I loved being able to watch the Secret Society For Slow Romance, but I found myself bursting with questions as soon as the credits rolled. I am honored that Sujewa Ekanayake, the auteur behind the work, took the time to do a Q&A with me about slow cinema, happiness, and working on independent movies through a pandemic.
What attracted you to slow cinema?
The first slow cinema type movie that I saw and was super impressed with was Mystery Train by Jim Jarmusch. The slow pace, the chill approach to life — the realistic characters, multi-ethnic casting in 1989 — ahead of its time — the humor, multiple stories, the great cinematography and music — all of that was excellent — and I thought that was a great way to tell a story in a movie.
Later on, as I discovered more indie, art house, foreign movies, I seemed to enjoy the slower movies more. It’s the opposite of the plot driven Hollywood movies — which do not linger and get into characters and the environment as much.
Slow cinema makes room for the lived experience, the present — with all its many details. It’s a nice form for me to use when making my movies. Also there is a Buddhistic/meditational/observational/compassionate quality to it — which I enjoy. To pay attention to something, in a way, is to show love.
From just a bit of research about you and knowing you on Twitter, you are extremely productive and passionate, and are very supportive of the independent film community and are active in elevating as many projects and makers as you can while working at honing your craft. In other words — a blend of Rene’s optimism and Allyson’s productivity. What inspired you to start making movies? How many have you made? How does Secret Society for Slow Romance fit into your story?
I have been making indie movies since about 1991. But mostly since about 1998. And have made a number of friends along the way. We keep in touch on social media, and promote each other’s projects when possible. Also I blogged a lot in the past. And the habit continues on the micro-blogging platform Twitter. It’s a good way to keep current on indie film world news.
I decided to become a filmmaker right after high school. It was Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing that made it clear to me that a single artist — an auteur — can make movies in the indie film world and sometimes get wide distribution. After that, I discovered Rick Schmidt’s book Feature Filmmaking At Used Car Prices, and at film school — Columbia College Chicago — I discovered Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders and other art house auteurs and their films — which were sources of inspiration for my work.
I’ve made 10 films so far — 2 shorts, 2 documentary features, and 6 fiction features. Slow Romance is the 10th film that I directed. Couple of earlier ones are not yet edited. 4 of my movies are now available on Vimeo VOD — Werewolf Ninja Philosopher, Breakthrough Weekend, Date Number One, Indie Film Blogger Road Trip. Eventually I’ll make everything available at a number of websites. Slow Romance will screen at theaters in 2022, and I’ll release it on Blu-ray, VOD after that — in late 2022 or in 2023.
Making movies is an interesting challenge, a good way to live in and connect with the world — so I do it.
Slow Romance is probably the most complex movie that I’ve made — multi-layered — even though it has a minimal cast of 2 central characters. I shot the movie for I think 7 or 8 weekends — which is a long time for a “no budget”/ultra-ultra-ultra-ultra low budget indie movie. And I edited it for about 10 months or so — again, a long time for an indie movie. The 10:1 shooting ratio gave me a lot of choices for putting together an interesting movie. Slow Romance brings together an optimistic view on life, humor, and great shots of New York City, a celebration of the city — a continuation of my themes from earlier movies.
The music of The Secret Society for Slow Romance brings a light, happy air to the long, contemplative takes — what was the music process like for this movie?
I listened to a lot of possible music by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/) — he makes excellent music — while I was editing the movie. Eventually I chose music that added an interesting extra element to the scenes. Also the soundscape in the movie was very much inspired by sounds I hear in my Sunset Park, Brooklyn neighborhood — radiator noises in the apartment in winter, people on the street, traffic, music of all kinds — specially Latin music, and just the general upbeat musical vibe of New York City.
Tell me about the timing of the pandemic and the Secret Society for Slow Romance — where was the movie in production when the pandemic hit? Did it impact casting? The story?
Originally the LA based indie filmmaker Amir Motlagh was supposed to play the Rene role. The character being named Rene came from possibly his parents having an affinity for French culture. Which, back in the day, was a thing with some Iranians. But the pandemic and the shutdowns in March 2020 put an end to the idea of Amir acting in the movie. Then I decided to play the role myself — and adapted the screenplay to my strengths. I am very comfortable talking about film and filmmaking, also positive ideas and practices, so I re-worked the script assigning that content to the Rene character, and other things to the Allyson character. I kept the character name Rene — now Rene is played by someone who looks South Asian — so it is a bit of a mystery — which is interesting. Rene is not a typical South Asian name.
The entire script had to be re-worked. Originally it took place at multiple locations — restaurants, parks, apartments. The new version was centered around Rene’s apartment, with shots of the two characters out in the city. Which, ultimately, turned out well.
