interview with robert ethan gunnerson

producer, director and editor of the movie 'arc' february 27 2012

Where did you get the story idea for ARC?

THE SURFACE ANSWER:  I'm a huge fan of movies from the late 1960s throughout the 1970s. ARC is really an homage to many of my favorite films from that time. It has the morally ambiguous, detached Anti-hero, the "crooked cop"  and the "hooker with the heart of gold." It's structured in a way that asks audiences to be patient and really invest themselves in the characters, which is a dangerous request these days but was common in the 60s and 70s. It appears to be a story about one thing, but ends up being about something completely different (again, a common trend during the 60s and 70s.) I'm always thrilled when I go to websites and see lists of films that "ARC Is Similar To" because they will often include movies like DIRTY HARRY, THE SEVEN-UPS, and I even saw it listed with the FRENCH CONNECTION once. Those are, in fact, the kind of movies from which the story was pulled.

THE DEEPER, MORE MEANINGFUL AND POSSIBLY PRETENTIOUS ANSWER:  I started writing ARC with the idea of shooting most of it for free. I was going to write it, direct it, play the lead role in it, score it, and do whatever else I could personally handle to complete it. This was not a "vanity" project; it was a project of hope. By the time I started writing ARC, I had written two screenplays that were semi-finalists for an acclaimed filmmaking program. Out of thousands of entries, both of those screenplays made it to the round of 25 semi-finalists, but neither was in the final 15 projects selected to participate in the program. It was crushing to go through that process twice. And later, one of those scripts was green-lit by a production company only to be shelved when the company decided to plunge all of their resources into a huge, action blockbuster. It worked out great for them, but the success of that action movie changed their company focus toward "blockbusters" and away from my more intimate, quirky material. Again, a crushing string of events for the point where I basically said, "You need to make something happen on your own before this business kills all of your hopes and completely crushes your soul." It is probably no coincidence then that the story in ARC is about a drug dealer who decides to "make something happen on his own before his business kills all of his hopes and completely crushes his soul."

THE REAL ANSWER: is probably somewhere in between the surface and the pretentious. I am familiar with the drug culture from my past. I am aware of the effects of certain drugs from my past. Many of the characters in ARC are based on people I've known in my real life. There are elements to the story that "poke fun" at the lessons screenwriters are taught and common trends in independent filmmaking. And the "child abduction/human trafficking" angle was pulled directly out of a newspaper headline I read just as I started writing the script. So the story is part homage, part cathartic and part life experience.


Which was the most difficult character to cast in ARC?

DETECTIVE SANTEE was originally written for a fantastic actor friend of mine, but he underwent surgery around the time ARC was going into production and he was unable to take on the role. His absence lead to a great deal of creative debate over what type of actor should play the part. A lot of people wanted me to cast an actor who was more easily recognizable as a "bad guy" in movies. But I always saw SANTEE as a "no bullshit, tough love, here's how life works" kind of guy. It's not really that he's a "bad guy." It's just that he's been beaten down by the game to the point where he's lost all hope, and he represents what Paris will become if he doesn't change things soon. I knew my friend would've pulled off this kind of moral barometer with great skill, and I just couldn't think of a good replacement who would do the character the same kind of justice.

We were a few days into the actual shoot and still hadn't cast the role when Peter came to the set and said,

"I saw my neighbor when I went home yesterday. I think he'd make a     great Santee."

          "Who is he?" I asked.

         "Do you know Ken Howard?" Peter replied.

This once again goes back to my love of 1970s productions. In the late 70s/early 80s, Ken Howard played the lead role on a TV show called THE WHITE SHADOW. He played a "no bullshit, tough love" basketball coach. The only difference between the character on that show and Santee is that THE WHITE SHADOW sells "purification" to his players while Santee sells "corruption" to his minions. There was no doubt in my mind Ken could easily make the switch from Jedi Knight to Sith Lord, so to speak. Plus, it was a chance for me to work with someone I greatly admired from my youth. And so, we went after Ken and got him. (And if I may be so bold, Ken is freaking brilliant in the part. And if Peter's acting thing doesn't work out, he's got a great future as a casting director. Ahem....)


Why did you choose Peter Facinelli? Or did he choose you?

