The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Pig.
The cinematography was so beautiful and was really enhanced by the sound design. Can you talk about those two aspects?
Michael Sarnoski: Pat Scola was our incredible cinematographer. We got coffee with him right after seeing his reel, and he just does a beautiful job. A lot of people have asked me if this was shot entirely with natural light, but it wasn’t. And Vanessa and I actually asked him if he shot mostly with natural light, and he said “no, but I’m good at making it feel like that,” and he really is! That was something that really drew us to him. He really understood the film and really cared about the film.
Vanessa Block: He also had the really unusual background in both independent film and really big budget commercials. So he had the ability to seamlessly move between those two things and you see it in the work. There is a heightened reality to what he does, but then there’s also a grounded, raw, textured realism in the forest. That meeting of a more stylized look with something intensely naturalistic was something we really wanted and it’s not something that many people can do effectively. He was perfect and in our first meeting he described the pig-napping scene as a oner, with the same visual language that Michael and I had spoken about it prior to—unprompted, he had the same creative vision. It was this moment of alchemy where we realized it was kismet and we had to use this guy.
MS: And we always knew sound was going to be hugely important. The biggest struggle we had was with time. We had a week in the sound mix from creating the design through mixing it fully. Since it was such a tight schedule, we needed to have a really clear idea of what we wanted to do with those scenes.
VB: Finding the marriage for this sonic tapestry between music and sound… Alexis Grapsas and Philip Klein were our co-composers and did an exquisite job, really nailing this meeting between high and low. It was a little bit genre elements of western, kind of noir, but also very sparse, very grounded, very natural. That marriage between their work musically and the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the city, all of these sound palettes were so iconic and representative of the space. It reinforced this movement between realms for our main character. Leaving the sounds of the forest behind, which was silence and crickets and wind in the trees, and then moving into the city, which is very overwhelming sonically with sounds of commerce and machinery, we had to weave the music into that. This film really required a meeting of picture and sound that was really connected and very concerted.
That meeting of a more stylized look with something intensely naturalistic was something we really wanted
Do you think Nicolas Cage’s casting creates an expectation with the film? And if so, did you intentionally subvert those expectations in any way?
MS: I think it does create an expectation. Certainly, people have certain types of films that they associate with Nic Cage. And I think that combination of the basic storyline and then having Nic Cage, I understand why people would think those things. But we never set out to subvert anything. I think if you make a conscious choice to subvert something, or to make a quiet Nic Cage movie, it’s going to ring false. All we set out to do was make the movie we had written and do right by the characters in this world. Baked into that is a lot of subversion, but it’s not for the sake of subverting. We wanted to tell a quiet character story and this was our way into it.
VB: Nicolas Cage came to the process after the script was written, so we wrote the script with no actor in mind. He was brought into the mix via WME and it felt like a really wonderful choice because he’s so talented. But what drew us to him as the character of Rob was all of the amazing quiet character studies that Nic has done over the years. I think people have certain associations with him that don’t always reflect the breadth and scope of his filmography. He’s an actor that really can’t be boxed in and I think this film is reminding people of how incredible his acting chops really are and there’s so much range there that is often forgotten. We definitely didn’t set out to subvert but it ended up being the critical casting piece that really elevates our film to something even more interesting because of that expectation and the mythic proportions he exists in. It becomes even more interesting that it’s played by a person who carries so much weight.
MS: I think people imagine we had to rein him in to make him do smaller stuff. But he really understood the script. He just got it. He really understood the character, he really related to the character, he liked how quiet it was… it wasn’t like there was some bigger version that we had to whittle down. He just really embodied that character. I don’t think he thinks of his acting in the way some audiences do, like this is going to be a big Nic Cage film or a small Nic Cage film. He thinks of it as, I’m doing this character and I’m going to do it right, and really did it right with Pig.
Being an independent production, did you face a lot of hurdles making this film?
VB: We’re making a movie here so nothing can be easy! It’s always protracted and riddled with challenges and this one was no different. It was a very challenging production. You would think that Nic Cage’s involvement would catalyze everything, but we ran into issues all along the way. We had so many locations and so few days to shoot. This was a twenty-day shoot. We had a number of secondary characters that we needed to work with to get performances. Luckily we were able to rely on Nicolas Cage always bringing his A game because he’s so incredibly focused and he always showed up with grace and knowing the role he was playing. It was a very ambitious shoot and every step of the way presented its own unique challenges. The pig was untrained! We couldn’t afford a properly trained movie pig. Michael and I went on some early financing trips prior to the film… it was important to us to meet a lot of people in the local restaurant scene and get a texture of this place in a very thoughtful and purposeful way. In those trips, we toured a bunch of pig farms and pig breeders to find our perfect pig, and Brandy—who we ended using in the film—was the cutest pig we were able to find, but it was tough because she wasn’t trained. She bit Nicolas Cage a few times, and me as well!
MS: But it worked out. We found out if you just put food in certain places, they’ll learn. Nic tried; he had a day where he went out and spent time with the pig and got to know her but it came down to food most of the time. Pigs are smart enough that they know if they do something, eventually they’ll get food. So she was willing to play by those rules.