"Give up on the fear of exploring the unknown"
David Leidy is an award winning director, writer and producer, who dives deep into mystical realms to bring forth metamorphosis. David's latest film, Platonic, is a surreal mystery-fantasy film about a woman who discovers a pregnant woman in her house, right after dreaming about a murder scene. In May 2019, Platonic won 4 awards at LAFA, including Best Mystery Film, Best Experimental Film, Best Film Noir and an Honorable Mention for Best Actress (Rebecca Spiro). We invited David to join us for an interview, and met a passionate artist who is never afraid to explore ("Some of the biggest things you think are mistakes end up being the most iconic parts of the film"). If you need inspiration and some great tips, keep reading!
David, congratulations again on winning several awards at LAFA! Before we dive into the filmmaking process, let's talk a bit about you. Tell us when did you develop an interest in filmmaking, and how did you start out?
When my mom saw my passion for writing and making films she began introducing me to various classics such as Hitchcock’s mysteries, Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and The Twilight Zone.
When I was around the age of eight I asked my parents for a camcorder and that same year they gave me one for my birthday.
What were some of your early influences and who are some of your favorite filmmakers? What do you enjoy about their work?
Some people are more inspired by personal experiences, others by other directors and so forth. For me, it’s usually through imagination and dreams that inspire me to create. For our purposes, I’ve listed some more influences below.
Here are some influential directors –
Luis Bunuel, Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman and Jacques Rivette
Bunuel – His deep psychology of females, colorful visuals and wild scenarios.
Hitchcock – Psycho, Vertigo and North by Northwest really showed me how to build suspense, frame and move the camera and where to plant red herrings.
Bergman – His blend of memory and dream which bring forth the psychological archetypes of his stories; visual poetry mixed with heavy dialogue scenes.
Rivette – Deep mythologically and esoterically based narratives. Precise kinetic lighting and blocking of actors and camera.
More influences –
Jean Pierre Melville, Terrence Malick, Roman Polanski, Andrei Tarkovsky and Charlie Kaufman (his screenplays). Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang, Celine Serreau’s La Belle Verte and Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express.
Fantasies such as Hayao Miyazaki films, Labyrinth and Neverending Story along with Donnie Darko and Eternal Sunshine influenced me at a younger age.
Influential forces come from everywhere. I’ll spot an art piece on a street corner or hear a song at the mall and think “I should do something with that!” It’s often much less structured and calculated than most people think.
My biggest influences often stem from a spark of imagination or a dream that rocks me to my core. My projects become a subtle blend of many things.
When you held the position of Cinema Literacy and Professional Chair, you helped founding Delta Kappa Alpha (DeKA). How did you first get involved and what were some of your responsibilities?
At Santa Monica College soon after I met now SXSW nominated cinematographer Tobias Deml who would go on to shoot one of my shorts.
While attending NYU, I saw online that Toby was a founding member of cinema society Delta Kappa Alpha (DeKA) at UC Berkeley. DeKA’s Expansion Coordinator Andy Dulman whom I’d met before Toby on a USC thesis film was going to NYU next. So I reached out, applied and became a refounding member.
Can you share a bit about your experience with Emmy award winning writer and director Justin Lerner? What did you learn from working with him?
There were too many to able to go into everything I learned here but a mentorship is so valuable for those in film industry. I owe a lot of my craft to him.
The main things were basically as follows –
(1) The screenplay is the cheapest thing you can fix on a production so may as well get that solid before shooting.
Write simply and think in terms of visuals and actions.
(2) Worry about piecing the puzzle of the story together before worrying about what it all means.
As storytellers we must set out on a journey, excavate our findings and present what we uncovered to bring forth a sense of discovery for ourselves and ultimately our viewers. Storytelling is a process rather than an equation.
(a) Emotions are yin and motions are yang – yin-yang.
A gripping story comes from unique characters making emotionally and physically challenging choices in their actions so it’s not about more story or more character. How the two contrast and compliment each other is key.
Character emotions lead to ultimate story motions and vice versa.
(b) Characters and story create theme and not vice versa.
Ultimately piece the story and character elements and mechanics together by pushing them to their emotional and logical ends then morals or themes will follow. If vice versa, the story will likely be contrived and preachy.
Focus on things that directly pertain to the story such as character motives (she wants to reunite with her father) or objects (foreshadowing a weapon that’s fired at the end) and let viewers decide what it means for themselves.
(3) Align yourself with greatness and become it.
Watching bad films can be helpful but better than that is to surround yourself with the classics you love and talented people you aspire to be.
(4) Explore and experiment with a safety net by doing micro budget projects first so you won’t make colossal errors on macro budgets. In order to be things, you must learn by doing them. The stuff that’s being done wrong will almost always be discovered most impactfully firsthand.
When did you found Eidetic Pictures and PalmVine, what does each production company expertise in?
Eidetic Pictures was founded was made for legal purposes for my feature documentary before it premiered at Plaza Frontenac in 2010. Eidetic is now a limited liability company used on all my productions.
Palm Vine Media (or PalmVine) was founded last year and deals with mostly publishing, marketing and distribution of multimedia.
