Visual Arts — August 19, 2013 21:58 — 0 Comments

Pacific Aggression with Shaun Scott

Shaun Scott is a Seattle-based director and writer. I got a chance to see him work, arranging the lighting, the sound, the camera angles, for his new film Pacific Aggression at Grand Illusions Cinema in July. Scott is an avid sports fan and walks about town as one of the most dapper fellows in the city. He is tall, articulate and open to conversations about art, music and libations. His new film focuses on two people separated by a continent though who find themselves meandering closer to each other by the day. The Monarch Review had a chance to chat with Scott about his film inspirations, his methods and what it’s like working on a movie.

–Jake Uitti, Managing Editor


Jake Uitti: Your new film Pacific Aggression has a lot to do with technology (with allusions to Facebook, Twitter, texts and blogs). Why was this an important topic for you to explore?

Shaun Scott: The film juxtaposes probably the newest mode of knowledge construction we have—digital technology—with one of the oldest: the stories and myths we’ve told about “The West”, orally, in print, and in the movies. In crafting a Native American female protagonist, I wanted to use the addiction trope—which always seems to follow Natives culturally and politically and socioeconomically—but do it in a way that establishes commonality, not victimhood. Sadly, we could more easily judge or write-off someone in Alcoholics Anonymous, but we’ll identify readily with someone diagnosed with “digital addiction”, as Meryl is, because all the symptoms of that disorder just seem like trappings of life in the 21st century.

JU: What about the love story, the romance between the two main characters Meryl and Frank, was interesting for you as the writer and director of this film?

SS: I observe this relationship dynamic where the original events with a lover grow to take on more—and perhaps distorted—importance the further away one gets from them in time and distance. Frank and Meryl drift apart in all kinds of ways that should’ve killed their connection, but their personal memories—which run parallel to society’s mythic ones—can’t be vanquished so easily.

It was interesting for me because, to write the script honestly, I had to revisit similar kinds of relationships that I, and people I know, have had. For example, a love letter figures prominently in the film’s structure, and I had to sit and write that one out by hand, because writing it “for” the screen was unnatural. So I addressed it, psychically, to a hypothetical Woman, who was in fact a composite of my own memories, in order to author an attempt to will and word a lost connection back into existence.

JU: Distance is an important part of this film, as if a silent character all to itself. What about the idea of distance motivates your work?

SS: Distance deserves struggle. Or it does if you’re willing to close it. Frank could’ve simply contacted Meryl earlier, instead of brooding on the resonances of his feelings for her. But if he did that, I wouldn’t be making this film about him. Portrating our little personal inefficiencies and the mountains we make for ourselves are more interesting than travelling the beaten path, I feel.

JU: How does distance orient your own life, given your well-documented upbringing in New York City and your love of the Los Angeles Lakers?

SS: If the Lakers were in Seattle, I’d be an even bigger fan, but a question we have to ask is whether matters of geography and regional temperament could ever allow a team with their personality here. In Seattle, we seem collectively too in touch with certain realities to consider an entire year a failure if it doesn’t end with us achieving exactly what we set out to achieve, but, individually, that sort of extremism comes quite naturally to me. On the other hand, the waterways and mountains and trees in the northwest suggest that our individual drives and ambitions don’t amount to anything if they don’t have a positive collective impact.

JU: What is it like to work with actors and have a sizeable staff and all that responsibility?

SS: When I think about the importance of the crew in film, it rather reminds me of basketball. Something about the way we fetishize both sport and film and entertainment in general make us pay more attention to the “stars” than we often do to the “role players” or the “supporting cast”. In everything I do with film, I try to emphasize symbiosis and collaboration over the kind of domination and stubbornness that place people in hierarchies. That doesn’t mean that people don’t have clearly defined roles—for people to be in a place to succeed, they first need to know their place. But it is to say that lines of power can be horizontal, not always vertical.

I think one of the biggest fallacies—perhaps the most commonly accepted stereotype about entertainment—is the supposed necessary correlation between being a difficult personality and being a “genius”. The ways we commodify entertainment often doesn’t allow for that kind of perspective. I mean, even look at Kanye, an artist thought of as the consummate asshole in the public imaginary: when you read about his style of making music, you find that he’s intensely collaborative and has a knack for refining multiple perspectives. Consumption makes “stars”, but production makes brothers and sisters.

JU: What are your motives for making this particular project – especially since there was such a struggle to put it together?

SS: I think it’s safe to say that the rumors surrounding Pacific Aggression and its supposed demise last year were greatly exaggerated. I’m a filmmaker because I enjoy the process of getting better, and I’m motivated by results. The first attempt at getting Pacific Aggression made was beset with difficulties because it’s my most ambitious film, and I didn’t properly value the pre-production process as the place where you should expend most of your energy, so that production glides as smoothly as possible. In resurrecting the film, I made a decision to get more proficient at that phase of filmmaking, but still feel I have leaps and bounds to go.

JU: In the Stranger column you said you take “full responsibility” – responsibility for what, exactly?

Full responsibility for not seeing to it that we stayed within our modest budget, and for not seeing to it that the contributions my former collaborators made didn’t put them in a precarious position, as far as time and money was concerned.

This year, I’m most proud of what my new production team and cast has been able to do as an organized unit that reveled in creative problem solving and accepted challenges wherever we could find them.  And I believe that started with me taking “full responsibility” for what used to be my deficiencies as a producer and a manager of personalities and egos on set.

JU: What’s your favorite moment you can remember about shooting a movie?

SS: We had a shoot on a ferry for Pacific Aggression in July that sticks out in my memory. I was up at 3:45AM and kept imagining all the ways we could fail: lateness, someone getting lost, someone not getting on the boat at the right time, uncontrollable sound issues, a security miscommunication that forced us to exit the boat prematurely, someone falling into the water—you name it. Once we were all present, we were focused beyond my greatest expectations, and worked efficiently enough to improvise material beyond what we needed, and even got done 90 minutes early. The icing on the cake was when our sound guy went and got the captain to pull the foghorn for us.

It was one of the most fun moments I’ve had as a director, and it was easily the proudest I’ve been as a producer. It showed me that, with proper attention to detail, anything is possible. It was only the 4th of 24 days of shooting, but I felt that the momentum had swelled in such a positive way that there was no turning back.

JU: What is the one thing you haven’t done yet with film and directing that you have your sights set on?

SS: I’ve got a period piece in the works. I’m fascinated by how family dynamics work across generations, and I feel that at times my work may sacrifice emotional resonance for intellectual content, and I don’t want people to be able to say that anymore. At this stage, I design projects to fill in what I consider to be missing pieces of my toolkit as an artist. We have to make ourselves as perfect as we can.


Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney