Matthew Puccini is a Brooklyn-based, Bay Area-raised queer filmmaker. His first film “Solo” was a Wasserman Award Finalist and won the King Award for Screenwriting at NYU’s 2016 First Run Film Festival. He spent last year as producer Scott Rudin’s Executive Assistant and currently works for acclaimed director Cary Fukunaga. He is also a recipient of the 2017 Richie Jackson Artist Fellowship. (source)
During the filming of The Mess He Made what moment made you the most proud? And what’s your favorite memory?
I’m very proud of the last shot of the film, which doubled as our martini shot on set. We filmed it at 2am after a full, nonstop day of shooting, and Max and I were both exhausted. This also happened to be the most important shot of the film, when Jude finds out his test results, so the stakes were relatively high. I sent Max out into the freezing parking lot with my iPhone and told him to listen to Patty Griffin’s song When It Don’t Come Easy. He came back in, sat down, looked at me, nodded, and then proceeded to deliver five perfect takes, back to back.
My favorite memory is actually a total production nightmare. I was driving up to set with Max in a rental car, and the car broke down on the side of the Interstate, about 25 minutes away from our first shooting location. Max and I had only known each other for around a week at that point. It was just us and my friend Andrew, completely stranded on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere, with huge trucks zipping past us and our entire crew waiting for us at our first location.
Andrew hopped the overpass and went running off in the direction of the nearest gas station, then realized it was over 2 miles away and called an Uber—only for his phone to die while waiting for the car. He ran back after being unable to find the Uber driver, and I immediately started running in the same direction, fully prepared to jog the whole thing, only for Andrew’s Uber to find me and pick me up on the side of the road. Luckily that driver had a heart of gold–he waited for me while I picked up a gas canister and then drove me back to our car….but even once we’d filled up the tank, the car still wouldn’t start. It was a totally busted rental. We had to abandon the car on the side of the road and take the Uber the rest of the way to set.
Pre-production, production, and post are all part of the overall filmmaking process, but each has its unique rhythm, people involved, and dynamic. What approach did you take to pre-production? To production? To post? What adjustments will you make for next time?
We were working on a micro-budget and financing the film out of pocket, so all phases of production were a tightrope between making the best film possible and not going massively into debt. With pre-production, we focused on meeting the two main demands of the script, which were finding an incredible lead actor and a very specific set of locations. We were lucky to find Max through a casting associate of mine, who knew him personally and sent him the script. For locations, my producer, Tyler and I spent around a month dragging ourselves around the Tri-state area on Google Earth, since we didn’t have the time or money to afford a rental car for multiple scouts. It was essential that we took that time, though, and really waited to move forward until we had locked our dream talent and setting. It laid the foundation for everything else.
Production was surprisingly smooth. We were lucky to have assembled a really lovely crew that all believed in the project. The main headache was scheduling. The film takes place over a continuous 15 minutes, from sunset to dusk, so we had to plan all of our exteriors around ‘Blue Hour,’ which only lasted for about 90 minutes each day. We would spend our afternoons carefully rehearsing, blocking and doing camera rehearsals to maximize that time, then shoot as many consecutive takes as we could before we lost the light. It required a lot of trust and goodwill between myself, our AD, Edgar, and our DP, Brandon, to pull it off.
We consciously set our production dates with the goal of turning around a cut of the film in time for a few imminent film festival deadlines, so a big part of pre-production was setting up an amazing post-production team. Our editor, Henry, received the footage the day after we wrapped and turned around a first pass in a week. Our sound designers, Will and Arjun, both had incredibly quick turnarounds as well. The best advice I can give is just to surround yourself with talented people who aren’t afraid to make bold decisions. It’s so important to have collaborators that challenge your idea of what the film can be, that can open you up to new possibilities.
What scares you the most during the process of making a movie? How do you overcome that fear?
I’m always scared of driving the grip truck through Manhattan. I dread that every single time. Still haven’t figured out how to overcome it.
In all seriousness, though, it’s scary to take something that’s very personal and adapt it into something very public. I faced a lot of personal demons while writing this story and then had to keep going back to that place and tapping into that darkness while I was having conversations with my cast and crew, over and over and over again. It was brutal and exhausting and totally cathartic. I think it’s something to be embraced, not overcome.
Every artist is kind of like Batman with equipment and gadgets at the ready that help us do our jobs. What are some tools you’d recommend for other filmmakers?
I really think that the best tools we have at our disposal are other films. We’re so lucky now to have platforms like Vimeo, Netflix, FilmStruck, etc., that make such a wide selection of quality content so readily available and easy to watch. For this film, I spent a lot of time just watching things – shorts and features, or even just scenes from features, that captured the mood or style or existed in a similar world to what I was trying to create. It’s so beneficial to have an understanding of where and how the work you’re creating exists within the scope of film history. It’s humbling and inspiring in all of the best ways.
Say you have to make a movie that features one character from the 90s. Which character do you pick? How do you use them? They can have a major role, a supporting, or just a single moment. What’s the film called?
I think Edward Scissorhands could have had a really nice cameo as the nurse in this film. I still would have called it “The Mess He Made”, for very different reasons.