Interview: Jeff Winner on Making Satellite

Interview: Jeff Winner on Making Satellite

 

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If you wish to revolutionize your life, hop on the back of a motorcycle and hit the road. That’s the philosophy of the two young lovers in Jeff Winner’s independent film, Satellite. Kevin and Ro (played by Karl Geary and Stephanie Szostak) meet cute, seeing in each other a sexy intelligence that sparks in them a desire to be spontaneous—to do all the things they were always afraid of doing. It’s a fantasy no doubt many in the film’s target audience wish they could realize in their own lives. Opening in New York City on August 9, Satellite is a fable grounded in the everyday. Shot in the streets of New York, probably without permits in true outlaw fashion, and in the cramped apartments and crowded nightclubs, Jeff Winner throws his audience right into the free-falling world of Kevin and Ro. The frequently handheld camerawork moves along at the energetic pace of the lovers, and dreamily lounges with them in their more intimate moments together. It’s about the energy and vibrancy of love, and the willingness to take a dare. But Winner isn’t creating a simplistic fairy tale, because he understands that true love also means genuine pain, and harsh arguments, and surviving confrontations. When Kevin and Ro promise early on never to lie to one another, they don’t realize the power of that bond. Once they realize the truth isn’t always pretty, and that it sometimes hurts, it tests their entire universe. But like the best movies of the French New Wave, Satellite deals with heavy issues without ever feeling like a textbook. It’s the perfect date movie for brainy romantics, closet idealists, and cynics with hearts of gold.

How did you conceive of Satellite? Did any personal need inspire this film?

It always tends to be the thoughts and ideas I’m haunted by in my own life. Inevitably, I have something I’m dealing with I’m not even sure I’m aware of it until I get to a particular part in a script and I can’t move forward because I don’t know the answer. I don’t know how to solve what is keeping my character down because I don’t know how to solve it for myself. Somehow in dealing with my issues within a character, they’re easier for me to address. Eventually after much soul mining, the most authentic answer arises. With Satellite in particular, I knew what they were rejecting and I knew why, but I didn’t know specifically what they hoped to gain.

What sort of tone were you going for?

I call it a fable and a morality tale where the events could, but wouldn’t necessarily need to be received at face value. Although I was really connected to this fairy-tale idea, I didn’t want to limit the potential for a raw, emotional journey from very real and believable characters.

I thought of the French New Wave a little while watching your movie—movies like Breathless which have a playfulness and sense of momentum to them. Would you say it is a fair comparison?

During the script process, my head isn’t occupied with ideas like that. However, when the script was completed and people began to make their associations, Breathless and the French New Wave came up a great deal. Jason Orans, one of the producers, really latched onto this idea. It definitely made sense for our production considering our limited means and our youthful characters’ focus on the existential. It just became something that we embraced within the style of our shoot, and the filmmaking. It didn’t hurt that we cast a Frenchie as a lead.

Did you consider that doing a road movie on a low budget or no budget scenario might be a daunting task?

The thrill of making this script a reality outweighed any other emotion. What I took from making [my previous feature] You Are Here* is, you do your prep and you surround yourself with people who believe in you and in the movie you want to make. In terms of prep, I’ve learned so much about filmmaking through editing. I had a good idea of what would work and how I was going to put it together. We had to move quickly and didn’t waste time on unnecessary coverage. More importantly, I was incredibly fortunate to be working with this team, [executive producer] Larry Fessenden [and producers] Brian Devine, Jason Orans and Jen Small, but especially [director of photography] Bino Marsetti. Bino has this inextinguishable spirit. Everyday he stepped up and made sure we got that day’s coverage. The entire shoot, I never heard him once complain.

Your lead actors, Karl Geary and Stephanie Szostak, are very well cast as Kevin and Ro. How did you choose them?

It was Karl’s performance in Michael Almereyda’s Happy Here and Now where he plays two characters, a cocksure cowboy and a sensitive, insecure firefighter that first made me see him as Kevin. We didn’t see anyone else for the role. For the female lead, Stephanie stole the audition. Nobody came close. She nailed Ro. She was our second audition and we just knew. We did our due diligence, we saw a lot of ladies for the role, but after every audition, Jen Small and I would turn to each other and say, she doesn’t compare. Whatever that actress did, it just didn’t compare to Stephanie’s Ro.

There’s a strong attraction between these characters. Could you describe what happens between them?

I see them as two people who meet and instantly fall for each other. They share a dissatisfaction with the ways their lives are turning out. Through the confidence that comes from being loved and in love—and to avoid past mistakes—they challenge each other with two deals. One, to never lie to each other and two, to dare the other to do the things they’re most afraid of—all for the purpose of living a life more authentic. Before you know it, they’ve quit their jobs, sold their possessions and…well, I won’t say more here.

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