WARNING: The only way to experience the full effect of Some Velvet Morning, is to walk into the film knowing nothing at all.
Now that you’ve been warned, not only did Neil LaBute give himself the challenge of working with just one location and two actors for his latest feature, Some Velvet Morning, but he also tested his ability to support one heck of a grand finale twist while also ensuring that the film in its entirety is engaging and authentic. Four years after indulging in a steamy affair, Fred (Stanley Tucci) shows up at Velvet’s (Alice Eve) door to tell her that he finally left his wife and now they can live happily ever after. In real time, LaBute peels back the layers of their relationship, unveils their darkest secrets and highlights the foundation of their lust as Fred and Velvet rekindle their romance and try to figure out if it’s possible to sustain it in the future.
With Some Velvet Morning’s December 13th release fast approaching, LaBute took the time to talk to Collider about developing this multidimensional relationship, the challenging of selling it, the toll the shoot took on his actors and more. Catch it all in the interview after the jump.
To start, what sparked this idea?
NEIL LABUTE: I guess the male/female dynamic of this older man and younger woman and this idea that a relationship had sprung out of somebody else’s relationship. I mean, that happens in life, you know, ‘Oh, we met [because] she was dating my friend,’ and here it’s the dynamic of a man who met a girl through his son. It’s probably less often we see that dynamic.
So it started with that story and not the twist?
LABUTE: No, that story was there, but I had the idea that I wanted to end that way, so the work is still the same. Except for those last few moments, you have to make it as believable as possible. If you tip your hand then people go, ‘I know what’s going on and this is the end of that,’ so it takes away a certain amount of satisfaction. I think more so than even if you knew it going into it, if you figure it out along the way you go, ‘Oh, wait. OK.’ I think there’s some part of it that you really have to keep the ball in the air and so while emotionally it made sense to work in the same way that I would always work, it was a little bit harder in terms of making sure you keep the ball up there, that people go, ‘This journey is one that I recognize and feels honest to me – even though it’s completely dishonest.’ I mean, they know we are because you’re making them up, but you have to make them feel real. If I had stopped when he left the house for the first time, that journey had to be exactly the same one, otherwise people would go, ‘I figured it out. I knew what was going on.’
How do you pitch something like this?
LABUTE: You don’t. That’s why it gets made for very little money by independent producers. It’s hard to go into a studio and say, ‘Here’s a money losing proposition for you. A movie that takes place in one house with two actors.’ [Laughs] It’s not a pitch, really. Pitches tend to be for something that people think they can sell and make money off of. There was a script and so we could give it to investors and they either said we like it or we don’t like it, but there was no place that I could start from and say, ‘Maybe if people like it, I’ll write it.’ A lot of times I found it’s just easier to have a script ultimately, for stuff that I’m working on. They see that what’s there in the dynamic between two people or the dialogue or something, and even then, it’s only when it’s realized by say two actors that they go, ‘Okay, now I get it. I read that guy and I hated him. Now I don’t really hate him. I kind of get it.’ [It’s] because a person humanizes it in a way that on paper, you can’t really do it.
Did you even have to hand the script over to someone and way, ‘Just wait for it?’
LABUTE: Yeah, but if you do that then you’re putting that on somebody to be prepared in the same way that if you write about and if you say, ‘I don’t want to say anything about the ending, but …;’ you’ve said something about the ending. The best experience is hopefully the way that you found it or that an audience at Tribeca found it, that you go into it and you’re being told, it’s a relationship piece and while it is that, you experience something slightly different by the end.
Were you involved with the promotional campaign, and specifically the trailer?
LABUTE: Yes, I saw the trailer on several occasions.
The tone of that trailer is somewhat comedic so if someone sees that and then sees your movie, they’re getting something that’s pretty different.
LABUTE: I don’t mind that, actually, because I think it’s misleading in the best way. It promises a certain number of things and certainly brings those to you, but there’s more work there. We kept talking about if we wanted to mention the twist anymore and I was like, ‘No.’ The more people who discover the movie, the more they’ll enjoy it and they’ll probably pass it on far more than if they already knew. I think the way you’re talking about it is the way you want to experience it.
How about the environment on set? Is there anything in particular you need to have to create an optimal work zone for yourself?
