p.m. lipscomb – Emerging Filmmaker Award, Cincinnati Film Society
The Cincinnati Film Society presents The Emerging Filmmaker Award to filmmakers who have presented complete scripts and production plans to create a feature or short film of their genre of choice. The winning script, “Willa’s Peach,” by local filmmaker Patrick Lipscomb, is currently in post-production. Patrick was awarded five hundred dollars, and is the first winner of the annual EFA.
I was able to sit down with Patrick for a bit to discuss filmmaking, how he got started, and what his creative process is. He started off the interview himself by asking me my favorite film, while assuring me that he was just curious and not attempting to make me uncomfortable. Then he shared his favorite.
PML: My favorite film is “A Clockwork Orange”. I actually have it tattooed on my arm. Take a look.
His right upper bicep stares at me with a black and white rendering of Malcolm MacDowell’s face with the contraption to keep his eyelids open.
JL: And is that your favorite scene?
PML: No, actually. That movie was a very important film to me because as my filmmaking evolved, I discovered Stanley Kubrick; all of his pictures, why he made them, how he constructed them. “A Clockwork Orange” came at a time when he had just made 2001: A Space Odyssey. It went millions of dollars over budget and he decided that he was going to show them he could make something for nothing. He ran the camera for the whole picture, for the most part, and that scene that’s on my arm is actually the pivotal moment in the film when music is linked to his mind in a negative way, and art becomes destructive. So there’s this idea behind the picture that you can’t change the human being they are; who they are. And I think that’s when I realized how important that movie really is, and how so much has really evolved since that film was created.
[Patrick] gives a little background on his work situation, and the position he got there was like an unexpected gift from the Universe. Events conspired after the filming of “Everything Will Be Fine” that allowed him to gain an employer who encourages his filmmaking.
PML: I was working in my cousin’s bike shop, this was probably three and a half, four years ago, as a bike mechanic in [the city of] Wyoming, and his bike shop closed down. My friend Jonathan Gaietto and I were sitting around the bike shop emptying it out, and I was telling him that either I could go get a new job, or we can make this new script, which was my film “Everything Will Be Fine.” And we chose to just throw everything to the wind and go on and make it. I ended up having to sell my 500 DVD collection off to get food and gas and certain things during it, but it was such a rewarding experience. A lot of miracles happened during that production. Every film you make you learn so much. For me, I started 4/23/2006. It was the date I decided to be a filmmaker. So from that period of time up to now, which has been 9 years, I’ve made three feature films, 25 short films, and written a bunch of different scripts. And at this particular moment in my life, I had just written a 156 page script that I was looking at and thinking about making, but then I realized I wasn’t ready in the sense of emotionally ready for the material, and wanted to make something shorter. So then I wrote “Everything Will Be Fine.”
JL: But that’s a feature.
PML: [W]when we finished shooting, I was at a point where I had lost a lot of weight, I was really sick, everybody had just given themselves to it, actors moved into the house; it was really a crazy experience. And I ran into a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in years, [and] she told me about her dad needing some help cleaning out a storage unit. It ended up being a room at the church, not a storage compartment. And then during the period of time I was cleaning that out, his cook quit.Delete: Then I got the cook position. It’s kind of crazy how it took place. And then he’s so supportive for me as a filmmaker that he gives me weeks off to go film. And I have benefits, and so I’m able to do all this. So that was how I’d gotten to the preschool from that point, and making that film was really the bridge in a lot of ways. I mean, who knows what would have happened? I don’t have a family unit, so jumping into not having a job, I mean you’re really giving a lot up. There’s a lot of possibility of falling on your face. I don’t think I would do that again, at this point.
JL: Did you study at film school? Which school?
PML: No, actually. What had taken place was, when I was 19, I had gone up to Hocking College. I studied ecotourism there. That’s where you get certified as a scuba diver, rock climber, and those things. A lot of chaos was taking place up there because our landlord had gotten in trouble by the law for something and so our house was being taken, and I didn’t really want to do ecotourism, I was confused. I had some really crazy dream and I woke up and I told my roommate the dream. [W]hen I told him, his reaction was, “You should make movies.” And then I realized, it just like clicked in my head, and I just immediately started writing dialogue that day, which was 4/23. I had no idea where I was going to end up. My dad lived here in Cincinnati, so I ended up in Cincinnati at that point, and shot everything and had it done here.
