Amy Everson in "Felt"

AFI Fest ’14 Interview: Amy Everson and Jason Banker on Weaving an Indelible Experience with “Felt”

Amy Everson wasn’t feeling well as “Felt” came close to wrapping production. To say she gave her all to the film was an understatement, drawing upon a deeply painful personal past for the story of a young woman who keeps the world at arm’s length by creating costumes for herself that allow her to be someone else. But after lending her unique and inventive crocheted creations – often related to genitalia – to the film, not to mention some of her experiences and even her name, Everson was spent, feeling “shaky” and unable to eat because of a mysterious bug. Still, whatever was left, she was ready to give.

“She was a trooper, because I knew she was hurting,” recalls Jason Banker, who directed “Felt.” “When somebody is not feeling well, you don’t want to force them to do something, but she stuck with it…and some of the best things that she does in the film, I think, are in that final day’s worth of shooting.”

There’s no doubt that such commitment was necessary to make “Felt” as extraordinary as it is – for her troubles, Everson was honored with a much-deserved Best Actress Award at Fantastic Fest where the film premiered earlier this fall. But what’s beautiful about the film is how Everson and Banker combine their talents to create a one-of-a-kind horror film that’s intimate yet bold, offering an arresting study of recovering from psychological trauma at the hands of men that’s as visually potent as it is cerebrally stirring, particularly once Amy is shown to open herself up to the possibility of finding a connection with someone she meets at a bar (Kentucker Audley).

Shortly before the film made its West Coast debut at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles, Everson and Banker, along with Roxanne Lauren Knouse, who appears in the film as a model who befriends Amy, described how their own watering hole encounter led to the making of “Felt,” the immersive filmmaking process that led to such an indelibly moving experience, and what it’s been like to have people share their own experiences after seeing the film.

Amy Everson in "Felt"How did this collaboration come about?

Amy Everson: We just randomly met at a club and I introduced Banker and his filmmaker friend to some of my art.

Jason Banker: [Amy] was telling us about her art and we went back to her place. She took us through all the costumes and we were blown away. Me and my friend, who is a director as well,
just randomly shot something with her that we turned into a music video.

Amy Everson: Yeah, it wasn’t really intended to be a music video. I was just putting on some random costumes that they shot a bunch of footage.

Jason Banker: Then, a year-and-a-half went by and I kept thinking about her and making something more than just this video. One day, I just called her and asked, “Do you want to make a film with me?” She wanted to. That’s how it happened.

Amy, why was this something you wanted to do?

Amy Everson: I really liked [Jason’s] work from the music video and he basically proposed it as, “If you wanted to say anything to the world, what would it be?” I never really felt like I had a story worth telling. This story wasn’t even at the forefront of my mind. It just unfolded based on Banker following me with a camera and learning more about my life and how I interacted with people. I was at a point in my life where I was aimless and voiceless, and I was willing to just go along for the ride. I’m glad I did.

Was the art developed specifically for the film or did it already exist?

Jason Banker: I’d like to say it was made for the film, but it totally wasn’t. It was her world and when she opened it up and let us in to see what she was doing, it just resonated with me visually. As a filmmaker, you’re always looking for somebody that inspires you to want to make something, at least I do. Her artwork was super compelling, so I knew I had to do something with her.

Was it interesting for Amy to see how that art of yours fit into a narrative?

Amy Everson: Absolutely. We shot over a year or so, and [Jason] would fly out to San Francisco and shoot a little bit here and there. I really didn’t see where any of it was going. We had actors, of course, and there were scenes that we created and we played out, but in terms of exploring what my art meant to me, I don’t think I really had a clear understanding until I started getting in touch with “Why do I do it?” and how it fits into my life and how I interact with people. Even after seeing the end product and hearing people’s analysis [of it], it’s really hard to see objectively what it all means. For me, I’m just watching myself, like a home video and it’s through other people that I’m like, “Yeah. That is what it’s about.” I’m glad it makes sense.

If you weren’t that self-conscious, did that make it easier to act naturally on camera?

Amy Everson: I’m not sure if it’s harder or easier.

Jason Banker: It was. We started it with just [Amy] being herself. That’s the way I like to start as a documentary where you’re not interrupting anything that’s really going on and just let the person just be who they are. We’ll use a lot of that stuff, but then we slowly introduced what could be a story. Then there were scenes where she had to adopt a different persona for some of it, but it was a slow process. It wasn’t like, “Okay, now you’re going to act.”

Amy Everson: It’s a good introduction because Banker makes me feel comfortable in front of the camera. Then it just comes naturally.

Jason Banker: I knew she could pull it off because when we shot this music video, she was great on camera. I wasn’t worried. It was just putting in the work to go further with it.

Roxanne, how did you get involved in this?

Roxanne Knouse: Jason asked me to work with him a while ago, but it didn’t really work out and when he explained this project that’s going on with Amy, I really got behind it when I found out more and more what it’s about. I was really interested to see what was going on with her and her story. She seemed like a real person and [the subject] is something hugely important in my life as well, and wanted to showcase because I don’t think it’s really showcased that much in films. I thought [Amy] was a great voice to take that bull by the horns and do it up.

One of the great things Jason does as his own cinematographer is to shift perspectives within a scene or focus on different elements with the frame. Does that take a certain amount of planning or do you just do what’s instinctual?

Jason Banker: I prefer not to plan anything. That’s maybe my biggest flaw and my biggest strength at the same time. At certain times, Amy was like, “What are we even doing?” But I can see what’s working. I’m figuring it out as I’m shooting it, which is what the adrenaline rush for me is. It’s like, “We don’t have a plan. We’re going to throw elements together and see how they interact.” The scene in the hotel with the Australian guys was completely [improvised]. We just went to the hotel and we were like, “Let’s make something happen.” To me, that scene feeds into the style of the way that I like to work. Amy is great at just working with that. Even though it may be frustrating sometimes, she always pulls off miracles. Then when Roxanne came in, she brought that too.

Amy Everson: Everybody brings a part of themselves. It’s like the stone soup where everybody brings an ingredient and it becomes a whole. Of course, there’s the main chef here, but it works.

Jason Banker: The first scene with Roxanne, I just knew that I wanted a scene with a photographer and I had my ideas about the way that it could go, but they brought something way better than I was even thinking. That’s what I love. I enjoy that conversation you have in real time about what we’re making and people being like, “Well, I have this idea…” There was a couple different versions of that scene, but the one that’s in the film was the magic.

Amy Everson and Kentucker Audley in "Felt"Given the nature of the story, was it interesting to have the two main creative voices here be a man and a woman?

Jason Banker: I was totally out of my depth on many occasions making this film. But I enjoy somebody throwing something back at me. I set things up the way that I think, then the people I’m working with might say, “Oh, that’s totally bullshit.” I’ll listen to it and be like, “Okay, actually, you do have the better idea.” It was frustrating for me at times, because [Amy] would tell me I was wrong, but then there were things that I was just so happy that she inserted in the way that she did. That’s why I do give [Amy] a huge amount of credit for the voice of the film, because my voice is definitely present and it’s creating something that she didn’t realize was going to happen because she trusted me. At the same time, I was really trying to get her story out there and I wanted her to be as collaborative and as giving with that as possible. I’m really proud of the way that it worked out.

Amy Everson: Yeah. We butted heads plenty of times and we had different opinions, but that was a healthy discussion. That’s what made the film. It’s this struggle and conflict within my life that made me that much more fierce in the film. I’m dealing with someone who may not recognize immediately what it feels like to be a woman, but …

Roxanne Knouse: …is willing to learn.

Amy Everson: … is willing to learn and follow the story and document it. It’s that conversation that unfolds within the film more.

Does this film mean something different to you than when you first started it?

Jason Banker: I like not knowing necessarily what I’m going to get at the end of the day. That’s part of the reason why I’d prefer not to work with a script or really with any plan. I just wanted to discover what the film would be with [Amy]. That’s part of what I like about filmmaking is having a conversation with somebody, usually somebody who’s really lived something that they can reflect on and and say, “This is what I feel.”

Amy Everson: I had ideas when I started about what story I wanted to tell, but then as we were going along, I wasn’t sure if that story would translate. Seeing the product at the end has been completely different from what I had imagined from the beginning, but I’m glad it came out that way. During the course of filming, a lot of things were happening in my life that really blended into the story.

The reviews from Fantastic Fest elicited quite a few deeply personal responses to the film. What was it like to be embraced in this way?

Amy Everson: It’s been a huge honor because it’s a personal story, but then having people really understand and empathize and analyze it and really get what a struggle I’ve been through in my life and what a lot of women go through has been really moving because so much of our lives are built around silence and shame. For me, to have a voice and share it, then for people to say, “This is important. This is good” is just mind-blowing. The reception has been the most wonderful part of the process. Having people even approach me and say, “That really moved me personally,” and telling me about their personal stories has been an amazing experience.

Jason Banker: There is also this thing about me being a male director and telling this story that really touches women because Amy’s story and life resonated with me on a level that I don’t even know necessarily. I could connect with it and at the beginning, there was a lot of need to say, “Trust me. I’m going to do the best that I can to honor your story.” I’m just glad that it came out. To me, that’s the most important thing is that she’s happy.

“Felt” opens on June 26 in select theaters and will be available on Digital HD on July 21st.

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