Struggling under the weight of past mistakes, Eva grants Cameron permission to cheat on her in an attempt to heal their splintered relationship.
Interview with Writer/Director Jason Stefaniak
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
The film is personal, even if it’s not entirely autobiographical. At the time I set out to make it, writing and directing this story became what I felt like I was being told to do by whatever creativity and inspiration is. Two very different threads from previous writing and films and life experiences came together and I finally saw a way to express how I felt about a life experience in a short, dramatic way.
I had tried many times before, but partly because I was still living that experience, partly because I was still growing as a filmmaker, and partly because I hadn’t found the structure of how to tell the story yet, I hadn’t made an effective film on the subject.
I made the film for the simple reason of wanting to explore and hopefully better understanding something I experienced that was hurtful and confusing, but also because I know that it was a universal experience, and I felt my perspective - as unique as any one perspective is - might lead to some insight.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Everyone has romantic experiences that are complicated, that are hurtful and confusing, that are unexpected and unclear. The film explores a relationship that two people want to preserve, but they’ve hurt each other. They don’t trust each other. They’re frustrated and confused and there’s no playbook on how to fix it.
I think most people can relate to being in such a relationship, one caught in a “middle ground” between healthy and unhealthy, happy and discontent, defined and uncommitted. Hopefully, the film gives voice to an experience we don’t often see on screen. Many viewers have told me not only could they relate to the characters’ experience, but watching the film was therapeutic for their own real-life experiences.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I believe the common adage in storytelling that the more specific and personal you make something, the more universal it becomes. That has played out in some of the reactions I’ve received to the film. Generalization maybe works in fairy tales or parables, but if you’re trying to make a naturalistic film, especially one that digs into the small moments of an intimate relationship, it has to be specific.
What you bring to that as an artist is your specificity. We’ve seen a million love stories and we’ll see a million more. What makes them interesting is the perspective of the author. Hopefully that’s the case with this short film.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
I did some revising at the script stage - I remember talking through the draft with my wife and realizing I needed to reverse the way the film ended, the way a character responded to realizing something. I did about a week or two of rehearsals with the two leads, and from there I refined the dialog.
In post, the film changed a good deal, especially after I took over cutting after another editor worked on it for a few months. I experimented with structure, but in the end it remained rather close to the script. A couple of scenes were cut out completely, I think every other scene was shortened in some way, mostly by removing dialog.
I took so long cutting it (9 months-12 months, on and off) that I could feel my perspective on the material changing - that whatever I expressed during writing and shooting and initially editing was spent, was gone and out of me, and I was developing a new perspective, so I started letting that new POV guide me.
I also realized if I didn’t commit to finishing the film I could probably cut it forever, that the editing would play out in some weird Rorschach test of how I felt about love and relationships. The script was 30-35 pages I believe, the first cut from the other editor was about 48min, and the final film is 18min 38sec, so a lot changed.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Mostly positive. It didn’t get the festival play I would have hoped, that a lot of people who saw it thought for sure would happen. I did get feedback from a few festivals that was very contradictory (the contrasting opinion of the different screeners) - “great acting, bad acting! great writing, bad writing!” - I get the sense that craft wise, performance wise, how I used the camera was of a high enough quality that it tempted festivals to accept the film, but then they didn’t think there was enough that was new or groundbreaking about the film. Funny enough, Middle Ground fell into some sort of middle ground, I think.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
The positive feedback has felt great, obviously, and the negative feedback - which sometimes was the exact opposite of the positive feedback - helped me see that especially with material about love and sex and intimacy, people have strong, subjective reactions.
One person might think a gender stereotype flip is honest and refreshing and illuminating, another person thinks it’s a gimmick. From the festivals I got feedback from, I could see the opinions were very split, and that in the end sometimes people who openly admitted to just not liking films about relationships won out and blocked the film.
It doesn’t matter. It sucks, but it doesn’t matter. The people who have responded positively to it have in exactly the way I would have hoped. That’s all I want, so I just want to get the film out to more people.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
To get it seen! After years of writing, shooting, editing, submitting to festivals, and agonizing over when and how to release it online, I decided to just dive in and find an audience for it. As I write my next project - a feature - I realized it would be good for my creative soul to get this film out into the world and see how an audience connects with it.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Anyone who likes the film, please share the film! Anyone who likes the film and works in filmmaking, please contact me and let’s figure out if we can work on something together. Or, we can just chat about the film!
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I want the film to challenge how we see and talk about romantic relationships, how gender roles play out in relationships, how we think wrongly that relationships are simply good or bad, worth being in or getting out.
That being young should mean acting or living in a certain way. I want it to validate people that have gone through or are going through really complicated, messed up, confusing romantic situations - because there’s no instruction manual for life, especially for love, and you just gotta do your best to get through the slog and figure out what’s right.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
I think it’s important to examine our views on gender roles - especially what we have internalized ourselves about how we should and shouldn’t act, about how we should and shouldn’t be treated.
Life and love are complicated. Human beings behave in all sorts of ways that aren’t defined by their gender. Let’s be more open about that. Being hurt doesn’t make you weak. Being forgiving doesn’t make you less of a man. Being selfish doesn’t make you less of a woman.
Would you like to add anything else?
Please watch and share the film and feel free to let me know what you think! Jason@JasonStefaniak.com
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Writer/Director Jason Stefaniak is currently developing his firs feature, Son of the Gun (working title), while overseeing the release of the feature film, But Not For Me, which will premiere on Flix Premiere in the United States later this summer. Jason Stefaniak is a co-founder of Impolite Company, which is the production company of both features. Learn more: www.ButNotForMeFilm.com|| www.ImpoliteCo.com|| www.JasonStefaniak.com
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Length: 18min 38sec
Director: Jason Stefaniak
Producer: John Morrow, Toshimichi Saito, Ryan Carmichael
Writer: Jason Stefaniak
About the writer, director and producer:
Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jason Stefaniak received an M.F.A. in Film Production at NYU. Jason’s work has been featured on 20/20, MSNBC, The Huffington Post, has screened at the UN and has been viewed nearly 1,000,000 times online.
Key cast: Michael Satow (Cameron), Cher Santiago (Eva), Zoe Kypuros (Julie)
Looking for: Looking to have the film seen and enjoyed by an audience, but also to connect with producers to collaborate with on future projects
Funders: Friends and Family fundraising and self-funding
Made in association with: Made as Jason Stefaniak’s NYU Graduate Thesis Film
Release date: 2015
Where can I watch it? Middle Ground is now available online. You can see it here: http://jasonstefaniak.com/middle-ground-2014