Brad Saville Talks ‘Regretting Fish,’ Independent Filmmaking and 21st Century Moviegoing
Once a major Hollywood genre, the gangster film has become somewhat of a dying breed in Hollywood. Goodfellas (1990) was perhaps the last of its kind in this classic category, though films like The Departed (2006) and Public Enemies (2009) have drawn major numbers at the box office, providing some nostalgia for the 21st century filmgoer. In the past few years, action films, comedies and biopics have dominated the box office. It seems that we have traded in our bad boys and femme fatales for action heroes and romantic comedies. Luckily, independent films haven’t yet given up on film noir and criminals. John Hillcoat’s Lawless (2012) and Jim Mickle’s Cold In July (2014) are just a couple of examples of independent films that have not yet forgotten the thrill of the gritty underworld and the characters that inhabit it.
Brad Saville’s self-funded Regretting Fish gives us that same sort of nostalgia. Set in the present day, it tells the story of a criminal who finds himself on the run from his French drug cartel employers. The Huntington, West Virginia native, who is also a published novelist and playwright, founded Cadillac Films LLC in 2005 after moving to Brooklyn, New York, and has been creating innovative, invigorating and thought-provoking films ever since.
GALO recently got the opportunity to chat with Saville about his award-winning film Regretting Fish, which was shot for $10,000 and went on to win Best Screenplay and Best Feature at the Williamsburg International Film Festival. We also spoke about independent filmmaking and the state of moviegoing in our streaming society. Read on to find out what he had to say.
GALO: Thanks so much for taking the time out to speak with me about Regretting Fish and the other things that you are working on currently.
Brad Saville: Yeah, sure!
GALO: I really enjoyed Regretting Fish; the very dark and gritty tone of the film reminded me of the 1930s gangster films and 1940s film noir, such as The Public Enemy (1931) or Double Indemnity (1944). Were there any particular films that influenced this story?
BS: Yeah, I suppose the French riffs on those movies — pretty much all of [Jean-Pierre] Melville’s movies were very influential. I love the minimalism that he has. And also to some extent, and I know this sounds odd, but to some extent Sergio Leone — just in terms of the way things were framed and the music and things like that. But yes, absolutely, I wanted it to be [a sort of] throwback. I don’t really see the point of making a movie that’s already being made, especially with a small budget. In this industry if you’re working with a small budget, which we were (which was $10,000; we shot it in 12 days), you have to do something that nobody else is doing. As a director, I’m extremely big on style. I want people to know that I’m there — obviously, letting the actors do their thing. But I had done several hundred story boards, and we rehearsed for six months.
GALO: Oh wow!
BS: And also, I had worked with 80 percent of the actors in some capacity or another, whether it was on stage or whether it was in my first film, Williamsburg. And the other ones that I hadn’t worked with, I’d seen them. The only actors that we auditioned were Richard Brundage, Nick Flint, and Madeleine James, who plays Verity. Everybody else I had seen, and it was just a matter of calling them or approaching them after a play and saying, “Hey, listen, you’ve got this if you want to do it.” And they were all into it. And yeah, we rehearsed for six — no six months may be generous, let’s say four and a half. We rehearsed for four and a half months, which enabled us to knock out those long shots especially.
GALO: You guys moved very quickly!
BS: Oh yeah, we weren’t messing around. And also, I would say 40 percent of the footage that we had didn’t make it into the movie. The majority of it didn’t make it. It was heavily edited. The script is a lot different than the actual film.
GALO: Well, just to return to what you said earlier, I definitely saw that you put that auteur stamp on the film. It did really remind me of those films from the ’30s and ’40s. However, what I found so striking about Regretting Fish is the story of one man’s lapse in judgment, which quintessentially leads to a particular chain of events and eventually his demise. How was the idea born? Do you think that we all walk through life with certain choices having dire consequences?
