Marshall matters

Having seen David Gordon Green’s new film All the Real Girls (a review is scheduled to appear in the Feb. 12 Xpress), I was delighted to have the chance to speak with Paul Schneider, star and co-author of the film’s original story. Since Schneider (who’d also appeared in Green’s George Washington) had not only acted in the film opposite Zooey Deschanel in her first leading role, but had been involved in the project’s development in the nearby town of Marshall, I was hoping he could offer some insight into the creation of this often remarkable movie. I wasn’t disappointed.

Mountain Xpress: “I saw your movie last night; it was quite different from what I had expected. I understand you had a hand in the story.”

Paul Schneider: Yeah, David [Green] and I had been friends in college for quite some time, and we came up with the story for All the Real Girls in 1997. We were trying to exorcize some of our own emotional strife, so we thought: Why don’t we write a love story? At the time it was, ‘We’ll write this thing. I’ll direct it and you can star in it.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure, whatever. Great.’

MX: “Only in this case, that turned out to be exactly what happened!”

PS: “Well, a few years later it became, ‘Hey, are you guys gonna put up or shut up?’ So we decided to put up.”

MX: “Are you from around here?”

PS: “Yeah. I grew up in Beaver Dam.”

MX: “The film seems to be mostly shot in Marshall. There’s a good bit of Asheville to it, but the bulk of the movie that I could identify was in Marshall.”

PS: “Yes, there’s a lot of Marshall. You know, I’ve seen a few films that were shot in this area, and a lot of them are period pieces, but I haven’t seen a lot of films that were contemporary — about people who just happen to live in the mountains.”

MX: “That’s true, and I think it’s unfortunate. That’s part of what impressed me with All the Real Girls.

PS: “At the same time, in a lot of David’s movies, the idea is not to place the story too specifically. I don’t just mean in terms of location, but also temporally. There’s no specific time-frame.”

MX: “The film [nonetheless] manages to create a lot of striking images that are — if you know the area — very much a part of Western North Carolina. The montage work involving the factories — particularly those scenes of the old Sayles Bleacheries — is stunning.”

PS: “Our second-unit director is Adam Stone — another guy we went to School of the Arts [in Winston-Salem] with. He did second unit on George Washington as well, and we sent him off with time-lapse cameras and told him what to shoot.”

MX: “Well, he came back with some incredible images that work beautifully in the film.”

PS: “All the people I went to college with tend to be very smart, very talented guys, who happen to be great friends as well. As I get further into this business, I realize how exceptional our situation is.”

MX: “One of the things about All the Real Girls that I was really taken with is the fact that film — without being too specific about exact locations — really captures a sense of place. It’s never just characters [who] are standing in front of a pretty background. They actually seem to be a part of that world.”

PS: “I think that comes from that [being] typical of a lot of the films we like — films with a strong sense of place. I’ve thought a lot about what is and what isn’t conscious for a filmmaker. I know that David makes movies a certain way, and he’s found that he best does it in that way. Whether that’s conscious or it’s just what feels right, it’s hard to say. To me the best ideas are the ones that are plucked from the collective unconscious — the ideas dictate how they should be done. It’s not like eight brains figuring out how an idea should come together. It’s the idea itself that’s strong enough to dictate [outwardly] how it should be made.”

MX: “It’s pretty unusual in low-budget independent film to see something made in the wide-screen process.”

PS: “All of us are advocates for cinematography, not videography. There are a lot of digital-video movies I like, but for this kind of movie, it’s just not right. People need to think about their form and their content. If their content is the kind of thing that dictates digital video, then great. If their content is the kind of thing that dictates film — you can’t fit square pegs into a round hole. This is a look that we all like. It’s a look that David likes to use.”

MX: “It’s a stunning look. In fact, it’s one of the prettiest independent films I’ve seen. You’ve also done a film that thankfully departs from the Southern stereotypes we see in so many Hollywood films.”

PS: “I wouldn’t be involved in something that propagated ridiculous stereotypes of people who live below the Mason-Dixon Line. I mean, that’s my family we’re talking about! I read scripts all the time where people want me to play characters that denigrate people from the South, and that’s not what I’m trying to do at all. If you have a bunch of screenwriters from New York and L.A. and they’re writing for Alabama, then you’re gonna have trouble.”

MX: “True, though I have seen a lot of work from young local filmmakers who have a tendency to make films that are of that New York-L.A. mindset in their picture of the South.”

PS: “I think they’ve been conditioned by Hollywood. If they’d just open their eyes, they’d see it as it is. But Hollywood conditions you to write a movie in a certain way [and] present people in a certain way, and if that’s your master, that’s the way it goes. It’s the strength of that conditioning force.”

MX: “But you didn’t do that and I give you really high marks for it. I hope the film is a real success here — and I think it will be.”

PS: “Yeah, I do hope so.”

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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