to make Stan Needs a Maid a silent film?
A couple of different reasons: when I first got into filmmaking, I read a lot of books about Hitchcock's work. He always said that you should be able to watch film without any sound and be able to understand ninety-percent of what's going on. It's a visual medium, so you should be able to get the story across with mostly pictures. Sound is just sort of an effect that goes into it.
I'm sure a lot of film people would be angry about me saying that -- I know that sound is really important to a film, but it still has to be built around the visual aspect. When I made this film, I was just starting out and I think it is an important exercise to prove to yourself that you can get that principle down and master a story without dialog. Then, you should be able to add it in as something to pull the story forward, as opposed to just filling in a scene.
Ultimately, it was an exercise in seeing if I could pull of Hitchcock's idea. There is one piece of dialog in the whole film.
In addition to all of that, I was just inexperienced and wasn't able to find a good sound person. If you don't have good sound in a film, it totally takes the quality down a lot. I thought, if I just eliminate that part of it, it will up the production value and I'll be able to enjoy my own experiment of, well, can I pull this off? As a filmmaker in college, I had to really think about it like, if I want this to look and sound good, what are the sacrifices I have to make?
I shot Stan Needs a Maid in a period of two days. I knew that the longer it took me to make it, the more the scenes would look different. I mean, it was a student production. I didn't have the personnel to really manage the quality. So I said, we're doing this in two days with $250 worth of props and no sound. Well, I shouldn't say no sound; there is great sound in the film. I just eliminated the dialog. You just have to prioritize the things that really need to come through in the film and cast away all of the stuff that is kind of cool but can't really be pulled off.
I think it is a great exercise for all student filmmakers to look at what they have to work with -- can you shoot at your friend's house? What kind I story can you make with the things and people you have? I think it is great to have ambition and desire to work with effects and sound design, but once you strip all of that stuff away, what you have to work on is your story.
It was something I really struggled with in the editing room -- I couldn't tell if it made sense anymore, you know? When there is no dialog to say anything, you don't have that crutch to rely on. You have to really work hard.
But there is sound in Stan Needs a Maid. There's accordion music and this sort of water droplet sound happening. Outside of the budgetary concerns, how and why did you choose to do what you did with the sound?
I had this idea when I went into it that the soundscape was going to be kind of like punctuations throughout the film. It worked to sort of up the physical comedy. At the very beginning, I knew that Stan would have a very slushy sound when he walked and when he blinked his eyes they would make a wet blinking noise. That was meant to sort of punctuate. If you've ever watched a film without sound effects in it, it feels very one dimensional.
As for the music, the accordion plays with whatever action is going on in the way that you would expect it to if you had your own theme music. It's like having your own walking music, stopping music, eating music -- there are different soundtracks for every piece of your life. That's how the soundtrack plays within the film.