When it comes to films, I don’t necessarily rely on a critic’s opinion to enjoy a film or not. Even if the critic’s opinion isn’t a popular one, a cult classic can be born.
I feel this is the case with Mute. Rated only 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as, ratings on IMDb holding steady at a little over 5 stars out of ten. I beg differ than the majority vote so far for this film.
Maybe, I am biased since I rather watch ‘independent’ films in general, or I’m biased due to my preference as a Skarsgard fan; regardless, my following opinion stands.
An original story line, add a bit of Blade Runner nostalgic glitter, exceptional acting beyond dialogue, and the abnormal role choosing between Alexander Skarsgard and Paul Rudd. Mute has become one of the most original films released in 2018.
It may not have been Duncan Jones best work according to other critics, but the originality of the story stands out itself, as well as, the A listed cast provided additional spark for the anticipation of the film.
As a writer, I felt the story was refreshing as it unravels a mystery in a corrupt underground society in a futuristic Germany. A realistic future, where an Amish mute attempts to play a hero in Germany to try to search for his loved one, who ends up missing. In order to keep you on your toes, new mysteries unravel throughout the underground society the closer he gets to his closure to figure out what happened to his companion.
The characters reveal their place in the film the further you get into the story. That’s where the film succeeded. It remained a mystery, while only giving very little away until the climax was revealed. Without giving away any spoilers, let’s just say, there’s a purpose for every side story within the universe of Mute.
I love actors who go above and beyond their previous roles and have a continuation to choose characters that would challenge their jobs and, yet, still deliver successfully on the big screen. Both Alexander and Paul did that with this Netflix original.
You will love some characters, but also grow to hate others in this film, thanks to the continuous talent this cast provides and delivers. What I like most about the cast chosen is that no one out performed the other. The talent was in sync throughout the entire film.
So if you are into science fiction films and want to lose yourself in a mystery/active film that doesn’t make any sense to most critics, Mute is definitely a watch until the very end.
This is certainly a first. A film recommendation becomes a two part with a interview feature with the director and writer, himself! Saul Pincus, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and discuss the world of film! It’s truly an honor to be able to do this with you. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
How long have you been working in the film industry? What or who influenced you to dive into the film industry?
Saul Pincus: I’ve been doing this for the better part of four decades, roughly four fifths of my life. The first ten years were comprised of a lengthy string of experiments on Super 8 – experiments that grew and grew in challenge and complexity, thanks in part to the fact that it was the heyday of Super 8, and there was a lot of advanced gear available to get you results not possible with just a consumer camera and projector. I would cavort around Montreal, my hometown, with my camera, having a blast.
My dad, an astronomy buff, had played ball with William Shatner when they were in high school together, but no one in my family was in the entertainment field. The original Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind opened when I was seven. I went to the library to research how these sorts of films were made – but there was nothing available, only a book on “trick photography” with still cameras. But I was hooked – and at just the right moment, because for the first time in the history of cinema, science fiction was no longer a ghetto genre. We got rafts of films with new visual achievements every six months, and some of them had great stories, too.
For me, the thought of making films professionally was never much of a question. But when I left Montreal for Toronto in the mid-90s, I was starting from scratch.
What were some of the greater aspects working on the production of La Femme Nikita in the ’90s? What are some things on the production end that were difficult to do then, that might be easier now to do? What parts of the film industry hasn’t changed since you started in your career?
SP: LFN was a cool show, in part because it a show with a large international audience that was produced by American and Canadian minds hand-in-hand. It was also well-budgeted for an off-network show of that time, so it could look the part and not often look silly doing so. That was unique, and it helped lend the show the kind of character it has.
The difference between any series or film now, versus then, is the ease with which you can lend scale or realism to the images after the fact. But if you take a look at season two versus the first season, you can already see an improvement in the visual effects, which is less due to the artistry in this case, and more due to the availability of new tools – tools which were still evolving. The first season VFX seem a bit too “video-ey.”
But other than technology, the basic process of producing a series really hasn’t changed since the advent of the medium. You still need money, great writing, a great cast, a great crew, a supportive broadcaster and a loyal audience.
