Raoul Vehills TWILITE bears only a passing resemblance to other action/dramas.
To begin with, theres a distinct air of melodrama to this independent film, shot entirely on location in Chicago. Theres also a strong sense of impressionism and a film noir style that set the film apart.
TWILITE, a Vigilante Films production, was shot in on 16mm black and white film between the summer of 1996 and the summer of 1997 on a shoestring budget of around $10,000. Like all independent features, It presented logistical problems, which were often difficult to overcome.
The movie was born of a novel that director Vehill had been writing before he "decided to make movies instead."
"The novel was episodic, a soap opera of junkies, thieves and hustlers," he says. "To make it work as a film, though, I needed to give it a greater sense of focus, so I decided to hone it in on a love story."
TWILITE tells the inside out, 24-hour love story of Stink, an ecstasy dealer, an Angela, a cokehead, on the run from her cop fiancé. Its a crazy chase through a junkies maze for sensation, love, each other and themselves, in which they confront addiction, betrayal, self-betrayal, and maybe even a little love.
Vehill, who quips that hes "thirty-six, going on fifteen," says he wanted the movie to be different from Hollywood movies made today not just in its dynamic visuals and editing, but also in story line and form. "I wanted to tell the story of a dreamer/loser who loves and loses all in one night."
"I think that most Hollywood love stories have a happy ending, and this one, well, you dont know. You dont know at the end of the film whether the main character will find it or not, But I hope the audience recognizes that his lifes been changed in a significant way."
Vehill took film and video courses at the University of Hawaii, and says thats where he gained his technical knowledge. "If theres a deeper filmmaking, which is plot through characterization and visualization, well you teach yourself that by making films."
The director says that hes made movies since grade school, and claims Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks and Hong Kong director Clara Law as major influences amongst a sea of others.
"All three of those directors use human contradiction to power their stories. Like the Tom Ewell character in The Seven Year Itch being torn between his wife and his sexy neighbor, and the only thing that really happens is Ewell just tripping on his obsession for the Marilyn Monroe character.
Vehill believed that a certain type of actor would be necessary for the roles in his film, so he cast from some of the leading actors of the Chicago independent non-Equity theatre scene. Playing the leading male role of Stink is Andrew Rothenberg. Dado, an established Chicago fringe theatre actress and director play Angela, his junky counterpart.
"Dado had auditioned for another movie that we never got made after I saw her in Cementville at Mary-Archie theatre (one of Chicagos premiere non-Equity houses). I also saw her there in Small Craft Warning from which I got more actors, including Andrew Rothenberg. I gave Dado a copy of the screenplay and a Horrorgirl video, the previous Vigilante production. So I called Dado one day and Andy, who was PERFECT for Stink, answered. I asked him to take a look at screenplay. He said that he had read it and loved it and would do it."
Not everything proved as simple for the film, though, and production problems turned the
Shooting schedule from an initial 6 to 8 week estimation into a sometimes-grueling yearlong endeavor.
"When you make a film for little or nothing, and people have lives they have to subsidize, its a little difficult to get everyone together for shooting at the same time," says Jonathan Lavan, producer of the film and Managing Director of Vigilante Productions. "Its a question of stick-to-itivness. Its a dedicated type of actor you need one who will essentially work for food. Which we were always happy to provide."
According to Vehill, most of the film was shot in the first three weeks of the schedule. "But the remaining third of the film, due to peoples schedules, access to equipment, access to money, blowing to many fuses, there were all kinds of little things that would trip us up."
"Perhaps the biggest problem in production, though, was my own emotional attachment to the film, constantly getting stuck in the process, and dealing with my own mood swings."
Lavan, who also plays a supporting role in the film, adds, "It was hard because we were stuck with some sub-standard equipment. We wanted to make a black and white movie on film, but we had a camera that made a lot of background noise and lost some footage, which had to be re-shot. Some of the noise got on the soundtrack, and weve had a hell of a time getting rid of it."
"We could have made a black and white video production, and probably have a really slick looking video right now, but we thought film was important to the look and the mise-en-scene."
Vehill sees sound as a problem, but a surmountable one. "Its hard to say how much money will be needed to complete the project. Its cost about $10,000 so far, and if we re-master, it could be more than $20,000 by the end. If we cant find the money, the master of the roughcut is on ¾ video and is looking and sounding great."
"Optimally, we want a film print, but we can show the rough cut and use it to sell the film."
"The next step, Vehill says, is to send TWILITE to film festivals, underground fests, the ones which project video, like Chicago Underground and Slamdance, and also to film markets. Ultimately Id like to sell it to an indi producer or film company who would then re-master it. I may distribute it myself if I cant get the right deal, but thats a whole different can of worms."
Lavan concurs with Vehills plan of action. "Weve entered South by Southwest and the New York Underground Film Fest."
Lavan says hes very happy with the end result. "I really like the main characters relationship, and the secondary and ancillary characters float in and around them. Its two kinds of strange triangles: one involving their relationship to the law, and the other, their relationship to each other and their own problems,"
Vigilante Films has produced two other films directed by Vehill, Horrorgirl and It Crawls Inside Me, but Lavan, who calls this level of film production "poverty filmmaking," feels that TWILITE is their best film yet.
He sums up the movie this way: "We wanted to pursue a real Chicago story, and we think weve accomplished that; Its the classic Chicago love story."
Vehill also thinks the film is important, because the story it tells is so real.
"I think this film tells the truth about love as it works now. Without so much gravity being placed on the seriousness of love and commitment, I think more people today just kind of fall apart."
"Hollywood films tend to show this fantasy world where everybody ends up happily, and in real life the truth is usually just the opposite."
"I shot on black and white partially because it was cheaper, and partially because I like the look, but also because it connects this very nineties film with thirties and forties film noirs and melodramas. I think when you watch it; it feels like the Late Late Show. Just with no commercials."