Allday Director Kai Regan takes us on a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway and through the desert in his film for Garrett Leight California Optical. The film delivers an ode to California and cinema’s greats in a piece layered with shifting moods and atmospheres. We chat with the director about his vision and a bit of film theory.
Tell us about the inspiration behind this film?
This concept was to incorporate three different styles of filmmaking and to create a film that had a formalist, a minimalist, and a naturalist perspective into cinema. Naturalist in the way that we did not follow a script. We shot in a very non-linear, non contextual way but made it our goal to provide the viewer with the sensibility of the actual person in the film and what their environment feels like. Formalist in the way that we hint at stylized approaches like Film Noir. Besides playing with color and shadows, the film nods to Film Noir with it’s low-key black and whites and it’s sense of escape and mystery. The relationship between seeing our characters living free while perhaps on the run is a relationship I like to play with. The film is Minimalist in how I approach the long wide takes to let the frame speak for itself. I like to experimenting with pacing in that regard and shape the tone of the film.
Terrence Malick Inspiration
Why do you say there is a Malick influence in your film?
Because it was a non-planned, nonlinear moment where we put a camera in a car with talent and literally photographed in the situation without a plan to get the experience of what this person was feeling inside the car on a travel journey story.
But there’s a particular aesthetic to it?
Yes, but it happened naturally. It was the time of day. There was no plan. In filmmaking the conformalist perspective is: you go here, this time of day, to shoot this thing. The naturalist perspective is like: we’re going to go in a car, and shoot what it’s like to be in a car. Whatever happens, happens. The aesthetic is for the camera to be free, the talent to be free to explore space, movement, time, experience into getting you into the world that they are existing in. So there is no rule other than, if you were in a field, what would you do? If you were at the bottom of a rope swing, would you swing on it? Would you lay at the bottom of the grass?
Alfred Hitchock Inspiration
Tell us about the Hitchcock reference.
The shadow and the narrative refer to Hitchcock. The formalist perspective also is a reference. You go to a particular location with a very clear, constructed perspective. The Hitchcock one is about scale and connecting the line. For example, you’re at the top a hill at a time of day looking down into a city from a very clear line and perspective. Then the reverse of that is being on the other side of this exact viewpoint to illustrate the opposite perspective. The line and the connective tissue in that is the bridge. The bridge literally IS the bridge and the line connecting these two worlds from the character being at the top of the hill to being into the city. It starts as a road trip from one location, and you are on a journey.
These three directors have made great the road movies.
Of course, and the way they use those movies are completely different forms of storytelling. I’m inspired by all three, but I don’t feel that if you make a film, it doesn’t have to have a story other than reverie. A dream is nonlinear; a dream allows you to put fragments together in the way that they emotionally connect to you. The way that you experience that, nonliteral, non-temporal—there’s an emotional connection to every single detail, time of day, the sunset, the warmth of the fire, the sound of the ocean, the birds flying, the sand on your toes—you can illustrate that story in a list of contexts.
Gus Van Sant Inspiration
What about the Gus Van Sant ref?
The Gus Van Sant one is mostly illustrated in the actual cinema itself and pacing. Gus Van Sant is a very quiet, very long-shot driven director.
How is Gus Van Sant’s photography different from Hitchcock’s?
The comparative difference of a Hitchcock and a Gus Van Sant is that they both use techniques that are slightly evolved. Where the frame in the frame and shooting the back of people’s heads, and allowing perspective to be a different way—that is not a Hitchcock thing, that’s Gus Van Sant. Hitchcock does not shoot the back of a head on the perspective of what you’re looking at. He creates lines that you intersect to, to create worlds that are much more formal.
The interesting part is when I connect those two aesthetics—it’s like any filmmaker being a naturalist and a formalist. There’s a hybrid of those two things that can create its own voice. There’s a quote that Jim Jarmusch says, “nothing is original, you borrow from the greats, you create your own world and formality of taste and preference to create your own.” So what I did was I took three of my inspirations in cinema for difference reasons and I combines them in a way to be unique and to be not one type of movie as cinema noir is, as various movies are. For example, “Days of Heaven:” no script, no shot, only shot at sunset and sundown.