Interview: Director Kimberly Reed (PRODIGAL SONS)
This week I spoke to Kimberly Reed about her documentary, PRODIGAL SONS. In the documentary, Kim takes us back with her to the small town in Montana where she grew up for a high school reunion. A little back story on Kim: she was a he back in high school, and he was the star quarterback.
If that doesn't peak your interest, Kim also tries to reconnect with her adopted older brother Marc, who suffered a severe head injury at 21. While searching for his real parents, we find out early in the film that Marc discovers he's the grandson of Orson Welles. Both of these facts aren't spoilers, as you see them in the official synopsis and trailer. Believe me when I say this, PRODIGAL SONS gets really intense. Kimberly Reed is - without a doubt - one of the most courageous and daring filmmakers I've ever spoken to. Check out the interview after the jump, where we discuss some of the difficulties and praises that occurred both during and after making this film.
Chase Whale: Your original idea for this documentary, was the majority of it surrounding your brother or did you have a different idea and it just went in a completely different direction?
Kimberly Reed: The latter. I mean, it was a roller coaster with surprises and twists and turns. And in a lot of ways we were just trying to hold on during production, which is a good thing for a documentary. The surprises create this sense of suspense. It's real life, you don't know what's going to happen next. So for the film, it was really good in that sense. As a family member going through it, not the best thing [laughs], you kind of don't want surprises when you're a family member. And that was hard to go through, but I think that ultimately being able to share my story and the story of our family and especially the story of my brother, [and] as hard as those times are and as much as you have to put yourself out there, it is really rewarding once it's all done.
CW: How long did this project take from start to finish?
KR: We started shooting at the reunion in 2005 and we premiered three years later at Telluride 2008.
CW: At the beginning, you were saying how some of your high school friends knew what was going on. And in the last eight years the big boom of social networking hit, so did you purposely stay away from that stuff or how did you avoid all the social networking?
KR: You know, there wasn't really a big push with people in [my] high school [for social networking]. People in Helena first found out about me when my father died, and that was in 2003. And I know social networking was kind of kicking up then, and I kind of geeked out and I was into that stuff, but I don't think a lot of my classmates were. To a certain extent, it wasn't even an option. But [it] certainly [was] when the reunion started happening. I remember when I first got to the reunion I found out that someone had googled me and everyone had seen photos of me. I was an editor of this magazine and I had this head shot in a magazine and they were all sort of passing it around [laughs]. And I remember being at the time "Oh my god, the googled me." So I didn't really have to avoid the social networking thing, but the google, you can't get away from the google [laughs].
CW: How much extra footage didn't make it into the film?
KR: With any documentary, there's just so much more. We shot about 200 hours. But I think the bigger opportunity but also the bigger burden, is that we had everything my father shot. And when you think of it as a personal documentary that kind of means that every photo that's ever been taken and every video that's ever been shot and every Super 8 film that you made when you were a kid, all of that stuff becomes part of what you shot, as it were. So when you put all of that stuff together it was about 300 to 400 hours. There was a lot of stuff to wade through.
CW: Wow, and you edited the film correct?
KR: I had worked as editor, so the first thing I did was to hire another editor because I knew I would need that sense of objectivity [laughs] But I did, yes. It's not a co-editor credit but we did co-edit the film with Shannon Kennedy. There were kind of two steps: one where I was trying to get away and get as much objectivity as I could. And then, towards the end I thought it was important to really make the film very personal so I jumped back in and started editing just because that's what I'm very comfortable with and that's the point at which it kind of took on this first person-narration and this first-person point of view.
CW: With you being the director and editor of this film, and it's such a personal film, how difficult was it to pick and choose what needs to be left in the cutting room floor and what needs to go in the film.
KR: That's always really hard. I think without that first step that I was talking to you about, where I was trying to get really objective and try to get as far away from the footage as I could. Without that, the second step couldn't have happened at all. Because the crucial thing is, and this happens in any documentary, that you need to very carefully modulate how each of the characters come across. Because you're trying to take somebody's life and boil it down to a handful of scenes in which they appear over an hour and a half. Also, when you're working autobiographically, you need to apply that to yourself, to your own character in the film. So it can be kind of a mind-boggling process on the one hand. But on the other hand there's something very simple, it's just like, I'm telling my story and this is my story and we have a family that has a pretty wild story.
CW: In the film, you talk about how you had a difficult time looking at pictures of the movie, but a lot of the movie is dedicated to your past. Now that your film is completed, do you have a hard time watching the movie. There are intense moments in the movie, but as a whole, do you have a hard time watching it?
KR: Not at all, not for those reasons that were depicting the past. The film helped me get to that point where I was comfortable with that. Some of the intense emotional stuff is a different story, and that is hard to watch and I think it always will be, but more because of just remembering the pain I was feeling at that time, the pain my brother Mark was feeling at the time. But I think there is this interesting irony in there that the film is about me having a problem showing images and the film is comprised of images that I'm uncomfortable with [laughs]. But by the end of the film, I clearly had gotten there.
I think it's interesting to think of the photo that caused some trouble between me and my brother, that I become comfortable with him showing. To me it's very important that the last image you see before the film credits run is that image. I think of that being sort of a statement that the first time you saw it, it was uncomfortable, but here you go it's the final image of the film, we're going to end it on this and in a lot of ways I think that's a gesture towards Mark and my brother just kind of saying "Look, this is our past. And we share this and we both have this," and in some ways giving the past back to him.
CW: Do you have any plans for the DVD releasing footage that couldn't make it in, or a follow up?
KW: The DVD will definitely have a bunch of additional footage that people haven't seen before, including a lot of updates about the reception of the film back in my hometown. The church that I went to when I was growing up, which my mom is still a very important part of, they invited me back to present the film and to speak at church and there's this cool little mini-documentary scene about what happened when we took the film back, and it's all great. I didn't know you could get a standing ovation in church and we got one there. So there's stuff like that and a little bit of stuff about what's happened to people since then and also what happened to the film itself when it went back to my home town.
CW: Well thank you so much for your time, I can't wait to see what you do next.
KW: Well stayed tuned, because there's a lot more coming! [laughs]
PRODIGAL SONS opens in NY on February 26 at Cinema Village!