From joy to despair in a matter of seconds as a family congratulatory gathering becomes a tense affair in a hospital waiting room. A life is at stake, and 20 years are about to be bridged. First time feature film director and screenwriter Peyv Raz establishes the pace early with Clarity on as two cultures, two families, are forced to unite under potentially tragic circumstances. The characters are laid bare early on, huge decisions are to be made, and long lost secrets unraveled, a whiff of deceit wafts through in moments, as does the harsh reality of the two worlds. What does transpire is likely a direction you were not expecting. And that was Raz’s intention.
Having been too busy to even catch Dunkirk in IMAX yet, Raz claims a love for Christopher Nolans work, “those movies, like Memento, got me hooked on the style.”. The film-maker, who was born in England, wanted to break into the film business “from a different angle. Being a starving artist didn’t appeal to me. I did not want to be broke. If there is one industry you don’t want to get into if you’re desperate, it is this one.”. Wanting to get himself set in life first, a friend of Raz told him “All you need to make it in this industry, is a script they like, and money.” – and he went from there, and soon met industry folk, “and managed to sneak in. I spent 18 years writing 23 screenplays, and I made about 40 shorts,” continues Raz, “And eventually got close to 40 and thought, I am or am not going to do it.”. The producer that read the script, and liked it, helped raise the money to get Clarity off the ground – “We put together a very difficult, and short, shooting schedule, to see if I could get it done, that I could prove I could make a feature film.”. Now, with Clarity released on VOD tomorrow (Tuesday 22nd August), Raz is looking forward to pre-production this coming November on his next project, Possessions, the start of a trilogy, a supernatural thriller – also a graphic novel to be released at the same time.
“When I wrote Clarity I was trying to make Possessions.” he begins explaining the motivation behind it, “One day my son was sitting next to me on the couch, and on the TV came this kind of news / documentary about this problem were 100,000 children a year are being kidnapped from third world country resorts, and sold to other countries for illegal adoptions, and God knows what else.”. The screenwriter’s creative juices flowed, but with a close, moral tag attached – what would that be like if it happened to his son? “I started forming a story and a narrative about what would happen. And then to actually find the parents. I came up with the story – my son was the motivation for that.”.
With a couple of recognizable faces in the small cast, including Nadine Velazquez (Catalina in My Name is Earl), and Dina Meyer (Saw, Friends, Starship Troopers), Raz met a Scott David (has cast Criminal Minds, 2012), who said “I like the script”, and he brought up Dina Meyer. Raz goes on to add that “at the same time one of my biggest allies in Hollywood was George Folsey, who worked with John Landis as an editor, and producing partner. They did a string of films, like Animal House, Coming to America, Trading Places. And he knew Nadine from another film he was editing. He said she would be perfect to play Carmen.”- they met, and spoke about the role. Raz was in the right place with the right people.
Asked how he directed his performers for the more emotive, dramatic scenes, Raz told me: “I would spend as much time privately with them as I can, try not to have them interact with each other too much prior to the scenes. We go over the intent of the character in the scene, allow them to change some of the dialogue as long as they don’t change key words or lines, and change the intent of the scene. And they appreciate that. They can formulate it in a way that they think how they would react as the character, and not be so stringent.”. Raz’s own directing style means he would spend a lot of time prior to shooting with the DP, allowing the technical staff more say on the set so that he can spend more time with the actors.
Clarity is impressive in its color palette, the contrast of the sparse white / green medical architecture of Las Vegas, to the glowing, burning oranges of the heat of Mexico. A very intentional execution from Raz, “I felt Mexico was different from shooting in Las Vegas. We went to the slums, a very rural area, the people there were very warm, but I felt the struggles they go through are very different from ours.”. I commented that is must have been tricky to balance the time drifts as well as the change of location. But that came in the writing, so pacey at times, I was not surprised to hear how much they had to chop to make it so tight.
“Some days I got to the set, and the schedule was so tough to shoot, I was changing three pages of screenplay into one, rewriting some scenes right there and then.” a humble Raz explains, “This was while we were shooing and then in the edit with George. I was so fortunate to be able to sit with him for months to work on the pacing. His feel towards films is to keep them moving, The first time I gave him Possessions to read he said ‘that’s 192 pages! This is not The Hobbit, this is a horror film’ – that’s the way I write, so I need people like that around me to keep me from dragging things along.”.
And then we have that ending. What we were building up to all along. “We had five or six screenings, and there was a lot of talk about the ending.”, Raz goes on to reveal his importance for story, “For me, the way I write, is to write the entire story first, then worry about the dialogue, the voices. I actually wrote the ending before everything else.”. Raz ha a general belief that in life there is always a price to pay – “and that is the moral of the story at the end. The film has been shown in Spain, and people were asking me about the ending, and making outlandish theories. It was fascinating giving people something to talk about.”.
Although the varying strands of drama are elevated to a captivating level in Clarity, the plot rolls along conveniently. And with the mystery of the ending (there will be no spoilers here today), I was reminded of the suspense, melodramas of the 50s perhaps, not quite Hitchcockian, but still wondered if Raz was influenced by any of this era: “Absolutely. Film is about entertainment, not just art. My responsibility is to entertain, while giving over my voice – and you have to have a good ending. For me, every script I have written that people liked, it was because it takes them through a kind of journey, that they are not sure where it is going, and where it ends up might not be what the average person thought it was. That’s not intentional. Those are my favorite type of films. Not necessarily with a happy ending, but I have always gravitated to films like that.”. I look forward to seeing where Payv Raz takes us next.