Back in June, I had the great privilege to bring you an utterly fantastic movie that I totally adored. It was an independent goldmine that came from the mind of Thomas Woodrow, who was the screenplay author and director of the film. If you haven’t seen the movie you can check it out “>right here. Also, after watching, trip over to the We’ve Forgotten More Than We Ever Knew post and join in on the discussion. We’ve been having a lot of fun talking about all the possibilities and explanations for what it might possibly mean. I think I even called out Thomas for being wrong in his interpretation of his own film! hahahah. Humility is not a character trait that I have.
Well, as luck would have it, the other day, the creator of this seminal vision gave me a shout out and he even made an appearance in the comments for the post I did. Which, I always love when the creators reach out. Just always blows my mind. Just fun to see us all mingling with the movie creators. Anyway, Thomas was kind enough to offer to do an interview. His only demilitarized zone was our discussing the “meaning” of the movie. Which, I’m totally cool with, because he has handed his movie over to us to dismantle and see how it works ourselves. Which, you guys do a great job at. So keep it up. Anyway, I threw a pile of questions at him, and he was kind enough to dive deep on each one.
THiNC. – “Our site is all about different and new film ideas. We’ve Forgotten is literally the PERFECT movie recommendation for our community because it’s so different, and so tricky to grasp, and yet simple to understand on the face of it. Guy in a pool. Ok. Great. Guy in a Pool!??! hahah. What movies informed and influenced you as you started coming up with the ideas that made We’ve Forgotten? (Personally, the movies that I think of are Time Lapse, The One I Love, Z for Zachariah, and maybe The Invitation. But obviously the most direct comparison would have to be the original Twilight Zone series. (Or Black Mirror, but it feels more like Rod Sterling than 2018 to me.))”
Thomas Woodrow – “I wasn’t really thinking about movies, to be honest. I’d been reading a lot of Robert Aickman, who is a mid-20th century author of “weird fiction,” a genre unto himself, really, but similar in some ways to Shirley Jackson: bizarre and supernatural events are grounded in reality and rendered in a matter-of-fact way that makes them all the more strange and unsettling.
“Aickman has a story about people who arrive on a deserted island to find immobile humans in frozen tableaux all over the place. And each morning these immobile people are in different places on the island, dressed differently, “doing” different things. There is no explanation for any of it, not where the protagonists came from nor, in any way whatsoever, what exactly is going on on the island. The story scarcely has an ending. But neither do our lives. Until they do. And even then, to make “sense” of what happened is an interpretation, nothing more. Only what literally, physically happened is real. The rest, what it “meant” and hence what we should do in the future, is invented.
THiNC. – “Whoa. Taylor jumping in here mid-sentence to say that I just put a couple of Aickman’s books on hold at the library. That is brilliant stuff! I’m always on the hunt for deeply insightful and weird words. One of my all time favorites being, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, which is ultimately about a family that lives in a house that is bigger on the inside than on the outside. And the other being the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. But Aickman looks like a different thing entirely. Gotta get me some of that! Thanks for the recommendation.”
Thomas Woodrow – “It’s rare in film not to clearly establish back story or ultimately provide concrete explanations for what we’re shown (especially in the US), but it definitely happens in fiction all the time. I was interested in exploring how it would feel to deprive a film audience—and the characters themselves—with a clear and definite backstory. They have to make one up for themselves. Because that’s basically how it really is, right?
“The other source of inspiration was seeing these crumbling, old hotels in the Catskills. At one time, these places were the pinnacle of a certain kind of culture. Sinatra played them. Muhammad Ali was a headliner. The mob was everywhere. But now, they’re like the pyramids or any abandoned building: they tell a story of another time, they were built when people had hopes for the joy and excitement and life they would enable and perhaps that did happen for a time. All life believes itself to be immortal while it lasts, on some level, I think. But now, all that is gone and only the ghostly skeleton remains.
“It’s not that their story was wrong, really—it’s that any story, even the grandest, one day ends.
“So what is our end? Where are we going? Where did we come from? What should I do with the time I have? What’s meaningful? These are questions we can never answer—not really—but also questions we cannot live without.”
THiNC. – “So fantastic. That is the central question, isn’t it? I am a ticking clock with a fairly finite end date. What am I doing with this life that I have been given? So few people really, practically, consider this truth.
