Join Ashley Kennedy for an in-depth discussion in this video A conversation with filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, part of Filmmaking Forum: Scene Analysis.
- Kurt thank you so much for sharing that clip with us from this amazing movie. I was wondering if you would just give us some background on this project for those of our audience that might not be familiar with it. - Dear Zachary itself is a documentary that originally did not start life as a public release documentary. It was just going to be a memory album about my friend Andrew after he died, that I just started making because I wanted to. It was like my grieving process I guess, and when the criminal case against his killer went off the rails I realized it was my responsibility to turn it into something for public release that could argue for change to bail laws, to prevent a second occurrence of what had happened before.
So, yeah, so it evolved from a private project to a public project over time. So, that's kind of what the origin was. - [Interviewer] It definitely has a very interesting style, and before I put my own words on the style, can you talk about what you've done visually, what you've done with the editing, what you've done with the sound design in sort of putting together this type of sequence? - I mean, honestly it was just my attempt using the inanimate objects and the things that were there, and the tools to just kind of put you back in, you know what I imagine Kate's head space was getting that call.
Just the idea of you're in the office, and seeing her office, and the little details of her office, and just the sounds of the office, and getting this call, and then as someone asks that please call the coroner you have horrible news kind of thing, and then the cutting getting more frenetic to match that just cos her state of mind is getting more frenetic, and then adding the pulse mounting because I'm absolutely certain that was going on, and she was, you know, when you're in that state you do hear that in your own ears, and then seeing the clock keep ticking, and what not, and that gets more pronounced, and that gets more pronounced, and the moment she gets the news, you know, everything else goes away, because I do believe that's what happens in your own head is your sensory perception cuts everything else out because you don't have room for anything else, you're focused on that one thing.
- [Kate] And he said your son is dead under suspicious circumstances, have you got any idea why he was in the park? (clock ticking) I said, my son is dead? Murdered? He said yes. - [Kurt] Just trying to use the inanimate things that were still in the room there, and the sound design with that to kind of recreate that moment of her state of mind as those things were happening, and then same with David and his office and that sort of thing too. - [Kate] And then I called David, (phone rings) and I said to him Andrew is dead, and he said no.
- [Interviewer] Did that take several passes just putting the raw elements down, and then tweek, tweek, tweek, tweek, or do you get things perfect as you go? You know, people take different approaches, I'm wondering about yours. - I think what I tend to do is lay the text of the scene, if you will, in place first like getting you know, Kate and David's interview underneath that, I think Kate was the one speaking most of the time, and you know get a rhythm of what feels right there, nothing's on top of it yet, but just getting their voice there, okay I'll pop through to see them occasionally, and then start looking at, you know, knowing that I did shoot things for that moment knowing that I was going to be illustrating that.
Okay, what'd I shoot? What have I got? How should I put that together? And, then just start crafting it knowing okay, I'm gonna use the clock here, the heartbeat will probably come in there, that sort of thing. The whole thing is kind of in your head, and then you just start going through, and does this feel right? And, like, that's not frenetic enough yet, okay faster here, or slower here, and we need a longer break there. I just sort of keep massaging it, and massaging it, and massaging it over and over, and then I go hmm I guess that's about right? But, the sound effects aren't in yet, so this feels like basically what it is, but I also don't want to show this sequence to anybody until the sound effects are in cos I know that's not gonna play that way.
It's very similar to writing music actually. It's the same kinda thing that you just keep going over and massaging, like how do you want the crescendo, and then rest? And then you know, that kind of thing to feel, but it's just you're doing it with pictures and sound effects as opposed to notes per-say. - [Interviewer] I also think something that you do very well is visual metaphor, and in this scene a little bit, but also in the scene where he's talking about seeing Andrew in the morgue, and talking about you never really see Andrew in the morgue, obviously, - [Kurt] Of course, yeah.
but what do you see, you see photos and video of him when he's a child in talking about the exact body parts, that you know, that David is referencing. - [David] Went over to him, and when we could see his face I said it's really him. I kissed him, and held him, and Kate kissed him, and held him, and kissed him some more, and tears are dropping on him of course, and Kate went to wipe one of those away off his cheek, and a plug came out where he had been shot in the left cheek. Oh God.
- [Kurt] The scene that you were discussing a moment ago, where Andrew's parents go to see him, to identify him. That moment, if you're gonna show that moment, you can just show them sitting on the couch and saying it, right? I mean, you can just have that, but also I liked to try to change the rhythm of the way people speak to make it feel just right, so you know, certain times I'll show jump cuts, other times I don't want to. In this case, I didn't want to because I wanted it to just be a quiet thing. You don't actually want to see him, in you know, I mean I honestly did get access to those photos, but I've only looked at them once and never again.
I wish I had never seen them, but I certainly wasn't going to put that in the film, but I thought what Kate and David's experience there is is they're looking at their child, and this is, and they're remembering all of these things, so I thought what I will do is go show those exact moments, but as I believed they're emotionally perceiving it. So, seeing the Super-8 footage of him when he was a kid, and you know, when they're talking about like the moment where they reveal his face, you know, I found that this is what you get when you watch all 300 hours or something.
Also, what it does is, for most movies that involve someone who has been shot or killed, they tend to just focus on the forensic evidence, or whatever kind of thing, and that's very impersonal, so if you think about what does that really mean? Like someone's child was shot. That's what those images tell you is that you're looking at baby footage of him essentially, toddler footage of him, and you're hearing about what was done to him as an adult, but you're getting the perception of the parent first of all, and second of all this is reminding the audience that this was a real person that people loved.
This isn't a crime scene, you know, it reminds people, once again, that crimes happen to people. They aren't just mystery stories, you know, which I think so much of literature of that genre tends to be, so that's what it is, particularly when you have a moment like that though that I literally know that moment has to be in the film, but I have no footage to illustrate it. What am I gonna show? And then, you just start being creative as you can, you start thinking well what have I got? And, oh that would actually be really powerful, and you put it over that, and you go oh that works.
The only thing I kinda regret about it now though is I do love the old Super-8 movies of Andrew as a kid, which I've had transferred and gave to Kate and David, but I feel like every time they see that beautiful shot of him, and the window turning around now they'll think of the morgue because I put it there in the film. Like I've now created this association that makes that home video, that Super-8 footage, less pleasant for them to watch, so I feel bad about that, but it did seem like the right choice. - [Interviewer] Yes, I think so, and then do you think that the film helped you and Kate and David? - [Kurt] Yeah, I can only speak for myself with total certainty because I, which is, the making of the film and this whole process was very important for me.
I think it's the reason I didn't need therapy. It was because I was able to feel, first off, feel like I was being useful. You know, like, this bad thing happened, there's something I can do about it. I do think it was per my observation, you'd have to ask them, but I do think it was good for Kate and David from the point of view that I saw. I think it meant an awful lot to them, and still does when people write letters to them and what not, and show the love, and validate their experience, because it made them feel like Andrew still lives on, people still care about him.
It's not the same thing as him being alive, obviously, but it does give a little sliver of something.