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Interview with Chris Eigeman, writer/director of Turn the River

Chris Eigeman writes and directs Turn the River a dramatic thriller about Kailey Sullivan (the sexy, underrated Famke Janssen), a pool shark who tries to win enough money at pool games to illegally take her 11-year-old son, Gulley (Jaymie Dornan), from the custody of her alcoholic ex-husband, David (Matt Ross), and run away with him. Rip Torn co-stars as Kailey's mentor and the owner of the poolhall. This marks Chris Eigeman's official directorial and screenwriting debut. He has previously performed in The Treatment. The Next Big Thing, The Last Days of Disco, Kicking and Screaming, Barcelona and Metropolitan. Bobby. I had the privilege to interview him.

Screen Media Films releases Turn the River on May 9th, 2008 at the Village East Cinemas.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was your greatest trepidation about directing Turn the River? CE: What I was most terrified was that my friends were [in] this movie, so somehow Iíd embarrass them or if Iíd do something that wouldnít let Famke shine. Thatís the stuff that kept me up at night.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you film the pool game scenes?

CE: All the pool [shots] were done with the combination of rigorous control and wild chaos. It was one or the other without anything in between. Famke [Janssen] was doing two months of pool and watched ESPN tapes of pool [games]. I was working with the editor, the director of photography and [actor] John Juback, who was also teaching her. We had about 26 shots that we knew that we could do. We took pictures of them and videotaped then. Famke got good enough so that she could play, so sometime we just let her. Shooting a pool scene is very much like filming a love scene because, in a love scene or sex scene, the least interesting thing is the geographyówhatís going where and how? No one cares. What people really care about are the faces. The entire game was how much can I stay off the table and on the faces without having to show balls going into pockets. Iíve been on sets for 20 years, so I was pretty confident about working with a camera, actors and the crew.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What are some great movies you enjoyed that are also centered on pool?

CE: There are two spectacular pool movies: The Hustler and The Color of Money. I had to find a third way to the waterfall. I couldnít do it like The Hustler because they were shooting very traditionally and spoke to an era that has been long since gone. I couldnít do it like [The Color of Money] because I certainly donít have the time or the money. [Martin Scorsese] shot a whole shot every possible way.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Why didnít you cast yourself in the movie?

CE: The producers breathed a great sigh of relief when I said that I had no interest in being in the movie. I donít know how Helen Hunt or George Clooney did it. I would never be very uncomfortable directing myself. The only role I could have played would be David. If you see me as David, before I open my mouth, youíve already made a few assumptions if youíve seen any independent films [Iíve been in]: Iím probably a wiseass and, maybe, not a nice guy. Thatís just baggage that comes with it. None of it is necessarily true. If you have that response to David before he has opened his mouth, then Iíve hurt David [without giving] him a chance. Thatís why I went for Matt Ross because he has an amazing ability of being specifically funny to the person heís being funny to and no one else knows it and, inversely, being specifically very mean to a person with nobody knowing heís being mean. Only the kid knows that heís being mean, so that makes it worse. I have the dubious distinction of playing Mike Simms, whoís called a degenerate loser, but thatís just because the guy who was supposed to play Mike Simms couldnít make it that day, so I just said, ďScrew it. Iíll do it.Ē That I can do.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Did you allow the actors to contribute to the script in any way?

CE: If they ever said, ďLet me try it this wayĒ, absolutely. After 2 or 3 takes and itís not working, Iíd know itís not the actorís fault. It must be something on the page thatís not working. That was good to know. There [are] these little performances that I just adore, [such as] the kid in the donut shop. He has very little time [onscreen], but heís really able to swing for the fences and to bring something to this. Indie filmmaking should be about watching actors do interesting stuff. It should not be about watching them to stuff that youíve seen them to time and time againóthen itís just casting and thatís boring.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you choose Famke Janssen as Kailey?

CE: Famke is one of the most principled, honored and competitive people that I know. Sheís also very competitive. Sheís so competitive that there are times she had to miss pool shots and she was almost physically unable to do it. If we were making Westerns today, put that woman on a horse! Give her some guns! Let her go tame the west!

NYC MOVIE GURU: What valuable lessons did you learn as a first-time writer/director?

CE: I learned after pre-production that, really, my job is to make sure that everyone in the movie in all the departments were all telling exactly the same story. Once somebody tells slightly a different story, thatís when you run into trouble. Somebody would come up to you with a prop and the prop would be wrong, youíd be like ďThe propís wrong, but itís really important to know what you thought this was right because I really need to get you back into this story.Ē [Also], if thereís a debate on what story weíre telling, Iím going to break the tie.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you enjoy most about independent filmmaking?

CE: I find that the tribe notion of independent filmmaking is really nourishing. Thatíll get you through 18-hour days. As long as you feel like weíre all doing this together, youíre fine. The next film that I go do, Iíll try to bring back as many of these people as I can.

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