Russ Pond’s FISSURE Keeps Audiences Guessing
by Jennah Durant
Engineering and business marketing are not typically a director’s forte–unless you’re Russ Pond, who pulled triple duty as the director/producer/editor of Fissure, his first full-length film and an entry in this year’s Texas Competition. The corporate escapee talks about his feature-length foray, hoodwinking an audience and what it’s like to film in Dallas.
What drew you to the script?
By page 10 of reading the script I thought, “This is pretty interesting.” Then by page 20, I thought, “What is going on here?!” I realized if I could translate that feeling onto the screen that would make a great little movie.
The script has a lot of adult material–the pill popping, depression, violence–but it’s ultimately uplifting. Was that a priority for you?
I really go for redeeming stories. The script was a lot darker when we first got it, but we worked really hard with Nick [Turner, the film’s screenwriter]. He was great to work with, very open to the changes. His main concern was making sure I didn’t break the science.
Since the story is told through the main character’s point of view, the audience is just as confused as he is through much of the film. How have audiences reacted to that?
At screenings, we heard the audience whispering things like, “What’s going on?” That was
a plus to filming the story that way, but it also takes awhile to get things rolling because we had to set up so much for the plot.
The story starts off with a typical “haunted cop” scenario—James McDonald (lead actor) even looks like Michael Chiklis. Were you going for a Shield-type feeling?
We purposely built up a lot of those stereotypes–the substance abuse, the troubled past. We kind of lead the audience to believe that all the weirdness going on is because of what he’s going through, but then bam, we twist things really unexpectedly. But we also put in tons of clues throughout the movie that give you an idea of what’s really going on.
So much of the movie depends on playing with sequence. Did that present filming challenges?
Continuity was a big challenge, but we had a great crew, which made it go smoothly. We would shoot out each room, so all the living room scenes were shot at once, all the bedroom scenes. That kept the time of day consistent. I also had to trust the audience to let go and be open to the story.
A lot of those challenges stem from the sci-fi elements of the film. Was that subject matter intimidating?
I spent 20 years as an engineer, so the science and the physics aspects of the script really intrigued me. I’ve told my wife that if we cancel our cable subscription, I would still need the Discovery Channel and the Sci-Fi Channel to survive. Because I’m such a sci-fi fan, I saw that part of the movie as a way to challenge other fans of the genre.
How does that science and corporate background affect your filmmaking?
From my career I learned a lot about scheduling, budgeting, and other business aspects that other filmmakers don’t really know about. So producing a film was relatively easy for me, but the artistic directing side was more challenging.
Besides producer and director, you also had editing duties for the movie. Was that difficult to balance?
As a producer I had to make decisions about cutting this scene, saying no to this or that, so I kind of had to be the bad cop. But as the director you need to make everyone happy, so it would have been easier to have a separate person be the bad cop producer.
I originally intended just to put together a rough cut and have someone else edit. But then I started doing the first scene, and I saw the film just come alive. I got so excited watching and engaging in that process that I just couldn’t stop. I would sometimes spend 14 or 15 hours a day editing.
What was it like to film in Dallas?
The crew was great, the locations were great. The crew worked so well together–there was no yelling on the set. We wanted to keep it local because there’s so much great talent here. It also really helped keep the budget down–we didn’t have to fly people in or go all over the place to get shots.
Any plans for another feature?
Well, I have three things I want to accomplish when I make a movie: One–make movies that make a difference. Two–make a profit for my investors. And three–I want to do it again.
Fissure accomplished all those, and we have lots of investor interest in more projects. It’s really just a matter of getting a business plan together, but with three film festivals coming up it’s been hard to find time. But if things go well, I should start working on another feature this summer.
Fissure screens at 5 pm March 28 @ Angelika 7, and again at 7:30 p.m. April 3 @ Magnolia 5.