Sunday, November 14, 2010

Alumni Update: Derek Dubois

The premiere of Derek Dubois' new film, The Kiss, opens an evening with the Ocean State Film Society this Wednesday in Alger 110. The RIC Media Studies Blog talked to Dubois as he was finishing the film.
SS: Tell me a little bit about your new film, The Kiss.

DD: The Kiss began as a short screenplay I wrote this past summer. The original inspiration came from a story on NPR’s This American Life in which a woman attempted to woo a man she’d never met by pretending they had known each other many, many years ago. I had written a script called Little White Lies but found that I couldn’t reconcile a decent climax to the material. So, nearly abandoning it entirely, I invested an afternoon trying to retool the idea and eventually came up with the film as it is now.

The Kiss tells the whimsical story of Olivia Adams, a female film student who has developed a mad crush on her nebbish professor. By casting him in her student film as (unbeknownst to him) her love interest, she aspires to generate sparks in reality. The final result doesn’t resemble the NPR story in the slightest but the shape and tone of it are there under the surface.

I’ve worked with a larger cast and crew on this film than ever before. We shot in real locations including a classroom at RIC and on the streets of Providence as well as designed and built proper sets.

SS: Some of the content of your site highlights your interest in the theoretical side of media and, more specifically, film. In what ways has your writing been informed directly by the RIC Media Studies coursework?

DD: I came up through RIC with an undergrad in Film Studies. My goal was always to pursue film further so I decided to go to grad school. At the time, I had quite a lot going on in my life with work, an upcoming wedding, etc. so I decided it would be easiest for me to simply continue at RIC. However, since RIC doesn’t have an M.A. in Film Studies, I hopped into Media Studies (which I’ve always held an interest in) and concentrated on film.

Through both my B.A. and M.A. I encountered tons of theory. I’ve found that the film program at RIC, unlike some other schools, is more organized around the principles of film analysis then filmmaking. Frankly, I find that far more interesting. To truly be a great filmmaker I believe that one needs to deconstruct films as well as examine how cinema functions within culture, ideology, society. That’s not to denigrate the importance of learning how to handle cameras, lighting, editing (RIC’s film program does have a wonderful workshop in filmmaking) but I think if you study enough film and you have the drive for it…the rest comes naturally.

Theory has a huge impact on my filmmaking. I tend to enjoy playing with genre conventions as well as placing my films (deliberately) under various theoretical lenses during the writing/shoot phase rather than just analyzing the text in such a way afterwards. That is, I try and construct my films in layers to be pulled apart and read by those familiar with theory.

For example: the last film I’d completed before working on The Kiss was a dramatic short entitled Curiosity Delay. Curiosity Delay focuses on a young woman in an abusive relationship who finds herself at a literal and metaphorical crossroads when her car breaks down on a road trip. During the writing of this film I’d been working for nearly a year on my Media Studies thesis, which focused on applications of feminist film theory. So few films rebel against the patriarchal order (in an entertaining way) and I wanted to give it a shot myself. So I wrote a film that centers on an active female character making a choice in which she rejects domesticity. I shot the film in such a way so as not to fetishize the female lead, not to eroticize her movements, and not to break her into pieces. I left the ending ambiguous so as to not force her back into domestic servitude at the end of the narrative. You can be the judge as to how successful I was in accomplishing these tasks and whether it’s even possible to shoot a feminist film in the system that was developed under patriarchy in the first place!

SS: You're currently a teacher here at RIC and you continue to write, produce and direct your own films. To what extent, if any, do you feel that theory and practice are at odds and even competing for your time and attention?

DD: When I was lucky enough to begin teaching at RIC I did not enter the task lightly. My extracurricular filming always comes second to my responsibilities to both RIC and, more importantly, my students. That said, per my earlier response, I don’t feel that theory and practice are at odds in my work. Rather, I feel that my theoretical base only enhances both my teaching and filmmaking abilities. That’s not to say every single film I write attempts to function within a theoretical framework! Sometimes for my own sanity (and the sake of the films) I need to ignore that [theoretical] half of my brain and focus on good storytelling. I find that immensely exciting too because then you can analyze your own work after the fact and try to see how this now autonomous being (independent from its creator once it enters society) reads as a text for analyzing…it’s an interesting form of therapy, of cracking open your own skull and seeing how your creative instincts cohere to, or rebel against, that which you’ve studied and whether this is due to, or regardless of, that knowledge….if that makes sense?

SS: Tell me a little bit about your early interest in Media and Film Studies.

DD: Funny enough when I began my college career it was in Computer Science. I’d never had a family that was really interested in the arts. I can’t remember my parents ever reading for pleasure, attending museums, even just walking the streets of a city to take in the sights and sounds. Therefore college was just something I had to do for a stable and fruitful future and that’s what I assumed Computer Science would offer. It wasn’t until I stumbled into Film Studies (through an elective course: Eng. 116) that I realized how in love with the humanities I really was. My interests do not simply extend to cinema but to literature, psychology, sociology, history, and art. For some reason though, and I can’t explain why, film had this crazy gravitational pull on me and ever since that 116 course (the course I teach today!) I’ve never looked back.

SS: Other than shopping your new screenplay, Old Town, what's next for you creatively?

DD: As I’ve noted ad-nauseam The Kiss is almost completed! I wrote it in June so now that we approach the end of the year it’s really exciting to be bringing this thing into fruition. I know that Woody Allen has stated he judges the success of his films by how close the end result meets the original feeling and tone he’d had in his head when writing his screenplay. I feel that with this film we haven’t had to sacrifice anything and I cannot wait to show it to the world. And, of course, by the world I mean the very small and local community…All kidding aside, The Kiss will be submitted to as many festivals as I can afford. As for what’s next? Well, while shooting The Kiss I wrote two new short screenplays: Murder My Sweet-Pea (a burlesque-musical-murder-mystery) and Fallout (a psychological horror film). The former seems a bit resource heavy right now but the latter will enter preproduction shortly after this picture is wrapped.

SS: Are you planning on more school? If so, whereabouts?

DD: I love teaching at the college level. More than anything I’ve ever done, it just feels right. But the time commitments are so intense for attaining Ph.Ds that I don’t find it conceivable for me to embark on that leg of a journey right now. I’ve just recently picked up teaching a second course at RWU. They currently don’t have a film program but wanted to add a history of film survey course to their art history program. I designed the course from the ground up and can’t wait to get started on that. That’s excitement enough for me at this time.

SS: In a blog post entitled "The Paradox of 'Making It'" you discuss the ever-moving goal post of your own aspirations. What does "making it" look like to you these days?
DD: The blog post I’d written entitled “Making It” was always a little bit tongue in cheek. I mean, ideally (in an If I Won the Lottery kind of way) I’d love to write and direct my own films at a comfortable indie level. I’d love to have the career of Paul Thomas Anderson (my favorite contemporary filmmaker) or Christopher Nolan in his Following days. Small movies that allow for more creative control because the financial burden is so limited is what appeals to me the most. I would love to sell a screenplay as well. I wrote a full length this summer that I think with some tweaking could be a real contender. However, it’s breaking through, developing contacts, etc. that proves to be the toughest. I don’t think I’d want the life of a writer though. I couldn’t bear to watch my kids raised by other parents if the metaphor makes sense. I’m an egomaniac when it comes to my artistic projects.

Going forward I’ll write and I’ll shoot. Other than that I’d love to keep a strong relationship with RIC as I try to lure those English 116 students into the Film Studies program full time.