Dominique Schilling Talks A REASON and the Challenges of Directing Independent Drama
We recently had the chance to speak with Dominique Schilling, writer and director of A Reason. Schilling grew up in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, and moved to Los Angeles in 1998. She studied stage directing at the Beverly Hills Playhouse and went to film school at the New York Film Academy.
A Reason stars Marion Ross, Magda Apanowicz, Nick Eversman, Roxanne Hart, Ron Melendez, Madeleine Falk, Michael Willens, and Charles Marina. The film follows Serena, a distraught young misfit, and Nathan, her controlling older brother. They are forced to endure a dreaded family gathering at the house of their elegant elderly Aunt Irene to hear the reading of her will – setting off an unexpected course of events that ultimately forces the clan to reevaluate their views on love, forgiveness, and family.
A close friend of mine, who is an architect, told me about a villa in the Pacific Palisades that was going to be torn down and might offer itself as a shooting location for a film. I went to take a look. The house was beautiful at first sight, but the closer I looked, the more I realized that everything in and around the house was decaying. I integrated it as the foundation of the story about a family that seems so perfect, but looking deeper, the hidden conflicts and sorrows surface, as if ripping away a mask. While walking through the house, I saw characters in every corner like the elderly elegant Aunt Irene, the young conflicted punkish Serena and her controlling manipulative yuppie brother Nathan, Bianca, the not-so-perfect housewife and her “perfect” husband Chris as well as Annabelle, the long lost niece who was banned from the family over a decade ago. I envisioned the camera angles and the story just came to me. The location was perfect for a family drama, so I sat down and wrote the script.
What was your favorite scene to direct in the film?
That would be what we call “The Pool Scene”, which is split into two parts. The scene happens during a very intense part of the film and is without dialogue, in black/white and color, only supported by music, written by composer Kim Planert and played by a violin orchestra. The character of Bianca goes through a very traumatic experience and walks to the pool, where she does something unexpected. Young Serena then runs to her to make amends, but sometimes the time for words has past and only actions can speak. The scene deals with the concept of freeing oneself of societal pressures and emotional pain, by crossing a line - accepting that other people’s opinion of oneself will be severely affected. Basically, committing social suicide and finding freedom and peace within that. The emotional pain the character goes through is so grave that she feels like the element earth can no longer carry her, the element air becomes suffocating and she needs to change to the element water to absorb the pain. The score of the scene was actually nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award, so I think it must resonate with other people too.
Marion Ross is one of the stars of your movie. Her credits go back to a little over 6 decades now, which is quite impressive. Do you have a favorite project of hers?
My favorite film of Marion’s is The Evening Star. A wonderful film also starring Shirley MacLaine and Juliette Lewis. Marion Ross was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in the film. She is a terrific actress, beautiful, funny, wise and an amazing spirit.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in making A Reason?
Time! We were under enormous time pressure, because our shooting location and an integral part of the story – the house – was going to be torn down. I had 8 months for writing the script, finding a producer, finding financing, casting, the pre-production and shooting a film that is almost 2 hours long. I heard more than once that it would be impossible to do this type of long drama in this short amount of time. We wrapped a week before the deadline. I couldn’t have done this by myself. Making a film is a team effort and everyone involved understood that we had no time and truly gave it their all. My producer Caroline Risberg literally made miracles happen. She has an unwavering belief in this film. No matter how tight the schedule was, we just kept going and did it. I’m very happy with the result.
As a filmmaker where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years?
In a world of equal opportunity.
If you could remake any film, what would it be?
“LA PISCINE” (1969) by Jacques Deray. The original starred Romy Schneider, Alain Delon and Jane Birkin. It is one of my favorite films, because of its classical cinematographical style and honest acting as well as the fact that at the time it pushed societal confines. It would be interesting to put a modern spin on it, yet keep the Hitchkockian story structure and amber tones. A film with lots of possibilities to explore.