Writer/Director Joshua Moore and lead actress Alexandra Clayton, through extensive collaboration, created the mercurial and flighty Renata, the focus of Moore’s new independent feature I Think It’s Raining. After an extensive spell traveling abroad, twenty-something singer Renata returns to her native San Francisco, drifting in and out of dive bars, train stations, record stores, and inevitably, after a chance encounter with a friendly stranger, love.
Moore and Clayton tell us a bit about their creative process and inspirations that went into the making of the film. I Think It’s Raining screens in Rooftop’s Summer Series this Saturday, June 16th at Open Road Rooftop on the Lower East Side. Clayton, also an accomplished singer-songwriter, will be performing prior to the screening. She and Moore will be attending the Q&A following the screening.
Rooftop Films: You both worked on the story for I Think It’s Raining. Where did the idea for telling Renata’s story originate and what was your process of collaboration like?
Joshua Moore: The idea came from a past relationship I had that left me feeling many things, one of them being deeply confused as to why things went south. I wanted to understand her point of view, so that maybe I could understand more about myself. It started as a short and focused primarily on the romantic encounter part of the film, but after meeting Alexandra, I knew Renata’s story was much bigger than that. The strange thing that happened was that the more I wrote about Renata, the more I realised how similar she and I were. There’s also a lot of Alexandra in her too. We both just fell madly in love with Renata and identified with her plight and workshopped Renata together for about a year so we could really bring this complex character to life. We had lots of discussions, wrote backstories, developed the notebook, rehearsed scenes, listened to records, went clothes shopping, etc, to basically throw ourselves into Renata’s shoes, er… boots.
RF: Music plays a particularly big role in the film. When you first started developing the film, did you have an idea that it would feature so heavily?
JM: Music is always a part of my art, and provides a lot of inspiration for me when I’m writing, but I didn’t know just how much it would fit into this particular film until after I met Alexandra and discovered she was a singer. Having Renata be a musician provided a very lovely way for such an mercurial character to be able to express herself to the world. Alexandra wrote original songs for the film that really became Renata’s anthem. She has an amazingly expressive voice and it was a joy seeing her embrace those talents for the film. All the other music in the film is by local San Francisco musicians that I love, and since the city of San Francisco itself provides such a distinct backbone to the story it was only fitting to have them contribute. It’s a great showcase of San Francisco music, and very exciting to introduce to the rest of the world.
RF: Renata’s personal history remains very vague in the film, and the audience is left to fill in the blanks. What kind of research or influences did you draw on that specifically informed your performance?
Alexandra Clayton: Cassavete’s “A Woman Under The Influence” was a hugely influential film for both of us through out this process, Gena Rowland is an absolute wonder. We were interested in what you can tell about a person JUST through your encounter with them, without all the flashback and voiceovers. Still it was important I knew why Renata was so mercurial and what kind of situations would open her up or shut her down- the notebook was my platform for this. Though the references to her travels are vague in the film I plotted a detailed trip using knowledge from my own overseas travelings and information from the internet, filling the notebook in with stories about where she was going and what was happening along the way. And Joshua gave me a stack of books and pile of movies early on in the process. I also developed a family tree and history of her involvement in the San Francisco music scene and researched the Italian American experience in San Francisco. Joshua was clear he wanted this knowledge floating in me and not overtly on the screen, this way, when pieces leak out it is more spontaneous and closer to our ideal of meeting a stranger. For the audience, ultimately the challenge in learning to love Renata is understanding that often she herself does not know the why of her actions.
RF: I think it’s very telling that the first scene is Renata yelling at a little kid on the sidewalk venting about her problems, because she often acts like a child herself. After her encounter with Val by the end of the film, do you both imagine she’s grown out of some of her irresponsible and impulsive behaviors?
AC: I’d like to believe so, yeah. Renata’s a slow learner, but she is learning. She’s at the age where her problems are the world’s problems. It’s a very selfish way to behave, but something we all do and feel at that time in our lives. The fact that she leaves Val is actually an important step for herself, because it’s her way of admitting that she needs to be happy with herself before being able to be happy with someone else.
RF: Both the film’s aesthetic and performances felt very organic and true to life. What is your process for working with actors onset and how do you try to create a space for those kind of performances to happen?
JM: Thank you very much. Working with actors is the part of filmmaking I love the most. I like to provide the actors with the most comfortable environment as possible on set. I like to keep the camera rolling and do as few camera setups as possible in a scene. This way the actors can act. They don’t have to stop and start so much or worry about hitting marks, and not shooting the scene to death from so many angles keeps me from getting bored too. We’ll do as many takes as needed, but I spend a lot of time with my actors discussing their characters so I usually get the performances I need without doing an obsessive number of takes. I also give the actors the freedom to make their lines their own. All the dialogue is written, but if something isn’t sounding right they need to make it sound right knowing how their character would say those words. The film has a very free-flowing and spontaneous feel to it, and this working method really suited that tone and kept things fresh for everyone.
RF: You used a lot of handheld camera work and tighter shots in the film. Were there any specific films you drew visual references from?
JM: Shooting handheld was always my intention on this film because Renata is a character always in motion and I wanted the camera to keep up with her. My cinematographer, Sinisa Kukic, shoots a lot of documentaries and he did a wonderful job being able to instinctively follow Renata’s movements without being shaky with the camera. We chose to frame the shots tight because I really wanted the viewer to feel like they were right there with Renata, experiencing everything she was experiencing, not just observing, or judging her from afar. Visually and tonally, I’d say Breathless, A Woman Under the Influence, Cleo From 5 to 7, andWendy and Lucy were some of the films that I watched a lot when prepping for I Think it’s Raining. Also the camera movement in Husbands and Wives.
RF: What did you find was the biggest challenge you came up against while making the film?
JM: Deciding to make a film and follow it through to the end is the hardest first step. Once you commit to that, it’s very freeing and the confidence gained is invaluable. When you make a feature film for $20,000 there’s always a lot of challenges, but that’s what makes it great too. I love being faced with challenges or being told “you can’t do that,” and answering, “yes I can.” Because we had so little money to work with, it allowed me a lot of freedom and the ability to be able to make a film completely on my own terms.
AC: As an actor the largest challenge came in being sure to convey the fact Renata was always searching, this is the entrance into loving her, and while some of her actions are hard to like and some of them seem in direct opposition of others, it was important she did not read as sociopathic, just young and confused. Staying tuned into her personal story was crucial for me in order to give the audience a true and complex singular person.