To coincide with our Fine Cut festival, KCET is conducting interviews with the participating filmmakers. Here, we speak with Alexander Gaeta, the writer/director of "Shoot the Moon," about themes of hope, game shows, and international film festivals.
First watch the trailer here:
What do you consider the value of telling a story where hope seems to be in sources outside our own personal economic control?
I think themes of hope are universal to the human experience, spanning culture, time, and demographics. When developing the story, I definitely had this in mind. My hope was to connect with as many audiences as possible rather than defaulting to a story endemic to a specific time and place. I suppose this is the hope for almost every storyteller, but I think the challenge of crafting great stories is finding those themes and ideas that connect us, those that are universally shared. Hope if something we all share whenever we desire outcomes outside of our control. Some might call it faith, where they place all their hope in God to sort out their lives in ways they cannot. This is a central issue in "Shoot the Moon," but instead of God, all hope is placed in a television set and a daytime game show. In American culture at least, this seems to be especially prevalent. Whether it's religion, television, or playing the lottery, everyone hopes for a miracle to swoop in and fix their life and problems.
How does your film comment on the way we interact with entertainment and pop culture?
To me, entertainment in U.S. culture can have a corrosive impact on what we value, what we aspire to, and how we live our lives. Game shows, at their worst, are an outlet for consumerism, akin to televangelism spouted from products and corporations that have little regard for what they're selling and who they're selling to. The promises of game shows, the glitz, and this "get something for nothing" rhetoric have a way of deceiving and manipulating those who are desperate, impressionable, and needy. It's for this same reason that the biggest buyers of lotto tickets often have the lowest income levels. I used this backdrop to craft my characters in "Shoot the Moon," specifically Marcy Meyers, who is a struggling mother facing foreclosure.
You've brought this film to many festivals, some international. What has been your best festival experience so far?
By far the best festival experience I've had was at the Clermont-Ferrand Short Festival in France. The sheer volume of shorts was astounding, along with a legitimate film market where we had opportunities to meet distributors and shop the film around. What really impressed me was attending the festival and repping the film under an "International" category. It really put the film in an international context, which is an experience you simply can't have in any U.S. festival. I was really humbled by an amazing and diverse range of foreign cinema -- Europe is known for a finer and more-prevalent appreciation and consumption of short-form cinema. Never have my ideas of film craft and story been so shaken and destroyed. Of all the festivals I've attended, this is the one I truly hope to return to.
You came to Chapman with a background in documentary filmmaking. How does the documentary process compare to creating a fictional work such as this?
Documentary and narrative filmmaking have complex similarities and differences, though I wouldn't pretend to be a seasoned veteran of either format. I think the biggest differences lie in how each are produced, but they are linked with the same end goal, which is to capture and create compelling drama that people care about. One thing I really valued coming from a documentary background is understanding the virtues of research. When I'm fictionalizing people and events, it's incredibly easy to default to stereotype and fall into group-think, especially when your characters and story-world are completely different from your own life experience. Authenticity is incredibly important, especially when dealing with prominent and sensitive social issues. If not given the research it deserves, even simple stories can come off as pretentious, ignorant, and insensitive. In my opinion there's no faster way to lose or piss off your audience.
What's next for you?
I'm currently working on another short. It's a Spanish-language film I plan to shoot in Baja California. After that, I think it will be hard to continue avoiding a feature, though I've become exceedingly talented at doing so. In between, I've been lucky enough to secure studio work and am having some great experiences learning about the industry.