Peter chose the script...then I chose Peter...then Peter chose me. But you probably want the longer version of the story because this is, after all, a site dedicated to Peter. So here goes...

ARC was shot for $180,000. When that's your budget, you have to rely on something other than money to attract talent. Obviously, having a good script with good parts helps. But there is no doubt that personal relationships also play a role in getting things done.

Producer Jen Schaefer initially used her connections to secure another actor for the role of Paris, but that actor was in a car accident and was forced to remove himself from the project just days before we were scheduled to start shooting. (On a side note, that actor came out of the accident with no long-term damage and is now on a successful TV show that revolves around Zombies, which I find fascinating since Peter went on to Vampire/Werewolf material. Now if an ARC cast member can just get a role in a Mummy movie, I'll feel like I have all my classic-horror-character-types covered.)

Money had already exchanged hands and there was no way we could delay production for our first actor to return. We needed a replacement for Paris and we needed him fast.

            "Did you tell Rob about Peter?"

the Casting Director asked Jen one day when I went in to audition actors.

            "Peter who?" I replied.

Jen was incredibly excited. "Peter Facinelli is interested in the role of Paris," she told me.

My first thought was, "You mean that guy who dives around in slow motion with his perfect hair blowing in a fan-generated breeze on the show FASTLANE?" But then I quickly realized Peter was also Mike Dexter from CAN'T HARDLY WAIT and Bob Walker from THE BIG KAHUNA. Those are three very different roles. And it occurred to me that Peter might be one of those actors who wants to try something new with each movie or TV show. And that's exactly the kind of guy I wanted.

Peter and I met the next day. He had actually received a copy of the script weeks earlier. He read it and expressed an interest in it, but he was told that the part was already cast, so he basically forgot about the script until his agents called to tell him that the role was once again available.

Our initial meeting was short. Peter asked a few questions. I asked a few questions. And we decided to meet again the following day so I could show him test footage and let him hear some of the music I created. By the end of that meeting I knew Peter was my guy, but he wasn't so sure about me. I was a first-time director and the project only had 15 shooting days. Those factors alone would scare off a lot of actors. And while I had clearly thought my way through ARC, it didn't mean Peter was going to climb on board and trust me without giving it further thought.

            "So listen," he said.

    "My agents just gave me a script for this really big movie. I'm obligated to      read it. It's obviously a much bigger budget than your project, but if the      part's not that great, I'd rather do ARC. So I'm going to read it and get       back to you tomorrow."

Needless to say, I spent the next 24 hours pacing a hole in the carpet. If Peter didn't sign on, we were in big trouble. Peter was THE GUY for the part. He was the one I wanted. I couldn't imagine anyone else in the role after talking to him. If he said no, the movie was going to suck...and that was that.

Well, the next day arrived and Peter called to tell me he was on board. It was a huge relief, of course. And the only thing left was to send him a copy of the most recent draft so he could start memorizing his lines. By now we were just 5 days away from production, and while the story of ARC had not changed since the draft Peter initially read, Paris' dialogue had most definitely increased. In fact, Paris' dialogue was so noticeably increased that Peter called me on the day of receiving the new draft just to ask me the simple question: "Really, dude?"


You worked as Writer, Editor and Composer on ARC, right? What was your favorite  part of the process?

Editing. That's where it all comes together. That's where you say, "Holy crap, it's actually working! What I wrote. What I shot. The music. It actually works together." And yes, there are some times when you ask, "What was I thinking and how can a fix this?" But if you plan and surround yourself with really good people, those negative questions will be significantly fewer than the positive exultations. I do love writing. And I enjoyed making the music. But I'd really have to say the editing is my favorite part of the process.


Have you ever re-watched  ARC and if yes, what do you think by yourself about your work? Is there anything you would change today?

I watched ARC about 500 times during the editing process, and then again at various film festivals. If someone asked me for a director's commentary today, it would be tough to sit through it again. I am very proud of the finished piece, but the laws of diminishing marginal return finally caught up with me. If you were forced to drink 500 Butterscotch Milkshakes during a 3-month span, how many years would you wait before drinking number 501? That's basically what it feels like. (And I should thank my high school economics teacher Mr. Marshall for the Butterscotch Milkshake example.)

