In 2002, the seemingly motiveless sniper shootings of Washington residents held the world's attention. When the culprits were eventually arrested, a shock discovery was that one of the snipers was a minor, Lee Boyd Malvo who was just 17 years old at the time of the shootings. Fast-forward 11 years and at Sundance Film Festival 2013 Blue Caprice premiered to curious audiences. Director Alexandre Moors explores the dynamic of the Beltway snipers and takes a closer look at their relationship. Here, ahead of a general theatre release, he chatted to The Mill about the process.
How did you first get involved in Blue Caprice?
Blue Caprice started in a slightly unorthodox way. The decision to make the film came about really quickly, I basically woke up one day with the urge to write and shoot a film within 6 months! I then had to find a story to do this and I thought a true story would be a good start. I began researching true crime stories and stumbled across the Washington Beltway sniper incident which immediately resonated with me. I didn't actually follow the real life events when they unfolded in 2002 because I was abroad at the time. However, whilst reading about the events on paper, discovering the dynamic between John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo was fascinating. I felt it was such a great tragedy. I immediately knew that I wanted the film to just focus on the two people at the heart of the story, and therefore it could be very small in scope.
What happened next?
I started with a core crew: screenwriter R.F.I. Porto, director of photography Brian O'Carroll and myself. We were very excited to then shop around for a producer who could help us. I was fortunate that people got very invested fairly quickly in the idea. It was also my dream to have Isaiah Washington involved - I actually reached out to him on Facebook and he loved the script and came on-board! From that point the project grew naturally and alot of people were very enthusiastic about the concept so it drew a lot of great crew from the beginning. The film came together in an organic way, we never got stuck. It was a very smooth ride which has made me very paranoid that I used all my luck up and my next film will be a lot more tricky!
What were the highs and lows of the process?
In terms of enjoying myself the most, to some degree was post production. I had a great time at The Mill and doing the sound mix at Gigantic. First of all the movie was at the final chapter, so it was really stress-free and enjoyable by this stage… no more potential disasters coming. Secondly, at The Mill we were met with such enthusiasm that it was a really great job just getting everything done well for the sake of the art. It felt luxurious to have these people pay such attention to my film. The same applied for the 3 weeks of sound mixing, we all shared a passion and were on the same vibe. I love writing, scouting, shooting etc but these all of these elements are a little more stressful…
In terms of a low, as I mentioned we were fortunate enough not to have any major problems. However when we went Puerto Rico we only shot for three days, when we should have been there for five days. We managed to pull up the schedule but this was the only time in the shooting where I was literally ripping up pages and pages of the script. I was meant to be shooting in the city in the morning, the mountains in the afternoon and the coast in the evening and we came up against frustrating issues like the sun setting or running out of time so scenes had to be sacrificed. The saving grace was that these were the last three days of filming so I knew we already had a film in the can and these scenes could be lost and it would all still work.
A film-based-on-true-events , especially such tragic ones, must require a sensitive and unique approach. Can you talk me through this challenge?
It was a fluid process as I started writing, although I was aware that every decision I made weighed a tonne. In 90 minutes you can't possibly fit the entire life of the characters. I had so much story to choose from and events I could focus on; was I going to include the killings, the trial, the aftermath…? Everything I left out had a huge impact. I just had to have a moral compass and go from there but it was challenging and I definitely felt the responsibility on my shoulders. It's worth bearing in mind however that my point wasn't to make a bio-pic, we took a lot of liberties and I wanted to bring a more universal approach and for the story to be timeless. By the end of the process the film wasn't so much a real event detailing the actual story, none the less by the nature of the topic and truth behind it, it has a real gravitas and was a heavy project. People came out of the premiere screaming and crying which was very meaningful, Blue Caprice takes a real toll on you as you watch it.
What role did The Mill play in the final result?
We approached The Mill fairly early on when we were still in the middle of the editing process. We were looking for a partner to take on the post production, special effects, retouch, color etc. We were met by such great enthusiasm by the production team with Dee Allen; Danny Morris and of course Damien Van Der Cruyssen; who did the color correction. They became partners in the project and we worked 6 months together on and off, so it was a long and collaborative process.
How was Blue Caprice received at the its premier for Sundance Film Festival?
The film was extremely well received, I was so happy and pleasantly surprised that no one took the film the wrong way. I was expecting some controversy with people misunderstanding the film. The general verdict and review was that everyone said the film doesn't offer a resolution, its an introspective look at the roots of violence.
Talk me through the night at MOMA!
It showed at the opening night of their New Directors, New Films Festival. As a New Yorker it was real honor when they approached me to be recognized and celebrated here. The film has now been picked up by IFC and will hopefully be coming out nationwide across America in October.
Did you catch any other films at Sundance, and if so what particularly caught your attention?
Absolutely! I was extremely impressed and inspired by Upstream Color, the second film from Shane Carruth who directed Primer a few years back. It was an original piece of work, crucial to modern storytelling. As a director it is so exciting when you see someone who's fought to do something new and push the boundaries of film making.
Thank you Alexandre for this fascinating insight. If this has whet your appetite for more, Alexandre has supplied us with an exclusive clip from Blue Caprice to see before anyone else!