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Collaboration 101: Working With Your Partner (In Life And On Set) -- Part 3 of 3

By Ted Hope | Hope for Film October 8, 2011 at 12:52PM

The last two days, Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine have been sharing how they have navigated both a personal and professional collaborative relationship. For me, my curiosity about their process was sparked when I watched Sophia's GREEN, a feature that moved, impressed, and scared me. I look forward to collaborating more fully with my wife on our movies (albeit only behind the camera), but watching Sophia's film, I knew I had a lot to still learn about the how to of the dual pursuit.I will be presenting GREEN in a little more than a week from now at my HopeForFilm screening series, and it is not a film you should miss. GREEN premiered at SxSW this year and deserves to travel far and wide. It has lodged itself into my memory. If you haven't been following Sophia & Lawrence's very revealing conversation this last three days, I suggest you travel back in time and start from Thursday's post and read it one sitting.
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The last two days, Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine have been sharing how they have navigated both a personal and professional collaborative relationship. For me, my curiosity about their process was sparked when I watched Sophia's GREEN, a feature that moved, impressed, and scared me. I look forward to collaborating more fully with my wife on our movies (albeit only behind the camera), but watching Sophia's film, I knew I had a lot to still learn about the how to of the dual pursuit.

I will be presenting GREEN in a little more than a week from now at my HopeForFilm screening series, and it is not a film you should miss. GREEN premiered at SxSW this year and deserves to travel far and wide. It has lodged itself into my memory. If you haven't been following Sophia & Lawrence's very revealing conversation this last three days, I suggest you travel back in time and start from Thursday's post and read it one sitting.

Thursday, PART ONE: The Empress and Fat Friend 2007-8
Yesterday, PART TWO: Gabi On The Roof In July, 2009-2010
Today, PART THREE:

Green, 2010

Sophia Takal: With both Lawrence and myself sufficiently emotionally traumatized by the experience of making Gabi, I decided I wanted to direct a movie myself. I wanted to shoot Green as a way of getting back to ‘the work’ after a year on the festival circuit. I wanted the film itself to reflect my experiences shooting Gabi, my fears, my jealousies, my irrational, unjustifiably terrible behavior. And to do so I decided to cast my boyfriend and our new roommate (and extraordinary actress), Kate Lyn Sheil, as boyfriend and girlfriend.

Lawrence Michael Levine: When Sophia came to me with the idea to do Green, my first reaction was absolute terror. The script was about a couple that moves to the country, where they meet an attractive neighbor. When the man in the relationship becomes friendly with the neighbor, the woman in the couple becomes psychologically unhinged due to her feverish jealousy. The story, however, wasn’t the problem. The truly frightening thing about the project was that Sophia intended for me to play the “ romantic” lead opposite our best friend, roommate, and Gabi co-star Kate.
Ultimately, Sophia got me to do the project by repeatedly promising not to get jealous and claiming she’d matured since the Gabi shoot. I probably wasn’t as difficult to convince as I should have been. I thought the part she’d written for me was great and that the movie would be excellent as well. Also, I’d really enjoyed acting with both Sophia and Kate in Gabi. Mostly, I knew that Sophia and I had become increasingly dedicated to our work and that if we didn’t learn to function together on set we might see each other less and less. Interestingly enough, though there were moments of strife between us during Green, they usually weren’t triggered by Sophia’s jealousy. Despite the fact the Green featured some “erotically charged” scenes between Kate and I, Sophia handled the shoot remarkably well.

ST: For Green, I insisted on an intimate set (only 5 people on set at a time including the actors), no time pressures (if we did not finish it this summer we would just come back next summer), an extraordinarily low budget and, as a result, no hopes that could be crushed. I insisted that I was the one in charge, to get the final say, to be the director. And then I turned to Lawrence and asked him if he thought that was okay. And then I turned to Lawrence and asked if the shot made sense. And then I turned to Lawrence and asked how to articulate what I needed from his own performance. And then I yelled at him for interfering.

LML: Sometimes things were a little dicey because Sophia wanted to be the boss, but wasn’t quite as experienced (i.e. old) as me. She would ask me for advice and then get mad at me for giving it. There were also times when I overstepped my bounds. On one occasion, I gave Kate a note without checking with Sophia first. I’m sure there were others, but basically our ability to work together had improved.

ST: Estimated Number of Fights:
Pre-Production: 0(!)
Production: 9 (the biggest one being an argument about which was funnier: Lawrence eating an apple or putting lotion on his legs)
Post-Production: 5

That’s a huge drop in arguing. If that were some real statistic, some dead statistician would probably be really excited.

LML: I’m lost.

ST: It means we argued less.

LML: Well, the shoot was much shorter.

ST: FUCK you! Just kidding.

LML: We did fight less. Looking back on the past three years, we have worked together practically non-stop. I think we have a lot to show for it. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, though I have to admit that sometimes I’m amazed our relationship is still intact.

ST: How did we pull that off? Well, a lot of discussion. A lot of rules. A lot of honesty and a lot of pain, truthfully. Tensions flared up, for sure, but all film sets are tense. Why would this one be different? What mattered was that we learned, through (sometimes brutally painful) experience what our limits were. It was okay for Lawrence to kiss another girl as long as he only paid attention to me in between takes. It was okay for Lawrence to suggest a shot for a scene, but only if I asked him first. It was okay for him to suggest a cut, but only if he realized I had the final say. Maybe it sounds uptight, maybe I sound like the most intense, obnoxious person in the world. But what I gain working with Lawrence is so absolutely invaluable: a partner, an ally, someone who challenges me, who forces me to reach beyond, who sees how far I can go and who will not let me slack off or give up. It’s worth all the rules, all the arguing, all the pain. In the end, I have found someone who can love me, push me, encourage me, demand the best of me, trust me with his work, and in a pinch, record sound for me. It’s totally worth it.

Sophia Takal wrote, directed, edited and starred in the feature film GREEN which premiered at SXSW in 2011 and won the SXSW/Chicken & Egg Emergent Woman Narrative Director award. She produced, edited and starred in Lawrence Michael Levine's GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY. She was named one of Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces of Film in 2011. 

Lawrence Michael Levine wrote, directed and starred in the feature film GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY which played numerous festivals, won a number of awards and is currently available on VOD, iTunes, Amazon.com, etc. He produced and starred in Sophia Takal's GREEN. 

This article is related to: Collaboration, Directing, Sustainability, Inspiration, First Features, Guest Posts