Tuesday, April 20, 2010

David Brind Dishes on DARE

Filmmaker David Brind visited Bryn Mawr Film Institute on Wednesday, April 14 to teach a free Filmmaking Master Class and to introduce and discuss an evening screening of Dare, the high-school drama he co-produced and scripted. We have done a lot of really wonderful events here at BMFI since we re-opened in 2005, but this Master Class is one of my personal favorites. David was disarming and engaging, leading a no-holds barred discussion of Dare’s five-year journey from his MFA short at Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program to the feature’s premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. He dished about screenwriting, fundraising, the role of producers, agents and investors, and struggling to get good distribution even after a much-hyped premiere and good reviews. Keep reading for excerpts about how Dare made it to the big screen.

Dare stars Emmy Rossum (The Phantom of the Opera, The Day After Tomorrow) as Alexa, a clean-cut aspiring actress in the spring of her senior year of high school who decides to push her limits after an arrogant actor (Alan Cumming) tells her that she lacks experience and challenges her to do something that scares her. Remaking herself into a free spirited risk-taker leads her to seduce her acting partner, the rebellious, popular Johnny (Zach Gilford, NBC’s Friday Night Lights). When her shy best friend Ben (Ashley Springer) also pursues Johnny, the three must navigate an increasingly complicated situation as the school year draws to a close. Told in three parts, one focusing on each of the teens’ perspectives, Dare is set in the suburbs of Philadelphia and was filmed locally.

Excerpts from David's class:

What was your inspiration for the short?
The central image for the short was two boys by a pool with a champagne bottle on a ledge. Thematically for me it’s about that moment in adolescence when you have a real connection with the most unexpected of people.

What inspired the feature?
Alexa was a peripheral character [in the short]. I got to capture in that moment [she shares a look with Ben after he has had an intimate encounter with Johnny] that she knows something’s shifted. That moment was my way into the feature film. ‘Who is this girl? What does she know about her friend? What are her feelings about Johnny?’ So I wrote a scene about their conversation in my file-o-fax on a train about 1-1/2 months after shooting the [short] film. That scene made it to the screen [in the feature] unchanged. I started the feature script in September 2004 and finished the first draft in August 2005.

What fueled the expansion of the story from the short to the feature?
So hard to say. With Dare it was extremely personal. It felt like I knew these characters and they were in my head. I’ve always loved high school movies like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, and I wanted to subvert the stereotypes. Of course my own personal experiences from high school influenced the film as well, because you have to write what you know. It’s the oldest adage, but it’s true.

I never had any intention of exploring the same thing as the short. In the short I wanted to tell a twisty, sexy story about a boy who takes a risk and does something he doesn’t expect. In the feature I wanted to expand these three concepts of the good girl, bad boy, and outsider. The feature’s psychologically more complex and more personal. The short’s 17-18 pages, not much revision. With the feature, things get cut and rearranged and rewritten and some scenes don’t feel like my babies anymore.

How did you get support for the feature?
Strand Releasing [the distribution company for the short] connected us with different people to send the script to. There was one producer that courted us offering $500,000, but he wanted nudity and there wasn’t any in the script. (There’s sex, language, underage drinking and smoking, so I’m hardly a prude, but there’s no nudity.) The producer wanted me to add nudity and kept looking for places to do it: “Throw in a shower scene—I don’t know about you, but I shower naked.” Finally, he said, “If you want to get the nickel, you’ve got to show the pickle.” We said no.

Another person who really liked the script was Mary Jane Skalski (producer of The Station Agent, Mysterious Skin, The Visitor). After we passed on the one offer, we decided to throw ourselves at her mercy. She explained that she didn’t want to produce anything just then but said, “I really love your script so I guess I’ll have to produce.” She brought in casting director Kerry Barden (Good Will Hunting, The Visitor, Pineapple Express, Bad Boys II), and we started seeing a list of actors for roles.

Did the film change a lot in post-production?
We spent two months just editing the ending. The ending was found in the editing room.
The editor is hugely important. A film starts with a script, is retold by the director, and is retold again by the editor. Each one doesn’t know exactly what the other ones were thinking, so they bring their own unique spin to the project. It’s a collaborative medium and everyone contributes.

Did you intend to make a “gay film”?
I didn’t intend to tell a “gay” story. I felt like I wanted to tell this story and it had gay content. On a commercial level, having gay content is difficult, unless you’re gay, gay, gay all of the time. The question becomes, “Who do we market it to?”

A member of Bryn Mawr Film Institute’s advisory board, Philadelphia-born filmmaker David Brind wrote the screenplay and co-produced Dare, his first feature. He also wrote and produced the award-winning 2003 short film of the same name, which provided the basis for the feature. The short played at over fifty film festivals worldwide and was picked up by Strand Releasing as part of Boys’ Life 5, a series of gay-themed short films. David has also directed three short films, including Twenty Dollar Drinks with Sandra Bernhard and Tony Award-winner Cady Huffman, which premiered in competition at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.

Also a successful theater director, David directed Sandra Bernhard in her one-woman show titled Sandra Bernhard: Everything Bad and Beautiful, which ran for four months off-Broadway in 2006 and was restaged at Philadelphia’s Prince Music Theater in 2007. He participated as a director of the benefit performances of “The A-Train Plays” at New World from 2006 to 2008 and also directed Cady Huffman in her first one-woman show, which premiered at the Ars Nova Theater and later played at Birdland Jazz Club in 2007. Recently he directed a reading of playwright Jerome Kass’ Love Song that featured Matthew Broderick and Alan Cumming.

David received his B.A. from Yale University as a double major in Theater Studies and American Studies. He received his MFA in Screenwriting from Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program.

Watch a trailer and find more information about Dare here.