White Wind will be a special presentation during the 14th Annual Milwaukee Short Film Festival on Friday November 9th at 9:15pm. Lubar Auditoriun, Milwaukee Art Museum.
MIFS: Where did the idea for the film come from?
Dan Wilson: When I was going to film school there was always the uncertainty between when I turned in my film for processing and when it got returned. Did I expose it properly? Were there scratches? Would the processor break mid cycle and ruin it? I also realized that in this age of digital image-making and the advances promised by Moore's law, a completely digital image capture system that exceeded film's resolution would be available in my lifetime. Before the phenomena was a thing of the past, I wanted to explore the anxiety of having made an image, but not being sure what, if anything, was on the film. The original story was about Sam, an innocent photographer, who was suddenly being menaced because of his pictures...without any knowledge of why, and without any way of finding out what he had supposedly seen.
Brooke Maroldi: After we had worked on a series of comic promotional videos for Milwaukee’s LGBT Center and couple 48 Hour Film Festival shorts, Dan simply said to me: “I want to make a feature film in 48 Hours.” And I was game. The cast & crew set up shop at my cottage, which is on a lake near a gigantic marsh. They would feed me tapes as the day went on, but were ultimately kicked out of the marsh before the principal photography was completed.
MIFS: How much did the project change from concept to final edit?
Dan: One thing that Brooke brought to is was a much more mystical take, and for me, it evolved into a meditation on not only that uncertainty of whether the image had been captured, but also a meditation on the space between life and death, between being and not being, and questions about what kinds of evidence needed to be present in order to prove that we were ever here.
Brooke: I’ve actually spent a little time in that space between life and death, at least enough for it to have had an enormous impact on me. And I think my work always has an operatic quality. So that’s what I brought to the film: an operatic mysticism.
For me, the biggest change from the original shoot to the final cut is that the massive wind turbines that surround the marsh were given much greater weight as symbols; and then there was more focus on the migrating birds that must figure out how to fly through those contraptions to be on their way.
Several important scenes were added that gives the audience more clues about the mystery of Sam’s experience in the marsh. Dan and I have very different interpretations of the film and I think that says a lot about how it’s constructed. It’s a very open, experimental narrative, but it’s still very much a narrative. We wanted the audience to come to their own conclusions, to be active participants. There are enough sounds and images implanted in “White Wind” to warrant multiple viewings. As the saying goes, “It’s a mystery, wrapped inside a riddle, wrapped inside an enigma.”
MIFS: Were there any challenges during production?
Dan: I had a fantastic cast and crew to work with, and the enthusiasm level was very high. We finished principal photography in one weekend. Our primary challenges were working at a very fast pace, racing against light, and staying low-key enough to avoid certain government authorities asking for permits we didn't have.
Brooke: Yeah, permits. Some dumb ass guy really had it out for the crew. He was a birdwatcher and self-proclaimed protector of the marsh. So when he spotted our skeletal crew – most of them wearing black – with a serious camera and tripod, driving several vehicles, including Dan’s old commercial plumbing company van, he was determined to get them out of the marsh. That lost us a lot of time.
The principal footage shot on that initial weekend all had a gorgeous golden cast to it. So after I did a quick rough cut and realized what was missing, we had to act fast to make those golden marsh shots match. And then we had to wait until the following Spring to get more shots and finally finish up shooting the next Fall. So there were three major shooting cycles.
I continued to record sound intermittently for about a year and a half. Dan had chosen many unique locations in the marsh so I wanted each of them to have their own sound identity. And I was determined to record all those sounds in the marsh: insects, frogs, birds, hums, planes, and, of course, those damned wind turbines.
MIFS: With the film completed, what has been the most rewarding thing about the whole experience?
Dan: As always, the most rewarding thing about the process is the collaboration. I always knew I wanted cello to be prominent in the soundtrack, and was positively amazed at what Janet Schiff's compositions added to the piece. I was especially thrilled with Brooke's perseverance to coax a story out of the material resulted in a much richer narrative that I'd originally envisioned. Her guidance as an editor helped me re-frame some of my concepts, making second unit atmospheric shots a lot easier to get.
Brooke: I can’t say enough about Janet Schiff’s score & Brian McGuire’s performance. The score was so powerful that I actually had to strip the film of it until I had resolved the narrative issues and had a fairly completed rough cut. Then I went back and added the music and everything changed yet again. But now it worked.
McGuire’s performance was an editor’s dream come true. When he looked at something, the intensity in his eyes was incredibly focused. It also helped that he’s very athletic. I’ve shown the film to a few friends and most of the women develop little crushes on him! We couldn’t have made this film with another actor.
I’m extremely thankful to Dan for entrusting me with his hauntingly beautiful images.