“Operation Avalanche” filmmakers talk directing without script in 16mm

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In the film “Operation Avalanche,” two young CIA agents go undercover as documentarians at NASA. What they discover could hurt the U.S. space race and endanger their lives. 

Before its release on Sept. 30  at the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse, The Daily Texan sat down with director Matt Johnson and producer Matt Miller to talk about the film.

The Daily Texan: What was the inspiration behind this film?

Matt Johnson: We were all really interested in trying to do something that on the surface seemed impossible. With our first film, we did something that was easy. We were making a movie about high school students and we were just recently high school students ourselves and it was something we knew. We thought “let’s take this form and do something impossible. Let’s try and make a car chase look real in this style, let’s try and bring Stanley Kubrick back from the dead, let’s try to shoot illegally at NASA.” I think you’re in a really good creative space when you yourself don’t think you’re going to be able to do what you just told a studio like Lionsgate. I know that seems really dangerous and risky, but it really did push us to go above and beyond.

DT: You didn’t have a script, only a vague idea of where the film would go. Why was that something you decided to do? And was that something you did in your previous film “The Dirties”?

MJ: Yes, we had even less of a script making “The Dirties.” We were trying to capture natural behavior of me and my friends as we were acting in these scenes, which would be very difficult to do if we were conforming to lines of dialogue, because none of us are actors. We want to include the real world as much as we can. You can’t write a script for someone who doesn’t know they’re in a movie. It’s like if I gave you a script for this interview, but you didn’t know about it. I think it’s one of the ways we use not having a script to our advantage, because it allows us to do tricky things like that. 

DT: Was it from the get-go you decided to use 16mm film or did that come along later? 

Matt Miller: It was very early. There was some discussion over if we had the time or money to do it and if we would be better served doing it digitally a little bit, but for the most part no. We knew.

DT: Why did you decide to shoot in 16mm?

MJ: Because we were going to use so much archival footage and footage from the era. We didn’t have very much money so we had to use news footage and footage from NASA wherever possible, because that footage has so much dynamic. Knowing we were going to use that, we had to make the rest of our footage conform to it, because it’s all coming from the same source. It’s all from our guy’s camera.

DT: Is there anything else you think college-aged viewers should know?

MJ: Yeah, The reason we make movies like this is because we want to encourage young people, especially students in college, to go make movies on their own. We think that the technology and the form have never been more accessible, and there is almost no excuse to not at least go out and try if this is what you want to do.

MM: Don’t wait for money or permission, that’s not good enough.