CineVegas Interview: Rachel Samuels on DARK STREETS

     June 22, 2008

Written by Cal Kemp

Based on the stage play by film producer Glenn Stewart, “Dark Streets” was one of the bigger screenings at CineVegas. Set in a dark, noirish world, the film tells the story of a nightclub owner who, after the mysterious death of his father, finds himself drawn into a world of crime and politics, finding out what it means to pull strings he never knew he was attached to.

Originally, the film was planned as two separate pieces. One would be set entirely in the nightclub and another would take place during the same night but out on the streets. The production ended up combining both films into one, moving between between the flashy musical club and the dirty nighttime city streets.

Gabriel Mann stars as Chaz, the nightclub owner and plays against Bijou Phillips and Izabella Miko as singing, femme fatales.

Director Rachel Samuels spoke with Collider about coming onboard the project, shooting with a special kind of lens and where she’s likely headed in the near future — including a dream project of directing a Roger Corman biopic (to whom she was a protege.

Collider: How did you get attached to “Dark Streets”?

Rachel: I got involved with “Dark Streets” when the producers had seen my previous movie which was called “The Suicide Club”. That was also a period piece that I had done on a very low budget. They knew I could do a period piece on a low budget and that movie did well. It went to festivals and got good reviews. They maybe figured that “Well, if she can do a period piece on a low budget, maybe she can add in dance numbers and also make it a musical.” Original songs! It was sort of like taking “Suicide Club” to another level of complexity with a slightly bigger budget.

Collider: Was the other one a noir as well?

Rachel: The other one was based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was based in London in the early 1890’s. It was definitely extremely dark. It was about a group of aristocrats who form a suicide club and basically help each other commit suicide by murdering each other. It was a dark — very dark — tale.

Collider: It was mentioned last night at the Q&A that this was originally going to be two films. Did you come aboard the project when that was still being looked at?

Rachel: It was. That was actually still on the table. To do two separate films for the same budget as we did this film. Basically, I said, “You know what? It’s not going to happen.” Even doing one film on this budget is extremely ambitious. But yeah, that was still actually on the table. I nixed it.

Collider: Can you talk a little about this lens that you shot on?

Rachel: It’s called a swing and shift lens and basically what it does is swings the focal plane so that part of the frame will be in-focus and part of the frame will be out of focus at the same time. Unlike a normal lens where everything is in focus at once depending on the focal plane. It’s a very complicated lens to use. It hasn’t been used before for a feature film. It’s been used before in commercials, almost always for still shots where the camera’s stationery. There’s good reason for that. We knew going in. It’s very challenging to use that lens for a moving shot and especially for a full feature. When I saw the lens, my DP, Sharone Meir, I had basically said to him when we were just in prep for the film, I said, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve always wanted to do in shooting a film? What’s just the thing that, to you, is just totally nuts but could really work for this?” He said, “Well, let me show you these lenses.” And then we went to the camera shop. He showed me what the swing and shift does and I completely fell in love with it. I was like, “We’re done. We’re doing this.” And he was like, “Whoa! No! It’s crazy!” So I then had to convince him that we could do it. On our budget, it was definitely a risky thing to do. There’s a lot of shots to do. It’s definitely a delicate balance getting the focus right. You have to have just enough focus that you feel comfortable but you’re always going to have a lot of the frame out of focus. Because that’s what it does. In a normal low-budget film, you’ll only be doing four or five or six takes. We had to be doing thirteen or fourteen or fifteen takes. We’re shooting 35mm film so that really can shoot through a lot of film. We went through probably twice the film that my producers expected we were going to shoot. I’m still incredibly grateful to them that we could take that risk and do that experiment. I think it was completely worth it. I think that those lenses are what give the film this glowy, otherwordly quality which was really wanted I wanted. To have it feel like a surreal bad dream. I think the lenses really make the difference.

Collider: What did you look to for inspiration?

Rachel: I made these collages, actually, when I first met with the producers. The very first meeting, I made these collages of images. Paintings by Gustav Klimt. A lot of images from Busby Berkeley musicals. Images from film noir. Art deco architexture in details. It was all sort of this idea of a look and a style that I had. A lot of detail and a certain kind of detail. And they liked it. That ended up being kind of the book bible for the film. That was what I gave to all the different department heads. So it was really a combination of different kinds of paintings and different architexture moreso than other movies. My background is as a visual artist before I was a filmmaker. So I think I’m very influenced by visual art. I had certain paintings that were kind of our basis for the look.

Collider: How much of the music did you choose as opposed to what was attached when you came along?

Rachel: When I came along, the play was really a musical. There was music end to end and a lot of those songs stayed the same. We kind of had to build the screenplay around the play. We built it around the songs that were already written. So I wasn’t that involved with the music because a lot of it existed before I came along. That was the producer Glenn Stewart who wrote the play. That was really his passion and his baby was really the music. That’s been very much his area.

Collider: Do you know what’s next for you?

Rachel: I am hoping to do a biopic about Roger Corman. I just think his life is amazing. He and I have been talking about that. We’ll see. Maybe it’ll happen and maybe it won’t. I’m also working on some writing project with my brother, David Samuels. He’s a writer for Harpers and The New Yorker . He has a lot of articles that would make great movies. He has a great article coming up about medical marijuana that we’ve been thinking of as a movie idea. We’ve been trying to translate a lot of his articles into movie ideas.

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