Wah Do Dem


23 Monday 23rd August 2010

Sam Fleischner and Ben Chase childhood friends who are are also co-writers and directors of Wah Do Dem, their new ‘mumblecore’ film about the Brooklyn Musician ‘Max’ (Sean Bones) who wins a trip for two to Jamaica. His beautiful girlfriend Norah Jones decides last minute that the trip (and Max) is not for her, leaving Max alone in paradise. His NYC status forgotten and later the loss of his passport, shoes and the shirt on his back propels him on a journey of realisation though rural Jamaica, placing the city kid against a different backdrop, with live musical treats from The Congos Max and the viewers are able to taste the real Jamaica.  

Don’t Panic spoke to the writers/directors about their ‘slacker odyssey’ and tumbling across a real life sole shakedown party celebrating Obama’s election victory in the depths of Jamaica. 
That party looked amazing!
Sam: Yeah that was all live too.
The actors from that scene are all listed in the credits – did you rope them all in at the time?
Sam: Yeah, for that party we rented a bar and invited all these people from the town where we had been filming the soccer game.
Ben: So it was somewhat controlled or invited but then once it started happening then…
It was natural?
Ben: Yeah.
The film is labelled mumblecore which is a recent genre
Sam and Ben: We didn’t do that – that was something our UK distributor is doing.
Sam: …without asking us. The reason is that it is improvised; it’s from an outline, rather than a fully formed script, using non-actors. Other than that it’s not really a mumblecore movie.
Ben: Most mumblecore movies are about white college graduate kids who don’t really know what to do with themselves. There’s a lot of sex in those films. Our film takes that character and takes him on a road trip so the structure is quite different. Joe Swanburg (mumblecore movie maker) creates his scripts as the movie progresses.
Sam: The other thing that’s different is that those movies are not about a time or a place, and our movie is.
Ben: Yeah specifically Max the American, for lack of a better word, hipster. Somebody who is generally apathetic, comfortable in his environment, thinks they are really cool and knows ‘what’s up’…
Sam: We were trying to represent this atypical New York character – which I think exists in London as well.
Yeah definitely – I think we can associate with the character – everyone can in one way of another.
Sam and Ben: Not all of us.
Ben: We can, maybe we three can, but when we show it down in Jamaica, they don’t identify with the character at all.
Was that your target audience?
Ben: I don’t think we had a target audience did we?
Sam: Those people who are well informed about music – our movie is so music centric –are our target audience. As they generally know about The Congos as well as MGMT and Yeasayer.
And the main character is a musician himself – he featured how many tracks in the film, three?
Sam: Three – yeah, then one was done in three versions – that song that Max did with Norah Jones, Willow, comes on at the end was also in the beginning. He wrote that for the movie, he plays that in the very beginning when he is sitting in his room on the guitar – then it comes on, on the cruise boat as a garage band demo version then at the end as a fully produced formed song. A ‘smash hit’.
So the song progresses as the film progresses. I wanted to ask about the character who intervenes with Max on the cruise – the ‘gym buddy’ did you plan that scene in advance?
Sam: Well that guy, Kevin Bewersdorf, is our soundman, so he was the one character that we knew going onto the cruise boat we would have.
Ben: His character was developed while we were on the boat.
Sam: Originally he was going to play the cruise director posing as the head of events on the cruise ship but then he didn’t want to do it so then Ben came up with this character.
He was confronting Max about his essence, or his physical being on the cruise, why he was there, which was quite an important statement.
Sam: We were all questioning that too – being on this cruise and feeling like; on the one hand we were better than the cruise, and on the other hand – well that’s really fucked up because these are hardworking human beings who are enjoying their vacation and who are we to come in and say that it’s not of value.
It certainly made me not want to go on a cruise! Seeing what it’s really like.
Sam: They’re not for everybody – some people really love them, so I think that’s what the scene came out of…
Ben: We needed a character to call him out on being judgemental on some level – we shot that small scene with him out of two hours of footage and edited down to that moment “you’re not going to fit in everywhere dude”… if you get our DVD there is actually some really funny outtakes from that and a couple of other scenes where he runs into that guy on the boat.
The music is a really important and is defiantly what sucked me into it. The part where Max wakes up – in this crazy man’s house, wanders out and The Congos are just sitting there and then you see the film move forward in such a beautiful way, a realisation and it comes to Max as if from a dream. How did you actually get the Congos!?
Sam: A friend in New York is a reggae aficionado and produced some music with them. He put us in touch and they were just really gracious. Ben and I went down a month before the shoot to prep, find locations and actors, so we were able to meet them and talk about the project. It worked out – it was also the first time they had come together in about 25 years – the three main singers had kinda gone off and…
Ben: Wow – I just realised I had a dream about Cedric Myton (founding member of The Congos) last night.
So the whole experience has obviously had quite a lasting impact on you two?
Ben: Yeah big time.
Sam: That was definitely the most spiritual part of the shoot.
Ben: It was like our last night and all these forces came together in a really special way.
Sam: The only thing you can’t see in that scene is that we were inside a cloud of mosquitoes – and we were being feasted on.
Well, you really can’t tell.
Ben: Other than that it was exactly the same.
Sam: It wasn’t that bad… The fire helped keep them away.
So what was the high point of the film making?
Sam: That was it. Not the mosquitoes of course working with The Congos!
Sam and Ben are looking to work on solo projects, waiting for things to naturally progress and tell stories though the device of cinema, creating emotional response from the viewers. 
Wah Do Dem will be screening at The Ritzy, Brixton, The Picture House, Greenwich and The Picture House at FACT, Liverpool from August 27 and a soundtrack LP will also be released so keep your ears peeled.


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