❉ The award-winning indie filmmaker on his new feature, which sees the return of the elusive Cristina Marsillach.
With his new film, Simple Like Silver, making its debut on Amazon Prime, We Are Cult’s Nick Clement caught up with award winning indie filmmaker and screenwriter Damian K. Lahey, for a discussion about this boldly artistic project.
In 2018, Lahey convinced historically elusive Spanish actress Cristina Marsillach (Dario Argento’s Opera, Gabriele Salvatore’s Marrakech Express, Every Time We Say Goodbye) to appear in his new film. He flew her and co-producer Carmen Olmo into the United States from Spain, and they travelled in and around St. Augustine, Florida, pretending they were tourists while shooting the guerilla-styled production.
Our first We Are Cult interview with Lahey about this project can be found here: https://wearecult.rocks/interview-damian-k-lahey. In case you missed it, grab a cuppa and catch up, and wind back here to join us back in present-day April 2021. Now read on…
Congratulations, Damian! I want to say… Not only is your newest effort really good, but it’s a unique and magical film.
Ha-ha! Thank you. It feels good. We’re happy. Relieved and happy. It’s a small thing but…you want it to perform and people are responding to it.
Hey, it’s a film lover’s movie. The filmmaking is controlled and disciplined, and you conjured up some gorgeous images. Your love of cinema shines through with an effort like this, which feels steeped in genre.
Cristina is both haunting and regal in this. It’s a great return for her!
And more importantly, an appropriate one. After all these years, I found a story like this, a triptych-type narrative, would serve her better, and would really make her presence pop. I also didn’t want to put her in an unfair position. I wasn’t going to have her running around like she’s 30.
Yes, enchanting with just the right amount of introspection and remorse.
That part was recorded in Spain during Covid. She put a lot into it – gave us a lot of options.
It paid off. What did she think of the film?
She liked it a lot. Thought it was a very nice reflection of the time we had and what we discussed before shooting. A ’mystery’ that also served as an affectionate ode to cinema with a touch of smart ass humour thrown in for good measure.
Ha-ha. Do you guys plan on working together again?
Definitely. There’s a couple of small projects we’re talking about. She’s terrific. A great worker and a great friend.
Susanna Nelson, and the boy, Hudson Sims, are really good, too.
Yeah. They were fun to work with. Fun to hang out with.
Susanna has an electric presence.
She really does. And she was really cool to drive around with and shoot this stuff. A real trooper. We had a good time.
It really shows up on the screen. You said last interview you shot all that over three weeks –
Ah, no. We shot Cristina in three weeks and some change. B-Roll photography started in January of 2018, and I shot off and on all year. The last days of shooting with Susanna were in December of 2018. Then, we went back out in 2019 to shoot in a location that had been closed for hurricane damage and had opened back up. We shot documentary style, with loads of footage. My notes to editor Craig Moorhead were 66 pages long when I finally sent him the hard drive.
But Moorhead [Damian’s long time editor] is only listed as a co-producer on this.
Craig’s my guy but he just got super busy with family and work stuff and it was preventing him from focusing on this, and then Covid put him in a situation where he was only available to consult with me as I took over the editing process.
So you cut this film yourself, too?
Yes. I cut the film myself and gave the editing credit to my other best friend from high school who passed away too soon, Scott Allen. Just like I gave the cinematography credit to another friend of mine from high school who passed away too young, Alex Hornung. Since I shot this in and around where I grew up – I thought it would be a nice touch.
Wow! That’s a touch of class right there. I also wanted to mention that David Wingo’s score is PHENOMENAL.
Yeah, that was another thing that just fell into place. I reached out to him to see if he would be interested in playing piano along with the film. A creative process made famous by Neil Young’s score for that Jim Jarmusch film Dead Man. Wingo followed up with this score for something he did YEARS ago that never went anywhere, but he still had the rights to it. It turned out to be a perfect fit. If we had spent a million dollars we wouldn’t have had a score created that so perfectly captured the tone of the piece. It was uncanny. That stuff just doesn’t happen. But, in order for things to come together like that, you have to keep doing things – continually going through the process, trying new things. I’ve worked on projects where everything was done to ensure that things went smoothly and it still goes off the rails. It’s a numbers game to a certain degree but in order for those numbers to work in your favor – you have to consistently do things.
