Having been casting director, food gal, executive producer and all around moral support for the 2011 short film, The Catastrophe, I feel a certain kinship to this film. After having seen it about ten times, I am still left with questions regarding writer and director Michael Glover Smith’s intentions. So why not ask? Smith was gracious enough to pimp his movie a little and give me some face time, a.k.a. sitting across the dining room table Sunday morning in our jammies over coffee.
JM: Could you please describe The Catastrophe in one sentence, and I’ll leave it up to you whether you’d like to describe the plot, the story, the general feeling, etc.?
MGS: This is tough but, in one sentence, here goes: The Catastrophe is a dramatic story, told in poetic, dreamlike images, about a man who has the gradual, dawning realization that he may have made the wrong decisions in life.
JM: Have any other directors influenced how you wrote/directed this film?
MGS: In terms of specific shots and specific effects, yes, but not in terms of the end result. I did show a lot of different film clips to Justin Cameron, our brilliant director of photography, as visual references for the kind of “feel” I wanted to go for in certain scenes. For example, I showed him the interrogation scene from Zodiac in order to communicate how I wanted our opening bathroom scene to start out distanced and objective but then become increasingly ominous and paranoid-feeling as we steadily bring the camera closer to the actors and the shots become more and more subjective. But obviously, our film as a whole bears no resemblance to Zodiac. I did a similar thing with the hanging scene; we watched parts of Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped and talked about using lots of close-ups to fragment the human body the way Bresson did. Also, I dedicated the movie to Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, two unfairly imprisoned Iranian filmmakers, but that was more a show of political solidarity than anything. If any Iranian director could be said to be a stylistic influence on this movie, it would be Abbas Kiarostami; I was thinking of his films when I was writing the script because I knew I wanted to have a lot of scenes of our protagonist driving in his car and talking on his cell phone.
JM: When you write and direct a film, do you keep a certain audience in mind?
MGS: I used to try and have a general audience in mind but I think that kind of thinking has gotten me into trouble. In the past, I would always second guess myself and think, “Well, if this film isn’t successful, it’s because I wasn’t thinking commercially enough.” So I would rely on formulas and genre conventions to communicate ideas in a shorthand way, knowing that those things had worked in other movies (I’m specifically thinking of the use of faux-documentary interviews in my previous film At Last, Okemah!). When you try and second guess how a general audience (i.e., a faceless blob of people) will respond, I think you also sacrifice some of your own understanding of what you’re doing. So, with The Catastrophe, I decided to just go with my gut every step of the way. Whether it was writing, directing or editing, I kept thinking, “This feels organically right. This makes perfect sense to me even if it might seem weird to others.” Or to put it another way: I considered myself to be the audience. I finally made a movie that completely satisfied me personally, which makes me feel like it will have the same effect on others, even if that’s a very small group of people. I’ve come to realize I would rather completely satisfy a small group of people than partially satisfy a lot of people.
JM: When you write and direct a sex scene, do you feel like you do it from your personal perspective, a [general] male perspective, or something all together different?
JM: What do you aim to achieve by showing us nudity, male and female, and a sex scene?
JM: As the movie comes to its end, it leaves the audience hanging because not much has been realized by the characters/is not a finished story. Do you feel that because the film is the first part of a longer script, it will be more difficult to be taken seriously by the audience?
JM: At the end of the film, Carlie does something with her face (I won’t spoil the surprise) that makes me think that she is actually not happy, and in that way I do not read it in a way that she feels that she can exist without him. Can you comment on that as a possible interpretation?
JM: Thanks Mike, and we’ll see you at the Illinois International Film Festival on November 19th for your Chicago premiere!
Director Info: Smith is an independent filmmaker and Film Studies instructor based in Chicago, Illinois and currently teaches film studies/history at four (yes, four) colleges around the Chicagoland area. The Catastrophe is Mike’s third film.