With only a couple of days to go for the Oblivion movie funding drive, Francesco Marchione kindly took some time to answer some questions about the campaign. Please consider helping him out with a contribution.
THF: Hi Francesco, would you mind telling us a little about yourself?
Francesco Marchione: I'm an Ohio native living in Brooklyn, New York. I grew up in a strong traditional Italian-American household in a family of fine artists. Painting, stained glass, marble and mosaic design, music, dance and culinary arts all run in my family, but I've known since I was a teenager the only thing I ever wanted to do was make movies. I moved to New York 6 years ago to pursue that path and worked in production for several years on everything from big budget features to no-budget independent shorts. I knew I wanted to make my own films and if I wanted that to happen I had to write. Now I have a stack of scripts I feel confident about and Oblivion is the best and most fully developed of the bunch.
THF: When did you first become interested in David Foster Wallace?
FM: I had the luck of having an incredible professor, John Panza, for an Advanced Composition class my freshman year of college. This would have been in 1999-2000. We were walking across campus having a discussion about something we read for class, and he noticed I was carrying a Bret Easton Ellis book. In no uncertain terms he told me the guy I should be reading was David Foster Wallace. Based on the respect I had for his passion and depth of knowledge with literature, I took his advice as gospel, and it changed the way I read and write to this day. He recommended I steer clear of Infinite Jest and first start with some short stories, but naturally I went straight to Barnes and Noble and bought Infinite Jest. I actually had to special order a copy because they didn't have it in stock. I had never encountered anything like it, and I considered myself a pretty serious reader. Even still I only got through a few hundred pages before hitting a wall, so I went to the library and took out Girl With Curious Hair and Brief Interviews.
THF: What is most interesting to you about his work?
FM: Reading David Wallace opened my eyes to how deeply personal writing could be, it felt as if I was negotiating these dazzling compositions and mining deep into the psyches of these characters in order to reveal some truth about myself. I hadn't had that kind of personal connection to literature before, and I had only scratched the surface of his writing.
THF: Why Oblivion?
FM: Oblivion [Oblivion: Stories] is an inherently cinematic story, whether its written by Wallace or anyone else.
As a screenwriter I am always reading with one eye toward adaptation, but only rarely does a story "make the head throb heart-like" to steal a Wallace phrase, and jump off the page as being appropriate for a visual medium.
I could talk about this all day, but one aspect that makes Oblivion so interesting and compelling as a film project is Wallace's longtime appreciation for David Lynch, who is also a huge influence on me. He wrote extensively on Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, and Twin Peaks, but the Oblivion story is where that love of all things Lynchian manifested itself in his writing, literally. The story is full of both obvious and subtle references to the world of Twin Peaks, which invites a lot of fun questions about the 'storyteller' in Oblivion and how the story should be interpreted and understood.
THF: How long have you been developing the film for? Has it been a collaborative approach?
FM: As far back as early 2011. My good friend Liz Magee, who I'd worked with on a feature film here in New York, was the first person to read a draft, and her enthusiastic response was the trigger to take action. I optioned the story from the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust and Hill Nadell Agency long before I had a film-able draft. I'll be the first to admit that at the outset I was too tied down to the source material, and it made for an extremely confusing script. Getting it where it needed to be to make a compelling film was a very long process. Oblivion is a demanding story to take apart because the narrative is fractured and buried in layers upon layers, so finding the right way to tell it for a different medium was a challenge.
There's a constant push/pull with staying true to the story while fulfilling a completely different set of responsibilities as a screenwriter and visual storyteller. Once I got past that initial hurdle and was able to take the story apart and put it back together again, it became something much bigger than just adapting this famous writers work, it took on a life of it's own, and that's what you want, that's why you put in the work.
An interesting thing though is that the script almost never changed in length through over a dozen or so drafts, it's always remained between 25 and 30 pages, so there was never any question in my mind that it would be anything other than a short film.
Also during the writing I decided that to I wanted to create Randall's highly subjective point of view with in-camera effects and avoid CGI, which led me to get in touch with Jimmy Ferguson, an award winning cinematographer, and his experience with exactly these types of organic effects gave me the confidence to plan the Oblivion shoot this way. He was drawn to the script because he could see the images right there on the page, and some pages had no dialogue at all.
The various collaborators I've added the team along the way have been instrumental in fleshing out different aspects of the production and what form it will take, but the primary reason the project has stayed afloat is my stubbornness and confidence that it will make a great film. It doesn't bother me in the least it's been so long in the making because anything worthwhile takes time.
THF: I really excited about your in-camera non-cgi approach. Many years ago (before I had children!) I used to make silly Lego stop motion animations, I particularly enjoyed working with effects in camera.
I also loved the process, but found I loved the control I had over the whole process even more. What kind of film-maker are you?
FM: I've made movies since I was 17 years old with my brother Damien and my close friends. Dozens of short films, including adaptations of Dickens, Jack London, and several of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I played assorted small roles but was mainly responsible for writing, shooting, directing the actors, editing, and adding soundtrack. I liked having control of every step of the process, but obviously since I want to make films as a professional I can't do that, so it's been a great joy to meet like-minded people who are specialists in their respective fields who see Oblivion as a film the same way I do, and help to both reign in my crazy ideas as well as show me exactly how they can bring my crazy ideas to life.
