Ido Fluk knows how to make an entrance, if “The Ticket” is any indication. A drama starring Dan Stevens as a blind man who can suddenly see, taking his life in directions no one thought possible for better and worse, the Israeli director’s second feature opens in such daring fashion, placing the audience in the shoes of its main character as he regains his sight, that all possibilities truly seem possible as Fluk awakens all of James’ senses and yours as well. What he does with it in “The Ticket” is almost fable-like, following James as he upends a comfortable life with a caring wife (Malin Akerman) and low-level job at a call center to pursue what he envisions as something greater, hawking real estate that could put him in a different tax bracket and a different life than the one he becomes dissatisfied with upon seeing what it is.
There is a religious fervor to “The Ticket,” a description that seems superficial at first since James’ regained vision is best explained as a miracle, yet goes far deeper as Stevens brings a confidence and conviction to the role that evolves into nothing short of a fire-and-brimstone preacher and Fluk and co-writer Sharon Mashihi put James on a path towards a reckoning, pitting the humble pleasures of nature against the artificial delights that suddenly give James a very real sense of self-worth in a battle of his soul. The film hardly makes it easy on him, with the confluence of sun-kissed cinematography and Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ inventively earthy score evoking the pull James feels from the ground up.
Like one of the film’s producers Oren Moverman (director of “The Messenger” and “Time Out of Mind”), Fluk is able to find an engaging narrative within an expansive, immersive experience and shortly before the film makes its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, he spoke of how the story was inspired by his first film “Never Too Late,” creating something audiences could get lost in, and what he learned about what the blind can see.
I was sitting in a sound room mixing my previous film, “Never Too Late,” an Israeli road movie that I made, and for some reason, the picture wasn’t working. We found ourselves sitting in the dark and we just heard the scene without picture. There was something so magical about it that I just had this idea of starting a movie that had a visually impaired person and then he starts seeing how that would change his life. I called my writing partner Sharon and I pitched it to her and she was really excited, so we started working on it. As we kept writing, we discovered that it’s not really a film about blindness so much but a film about someone that’s given a chance to do better or go somewhere where they couldn’t go before and how that effects them. We were also writing this when the U.S. was still in recession and there were all these billboards that came up, saying “Cash for Houses.”. All these neighborhoods in Brooklyn were filled with flyers advertising deals, so all of that fed into the script.
Did the scale of this project and shooting in America make it any different?
Yeah, there were a lot really good things that I learned doing this tiny film in Israel that I tried to bring over to this bigger American production. [“Never Too Late”] was actually the first Israeli crowdsourced film – with e-mail chains – before Kickstarter and all that stuff [became] a popular way to raise money for small films, and we got a very, very tiny amount of money and we made this little film. When setting this movie up, I tried to keep it just as intimate and small within the bigger production [apparatus] because I thought worked so well in the small film, so we shot a lot of the intimate scenes as if they were sex scenes. We cleared the set, we pushed video village really far away and we always tried to keep everything very intimate and contained. I think it really helped everyone’s performance.
It’s interesting how you express perspective in the film through camerawork. What were the general ideas behind the visual approach?
Zack [Galler, the cinematographer] and I spent a lot of time coming up with an arc for the camera work – the way we lit scenes, and how we would place a camera within them. We wanted it to mirror the journey that the character goes through. In the first act, he’s discovering the world and it’s a little shaky. The focus is wavy and sometimes overexposed as he’s getting used to this world. Then slowly, this character goes through a transformation and begins a journey into a more ruthless type of being, so the camera starts acting like that as well. We also cut the film in a slightly different way and the color changes. It was all meant to support this idea that this guy is changing because of the miracle. It’s his experience.
The opening sequence is quite striking, but it requires patience since you experience the same sensation as the character of only gradually being able to see. How did that come about?
It was a lot of exploration. In the script, that whole part was just told in black at first. Then when we started exploring, one of the things I realized is that black reads really well on the page, but in the theater, there’s no real black. Even if you just show black through a cinema projector, it just means faint light hitting a white screen, so there’s still an amount of light and you have the exit sign glowing [in the theater], so it’s really hard to recreate. I couldn’t put the spectators in pitch darkness to give the effect of being without sight.
So what we started experimenting with all these different kinds of effects. Sharon and I researched what it was that visually impaired people see or how they experience sight and what we learned is that [for] a lot of visually impaired people, it’s not like they just don’t see anything. It’s an incredibly variable condition. People have different types of blindness, so a lot of people see spots and colors, lights and [different] shades. They have a version of sight that they experience the world by. They [experience] the general ambiance of a room, so I really tried hard to recapture that.
The score adds to that experience. What was it like to work with Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans?
Danny and Saunder are incredible and it was really special to work with them. It actually took a long time to compose [the score for] this movie — to find the right voice, the right instruments and then to find a way to insert these points of punctuation, which I think they ended up doing with woodblocks. It adds so much and it’s really unique. I feel like their music is a sonic depiction of what’s going on in that guy’s head, racing forward to achieve his new goal.
Was there any significance to the colors of green and gold? Throughout the film, those seem to be the ones you gravitate towards?
There’s a lot of nature in the film and I think there’s almost a tug of war between the man-made spaces and the natural setting that this character sometimes runs away from or finds peace in. It was really important to show the contrast between where he comes from and these very clinical, colder spaces that his newfound drive for success leads him to. It was important to bring nature into the story [because while] it’s a story about a man looking for an answer about what happened to him, it’s about his relationship to God in a way.
Occasionally, the main character will tell himself or others an anecdote involving God’s will and a lottery ticket as a comparison of fate and chance. Did that come from somewhere?
It’s this story that my dad used to tell me all the time to teach me a lesson about trying. “You can’t win if you don’t try.” It stuck with me and it seemed so relevant to this story, but it also seemed to have a different meaning every time it’s told in the movie.
The way that the film was able to tell a story in such a way that never announced itself as such reminded me of the directorial work of one of the film’s producers, Oren Moverman. Was he a creative influence?
Definitely. Oren has been a friend of mine for many years. We met more than 10 years ago when I interviewed him and we just kept in touch. He was kind and nurturing enough to take this project on and to make it happen, but also be a voice in the filmmaking and offer his point of view on things. Really, without him and his producer Lawrence Inglee, this film doesn’t exist, so I’m super thankful for them.