Interviews/Features

Interview: Filmmaker Magazine – with Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson

Interview: Filmmaker Magazine – with Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson

Striving to become a professional actress is a lifestyle choice accompanied by feelings of extreme competitiveness and inadequacy. Each waking hour is a moment you could be attempting to improve your craft or desperately trying to secure more work. As endless auditions make way to too few callbacks, you may begin to reconsider the professional hell you’ve chosen for yourself, being judged as much for your skills as for your facial features and body type. It’s enough to make anyone grow a little bitter.

Diamond Tongues, a dark Canadian comedy that premiered at last year’s Slamdance Film Festival, finds its muse in actress and musician Leah Goldstein’s performance as Edith Welland. A twenty-something struggling actress who, despite attempts to sabotage other thespians’ success for the furtherment of her own, finds herself auditioning for awful horror movies and sleeping with her sleazy acting teacher, Edith is both an egotist and someone to root for. Her conniving sensibilities are fascinating to watch play out, and Diamond Tonguesis a careful study of a woman attempting to find her place amongst a cast of characters.

As the film opens today in IFP Screen Forward at the Made in NY Media Center, I spoke with Toronto-based filmmakers Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson about shooting on the streets of Toronto with a microbudget, crafting a hard-to-love lead character, and working on a new feature featuring Tim Heidecker of Tim & Eric fame.

Filmmaker: Pavan and Brian, you both had previously worked together on the feature film Everyday is Like Sunday, but Diamond Tongues marks the first time you’re co-directing a film. How did you both meet and what lead to the formation of this creative team?

Moondi: We met through a mutual friend and were brought together to create The Seventh Art, which was a video magazine about cinema based in Toronto. We had been working on that for about six months when I brought Brian on-board to produce Everyday Is Like Sunday, which I had been trying to get made for a while.

Robertson: By working together on The Seventh Art we learned how to work quickly and efficiently, improvising set ups and lighting a huge variety of locations in Toronto. We brought that mentality into Everyday is Like Sunday, and that had a fast, improvised feel to it. We moved even quicker on Diamond Tongues.

Filmmaker: How did the idea for Diamond Tongues come about? As the film lives and dies by Leah Goldstein’s performance, had you wanted to write a film for her, or had this character been rummaging through your minds for awhile?

Moondi: The previous film was about not knowing what you want to do with your life, and for whatever reason we felt compelled to make a film that was about knowing exactly what you want to do with your life and not knowing how to actually make it happen. As struggling filmmakers who, for all intents and purposes, came out of nowhere, it was something that rang true for us.

Robertson: While it was something that rang true for us, we also knew that it was risky to try and bring a seemingly unlikeable character to life and have our audience sit with her for 90 minutes. The character was pretty terrible on the page, but we always wanted her to be relatable and likeable. It actually took us about four to five months before we found Leah. As soon as we saw her, she had a mischievousness about her that we both saw in the character. Before we found her, we had been pretty close to admitting that we wouldn’t find the right actress to play the part.

Filmmaker: Her portrayal of Edith Welland is wide-eyed and observational. Her voice has an inquisitive lift to it, as if everything she says is unfiltered and yet hiding a lack of confidence within herself. When her friends tell her stories about their successful careers, she takes those stories and passes them off as her own. She’s a complex person who isn’t easy to embrace. What did Leah bring to the role that wasn’t clearly laid out in the script and how hard did you work to resist sentimentalizing your heroine?

Moondi: We knew that we needed to cast someone who was very naturally likeable as a person so that the character on-screen would hopefully conflict the audience. Edith is, ideally, someone you initially think might be a cool person but who then repeatedly makes the wrong decisions.

Robertson: Leah is the complete opposite of Edith in real life. She’s insanely driven, working harder than most people I know and she’s really supportive of all her friends. I’d say these differences is what was so attractive to Leah to take the role. It was definitely a challenge for her.

Filmmaker: The film’s opening minutes place us within the uncleanliness of networking and industry parties. Everyone is either successful or desiring success, and talk of being cast in a number of web series or being offered to teach highfalutin masterclasses comes off as self-aggrandizing to the utmost degree. How familiar are you with that scene?

Moondi: More familiar than we wish we were.

Filmmaker: The world of Diamond Tongues features a Toronto that’s a city of cafes and bars where artists run into one another, quickly catch-up, save face, and dip out. Everyone’s trying to make connections, get ahead, and spread the word on their next Kickstarter campaign. In what way were you conscious of the way the city plays a central character in the film?

Moondi: We didn’t think too much about portraying the city in any specific way. We just tried to use locations that we thought the characters in the film would actually hang out at (and mostly where we hang out in real life). I don’t think artists trying to network and get-ahead is specific to Toronto, but because Edith is in every scene of the film, we really see all these smaller characters who dip in and out the way Edith sees them.

Filmmaker: As the film incorporates the shooting of the streets of Toronto, on the Metro, city buses, etc., I imagine that it helped to be as free and mobile as possible. What did you shoot on and how did you adjust for those short exterior sequences that have to capture a glimpse of the city very quickly?

Moondi: We almost got kicked off the subway and streetcars and fined a couple of times. They don’t make it easy for super micro-budget films to shoot on public transit and so we had to steal those. We had street permits for most exterior scenes but our setup was pretty mobile, usually just Brian and myself, two camera operators, a sound guy, a production assistant and the actors.

Robertson: We shot on the Red Epic and Red Scarlet and we drove around in our DP [Peter Dreimanis’] van. We had finite time with Peter and Leah before they went on tour with the band again, so we were required to shoot whenever we could. We planned on shooting a montage one night and right as we rolled camera, the entire west end went into a blackout. We had no choice but to film in the dark. I think we captured one of the more striking images in the film that night (the fire truck driving through the blacked-out streets).

Filmmaker: There’s a memorable scene in which Edith fantasizes about being a big-time star interviewed on George Stroumboulopoulos’s talk show. You then cut to her lying in bed touching herself — the pleasurable experience of celebrity streamlined with the satisfactory and modest feeling of touch. How did you get Stroumboulopoulos to make a cameo and what was the impetus behind blurring the lines between fiction and reality?

Robertson: Pavan and I run into George at different events and he’s really personable. We thought it would be interesting if we could pitch George on having Leah on his show in character. One of the film’s producers, Sarah Haywood, is a friend of George’s producer and she connected the dots for us. We actually shot that cameo on the second-to-last taping of George’s show. We also met Laura Jane Grace (of Against Me) there, who ended up making a cameo in the film as a bartender.

Filmmaker: One striking moment in the film is when Edith, sitting in the front row, watches her roomate’s performance in a play. You cut to a high-angle, overhead shot of Edith, slowly pulling the camera in closer to her face as the strong performance of her friend drives her to the brink of madness. How do you visually allow the audience do get inside Edith’s head?

Moondi: We try to put as much thought as possible into every camera setup in the film. It seems like a waste to go to the trouble of getting a feature film made and then not putting real thought into such a major component of the film. We tried to shoot her tight when she was in conversations with other characters, as often her own reactions are far more important than who she’s speaking to. We shot her pretty wide when she was alone to emphasize her loneliness and how ill-fitted she is for the world around her. The shot you’re describing is one of those examples of just trying to emphasize how she is progressively getting inside her own head while watching her friend’s play and considering the possibility of making a catastrophically bad decision.

Filmmaker: Your use of fluorescent lighting is eye-catching, and it particularly skews toward that of the pink and purple variety. Whether in night club settings (I’m reminded of the close-up of Edith’s face as she sips a beer while watching a live band’s performance), or via the opening title card sequence, these lush colors give the film an identity that’s now being reflected via your film’s poster and marketing materials. Where did the choice for those colors’ usage stem from?