I used to have a high amount of empathy and I would faint at times, when I was a child. [W]hen I started making films, when I started writing scripts and actually going into that, I was so distracted, because it’s so complex to make a movie, and you’re thinking about so many elements that suddenly it just makes me feel healthy. My childhood was so overwhelming because there was no outlet. Where I was brought up, there were no artists, there was nobody, so I always kind of stood out, kind of drifted from circle to circle trying to figure out what I was doing.
I was going to go to film school, and I applied to American Film Institute, and I was in the process of being accepted, and then I found out that if I was studying the directing program, I would be $123,000 in debt at the end of it, and so, at that point, there was [a] decision. (this is not a complete concept) I think what college does for you is two different things: if you don’t have a drive or you don’t have a passion, it helps you find that, and then another thing it can do is if you don’t have discipline, it helps you create discipline. That’s kind of how I thought about it. If I’m gonna do this, if I’m gonna study on my own, I’m going to create my discipline. And so every week I would just read, and it would be like I was in class. So I’m happy with the decision, and luckily in Cincinnati there’s getting to be more connections and more people getting together.
JL: I did watch the trailer, and from what I’ve seen, you’ve come a long way in 8 years. That’s really, really amazing how well you’ve done.
PML: Thank you.
JL: Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
PML: Well you know, I can tell you where I got the inspiration for the most recent one, “Willa’s Peach.” I was driving in Northside. And I saw an older, 50-something year old woman looking at a little girl leaving a restaurant and she walked out the door. I can tell that she was the mother. And then instantly my imagination took me to, like, me sitting later in the day, and the news, and finding out that that woman had abducted the little girl and it wasn’t really the image. That turned me on, because that made me interested in the idea of that mother/daughter relationship image, and playing with the audience; how we instantly trust that relationship in cinema. So you’re thinking about that character, where is her mind, how did she end up in that predicament, what led her there? David Fincher said that he didn’t know how to create a script, he didn’t know how to see the big scope of a whole film. He only knew intuitively how to direct a scene or sequence, and he was in awe of screenwriters and what they’re capable of. So I really feel that the director really takes those acute details and enhances them. If they’re a great director, they enhance them very well, and they become vibrant and alive, and it’s the smallest details.
PML: What do you think about “Boyhood”? Did you see it?
JL: Didn’t see it.
PML: You should see it. Not for the story. Watch it to feel the human beings change, because that’s what was shocking to me. Not exactly what he had done with that idea, but the effect of it. Because you feel the people really grow. You know how most films can manipulate you into feeling like the character is growing? These people really have changed, and so much has happened to a person in a year, before they shoot the next scene. That was spectacular to feel, and strange. I mean, with the right film, it can be a pretty remarkable thing.
JL: Did you encounter any problems filming at your locations?
PML: There were two or three different moments where we had people from the outside interact with us. For instance, the lead actress was throwing up in the toilet after a very traumatic moment in the film and the other character helps her stand up from the toilet, and he’s embracing her. So in the middle of filming, suddenly the door opens and in comes a guy with four dogs, a homeless guy, or a rougher looking guy with four dogs, and he doesn’t even look at the camera, he doesn’t even…he goes straight past them into it. During all my rehearsals, I film the actors really closely, so I have the camera here [right in my face], and they get in trouble if they look at the camera, and they get really used to it…and they never cut. I never have them cut. So at that point they were so in tune with that, that it just, it’s in the film. And it looks like we…
JL: Like he was an extra.
PML: Yeah. And then when he went out and I cut, I ran and caught up with him, and got him to sign a release form. With the new flick, “Willa’s Peach,” we didn’t have any issues.
JL: So “Willa’s Peach” is already in the can?
PML: Yeah. It’s already shot and right now we’re in the audio phase. I have a 54 minute cut of the film. I’ve been talking to New York Film Festival a little bit and realizing that they look for short features. I think their features are 50 or more, and I’m really hoping that this film we can get into some really big festivals in New York. Another thing, too, this picture, it doesn’t say where it’s based. It feels like a small town, so I shot a lot of places around Cincinnati and then in Blanchester, on a farm. A really spectacular, beautiful, corn farm where all the corn is cut down, but this house and this barn are surrounded by acres. So it looks like this island, just oceans of it.