There are many iconic images in this…was there a lot done in post?
In regard to colour correction? No. But there was a lot of pre-production. Again, going back to all the footage we shot to ensure I had enough of those ‘money shots’…we shot a lot.
Did I read somewhere you threw out your back while filming and were immobile for a while?
Yes. Ha-ha. I threw my back out while shooting some additional B-Roll in October of 2018. I wandered unknowingly onto someone’s private property for a shot or five, and I crouched down to get it, and my back seized up with this lightning bolt of pain, and I pitched face forward in the dirt. It was crazy. I thought I was dying. I was lying there all jacked up, trying to figure out what to do. I had to crawl to my car. I was a mess.
But you’re The Damianator!
Ha-ha. I know but that was a harsh reminder of my mortality. That also delayed me shooting with Susanna for a couple weeks.
The last time we spoke, you were about to take a short film, Captain Traer Smiles at the Stars, on the festival circuit. I saw you premiered at Sci-Fi London and won some awards at some other fests…
Yeah. Sci-Fi London was fantastic, and if you have a science fiction piece, that’s definitely on the short list of places you want to screen at. It was awesome. I had never been to London. Traveling is one of the main reasons I do these things. But ultimately, that short film was a bittersweet experience, and unlike this piece, for the time and money put into it, it just didn’t sing the way that I wanted it to. And it’s my fault. There were issues with some of the people I had been working with. I saw the signs. They weren’t subtle signs, either. I chose to give them second and third chances and paid for it dearly. Never again. That was a painful and costly lesson in a business rife with painful and costly lessons.
You’re not doing the festival circuit for Simple Like Silver…
No. Not after Covid delayed things a year. And we had some interest from some really nice places but they’re not until winter this year and then we wouldn’t be releasing this until sometime next year. No, thanks. That’s just too much time. Everyone’s happy with it but also happy to move on. If Covid hadn’t wrecked things, we would have submitted to festivals the end of last year, but we weren’t interested in screening at any ‘virtual fests’…
I hear you. And festivals like Sundance, Toronto or SXSW are further and further out of reach…
They’re market festivals. They’re market festivals that require certain things packaged together. I don’t have the elements they require to even be seriously considered so…I’ve screened at SXSW before it evolved and…you know, that’s what they want to be. Nothing wrong with it. There’s plenty of other festivals that have popped up in their place that can provide the type of exposure for filmmakers that SXSW used to.
Like Slamdance? You had a project there a few years back I saw…
Yeah, they’re an alternative. Unfortunately, after Covid and as other avenues for releasing your work become more prevalent and don’t have submission fees, I see an implosion coming for the festival scene, to be honest.
I can definitely see that.
The film festivals have been very good to me over the years. I just think there’s going to be a downturn there.
What do you think of the current independent film scene overall?
This is the best time for independent film. Not the best time to make money at it, but the best time to make films and get in where you fit in.
You’ve been doing this awhile. How has it changed?
Well, when I came up there were only a couple of ivory towers of independent cinema and they were guarded by these little cliques and you couldn’t get over unless you kissed their ring. It was the antithesis of what independent cinema should be if you think about it. If you didn’t like the same exact bands or the same films and dress the exact same as these people – that’s it. Game over. It was a joke. They were gossips more than filmmakers, really.
Many have said that the independent filmmaking scene has become a playground for trust fund kids that –
Oh, yeah. The trust fund brats are out and about and…they want to play matchbox movie mogul or whatever, but my point is that their power has been greatly diminished over the years. Most of those cats…they’re not well read. They’re film illiterate. They just have bank accounts. But there are so many festivals and platforms that allow people to break out or simply exist, doing their own thing at their own pace that…as long as you put the work in and have some genuine talent – you can get out there. You can scratch that itch, carve a niche for yourself. The accessibility of technology has really changed things.
‘Adapt or die’ as they say…
Funny you say that. This is a silly business. They like to say ‘adapt or die’ but as soon as people do that and it doesn’t involve them…they get really cranky about it.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle independent filmmakers face?