THF: I understand Greg Carlisle's analysis of Oblivion (and the whole collection, Nature's Nightmare) has influenced the project. How so?
FM: The script was actually pretty much locked when I first reached out to Greg about his book. One of the trickiest things in adapting the Oblivion story was the almost complete lack of any critical writing about the title story itself. Most reviews ignored it, or made passing mention of it. James Wood's piece in the New Yorker completely misunderstood it. And there wasn't much else. I felt I was onto something, but it's a damn complex story, and even though after all the work I'd put in, there was little to nothing to confirm or deny I was on the right track.
After I'd finished the script, I really needed to find out what others thought about the story. I came across Wyatt Mason's lengthy piece on Oblivion from the London Review of Books, which was very important. Greg's book on Infinite Jest, "Elegant Complexity" is absolutely essential, so when I found out he was writing a similar volume on the Oblivion stories, I contacted him right away and he was generous enough to send me his work on the story. We deconstructed the story in very different ways. I can't elaborate much more without spoiling some major plot points for those who haven't read it and are looking forward to seeing it, but Greg's explication and analyses opened up a lot of the secrets that I had been busy trying to creatively re-bury, if you will, and yet we came to very similar conclusions about what the story means. I shared my draft with him and his positive response to the disparate ways in which we approached the story was instrumental in boosting confidence in my approach.
THF: I've backed many projects on Kickstarter (mostly board games, my other obsession). Tell us about the original Kickstarter campaign.
FM: The Kickstarter campaign came out of necessity. Of course I would have preferred to work in my usual mode and do it all myself, but bringing Oblivion to the screen is a very complex project, even stripped down to the essentials, because of the nature of the story, and it became apparent that I could not fund or complete such an effort in the DIY, catch as catch can mode a lot of short films are made in these days.
Even still, the Kickstarter campaign only came about after much handwringing and head-scratching about crowdfunding as a whole. It will be interesting to see how crowdfunding progresses as more platforms allow for a Return on Investment, because as it stands you walk a very fine line between getting the idea out there in front of everyone vs. exploiting it. I'm very sensitive to that, and I won't be the guy handing out tshirts and trinkets for pledges. At a certain point it drains energy out of the project to put time into making pitch videos, designing web pages, incentivizing contributions with substantial, thoughtful stuff as opposed to muddying the waters and distracting people from what's really important, which is getting the film made. Kickstarter's name recognition was a huge boon to the original campaign and got us a lot of exposure. Articles ran in the Los Angeles Times, NY Daily News, Bookforum, and plenty of others. We received a lot of support and generous pledges of almost $13,000, but since we didn't hit our $30,000 funding goal, we were back to square one.
THF: I have to admit I've now backed a few unsuccessful Indiegogo campaigns and for some I've felt not totally satisfied (e.g. not seeing end products or results). Why did you choose to move to Indiegogo? How is the campaign going?
FM: The one and only reason for moving to Indiegogo was their "flexible funding" model, which makes it so every pledge of support goes straight into the films budget, whether or not we hit 100% of our funding goal. Because, again, the important thing is making the film, not running crowdfunding campaigns.
Again, time spent measuring the pros and cons of Kickstarter and Indiegogo takes time and effort away from writing and making movies. In a perfect world, the platform shouldn't matter. But now, not only does the platform matter, but it can make or break a great idea, and unless you have a lot of money to throw at a company who will promote your campaign and get you "eyeballs", pay a PR firm to get placements and articles in publications, or have a story involving dragons and vampires, it's a very steep uphill climb to get the project any kind of attention. The Indiegogo campaign hasn't gone as well as I hoped, but in the end every single contribution helps get the film made, so we're hoping the final few days of the campaign see a significant jump and allow us to begin shooting this Fall. The idea that anyone at all is into the idea enough to pledge financial support is inspiration enough to keep going.
THF: Will the film get off the ground if you don't meet your funding goal?
FM: Yes, and it will be difficult, I'm under no illusions there, but Oblivion is going to make a really entertaining film and we will begin putting whatever funds we have available to use immediately, in addition to my own personal investment in the project to keep things moving along. We have our eye on several major film festivals in 2015 so work will begin right away with every dollar we have at our disposal toward that goal.
THF: What other options do you have from here on out?
FM: There are numerous options, but the only good option is making the movie, so with that said, as we progress I hope to find investors willing to produce the film the old fashioned way. Anyone interested in supporting the film privately can reach out to me at
at any time. Another crowdfunding campaign is probably unlikely, but nothing can be ruled out. The scenes we shoot with the support from the Indiegogo campaign will allow us to show investors how we intend to complete the film and ask for completion funds, an extremely valuable tool, so this campaign will determine to a large extent how much we have to work with.
The greatest thing having a budget allows us to do is shoot the film all at once. The less resources we have to work with, the more we'll have to split up the shooting and approach it scene by scene, which is more of a strain on cast and crew, not to mention the logistical headaches and lengthening of the production. However, if I wasn't confident we can overcome these obstacles and still make a great film, I wouldn't be doing this. Oblivion's journey to the screen has been full of ups and downs and unexpected turns, so I look forward to what the next chapter will bring.
THF: Thanks for your time, Francesco. good luck with the rest of the campaign!
There are still a few days to go in the campaign, please consider helping Francesco out with a contribution.