Set in the possibly not too distant future, “We’ve Forgotten More Than We Ever Knew” is a post-apocalyptic science fiction drama involving three main characters. No character has a name nor a defined concrete history of who they are or where they have come from. As such, the characters have developed stories for themselves and dreams of a world they wish to seek. The film stars Louise Krause as The Woman, Aaron Stanford as The Man, and of course Doug Jones as The Man From The Pool. When The Man and The Woman, who had been stranded and living in survival mode in a forest, come upon an abandoned hotel, they are presented with an idea of what the modern world is like. It molds and shapes their response to time and human nature itself. The Woman discovers The Man In The Pool, a human figure who seems sentient and yet cannot move or speak of his own volition. Enthralled at meeting someone else, the woman becomes enamored with The Man In The Pool and is eager to tell stories to him. Through her care and conversation, The Man In The Pool comes to ‘life’ and, uncaring for her own stories, has an agenda to wrap her up in his own.
Webmistress Diane Shreve had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas Woodrow, the writer and director of the film.
Diane: This was the first feature length film you’ve ever made. How did creating this picture differ from previous projects you’ve done in the past?
Thomas: Before starting to write and direct, I produced lots of shorts and a few features. From producing, I really learned that film-making, like so many creative endeavors, is fundamentally an act of faith. You have to believe you’ll be able to start it, to do it, to finish it. And you have to have faith that someone will care about the thing when you’re done—or not care yourself if they don’t. If you need a guarantee of some kind, you’ll never even begin. You just have to take the leap.
But producing, at least at the independent level, is primarily about enabling someone else’s vision—helping clarify it, ensuring it has the resources it needs to find its expression, protecting it from being compromised by outside influences and providing a pathway for it to meet the world.
I went to film school originally to write and direct and really wanted to get back to that. So a few years ago, I started writing stuff again: short, long, screenplays, prose; just six months of writing until I knew it was time to make something. And for lack of a better means of deciding what to make, I woke up one morning and just called it: “I’m going to make the very first thing that comes into my head right now.” Not that I thought it would be so brilliant, but rather that it was more important that I make something at that point than exactly what I made.
Coming around to the feature was similar. I wrote and wrote until I got sick of writing and one day, I just decided the idea I came up with that afternoon was going to be the one. Had to be, because, as absurd as it sounds, “if you never make something, you never make something.”
This is back to the lesson from producing about creative faith, really. When you’re trying to do something like make a film, you can’t know everything. At a certain point, you have to just take the leap.
Diane: In today’s day and age, the post-apocalypse is a fairly common genre that filmmakers explore. However, your film has a rather unique portrayal of what that means. What drew you to this genre, and the way in which you told it?
Thomas: The original inspiration for the film was actually visiting the old Grossinger’s resort in the Catskills, a location very similar to the one where we ultimately shot. Going there, the sense of fallen grandeur was moving, sad and very evocative. Once upon a time, this place hosted thousands of people, was a destination for folks from all up and down the eastern seaboard. Sinatra played here. The mafia hung out here. And now there are vines growing through the windows and deer wandering through the ballroom.
The type of apocalypse didn’t interest me as much. Was it nuclear? Environmental? Biological? The questions that some (most?) post-apocalyptic stories feel bound to address.
I was more interested in the question of people being kind of marooned outside of history, without knowing where they’d been or even really who they are. Because I sometimes do feel sort of like that: here I am walking down the street, in this conversation, sitting in this chair. Do I really know what I’m doing here? Where I came from? Where I’m going? We have stories about those things, but are those stories true?
So then, the movie becomes about the necessity for story. If we don’t have it, we invent it for ourselves. And then, of course, what if your story about yourself gets radically challenged by outside factors? Like a set of mysterious Buildings that might or might not be part of the story you’ve been telling?
Diane: If there is an overall and encompassing emotion to the film, I’d say that it might be the power of loneliness. Do you agree with that statement, and what other powerful emotions do you feel are at play with the three characters?
