Though it has been a few years since filmmaker Scout Wise produced her silent film Stan Needs a Maid, the Denver native is proudly part of a group of once-student filmmakers who will be showcasing their work tonight on CPT 12. Now working in the Bay Area as an associate producer on documentary films, Wise credits the UC Denver's film program for giving her the skills and real-life experience she needed to start her career in movie-making.
In advance of Stan Needs a Maid's local television debut tonight, Wise talked with Westword about what it takes to make a movie on a student budget and how she landed local comedian Nathan Lund as the lead role in a story loosely based on the filmmaker's own dad.
Westword: Why did you choose to make Stan Needs a Maid a silent film?
A couple of different reasons: when I first got into filmmaking, I read a lot of books about Hitchcock's work. He always said that you should be able to watch film without any sound and be able to understand ninety-percent of what's going on. It's a visual medium, so you should be able to get the story across with mostly pictures. Sound is just sort of an effect that goes into it.
I'm sure a lot of film people would be angry about me saying that -- I know that sound is really important to a film, but it still has to be built around the visual aspect. When I made this film, I was just starting out and I think it is an important exercise to prove to yourself that you can get that principle down and master a story without dialog. Then, you should be able to add it in as something to pull the story forward, as opposed to just filling in a scene.
Ultimately, it was an exercise in seeing if I could pull of Hitchcock's idea. There is one piece of dialog in the whole film.
In addition to all of that, I was just inexperienced and wasn't able to find a good sound person. If you don't have good sound in a film, it totally takes the quality down a lot. I thought, if I just eliminate that part of it, it will up the production value and I'll be able to enjoy my own experiment of, well, can I pull this off? As a filmmaker in college, I had to really think about it like, if I want this to look and sound good, what are the sacrifices I have to make?
I shot Stan Needs a Maid in a period of two days. I knew that the longer it took me to make it, the more the scenes would look different. I mean, it was a student production. I didn't have the personnel to really manage the quality. So I said, we're doing this in two days with $250 worth of props and no sound. Well, I shouldn't say no sound; there is great sound in the film. I just eliminated the dialog. You just have to prioritize the things that really need to come through in the film and cast away all of the stuff that is kind of cool but can't really be pulled off.
I think it is a great exercise for all student filmmakers to look at what they have to work with -- can you shoot at your friend's house? What kind I story can you make with the things and people you have? I think it is great to have ambition and desire to work with effects and sound design, but once you strip all of that stuff away, what you have to work on is your story.
It was something I really struggled with in the editing room -- I couldn't tell if it made sense anymore, you know? When there is no dialog to say anything, you don't have that crutch to rely on. You have to really work hard.
But there is sound in Stan Needs a Maid. There's accordion music and this sort of water droplet sound happening. Outside of the budgetary concerns, how and why did you choose to do what you did with the sound?
I had this idea when I went into it that the soundscape was going to be kind of like punctuations throughout the film. It worked to sort of up the physical comedy. At the very beginning, I knew that Stan would have a very slushy sound when he walked and when he blinked his eyes they would make a wet blinking noise. That was meant to sort of punctuate. If you've ever watched a film without sound effects in it, it feels very one dimensional.
As for the music, the accordion plays with whatever action is going on in the way that you would expect it to if you had your own theme music. It's like having your own walking music, stopping music, eating music -- there are different soundtracks for every piece of your life. That's how the soundtrack plays within the film.
Visually, there is a yellowish tint to the film. What was the purpose of that?
When I first came up with the concept for the film, I knew that the character of Stan was going to be a hoarder. I had just cleaned out my dad's basement and was stuck on this idea of stuff. I had this idea of a hoarder, so I started researching hoarders and I found out about these two brothers who were the first recorded case of hoarding in like the '20s or '30s. I looked at pictures of what their house looked like and I wanted Stan's house to look like that.
Then I had this idea to make the entire film look like an old newspaper -- I don't know if it really came out that way? The film is very oversaturated -- the color correction is a little crazy. But I wanted it to have this decaying look, like a yellowing, sepia, newspaper look. What ended up happening was, we found so many props in our exploration to design the set that I decided it had to be more colorful. The film ended up being really colorful, but with an yellowing piece of newspaper-like undertone.
Is there a story behind the premise for Stan Needs a Maid?
I was really, really poor and I was living at my dad's house when I was in college. My dad is this very sweet but very forgetful guy and I remember that when I was living with him, every time I would leave the house, I would think, do I really need to lock the door? Because my dad would still be home when I was leaving. But I started locking him in the house because I was worried that if somebody came to rob us and came in the house, my dad would think it was just one of my friends and he would help them, well, rob the house.
So the concept of the film is based on this fear I had of my dad helping robbers rob us, under the impression that he was helping somebody out who was my friend. Essentially, I wrote a story about a guy who has a lot of stuff who helps thieves rob himself. It began to take on its own story -- I fleshed out the characters of the robbers and they become friends with the main character, Stan. But it is a sweet story based on my dad, one of unlikely friendship.
Comic Nathan Lund plays Stan -- how did you go about casting Stan Needs A Maid?
Nathan was actually the most unlikely casting. I was working at the Mayan Theatre with him and I was talking about how I needed somebody for this part. I had written the part based on my dad and had no idea who I would cast in the role. Nathan is a stand-up genius. As we were talking about it, he said, well, why don't I just do it? (Laughs.)
The other actors are obviously my friends, and a lot of them had been in previous films that I did. Candace Hicks plays Maria (the robber) and she does a lot of great work with physical comedy, especially in her face -- she's very expressive. Because it is a silent film, it really works. Matthew Anglin plays Tuck (another robber) and he was in a couple of other things I did. He is just so good with humor -- I actually wrote that part for him. Finally, Cindy Petito (Helena) was my high school drama teacher and I've used her in a lot of my films because she is an amazing actress.
Stan Needs a Maid, along with other films by student area filmmakers plays tonight at 8 p.m. as part of Best of Cinefest From UC Denver on CPT12. For more information or a complete schedule of films, visit CPT12's website.
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