An Interview with Jeff Wood about The Removals
Jeff Wood is a writer and actor originally from central Ohio who has become a part of the Two Dollar Radio family. We published Jeff's blazingly original cinematic novel, The Glacier, last fall. The book—which originally arrived with us as a screenplay—is a poetic rendering of the pre-apocalypse that involves Mud-Men, Morse code, a cater-waiter at a convention center, and a surveyor living in a storage unit. What remains in the cinematic novel Jeff adapted from the script, is a story that elevates visuals and sound that stands in stark contrast to the incessant interiority of much fiction.
Thanks to his acting chops, we were fortunate enough to cast Jeff as one of the two leads in our second movie production, The Removals, and boy did he deliver. What's fascinating about working on movies is watching in real-time as characters literally come to life right before your eyes. That sounds cliche, but it's absolutely true. On several levels—including Mike Shiflet's sountrack, Milly Sanders' own performance, and the locations where we filmed—you realize (as writer/director Nicholas Rombes points out in this video interview we did with him) that movies are such a collaborative medium, and that the script is actually an evolving, adaptable creature. That sense of surprise is something that is special about movie-making.
In advance of tomorrow's premiere at the Wexner Center for the Arts—where tickets are on sale now—we conducted the following interview with Jeff Wood.
Q: How did you first come in contact with Two Dollar Radio?
JW: A couple of years ago I was home visiting my family and spending time out on my dad's land up in Delaware (just north of Columbus) and my 90-year old grandmother (Phyllis the Oracle) saw an article about you guys—I think in the Alive—about your publishing and your newly launched micro-budget film division. She thought I'd be interested to check you guys out and she was right. I maintain a very strong connection to the area, and I try and keep up with what's going on (here) as much as I can, but I hadn't heard of you guys and it sounded really rad what you were doing: the ascending impact that you were and are making in the independent publishing world, and the ambition of producing movies. I like this kind of multi-disciplinary perspective and ambition. It matches my own. And, I think, like you, I'm also a big fan of things that find their center of inclination and gravity outside the big urban suck-holes. As you've said about manuscripts you receive: everything can get pretty NYC or LA-centric. The same thing can happen in Berlin as well, and I mean with regard to your reference points—the work and things you're exposed to can get pretty self-referential. The circuit can close and deaden a bit if it loses a sense of wildness. Its ironic when I'm talking about these huge, diverse places, but it's an odd paradox where you go off to the big city to seek your fortune and a broader network—it's necessary and life-changing if you're open to throw yourself into it—but then you feel that a lot of the actual vital goods and the inspiration come from elsewhere, from the peripheries, and from places where there might be more room to breathe. I know I was feeling that way at the time. I'm pretty preoccupied with being attentive and sensitive to geography. There's a magnetism to geography....
Anyway, I just remember throwing a whole bunch of stuff at you guys: writing and acting stuff, video stuff... Because it kind of seemed like you were interested in the whole deal. So I just remember throwing way too much at you all at once just to see if anything would stick. I didn't have anything to lose. And at the same time you had an opening or a fundraiser for I'm Not Patrick or something and I remember thinking, well, I'm in town, so I'll just go down and introduce myself—which I think is not something I do very often, but I had some kind of feeling. In the theatre and sometimes in film, and in the creative communities I've had the fortune to work in you get used to working in these creative families of support and dynamism. Like little tribes. These kind of situations work really well when you're free to go off and do your own thing but then you also have these communities of collaboration and like-mindedness. It's something I really value. And a glimmer of something like that felt potential here. Or like maybe it was already happening with you guys. Little did I know that a couple years later there'd be a book and a movie... Thanks again, Grandma. She really knows how to pick 'em. You guys are just really knockin it out of the park. I'm really fortunate to be in the company of you and all your other writers. And Grandma too.
Q: How did you get involved with The Removals?
JW: It was all during that same period. I don't know if you had finished Patrick or were still gearing up for it but I know you were also already looking ahead. I think we talked about a handful of different possibilities. And then maybe you received Nick's script? I suppose at some point you and Nick thought I might be appropriate for Mason so we took it from there. And fortunately in the end we had really fortuitous international scheduling line up perfectly. TDR mojo.
Q: What were your initial impressions once you read the script for The Removals?
