Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Conversation with Josh Sternfeld

Josh Sternfeld, a New York writer and filmmaker, is currently in pre-production for his second feature film, Meskada, a rural police drama that pits two towns, one struggling, the other well-off, against each other over the death of a child.

Sternfeld has two short films, “Balloons, Streamers” from 1997 and 1999’s “Colin’s Date” under his belt as well as one feature, “Winter Solstice” (2005), which starred Anthony LaPaglia, Aaron Stanford, Allison Janney, Mark Weber and Michelle Monaghan.

Sternfeld was also part of the prestigious Sundance writers workshop.

He took some time out to answer a few questions for Look, Read, Listen.

Your first three films are set in a suburban environment, why did you choose to delve into the rural world for your newest film?

I felt ready to approach a new environment, one that didn't come from my own upbringing. I was excited for the screenwriting challenge that comes from having to do real research, talking and learning from people whose experience of life was different from my own.

You have thus far mined the territory of the quiet family drama, where the plot is driven by character and circumstance rather than by grand action, so how did you translate this into the script for your newest film Meskada? Was it hard to balance the action with the more subtle aspects of character and place?

Balancing the action/ "plot-driven” elements of the story with the more subtle character work was a real challenge; it took many drafts over a couple years (and definitely many missteps) to get to the finished screenplay. More often than not, it meant doing the action and plot work first, then finding ways to bring in character traits and relationships to the scenes.

If I remember correctly you were a fan of 1981’s Ordinary People, what other films and/or filmmakers have inspired you and why?

My filmmaking influences and heroes are pretty diverse. I'm a huge admirer of Stanley Kubrick, mainly because he brought a singular and personal approach to such a wide array of genres. It takes incredible discipline and focus to work that way - something I hope to do someday. I'm also a big fan of Martin Scorsese (like every other director!)...for his boldness, the passion and energy he brings to the screen. Paul Thomas Anderson is another filmmaker I think is pretty fantastic.

What is it about the inner tensions of families that you seem drawn to exploring?

Well, to be honest, I think there's a universal draw to those themes. However, I hope with "Meskada" and in the future, that I'm changing my approach in exploring those tensions - the idea of the "quiet family drama" is not very exciting to me anymore. I would like to continue dramatizing family tensions, but in more provocative stories.

Your first full-length film “Winter Solstice” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and garnered favorable reviews. Having tasted some success, has there been an emotional struggle to get your next film into production because of this?

Well, it's has been a longer and more difficult struggle than I would have anticipated four years ago. That being said, I think everyone in the arts would agree that it's a long road, with lots of twists and turns...

Your next project is being made on a shoestring budget, do you feel you will be able to tell the story you intended without the major funding and do you feel that perhaps the struggle could enhance the final product?

For sure, I agree that the budget and spirit of this could make it a better film. Having to be creative and resourceful when you don't have tons of money can be a great thing...but then again, ask me in two months!...

How is pre-production for Meskada going? Who have you lined up as far as actors go and how did the process of casting occur? Did you have anyone in mind for specific roles?

Pre-production is going great; very busy with the locations search, and all the casting decisions. I don't usually write with specific actors in mind...which I guess makes the casting process kind of fun and unpredictable...