Themselves. They can’t get over themselves. And they don’t properly contextualize themselves. There’s nothing wrong with making a lil’ indie for 20k. But if you make a lil’ indie for 20k and then preen and strut around like you’re Tarantino, Wes Anderson or Christopher Nolan…there’s definitely something wrong with that. They’re not content with where they’re at. They’re making films the size of mine, maybe a little bigger, maybe a little smaller, yet they take on this aloof exclusive persona like their Bob Dylan or Stanley Kubrick. And I’m not talking those younger than myself. That’s my generation of micro budget filmmakers, too.
As far as Simple Like Silver goes, is there anything you would have done differently or you regret?
This is important. The chances of me duplicating what we did with this and I mean…the tonality of the experience. Right? From tracking down Cristina, to her being so agreeable, to the adventure we all had, the good times, the friendship – I could never do that again. So many things came together just so. Look, brother. In this business, it usually doesn’t happen like that. When it does, it’s rare and you have to cherish it.
That’s a very understandable position to take on things.
But if there’s one thing I would have done differently…you see, in developing the project I put together a playlist, several playlists of songs to set the tone for the piece, and that’s how Cristina and I communicated about the project in many ways. Every morning we had a 45 minute drive to St. Augustine and all we had was this generic, super low budget classic rock station to listen to. Like, Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were out of their budget so it was classic rock but basically just the same one hit wonders over and over again. Obviously we spent a good deal of time talking but I should have brought those playlists. I didn’t even think about it.
You dropped a short film in time for the holidays, A Wrap & A Wink, this past December. A very funny piece. Do you feel the pressure to keep producing?
Yeah. Pandemic or not, you need to keep producing. You don’t err on the side of caution in this business. You err on the side of content. We made that safely and responsibly. I directed it remotely. Lacy Marie Meyer, who starred in it, is an old pal and did the voice work for the girl in Simple Like Silver as well. Her and her boyfriend, Austin, live together in NY and did everything there. You have to find a way. Whether you’re doing things on a super small scale like I am or a larger scale…this just isn’t for people that are not willing to make things happen.
You got anything else on deck?
I’m developing something with Shawn Harwell [the screenwriter of Eastbound and Down, The Campaign, Red Oaks] and we’re about to start shooting in a month or so. It actually stars Lacy, and Cristina’s got a small part in it, too.
Whoa. What is that about?
I can’t really get into it right now but it should be good times.
You also do screenwriting work and juggle the two…
Yeah. And there’s a lot of frustration and things that are out of your control there. I’ve got nothing but respect for those that can put all their eggs in that basket, but for me? To relieve the anxiety of what goes along with that…what does or doesn’t happen with spec scripts…I keep the independent films, the shorts going. I’m always trying different things. I think it improves my writing and I couldn’t be happier. There’s a lot of bitterness out there. There’s a psychological comfort in knowing you can make what you want and still be happy, and, let me just say this: if you’re happiness is dependent on one day someone plunking down $100 million to produce your spec script…you might be setting yourself up for a lot of heartache and pain. What I do is difficult. Very difficult. But doable.
What are you currently listening to?
The new Who album is fantastic. The one they released in 2019? They needed that. Their fans needed that. Been returning to that one quite a bit. I listened to Tom Waits’ Alice a couple weeks ago for the first time. The Stones Blue & Lonesome, their cover album of blues tracks…which was great…
Last three books you read?
Lawrence Ferlinghetti recently passed away so I read through pretty much all of his These Are My Rivers collection which also features some stuff from uh… Pictures of the Gone World, Coney Island of the Mind… I hadn’t looked at that book since I was in high school. Sitting next to that on my book shelf was this Women Poets of Japan book which goes real far back to feudal times. Some great stuff in there. Lean, minimal work… haikus. Translated by Kenneth Rexroth, who wrote one of my favourite poems, Thou Shalt Not Kill. Anyway, I hadn’t flipped through that in forever either and I re-read a big chunk of it. I also re-read most of Pete Townsend’s autobiography while rocking out to the new Who album.
Last three movies you watched?
I revisited To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Short Night of Glass Dolls, and I recently checked out that new Netflix film, I Care A Lot.
❉ ‘Simple Like Silver’ (2021). Director: Damian Lahey. Screenplay: Damian Lahey, Carmen Olmo. Starring Cristina Marsillach, Susanna Nelson, Hudson Sims. Run time: 1h 10min. Watch with Prime Video.
❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema and is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott.