Interview with Joe Otting – director of The Talk

I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Talk by director Joe Otting. The film has many qualities I enjoy about a good short film, including – but not limited to – a single location, strong performances, and a narrative that twists and turns often enough to change everything the characters believed before the events of the film came to pass.

The film has been watched over a 160,000 times since it debuted on Vimeo, it was chosen as a Staff Pick and I was curious to know more about it.

You can watch the film below, and then scroll on down to my interview with the director.

How did the idea for The Talk come about?
Creative freedom is something to be cherished, and after doing a number of back-to-back commercials, I decided it was time to do another film.  So, I called David I. Jenkins, a writer I had been working with, and pitched him the idea of writing 10 short scripts with the knowledge that no matter what, we would produce one of them.  David is a very prolific writer. One week later, he turned in six scripts.  I immediately gravitated to THE TALK. The premise for the script came after Dave had “the talk” with his daughter. Being his second child, he thought it would go as easily as the first one did. Unfortunately, for him, that wasn’t the case, as his daughter believed her parents more than what her friends had been telling her. She trusted her parents, and they let her down. So, in some ways, the script was Dave’s way of dealing with the guilt he felt. And what better way to redeem oneself than by writing a script in which the daughter completely turns the tables on her father?

How did you find your leading actors?
Casting is a big part of my process.  I would as soon not do a project, if I can’t cast properly.  The process took about 4 months.  We searched in NY, Chicago & Los Angeles and had two wonderful casting directors helping out: Mickie Paskal of PR Casting in Chicago and Adrienne Stern out of NYC.  I was very familiar with John Hoogenakker’s work and wanted him to read from the beginning – he’s an awe-inspiring talent and created magic with his depiction of the father.  The superlative Isabella Crovetti-Cramp took much longer to find.  The level of importance on the daughter role was very high.  If there was even one instance of uncertainty in that performance the whole film would fall flat. That’s always a concern when casting children.  From the first read, Isabella was clearly the only choice.  She’s remarkable!

John Hoogenakker, Isabella Crovetti-Cramp, and Joe Otting on the set of THE TALK

Are there rules for filming dialogue that contains swear words when young children are in the scene? If yes, how do you ensure that the rules don’t interfere with the cutting structure you’ve chosen for a project?
I don’t live by any rules in this type of situation.  I think if the language turned vulgar it would be a different story.  The use of the word “shit” in this piece is amusing to me and plays to the maturity of the daughter’s character.  She becomes the adult.

How easy or difficult is it to work with children?
If you cast properly, it’s an absolute pleasure.  Fortunately, Isabella is a true professional, and she’s only 10 years-old.  She is wise beyond her years and that worked very well for us.  It’s also very important to me to work with kids the same way I would any adult.  Children are very intelligent and you need to treat them that way.

How many days did you film for?
We shot for one 10-hour day.  It was important to keep our shooting schedule to one day for budgetary reasons.  I did however, have one pre-build/pre-light day, which allowed for the extensive transformation of the set.  I pride myself on being a visual storyteller and with that comes ample preparation.  I worked very hard on creating the look for The Talk. I wanted the setting to be a character as well.  Even thought it’s one location and the camera doesn’t move (intentionally) I wanted the piece to have a very cinematic quality to it. We did detailed storyboards and visual concept designs.  This is a crucial part of my process in everything I do but it’s a necessity when working with tight timelines.

A concept image for THE TALK

From concept to final cut, how long did this film take?
It was about one year.  Scheduling conflicts played a big part in that timeline.  If we were able to work exclusively on the project, it would have taken about four months.

What, in your experience, is the biggest change that takes place between writing a script, and directing the same script?
There are many compromises and so much give-and-take during the process of making a short, feature or commercial.  The trick is knowing how to pick your battles to keep your vision on track.  The end results are different for each project.  There are instances where you get close to achieving what you set out for, which is the case with The Talk.  It’s very close to what I had in mind.

Digital versus film, do you have a preference? If yes, why?
I truly love both.  I was lucky enough to shoot two features on 35mm.  But moving forward, if I had the choice, I’d choose more shooting days and multiple cameras, over shooting film.  Digital is an amazing tool.  We shot with the Arri Alexa XT with Cooke anamorphic lenses.  I’m extremely happy with how it turned out.  The visual style and look of the image is an extension of the storytelling and different stories call for different formats.  Digital was the perfect choice for THE TALK.  It also gave me the ability to cover the entire script in each set-up giving the actors room to explore, uninterrupted.  This helped establish the story beats and overall arc of the film and kept our day moving.

What is your view of film festivals as an avenue for exposure for filmmakers starting out?
I have very little experience with the festival circuit.  That said, I believe all exposure is good exposure and there are some great festivals out there that can help you establish a name in the business.

You’ve directed features, commercials, and short films. Do you have a favourite format?
I love telling stories and each format gives me that opportunity. But there’s nothing better than seeing your work on the big screen!

What do you think of the resurgence of the short film? Is it here to stay this time?
I’ve always felt short film was here to stay. I’m a big believer in shorts — I’ve been doing them off-and-on for the past 10 years. Short films are a great way to showcase your abilities as a filmmaker, explore technique and test your storytelling skills.

What’s next for you?
I just finished a big commercial campaign and will continue to build my commercial business in Chicago. I have a couple of features in development and am on track to go into production on one of them in 2016 (stay tuned!).

On the location for THE TALK directed by Joe Otting

Related Links:
Joe Otting on Vimeo
Fiber Films