Lost Time: Interview with Director Leo Pfeifer
7th April 2019 by Will Stewart
What happens when a drummer loses his time?
Director Leo Pfeifer was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Lost Time. If you’d like to see your film on MadeGood.tv, then please feel free to make a submission.
MadeGood – Please give me a bit of background on yourself, and how you got into film making. Is this a typical example of your work?
Leo – I’ve always had a strange obsession with documentaries. As early as fifth grade, I convinced my mom to take me to countless screenings at the local film festival and I’ve been plugging away at learning the craft ever since. There’s a million reasons why I love docs, but at the end of the day there’s simply no better medium to impart empathy into an audience— something the world needs more of. I make commercials and documentaries, occasionally dipping my toe into narrative (often with a doc spin to it), so this piece is very much in the wheelhouse of what I do! My work is about making the real feel mythical, capturing incredible stories in the overlooked pockets of everyday life— at least that’s my aim!
MadeGood – How did you come to know about Paul Wager, the drummer in the film? His story is very sad, but he’s obviously had some incredible experiences and achieved so much. I think it’s amazing how he found the motivation to find a new passion after his condition. What kind of person is he in real life? He seems very down to earth, considering his success.
Leo – I heard a local radio piece about Paul— his story hit me hard, it made me think really deeply about loss and perseverance. What it means to love something after you’ve lost it. I found myself connecting to that core as it kept bouncing around in my mind. A musician losing their time? I could tell there was a ton more depth to explore in Paul’s story so I tracked down his phone number, called, explained who I was, that I was interested in making a film about him. There was a long pause on the other end of the line. Then he responded, “Yeah, let’s talk.”
I spent a lot of time with Paul in the process of making this film and I can honestly say he’s one of the nicest, most humble people I’ve met. From our interviews, I quite literally have an hour of material where Paul is just talking about how much he admires everyone he collaborated with in his career as a drummer. There’s so many interesting stories and experiences of Paul’s that didn’t make it into the film— he should really write a book or something.
It takes a really special person to open themselves up to a documentary film. With a story like Paul’s, it’s gonna be painful to dig down and speak expressively about his journey and what he’s been through, but that’s a necessary part of the process. The audience needs to feel that from the subject in order to empathize— in order to relate to their catharsis. After the interviews, Paul and I talked about what it meant to dive back into those old memories. I know it was a painful process for him, but he told me that he felt better for having done it.
MadeGood – The sound design and music is obviously a huge part of this film, and one of the things that caught my attention. What was your working relationship with the musicians? At what point did you start thinking about the music and sound, and how did you manage to assemble such an obviously very talented team?
Leo – The music and sound design were forefront in my process from the start. With a narrative focused doc like this, your sound dictates how you cut just as much as picture guides sound. My original edit was a patchwork of temp music from mostly Errol Morris films (my favorite director). It was completely different than a traditional cinematic film score, and honestly completely different than what most composers are good at. I needed an all star to pull it off, and I was really worried I wouldn’t find one— but then I connected with composer Shie Rozow. Right away, I could tell that he just fundamentally understood the film and the artistic intention. He sent me a demo that was shockingly spot on and from there we kicked off.
I think the job of composer is about taking those intangible emotions a film evokes and creating a score that nurtures them. It’s about crafting one of the biggest influences in how the audience perceives a film— even if they may never consciously notice your work. I expected the first pass of the score to take weeks, but Shie sent me something within days. Of course, there was the typical process of going back and forth, making revisions, nailing down the details, but throughout the process Shie was remarkably in tune with the soul of the story.
Right before we finished, Shie pulled some favors and got two of the instruments in the score recorded live. It blew me away how different it felt after we put those in, how much “realer” the digital instruments sound when they’re mixed in with live instruments.
MadeGood – I notice you edited the film, but worked with a DOP and colourist. How hands on are you on set, or are you able to trust in your camera operator and be free to concentrate on directing?
Leo – My goal in making docs like this is to bring the audience the level of polish they’re used to in scripted films. I almost want them to forget they’re watching a documentary while still experiencing a real story. Using the visuals to elevate everyday life to something that reaches beyond the way we perceive it: cinematic, narratively driven, kinetic. To get there, I need to be able to completely trust the DP because our shooting situation simply isn’t always in our control. There’s a slew of artistic decisions that we must make in a split second, so it’s imperative that we’re on the exact same page. I’ve found that with Morgana McKenzie, DP of lost time and one of my closest collaborators and friends.
To me, the job of director on set of a doc is two things: making your subjects comfortable and “present” in the moment, as well as guiding the artistic process of the film. Sometimes that means lining up a shot and carefully studying it until you’ve nailed it, repeating it over and over, and sometimes that means bringing everyone into a situation and letting loose, trusting that the material is there. It’s all about what that moment requires— “LOST TIME” had both ends of that spectrum and everything in between. I think that’s the beauty of it all.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Leo – I just finished shooting a new piece, this time co-directing with Morgana. It’s a hyper visual doc exploring that intangible magic in the spirit of young people that makes anything possible. From an insanely talented athlete whose her school’s only double amputee athlete in its history to a professional boxer with a passion for playing the saxophone, It’s made up of four vignettes that embody the idea of “Why Not” (the title of the film). Beyond that, I’m working on a couple commercial projects and have another doc on the horizon.
MadeGood – Nice one Leo, can’t wait to see the next one!