JW: I can say with affection that I didn't love it at first. And by not loving it I mean that I had no idea what to make of it! Nick's script really is its own animal. It's kind of cold and modernist in a way that's not screaming: love me! And that, of course, is really compelling. This will sound odd, especially for an actor, but I'm really not interested in films about "people." I see that as an awesome challenge for low-budget filmmaking because the first place you go with no-budget is "relationship." And that's just not what I'm generally attracted to. Or in the vocabulary of The Removals (and the Russian Suprematists): why replace or layer life with a simulation of life? We're all attracted to the pornography of the life-like, but why not really try and get at something else. Let's push the boundaries of our perception and comprehension while we have the opportunity. Why not? Of course that can also be done in a relationship film about "realistic" people. But it's usually not the case (excluding Jennifer Aniston at 30,000' over the middle of the Atlantic. Those are extraordinary circumstances).
So, paradoxically, those iconoclastic qualities in The Removals really attracted me to it without really knowing whether I liked it or not. I had honestly never read anything really like it before. That's a rare experience and gave me that awesome queasy feeling which is: alright I have to do this even if I don't know why. I think I read it five times and still didn't quite get it but had that feeling that is: okay, this is a world, let's just go into it. Then I read it five more times and had a handful of long-distance conversations with Nick, and something clicked for me that said, okay I think I know how I understand this in a way that is important for the role. I think I might know how I can go at this. You want that click to happen—and sometimes it is an actual sound. Of course in the end you're still just throwing yourself off a cliff and into the process.
Q: You've worked a good deal on a wide range of movie productions. What were your expectations before working on the this movie with us, and did they change at all during the course of the production?
JW: It's true I've worked on a lot of different kinds of productions of different sizes, but nothing I've ever done has been commercial, or mainstream, or assembly-lined like TV... So I honestly never really know what to expect—and expectations are always misleading anyway. It's better to just be as prepared as you can be and then open to whatever you've gotten yourself into.
With The Removals the script was quite specific and angular, so I didn't know if the shoot might also be that way, when in fact it was very run-and-gun, like a lot of things I've worked on. So I'm really comfortable with that. I like to participate as much as I can. It brings down the level of self-consciousness. I think it took me a couple of days to get my bearings with The Removals because I just dropped right into it and there's certainly not a clear path to it. You're always adjusting to the temperature of the water, and the red or blue pill you've just swallowed, so to speak. So there's a curve on every project. With this one, for me at least, it felt really good once I felt adjusted to the temperature. I'm ready to go again. I also really really love being out in the woods. :-)
Q: How has your writing influenced how you view acting and vice versa?
JW: I love that question because I really have no idea what the answer is. They're very different muscles, and they don't necessarily help each other out. One thing is that I very much enjoy processing ideas in solitude and I also very much enjoy a collaborative, uncontrollably dynamic process with a lot of gears. So there's two different kinds of experience, but they can apply to both mediums as long as you don't cross your wires in the wrong way. I really enjoy being physical in the landscape—I think there's a dimension of meaning-value to it; not symbolic, but iconographic in a vitally communicative way—so I can really dig an acting process that reflects that. In other words, one that is not text-based.
On the other hand I've come to view and appreciate text as a living thing. Language, and certain texts that achieve it, are alive. You ingest them and they're living inside you like a virus or like code. And when it's happening you can almost see the words coming out of your mouth—in the same way that words are in fact little holographic projectors. They do make 4-dimensional pictures!
This happened to me very early on with a Sam Shepard play, where I was certain that if I forgot my lines the entire actual world would shatter like glass. That sensation occurred during a performance and was utterly terrifying and beautiful. And much more recently with a Cormac McCarthy text I've performed where I'm absolutely convinced that the text is in fact a living, alchemical organism.
Anyway, I think for me the two mediums are just two different means of getting inside THE THING. Where the magic stuff is happening. Where the real stuff is happening. Being as close as you can be to the voice, when you're lucky enough or have worked hard enough, or both.
Paying attention. Being feral. Being fearless. Being selective. Putting yourself in the way. Getting out of the way.
Q: Can you write a haiku about The Removals?
The thing we're watching
isn't. If you saw through the
plastic, you didn't.
Get your tickets to The Removals premiere, which is on May 4 at the Wexner Center for the Arts.
For those of you not in the greater-Columbus area, the movie will be available to stream through VOD outlets starting Tuesday, May 17.