Moondi: Our distributor in Canada is one of the bigger distributors in the country, but we were able to make all our own marketing materials without any oversight (trailers, posters, website, etc.). We knew early on that the film would use a lots of pinks and purples and that the title text in the film would be a bit more flashy than the standard all caps white sans-serif font you see in a lot of films. The tone of the film is pretty fast paced and accessible while profiling an extremely difficult character, and so it’s a unique mix that we wanted reflected in the way we approached the style of the film and its marketing.

Filmmaker: How did Telefilm Canada help with the production?

Moondi: We shot the film with a tiny amount of private investment and once we had it in the can we showed it to Telefilm and were lucky enough to have them cover the costs of the post-production.

Robertson: We had gone to Telefilm before we shot anything and had them read the script and discussed what the film was going to be and how it would look. We were pretty communicative with them throughout the whole process.

Filmmaker: What can you tell us about Sundowners, your next film that will feature Tim Heidecker?

Moondi: We’re speaking with you from Colombia at about one third of the way through the shoot, so the film is still being shaped. It’s about two guys who are hired to film a destination wedding at a tropical vacation resort and things go very badly. It stars stand-up comedian Phil Hanley and Luke Lalonde from the band Born Ruffians, both making their acting debuts. Tim plays their boss. It’s a bit more overtly comedic than Diamond Tongues, but there’s quite a bit of underlying darkness we delve into.

Robertson: We’ve got three more days here and then we’re heading back to Toronto to shoot the rest of the film. Tim shows up in the Toronto sequences. We’re huge fans of his and can’t wait to get to work with him.

Interview: CBC Music Roundtable with Leah Goldstein, Brian Robertson, Pavan Moondi, DOP Peter Dreimanis & Producer Sarah Haywood

Interview: CBC Music Roundtable with Leah Goldstein, Brian Robertson, Pavan Moondi, DOP Peter Dreimanis & Producer Sarah Haywood

July Talk’s Leah Fay Goldstein shines in Diamond Tongues, her debut role

Article posted by Holly Gordon

July Talk’s Leah Fay Goldstein had never officially acted in a movie before, but you would never know it from her first role in Diamond Tongues. The film, which premieres Aug. 7 at the TIFF Lightbox, chronicles the slow descent of Edith, an actor who is barely making an effort to find roles while classifying herself as a bona fide struggling artist. Edith spends a lot of her time lying, sabotaging others or feeling sorry for herself, yet Goldstein finds the relatable moments. Even at Edith’s lowest, Goldstein’s expressions register just enough of her character’s struggles for the audience to take a moment and try a little harder to give her a shot.

“We knew generally speaking that we needed someone who was naturally very likeable to play Edith, to counterbalance what could be read as a very unlikeable character on paper,” says Pavan Moondi, writer and co-director of Diamond Tongues. “[When] we first saw Leah performing onstage as part of July Talk, she came off very charming and endearing. Beyond that, we really just needed someone with a strong artistic voice and a bold, engaging personality, and Leah has that in spades.”

While Goldstein is the star onscreen, her musical partner in July Talk, Peter Dreimanis, is the cinematographer, capturing quiet moments with just the right amount of space, while giving room to bursts of chaos (which feels similar to watching their band dynamic onstage).

Moondi finished the script for Diamond Tongues in July 2013, and he and co-director Brian Robertson cast Goldstein and hired Dreimanis in September. Because of July Talk’s touring schedule, they shot the film in April 2014 during a 12-day window, sometimes shooting five or six locations in a single day (including one scene on The Strombo Show and an unexpected drop-in to an improv class). It premiered in January 2015 in Park City, Utah’s Slamdance Film Festival, and since then it’s been the official selection for nine other festivals.

Diamond Tongues‘ credits read like an indie musician’s who’s-who: Brendan Canning scored the soundtrack, and also served as executive producer of the film through his production company, Draper Street Film, co-founded with Sarah Haywood. Broken Social Scene, Timber Timbre, Lowell and Emily Haines and the Soft Skeletons are all listed as having contributed songs, and Islands perform as themselves in a bar scene. It’s a movie about an actor, but at its heart is a long list of musicians.

In light of Diamond Tongues‘ Canadian premiere, we gathered Goldstein, Dreimanis, Moondi, Robertson and Haywood — over the internet — to talk about getting the project going, casting Goldstein without an audition and how, exactly, Goldstein made such an acerbic character so likeable.

On getting started

Brian Robertson (co-director): Pavan and I started thinking of a concept for the film after taking a few meetings with our executive producer, Ari Lantos at Serendipity Point Films. … What we came up with was essentially what Diamond Tongues is: a character-driven narrative that takes place here in Toronto. Pavan and I settled on an idea about someone struggling with the uncertainties of something they’re passionate about and Pavan got to writing the script.

Pavan Moondi (writer, co-director): I had made a film previously [Everyday Is Like Sunday] that was about not knowing what to do with your life. I decided this next one should be about knowing exactly what you want to do with your life but feeling like you have very little control over it. Brian and I had earlier talked about making a film about a group of actors and so it made sense to put the two together. Making the film about an actress specifically seemed to be the best way to convey this idea of a frustrating lack of control, as the industry for actresses, especially, is not an easy one.

Sarah Haywood (producer): When Brian and Pavan came along looking for investors, Diamond Tongues fit our criteria in several ways. … Our first feature film. It all happened really fast and we dove right in and began shooting within a few weeks of taking it on. It felt like a big risk financially and it was nerve-wracking when we thought about what will happen to the film, but I was absolutely positive this genre was going to be of interest and that the talent and ability a lead singer has would be translatable to the screen in terms of being able to perform and go for it.

On hiring both halves of July Talk

Robertson: Pavan and I had been trying to find an actress for about three or four months and we just couldn’t find anyone. We were pretty discouraged with how things were going and I was starting to really worry about making the film. We saw July Talk perform [at a Mongrel Media party at TIFF in September 2013] and Leah had this wild energy onstage. This was at a point where Pavan and I were so used to just pointing at people on the street wondering if they would do it. As soon as we saw Leah it just clicked for us. We had a mutual friend and we asked him to introduce us. Pavan pitched Leah the next night at a different show. I think he actually asked her to be in our film like 10 seconds before she walked onstage.

Leah Fay Goldstein (actress, July Talk): As a teen I worked as a “party motivator” (my words) for this entertainment company that DJed bar and bat mitzvahs. It used to be my job to make people hit the dance floor and do the macarena or whatever. I learned the best way to fill an empty dance floor is to put yourself there first, flail around, smile like a gleeful idiot and pretend to have fun until you’re actually having fun. It doesn’t take long.

In an attempt [at the Mongrel Media party] to get our audience to uncross their arms and be less suit-like and more human-like I decided I wanted them to limbo using my microphone stand. So between songs I mentioned my bar/bat mitzvah dancing days and said something like, “Don’t worry I’m basically a professional. What are you, too cool to limbo? Just trust me!” Once they were seemingly on our side I pretended to pass out in the crowd during one song and poured a beer on Peter’s face during another one. When faced with a “too-cool” crowd we always try to shift the energy from contrived to chaotic.

Despite my being a total shithead onstage that night, Pavan and Brian, there in the audience, decided they wanted me to play Edith. I guess it was kind of my audition. They came to our next show and asked if I’d be in their film. I said, “But I’ve never acted before.” They said, “That’s good! Will you do it?” and Pavan swears I just said “OK!” and then walked onstage to perform but in my memory I asked to read the script first. … I told [Pavan], “I’ll do it, but if I suck you have to be honest about it and fire me and find someone else.”

Robertson: After talking with Peter for five minutes I knew he was the one to shoot the film. He has a background in cinematography and all the videos he shot for July Talk were beautiful.

Moondi: Peter was insistent that he didn’t want to do this film if he was going to be expected to just sit back and be a camera operator. He was interested in being a real collaborator and he really understands the filmmaking process. He gave us some great notes on the script that had a major impact on the film. Peter tends to view things a little bit differently than Brian and I do. … It allowed us to fill in each other’s gaps and really take the film into new and interesting places we likely wouldn’t have been able to do if we didn’t work together.

Peter Dreimanis (cinematographer, July Talk): I had some issues with the initial script, and even at our earliest meetings, Pavan and Brian were really receptive to my concerns. The movie was largely dialogue-based and allowed very little time for the audience to breathe and reflect on some pretty bizarre and terrible decisions made by the protagonist, Edith. I immediately felt that the dialogue in the script was only going to provide a loose structure to follow and that to believe that Edith would actually do these terrible things, we had to allow her and the other actors to go totally off of the script.

Robertson: Part of this is that Diamond Tongues was never going to be a union/ACTRA film. When you’re casting a film that is going to be made up almost extensively of “non-professional actors,” we found that people who have experience performing in other areas are great to work with across the board. We didn’t have a lot of time in pre-production and we were really limited with our number of shooting days, so when you’re putting people in front of a camera in a room full of strangers you want them to be as naturally comfortable as possible. We approached musicians and comedians because that experience is part of their profession and they tend to bring a general easiness with them.

On the July Talk working relationship

Robertson: I think Pavan and I suspected that working with Leah and Peter was going to be pretty easy. Based on how hard they work and how often they’re touring with the band alone, we knew that there wouldn’t be any issues concerning the tight timeline we were dealing with (we shot the film in about nine-and-a-half days).

Moondi: I think Peter’s presence behind the camera made Leah immediately comfortable from the get-go.

Goldstein: I’m not sure either of us would have jumped into this project without the other person. I fully trust Peter’s taste and ability so I felt as comfortable as one possibly could while acting in a film for the first time. He’s an incredible cinematographer with an insane amount of lighting knowledge and experience so I knew that, if nothing else, at least we’d have beautiful-looking footage. There are some scenes in the film involving sex and drugs that I just wouldn’t have been OK with acting in if Peter wasn’t behind the camera. For example, when a script says, “They have intercourse,” there are countless ways that can be portrayed and shot, which is absolutely terrifying. But Pete knows me better than anyone so I knew my values wouldn’t be compromised.

Dreimanis: Leah and I are joined at the hip and we love it. Working with her is a lifelong commitment for me, she is a very intense, challenging artist that never ceases to surprise me even after hundreds of shows performing together. To be honest, in all of my prior film work, it was easy to hold myself at an arm’s length away from a true creative commitment. … [But] because Leah was the face of this movie and her career means a lot to me, I had no choice but to break down that wall and be really critical of writing I didn’t like or characters I didn’t believe in. This made me commit in a way that I didn’t know I could, especially as a cinematographer.

On Edith

Goldstein: Within the first few pages of the script, Edith is with her agent, who is telling her she “can’t pass for 16” and she “can’t play a vixen.” Right off the bat, that set a tone that I could get down with. In the vast majority of films based on female protagonists, those are two of the top deciding factors for who will play the leading role: does she look young enough for us to see her as doe-eyed and innocent but also sexual enough to be objectified and sell tickets? There it is in the second scene … she just has to be a human being and struggle with her dreams and aspirations. What a concept: a woman who is flawed and unlikable, who has shit to deal with and darkness inside of her. She’s not an accessory to a male character nor a stunning heroine in heels. There’s been an effort in mainstream comedies to make female protagonists relatable and human by making them fart and shit and talk about their vaginas. Of course de-objectifying and re-humanizing the female body is so important, but what we really need to see more of are stories about human beings that appeal to human beings regardless of gender. And without making gender its main focus, I felt that Diamond Tongues told that kind of human story.

Dreimanis: Because of the dark side of Edith’s character, I wanted to allow her face to fall to total darkness in certain scenes to allow the audience to see themselves within her character and appropriate the parts of themselves that they are the least proud of.

Goldstein: We filmed all these scenes where Edith is watching other people excel at their craft. None of them had dialogue so Pavan would stand behind the camera and give cues about how to react, kind of acting as Edith’s psyche. It would move from sheer enjoyment, to self-doubt, to hints of jealousy and eventually to a crippling, feverish, self-loathing envy. I’m not sure how many of those scenes made it into the film but doing it repeatedly — usually at one location every other day — provided an easy route back into the darkest parts of Edith. That’s where my understanding and patience for her came from. Jealousy, though a repugnant feeling, is one that every single person battles with at some point. It is directly related to self-doubt and self-worth and no human, no matter how seemingly confident, hasn’t felt inadequate at some point. While I personally have never sabotaged a friend’s success out of jealousy or gone out of my way to ruin someone’s chances at happiness, I have absolutely let my emotions get the best of me and done things that I still cringe about and might not ever entirely forgive myself for. I think everyone has. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you human.

Source: CBC Music

Interview: Chart Attack – with Leah Goldstein

Interview: Chart Attack – with Leah Goldstein

July Talk’s Leah Goldstein isn’t an actress, but she plays one in Diamond Tongues

By Noah R. Taylor

Leah Goldstein didn’t know she was an actress until she was cast as the lead in a movie.

Almost two years ago, Leah Goldstein (or Leah Fay, as she’s known in her band July Talk) was at TIFF’s Festival Music House party at Adelaide Hall in Toronto, about to go on stage to sing with July Talk, when a couple of filmmakers introduced themselves and told her she had to be in their movie, Diamond Tongues. Initially, she didn’t take it seriously. She had never acted before.

“In that space of half an hour before a show and half hour after a show, you meet people and you just completely forget about it,” she says. “Your body is doing what it has to do in order to perform on stage and not mess it up. It’s like a different state of body and mind.”

“For them to come up and be like, ‘we need you to be in this film’? I was just kind of like ‘yeah, okay, sure. Send me the script, I guess?’ Is that what you say?”

Leah Goldstein had no screen credits to speak of, unless you count her appearance in July Talk videos, but directors Brian Robertson and Pavan Moondi saw something in her that had eluded them while trying to cast a lead in their new film. This is the kind of thing you imagine happens often at festival parties but never materializes into anything. Young artists meet each other, have some complimentary drinks and talk about all of their future collaborations that may or may not ever materialize. In fact, this is exactly the kind of interaction that Moondi and Robertson satire so aptly in Diamond Tongues.

Diamond Tongues would be Goldstein’s first acting gig ever. And it wasn’t an easy one. She’d be playing Edith, an aspiring actress who turns to petty sabotage when things don’t go her way. She would be in literally every scene and have to simulate everything from masturbation to tripping on acid.

Six months before the actual film was shot, they shot an eight minute demo to show investors. According to Moondi, this is when any fears he may have had about Goldstein being able to carry their feature were quelled. “We were already committed to her at that point anyway, but we knew from that point on that she’d be able to pull it off.”

It was fortunate that Peter Dreimanis, the July Talk yin to Goldstein’s yang, also happens to be a very talented cinematographer and was brought on to shoot the film. Goldstein says the trust and familiarity that came with having her collaborator and great friend behind the camera helped her transition to this unfamiliar territory.

With the band’s busy touring schedule, there wasn’t much time to prepare for the tight twelve day shoot. Goldstein was barely able to rehearse with the other actors, but had several meetings with Robertson and Moondi where they discussed Edith’s motivations and helped her understand where this character, who in many ways was the total inverse of herself, was coming from. On the surface, Edith may not display very many redeemable qualities, but Goldstein and the filmmakers tapped into something that everyone can relate to, whether they’d like to admit it or not.

Goldstein recalls a story her mother told her that reminded her of Edith’s behaviour in the film: “When my mom was 4, her mother took her to the ballet, and she turned her back to the stage and refused to watch it because she was so jealous of the girls on stage. Jealousy is a really confusing, all-encompassing emotion that affects people in the weirdest ways.”

Edith’s turn may not be this literal, but jealousy certainly causes her to turn her back on reason and friendship multiple times in Diamond Tongues. As much as the film is primarily a character study, it also paints a painfully accurate picture of Toronto’s sometimes cutthroat independent arts scene, from theatre to film to music.

Though she plays an actress, Goldstein’s character spends much of the film watching other people perform. Anyone familiar with this aspect of the city is bound to see some familiar faces. She attends an Islands concert, watches her friend Nick (Flanagan) perform stand-up comedy and has a date with a performance artist played by Austra’s Ryan Wonsiak. Most of these performers are not doing what she aspires to do, yet their accumulated effect begin to feel like a personal attack on her insecurities and lack of creative legitimacy. Their success is mild at best, but not to someone who has none.

Goldstein was not alone when it came to inexperienced actors on set. In addition to the aforementioned performers, the film features several people from Robertson and Moondi’s social circle who had not really acted before. This includes other musicians and comedians but extended in some cases to people not in the performing arts at all. Even yours truly shows up in a couple scenes as another aspiring actor co-starring in Edith’s roommate’s play (I’m not an actor either).

It also happens that the filmmakers’ social circle extends into the Canadian music community. Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning is an executive producer on the film, as well as music supervisor. His original score, along with songs by Emily Haines, Lowell, Timber Timbre, Sunset Rubdown, and Islands help drive the narrative, most notably in several montages that emphasize Edith’s loneliness and isolation, even when walking through a crowded metropolis. Islands’ Nick Thorburn also notably appeared as an actor in Robertson and Moondi’s previous film, Everyday is Like Sunday.

“The way we work allows the actors to bring themselves to these roles, so in theory, nobody will be bad for a role if we’re willing to adapt the role to them,” says Moondi. “The most important thing is that they actually have a personality of their own that they can bring to the role.”

The filmmakers kept the actors’ experience in mind when making the schedule for the film. The first thing Goldstein shot was a short film within the film, where bad acting could be permitted, as that performance would belong to Edith. The more emotional scenes, including several that required Edith to break down in tears, were wisely scheduled closer to the end of filming.

“That emotion was available to me because I was so exhausted during the whole shooting process,” Goldstein remembers. “Stakes were high and emotions were high across the board for everyone. I’m also a person who cries at touching things, like Canadian heritage moments and bank commercials.”

To other filmmakers, casting people at a late night party several days before going to camera may seem ill advised, but that’s the kind of production this was. “It’s not that he’s never been told ‘no you can’t do this’ or ‘no you shouldn’t do this,’” Goldstein says of Moondi, “but it’s like he just doesn’t give a fuck.”

It worked out for Goldstein. After the success of her performance in Diamond Tongues, she now has an acting agent, though July Talk is still her primary focus as they get ready to head into the studio to begin work on their second album.

Strangely, playing the lead role in Diamond Tongues came naturally to Goldstein. Though she has nothing in common with Edith on paper, she brings a lot of herself to the role. Unlike Edith, Goldstein is a very present, warm, supportive, and confident person. She also has an incredible ability to relate to people. She was able to connect with Edith, relate to her and even sympathize with a seemingly unsympathetic person. This, combined with Goldstein’s background in music and performance art, is why she succeeds in this role.

“Which is really just being a human,” Goldstein theorizes. “It’s the same thing in July Talk and I think it’s the same thing in performance and the same thing in great theatre and contemporary dance. Where’s your humanity at? Don’t leave it at the door, bring it with you and let it be barfing out of you from your eyes and your mouth and your nose and your ears at all times. As long as you can be present enough to do that, then you’re theirs for the moulding.”

Source: Chart Attack

Interview: Globe and Mail – Leah Goldstein, Brian Robertson & Pavan Moondi

Interview: Globe and Mail – Leah Goldstein, Brian Robertson & Pavan Moondi

Film Diamond Tongues authentically explores Toronto’s identity
CALUM MARSH
Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Aug. 06, 2015 4:18PM EDT

To meet for drinks with Brian Robertson and Pavan Moondi is to draw upon a vast reservoir of Toronto bar expertise. Choose a neighbourhood, and they’ll rattle off a catalogue of places to be and places to be seen: Black Dice, Unlovable, Cherry Cola’s, Cold Tea. The clubs and dives aren’t merely social hot spots. They’re sets, locations – places to film. Robertson and Moondi are like nightlife cartographers, and their new feature Diamond Tongues is like a map of Toronto cool. The familiar landmarks and touristic cliches that signify the city in other films shot here have been mercifully expunged. This is the real thing. Toronto has never been captured more authentically.

This was true on a more modest scale of their previous film, the slacker comedy Everyday Is Like Sunday, which Robertson produced and Moondi directed. This first leap into feature filmmaking followed years of work together as producers of The Seventh Art, an online magazine well respected locally for its long-form video interviews with artists and industry professionals. For those interviews, too, they avoid the typical conference rooms and hotel lobbies of red-carpet convention, preferring instead to stage chats in the city’s taverns and taprooms.

I met the duo at Northwood café, a low-key patio on Bloor West – Moondi’s recommendation. Joining us was Leah Fay Goldstein, who stars in Diamond Tongues as an aspiring actress named Edith – although Goldstein is something of a star already. In her capacity as frontwoman of July Talk, an indie rock band, Goldstein attracts the kinds of fans who mount galvanizing Twitter campaigns and style their hair to better resemble their idol. Her charisma is obvious on screen and on stage. In person, too, she radiates magnetism: One look at her and you want to know more.

Robertson and Moondi felt the same way when they first saw her – at a bar. It was a party in the middle of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and July Talk was scheduled to perform. Moondi saw Goldstein waiting to go on stage and decided in a flash of beer-bolstered inspiration to seize the opportunity. He asked her to be in the film – but, this being a bar, what precisely happened remains a matter of some debate.

“Pavan swears that I just said yes and then walked on stage,” she recalls.

“You did say yes, but I don’t think you were serious about it,” he says.

“I feel like I had the wherewithal to say, ‘Get my e-mail and send me a script.’”

“No. No way. You said yes, you hugged me and immediately walked on stage.”

“I guess if I had actually said yes, which I don’t think happened – ”

“ – It definitely happened.”

“Well, if it did, it didn’t mean that I had to do it,” Goldstein said, closing the argument.

Whatever the circumstances, Robertson and Moondi were simply relieved to have found, at last, an appropriate lead. “We were very close to not doing the movie at all because we couldn’t find the right person,” Robertson says. “So we were just over the moon to find Leah.” And he credits this coup, naturally, with their bar-hopping prowess. “I don’t think we could have walked up to a musician and asked them to be in a movie unless we were really drunk.”

Luck is a factor in every film production, but for Diamond Tongues it was an animating force. Goldstein, for one thing, was on the road with her band constantly, leaving the production to be squeezed into a nine-day gap between the Juno Awards and the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Tex. Meanwhile, the production itself was in never-ending peril.

“Literally the day before filming was supposed to start,” Moondi remembers, “we didn’t know if we had the money to make it or not. It was complete chaos. I was talking to a lawyer in the middle of the night. I was on the phone at midnight begging for the movie to come together.”

“You never told me any of that,” Goldstein adds.

“I didn’t want to worry you.”

Nor did he need to. Moondi pieced the funding together from a number of independent producers, and ultimately sold the Canadian distribution rights to Mongrel Media. (The film is set to open theatrically in the United States through Factory 25 this fall.)

At this point, I have to ask about the most distinctive feature of Diamond Tongues. Midway through the film, as Edith continues dreaming the Canadian dream, she drifts off to sleep and has a real one: a five-minute fantasy appearance on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight – shot for real on Strombo’s old CBC show. How did that come about?

“Our producer had a connection to a producer on the show, so we just asked,” Robertson says. “And because it was near the end of the show’s run, George invited us out.”

