‘Rome was not built in one movie’: Interview with Robert Logevall

In the wake of the thriller genre, 2018 has a surprising entry that is bound to peak your interest. American Pets, directed by Robert Logevall, had a special premiere at the recent Nottingham Film Festival. With the special opportunity to not only see the film before its initial release, but to ask the director, Logevall, a few intricate questions regarding his ongoing career and personal take on things, it seems obligatory to share what he had to say. (Warning: Spoilers in the last question!)

After seeing the film, I left the cinema with a deep (possibly strange) satisfaction with it all. With so many questions and comments, I got in contact with Logevall through the aid of Nottingham Film festival coordinators. Via email, we were able to have a chat on things and I was able to ask (without stammering) some (big?…) questions.

In the past, people have taken note of your ability to capture/portray meticulous detail’s of a story. American Pets seems to require a great many details in order for it to become the amoral and psychotic thriller that it is. How much do you enjoy implementing details that create a possibly higher level of contemplation for your audience?

I enjoyed the process very much, it was fun to develop our main character Tod with all his complexities and his web of dark cover ups.  The goal was to try to suck the viewer into the story without having them worry too much about the logic and the sequence of events. We wanted a film that was about character drive, inner conflict, mood and atmosphere. But having said that, hopefully post-viewing there are many plot lines and character issues to ponder. Hopefully we achieved some of those objectives.

With American Pets, your entry into the thriller genre, was there any kind of preparation or research you did when taking it on? Either looking at the works of others or?…

I would not say that I did research or looked at work in this particular genre for preparation or inspiration… maybe I should have.  I am a lover of film (even though I would not call myself a film buff). “Hollywood style” movies mostly bore me. Give me a Kieslowski, Tarkovsky, Ceylan or Park Chan Wook and I am good.  I am sure some of their work has somewhat shaped me as a director and influence choices in the making of American Pets.

In your work in both commercials, as well as in the previous feature films and shorts you’ve directed, the desire to display something, at the core of it, human, certainly creates a more connected story. In American Pets, Tod appears to be either lost or evolving further away from his humanity because of the choice he must make after the accident. Is this a characteristic that tends draws you in for your work?

I guess the exploration of humanity is the essence of good storytelling. In American Pets it might be more appropriate to speak the exploration of a lost humanity.  I am intrigued by the apparent shift in all aspect of our culture towards a self-centeredness and a lack of genuine empathy. Tod displays those traits in spades as well as being opportunistic and savvy.  Our hope was to even though the viewer don’t agree with or understand Tod’s ways they would be intrigued enough with his story and his flawed personality.  Maybe to the point that in the end he has won you over… you might want him to get away with it.

It may be easy to pin Tod as a sociopath or psychotic, but I’m wondering if there might be more to what’s happening. How would you define Tod’s mental state? Psychotic, sociopathic, lost or merely in the “wrong place at the wrong time”?

I am happy that you ask this question. It was one of the things we would hope the viewers would mull over after the viewing?  Maybe there is a little (or a lot) of all those things in Tod.  If he planned the killing or if he did not , wrong time wrong place, he still would posses the other traits you mention in your question, as he with seeming little concerns for others tries to prolong the lifestyle that he has become accustom to.

This may seem like a question with a straight forward answer, but with the genre of thriller, can it be at times a difficult kind of story to make well when compared to something of action, drama or comedy?

I believe getting a movie done period is an achievement. As far a one genre being more difficult to make well than others I am not sure if I am qualified to answer that.  But if you look at Jean Renoir’s Rules of The Game, Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev or Hitchcock’s thriller Vertigo, three different genres, all fantastic films but which was more difficult to put together? I bet they all were.

A thriller needs the suspense. The maintaining of interest. Both difficult qualities to grasp at in the art of storytelling. Your previous work, if I may say so, speaks for itself in your attention to the details of a story. Did you find this to be something you used more of in American Pets?

Yes…and I hope to be able to do even more so on my next film.  Rome was not built in one movie.

In the world of film, filmmakers are always learning a new craft or perfecting their own into something better. When you adapted Murakami’s short story, ‘All God’s Children Can Dance’, it was your directorial debut and you mentioned the opportunity to use Murakami’s layered work and beautiful material to craft your film. Was there a particular ability or craft you discovered or were able to refine in the making of American Pets that you’d like to use in the future? 

My first venture into longer format filmmaking was, I can only say, paraphrasing Kubrick “a bumbling, amateur film exercise”. I hope this film, even though pulled together on a small budget and tight schedule, is a step in the right direction. Strictly personal, it feels that way, and, judging from the film festival responses so far, it appears that it might indeed be.

Finally, after seeing American Pets, the ending is, in my opinion, the right way to bring it all together. Was there intent to dig into the audience’s “moral compass” by having it go the direction you did?

 I am happy you dug how we ended it. We actually shot a couple of different endings but in the edit suite we felt like this was the most intriguing and suitable way to end the film.  Tod and Lani’s at that moment is home free. But obvious not for long, Their “house of cards” has to eventually collapse. And although there will be no sequel, what is up next for the two them will take even more dirty work and fast thinking to stay one step ahead…

Check out more of Robert Logevall’s work here

 Matthew Johnson

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