Could you go into detail on how your day went while you were an assistant editor on the show?
SP: When I was there, two assistants would alternate odd and even numbered shows, which meant we’d work with one editor though the season. LFN was shot on Super 16mm negative film, which meant that the previous day’s footage would be have to be first processed by the lab in a chemical bath overnight. Then it would go to Magnetic North, a post facility, and into the hands of Bill Holley, who would transfer it with care and a keen eye to Digital Betacam tape. This process would take till the early afternoon, so I’d arrive at work around 4pm.
I generally worked with Dave Thompson. When his episode would be shooting, I’d check his dailies and feed them into his Avid, ready for him to edit. There are many checks and triple-checks when dealing with film transfers to video, especially at that time, when you’d be shooting @ 23.98fps and wind up with 29.97 video. And it wasn’t just a one-way street, because Warner Bros. would want to archive a cut negative of the finished show. So you had to be certain the metadata of each and every piece of camera negative was correctly transferred to tape, and in turn, made it into your Avid intact. Otherwise you couldn’t instruct the negative cutter with confidence. Today, that process is much simpler, because we rarely use film.
It’s a technical job, yes, but it’s also a political job. And creative – though how much depended on the project and the editor.
So, you are not from Toronto, but from Montreal. What helped you decide to relocate to Toronto, from Montreal? Was it for work purposes? What helped you to decide to stay in Toronto, instead of returning to Montreal?
SP: I left Montreal largely because my girlfriend was returning home after going to school there. She and I later married, so I guess I made the right call!
But the other reason was the political climate in Montreal, which was in the throes of Quebec’s second referendum on sovereignty in two decades. It was not a healthy environment in which to seek gainful employment or a predictable financial future.
I always believe you can read a city by its food. Toronto was just starting to get interesting food-wise. On several levels, Toronto of the mid-90s was transitioning, getting more inviting.
You are still based in Toronto decades after shooting LFN. I understand access to budget for films in Canada differ than the access here in the United States. Could you share the difference between the Canadian film industry compared to that of the US and can you share the process that is done to get budget for a film project in the industry up there compared to what is done here in the U.S.?
SP: Well, that’s a really big question with a week-long answer. In a nutshell, the English-speaking film/television world is driven by the U.S. market. Traditionally this had meant we in Canada have taken the scraps, or produced alternative programming in a bid to secure what we consider to be our Canadian identity in broadcast or theatrical form. There are government agencies set up to ensure projects with a Canadian identity get made. But as with any project anywhere in the world, the total project budget comes from several sources. Cobbling all those sources together is the big challenge.
The US isn’t as concerned with its cultural identity per se in large part because the machinery to export American movies was set up over a hundred years ago, and is still functioning at top efficiency, in great numbers, with well-worn distribution channels allowing access into nearly every country on the planet.
I actually had the privilege to personally meet you with numerous cast and crew of LFN back in May 2017. When you walked into the reunion convention, what was your first expression and/or your whole experience like all weekend spending time with the fans and your previous coworkers?
SP: I was amazed, in part that so many had traveled so far to celebrate it. But I’ve gotten on planes to see the late Jerry Goldsmith and then John Williams (both widely considered the greatest film composers of our time) conduct concerts, so I get it.
I’ll admit though, that the first time I was approached to autograph Chris Heyn’s book on the show, it was a strange feeling. Strange because I didn’t create this show, nor was I a key creative force. I was more like red shirt #28576 at a Star Trek convention. But it’s all about love, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Do you feel there is more expression freedom in the art of film in Canada as a whole compared to the film art expressed here in the States?
SP: Not necessarily, because if someone trusts you with a million dollars, no matter where you live, very few people on this planet are going to ask you if you achieved maximum artistic expression. They just want to know if what you’ve made is exploitable and whether it will bring returns. It’s probably healthier to find an exploitable concept, but carefully craft it and then lace it with artistic expression that does not undermine the exploitable aspect.
Your most current project is the independent film, Nocturne. Was there a specific person or event that influenced you to write the story for Nocturne?
