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Forever Into Space
Greg Locke’s cinema dreams
By EA Poorman
Fort Wayne Reader
Greg W. Locke is the kind of guy you want to know. Someone you could spend hours getting drunk with and espousing about art. He's the kind of creative and artistic soul that has long suffered the pain of the dreamer. No matter how impossible something may seem he doesn't back down. He doesn't stop struggling and scratching until he attains the dream or falls flat on his face. In the case of falling on his face he gets back up and starts at it again.
If you know Greg at all you'll know that he loves music. He's written about music for years. In publications, on blogs, on his own website, and I'm sure just for the hell of it when someone would randomly ask him a question about Pavement. Besides being the musicphile's musicphile he's a lover of cinema. Not just a passing fan, but the real deal cinephile. Goddard, Truffaut, Kubrick, Ashby, Cassavettes,...you know, the good stuff. Hell, he's even an extremely talented painter. I've seen his stuff, it's damn good.
But back to the cinema. Locke has made music videos in the past, and even made a music documentary called Holler and the Moan about Fort Wayne musician and songwriter Lee Miles. Fort Wayne was a good starting point for Greg Locke's cinema dreams. In order to see these dreams become a reality he packed up his belongings and made his way east to Brooklyn, New York. He is now readying his first feature called Forever Into Space. Written, directed, edited, produced, by Locke it's a hell of a jump into the New York film scene. I was able to talk to him about the film recently and pick his brain about the process.
"Forever Into Space is about a group of stunted 20-somethings attempting to start lives in New York City" says Locke when I ask him to give me an idea of what the movie is about. "It's more about a time and a place than it is about characters or jokes or tits. There's purposefully no tightly executed story arc to speak of. Because, ya know, that's the path to success - inaccessibility. But jokes aside, I think it's very watchable."
Okay, stunted 20-somethings attempting to start lives in New York City. Why New York? Why not Chicago? Or Denver? Or Fort Wayne for that matter? "I'd been dreaming of living in New York City since I first started watching movies. It's my favorite place, both on screen and off. That said, it's not quite the place I expected it to be. No amount of reading and researching and movie watching and visiting can give you an accurate idea of what it's like living and working here. It's every bit as tough and fast and unforgiving as you've heard. Probably more so. As per the rumors, you will meet amazing people regularly and you will always be exhausted and bruised.”
“So the idea was to play around with those perceptions of this place. In the film we follow around this group of people who are attempting to make lives here in New York - four people who are forever learning that the city isn't what they thought it was, no matter how hard they try to will it to be. This place is, for better or worse, constantly changing; and right now it's not exactly the best place in the world for young, non-wealthy people.
As with everything I make, I can't help but play to my influences and follow whatever weird ideas I have down into their dirty rabbit holes. I love black and white photography and cinematography, so the movie is in high contrast black and white. I think it's beautiful to look at. Some of the editing is really strange, I think. And the music is undeniably gorgeous. Even if I'm not the kind of person who makes easily digestible content, I really think we have a lot going for us."
Given Greg's penchant for having a constant flow of ideas for films — and I'm sure a box full of screenplays in his closet — I'd wondered why he settled on Forever Into Space as his New York City film debut. "I've been trying to write screenplays for 13 years. I tend to be something of a passionate dilettante, so I had no interest in learning how to write screenplays the ‘proper’ way. This approach resulted in a whole lot of very forgettable screenplays. Screenwriting only really started to click for me three years ago. I wrote a feature called He Hop Wave soon after I moved to New York that I believe to be at least marginally decent. Better than Tyler Perry but not exactly Ernest Lehman. That script gave me the confidence to start planning a film project around my resources. I wrote a project proposal and started taking inventory of the tools I had available to me for free. My goal, which was simple on paper and nearly impossible in reality, was to make the biggest movie possible for the smallest amount of money. The proposal I wrote articulated the plan fairly well.”
“Forever Into Space isn't the film I want to make. Nowhere close to the dream. That film involves Joaquin Phoenix and a cinematographer who actually knows how to shoot a film. This movie represents me doing the best I can with what I've got. Writing and producing around my strengths and my assets. Taking the very limited resources I have and building around them in a way that creates an end product that's bigger than the means in which we worked."
