Oregon director Tom Bertling is a perfectionist when it comes to filmmaking. His 70-minute film “Lexie Cannes” — about a deaf transgendered person who is being stalked — spent years in post-production before it was finished.
He not only focused on the editing, but also storytelling. His character, Lexie Cannes, is deaf and so the movie has no natural sound. As Bertling explains, “Deaf people, by nature, are visual people. Film, of course, is a visual medium. This is why, by and large, I focused on the visual aspect of story telling.”
In this interview, Bertling discusses making films locally, what it was like to be more than a director, and why “Lexie Cannes” is an important film.
How did the “Lexie Cannes” come together?
It was something that I had in the back of my mind for quite a while when I was working on other writing and video projects. Once I got the time, I basically plowed through until it was completed.
The character of Lexie Cannes is both deaf and transgender. Was there any particular reason you wanted the character to have both of these qualities?
Most successful writers will tell you to write what you know. Since I’ve written a number of books on the subject of deafness and knew a bit about transgender issues, it was a relatively easy decision to go this route with the characters.
Your film was made in Portland, Ore. Was this done out of necessity or do you feel it is important to film locally?
While I had the luck of living near a filmmaker-friendly city like Portland — shooting the outdoor location shots anywhere near LA would easily add hundreds of thousands of dollars to a film’s budget — I did purposely include the city of Portland as an element of the film. Low-budget filmmakers really should write their scripts to reflect what the filmmakers have available to them nearby at low or no cost.
Did you have any problems when it came to filming?
Oh yes, plenty of the typical filmmaking horror stories. But the trick is to expect some things to go wrong so you can quickly make smart decisions on the fly when things actually begin to go haywire!
In your film, there is no natural sound. How did this decision come about?
The majority of the film has music either in the background or in the forefront, setting the tone for the scenes. We actually had natural ambient sound in the first “final cut,” but I ultimately decided to remove it because the universal feeling was that the lead character is deaf and would not be hearing the sounds anyway. The music fairly accurately reflects what “Lexie” is feeling at any given moment, enabling the viewers to immerse themselves into Lexie’s character. Besides, the music in the film is fantastic. I lucked out in finding indie musician Bill McGee to contribute to the project. His music fits the film perfectly.
In the opening of “Lexie Cannes,” there are lot of scantily-clad people. Were those actors or actual people on the street?
Only the people that can be identified are actors, the vast majority that cannot be identified are actual people in the street. I sort of went for a documentary look here — a side of urban life in Portland that exists but most people are unaware of. What can I say? The truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
You were the director, producer, writer and an actor in the film. Was it hard to juggle all of that?
There is a school of thought that one should never write, direct and act in the same film. In low-budget films, however, being the writer and director allows flexibility to make changes on the fly — an advantage that can make for a better film. Acting is another story. The trick to pulling this off is for the director/actor to avoid being in the same shots with other actors as much as possible. This way the director can shoot the other actors, send them home, then go back and shoot himself to match the action he previously shot with other actors. This is a great way to fix mistakes, change dialogue or shoot difficult shots. If you write the script carefully, you won’t need any other actors for most of the shots the director/actor is in. If you take a look at the film, you’ll see that by and large, I’m the only one in most of the shots I’m in even though it appears I’m interacting with the other actors. That’s the magic of moviemaking. One can fake quite a bit.
Do you have plans to take “Lexie Cannes” further?
We’ve been selected for film festivals later this year, including one on the East coast and another in Europe. We’re also waiting a number of others that have yet to render their decisions. I’m planning to start the second round of festival submissions this summer. I’m also thinking of doing a limited-run, low-cost DVD release later this year to be followed by an official DVD release (with all the bells and whistles) next year. People interested in the early version can follow me on Facebook/LexieCannes for that announcement.
What’s next for you?
I have a couple of projects on the backburner, any of which can come to the front if money surfaces. Although “Lexie Cannes” was made for less than $10,000, I’d like to be able to have enough to pay the cast and crew more than just a token amount. If there are any shortcomings with “Lexie Cannes,” it’s all tied to the limited amount of funds we had. It would have been nice to shoot additional scenes and fund other production/script elements, but “Lexie Cannes” stands alone by itself very well. It’s something everybody involved with the film should be proud of.
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Follow Allison Higginbotham on Twitter at http://twitter.com/allisonbh.