Director and filmmaker Jay Taylor speaks to Teresa McCormick Ertel about his latest project, Massé – a feature length contemporary film noir described as “Old Hollywood meets the modern era.”
Teresa: Who wrote the screenplay?
Jay: I wrote the screenplay, and my wife Courtney was the story/script consultant. It was in development for a little over a year, and originally started out as a short. However as the story evolved, and more ideas formed it grew into its present feature length form.
Tell me about the film’s title and plot.
The name Massé comes from a trick shot in pool, where the cue ball is hit with a lot of English and curves around an obstacle to hit the target ball. The story has some twists and turns to it so I thought the idea of naming it after a curve shot in pool appropriate. As for the story’s plot here is the overview. Jack Pappas has worked hard to separate himself from his troublesome past. Content to hustle pool for a living, Jack tries to get by without making any waves. It appears he just about has it all figured out, until Sara, an ex flame of his comes back into his life unexpectedly looking for help. Suddenly, Jack finds himself drawn back into a past he’d tried to escape…and hoped to forget. But everything is not as it seems as Old Hollywood meets the modern era in this feature-length piece of contemporary noir.
Into what genre would you say the film fits?
It’s a contemporary drama, although the main two characters are treated with a classic noir feel, which makes them stand out from the world around them.
What scenes were you most excited to shoot?
There is a big pool scene that we shot at Cobblestones in downtown York that was very exciting to shoot. It was scheduled for only our second day of shooting, and due to the nature of the scene required an enormous amount of planning and coordination. We had filmed one scene the day before with Johnny Alonzo and Jonathon Ruckman who play Jack and Pete in the film, but for Cobblestones we had most of the cast involved, and a large number of crew and extras to manage. I have to credit my wife Courtney Shumway with much of that day’s success as she handled the lion’s share of its planning and coordination. There are also a few fight scenes in the film which were exciting to shoot. Then there was the sex scene between the two leads. The scene itself is crucial to the evolution of the story, so it had to be perfect. Fortunately our leads, Johnny Alonso, and Barb Myers had wonderful chemistry and the scene came to life fantastically.
How does partnering with your wife, the film’s producer, affect your process and methods?
Courtney is an amazing partner to work with, and keeps things on track, and doesn’t let me get lazy with stuff. The most important advantage for me is that we see things similarly. I can explain an idea I’m having to her, and she will get it right away, and often build on it. During the development and pre-production on Massé everything was about Massé. Conversations over dinner, while driving in the car somewhere, or waiting in line at the bank generally were about Massé. It’s fantastic to be able to hash things out and go over the details with someone that completely. I think in the end we both push each other to reach a little further, and try a little harder.
Emotionally, does the film hope to convey and how did you achieve this cinematically?
Massé runs the gamut of emotions, from happiness to anger, fear to excitement, and lust to sadness. Conveying these emotions was done in many ways. Sometimes a specific camera angle would help to suggest the characters emotion, other times it can be the lighting, or music associated with the scene. In addition, the main characters, Jack and Sara, share a world of their own, separate and untouched by those around them – we’ll be conveying this by using a unique color treatment for the two of them. In the end you still need a solid performance from your actor, and I was fortunate enough to get terrific performances from all the actors involved with Massé.
Were you involved in casting? Tell us about the cast.
Courtney and I did all the casting ourselves. The original auditions were held over a two day period and we were able to cast most of the parts from that. The casting call we put out brought actors from hundreds of miles to read for us, and we couldn’t be happier with the turnout or the cast-members who came out of that process. Coming out of the auditions we had not found our Sara yet, and the couple options we had for Jack did not work out. We continued doing private auditions for our leads. Barb Myers came in and blew us away with a great read for Sara, and became our female lead. We had more issues with Jack. We had cast Jonathon Ruckman a working actor from New York, as Pete, one of the main supporting characters in the film. Jonathon suggested and put us in touch with Johnny Alonso, an established actor from San Diego. Johnny came into town and sat down with us to discuss the project and read for Jack. Johnny gave us a incredible read, and brought a ton of positive energy to the production. It was immediately clear that Johnny was interested in the character, and listened intently as we described our vision to him. Ultimately we were able to assemble a fantastic cast with many local actors and a couple from outside the area. Not only did they all do great in realizing the characters, but made the shoot feel like a big group of friends.
Where are you filming and why did you choose those locations?
We have filmed almost entirely in or around downtown York, PA. As a small business in the community we have developed relationships several other businesses throughout the city. We partnered with the APA (American Pool Players Association) pool league, which operates out of several local bars, to gain access to locations, extras, and experienced pool players to help choreograph shots and work with our actors. The mansion location at 900 South George Street in York is a property currently on the market, and we worked Robyn Pottorff of Jack Gaughen Realty to secure the location. Since the property is vacant we had to rely heavily on our Art Director, Jose Montano, to furnish the areas of the house we were using and he did a fantastic job. There are a few locations outside the area that we used in order to achieve the right look for a specific scene or shot.
Shooting on location proved to be fairly cost effective, and we were able to do so largely due to the efforts of our great crew. Joe Koshinskie our Sound Engineer was able to ensure we got great audio even in some of the less then quiet locations we filmed in.
Have you watched the film with a public audience yet?
Massé is still in post production. We anticipate it to be completed in early 2013.
Where will audiences be able to see Massé?
When the film is completed we have planned a VIP screening of Massé at Cobblestones, one of our locations from the movie. This will be for all the cast and crew, and anyone involved with the production. Additionally we will be inviting members of the press, and may open it up to the public. The details are still being finalized. The plan after that is to take Massé on the festival circuit around the country. Further plans for distribution will be decided as we see how it does in festivals.
Bad Ferret Films website.