Justien Lerner present his film in the New Authors section. The Automatic Hate will be the second of a trilogy based on taboo loves, which started with Girlfriend, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010.
Where does the idea of The Automatic Hate come from?
This film is the second part of an informal trilogy of "taboo love stories" that I'm hoping to direct. Part I would be my first feature film, Girlfriend, which premiered in 2010 at Toronto International Film Festival, and this, The Automatic Hate, would be the second, and the film I'm currently working on now would be Part III. I say "informal" because all the films have very little in common, other than they're made by me -and most of the same crew- and that they try to pose the audience with a relationship that is, to put it mildly, "troubling".
This exact idea came about out of discussions with my good friend, filmmaker Katharine O'Brien, who shares a common love of combining genres together. We were talking a lot about our favorite family dramas -The Celebration, for example, was our favorite- and then we also got an idea about making a mystery film that centers around a family. We combined these loves with my desire to make another film about a taboo relationship, and kind of came up with this idea to do a Romeo and Juliet-type structure, but the lovers were part of the same family.
Considering the issues you dealt with in your first feature film, Girlfriend, and now in The Automatic Hate, how do you conceive cinema as a provocation?
Two of the goals I have with my filmmaking career are 1) to put things on film that haven't been put on screen before, whether a relationship, an image, or a difficult situation; and 2) to try and put the viewer in the uncomfortable position of having the characters they have grown to love over the course of the film do something offensive, troubling, morally-corrupt, or shocking. This activates the viewer to wake up and stop narcissistically identifying with a flawless character... because characters without flaws don't exist in my films -or in real life for that matter-.
What are your closest influences of indie cinema?
If we're only talking about USA cinema, my inspirations for this particular film were more from an older era -- Robert Altman, Mike Nichols -particularly Carnal Knowledge- and even a little bit of Hal Ashby. If we're talking about international cinema, I looked very closely at Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration -mostly for story, not filmmaking style-, as well as Hitchcock's film Rebecca and Louis Malle's Damage.
The way you worked with the characters’ psychological profiles is striking. How did you work this from the script?
I think both Katharine and I began writing the script with the idea that every human being has base, forbidden desires, hidden deep down inside all of us. Some people are just able to repress them better than others. And human civilization, which has only been constructed recently in human history, helps to hide away those desires we all have, with rules, regulations, punishment, guilt and shame. This script was written to show a person who realizes that base, carnal, dishonest, violent, or "evil" desires are inside all of us, and if we can understand that they exist, we're better off for it than if we live in denial about it. But with that knowledge come a constant temptation, and possibly, regret.
There is a very interesting narrative progression, the way in which the information is revealed to the audience. Which elements did you have in mind in order to achieve that?
The driving "questions" that my co-writer Katharine O'Brien hoped would occupy the viewers' minds were the mysteries we set up: "Who is this mysterious girl?" "Is she really my first cousin?" "Has my father been lying to me for my entire life?", and finally, "What happened between my father an uncle that caused this family rift?" Then, if the audience is concentrating on -and hoping for- the revealing of all these questions, the OTHER thing the film is about almost sneaks up on you -- the fact that these two young cousins are falling very much in love with each other. Or, in lust, if that is the way you want to read it. I'm open to many different interpretations of this film and hope there are many
In your film there is a mixture of different genres, psychological drama, suspense and slow-motion. How did these ideas come up?
Part of the fun of combining genres together -in this case a Family Drama with a Psychological Suspense / Mystery and sexy Love Story- is that you get to use all the parts that you like, when they are most appropriate. The melodramatic use of slow motion and the Jacques Brel song was an attempt to slow things down right at the point of the most tension in the film... the moment when things look like they are about to explode between the two families, we take a breath, enjoy the song, and worry for everyone in the room, because if you've seen the film, nobody makes it out of that room well. :)
Lastly, the direction of actors. How was the experience in order to achieve such outstanding results?
The experience of working with each actor was unique and exciting in its own different way. Joseph Cross tended to want to discuss every single line of the script with me, months before shooting, so he could think about it and prepare it and then come back with questions later, and more questions, and requests to cut and change lines. Adelaide Clemens' approach was very different -- we had one big chat and then she went away to prepare the role by herself, and only approached me on the set if there was something that wasn't clicking for her. Deborah Ann Woll was similar to Adelaide, in that we spoke once or twice for a long time, but in a very detailed way about every scene, and then she disappeared and prepared the role. Part of directing is making sure you are the kind of director each actor needs you to be for them, in each moment. I've learned you have to be very flexible in your approach, because every actor needs different things and has very different strengths and weaknesses, but you must also not let their needs overpower your goals for the film. It's a very fine balance. In this films, I was dealing with actors with so much talent that it was rarely necessary for me to step in to do more than just small fine-tuning. This is by far the most talented cast I've ever worked with.
TUE 3, 7.40 pm, AMB 4
WED 4, 11.40 pm, AMB 4
THU 5, 10.40 pm, AMB 4