JL: So you said that it’s done, and in your letter of intent, you wanted to see if it would be a SAG project. Did you get that?
PML: Yeah, it is a SAG. We got Samara Lee, from Foxcatcher. She’s also in the new film with Vin Diesel that’s coming out. It’s not finished yet. We’re going into color and we’re going into sound design and sound mixing. And I’m hoping at the end of April, in the first week, week and a half of May, we’re going to have the Esquire screening of “Willa’s Peach.”
JL: Was EWBF filmed on a digital?
JLL: And you shot “Willa’s Peach” on digital?
JL: So, have you only ever worked in digital?
PML: Yes. The next feature I’m planning, I’m wanting to shoot to a 16 mm. There was a filmmaker that said something about exploring filmmaking through the digital means before taking the time to waste your time and money with wanting to shoot with celluloid, because we can we can utilize that technology today. I’m a strong believer in it doesn’t really matter what camera you use necessarily. It matters what the story is, it matters what the script is. Because the camera is always going to be a part of the aesthetic and figuring out what you need. It’s going to be a different tension, when you say, “Action!” and you know that money is going through the camera. It’s just a different feeling that I’ve never experienced yet.
JL: So the 16 mm is kind of crucial to the next project then?
PML: Yeah, to a certain degree. I’m planning on wanting to shoot half of the film on 16 mm and the other half with a Red Epic. So it’ll help with the budget, and also it’s part of the aesthetic. I want to see those two materials mix and see what that feels like, and so the Red Epic is in the city, and the 16 mm is in the country.
JL: [W]e talked a little bit about “Willa’s Peach,” but what made you choose the topic of child abduction?
PML: I would have to say that the main focus for me with all my films is, I generally will explore areas that frighten me. Something that frightened me about “Willa’s Peach” is your child being abducted. I’ve been working around children for two years now, and so I’ve got these little attachments and friendships with all these kids from three years old to twelve years old. I just suddenly wanted to make a film where I had a six year old girl, an eleven year old girl…just to explore that as a director. I hadn’t really directed children. [T]he largest part for me that interested me about it was getting to see it through the eyes of the child that’s actually been abducted, as opposed to who is affected by it, because child abduction that I’ve seen have always been the parents or whoever.
PML: Well, you know, I don’t take it to a…I’m a very respectful guy, so there’s no sexuality in the film, there’s no…you know, this woman has abducted this little girl for a different reason than most people would abduct children. For me, I want to entertain, and I want to explore something, and perhaps the film makes a dialogue take place with people, and maybe they bring up a story that was shocking, and maybe it gets them an idea from that little girl’s perspective as opposed to just the news’s perspective. So it’s not going to push your buttons too heavy. It’s going to be cinematic and entertaining.
JL: Do you have a favorite place to go in Cincinnati that helps you think, or to just be?
PML: I would free my mind a little bit by driving around really rough parts of Cincinnati, like McMicken and parts of Over-The-Rhine that usually I would never drive down. I just would find myself exploring the idea of who these people are, and kind of how they got to these certain places. A lot of it is that I look at these preschoolers, and I know that not all of them are going to end up in the best places. I have no opinions of who, but I look at these people on the street, and I think, “They were once preschoolers.” For me, it’s all about character before story. They’re human beings, and they’ve made choices. I don’t want to condemn any of them. Just like I don’t want to condemn or judge the people that are on the street.
JL: So, when you write, do you just flat out just write, or do you have note cards, do you have an outline, do you have any type of structure that you create before you actually type, or handwrite?
