Francine was as raw, powerful, and daring a movie as we saw at SXSW this year. As we said in our review, it isn’t enough to say that Melissa Leo carried the movie. She IS the movie. We talked to film makers Brian Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky about getting to work with an Academy Award winner and the way they were able to pull off making a movie like Francine.
Brian Cassidy: In that sense, it’s funny. Melanie and I, we come from a background as documentary film makers and photographers. We took a very intuitive approach when we made the movie. This way made sense for us. It’s normal. We were very interested in finding ways to bring the viewer along with the character without using traditional strategies.
PM: What was it like creating that character with Leo? You’re working with an Academy Award winner in a movie where she plays a very reserved and silent character where so much of what’s on screen had to be nuance.
Melanie Shatzky: It was an interesting experience. She had years and years of experience working with more traditional scripts. It did take some time for each of us to understand the other’s working habits. We had a lot of conversations about the character and reached a great place where we understood each other and created the character together.
PM: In the movie, Francine is really only comfortable with people if she knows that it’s going to be a short term relationship. She’s really the happiest around animals.
MS: We’ve spent a lot of time profiling people with a sense of desperation and we found that they really have a kinship to animals. They get a great sense of family out of that. Animals have wisdom and naivete.
BC: Her sanctity is the time that she spent with the animals. Francine is a raw and fragile person who’s almost re-experiencing life for the first time. She’ll open up to a friendship with someone, but then pull back when it becomes too much for her and retreat back to her house and all of her pets.
PM: It’s a really tight movie as well. It’s only about 75 minutes, which is much shorter than most narrative films at SXSW.
BC: For this film, we wanted to tell the story as succinctly as we could. To find a way to immerse ourselves in the world of this character, but not to linger when it’s not necessary to linger. We were conscious of trying to create a concentrated experience, but not one that needed a long time to tell.
MS: I’ve always responded to work that’s distilled and succinct. I always think movies are too long. I like being in a position where I’m left wanting more. Our documentaries are even short. We did The Patron Saints. That film is only 72 minutes.
BC: My favorite record is 10 songs. No filler. It’s concentrated, potent and effective enough. It stays with you after the fact.
PM: What were your favorite scenes to shoot while you were working on the movie?
BC: Any of the scenes where Francine interacts with animals in her home were a great pleasure. There was a sense of the unexpected with how the animals would act and how Melissa would engage with them. We were always open for surprises.
PM: Finally, one of the biggest challenges seems to be for us to care about this character that is extremely reserved, doesn’t want to connect with anyone, and rarely speaks. What was it like trying to make a movie with a central character like that?
BC: While Francine is very fragile and struggles to connect, she’s unapologetically who she is. Those are the kind of characerts that we like. The ones that suffer and maintain who they are. That contributes to why we care about her.
PM: Thank you so much for your time and good luck with the movie the rest of the year.
BC & MS: Thank you!