“They gave Leah the full guest treatment,” Moondi says. “I remember being in the makeup room and I was so nervous. The show was actually filming.”

“You were nervous?” Goldstein protests. “To be on the Strombo show – and not as myself. I told Pavan that George has been my hero since I was six years old and I’ve never met him before. But Pavan said, ‘No, everything you say, you’re either at his level or above him. You have to patronize him. Don’t treat him as your idol. Treat him like you’re doing him a favour for being on his show. Ask him if he wants to go for a drink after the show. Tell him you’re sorry they cancelled the show.’”

Surely she didn’t say that one. Goldstein winces. “I did.” Strombo, fortunately, was in on the whole thing – he knew she was playing a character – but his crew wasn’t. “They were furious. Nobody would even make eye contact with me afterward.”

They cut the line, but as it stands the scene is delightful – a frisson of rare Canadiana. But how does it translate abroad?

“Nobody knows who Strombo is in America,” Robertson concedes, nor are they likely to appreciate references to the likes of Just for Laughs Gags. But these elements are essential to the film’s unabashedly Torontonian identity. At a recent screening in L.A., a friend who’d moved away from Toronto approached Robertson, saying the movie really brought her back. Was she nostalgic? Robertson laughs. “She said it reminded her why she moved away in the first place.”

Source: The Globe and Mail

Globe and Mail

Interview: Toronto Star – How Leah Fay Goldstein became a movie star, without really trying

Interview: Toronto Star – How Leah Fay Goldstein became a movie star, without really trying

By: Peter Howell Movie Critic, Published on Thu Aug 06 2015

At a TIFF party in 2013, Toronto filmmakers Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson saw the multi-talented Leah Fay Goldstein perform with July Talk, her energetic local band.
The singer was concentrating on her music, but co-directors Moondi and Robertson were thinking movie: Diamond Tongues, their indie drama about a self-destructive young actress named Edith, who is trying to navigate the not-so-nice streets of Hogtown.

They wanted Goldstein to play Edith, even though she’d never acted before. You sure couldn’t tell that from her mesmerizing performance in the movie, which lit up Slamdance back in January. It opens Friday at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

“Pavan came up to me and said, ‘We’re making this film and we really want you to be in it,’ and I said, ‘I’ve never acted before.’ He said, ‘We don’t really like working with actors anyway. You’ll be great!’”

Goldstein chatted with the Star about her instant movie career, playing an unsympathetic character and what to look forward to from July Talk.

It’s not a big leap for musicians to also act, but what do you think Pavan and Brian saw in you that night when you performed at the TIFF party?

I’m not really sure. I remember that show was particularly chaotic. It’s really easy for bands to fade into the background at those industry parties and have nobody pay attention to them. I was drawing on all sorts of party tricks and concert tricks that I like doing, like trying to make the audience do the limbo with my microphone stand, and pouring beer all over the place, and just wreaking havoc. But I don’t really know what from that performance made them think that I would be a half-decent actor.

Your character, Edith, is a difficult person to like, because of what she does of what she does to people she supposedly cares about. But she’s also hard to hate.

I think how people react to Edith says more about them than it does about her. Because I really hated her on the page. I read the whole script in one go, I couldn’t put it down, it was like watching this car wreck, watching a pileup on the highway or something. How bad is this going to get? Why can’t she just get it through her head? I thought it was a much more intriguing role than playing the typical female protagonist who has to be likeable and has to be beautiful and has to be well-put together and all of those sorts of things.

Do you think you’ve ever met any Ediths in your line of work?

People do grimy things to get what they want or attempt what they want, but I think Edith is just doing these awful things that she thinks are going to help her but they obviously never end up helping her or anyone. I think musicians get to be a little more upfront and honest and there’s also, particularly in the Canadian music industry, there is this unspoken rule that you can’t be an assh— because our country is too small. You’re going to be touring with bands who are going to be touring with other bands and if you are an unpleasant person, people will know about it and they will choose not to work with you.

Do you see yourself acting more in the future?

I do like it, and I am really lucky in that I can afford to be picky about whether or not I do it again. It will just be based entirely on whether or not something comes my way that is interesting and that I think I can do and that I think will be a good experience. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a full-time actor and having to stab people in the back in order to get paid or whatever. I feel very grateful to be in the position that I am in. My job is writing music and playing shows and touring around.

What’s the situation with July Talk?

We’re doing a tour for this summer, but mostly we’re just writing and demoting. We’re hoping to get into the studio in September and work on our second album, which is very exciting and terrifying. I guess the other thing that we know is that while it’s going well today, this could all be taken away from us tomorrow. Maybe I will be eating my words and making the attempt at having a life in acting or something. In a year, it could all just go to s—t.

Source: Toronto Star

Interview: NOW Magazine – Pavan Moondi’s True Gem

Interview: NOW Magazine – Pavan Moondi’s True Gem

PAVAN MOONDI’S TRUE GEM
Director’s luck and a great new star fire up Diamond Tongues
BY NORMAN WILNER AUGUST 5, 2015 5:30 PM

I got to know Pavan Moondi when he was interviewing filmmakers and hosting special screenings as part of The Seventh Art. And now I’m interviewing him about his own film, Diamond Tongues, which he co-directed with another of the Seventh Art team, Brian Robertson, from his own screenplay.

It’s not that weird, really. He’s been making movies all along. In fact, Diamond Tongues is a natural progression from his first feature, Everyday Is Like Sunday, which he describes as “a film about not knowing what you want to do with your life.”

The new movie, which stars July Talk frontwoman Leah Goldstein as a young woman trying to break into the Toronto acting scene, is “about knowing exactly what you want to do with your life but feeling like you have no control over the thing that you want.

“If you’re a musician, you can start busking or playing at open-mic nights, and if you’re a filmmaker you can write a film, but if you’re an actor – a female, especially – you’re kind of dependent on other people to be able to act,” he explains. “It’s the most dependent profession there is. You can’t go on a street corner and start acting, not really. So that was the genesis of it.”

Although he directed Everyday Is Like Sunday on his own, Moondi says co-directing Diamond Tongues with Robertson just made sense for the project.

“We were both working at the same place at the same time, and we had lunch every day together,” he says. “We’d talk about ideas, things we wanted to do. I wrote the script by myself, but the final film did change a lot [just] because there were so many people that had so much input into it. Which I think is my ideal way of working.”

Luck is also a factor, as when Moondi and Robertson checked out July Talk at a TIFF party and came away with not just their star, but their director of photography as well.

“Leah came out onstage and poured a beer on [bandmate] Peter [Dreimanis]’s head, jumped up on a speaker and then jumped off and fell on the ground and played dead. She was [lying] at my feet and Brian and I were standing there, and we were like, ‘This would be a great poster for Diamond Tongues. Just her laying there in this fancy dress.’

“And during the set we were like, ‘She should just act in it. Just get her to do it.’

“The set ended and I was trying to track Leah down to ask her to be in it, and I saw Peter and asked, ‘Do you think Leah would be into acting?’ And he was like, ‘I dunno, but I’m a cinematographer and I’m looking for work.’

“It just turned out that we actually did need a cinematographer,” he laughs, “so we hired him on the spot.”

Source: NOW Magazine [Contains additional audio clips from the interview]

Interview: Canadian Jewish News – Leah Goldstein

Interview: Canadian Jewish News – Leah Goldstein

Indie-band singer makes her film debut
Jordan Adler, Special to The CJN, Thursday, August 6, 2015

“I am not an actress, but I play one in a movie.”

That was the go-to catchphrase for Leah Fay Goldstein at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, where she showed up for the premiere of her film debut, the dark Canadian comedy Diamond Tongues.

Most were likely bewildered by the statement: not only does Goldstein seem like a well-trained pro in the film, acting in every scene, but she also manages to make the audience root for a rather repugnant protagonist.

“I really didn’t like her,” Goldstein says, of her first reaction to character after she read the screenplay. “She’s pretty awful.”