SP: Nocturne was borne from my desire to make a silent film about characters that struggle to communicate. Obviously it’s not a silent film, literally – but it’s a story lends itself to visual language and I hoped to stress that. It’s about an insomniac who falls for a sleepwalker, and how they eventually must come to grips with the fact that their intimate, almost myopic “relationship” has larger implications for them both.
How long did it take to create a film project like Nocturne?
SP: About a year to write, a few months to shoot, and several years to finish. The reason is because it was entirely self-financed, but also because the film contains five minutes of hand-drawn animation playing in tandem with the dominantly live-action portion of the film. That took a year to actually produce, but before doing so, I had to cut and shape the live-action very precisely to know exactly how much animation I really needed. So it took time to finish, for sure, but once we started getting invited to film festivals in the US, Canada, and in Europe (Nocturne had its World Premiere in the Free Spirit Competition at the Warsaw Film Festival), won awards for best feature film (at the New Jersey International Film Festival and at Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival, with an excellence award from the Rincon Film Festival), and landed our distribution deal with Random Media, it left me feeling gratified.
What was the difference between working on La Femme Nikita and your work with Nocturne? Do you feel you had more control as an editor or as a director/writer for a project?
SP: LFN was Joel Surnow’s vision; Roy, Peta, everyone – we were all hired to execute it. Your own project is just that, and you work with or hire people to help you execute it. Depending on what your arrangement is with your investors, you are answerable to them to some degree. But in the end, we make things for audiences, and you are always answerable to them on the basis of the work itself!
What is the difference between working on a film, compared to working on a television series in general?
SP: In the late 90s, you worked on a TV show for the better part of a year, there were semi-regular hours, each episode took roughly eight days to shoot, and you shot six to ten pages of script per shooting day. There were distinct limits as to how many locations you could visit in that eight day schedule, what caliber of guest stars you could cast, etc. And each episode had to run a specific length.
Even low budget features of the day shot for at least four weeks, often months. So you shoot less per day, meaning you can introduce more detail into the story and take a bit more time to craft the result. But the hours were crazier.
Today, the lines are a bit more blurred. A season no longer equates to a definitive number of episodes, and even the duration of individual episodes doesn’t matter as long as they remain under a certain length. In general, series work is much better funded across the board, with broadcasters (including the likes of Netflix and Amazon) having realized that to compete with features, their product must be as good as features traditionally were.
Do you have any new projects you are currently working on or a part of whether it would be in pre-production, production, or post-production phase? Can you tell us what to expect from you in the near future when it comes to projects or work?
SP: Well, oddly, Nocturne is still very active. Earlier this year, Nocturne was released on special edition DVD – which means that the two lead actors, Mary Krohnert, Knickoy Robinson and I, went into a studio to record a screen-specific audio commentary that describes how we made the film. And we had fun – but we were serious about it, too. If you’re curious about movies, it’s a great way to learn – sort of a film school in a box.
Also exciting for me is that Tribeca Shortlist, the digital arm of the Tribeca Film Festival, has just licensed Nocturne for a two-year run in the US. Tribeca Shortlist is a real home for the kind of “filmmaker’s film” that Nocturne has often been called. It’s also available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox and certain broadcast networks in more than 50 countries across the globe. This is the thing about movies – they can go on for years, even after they’re done!
And yes, I have other projects in the works. Sorry for being coy, but that’s all I can say at this stage!
The film industry isn’t an easy career to pursue in general. What helps keep you motivated in your craft to help keep you focused and allows you to keep pushing forward in your career?
SP: The simple answer: it’s just what I like to do, and has been for as long as I can remember. I like to build things.
What is some advice would you like to share, based off of your own experiences, for those who are in film school or interested in the film industry?
SP: Another simple question! But seriously, the real trick is just knowing yourself, what you want to eventually be doing, and chart a path from there. And remember, it’s not so much about where you see yourself in a year, but where you’d like to see yourself when you’re fifty or sixty. Pick an area that will keep you passionate on little or no sleep, in horrible weather, even if your health fails. I’m being dramatic, but also truthful. If you can’t do that, walk away!
I don’t know about you, but I would love to see what other film art you have the ability to cook up in that articulate mind of yours. Any last words you’d like to share for the following readers before we conclude this interview?
