Talking A Single Shot with Director Rosenthal

Although David Rosenthal started out directing comedies (See This Movie and Falling Up), what he really wanted to do was neo-noir and he finally got his chance with A Single Shot, the Tribeca Film release that opens theatrically Sept. 20 and is currently available on VOD.

And it’s a great fit. Sam Rockwell stars as an impoverished poacher who takes a shot at a lone deer in the upstate New York wilderness and misses, accidentally killing a woman, and then discovers that she had a box with $100,000. But in a panic, he hides the body and grabs the cash, which leads him into an abyss when he becomes hunted by the white trash criminals it belongs to.

Think Edgar Allan Poe meets A Simple Plan, only with its own fascination and sense of entrapment: a rural noir containing disturbing images of a lonely, desperate man enshrouded with fog in the foreboding woods and yet trapped in his nightmarish dead-end town. Rockwell is at his moody, minimal best along with a great supporting cast (Bill Macy as a weird-looking, neurotic lawyer; Jeffrey Wright as his boozy, hillbilly buddy; Kelly Reilly as his estranged wife; and Jason Isaacs and Ted Levine as memorable off-beats).

As luck would have it, though, the movie fell into Rosenthal’s lap when the first director dropped out. His producing friend, Keith Kjarval, came calling to get him on board, knowing this is just what he was looking to direct. Rosenthal read Mat Jones’ script adapted from his novel, and was immediately seduced by the fatalistic atmospherics and lyrical quality. “As cities have become safer and cleaner and more antiseptic, the idea of the country being safer is no longer true,” Rosenthal told me. “What needed to happen with this film was to be as authentic and as brutal as possible.”

But Rosenthal still had to prove himself. So he took a page out of commercials and created a video pitch book, or a “ripomatic.”  It laid out his vision, literally.  On the basis of this and the script, Rockwell met with Rosenthal and they hit it off. Then Rockwell brought on Wright. Macy was already in place. Suddenly cast started signing on.

The director also used that pitch book to attract his crew and investors of all sorts, big and small. “The opening  was tough to choreograph, and the confrontation with Jeffrey, who liked playing a hillbilly, was tricky,” Rosenthal continues.  ”It started out as a 16-page scene with tremendous amounts of exposition. I worked on it with a writer and then Sam and I worked on it together and we were really worried that the movie would come to a grinding halt. Even on the day, I was worrying about the room and getting it right. But then you have Jeffrey and the two of them perform a gripping scene [of desperation and guilt].”

In choosing production designer David Brisbin, he wanted someone based out of Vancouver, where it was shot,  and he came recommended by friend Chris Weitz (New Moon). “We didn’t have enough money to execute our design ideas but he was very meticulous.”

However, Rosenthal, who trained as a cinematographer at the AFI, was very picky when it came to selecting a DP. He went with a young Spaniard, Eduard Grua (A Single Man). “The dialectic between a director and a DP can be somewhat contentious. But for us it was always about what served the story. We shot on film. For this, I wanted a film look and I don’t believe that digital carries the depth, the subtlety, and mystery of film and the photochemical process. The spectrum of white at the end of the curve doesn’t carry as well. Fog and cloud cover in this movie wouldn’t have handled it as well. We were the last project to run film through the lab in Vancouver. Movies shot digitally in Vancouver are now shipped to LA.”

Then Rosenthal hired an editor, Dan Robinson, without feature experience but liked his shorts. “He wasn’t able to leave his wife and two kids in London to cut in LA but it was cheaper for me to edit in London. It was great for me to be in a place that wasn’t familiar to me. It just got my brain going in a different way. It was push and pull. I didn’t want a traditional thriller. It’s a mood piece and actor driven. An elevated genre film.”

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Editing, Movies, Production Design, Tech, Trailers

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