LABUTE: Green M&M’s, that sort of thing? [Laughs] We barely had room for green M&M’s. It was pretty a small working condition. Even when you have a small crew, we were in a brownstone in Park Slope and it was like a shell game or one of those things where you have the alphabet and you’re trying to get it in the right order. We would constantly be moving equipment from outside to inside to upstairs to downstairs because we only had so much room, and so wherever we weren’t, that’s where things had to go – or out on the street and we’d try to be unobtrusive.
It was a good environment because I think that people were there for the right reason. They understood that we were making something very quickly, it was going to be very hard on those two people and the movie is going to live or die by those two people. It was never like, ‘Oh and now we’re shooting the other two people and we’re in the living room across the way.’ They were constantly acting and they didn’t even have the break of, ‘We’re gonna shoot you and then we’re gonna shoot me.’ It was two cameras going so they were always on. They had tons of dialogue to learn and then they had to go home and learn more to come back and do it again.
You had to create an environment that felt very beholding to them, so it was like, we’re all going to be here for the right reasons and we’re all going to make it as easy as we can for you because it’s not easy, but we’re not going to get in your way. And hopefully that’s the environment you always create, but when you have more money and you have more time and all those things, you’re just able to spread that out. There was never a walk across the street day. There was never any of those shots. It was always, ‘You’re gonna walk in the room and you’re gonna talk a lot and then you’re gonna go into that room and you’re gonna talk a lot.’ But at least we shot in sequence. It sort of made sense how we were shooting things. The difficultly we found because of the real time aspect was that to ask someone to come back the next day and be in the exact place that they were. And sometimes we had broken it up so we’d finish one scene and now she would walk upstairs and so there is kind of change in atmosphere and there’s at least 30 seconds that went by that we’re not seeing. But sometimes, we would be on a conversation and she would have tears running down her face and then it’s like, ‘Okay, now go home and learn some more and come back and then be in that exact same place again tomorrow.’ That is very hard. That’s kind of the hardest thing I’ve seen actors have to do because it’s so exact.
What about weather? There’s a good deal of windows in that house so did clouds or rain ever become an issue.
LABUTE: We did have one rainy day and that was the worst because the DP was relying on so much natural light that that made it difficult. And also it was like, ‘Now we can’t have equipment outside so we’ve got to pile this in these other rooms.’ Luckily we only had one day like that. But yeah, it’s all supposed to be of a piece. We had one little section where we were outdoors in the backyard and there would be a little bit of sun in this scene and the next scene, but it was all one take so whatever happened in that take, you could see the sun kind of come out and then go away. At least we weren’t trying to match it to anything else. Everything like that in real time becomes a trickier proposition.
How about planning your coverage? Two actors, one location. How do you make that look interesting?
LABUTE: A lot of it is just feel and a lot of it is having a really good DP who thinks in pictures. [For me], everything comes out in words – a description of this event or in dialogue. [Rogier Stoffers] tends to think more in a visual way, and so a lot of times he would suggest a movement or a shot that made complete sense. He knew that I like to shoot very economically. Especially that kind of final physical confrontation between them. We were like, ‘I’m not interested in showing those two people naked. I’ve seen the physical act before in everything from Irreversible to other variations, but what’s going to sell this is her.’ You can’t buy that. You can’t manufacture that. You could make something look more violent, but if I just sit on her face for an uncomfortable amount of time, I think that’s going to be the most uncomfortable scene I can create. And so that suddenly makes things economical. There are very few cuts in that. It’s really all about getting them to the ground and then getting to her face and then I’m gonna stay with that because that’s where the real emotion is happening.
Bad transition, but to wrap up, I know you’re about to shoot something else with Alice, but the synopsis that I’m hooked on is the one for The Toll. What’s the status of that project?
LABUTE: That’s really just discussions. It’s a script that I thought was interesting. Melissa Leo, I’ve worked with her on stage. It’s one of those, wouldn’t it be great if we get to make this? It’s at that stage.
And she’d play the toll both attendant?
LABUTE: She would, yeah.
This is not in line with the types of films you make whatsoever, but I’m kind of picturing a little Roland Emmerich-ness in this.
LABUTE: I don’t think that’s the way it would go.
What’s the tone of it?
LABUTE: I think it’s meant to really be a character piece, to take a middle-aged woman and put her in a crisis you would normally find Bruce Willis. It’s finding someone who has none of the supposed attributes of an action hero and yet asked to do all of the things that those people are asked to do. It’d be great if it could work, but who knows. Movies are – all I’ve found is that they’re just tougher and tougher to make.
Some Velvet Morning opens in New York, NY and Scottsdale, AZ on December 13th and expands to select cities on December 20th.