That character, Edith Welland, is a struggling actor. Instead of striving for her own success, she chooses to sabotage the efforts of friends who are breaking into the film industry. In one scene, Edith pulls the fire alarm at a close friend’s stage performance, since she is so frustrated by the play’s success.

It was that distance from Edith’s personality that Goldstein says attracted her to the role.

“I thought it would be fun to be an asshole,” she tells The CJN. “My mom, [Krys Goldstein], grew up acting and wanting to be an actress, and she said that playing the enemy was always the most fun.”

Goldstein embraces Edith’s unlikable traits and gives a bitterly funny performance. It is an even more impressive turn when one realizes that the dog-eat-dog world of the film industry is foreign to the Toronto native.

She has only once auditioned for a film role, and didn’t even have to try out for Diamond Tongues.

Instead, directors Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson knew she would be perfect for the part after seeing Goldstein perform with her band, the Juno-winning indie rock group July Talk, at a TIFF party in 2013. Shortly after that show, they offered her the role.

Many character-based meetings with Moondi and Robertson helped the rookie actor find a path into making Edith believable.

“She’s relatable because she experiences jealousy,” Goldstein says of Edith. “She experiences feelings of inferiority and wanting to be good and succeed. No matter who you are, no matter how much you want to suppress those feelings and pretend they never happen to you, they obviously happen to all of us.”

A story about the difficulty of breaking into the film industry resonated with the directors. Moondi was trying to get a film with a bigger budget off the ground. During this waiting period, he began a new screenplay that became Diamond Tongues.

The dark comedy opens for a limited run in Toronto on Aug. 7 and will also play at the city’s Open Roof Festival on Aug. 19.

As the comedy’s anchor, Goldstein had to cope with a short shooting schedule (under three weeks) and many quick changes of her character’s state of mind.

On one day of filming, she worked on four very different scenes: an argument with her ex-boyfriend that concludes with her spitting in his face, an intense kissing scene, a big argument with best friend Clare (Leah Wildman), and a scene alongside TV personality George Stroumboulopoulos on his talk show.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met George, as myself… he’s a huge hero of mine,” she says. “It put my stomach in knots to go on the show and play this character who isn’t me at all.”

It also didn’t help that Goldstein had a cold on that hectic day.

Nevertheless, the vocalist is very comfortable in front of the camera. That is undoubtedly helped by her time working on videos with her feminist performance art collective, WIVES, as well as July Talk.

When she isn’t promoting Diamond Tongues this summer, Goldstein is in a Toronto studio, working on writing and recording the next July Talk album. (Her band-mate, Peter Dreimanis, also worked on the film as a co-producer and cinematographer.)

She says the album should come out in 2016, with a new single expected by the beginning of next year.

Meanwhile, the band is touring across Canada on weekends. July Talk will play at the Interstellar Rodeo in Winnipeg on Aug. 16 and at Celebration Square in Mississauga on Aug. 29.

Unlike Goldstein, Edith is filled with ego. However, she does share one notable facet with her character: an eagerness to do more acting work.

“I can totally see myself doing it again if I found a script that I loved, a character that intrigued me and a director that inspired me,” she says.

Source: Canadian Jewish News

Interview: Twitch Film (with Leah Goldstein, Brian Robertson & Pavan Moondi) – Slamdance

Interview: Twitch Film (with Leah Goldstein, Brian Robertson & Pavan Moondi) – Slamdance

Shooting a film and getting it out there is brave business.

Considering the number of factors often at stake for the independent filmmaker – personal finances, the time and hard work of a crew devoted to your confidence, and perhaps most vexing, the threat of your dream sucking for all to see – it’s a wonder so many artists crave the thrill of putting themselves out there. But for many struck with the bug, come what may, the path is do or die.

Diamond Tongues, a film out of Toronto, is one such brave endeavour that goes as far as to choose for its subject the very real fear of giving everything to a dream and still not making the cut. Writer/co-director, Pavan Moondi, and co-director, Brian Robertson, are smart to recognize that even more horrifying than putting yourself out there from behind the comfort of the camera, is the job required of performance artists – actors and/or musicians who stand behind their talent with their bodies. They are the face of their own glory or failure.

I imagine it’s for this reason that Pavan and Brian chose an actress named Edith as their protagonist to bare the anxieties of a more collective artistic community, feeling the tick-tock pressures of unhappily ever after. Edith is a whimsically charismatic person, who struggles to translate her personality through audition sides. She wants to be happy for the friends of hers who have succeeded in climbing steps, but can’t shake the selfish indignation of things not going as planned.

In a brilliant casting decision, Edith is played by Leah (Fay) Goldstein of the Toronto break-out band July Talk (her band partner, Peter Dreimanis, is also the film’s cinematographer). As a performer, Leah is well acquainted with putting herself out there, and unlike Edith, is more than equipped to allow her personality to shine through the role. She almost inadvertently makes an unlikable character endearing. Almost.

Nevertheless, with her celebrated career of kicking ass in Toronto behind her, Goldstein completes the Toronto picture for the local film, that, despite its excellent Toronto soundtrack, isn’t pushing some travelogue agenda. The scenes play out in locations where they actually would, and do, with a soundtrack of contributions from extended friends. It isn’t trying to be Toronto. It can’t help but be. This is very much part of the intrigue of a film that would feel painfully typical if set in Los Angeles.

Diamond Tongues recently had its premiere at Slamdance, Somewhere in a calm from the Park City festival storm, I was able to find some time to relax with filmmakers Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson, and rock star/first time actress Leah Goldstein, for an extended conversation about executing their film, making art in Toronto, and the existential struggles that arise when should-be artists are faced with their limitations.

Can you talk about how this project originated?

Pavan Moondi: I was having drinks with a friend of mine, and he was a struggling filmmaker who had put out this project that he had poured a lot of his own money into and that he acted in and that he directed, and that he worked on, for years, but he had no business sense whatsoever. It was a Web series. It took him forever to make it, and he threw it on YouTube, and was like, oh, hopefully it’s going to just find an audience now that it’s on YouTube. It was a few weeks later, and it had a couple hundred views, and he had dropped significant cash into this project. I had seen it, and I had actually met him through that project and I was like, whoa, this is so good, I want to know this guy and see what he’s doing next. That is how we became friends, so I had been tracking the progress of it.

Anyway, he was really frustrated, and I think at the time it was before Diamond Tongues, so we had a different film already written, and we were trying to raise money for that film. The problem was that it was a high-budget film, and we weren’t equipped to raise that kind of cash. We had some good actors attached to it, and we thought that we could get the money raised, and it wasn’t happening, not in the timeline that we thought it would happen. He said, “When is this going to happen? We’re not young anymore.” Even if we were to obtain some type of success, it would be completely unremarkable. We’re at the age where we should be finding our footing by now. We were looking around at people we know who are doing all these great things, and we are struggling and scraping by and broke and not knowing what we’re doing.

I started thinking about the things he was saying and how they were things that I had thought myself before and how I am sure that a lot of other people feel those same things. So I thought, in trying to make a relatable film, “why not write a movie about that”? When trying to figure out how to communicate that idea – not really having any control over what you want – which is the genesis of the film, we thought making it about an actress would communicate that idea the best way, because actors have the absolute least control, I think.

How did you come to cast July Talk’s Leah Fay?

Brian Robertson: We were trying to find someone to play the character for months, five months, and we went to all the usual places to try and find someone. We put casting calls in, on the Internet; we had a large number of people contacting us. Part of it is … maybe it is shitty, to say, but sometimes you literally are going by the first image you see of someone, and if they don’t fit what you think that character looks like to you, then you move on. We were at a party during TIFF13 [Toronto International Film Festival] for Mongrel Media, a distribution company, and one of two bands that were playing at the show, at that party, was a band called July Talk. Pavan and I were walking around, talking to different people, and this band started playing. We walked up, and we saw Leah Goldstein as this super-charismatic, really empowered woman on the stage, being really wild and alive. It was a different kind of performance that I have never actually seen before.