PML: One of the first things I do, once I have that spark, that idea, that line of dialogue that shrieks through my head and said, “I’m alive! Think about me,” is that I create a number. And that number is how many scenes I’m going to allow myself to create for it. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be that many. It’s just that’s my cut off point, and I’m not going to start writing until I have that. Then, I take a nice, big piece of paper and I create a paradigm. On that paradigm I begin to write little notes in just three to four words. I try to relax, think about the ending, where do I want to get to with the beginning. But when I get through that process, I take that jumbled paradigm and I take note cards, throw it up on my wall, begin to look at it, and I sit back and envision what it is. I wouldn’t allow myself to start writing until the names of the chapters were there, until I understood the title fully. Once I got the note cards up, before I rearrange them and during this whole process, I have another piece of paper that’s gigantic that has all the character’s names on it. And I just write down memories. I know every zodiac sign pretty much inside and out, and I give them each a birthday. From there I read their horoscopes, try to fall in love with them, try to think up their good sides, their bad sides. The stage I’m at right now with “Willa’s Peach” is now I just want to cut the hell out of it. I love it all, but you have to get that part where it’s like, “Let’s make it the best it can be.” Then, after all that’s said and done, I get to the writing. I become a mad man. I might take a week off work, I don’t sleep, I drink a lot of coffee, I stay up; I don’t stop. Then when I get that first draft, I sit down with my partner, Jonathan, and we read the whole thing out loud, every page. And then I start to rewrite it.
JL: During this madman phase, do you write straight through, or do you write, break, rewrite, keep going, break, then rewrite?
PML: I go straight through it all, because the rewrite, it’s easy to get tangled up in it.
JL: I asked him about film locations, and if there was somewhere he liked shooting best.
PML: Wait until you see [“Willa’s Peach”] because knowing that we got permission to shoot there, and everything that’s in the house was already there. I needed a house with a little girl’s room. Boom, there it was. I was out in Blanchester to see another farm, and the people that owned it wanted me to shoot there, but they had this idea I’m from Hollywood and thought that I had a huge budget, and was hoping I would do something really big for them. So I left, kind of feeling bad, “Oh shoot, what am I going to do? I need a farm. How am I going to get a farm?” I wanted to shoot something on a farm because I’ve been shooting in the city for so long. So I’m driving away from the house, a couple miles down the road, and there’s this beautiful place; it just pops up. And the team was spectacular, the people that came out. We had B.A.M. Effects, Bud Stross from the Dent Schoolhouse Haunted House.
JL: Did you participate in the College Movie Festival, the one where you take a whole week to do the film?
PML: Yeah, I did. In 2011, I just decided I’m going to go to a community college. We got up to the College Movie Festival and I won an award at the festival that year, and I just felt like, “Well I think it was meant to be.” I won the Best Use of Required Elements.
JL: I love that you’re dedicated to helping fellow filmmakers in this city and surrounding areas by filming the totality of your films here. Have you thought of any other cities that you want to film in, or would you rather stay here?
PML: No, I do have projects that I want to shoot around the world, like I have a film I want to shoot in Okinawa, Japan, I have a film that I want to shoot in Russia…So I have a lot of stories that I want to shoot everywhere, but the way that I look at it is there’s no reason why it can’t still be included with the Cincinnati Film Society forever. Even if I move to another part of the country, I have a lot of people and we’re building a production company, and I want there to be offices everywhere. Because the whole idea for me is unity. I want to help everybody, I would help anybody shoot their film for nothing. [I]t’s all about putting people together. The next one, I want to raise a big budget, I want to do it through the connections I have in Cincinnati. No matter where it’s shot, the whole film would be worked on by Cincinnati people. We’re not just explorers of land, we’re explorers of the human psyche. And so putting those elements those elements together is such a thrill, it really is.
JL: I like your philosophy.
PML: Thank you. I’m always looking to expand as much as possible. For me, it’s only about the actor. Everything else caters to him or her. Everything else is secondary because the actor is either going to do justice to the script or not. And everything else, the crew, it’s all just catering to letting it breathe or not.
JL: You’ve come a long way in nine years. Where would you like to see yourself in the next five years?
PML: Hopefully I’m four or five movies down the road. As soon as I can get the support and I have the financial backing, and I have a team of people, I’d be willing to step away from the editing, and I could write two screenplays. The image in my head is to have two or three writers so I could write a first draft and then hand it off to them, write another draft and hand it off. I’d have editors editing one film and going and shooting another film. So I kind of get a system going, then be able to go out and find other young filmmakers and hire them into the system. And before you know it, you’re creating tons of movies and putting them out there. That’s my definitive answer. To have an audience, because that’s all that really matters. If nobody’s watching it, then we don’t exist.