Rooftop Alum Terence Nance sits down with Rooftop Films about his literary inspirations, editing and creative process, and more behind An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. Nance’s creative feature film debut documents the relationship between him and a woman as they teeter on the divide between platonic and romantic.
Making its rounds at various festivals including Sundance, Rotterdam, and New Directors/New Films, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty makes a stop in Brooklyn, the current home of the filmmaker and the film, on Thursday, June 21 at Dekalb Market with a performance by his band Terence Etc. before the film. The screening takes place during the Soul of Brooklyn Week presented by MoCADA.
Rooftop Films: “How would you feel?” – the title of the short that inspired this film – is almost an impossible question, but also the most important one to address to the audience of a film like this. It serves as a reminder to relate to you as a protagonist, to get to know you better, but also to put ourselves in your place. How did you come to the original title, and how did the change come about?
Terence Nance: How Would You Feel?, the question, the short film, the title, were all a device that came to me when I wrote the first film. I wrote it in one night after I was stood up and I think at that moment of accute self awareness it was sort of a rhetorical question I was posing to myself. The question was also a way to tell the story of me messing up with this woman to people that was already kind of funny, meta textual, and self-deprecating just in the grammer of it. There was no deliberation whatsoever on what it was. It was just my first instinct of how to articulate how I was feeling to other people when I was in the heat of the experience. Also I did like how it made the film a participatory experience as opposed to your normal voyeristic one. That became very important to me in making the short film and it was something I wanted to test out. The change came about because the short film is just another movie. I realized that at some point in editing that I wasn’t really extending the short “How Would You Feel” as much as I was just making appendixes to it in the form of another short film that riffed off the facts you were given in the first one. So I titled the new film An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. When you watch it tho it says both titles at the beginning so it’s still titled both technically.
RF: The structure of the film is quite unique, and combines a number of media and formats. All of the different types of animation, verite style footage, still camera shots and all the rest are held together by the structure of an education film, or public service announcement. It also creates a meta experience from that first “pause”, where the audience can start to understand your position both in front of and behind the camera. What made you decide to structure the film this way, and how did you come up with the concept?
TN: I wrote how would you feel in the form of a blues song, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. Oversimplification maintains that to some degree but is more like a piece of classical music with different movements. It wasn’t something I “came up with” I guess it was just the most natural way for me to tell the story to people because I come from a music background. It was all done very quickly so I have to kind of guess at the actual aesthetic inspirations but the form was contained in the scripts and I think wanting the experience to feel like a song, and also needing the experience to feel structured in a way that mirrors how a confusing relationship comes at you and then comes out of you influenced the structure.
RF: Your film takes a number of unique approaches to storytelling, in which a whole story is told within a small selection of true events. What comes to light is not the events themselves, but the subjectivity of the person(s) experiencing them in a manner that is usually reserved for literature or poetry. Other than Louise Erdrich, did you have any particular literary influences for the film?
TN: Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, and probably a lot of Roald Dahl.
RF: I love how the film employs repetition, the way that lines are spoken over and over, or shots that recur throughout. It seems to capture the experience of rumination, and daydreaming, in a very natural way. It emphasizes the beauty of repetition, but also the impossibility of true recurrence, and the special sort of reflection that comes out of it is, I think, very universal. Was this a product of working to recreate your own thought processes?
TN: I wrote it like a song so there are a lot of choruses or refrains that come up throughout the film. and you definitely hit it on the head about rumination and repition. The film uses these to kind of tellt he story of how I process regret. But the way it’s done hopefully also shows how fallible memory is and how impossible it is to repeat something in your mind exactly as it happened.
RF: I was struck by the creativity of your editing and camerawork, for the few continuous shots that occur (such as the continuous shot in the opening), they are very fluid and catching. I also really loved the sequence in the park, where the camera rocks side to side as the figure in the frame changes between yourself and . The editing, however, must have been a greater challenge considering just how many individual shots there are. Was it a difficult editing process, deciding when or what to repeat, and where, as well as transitioning between media?
TN: I would say the Editing was far easier than the animation. The script guided the editing in a way that made it fairly efficient and the short How Would You Feel was already edited so it wasn’t too hard to just add the Animated sections. IT was very difficult to resolve myself to cut out sections of animation that took years to produce.
RF: After having shown the film for awhile now, how does it feel to have so many people given the privilege of your emotional memories? Has that experience changed from the release of How Would You Feel? up to now?
TN: There was really only one significant screening of How Would You Feel? It was a great feeling to show it and I think that initial feeling helped to push me through the long process of making Oversimplification. I wouldn’t say there was a change in the experience of sharing because they are such different films. The first was a fiction film so the discolsure on this go around is far deeper and more extreme simply because the film is presented as non-fiction. I think the main reason why it doesn’t feel so intensly intimate is because the film covers a period of my life that is long sense over. My life now is much different and still very private.