BS: Well, I mostly wanted to do it about betrayal. The quote at the beginning of the movie is a quote of my grandfather’s that he told me when I was very young. Jack Evans is actually my grandfather. He told me at a very early age, “A split second of bad judgment can ruin your life forever.” But it’s also so interesting when that judgment comes out of the willingness to give someone the benefit of the doubt, or the willingness to reach out to someone that you want to say goodbye to before you leave town — or someone you just want to make an excuse to see again. And I love the idea of self-interests conflicting and how that results in bad things. Two people’s self-interests aren’t always mutualistic. So, I like that idea, and I also like the idea of being sold out by a woman, I’m not going to lie. There is some attractiveness to that. It reminded me of Mikey and Nicky (1976), starring [John] Cassavetes and Peter Falk. That movie was very influential to me. They are best friends, and that guy was totally set up by his best friend throughout the whole movie. But there was really no other option — there was really no other choice for Falk in that movie, but to sell Cassavetes up the river. But yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s philosophical as much as it is just an interesting conflict.
GALO: To go off of this conflict, Fisher Galloway, in your film Regretting Fish, steals half a million dollars from his employers and plots to leave the country. Do you feel that snap decisions and poor judgment often come out of desperate situations? How does the film speak to those who turn to a life of crime when they see no other alternative?
BS: Well, another really big part of it for me is that I really respect criminals in that they’re honest.
GALO: Some definitely are. And they can be very smart also in their own conniving way.
BS: Yes. And there is a difference between someone who is openly doing crime and someone who is a corrupt politician or something like that — [someone] who is pretending that they aren’t a criminal, when in fact they are. And to me, in this world today and I know this sounds horrible, but criminals are the only honest people out there. Also, since I was a kid, if my parents told me not to do something, I was going to do it.
GALO: Of course, kids like to push things to the limits.
BS: And also the idea of getting [one] over on them. How can I get away with this? I got into a lot of trouble when I was a kid. So I’ve always been fascinated with criminals and crimes. And crime is addictive — if you do something, you get addicted to [it]. There is nothing easier than easy money. There is nothing more addictive than easy money. So, if anything, it’s an ode to criminals. I respect them, and I guess… I hope that answers your question.
GALO: Yes. I really like the fact that you said crime is addictive. It’s kind of like prostitution. It’s obviously not easy (in respect to the emotional toil it has on an individual) but it kind of is in a way, and I’ve always been interested in that subject as well.
BS: Yes, it’s like what Ray Liotta says in Goodfellas (1990), [something along the lines of] when you get into that, you view everyone else as suckers. You’re like, “These people are idiots, they don’t have the balls to go out to do what I do and take what I want.” Which is fundamentally what people do, but they do it in a roundabout way. But this is a dying breed, so you don’t really have gangsters anymore and things like that. We still have drug dealers and people who just refuse to do what society tells them to do. And society rewards criminals. It does.
GALO: Criminals are extremely glamorized.
BS: But it also rewards them in a backwards way. The way our system is set up, it’s set up for people who do not respect the rules to get to the top. Our society is, in a way, I don’t want to say “survival of the fittest,” but rather set up for survival of the financially fittest. So, you can’t be honest in that situation. No one who is making millions is honest. They are breaking some rules. So, to me, at least a criminal is doing it honestly. [Chuckles] As backwards as that sounds.
GALO: I also want to talk about the women in Regretting Fish. There are only three in the film and their lives are greatly affected by the decisions of the men around them. However, Verity knowingly plays an active role in Fisher’s deception. How important was it for you that she be a character who acted with intention? She’s not the femme fatale that we are accustomed to seeing in films about the underworld, but she is very aware of what she is doing.
BS: Oh, because of intrigue, deception, excitement! She’s been in a marriage. She loves [Fisher] but she can’t do it anymore. It’s not haphazard that she’s had a bad fight with her husband and fortuitously [Fisher] calls her and asks her for some help. And so, maybe she’s fed up with where she’s at now and she yearns for the excitement of being with a different kind of guy; a not so safe guy. Girls like bad boys to some extent, I think. [Chuckles] So I would say that, and also the quote doesn’t only apply to Fisher, it applies to her as well. She made a mistake and if she would have stayed home, the movie would not have happened. He would have left town, he would have gotten out, and everybody would have been fine. But that didn’t happen. We wouldn’t have had a movie if she wasn’t active; the plot wouldn’t have been there.
GALO: I really enjoyed her character and the control she took.
BS: Yes, Verity is great.