The Vault Exclusive
“The Carrier” unites four True Blood actresses in one short movie that runs just a little under 18 minutes. “17 minutes and 50 seconds to be precise”, I am told by the writer/producer/director of the movie, Scott Schaeffer from his Los Angeles office.
The movie was shot in October of last year in a record time of only 4 days and post-production lasted about 5 months.
Anna Paquin, Mariana Klaveno, Carrie Preston and Deborah Ann Woll are not the only members of the True Blood family who took part in Schaeffer’s director’s debut. The editing was done by True Blood’s assistant editor Mark Hartzell, costumes by J.R. Hawbaker, assistant costume designer on True Blood, and other technical crew lent a hand as well.
Coincidence? Not really. Scott Schaeffer is True Blood’s First Assistant Director. When I spoke with Scott he was busy prepping episode 9 of the upcoming new season of True Blood. Directors rotate and while one episode is being filmed the next episode is being prepped. This year Scott works the odd episodes, the years before he did the evens. The filming of episode 9 started immediately after Easter on April 26.
It’s Scott’s job to prep the episode and coordinate everything and make sure all the elements are in place. They have meetings where they discuss how the director wants to shoot something and decide how to best do it financially and also physically, figure out what works best and where the challenges are.
“True Blood is not an easy show to shoot, there are a lot of elements”, Scott explains. “On a regular network show there is hair and makeup, prosthetic makeup, visual and special effects and stunts. A lot of the things we do are a blend of all those elements and it’s the job of the assistant directors to make sure that all the elements are in place. It’s a very challenging job for me and it’s been an amazing learning experience. You would have to do a bunch of big features to get this sort of experience as an assistant director.”
During the shoot the assistants run the set, they coordinate all the actors, background and crew and they keep track of the time schedule. Basically they take care of the minutia so the director can concentrate on getting his vision on the screen.
Although he loves his job on True Blood, Scott wasn’t, at first sure whether he should take a job on a vampire show that he had never watched. He didn’t know anything about True Blood other than his wife was a huge fan. He wasn’t much into vampires and wasn’t sure he would enjoy working on a show like that. His wife told him that he simply HAD to take the job and Scott joined the True Blood family in episode 4 of season 2.
Last year Scott expressed his wish to direct to Alan Ball, but his answer was “nothing” when Alan asked him what he had directed so far. During his Italian vacation Scott came up with the story for “The Carrier” and brought in writer Colin Borden to turn it into a screenplay. He approached Anna Paquin and showed her the script and she immediately agreed to play a part in Scott’s directorial debut. As did Rita Wilson (Yes, that’s the wife of Tom Hanks) and Mariana Klaveno (Lorena on True Blood). Two more True Blood actresses joined the cast by lending their voices: Carrie Preston (Arlene) and Deborah Ann Woll (Jessica).
“One thing about this cast is that they are the most incredible and generous group I’ve worked with”, says Scott about his True Blood colleagues. “For them to do this, especially Anna, now I have an Academy Award winner in a short film. Anna is an amazing actress. Same with Mariana, we’ve only seen her as crazy Lorena and it’s really nice to see her in this different role. I am so blessed and lucky that I got such an amazing cast and crew. “
Scott tells in his own words what “The Carrier” is about: “A narcissistic womanizer who dies suddenly in an accident and his mother finds out unbeknownst to him that he was HIV positive. She goes out to tell his former partners and she learns about her son in the process.” Scott found the inspiration for this story in his own experience, someone close to him in high school died of HIV. “So it’s something that I’m very close to.”
Scott Schaeffer on set
I was allowed the privilege to see the movie after our interview and watching it I immediately understood what Scott had meant when he told me how director of photography John Barr had given the movie a very polished and professional look. The subject of the movie is not the easiest, but it had my full attention from beginning to end.
Rita Wilson is phenomenal as the estranged mother who takes responsibility for her son’s actions and informs his former lovers that he was HIV positive. With every meeting she learns a little bit more about her son seeing him through someone else’s eyes and she realizes that despite their differences she still loved him. Through it all she holds her head up high, but the emotions shimmer right under the surface and every now and then you catch a glimpse of what this mother is going through on the inside.
Anna Paquin convinces as Kim who goes from shock to rage as the reality of a possible HIV infecting shakes up her world. Mariana Klaveno looks beautiful and fresh-faced without the heavy True Blood Lorena make-up and wrath, so nice to see her smile for a change.
The Carrier may only be 18 minutes long; but, there is a lot to see and a lot to think about.
“You have to tell the story very precisely, there are things that you could cut out but they would take away from the story”, Scott answers my question about how to tell a story in 18 minutes. “You figure out what’s important to the story, there are actually a lot of layers and a lot of back-story that we tried to put in there as well. 18 minutes is actually a long time. A half hour show on regular network is 24 minutes so we are only 6 minutes under that. It is a lot of time, you can tell a lot of things in just 18 minutes. A picture tells a thousand words.”
As First Assistant Director on the True Blood set Scott has worked with Anna and Mariana before. Was working with them on his own movie different in any way?
“As First Assistant Director I obviously have a relationship with Anna but it’s very different as a director going up to her and giving her notes. She is so professional and that made it an amazing experience. I was nervous; I am not going to lie. There is a scene with Rita Wilson and Anna Paquin and I was thinking here I am my first time as a director and I am directing an Academy Award winner and Rita Wilson and it was definitely intimidating. After the first take I gave them each notes and they were so open and welcoming and collaborative. After that first take I let out a big exhale and thought that this was going to be easy, this was going to be great. After that all my jitters went away. Same thing with Mariana, she was so great and so welcoming to notes as well. I shot the scene with Mariana after the scene with Rita and Anna, so I was already comfortable.”
Scott admits that maybe he was a little less nervous working with Mariana because she is not an Academy Award winner. “Mariana is phenomenal and she should have an Academy Award. In True Blood she poured her heart out. The scene before she died when she was torturing Bill, she was amazing in that. This girl went through every single emotion in 3 minutes, I remember her being tired, that was a long day.”
Hopefully we will soon be able to see “The Carrier” in one of the big film festivals as Scott has applied to several film festivals all over the USA, and with the risk of sounding cocky he says that he is only going for the Academy qualifiers.
“I don’t even know if I am going to get in but right now I am shooting for the A level, we have such a good product and such a great cast that there is no reason why I shouldn’t. I wasn’t able to apply to all the good colleges so now I am applying to all the good festivals [laughs]. I am incredibly proud of it, but I have no idea how it will do in the festivals.”
“This is a little piece for me to show everybody, people that I’ve worked with and people that I haven’t worked with, that I can direct”, Scott continues. “For me it’s about directing and obviously it’s my dream to direct on True Blood, maybe next year, we’ll see what happens. I am really happy with the movie and even if nothing comes from it, it was an amazing experience. “
Back to True Blood. Who is your favorite character?
“I am not answering that [laughs out loud], I won’t answer that because everyone is great. Every character has their little quirks, their idiosyncrasies that I love so much and their little neurosis that I can totally relate to. One thing the writers have done is giving the characters so much depth that you can relate to each one of them in a different way; from Jason to Andy, from Sookie to Eric. If you don’t have them in your immediate family then you at least know these people.”
And what can we expect for Season 4?
“It’s going to be great. Pure madness [laughs]”.
The Carrier on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Carrier/200410696635723
Photo credit: Scott Schaeffer