Thomas: I think that’s right, in many ways. Loneliness and communication and the quest for connection. And the need for listening and empathy if we want to have that connection.
For me the form that takes is a crisis in a relationship, a point where we suddenly question everything: do I love you? Do you love me? Is this what I’ve thought it was? And ultimately, do we want to break up or stay together? And if the latter, on what terms?
Diane: How did you come to know Doug Jones, who plays The Man In The Pool?
Thomas: I had originally written the role with a particular dancer in mind, who was very long, lean and gaunt. And had written the role, obviously, to be without dialogue and entirely physical—an almost impossibly “tall” order.
The dancer didn’t work out for a number of reasons and we were already in prep in the Catskills when Doug was introduced to me by Michael Chandler, our assistant director, who had known Doug from a film that he’d done with him at Ball State University (“My Name Is Jerry”).
Of course, I knew Doug’s work with Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my favorite films of all time), but I had no idea what he looked like underneath the make-up. But the moment Chandler showed me a photo, it was one of those amazing moments where everything clicks together. Seeing Doug, that extraordinary face with such depths of empathy in those eyes, I instantly thought: that’s him, that’s the Man from the Pool.
You’d think I must have written the role specifically for Doug because in retrospect it’s entirely possible he’s the only living actor who could have played it. But I just got very, very lucky.
Diane: While there’s something unsettling about all of the characters, there’s something extremely ominous about Doug’s character. As a director, what was it like working with Doug to bring about this mysterious quality?
Thomas: In writing the script, I thought of the Man from the Pool as a real person (or being, at least) who had a rich, internal life and, if we could have heard his internal monologue, would have been totally sympathetic for the audience, perhaps even more so than the Man or the Woman.
So talking through that inner life was a lot of what Doug and I focused on, not unlike how you’d do with a speaking character. What’s he trying to do in this scene? How’s he trying to do it? Of course, the Man from the Pool has very few tools to accomplish his goals for most of the story, so that’s where Doug’s genius for silent communication came in and just the power of that extraordinary face and body.
Somehow, and I still don’t understand how he’s doing it after having literally watched it hundreds of times except to describe it as literal magic: he’s able to communicate something both specific and profound through the lens of the camera, simply by thinking a thought.
Diane: Was there a particularly challenging piece to shoot between Doug and the lead actress, Louisa Krouse?
Thomas: The hardest scene was the dance scene because we had so little time. It was at the very end of the schedule and as often happens at the ends of schedules of independent films, it got crunched. I’d had in mind that we would have a very elaborately choreographed number with this intricate storyboard, but we never had the time to truly choreograph it and it became clear the storyboard was going to be impossible days before we shot it.
So ultimately, we were forced to take another leap of faith and Doug, Louisa, the SteadiCam op, Devin, and I more or less improvised it on the day. And although it was exhausting and very difficult, especially for them, I’m not sure it wasn’t for the best. It forced me as the storyteller to focus on the emotion of the scene, the performances and what I absolutely needed, rather than obsessing over the technical elements. And with their talent and amazing commitment under trying circumstances, I think we pulled it off.
Diane: Are there any silly stories or ‘bloopers’ involving Doug that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
Thomas: Let’s just say that during the scene where Louisa has her head in Doug’s lap at the bottom of the pool, the sound of an involuntary bodily function was heard, which interrupted a take and started both Doug and Louisa on a laughing spree that stopped the shoot for a good two minutes.
Diane: Overall, what do you want audiences to take away from the film?
Thomas: I really wanted to pose questions for the audience more than give anybody answers, because my experience of life is asking questions and not having answers. I hate it when movies or stories try to give me answers they don’t really have or haven’t earned.
But if there’s anything I, myself, have tried to embrace as I’ve worked through making this film, it’s probably a kind of affirmation or gratitude for the way things are and what we have. We can always imagine a “better” version of our circumstances, our partners, our lives, but in doing so we’re in a way negating what they actually are. Which is usually more fascinating and beautiful than what we can merely imagine.