Following a screening of “The Age of Adaline” at the Ritz East April 15, the film’s director Lee Toland Krieger dropped in for a brief question and answer session at Drexel University’s Cinema & Television Department the day after. The film, which stars Blake Lively as a character that doesn’t age, marks Toland’s entry into the realm of big budget feature films, having previously helmed projects of a more moderate financial standing.
He directed his first feature film “December Ends” in 2004, a year before graduating from the University of Southern California’s school of cinematic arts. His films have been showcased at the Sundance Film Festival and won numerous awards.
Toland appeared with a miniature entourage, and the best way to describe him is as a tanned Jared Leto. The question and answer was hosted by assistant teaching professor Jocelyn Tarquini-Motter and attended by a modest number of students. The session, though lasting no more than an hour, proved to be both educational and entertaining, opening students’ eyes to the world of feature filmmaking through Toland’s experiences.
Before delving into his latest film, the discussion was centered on his time at USC during which period he directed “December Ends” as a student, though it only premiered at the 2006 Method Fest in California.
He admitted that he got “lucky” with financing the $75,000 movie. Having an initial jolt to the fundraising campaign made matters easier by giving other potential investors a sense of trust and confidence in a film student, but the rest was done mostly through his preparation. Toland’s main piece of advice when it came to financing ventures is to be realistic, first and foremost. He hated to disappoint the students in the room but said they better start off with more manageable and achievable goals to begin with, rather than trying to make the next “Pulp Fiction” during their time in college.
Before long, Motter asked the questions that were on everyone’s mind regarding the previous day’s screening. The first was concerning the use of voiceover in the film, which a majority of people in the room questioned, feeling that it was largely unnecessary exposition. Toland explained that the voiceover was a significant component of the original script, and he said, “Believe it or not, we cut down around 60 to 70 percent of it.” While he did agree to an extent regarding the need to tone down its usage, he defended the choice. Furthermore, he said that removing the voiceover from the third act may have helped the scenes in the end, but then the movie wouldn’t have worked as well as a whole, since the beginning narration would have been isolated.
Another aspect of the movie that was discussed was one promotional trailer, which prominently featured Harrison Ford’s character. It had let the cat out of the bag when it came to a plot twist that was better left alone until audiences hit the theaters. Toland agreed and stated that unfortunately, the trailers weren’t handled by him. It was an interesting insight into the world of big budget filmmaking and the associated distribution of power, which may not always lie in absolute terms with the director.
Students stationed in the audience managed to keep the discussion going for so long that Toland almost missed his flight out of Philadelphia. When asked about an aspect of filmmaking that feels like a make or break element to him, the director got into the topic of preparation. He advised that going with one’s gut instinct early in order to deal with before problems or issues before it gets too late. Leaving a potential problem until the end would simply let it fester until it couldn’t be managed or tamed.
This spring-boarded the conversation into his preparation for “Adaline,” most of which was shot in Vancouver despite being set primarily in San Francisco, California. This was due to financial benefits afforded by the city. Toland had a curveball thrown his way when Blake Lively got pregnant Working around a pregnancy could complicate even a minute long scene involving a taxi.
In the end, the session proved to be truly informative with a gentleman who was surprisingly sincere and honest about the dealings of the film industry. He was truthful yet diplomatic and tactful enough to appease the audience at Drexel. Given his understanding of the technical and business components of the entertainment business in America, one can expect to see more of his work reach American and global audiences.