To say that Samuel Tressler IV’s first feature film project was ambitious would be an understatement.
Tressler, who grew up in Frederick County and spent much of his life there, had studied film and directed music videos and short films, but hadn’t tackled a feature film until 2013. Partly because that he had access to equipment capable of shooting in 3D, he chose to make his first feature film in 3D.
And as if that weren’t enough, he decided that “Leda”, a new version of the Greek myth of Leda and the swan, would also be a black and white silent film.
“I basically prepared myself to fail in any way I could,” Tressler joked from his New York home. “It’s a silent 3D feature film in black and white. Everyone says for your first film, don’t use children, don’t use animals, don’t do anything on the water…. So it was absolutely stupid. I was like we can be successful, whether it’s good or bad, we really should be trained for something else.
Tressler, along with the rest of the cast and crew of “Leda”, are finally seeing the payoff for their efforts. Eight years of preparation, “Leda”, a feature film that was shot primarily in and around Frederick County, is finally screened to a live audience. It premiered at the New York Film Festival in October, where it won the Audience Choice Award, and continues to find its way into the festival circuit.
This week, it will screen at the Another Hole in the Head Film Festival in San Francisco as the opening night film. Throughout the festival, from December 1 to 15, “Leda” will also be shown online in 2D and 3D for viewers anywhere.
Plans are underway for an in-person screening closer to you in the spring.
“It had probably been a year and a half since I watched it, and I only saw it in 2D,” said co-writer Wesley Pastorfield, who lives in Hampstead. “To see it at the premiere in 3D – honestly, it was amazing. I was so proud to be a part of it.
“Leda” began with a painting that Pastorfield had created for an art exhibition from Greek mythology in which he was participating. When Tressler saw the play, Pastorfield told him the story of Leda and the Swan – not that there was much written about it.
The Greek myth tells the story of a young woman seduced and raped by Zeus while he takes the form of a swan. Leda will give birth to two children of the god.
“At the time, I was trying to come up with an idea that I was passionate about,” Tressler recalls. “I found it interesting that the story reflects the story of the Virgin Mary. I was interested in exploring how crazy it would be to be imbued with a god, and how crazy it is that huge religions are based on this concept … and also how crazy it is to be pregnant. in general and growing a child inside of you, how infuriating or strange that can be.
“I also wanted to explore our relationship to the divine and the tangible things in life,” he continued, “and how you can lose that balance,” he said.
Pastorfield and Tressler worked together to co-write the film – or, rather, describe various impressions they had about what they wanted to happen, scene by scene, as that rules out dialogue. The original script, in fact, was only about eight pages long, with a film length of 76 minutes.
Pastorfield describes it as being like a character study of a woman having a divine encounter, to keep this experience to herself and the psychological repercussions of that.
While considered a period piece, it’s unclear exactly what period of time “Leda” takes place, nor is it relevant. It takes place in what looks like a turn-of-the-century estate but feels timeless, closer to a dream, as many myths are.
“I wanted the period of time to be pretty indefinite,” Tressler said. “I wanted it to be classic and familiar, but at the same time you could say it happened in another world. I like to see the film as a reflection of life… relatable but opposed to reality.
Filming in 3D and in black and white, in addition to being a silent film, were not devices chosen for novelty, not a gimmick. Instead, the film’s creators explored these tools to ultimately improve the telling of a story.
A black and white film, for example, allows it to be immediately separated from everyday reality, offering a bit of the surrealism sought by Tressler.
Tressler, meanwhile, was always interested in the beginning of the silent era of cinema, when filmmakers were more like scientists, as he puts it, experimenting and trying new things.
“How do you relate to an audience? How do you combine planes to have deeper meaning than either plan would have? [individually]? ”he said.“ It was a constant increase in the power of that midrange and then he kind of cut his head off when the sound came in. All of a sudden it was all song and dance or just chatter Rather than analyzing the effect on an audience, it has become more of a means of entertainment.
“I thought trying to do a play without dialogue would help me explore some of these other avenues,” he continued.
Because he had access to the 3D equipment through Mike Peters of Archai Media, Tressler saw it as another tool that could be used in place of dialogue. “I tried to express this character’s distance – from her surroundings, from other characters – and visually show her mental state and how she loses her connection to reality,” he said. “We’re so used to everyone talking. “
Although there is no dialogue, the film includes sound – breathing, footsteps, ambient noises, as well as a score that combines pieces by André Barros and Björn Magnusson.
Tressler estimates that he had written around 80 drafts of the film by the time it was finally finished. At one point, they had written a country doctor character and had hoped to bring in John Waters to play the part. Another role that has all but disappeared is that of Leda’s husband, who initially played a much bigger role.
“With such an ambitious project, some things had to give way,” said Pastorfield. “You want to finish the project and keep your idea, so you move it around a bit and have to make little sacrifices here and there. “
When Adeline Thery first took on the role of Leda, she was not the main character, but as the script was rewritten over and over again, the movie almost entirely became Leda alone on screen.
“I had this big team, all very good technicians, and sometimes it was difficult because I was the only actor,” said Thery, who was born in France, studied acting in Barcelona and is now based. At New York. “It wasn’t until we were done that I realized, ‘Oh my god, it’s just me.’ I was terrified of watching the movie because, you know, if I’m not good, it’s gonna be horrible.
Since the conception of the film, it took almost three years for the team to cast Thery in the lead role. It took even longer to raise enough funds to start production.
Tressler teamed up with Clark Kline, co-founder of 72 Film Fest, who would become the producer of “Leda”. Kline was looking to work on a bigger project outside of the annual festival and was sold after reading the script and hearing what Tressler had planned for it.
Meanwhile, when production began, the cast and crew went into a three to four day filming cycle, raised funds for about a month, and then went there to shoot again for a few. days. It lasted over a year.
“It was a very, very difficult process,” Thery said, “There were times when we thought no one would ever watch this movie. I also said to everyone, ‘This is my last movie. . I’ll never act in a movie again after that. It was pretty intense. But I’m really, really proud of the result. It’s a weird movie, but it’s beautiful. It was worth it. “