‘Courting Chaos’ Director Alan Clay on Clowns and Directing [Interview]

Courting Chaos

Alan Clay is a distinguished author and the director of the multiple-award-winning Indie film, Courting Chaos. Courting Chaos is a highly entertaining RomCom about a young woman, Ginger, who rebels against her mother’s wishes for her to become a model, instead deciding that she would rather be a clown on Venice Beach. Venice Beach is where she meets the handsome young man, Chaos, who is a clown there, and she gets tips from him and falls in love with him. Alan Clay won the Best Director Award from the Geneva Film Festival in Chicago for Courting Chaos. He kindly agreed to do the following interview with the Guardian Liberty Voice. A clip from the movie follows the interview.

Guardian Liberty Voice: Have there been any directors and/or authors who have inspired you? If so, in what ways?

Alan Clay: I have a background as a novelist, so I’ve been inspired by European authors like Herman Hess and Kafka and North Americans like Philip K. Dick, Tom Robins and William Gibson. What I like about these authors is they place normal characters in extraordinary worlds and thereby pose philosophical questions about our relation to our world. Philip K Dick called himself a fictionalizing philosopher and I think that’s why his stories are still so strong today and why they have been the basis of films like Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall and more recently the Adjustment Bureau.

Guardian Liberty Voice: Where did you get the basic premise for Courting Chaos, of a young woman wanting to become a clown to help in her romantic pursuit of a young man, Chaos?

Alan Clay: I also have a background as a clown teacher and I worked as a street clown round Europe in my twenties. Some years back I wrote a book, Angels Can Fly, a Modern Clown User Guide, which is part clown textbook and part novel following the adventures of 10 street clowns. I wanted to convey in the fiction what it was like to perform on the street, because I find the street clown to be wonderful metaphor for the freedom and spontaneity we all want in our lives, but unfortunately we are frequently held back by ‘practical’ reality. So when I came to writing the script for Courting Chaos I took five of the characters from Angels Can Fly and told the story of how one of them, Ginger, let go of that practical reality – in her case a modelling career – to became a clown.

Guardian Liberty Voice: How long did it take you to write the script, for Courting Chaos, and then, from there, to actually make the entire film?

Alan Clay: I wrote the first draft [for Courting Chaos] at Venice Beach in a month and a half and the revisions were another month or so. It went quickly. Venice Beach is a perfect location, because of it’s bohemian and creative culture and so it was an inspiring place to work. It took another six months of pre production before we were shooting. However the film is notable for being shot and finishing post production in a total of six weeks, complete with a score played by live musicians. To achieve this the editor, Rachel Pearl, was working on set from the second day of shoot and our composer, Sherri Chung, was working from the script and adjusting this to the live edit, as it came in. We did this to bring a degree of spontaneity into the process of shooting the film. We also shot all the street performance scenes live with 10 cameras, to capture the real interactions with real people.

Courting Chaos

Guardian Liberty Voice: Where did you find the great actors who appear in Courting Chaos?

Alan Clay: The casting process is crucial. I do it myself, because I know what I like when I see it. We auditioned [for Courting Chaos] in LA and had over 5000 actors apply. We saw several hundred of these and asked them each to present two dialogue scenes and two performance scenes, then called the best ones back for some scene work and it was pretty obvious from that point. It’s hard to find actors with clown skills, but if a good actor can simply stop acting for a moment, they invariably can do some wonderful clown work. It is very hard however for an actor to stop acting, because it goes against their nature and makes them feel very vulnerable. We were blessed by having Rachelle DiMaria playing Ginger, because she identified strongly with the character’s journey and, although she had no clown experience, she was able to bring her clown segments to life in a unique and authentic way.

Guardian Liberty Voice: Were you at all surprised by the generally positive reception with which Courting Chaos has been received?

Alan Clay: I think the warm reaction [for Courting Chaos] validates the experimental approach we took to the shoot and I’m happy it has paid off. There has always been a good feeling about the film, even from the script days. And as we made it, cast and crew could see it coming together and how good it looked and this encouraged everyone. By the time we had the first screening at the Canon Centre in Hollywood, three weeks after we finished the shoot, the management there said they had never had a screening with so much laughter from the people who had worked on it. So I’m thrilled it’s now finding an appreciative audience, but I’m not really surprised.

Guardian Liberty Voice: What would you say were the things that you did not like and did like about the process of directing a movie?

Alan Clay: I love the directing, because you see it coming together and it’s a team effort. I’ve received a couple of Best Director awards for this film and I think it’s because of the seamless integration of the real street people and the actors in the film and because of the development of the characters. But these things are largely a product of good acting work and a good crew who can capture it. I was on a panel at Worldfest in Houston last year, where the film won one of the top awards and a question came up about directing. One of the other panel members said it was all about telling people what to do, but from my perspective you simply get the right people in the right roles and you manage them and keep them inspired. The only thing I don’t like about the directing is I don’t get enough of it, because it’s only a few weeks in the year long process of making the film.

Guardian Liberty Voice: How much money did it take to make Courting Chaos?

Alan Clay: We did it on a budget of $184,000 by paying flat wages and offering profit shares to key creatives. That was the other advantage of the short shoot and post process, it kept the costs down.

Guardian Liberty Voice: Do you have any plans to make another movie, following the success of Courting Chaos? If you’re working on one now, or will be soon, can you please let our readers know a bit about it and when it might be completed?

Alan Clay: I’m currently working on a sci-fi film, Savage Destiny, which is an adaptation of a story from Philip K Dick. The script is getting very good feedback from the industry and we’re currently looking for a high profile lead actor and some equity investment before we can green-light the film. So I’d be keen to hear from any investors interested in tapping into Philip K Dick’s huge audience potential. We hope to shoot at the end of the year and release the film at festivals in the middle of next year.

Savage Destiny is set in Detroit in a dystopian future, where the East has prevailed over a world governed by a hierarchical, religious society, the Arm, who have developed a technology that allows you to see your next reincarnation. Lee’s daughter Sana is dying of the plague and he realizes he’s doomed to also die before he has a chance to cleanse his karma, unless he allows some outlaws to manufacture in some illegal drugs that could save his life and that of everyone else.”

Guardian Liberty Voice: Thank you very much, Alan, for doing this interview with the Guardian Liberty Voice! Savage Destiny sounds, from the description, like it will be a fantastic movie, and Philip K. Dick was definitely an influential and cool science fiction author. Good luck with all of your future projects!

Written By Douglas Cobb

Courting Chaos Trailer/Courtesy Alan Clay and YouTube

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