Noah Baumbach Marriage Story gave the audience a view into a family traversing the obstacles of divorces. The film reinstated with so many people and Robert Machoian’s The Killing of Two Lovers should be no different. The film starring Clayne Crawford and Sepideh Moafi features a relationship on the brink of total desegregation. The performance of the leads and the supporting cast helped elevate the script—also written by Machoian’s—to a degree that makes it poetic and a lesson on bonding.
I was able to talk to Machoian and Crawford on what into making this film that will leave a lasting effect on anyone that watches the film.
The Killing of Two Lovers starts with a really intense scene with David [Clayne Crawford] holding a gun. Was the movie always intended to start at that level?
Robert Machoian: Yeah. Yeah. I started the scriptwriting process in the middle of it. The Date scene, initially, was a short. But then as I expanded the story out to cover feature, I knew I wanted to start the film right outta the gate. You know, with the audience understanding the stakes and the danger of the character that they were going to follow. Funny enough with the first cut of it, many people recommended that we cut it out and actually start at the truck scene.
They were like, “No, don’t do that. You gotta start at the truck where he [David] sees Derek come out of the house.” Luckily, Clayne was the investor, to be honest.
And he was like, “No, dude, let’s just roll the dice and risk it.” And I was like, “Let’s do it,” cause I thought it was very powerful. I’ll admit it was very satisfying at Sundance. As the weapon comes out and to have the audience gasped we knew they were with us; that they were going to take the ride that the story was gonna take them on. So yeah. I thought it was important.
Anyone with a set of eyes will notice that the film was shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio. An interesting choice when it comes to filmmaking but the director explains the importance of this decision and the challenges that choice brought forward.
I noticed that The Killing of Two Lovers is shot in 4:3. Why did you shoot in that aspect ratio?
Robert Machoian: Yeah, initially when Oscar [Ignacio] and I discussed the film, we actually set the aspect ratio to 1.66:1–which is what I read–that’s my favorite aspect ratio. But as we were shooting the car scenes with or the trucks scenes with David, we ended up going 4:3 because it cut off everything but his face. You really just had to experience the emotional turmoil in his face and Clayne was doing such a great job at us understanding it. I mean, it’d be great to do a short film with him just on his face and try and tell a narrative through his emotional reactions. Cause he’s so good at it.
We knew that it would confine and you wouldn’t be able to see in front or behind. Which in photography means if you cram somebody in the frame, they cannot see their future and he very much cannot see his future. It felt really appropriate. So we readjusted and decided on the 4:3 aspect ratio.
Yeah, I’ve done a bit of photography myself. I always noticed that whenever the shot is closed in like that, it allows the viewer to hyper-focus on the characters and their emotions.
Robert Machoian: Yeah. And to be honest, also from a photographic standpoint, it’s more of a photographic aspect ratio. So you can use the rules of photography composition to apply it and to set up the shots, which I’m a photographer and just love that side of it. I’ll be curious with full-frame now. We just thought of a film that is full frame. That’s actually a 2:3 aspect ratio, which is 35mm aspect ratio. So I’m curious how that will change the storytelling when we’ll be using all the principles of photography.
Where did the idea for The Killing of Two Lovers come from?
Robert Machoian: Yeah. The idea was really born out of friends of mine and marriages ending and the weird ways in which the marriages ended, or how some of them worked out. I remember having phone calls with a friend of mine who would just say everything that was going on in their marriage during this period of struggle. And I’d be like, “Get out of there, I’ll drive down right now and get my truck and help you load up. You need to get out of there.” And then not hearing from her for a few weeks and then reaching back out and be like, “Hey, are you okay? What’s going on?” And they’re, “Oh yeah, we worked it out.” And I’m like, “What?”
For me as this outsider was so very challenging cause I’m not hearing the whole story, right? I’m hearing her side and I’m not hearing how they worked through it and how they worked it out. And that was very interesting to me and complex. And so it made me want to explore that. I knew going in that I didn’t want it to be a divorce film. I wanted it to be a film about trying to navigate the space between two people who do love each other, but different things are happening.
Improvising is nothing unheard of in filmmaking. The character interaction in the movie appeared to have a level of improvisation that gave me the urge to ask Machoian if that was the case.
I got a feeling while watching The Killing of Two Lovers, that some of the dialogue and interaction were improvised. Was that the case?