I would not change anything. It happened for a reason, both the good and the bad. I felt encouraged by the great parts and learned from my "mistakes." I do wish, however, that the film print of the movie had been released on DVD/BLU-RAY rather than the digital print. The film print is what we showed at the Hollywood FIlm Festival. The picture is awesome on the film print. I don't mind the digital print. But to be honest, you've really only seen 50% of the true color schemes if you haven't watched the film print.


You did your debut with ARC in 2006. Have you done any other movies since then and if yes, which one. If not, WHY THE HELL NOT and will we ever get the chance to see more of your work? Any upcoming (secret) projects?

In the wake of ARC, I co-wrote a script with Peter that he'd been mulling around in his head for quite some time. His production company is currently setting it up.

I shot a live-action 3-D pitch trailer for a project called THE DELIVERY. This is an incredibly big project that will take some time and revolves around a universe of Angels and Demons who inhabit the bodies of men and duke it out in modern times with swords and fire whips and other ancient weapons. It's a boatload of fun, but it's epic size means we need to be patient. We are currently working on turning it into a comic book, finding an audience for it, and pursuing other attachments to make it into a feature film.

I've been working on an idea for Youtube, something to do for fun, with the same kind of "creative tactics" we used to shoot ARC on almost no budget. And I have a few scripts that are making the rounds at production companies. (And of course there is the infamous FASTLANE: THE MOVIE script, which is really a piece of fan fiction that I'm writing for someone. But when I finish it, if it's deemed worthy, we might actually push for it to become a feature film. I just need to make it clear that I do not own any part of FASTLANE and I cannot make any promises in regard to its future.)

I'm also looking for a band who is interested in shooting a music video. So if you know any groups who are looking for a director, send them my way.


What are some qualities in yourself and others that make one suitable for film directing?

My advice would be: Know what you want. Know how to express your vision to others. Choose wisely in prep and make sure you are working with people who believe in what you're doing. Give others the leeway to try things, to make suggestions, and to do their jobs without having you look over their shoulders or micromanage them. Love what you do...and express that love so it becomes infectious to others on the set.

I feel like those are the qualities that made ARC an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. (Or at least I was told it was enjoyable by everyone involved.)


You told us Peter got the script for ARC just 5 days before you started shooting. So now we´re wondering how many times he forgot his lines.

I wish I could give you some ammo to have fun with Peter. But in all honesty, I do not recall him ever flubbing or dropping a line. I don't recall ever yelling "CUT!" so he could look at the sides and get things down. The guy poured his heart and soul into ARC. I am obviously biased, but I believe his performance as Paris is his best ever. It was a character that demanded a lot of speaking and a lot of emotion, and Peter pulled it off in amazing fashion...especially given the fact that he had the script for such a short time.

If you ever go back and watch ARC again, pay attention to a scene where Paris and Maya are eating a hamburger after he beats up a guy with a baseball bat. Peter is eating, smoking, drinking and spewing out a lot of dialogue in rapid-fire fashion in that scene. As an actor, he not only has to remember his lines, but he also has to remember exactly when he takes bites of his hamburger or puffs on his cigarette or drinks or when he looks at the street or Maya or wherever...and he has to repeat those movements at the exact same moment with each take so things will match in editing. We rehearsed that scene just once. We shot it from various angles, for a total of maybe 15 takes. And I can tell you, Peter matched his movements perfectly in each take, yet never once does he look like he's trying to match things. He's always in character...and yet he's always performing his duties as an actor at the same time. It's really amazing...and a complete blessing for a director.


Some of us have had discussions about ARC a while ago. So, finally, can you inform us about who "The Wolf" is? 

"The Wolf" is Paris' Mom. At the end of ARC, we see Paris' go into his Mom's house. We end the movie at that point. But I can tell you, I did write (and we did shoot) an additional scene that takes place inside the house. I will not tell you what happens in that scene. The simple fact is, I got into editing and felt like I was invading Paris' privacy when I watched that concluding moment. The journey for Paris was to change his character. He believes he will do this by saving a boy whose childhood will be lost if he's not rescued, but in fact Paris will only change his character by saving himself and reclaiming his own childhood. And the only way to do that is to face his mother. When I watched ARC in editing, I felt like Paris showed his change by having the courage to step through the doorway to his Mom's home. He was no longer a drug dealer whose life is an open book. Instead, he is a boy who deserves the right to privately confront his mother. And thus, I decided to end it there.


