The Family Circus
Directed by: Andrew Fitzgerald
Cast: Elyse Dinh, Michael Ironside, Scott Subiono, Michael Nguyen Manceau, Blake Dang, Christian Seavey
Synopsis: A Vietnamese-American family's plan to cover up a drunk-driving incident begins to unravel when their emotional baggage spills out in front of the police.
The Family Circus is a loosely-based true story that happened within your family. Do you care to elaborate?
My mom thinks the film has incriminated the family too much already, so I'll just say “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”
Every actor hits their mark, whether they're in the film for ten minutes or one minute. Each actor enters each scene at the right level. How did you cast it and how do you work with your actors to achieve that?
I'm a firm believer in the saying “directing is 90% casting.” With the film being hyper specific in regards to ethnicity and creating a believable family, it was incredibly important to find the right actors. Luckily, we worked with great casting directors - Arlie Day and Mike Page - and had help from Jes Vũ, who works for an organization called CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) to put together a superb group of actors. Once the cast is assembled, my job is really just being prepared, making sure I put the camera in the right place, and tuning into what the actors are doing. Good actors will elevate the script and open up the story to new possibilities. So as a director, I have to be aware of when we can take something in a new direction. For instance, Linh's speech at the end of the film was not originally in the script. But as we worked through the scenes, we all sensed something was missing and the events we were capturing were all leading somewhere that was more interesting than what was initially planned. So after talking it through with Elyse, who plays Linh, we added what became, in my opinion, the most powerful moment in the film.
Michael Ironside is a renown actor with a long credit list of wonderful films. How did you get him to come on board?
Michael Ironside was on our wish list of actors. I've been watching him in movies since I was a kid and thought for sure he'd pass. But Arlie and Mike went out to his reps and we got an almost immediate response that he was interested in meeting with me. I was nervous going into it - to say he's an intimidating presence is an understatement - but found that he is incredibly sweet and generous and really responded to the script. Working with him was an incredible experience and I learned quite a bit collaborating with him. He's one of those actors that just commands the screen. You point a camera at him and something special happens. He can communicate so much with the subtlest behavior. He brought so many great ideas and gave so much dimension to the character.
The other character that is flawless in this film is the sound design. It feels like old film noir thrillers, Hitchcock films, or films like Double Indemnity influenced the sound in this film. Would I be correct in saying that?
Absolutely correct. I am a huge noir fan and love films of that era. This story, with characters scheming and lying and keeping secrets, was in line with those types of movies. I wanted to use the conventions of the genre while also injecting it with personal experience. The risk was having it all come across as pastiche - I think when referencing those conventions it can easily come across as cartoony and self-aware. But a lot of credit goes to Ali Helnwein, the composer who created the wonderful score. We talked a lot about Bernard Herrmann and wanted to capture that style and tone. But Ali's work went beyond simple homage and he tailored something that really fits the film and feels at once familiar and wholly unique.
Its going to be a long time before I see a short film that showcases a filmmakers gifts and talent like this film. It is the best calling card I have ever seen. I hope you are making films for a long, long time. So, what is next for you?
Thank you so much for the compliment. I'm very humbled by the response to the movie. I too hope that I have the opportunity to continue to make films. The next goal is to make a feature. I have a script that I'm trying to get off the ground that deals with auto insurance fraud in Philadelphia. It's a grimy story in the vein of 70s crime movies that will feel like being stuck on a wooden roller coaster that's about to collapse.