PM: I think, when we were trying to cast someone, part of the reason why we couldn’t find anyone is that we were ideally looking for someone with a bold personality, and when you have a casting call that is a picture and a list of credits, their personality doesn’t come across at all. When you have 400 submissions to go through, you don’t want to have to meet with 400 people to find out who has a personality, especially in an audition environment where their personality does not come through at all. I think, when we saw Leah performing, I think, the one thing we knew for sure was that she wasn’t boring, that at least she was going to bring something to the table.

BR: Yes, and I think also we had long conversations about working with non-actors, so we were looking for people on the streets, in different places … when you are trying to cast a film, it is always on your mind. You see people, you see someone on the street, and you wonder if that could be Edith. We are in a bar, and you meet someone sitting at a bar, and wonder if that could be an Edith. I think, for a couple of months, we were talking about this character wherever we were going, and when we saw her it clicked for us. They performed, and we pulled her aside at the end. Actually, there was a moment where Leah jumped off the stage and was laying on the ground with a microphone.

PM: She was pretending that she had passed out, and she was laying there. Actually, I think, we were worried.

BR: It was a really surreal moment. It was something that we were so intrigued by, so we took a picture of her while she was laying on the ground. It was like … I think, at the moment, we said, “Oh, this is going to be the poster.

Leah Goldstein: I made everyone limbo that night with my mic stand, which is really heavy…but those film industry parties are so boring, and everyone is there to network and ignore the band, so they’re hard shows to play but make you try crazier things to wake them up.

What was your first impression of these two fellows, here?

LG: I guess the same way that I never necessarily saw myself being in a band, and it happened, it was like this wild pipe dream that just materialized. Because I grew up dancing and doing performance art videos, all that sort of thing, but I guess being in a film is something that was intriguing as a woman who has been performing since I was four, but it was the kind of thing where it was like … I had auditioned for one thing, ever, and I didn’t memorize my monologue because I wasn’t taking it very seriously, and I was 17 or something. They told me that I had something interesting going on, but it wasn’t what they were looking for. They didn’t even really say, “Keep trying,” or anything. I was obviously intrigued by the prospect of, “We have this script, and it’s perfect for you, and you have to do it.” They were really kind of convinced about it.

Did you identify with the role of Edith?

LG: I guess I identified on this really dark, human-based level where everyone … obviously, everyone experiences jealousy, and everyone … I don’t think … I have never sabotaged anyone around me, to try and further my career, so I don’t identify with her on that level, but I also thought it was really refreshing to have such an unflattering female character where she is … it is not the type of role that someone who is trying to become a Hollywood starlet, whatever, would even dream of taking because she masturbates on camera, and she sleeps with a really sleazy acting teacher, and she takes acid, and she is drunk all the time and all these sorts of things. I liked how … this is kind of something that I put first in all of the art that I make, there was a human quality to it, so when I read the script, it was like, “OK, I maybe could do this”.

I think you are great in it. But how do you feel about your performance?

LG: I don’t know. It is really hard to look at your face, for that long, and distinguish what other people are thinking. Yeah, I still don’t know how I feel about it.

Your band July Talk is a pretty great Toronto success story, prior to blowing up, how would you describe the atmosphere in the burgeoning artist scene?

LG: It is a super supportive community, particularly with music. I feel like everyone is in a band, and all of those bands are at each others’ shows and playing together. Any sort of competitive talking behind other peoples’ backs or whatever … it is pretty minimal, and people tend to throw their egos aside and get behind each other, I think.

BR: Right, but it is like the better you are, the more people come to your shows, again and again. You can actively build your audience to sustain your career. With filmmaking, it seems like there are only a few places you can go to get money – there are still gate-keepers – and because of that, people are a little more competitive, naturally.

How do you think your lives would be different if you were making indies in L.A.?

PM: The way things are funded in L.A. versus the way things are funded and supported in Canada … I think, if you are making things in Canada, there is support from local outlets, or you can … all you need to do is put up a film theatrically to get press from every major national paper, and if they don’t like the film, they probably won’t rip you apart for it when you’re starting out because they feel like you are the underdog, and…

They want to support you, so it is a supportive infrastructure because we are completely overshadowed by the American market, so that support is good. I think it has helped us, but it can only take you so far.

We had to learn… there was another project that I had been trying to get funded for four years, and when you are struggling, you think, oh, I am not connected, I don’t know any of the right people, only people who have grown up in this industry have a shot, and it is an industry that takes care of its own kind.

I think that is the line of thinking that maybe Edith is born from, which is not productive, and it is also not really true we’ve found, because you do have more control over that. If you look at the way we got this film financed, Serendipity Point Films is one of the biggest companies in Canada and we were able to sell them on taking a chance on us and we really kind of came out of nowhere.

At the Q&A when discussing shooting in Toronto, you mentioned an aversion to the idea of shots of the CN Tower. How did you aim to present or not present Toronto?

BR: It wasn’t a philosophical aversion to showing the CN Tower but we had made a film before that ended up showcasing the city through its establishing shots, which was done partially out of necessity in the editing. We talked about minimizing the use of establishing shots in this film as a whole, which makes things seem a bit more anonymous but if you are from Toronto, you’ll recognize all the spots that we filmed at. It’s a film that takes place in the West End, and we are shooting in our favorite places that we hang out at, which are all the places that we thought Edith would probably be hanging out at if she lived here.

PM: It wasn’t one of our goals to make a love letter to the city or a tourism video trying to present Toronto in a certain way.

But, the film is chock full of Toronto bands and there’s definitely some love coming through…

PM: I think it is very unconscious though. We never ever talked about how we need to have more Toronto bands, or we need to show more of Toronto, or we need to show this part of the city.

BR: It was who is around making good art that might want to be involved in this thing.

PM: I think it represents the city well because we weren’t trying to necessarily represent the city, because I think sometimes, if you try to, you end up creating a fictional portrait of it because you have a vested interest in making it come off well.

BR: I hope that is what people take away when they watch the film, that if you are from Toronto it sort of makes sense but also feels natural. It is like, oh, she is at this bar here, of course she is, and then she walks down the street, and, oh, she is at this bar now, of course she is.

PM: It is hopefully organic.

Your film is full of hysterically bad titles (Blood Sausage, Dog Husband, Diamond Tongues). Can you talk about the casting of that 3rd poorly titled film? Can you talk about shooting with Toronto’s Matt Johnson of THE DIRTIES.

BR: The thing with Matt is that he is the most brilliant improviser in that everything he says is … everything he gives you is hilarious. We sat down with him and we put the camera on. We turned it on, and he didn’t give us one thing that was the same, but he went on and on and on and on, for 30 minutes, and everyone in the room was dying.

PM: It was the worst to shoot because we were thinking we need to get one minute, to maybe hit a couple of these points, and instead he will spend 45 minutes trying to make everyone in the room laugh. He is giving you unusable footage. You can’t … he is talking about wearing pants as a shirt and then putting his arms in the pant legs.

LG: Arm warmers… Selling them to homeless people. 50% markup!

PM: “What’s my line?” OK,” and then he says it.

LG: “I love you”

BR: “What’s my line? OK. I love you.”

PM: “What am I supposed to say, here, again?” Yeah. That’s good. That’s wonderful.

*Everyone laughs*

PM: We’re like, ‘we can’t use this’. But he is smart enough to know that, and so he is dropping in the little nuggets that he knows you can use, within 40 minutes of this insane material that was hilarious and keeping everyone entertained but largely unusable.

So anyway, this stupid movie starring Matt Johnson, comes to represent a bit of an artistic humbling. Can you talk about some past DIAMOND TONGUES moments in your lives?

