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Interview: Kate Lyn Sheil & John Gallagher Jr., Navigate Tech-Dating & Obsession In 'The Heart Machine'

Interviews
by Kristin McCracken
March 13, 2014 4:46 PM
2 Comments
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"The Heart Machine," an entry from this year's SXSW Film Festival.

What were the challenges of filming the Skype conversations? Did you film them in real-time, as they were having the conversations? And what were the challenges of acting in that medium?
John Gallagher, Jr.: We filmed [both sides of the conversation] at the same time. Kate was in another room, on another floor in the building where we shot. Honestly, one of the biggest challenges was the technology itself, because we were constantly losing the internet connection…

Huh! Talk about metaphor…
John Gallagher, Jr.: Yeah. We would be in the middle of a scene, and then it would just go away. Or I would continue talking and think, “Oh, Kate’s just pausing a really long time—oh, she’s frozen.” [all laugh]

Kate Lyn Sheil: I would try to improvise, and then, oops! Should we call it? Let’s call it…

John Gallagher, Jr.: There was something really fun about it, too. It was its own kind of challenge, something that I’d not really experienced before. In a way, doing the scenes that way really made me understand the way the characters get kind of intoxicated in that relationship—how it is kind of easy and comfortable. You just have this frame, you have this window into this person’s life…

And you decide what they see and they don’t see.
John Gallagher, Jr.: Yeah, exactly. It made me kind of understand the comfort they take in that. Like I said, despite some of the technical drawbacks, there was a comfort to shooting those scenes.

I seem to remember some Skype scenes on “The Newsroom,” too, no?
John Gallagher, Jr.: There were some Skype scenes in “The Newsroom,” and a lot of those we did the other way—we were forced, because of schedules, to shoot them where one person would shoot theirs, and then you would shoot it with a pre-recorded version of the actor… But for this, I felt like I wouldn’t be able do this story unless we were able to do it face-to-face. And that was one of the first things that Zach said.

Zachary Wigon: I should add that John and Kate are both very talented at improv, and one of the things that really helped out—because we needed to create a sort of current of emotions going back and forth in these scenes, and it’s difficult when part of it is on a monitor—is that a significant amount of the Skype scenes… particularly the first Skype scene, where they are talking in Cody’s bedroom, the dialogue in that scene was almost entirely improvised by the two of them. They are just very, very talented at improv, and that was a real luxury.

Had you scripted it, and then let them improvise?
Zachary Wigon: Yeah, exactly. We had shot a scripted version, but with the communication happening over Skype, there is a certain natural quality to the interaction that has to come across, and it’s tougher to come across when it’s scripted. So there were a number of scenes in the film—not just Skype scenes—where we would shoot the scripted version and then be like, “Okay, you guys just go ahead and improv.” I was very lucky that they were so good at it.

Kate, you are an indie film veteran — you’ve done like 30 films in five years—
(Publicist off camera): 38!

Kate Lyn Sheil: 38? That seems impossible…

And you’ve also had a recent stint on season 2 of “House of Cards.” How do you manage such a busy schedule, and what’s next for you?
Kate Lyn Sheil: I think there was a very, very concentrated period wherein I worked pretty consistently for a year and a half, and I think a lot of those films were shot during that period of time, after which I slowed down significantly. Also, I think people cooled towards me as well—it was a mutual decision that I would do less movies. [laughs]

The “House of Cards” things came by surprise, and I cleared my schedule for that, because it was a very exciting thing for me. But yeah, it’s been a lot.

What’s next for you?
Kate Lyn Sheil: I’m editing a film that I co-wrote, which is being directed by Zachary Treitz.

Zach, do you have something next in mind?
Zachary Wigon: Yeah, I’m writing my next film now, but I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it. [laughs]

John, can you tell us anything about “Olive Kittredge,” which will also air on HBO? I loved the book.
John Gallagher, Jr.: Yeah, it’s a really good book! I think its going to air in the fall, but I’m not 100% sure. I haven’t seen any of it, but I play the son of Frances McDormand, the title character. It kind of tracks him from his early 20s to his late 30s, and his interaction with the family dynamics. I think it’s going to be really cool—there’s a lot of really talented people in it. It was fun to make… And I got to meet Bill Murray, which made the whole thing worthwhile.

Click here for more coverage from the 2014 SXSW Film Festival.

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2 Comments

  • ElmaSherry | March 17, 2014 8:50 AMReply

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  • jingmei | March 13, 2014 8:46 PMReply

    Nice interview, thanks.

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