Have you ever worked as an Actor or would you like to work as an Actor?

I've taken acting classes. I actually played Paris in a "test version" of the opening 5 pages of ARC. I've done extra work and performed on stage in plays. I like acting. I've become much better at it as I've aged and learned to relax. I will act in the Youtube project I;m creating, and I would certainly perform a role if it appealed to me and someone asked me to do it. But I am really much more of a writer and director.


We read that you love it to play with different editing softwares. Which ‚editing software’ do you like most and why are you working with this ‚editing software’?

I used Final Cut Pro for ARC. I currently use Adobe Premiere. I know "fan boys" like to pick a platform and exult it while putting down the other platform. But for me, if it functions and allows me flexibility, then I'm happy. Over time, I've become more fond of Adobe After Effects, which is what I used to do the visual effects in ARC. I watch tutorials online. I tinker on my own. And I have a great friend named Sean Apple who has taught me a lot. I think my fondness of After Effects is one of the reasons I switched to Adobe Premiere for editing. I like to keep things "in the family." Adobe software syncs up nicely, so you can move files from Premiere to Photoshop to Soundbooth to After Effects without any hitches.


When and why do you get the inspiration to become a director? What formation do you got to become an editor?

I first thought about making movies when I saw RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK for the first time. I just remember sitting in the theater and thinking, "How cool with it be to do this for a living?" Of course, I lived in Indiana at that time. It was the 1980s. There was no internet and very little information about filmmaking available to me. So my desire to make movies didn't seem realistic. In fact, I only pursued it because one of my college English professors called me into her office after reading one of my short stories and said, "You have a real gift for writing characters and dialogue. Have you ever thought about screenwriting?" It seemed a little coincidental that "filmmaking" was a dream job and now I had a professor suggesting that I might be good at one part of that process. And so, I decided to go for it.

Over time, writing screenplays turned into a desire to direct...which lead to understanding how to edit. I have great respect for all aspects of filmmaking. I know there are people who specialize in singular aspects of the process and I don't pretend to be as good as someone who focuses all of their attention on one art form. As such, I have a tendency to think of myself as a "storyteller" rather than a writer or director or editor.


You've told you've met with some artists to begin discussions of making "The Delivery" into a comic book, which is a cool idea in my opinion and we would love if you can hold us up to date about this. Back to my question... Have you ever thought about to make "The Delivery" as an animation movie?

Let me use THE AVENGERS as an example here. This summer THE AVENGERS will be released to what will undoubtedly be great success (at least from a financial standpoint, but hopefully from a critical standpoint as well.) It will feature some of today's most popular actors. But let's imagine for a moment that THE AVENGERS is a brand new idea that nobody has ever heard of. And imagine Stan Lee walking into a pitch meeting with a studio.

            "So I've got this movie about a group of superheroes," he says. "One of them is called IRON MAN. He's this recovering alcohol who has a fake heart of sorts and flies around in a suit of iron. And there's this other guy called THE HULK. He's a dude who gets angry and turns into a green, muscular giant who can pick up a car with one hand. And there's THOR, a Norse God who walks around in the modern world with a giant hammer and wings on his helmet."

By this point, I guarantee the executives in the room are saying, ", thanks. Too expensive. Too weird-sounding. Too much of a risk. Too much money. And we don't get it. Sounds like fun. And maybe if you brought it to us with an audience already built-in, then we would talk. But to do this from scratch? No way."

That's what we have with THE DELIVERY. A new concept that needs time so people can get it and Hollywood can "see it." We have a screenplay for the first movie. We have a 3-D pitch trailer for the first movie. We are talking to artists about creating either a series of comic books or a graphic novel to develop an audience. We have, in fact, talked about doing an animated series for the project. But we need to build from the ground up and handle things in the most reasonable financial fashion. It starts with artwork in still images, and then we will move forward to animation/feature films/etc. as we build followers.


Questions By Daniela, Anais & Michaela


...are Peter Facinelli Fans all over the world!


"We love Peter Facinelli"

"Thank you so much for your support!"

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