Couple of other actors were selected for the Allyson role earlier in the process. But the pandemic delays and other delays caused me to re-cast that role — ultimately going to Alia Lorae — who I worked with on my previous movie Werewolf Ninja Philosopher — and she did a great job in the role, a total pro.
Overall major points of the story were not impacted by the pandemic. But we adopted mask wearing, pandemic norms when shooting the movie — and talked about them, showed them in the movie.
How do you even cast for the Most Productive in NYC and the Happiest Person North America? Once Alia was cast, how did she influence her character?
The characters and the script were written. Then I selected the actors — ultimately myself and Alia. We acted out the script.
Alia received notes on the character and she created a version of the character that worked very well for the movie.
Allyson is bit of a larger than life figure. Alia brought her to life well. Alia is a trained actor, so she can do many things — has the skills.
Visually the Allyson character was interesting — clothes, mannerisms. So it was fun to film and edit the movie.
The pandemic certainly went on longer than everyone expected — what kind of impacts did it have to the timeline of the movie, and what sorts of challenges did it bring to filming?
The pandemic delayed the movie at least by 6 to 9 months. And it is making distribution more complex — with some theaters opening back up slowly. But, as an indie filmmaker, I am always ready to adapt to changes. So overall it was not a huge problem for me. Just many things to adjust to.
The Secret Society for Slow Romance is pretty dense with film and philosophical references — were there any you wanted to include, but couldn’t?
There were 3 other scenes that were planned but were not fully written out or filmed. In those scenes I got more into positive ideas — from Buddhism and other spiritual practices — Rene stuff. Ultimately I decided they were not really needed — and we had to wrap up filming at some point.
What was your favorite reference to another film or work that you made?
I enjoyed being able to add a couple of shots from Werewolf Ninja Philosopher into Slow Romance.
Were there specific inspirations for Rene? For Allyson? What were the challenges in writing each of them to keep their voices authentic?
The characters are fictional — and were created in order to eventually bring about their “save the world” plan to life — in the movie. Their solution for ending poverty comes very much from their experiences, interests, and personalities. Other than that, there are many real life people who are positive and constructive like Rene, and there are — and have been — many female indie/underground filmmakers similar to Allyson — in many ways — in the real world.
What was the most difficult part of acting in your own work?
Acting is difficult work. Even more so when you are directing. But, since Alia is a pro actor, and since it was just myself and her — taking our time with scenes — doing 5 takes per angle sometimes — we were able to get good performances. In a way acting in something you are directing, and something you wrote, is a bit easier because you know the character and the story well.
What was a non-pandemic-related challenge to making The Secret Society for Slow Romance?
Writing the script took a long time. Editing took a long time. Since I only do those things every 2–3 years these days I was a bit rusty. I plan on making more movies — faster — to keep my skills sharp.
It’s so refreshing to have a movie be unabashedly positive and happy, was that always the intent for the movie, or are you planning a gritty reboot? All kidding aside, was it challenging to write and act in scenes where characters are so vulnerable about their thoughts and feelings, while also maintaining that positivity? How did you keep it light?
It was always the plan — once the characters and the story were selected — to make a very upbeat, positive, happy movie. Once the pandemic hit it became even more important to make that kind of a movie. Because I could see that people would need something light a year or so down the road — as we work to recover from the pandemic. It would be a challenge for me to promote a dark movie in 2021 and 2022, 2023. Real life is dark enough right now. We need light things as art/entertainment.
Throughout The Secret Society for Slow Romance, Rene talks about the process and approach to creating indie film with Allyson. Can you talk about this meta-instructional layer where you laid out a road map for people feeling inspired to create their own indie movies?
Real indie movies have been made since the 1950s and earlier. Actually probably from day 1. Also in the 1920s and beyond by filmmakers such as Oscar Micheaux — who had to work outside the mainstream industry due to racism. Anyway, how Slow Romance was made is a blueprint for possible other projects. A very small cast and crew can make a movie now. Releasing those movies is another challenge — and hopefully I’ll have some good answers about that challenge in a year or two — once the Slow Romance distribution project is completed. For other people interested in making movies — do it — grab a camera, grab some actors, start filming scenes. Then over time you can make more complex work, with ambitious goals — such as using your movies to try to end poverty worldwide. Regardless of the outcome, indie filmmaking is an interesting, rewarding creative lifestyle to practice.
The Secret Society For Slow Romance will be released in April 2022, and you can go to the official website, https://www.slowromancemovie.com, for clips and more information!
By Jamie Toth, The Somewhat Cyclops on .
Exported from Medium on January 21, 2022.