SP: Well, I’m going to put in another plug for Nocturne. From the story, through the performances, through the crafting of the film, I never approached it as a date movie, never frivolously, but made it hoping it would satisfy in a similar fashion to the way you return to good book that’s been waiting patiently on your shelf, tempting you to return to it for another read. And when you told me you had to watch Nocturne twice, but still found that second viewing rewarding, you gave me hope that my plan may not have been in vain.
*Disclaimer – All photos are of courtesy and rightfully owned by Saul Pincus.
None of this shit was said. I guess none of that matters when you are in a small time slot to brainstorm, write, shoot, and edit a five to seven minute short film in exactly 48 hours, tops. Final editing being the final phase with figuring out the perfect score, sound, and/or music in the perfect slot in the film. Sweat spewing down your face, with anxiety and adrenaline pacing your heartbeat to that of a crooked thug running from the cops in a crime scene. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here, but you get the picture… …er scene image printed within your mind.
I was a bit nervous regardless of the research I did prior to the event. I never did one before, so where the fuck do I start? People. I start with people. The trick was to get just the right amount of dedicated individuals who were willing to be locked in an empty wing of the school over a whole entire weekend, where instead of going out and socializing and drinking with family and/or friends. I mean, it is summer… …isn’t it?
So it’s obvious that recruiting was a challenge. When I reached out to friends about wanting to do a 48 hour with me, I got only a few people interested, but only one fully committed. I felt defeated when we couldn’t get people interested. Especially individuals that were interested in film in the first place.
Then one morning I woke up for just another work day, look at my phone and BAM! A message from one of my mentors stepping in to help recruit a team endorsed by our college program and I was included! Faith restored! However, it was a damn roller coaster trying to keep those interested again. Of course even until the day before the kick off event, people would back out. It is what it is.
Five members of our team would show up to the kick off event. It was as hot and humid as a Vietnam jungle. Dripping sweat, adult beverages, and a crowd packed in an event room like a pack of sardines. What the fuck was this? How big are these six other teams? We have seven. Fucking seven! Producer, Michael Keeney, was NOT joking when he pushed the advice to RECRUIT, RECRUIT, RECRUIT!
FRIDAY NIGHT: KICK OFF EVENT — …Shortly after I arrive, I was informed that the six teams we thought we were up against, simultaneously turn into 29 other teams!! Plus, producers’, Michael Keeney and Katherine Thompson, has a waiting list! Now that’s success in such a small city of less than a quarter a million. My question is… where the hell did these aspiring filmmakers come from and where have they been?!
Two genres, two characters, one prop, and one line later, we find ourselves at a local coffee shop, Collectivo, to start our brainstorming and the espresso inducing for the weekend.
(I am not going to get into the rules and run around on how the 48 hour film project works, so just check it out on their 48 Hour Film web site to learn more of this event. Especially for those who might be interested in doing one next year.) *smiling*
After we went our separate ways for the evening, I dove right into the Killer Tracks website to set the tone of the short film. Our two choices of genre were Spy/Espionage and Suspense/Thriller. There is nothing more soothing than to swing through sounds surrounding those genres on a Friday, the 13th evening. The irony, if I am even using it properly.
Let’s be real here, I thought irony was that of which came from Alanis Morissette’s song, “Ironic” growing up like majority of our population in North America.
SATURDAY: SHOOTING/EDITING – Day two was committed to shooting and rough editing. There’s not much to say, except that I did not expect to be a main character in this short film. In an odd sense, my anxiety decided to take a vacation that day. Not sure if it’s cause I was in such a familiar setting, or what, but I was in some kind of zen during the shoot. I can’t really explain it, other than it just felt right that I was there in the moment.
(I must note that the chemistry between the cast and crew was pretty epic. We had our fun, but we also kept the mission at hand; to get the shoot complete so we could get the rough edit done before Sunday.)
We were done shooting right around 8-830ish that evening. I was kind of daydreaming of being on NCIS, working late nights, ordering Chinese, while working to find other music to possibly use for the film. My mind goes to different places, to different scenes.