If you haven't watched the trailer for Forever Into Space you should. It looks fantastic. It's like if Manhattan were directed by Jim Jarmusch, but I digress. I wanted to know being a schmuck in the Midwest how a guy goes about casting a movie like Forever Into Space. "I cast the four principle roles myself, mostly using an online casting service. For weeks I met with several people a day at a Whole Foods in the Lower East Side - just a couple of blocks from where CBGBs was. I would explain the weird manner in which I was planning to make the movie (no money, big ideas), as well as the weird goals I had for the film. If an actor didn't seem to ‘get’ those explanations, then that was it for that sucker. Next.”
“There were a lot of quick interviews because I knew that I needed not just the right people for the roles, but hungry people who were willing to work in a different way than they had previously. The character that the film is sort of based around is a 20-something struggling writer named Audrey. It was a gritty, emotional, funny character that I was having a lot of trouble casting. Just as I was trying to convince myself that one of the actresses I had been talking to - a girl who was in the last Vince Vaughn movie - could work for the role I met Kelly Sebastian. Kelly has been making a living as an actor and model in New York for 10 or more years, but she's also a writer, director and producer. She's brilliant and works harder than anyone I've ever met. After that first meeting with Kelly I knew I could make the movie. As long as I had the right person in that role, I knew I could make everything else work. Kelly ended up being not only the right person to base the movie around, but the best collaborator I've been fortunate enough to work with. We've already taken on another feature film project together that I think is even better.”
“After Kelly came onboard I started inviting other actors over to my apartment to improv with Kelly. I'd throw a scenario at them, hit record and see what happened. I started that process by focusing on casting the secondary lead, an important character named Ollie who used to be a drummer in a semi-successful band. He's this sweet, lovable man child who befriends Audrey and is sensitive to her iffy plight. He's the only character in the film that you're supposed to like. I cast a guy named Oliver Fetter who not only goes by Ollie, but is a drummer in a New York City band called The Harmonica Lewinskies. He had the look and was hungry to work on the film. Julianna Pitt, who is one of the busier Brooklyn-based actresses I know of, signed on next for the role of Lauren ‘LaLa’ Auster. It was a tough role but Juli gave a great audition and really wanted to do the part. Finally came the role of Aaron. I needed someone who had a wildcard factor for the role. Someone who brought some sort of X factor to the table that I could build the character around. Originally it was supposed to be a rich, bi-sexual, cocky black kid, but after I met Tyler Evan Rowe, who ended up taking the role, I rewrote the character around the impression I had of Tyler. To this day he remains something of a mystery to me."
For the film score, Greg turned to friend and fellow Fort Wayne native Jon Keller (now living in Nashville). Keller is an incredible songwriter who's released two amazing records, Down In A Mirror and Deceiver, independently. His work in the film is quite beautiful. "I was fascinated with Jon long before I spoke a word to him. I knew of him as Lee Miles' super young, peddle-loving guitarist for a couple of years before we ever spoke. He's a big film buff too, so we'd see each other on Friday nights whenever a great new movie would come out. We'd nod at each other and that was it. Eventually I wrote a story about him for and reviewed his album. Then, while filming my first film, Holler and the Moan, I got to know him better. Any time he was on camera I had to do everything I could to not laugh. He's such a pleasantly strange dude. Eventually I asked him to be a subject for my Fort Wayne Rock Doc project. This led to us spending time together regularly. I was able to see his ability and drive first hand and got the impression that all he needed for greatness was a prompt. Leave him to his own devices and he'll get drunk with his wife and make weird videos; give him something to do and he'll blow away any expectations you may have had. I knew that after filming him for three months that he was the person I'd contact if and when I needed a score."
I asked Jon Keller about his experience working on the film as well. "It was actually really natural," says Keller, who is keeping busy in Nashville playing in various bands and working at The Belcourt Theatre. "After I moved to Nashville and Greg moved to New York we would talk regularly about how we were both doing in our new cities. I really didn’t have much going on at the time and Greg was starting to get this script together. He basically just asked me if I was interested in doing the music for it."