I bet you have a pretty intense schedule! How do you balance family and career? Can you describe a typical day in your life?
Yes, very intense. This is the price I guess we pay for doing what we love. In terms of schedule, it varies from project to project.
Let's discuss Platonic. How did you come up with the idea?
My was wife pregnant with our daughter and it was a very stressful time. It got me thinking about all the baggage we carry with us into parenthood which we pass on to our children. How from this somewhat egocentric depraved act comes such a selfless responsibility.
I’d also been reading some of Jose Rivera’s magical realist plays, Freudian psychology and Plato’s dialogues. The scene where Aubrey and her student discuss her lecture on Freud’s Psychology of Love was supposed to be mirroring the scene in Phaedrus where Socrates discusses love and beauty in relation to reincarnation with his pupil Phaedrus.
This grand scale of topics which also involved my life meshed into this surreal mystery that became Platonic.
The cast did such an incredible job (especially Dasha Leidy, and Rebecca Spiro who won the Honorable Mention for her acting). What was your casting process like and how did you work with the ensemble to achieve such great performances?
As far as casting, Dasha Leidy’s co-stars Mark Thomas and Rebecca Spiro were discovered in a theater acting class I was auditing taught by reputable playwright Lyle Kessler (Orphans starring Alec Baldwin). Dasha and I met Rebecca and Mark through that and cast them due to appearing great for the roles.
Rebecca creates such a nice next door neighbor feel to the role of Carol which reels viewers in while making them forget that she’s seemingly broken into Aubrey’s house. That came from Rebecca being a phenomenal actress but also her embodying the role.
When trying to provoke emotional responses I gave the actors as much backstory as possible. On set, I collaborated with the art designer and co-cinematographer to create the mood so the actors could believe they’re in those roles and that things are actually happening. Everything is made to feel real.
Despite how absurd these scenarios seem, the actors bring the characters to life drawing us into those moments by their emotional depth.
How did you communicate your directorial vision to the cinematographer, editor, and other crew members? Did you use any visual references?
For the makeup artist Charlotte Kraftman, I basically told her how old the characters were and how rough their lives had been at certain points.
The cinematography was done half by me and editing entirely by me under my pseudonym Dylan Riviera so I just envisioned what was in my head.
For the other cinematographer Derek Means I showed him visual references from things such as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives (Neon Demon hadn’t been shot yet) mixed with Ryan Gosling’s Lost River and Jacques Rivette’s Duelle.
Cliff Martinez’s music from Only God Forgives had been on repeat in my headphones when writing Platonic and a lot of Martinez’s music was in the temp track while editing and served as an aid for the composer Ezra Reich.
What was the most challenging experience during production? Did anything unexpected happen on set?
The scene where Dasha as Aubrey wakes up toward the end of the film and walks over to the mirror was a one shot take with just me and her on set in our tiny apartment.
That shot required nine tungsten lights, a cheap crane rig with sandbags, a cheap collapsing rig holding the camera by gaffer tape, dozens of burning gels and a fog machine among other variables.
We did that take 40 times to get it in all one take. Dasha was a bit mad at
me by the end but when she saw the third to final take we ended up using in the film a few weeks later she realized it had all been worth it.
In your opinion, what are the ingredients for creating the perfect film?
Giving up on seeking perfection and rather seek what’s meaningful for you.
Choose a topic, character, location or even an idea that stimulates your interest enough to want to do something with that. Write a visual kinetic story based on that with unique characters put in heightened scenarios.
Choose scenarios that you can shoot in a way that’s believable given the resources and skillsets which you have at your disposal.
Find locations and actors who already embody what you’re going for so no big tweaks must be made on set like art design, makeup and performance.
Cast talented actors who know how to be larger than life and improvise when needed and know when to step in and tell them to tone it down.
Lock in a great cinematographer who already owns a nice camera, gear and lights or can get cheap rental deals on them.
Let the dominoes fall as they will. Improvise and innovate on set with all the variables that are in play.
Give up on the fear of exploring the unknown. Some of the biggest things you think are mistakes end up being the most iconic parts of the film so leave room for exploration and being wrong.
Please tell us about future projects and what are you currently working on?
I am amid working on some feature screenplays and books hoping
to get them a bit more funding before press releasing anything.
Two science fiction thrillers in the million dollar budget range seeking funding and a micro budget mystery thriller with all capital raised.
If anybody would like to reach out for details on these projects please contact me over email listed below.
Is there anything you wish to add or anyone you wish to thank?
If anybody is looking to represent a screenwriter or director with a bold original vision, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am currently seeking representation and am happy to provide any samples, screenplays or information necessary.
Thank you to anybody who read this far and anybody else who read or saw anything else of mine!
Where can our readers follow more of your work (social media links, website, etc)?
Personal – davidleidy.com
Instagram – @PalmVine (instagram.com/palmvine)
Facebook – facebook.com/leidyfilm
Vimeo – vimeo.com/davidleidy
Platonic Now Streaming – vimeo.com/ondemand/plato
(DISCOUNT CODE: CAVE1123)
(it shows preorder ended August 12 but the film won’t be available for download until another 2 months thus the discount will still be valid until then.)