SUNDAY: EDITING/FINAL EDITS/SUBMIT – The final day was purely committed to editing, which I did not have a huge part in accept the title cards and the music choices. However, we did get our film turned in on time to be premiered this past Thursday.
As for my followers and supporters who actually read my blog, here it is! The web premiere for our short film, “Surprise Party!” I must also let you all in on that a winner for hour 48 hour film project has not been announced yet. The rest of the films all were done real well and props to any of the filmmakers that may pass through this blog post. The networking and connections has just begun! I definitely have found my calling when it comes to film. I am just not sure if I will continue the acting sector of the industry. We will just have to wait and see.
(One last note before we watch the film. My character has no manners at a dinner table, swears, and smokes like a chimney. Like she grew up with no direction in life, because… well, find out when you watch the film! I, as a human being, only relates to the swearing trait of my character.. Fucking military.)*smiling*
Now let’s take a moment and get to know who Patrick Barnitt is in Patrick’s world and what else he is wanting to accomplish in his career.
In seven words, who is Patrick Barnitt?
Patrick Barnitt: Crooner, actor, recovering Borg, and occasional rascal.
How long have you been working in the film industry? What are some of your experiences you’ve had during your years in the industry?
PB: I’ve been in the film industry since 1990. I’ve been lucky enough to make it onto the Star Ship enterprise, run around in the desert in the movie Se7en, and sing on a Fred Savage television show, just to name a few.
What has been the most memorable memory in your career?
PB: That’s a tough one. Here’s a few. Working with Danny Trejo on Chronology, going round for round with Bruce Davison in Coffin, and working with the late, legendary Dennis Hopper.
Do you consider yourself more of an artist, or just an actor in the film industry? In your own words, what defines someone to be more than just an actor in the industry?
PB: At the risk of sounding like a complete tool, I would consider myself more of an artist. *he says as he adjusts his beret, and slowly takes a drag of a clove cigarette*
It kind of covers it all. I spend time acting and also singing, performing. Depends on the day, the project, or the gig. At the end of the day, it’s all performing. It’s all storytelling. It’s all art.
I was introduced to you by the character of Jack Samms from the Coffin franchise. Can you tell the readers about your character in the films?
PB: Jack is a man caught in a trap. A man of wealth. A guy who seemingly has it all. A
great career, a beautiful wife. Lots of dough. Security. A lot to lose. He’s achieved quite a bit in life at the expense of his marriage.
Things are crumbling. Things aren’t always what they seem.
Coffin isn’t your first project that you worked with Derik Wingo and Kipp Tribble. You have worked with them before on Derik’s film, The Waiters. Was that the first time you have ever worked with the two? How has your experience with the guys been over the years?
PB: I go way back with Derik Wingo and Kipp Tribble. I met direct on First Contact on the lot at Paramount years back. We went on to work together on The Waiters up in Portland. Good times.
You can hear me on the soundtrack. Kipp produced The Waiters, but we didn’t meet until a few years later. They’re quite a team. They can finish each other’s sentences. It’s pretty hilarious. We always have a blast. Four projects later. Incredibly talented and great guys.
Is Coffin the first project you’ve worked with actor Johnny Alonso on?
PB: Yes, I met Johnny on Coffin. Terrific guy. A real East Coast cat. When I met him I felt like I knew him for years. It was a real rush working with him on Coffin 1 and Coffin 2. He is a tremendous actor and a real Paisan! We spent a most of our time together in the first Coffin with night shoots, including driving around Los Angeles, and one crazy kitchen scene. Check it out!
Johnny’s a great singer and guitarist. We sang duet at the Dresden at the party for the premiere of first Coffin film. It was great fun.
Here’s a snippet of Johnny Alonso and Patrick Barnitt
in the bar scene in the first Coffin film.
Enjoy the sneak peak if you have not seen the film yet!
As artists, acting isn’t the only thing you and Johnny Alonso have in common. You both are also musicians. How long have you been singing? What got you into music?
PB: As long as I can remember, I’ve been singing and listening to music. Great FM rock radio of the 70s and 80’s. My brothers had an intense record collection. The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Cars, Elton John, Chicago, The Police, etc.