Besides Jon Keller, Greg also had another Fort Wayne expatriot on the crew, Andrew Litton, the younger brother of one of Locke’s high school friends. I asked Andrew how he got involved in the project as well. "I was the entire sound department on Forever Into Space, which is very unconventional. I would definitely want an extra hand for whatever we do next (laughs).”
During shooting, Litton was responsible for all of the sound gear and all of the day to day operations of multiple sound people. “I was responsible for hiding microphones on the talent, booming the talent with a shotgun microphone, making sure all of the channels are being recorded separately and also script management and take labeling,” he says. “I had to make sure that what it said on the slate is the same thing it said on as my file name on my mixer. That way there was no confusion when we were trying to sync everything in post production. I also had to be really careful about sound continuity between takes, as there is almost always outside noise in New York City — airplanes, helicopters, trucks and people.”
Litton’s location duties were only half of the battle. In post production, after Locke had edited the film, Litton was in charge of making sure everything was consistent — that there were no holes in the sound, and that everything flowed smoothly from scene to scene. He also had to edit random noises that snuck in the production track and add sound fx where they were needed.
“I came to work with Greg on Forever Into Space simply based on the fact that I knew him,” Litton says. “I knew he was in New York, as we had both moved here around the same time. It was about six months later that he called me and asked if I wanted to do sound for his next project. At first the thought of working on a feature film with no pay and many hours was unattractive. As I gave it deeper thought I realized a few things. One, Greg had always put me on to cool music and had never steered me in the wrong direction with things from the art world. I knew he always had a great demeanor and was interesting to talk to. So I thought if anything this would be a great opportunity to reconnect with someone from my past who was a pretty cool guy. Two, I could gain a world of positive experience through the long process of figuring things out and trying different things out in terms of being a sound mixer - things you can't learn until you go through them. So that was crucial to my survival as a sound mixer in this industry. Three, getting to meet new and interesting people from different backgrounds with the same goal, and four to make a feature film."
So what's Andrew's take on the film? Has he watched it yet? "Yes, as a sound man I have seen the film a few dozen times now. That's part of the job - watching the movie very closely. The photography is really cool and it really just isn't your average film. I think Greg's vision was to make something different but still extremely relevant, and I think collectively we did that. The actors were all amazing and really thought outside the box. The score is also a really amazing piece of art. I was pretty amazed at how well everything came together."
Back to Greg, I'd asked him what the advantages were to shooting in New York as opposed to the Midwest. And I wondered what were some of the disadvantages as well. "New York City and the Midwest are obviously very different places. For starters, New York is loud and busy and, of course, incredibly urban and congested. There's always a whole lot of noise to compete with, which can very easily compromise your sound. You can't just quickly drive somewhere and set up and shoot - everything feels like a big ordeal in one way or another. And there are people everywhere, looking at your cameras and your boom. Checking out your actresses, trying to figure out if Kelly is Radha Mitchell or not. Thinking Ollie is Ethan Hawke. That said, it's such a beautiful, interesting place. There's a reason many of the best films ever made were shot here. Using no studios or sound stages kept things interesting and exhausting."
Before we end our conversation I wondered where Forever Into Space was at production-wise. "I'm happy to say that the production of the film itself is completely done, 18 months or so after we started. Making movies is no joke. It means long days. Long months. Long years. And nothing ever feels good enough. At some point you just have to decide that you're done. That it can get no better. So we finally got to that point. It's done. Relief. Now bring on the billions."
There may not be billions on the way, but Greg Locke can be proud of himself. While most folks talk the talk, he decided to walk to walk. He made the film he set out to make. As Greg put it, and rather eloquently, "My idea was simple on paper and difficult in reality: I simply wanted to make the biggest movie possible for the smallest amount of money. A big, beautiful New York City movie made not with money or connections, but with sweat, dedication and ideas. I wrote up a proposal - some called it a manifesto - based on some of the principles of both the Mumblecore Movement and Dogme 95. I came up with my own updated version of those concepts. Eighteen months after daydreaming about such a project I have a movie that's certainly big and, I think, beautiful. For the first time ever I'm genuinely proud of myself. Proud that I was able to see through this major project with very little support."
Keep your eyes and ears open for Forever Into Space. I'm looking at you, Criterion Collection.