PM: I made this film, and then I was editing it, and the audio was fucking horrible. I put so much money into it and was actually happy with the actors. I thought it was all … it wasn’t bad, but the audio was an insane disaster because I tried to do too much myself. I scouted the locations, and I found this bar in downtown Toronto, and I went to look at it, and I scouted it for five minutes, and was like “this is perfect”, and then I left. Then we came back to shoot, a week later, and I didn’t realize that I had scouted it on a Sunday, and we were shooting on a Thursday. It was under the subway line, so the subway kept going by, every five minutes because it was a weekday, and fucking up all the sound because I didn’t have the best equipment and I was thinking ‘what am I doing? I should have just paid for a sound guy.’

BR: Like, “why am I thinking about the sound? This shouldn’t be my job”

PM: So, my humbling, it was that we need to take it a bit more seriously. We can’t be… doing everything and trying to do things as cheaply as possible, thinking that we are smarter than everyone else and that we are figuring out some new way to do things where you can make a film for literally no money and still have a final product that is as good as a professional production. I think that is what the takeaway was, was that if you want to make an actual … a real production, then you need to treat it in a serious way, not being cocky about your competence, essentially. It’s important to develop your own process and find an efficient way to do things, but there’s definitely a line where you start compromising quality as a result.

What about that helpless feeling where you’re trying to make it, and feel like you’re supposed to make it, but as Edith says in the film, where it feels like the way things work is broken.

BR: It’s that thing where you grow up, thinking that … or you are told that if you keep plugging away, it will work out, and it is a hard thing because it works out for some people, and sometimes it doesn’t. It is really hard. There is no formula, you know? Some musicians produce music for years and years and years, and they get nowhere…

PM: I think everybody has their own path to whatever they get. You can’t look at how somebody else has achieved some type of success and think that you deserve it more than they do. It is not productive in any way.

LG: For me, I have always known, or suspected, that I would try to have a life in the arts, but I kind of got into … I think I started a band because I was singing in a bar one night and met a guy who was really wasted and wanted to start playing music with me. I feel under-qualified for everything that I do in my life, and I am waiting to be outed as this fake, like a fake singer and a fake actor, and it is kind of how I felt, this whole week, being here, where it is obviously everyone who is here has one thing in common, and that is what they have been busting their ass in the field, for years and years, to be here. What gives me the right? I don’t know.

I don’t have the right to be here, and I probably shouldn’t be here, but, yeah, I don’t have enough of an ego, and I am too unsure of myself to have a specific moment where it is like, oh, my God, I am in way over my head. This is awful. Because I don’t really think anything I do is very good.

Then what makes you such a confident performer, do you think? What are you conjuring up?

LG: Onstage, and stuff? I guess a need for human connection, and I think it comes off as confidence, but really it is just trying to make people get out of their fucking vanity and get out of their own minds and get out of the fact that they need to stand there and look cool and cross their arms at a TIFF party or whatever.

I don’t know. My first job, ever, was dancing at Bar Mitzvahs as a go-go dancer, and I was 15. You had to wear the big baggy T-shirt and the jazz shoes and just smile and dance with old people and have 14-year-old boys touch your butt and stuff. I think that is kind of … that is the shittiest job you could ever have, but when you get people to cross over to your side, it would be like, “Oh, yeah, I am just a shithead human being. This feels great.” I don’t know. You are in a higher place or something when you can leave your ego at the door and dance like a crazy person or whatever.

BR: But you said, earlier, that you don’t have a right to be here because you haven’t busted your ass as hard as these other actors, but it is like people strive for … they try and be as honest as they can, as actors, I think, and you don’t need to be performing for 15 years, to emote honesty. It is like …

PM: The thing is, nobody has a right to be here, right? Even the people who are working here don’t have a right to be here. Just because you are working really hard doesn’t mean you are entitled to anything, which I think might be one of the takeaways from our film. That’s the way that the film industry or any creative pursuit works.

LG: But the way things work is broken!

Source: Twitch Film

National Post: Acting the part: July Talk’s Leah Fay on her Park City experience

National Post: Acting the part: July Talk’s Leah Fay on her Park City experience

Last week, Toronto filmmakers Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson took their new feature film, Diamond Tongues, to the Slamdance Film Festival — the Park City, Utah, event that acts as an unofficial counterpoint to the glitzier and star-filled Sundance. As the filmmaking team prepared for the journey, they filed daily Slamdance diaries all last week. Seven days and countless screenings later, Diamond Tongues star and July Talk singer Leah Fay (a.k.a. Leah Goldstein) reports on the whirlwind that was Slamdance.

“I am not an actress but I play one in a movie.” This sentence became my catchphrase at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City. I found myself reciting it in countless situations; in interviews alongside the film’s directors Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson, while shaking hands with renowned writers and directors I’ve unfortunately never heard of because of my own lack of knowledge on the subject, and over and over again at the few industry parties we weaselled our way into. Sometimes it was met with a laugh, other times it just caused confused looks.

“I’m in a touring rock and roll band. That’s my real job” was my usual followup to this statement. While true, this is an outlandish thing for the lead actor of a film to say. Initially it was my way of warning people that if they started using film lingo and name-dropping it would be lost on me. Then, during conversations with industry types on my second day at the festival, I started using it to disclaim the assumption that as an “actor” I was after something from them. It became clear to me that they thought I believed that they held the key to a future in film and that I must be too naive to know that people like me (the struggling actor-type) are a dime a dozen.

Because everything I know about the film industry has been learned through my involvement in a movie about the film industry, being in Park City during the Sundance and Slamdance festivals made me feel like we were back on the set of Diamond Tongues. Edith Welland, the struggling actor I play, can barely cope with the dog-eat-dog world in which she and all her acting and filmmaking peers exist. There is nothing human about this phoney and ego-fuelled world as it has nothing to do with the art they are so passionate about creating. The story created by Moondi and Robertson exposes a dark, honest and human account of what it’s like to be involved in the industry of film.

Being at Park City during the coinciding film festivals Sundance and Slamdance is like attending a crowded music festival packed into a rich ski-town the size of a shopping mall. Everyone is either an incognito movie star, wants to be (i.e., dresses like) an incognito movie star, or is a filmmaker, producer, writer or distributor. For two weeks in January every year, the prices of accommodations increase by 400% so only the extremely wealthy and successful can afford to be there. Everyone else sleeps six to a room and eats only what is given to them in the form of free appetizers at industry parties sponsored by major car, beer and banking companies. Sadly, access to these parties is only granted to those who know which name to say at the door. (“Karen at Kaleidoscope” worked for our crew a few times.)

Slamdance, the smaller of the two film festivals, showcases the work of first time independent filmmakers from around the world. The benefit of being present at this indie-meets-Hollywood filmmaker mecca is that it gives new filmmakers the opportunity to meet and potentially pitch ideas to their Sundance heroes, some of whom began their careers at Slamdance. Of course you have to know which parties to attend, which theatres to wait outside of and how to strike up a casual conversation with someone that everybody is dying to talk to.

I had tried not to dwell upon how a dark comedy like Diamond Tongues would be received in Park City. Edith Welland is unlikable and hard to watch as she sabotages and back-stabs those around her in a vain attempt at succeeding. One could argue that watching her compulsively manipulate and lie is like watching a car crash on repeat. As we arrived at the film’s premiere I was terrified. But we premiered to a sold-out crowd and no one even walked out! Jokes that were lost on me during the shooting of the film about typecasting, desperation and inflated egos were met with a knowing laughter. The audience related to Edith trying to pass for 16 to get a part, being offered roles by creepy filmmakers at parties and exaggerating her success to anyone that would listen.

As I sat next to Pavan and Brian surrounded by the audiences’ cathartic laughter, I felt more human than I had all week. The film had found a home. This is where Diamond Tongues was meant to be.

Source: National Post