I was also surrounded by a lot great musicians as a kid. We formed a band. My grandfather was a great singer and played the ukulele, so he was a big influence on me. I started singing standards in college, and then I got hooked on Frank and Tony Bennett, Chet Baker, Nat Cole, etc.
Particularly, you are known as a ‘crooner.’ Can you explain that term to the readers who may not be familiar with music terms?
PB: The term ‘crooner’ suggests a singer who sings songs of the great ‘American Songbook’ standards. (The Great American Songbook, also known as “American Standards”, is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century.)
Patrick’s music video for his Frank Sinatra cover,
“One for My Baby (and One More For The Road).”
What are your favorite genres to sing? What genres do you find yourself listening to?
PB: I love singing all genres. Especially Rock & Jazz. Recently, I’ve been singing more R&B. I’m currently working on a new record. I listen to everything from Jazz, to Rock, to Hip-Hop. Whatever suits my mood.
What is on your bucket list for the film or music industry that you haven’t done yet in your career?
PB: As a far as a bucket list goes, I would love to do a Western, be in an Asian action film (I’m a big fan of Korean Action Films), play at the Hollywood Bowl, and work with David Fincher again.
Is there anyone in the industry that you haven’t worked with that you would love to work with?
PB: I would love to work with Spielberg.
If you aren’t acting or singing, what are you doing with your time?
PB: If I’m not working, I’m usually at the gym, playing basketball, traveling, people watching, or catching a new film. I also love live music, and I am a news junkie.
Do you have a ‘hidden’ talent that people are not aware of beyond your music and acting?
PB: I’m an excellent whistler. I’m also a Christopher Walken impersonator.
The closure of this interview: A simple, but fun questionnaire of this or that:
Pepsi or Coke? Pepsi
Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate
Superheroes: DC or Marvel? DC
Music Genres: Hip-Hop or Country? Hip-Hop
Movie Genres: Documentary or Action? Action
Dinning out or dinning in? Dinning Out
Acting or singing? Today, it’s singing. (smiling).
Thank you, Patrick, for taking some time with me and allowing me to ask you some questions and to get to know you more beyond the Coffin franchise. I can’t wait to hang out with you and interview you again on the set of Coffin 3 soon enough (smiling).
*Caution: May Contain Spoilers! Read at Your Own Will*
Saul Pincus. Who is the guy? Well, if you have a deep admiration for the show La Femme Nikita you would know. But for those who simply don’t, Saul is one of many individuals from the production team I met last year in Toronto for the Reunion Convention celebrating 20 years of LFN. He is now a Toronto-based editor and co-wrote and directed this independent cinematographic gem, Nocturne.
I finally got around to watching this film, not once, but twice. Yes, I said twice. The opening few scenes was a continuous puzzle for your curiosity. I found myself wondering through the first five minutes like, “What the fuck is going on?”
This sophisticated story needs your undivided attention through and through for you to know exactly what’s going on. Multi-tasking when you hit play is not a fucking option, because guarantee suddenly the climax will catch your eye and you will just stop what you are doing in the forefront.
Picture it: One minute I am working on my photo editing from one of my current projects and then…. …BAM! Duct tape, screaming, and the screech of the tires from the car hit you. From that instant you walk away, mid-edit, grab your Smart TV remote and stop the film as you think to yourself, “What the fuck just happened? I thought this film was about an insomnia and sleep-walker?” That’s when you go back to the menu and click on the option, ‘play from the beginning.’
I should have known better. All the independent films I have saw over the years from Canada has been anything, but disappointments. It’s what I strive for with my very own storytelling. As for those who love to study film beyond the story-telling, let me tell you…
…the cinematography is on point and was so up close and personal with the scenes and the actors throughout the film. The original story itself is authentic. Nothing I ever expected from a film before. I love that. The articulate transitions between the backstories and the original story, the animations were brilliant. At the end of it all, this film was a brilliant masterpiece. A one of it’s kind. I highly suggest anyone with a love for film to take 90 minutes, give or take, of their time to watch it.
Saul, by chance if you read this. I cannot wait for more of your projects to blossom. An amazing job in the directing and writing of this film. You’ve shown you’ve learned so much in the art of film with the trail you have left so far in your career. Bravo!