“I just returned from working in LA, and was lucky enough to swing by Universal Studios Hollywood while there, and I absolutely adore being that close to some of the greats of movie making (Alfred Hitchcock’s office most of all), and it’s got me thinking about the how’s of We’ve Forgotten. Did you create the sets from scratch? How did you get that stunning retro 60’s/70’s decor going? Where did you film? How long was the shoot? Some of those details would be awesome.”
Thomas Woodrow – “We got incredibly lucky with the location. I’d checked out a few of these hotels in the Catskills that initially inspired the writing, but they were all way too far gone to shoot in—totally not safe, totally not workable. But one, the Swan Lake Hotel, had been restored a couple of decades ago, failed almost immediately and had just sat there ever since: a caretaker had been keeping the pipes from bursting, chasing away vandals and squatters and basically maintaining it.
“So that said, it was tough to shoot there. It’s COLD in the Catskills in winter and that building is made of stone and it’s not heated: it was colder inside than it was outside, if you can believe it. Doug’s breath in those pool room scenes was real. Everyone was in parkas the whole time and the actors had coats on them between every single take.
Our amazing production design and art director team, Rayna Savrosa and Rino Bortolin, dressed those bedrooms from virtually nothing—wallpaper on down. We painted lots of walls. And the “tape archive” with the glass front door was in fact a squash court that was maybe 2.5X as deep as what you see. Rayna/Rino brought in all those shelves/boxes/&c to create the space. The pool room was basically there, but it was pretty clean. So these guys splattered a bunch of moss on the interior of the pool and actually put a green wash on it because it was too “pastel blue” in reality.
“I think the costumes contribute a lot to what you’re talking about in terms of the “retro feel,” especially in terms of Louisa’s character. Stacy Jansen, the costume designer, and I decided out the gate that there was an important story to be told with the characters’ costumes. If you track what Louisa’s wearing, it all hangs together in terms of era (60’s/70’s), but it becomes more and more decadent as the film goes on. She’s being “corrupted” by these buildings.
“In terms of props, Jennifer Josephberg (“JJ”) had a huge assignment in terms of creating all these “alt future” objects, including the clock, the typeface on the magazines, &c.
“We shot for 21.5 days using an ARRI with a beautiful set of 70’s-era Panavision lenses.”
THiNC. – “I’m like jumping up and down, these details are so cool. Just mind blowing, the amount of work necessary to pull this vision off. And all for a cinematic journey that most people won’t even ever see. Wish we could get you a huge ad buy to get you some views over on Amazon. Or a wide theatrical release fronted by Warren Buffet! hahah.
“I digress. Ok, so the other day I put the call out to other readers to get questions in to me so we could have Thomas answer them, and this question was a real keeper from A. Wyatt:
‘My question for Mr. Woodrow is ” What is the significance, if any, of the alien writing? What was the thought process behind it?’
Thomas Woodrow – “The intention with the ‘alien language’ was basically to put the characters in what feels like an identifiable reality, but is not quite understandable. They, especially the man, are looking desperately for “answers,” but there is really no such thing as an answer to what he wants to know: “why am I here? And in an ultimate sense, what is going on, anyway?” As the characters will ultimately decide, they have to create their own meaning, together.”
THiNC. – “Is the script available for download anywhere? I looked but couldn’t find it anywhere. Speaking of the script, what advice would you give to aspiring screenplay writers for making that idea that is stuck in their head come to life? (And no, I’m not asking for myself… I’m asking for a friend.)”
Thomas Woodrow – “It’s not available, out in the ether, I don’t think, and there isn’t a script that reflects the ultimate film. I was constantly cutting and rewriting during the shoot and then did so again, drastically in some cases, in the edit.
“My advice to aspiring writers would be:
- Get crazy disciplined. Put your butt in the seat. When I’m actively writing, I try for 4 x 50-min sprints per day, separated by 10-15 minutes of screwing around and looking out the window. Can be more time in between as long as I get 4×50 in.
- As they say, don’t “compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.” Don’t mess with yourself by comparing an early draft—or any draft—with someone else’s completed film. They went through the process: you’re not there yet so cut yourself, and your work, a break.
- Before you write a scene, close your eyes and watch it over and over like a movie until you can see it clearly. Then write it down.
