(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)
So for the record, what can you tell me about Death to the Tinman?
The film is an adaptation of the origin story of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz series. It's an adaptation specifically of Book 12 of the Oz series, which is about a lot of things, but in that book they tell the story of how the Tin Man went from being a human lumberjack to being a metal man without a heart. We sort of took the basic premise of the story -- the set up of the narrative-- and then moved it out of the sort of Oz world and into sort of a surreal, rural 1940s-South kind of world. All the parts where there are a sort of Oz magic, with witches and wizards and stuff, we replaced it with evangelical mysticism, so there are pastors and congregations and Rapture, instead of flying monkeys and witches melting when you pour water on them.
And it's set in Verton -- "the Miracle Capital of the World." Where did you actually shoot?
We shot the film up in Connecticut. This was my thesis film for undergrad; I just graduated this spring from Wesleyan University, which is in Middletown, Connecticut. The idea that name "Verton" meant "green," sort of like the Emerald City. There's a lot of stuff where we were trying to make sort of a parallel Oz -- a world where there's a lot of magic, but it's something more recognizable. But when I was in school, I took a lot of anthropology and sociology classes where I had to do a lot of field research. I actually spent a lot of time in evangelical churches, attending religious ceremonies where they did stuff kind of similar to what happens in the film. So this is like from firsthand experiences of a world I was mesmerized by every time I would go to one of these services. I wasn't terribly interested in trying to recreate Oz from the 1930s movies; I just sort of wanted to deal with this world of evangelical mysticism. But that's not really the point of the film; that was just sort of our way of making it interesting.
There's a stylistic consistency similar to your previous short, Jettison Your Loved Ones, though it seems a little more visually and logistically ambitious than that film. How did you find a happy medium between evolving that personal style and not just repeating yourself?
The funny thing is that Jettison Your Loved Ones was my final project for Sight and Sound -- my introductory Sight and Sound class. And when I was taking that class, I knew I wanted to make the Tin Man film, and I knew I wanted to make it in this style -- this sort of black and white, very fast-paced style. And so I wrote Jettison almost as a test for the things I wanted to do with the Tin Man film. Jettison Your Loved Ones was not really supposed to be seen by anyone. It was just sort of my exercise to see if I could get away with telling a story that complicated that fast. And to learn the pitfalls of that.
But what I really wanted to do was that... You know how in most student films, the audience knows what's coming far in advance? And they're usually pretty static? It's everything that they tell you to do: They tell you to make a film that's set in one location that only has like three or so actors that you can shoot in a reasonable way. And I did a lot of theater set design and stuff like that, and I was so excited when I started making movies that you could just be in one place and then be in another place -- which you obviously can't do in theater. I just wanted to make it as kinetic as possible. I also did a lot of sculpture and painting, so I was excited to have form that moved. I was in love with the fact that this moves -- especially in Jettison Your Loved Ones; people are just flying through the air or kicking or dancing. That's the main thing kind of guiding the style. The main difference between Jettison and Tinman is that the Tin Man film is a little more sincere; it's more tongue-in-cheek. It's a much sadder story, and the audience is supposed to go through emotions with the character or empathize with them a little bit more.
You've said Tinman had sort of a Herzog influence as well, but it's hard to see. Where did that apply?
The main Herzog thing was that the actor who plays the engineer -- the Tin Man's best friend -- was in the movie because I wanted him to be my Bruno S. He's my high school English teacher, whom I hadn't seen for years and years, but whom I always thought was a madman and just a really interesting personality. But he, as an actor, made up a lot of his own lines, and just basically played himself and was not really in my control. That was one aspect where we said, "Let's make something very stylized, something that's storyboarded very carefully, but let's also put in element that are sort of more out of our control." I really like working with non-actors. So even though the film is very particular, and every piece is where I wanted it to be, you just allow actors to come in and blow that up. A lot of the time, it's way more interesting what they can come up with than anything I can write.
The Herzog thing was also about not being afraid to do enormously complicated stuff: Shooting with an airplane that we built that we were trying to fly all the time. He's just extremely brave physically, and (this was) a film a that would be physically exhausting to make because you were out in the real world trudging around in a snowstorm or in swamps or something like that.
Your parents also work in film [Tintori's mother is script supervisor Mary Cybulski; his father is editor and NYU Film School Chair John Tintori]. Is their influence on your work closer to general moral support or specific artistic mentorship?
Well, I just grew up around film. There were always really interesting films around the house. And I grew up around independent film sets. My parents worked with John Sayles a lot, so I spent a lot of time around really cool, extremely independent film productions. There was constant moving around the country with my parents to different film shoots -- being a little kid hanging out on film sets, and always being really interested in the different jobs that everyone did. But also, my Dad came and helped me do a final cut of the film, which was really helpful because he's a great editor. He mainly helped me by calling me a coward; the movie was too long and there were scenes I didn't want to get rid of.
That's so Herzogian in itself: "Son, stop being a coward."
I would say, "But I need that there!" And he would say, "You'd need that there if you were a coward." "OK, I'll cut it out."
Are you nervous about Sundance?
I think I should be, right? More than anything it's exciting. I mean, I'm 23 years old; this really wasn't supposed to happen. I really just want to start working and developing my craft. What I'd really like to do in the next few years is start directing music videos. I have a bunch of other shorts I'm writing that are narrative things, but I have a lot off respect for guys like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, who go back and forth between these visually inventive music videos to really imaginative narrative projects. And I love pop music; I would just be tremendously thrilled to start working as a video director and have the opportunity to keep making my narrative projects. I just graduated from college and this is the first thing that's happened. It's great.
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