Matthew Lessner's The Woods is an intriguing mix of Utopian idealism and technological irreverence. Twenty-somethings roughing it in the woods armed with Swiffers, Mountain Dew, laptops, and other corporate detritus. It's a striking contrast, and we asked director Matthew Lessner to discuss it with us. Here's what he had to say.
KICKSTARTER: To make The Woods you and 30 friends moved into the Oregon forest and began making a film together. How did that process impact your film?
LESSNER: I think the process by which the film was made and the film itself are inextricably linked in nearly every way. At it's core the film is about this group of naïve young people who are disillusioned with status quo and move out to the woods to create a new society on their own terms; I think a great number of parallels could be drawn between that basic storyline and the way in which we chose to approach the film.
As I'd never made a feature before I knew that this was going to be a huge learning experience, so I wanted to surround myself with friends and collaborators and people I trusted. I also wanted to work in an environment that would allow us the freedom to experiment and make mistakes and kind of forge our own way. We made a conscious choice early on to keep things scaled down so that we could maintain control of the project and so that we wouldn't have to answer to anyone but ourselves. We certainly talked about the possibility of raising a proper budget and casting traditional actors, but as silly as it may sound, it just seemed like the most effective way to tell this story was to keep things as grounded and I guess as “authentic” as possible.
In a way we ended up kind of living out our own version of the film, we had our own little commune out there, a tent city with cold gravity powered showers and stuff, no cell phones, no WIFI, and because we'd established this flexible way of working we were able to then incorporate different elements and ideas that presented themselves as things progressed out there. We'd moved out to the woods with a short script and a basic structural outline, we knew what the film was about and why we were making it, but on a scene by scene basis we were essentially shooting the film like a documentary.
I think it's unavoidable that this approach is going to translate to the finished film, the good as well as the bad. I certainly made a number of naïve mistakes along the way, and I think this will no doubt be apparent in the final product, the film is inherently flawed in any number of ways, but I feel like that was just part of the process. On the other hand, we were also able to take risks and try things that we might not have been able to in a more structured, traditional environment. Some of that freedom and experimentation definitely resulted in amazing things that I don't think we could have, or would have even thought to have gotten otherwise. - I think this spirit will be present in the final film as well, at least I hope so, to me it just kind of feels like it's all part of the same thing...
KICKSTARTER: The Woods is still a work in progress — at the festival we'll be viewing an extended trailer. Where are you in the process right now and what should we expect?
LESSNER: While our somewhat unorthodox approach to shooting this the film was extremely liberating and rewarding in the moment, it resulted in a much more complicated and time consuming post-production process than we'd initially anticipated. We wound up with over 24 hours of raw 16mm footage, a large percentage of which was unscripted, so in a way it was almost as if we were editing a documentary (that's where Kickstarter came in and saved the day, allowing us the ability to continue working).
After a great deal of lengthy, intensive and often chaotic editing work however, the film is finally nearing completion. We are currently in the process of final stage edit revisions, with the goal of picture locking by late July. We'll then transition into scoring, sound design and some basic effects work, with our initial festival submissions beginning in late August.
As the finished film will be around an hour and a half long, we wound up with a large amount of material that won't make it into the finished project. The Rooftop/ Kickstarter event seemed like a unique opportunity to showcase some of these elements of the film that we're really excited about on their own, but that don't have a clear place in the final cut, and probably wouldn't otherwise see the light of day. The audience can look forward to checking out a 20-minute selection of scenes and sequences that may or may not be present in one form or another in the final film, I guess it could kind of be viewed as an introduction to the world of the film, a taste of things to come if you will, a vibe session… People should be aware however, that from a technical standpoint what they'll be seeing is still in a pretty rough state. Unfortunately this material comes from a working copy of the project, so it's pretty low resolution, no HD, no color correction, no sound design, no sound mixing, etc. It's gonna be a wild ride, welcome to The Woods.