- Outline the whole thing or write a treatment before you start on the draft. Otherwise, if you’re like me or basically anyone I know, you’ll die on page 35.
- The first draft is no more than putting primer on a canvas. You haven’t even begun to paint.
- Use Scrivener or another writing tool that allows you to constantly move between the detail of the scripted page and the outline of the story. Structure is everything and you want to be able easily to change the “big picture” elements even late into the writing process.
THiNC. – “Ok, I’m apparently out! hahaha. Step one is to get disciplined?!? Dang! hahaha. No I jest. Of course it requires discipline. This has got to be the toughest thing in the world. But I loved your advice about not comparing your in-progress script with someone else’s finished movie. So good.
“Is the Man in the Pool an alien? Come on Thomas! You can’t fault me for at least trying, SHEESH! hahaha. I mean, the alien writing man!? No, seriously, we get some backstory about him from the tapes. But only a smidgen. Is there any back story that you shared with Doug Jones maybe that you don’t mind sharing with us? Test Subject A maybe?”
Thomas Woodrow – “The Man from the Pool was the last one there. He was waiting for someone who never came.”
THiNC. – “I absolutely love this answer. You get props from me Mr. Woodrow. Now, the raw story here – i.e., ditch the two towers, the man in the pool, the post apocalyptic craziness – and it is so universally understood, deeply felt by everyone I’m sure. Man + Woman + Silos = amazing conflict. Can you talk about these silos, Woman’s attempt to reach out to Man with her art, and universalness of the unforgivable lie?”
Thomas Woodrow – “For me, the movie from the beginning was about a crisis in a relationship. We are going through life with our partners, putting one foot in front of the other, maybe connecting with them and maybe not, and then something happens—a crisis of some kind. In this case, the Buildings. And the breach in trust they laid bare and then perpetuated. And so we work our way through that change of circumstances, that crisis, and it may get to the point where we have to ask: are we going to stay together or are we going to break up? And if we decide to stay together, given all we’ve just learned, do we trust each other now if trust was broken in the crisis? If so, why? Is there any level on which we’re just “going back to sleep”? Or are we going to be more honest and clear-eyed from now on?
THiNC. – “So heartfelt. Great answer. So real. I personally resound with the quote, “are we just going to go back to sleep?” Especially as it relates to the movie and how that played out practically.
“What do you think the state of the union is in the independent film world? Netflix is literally causing avalanches and earthquakes throughout the entire system. And you even have established greats like Steven Soderbergh making movies exclusively with iPhones. Where do you see the future of your film making going in this wild new world of cinema? What opportunities do you see, what overarching limitations are there no matter what changes come?”
Thomas Woodrow – “Oh, boy. Well, one thing I’ll say is that I think we’re sorta beyond the peak of “peak TV.” I think the market, and more importantly the audience, have reached a saturation point: how many shows can we embark on, that each require ten or more hours out of us? Sure, on some level, a TV show is great because if you liked the first episode, you’re like to enjoy the next. But because there are so many, now, I think it all swims together and starts to feel like a commitment or burden.
“I think we’re going to be seeing more (and we already are), essentially direct-to-streaming, quasi-prestige films that are an alternative to these endless, sprawling stories that demand so much of their audiences. The audience for Sony Pictures Classics films was cannibalized by THE SOPRANOS, &c. I think the current bumper crop of “prestige TV” is going to be cannibalized, to an extent, by the current equivalent of Sony Pictures Classics. If you’re tired of the commitment of television, why not put your toe into something that will have a beginning/middle/end in 90 minutes?”
THiNC. – “Speaking of which – do you have any scripts in flight now? Are you working on anything that you don’t mind talking about?
Thomas Woodrow – “After all I just said, I’m actually just finishing up development on three TV ideas. Been a 1.5-year process and I’m jonesing to get back to writing a feature!
HUZZAH Thomas! Such a cool guy. Such a cool movie. I’m sure if you have a question for Thomas about the movie he’d be happy to talk with you about it over on the We’ve Forgotten More Than We Ever Knew post page. Or ping me, I’m sure we can get a question to him. But I’m betting he’s not going to answer your super detailed questions. Probably better to make up your own mind about what it is that we just saw in his awesome movie.
Edited by, CY