Robert Machoian: Yeah, for the most part, they stuck strictly to the script. Most of that stuff is written. With the kids–for example–my boys were the actors and I’ve done things with them before. They know what the dialogue is and they know that what’s most important is being present. And the actors as well–Clayne, Sepideh [Moafi], [Chris] Coy–they knew we were doing long takes and that I wanted the long take. So, they were very much kind of working off of the script. But if something occurred, if they forgot a line or whatever was occurring, they knew that what was most important was to be present in the scene. And so if it took a turn, they had to kind of respond or react to that.
They couldn’t be like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot my line,” because we’re four minutes into a take. It’s like, “Make the take the best take and we’ll probably do it again, but don’t call cut and like ruin it.” I mean, it takes a lot of emotional strain. One of the things I learned through this process with actors is while they know that they’re acting, they’re emotional fluids in their body do not know that they’re acting or don’t respond as they’re acting.
When they get angry, they’re getting angry. They’re not pretending they’re angry. And so there’s not 40 takes we can do on this. They knew that each take, they had to kind of push it. There is fluidity there, but for the most part, they followed the script.
Since we’re talking about takes in The Killing of Two Lovers, I want to talk about the Rocket Launching scene. It’s done in a single take and it’s so emotional, especially from the daughter. Was it difficult to complete that scene?
Robert Machoian: No, it actually–we were supposed to dedicate a whole day to that scene because we knew how complicated it would be. It ended up snowing in the morning for a few hours. It snowed and we were like, “Holy crap. What are we going to do?” So, we switched gears and we shot all of the stuff with the father inside. And during the time that we were shooting that, the sun came out and melted all the snow and we had a little bit of time.
That was on the schedule and we needed to try and shoot it. We went back out there and it was probably around 2:30. We had about it–might’ve been three. Anyways, we had maybe about 30 minutes to set up and to shoot it. And what’s in the film is the first take. Because that’s all–we got one more take, but the other take, the sun went past the mountains. Lighting-wise, it just wasn’t right. We were just lucky that the actors were really kind of understood and that we had kind of spent time together and that we had rehearsed the scene a little bit before we started shooting.
Clayne Crawford has been known to become one with characters by truly spending time getting in the mindset of the role. The Alabama-born actor shared with me the difficulties of getting The Killing of Two Lovers off the ground and the importance of building a family dynamic with his cast.
The first five minutes of The Killing of Two Lovers, you’re kind of jogging for a bit and I’m a big guy and I would be winded by that time. So, how many takes did you guys do to get that scene done?
Clayne Crawford: Well, we had 12 days and $32,000. We tried to shoot the first take on our golf cart, which only worked 45% of the time. The golf cart was running, but it actually had a flat tire. So we then tried to use the van to get the shot and kind of pan and kind of do the follow-along. So we had two takes at it. So yeah, I didn’t have to worry about being too winded for that. I don’t know if you remember, but I had a pretty slow pace getting down the driveway. I wanted to make sure the van could kind of keep track of me.
What attracted you to this role?
Clayne Crawford: Robert [Machoian] and I have been trying to make a film together for 10 years. We were kind of going the traditional route. We were taking material and to executives and trying to get funding and no one would buy into what it was we were trying to do. I mean, we had some notes that were, “This is boring.” We had some people say, “This isn’t a movie. This is an exploration into marriage.” Some people–most people, everyone–but one of the investors said you got to cut the first scene.
I just said, “Look, I’m going to fund this thing,” and again, yes, the material was amazing, but I said, “I’m going to fund a movie.” I told Robert that first. “Because I want to make the movie with you, I’m going to pay for it.” And then we took the journey because I only had 50 grand. I was like, “Look, I’ll give you 50 grand. Let’s see what we can do with it. If we f**k it up, it’s not that big of a deal.” And he goes, “Well, we’ll take the draft–” and I read it. It was great but it was a short and it was essentially that last scene of the film when David goes to picks up and pick up his children. I said, “What if we build on this?”
Robert knowing kind of the limitations that we were under financially, went in and wrote the script. And I fell in love with David. As a father and as someone who’s been married for 15 years and been with my wife for almost 20. I could understand where David was coming from because David had nothing else. David was not someone who was clearly career-driven. He even says in the car was Sepideh [Moafi]–Nicky, his wife–he says, “I wish I could’ve had the children. That way you would have made partner by now.” I think that was quite telling that he loves being a father so much that he physically, maybe even wishes that he could have carried these children. Is that to create a more closer bond? My brain went out of control. Like, was he thinking that he wished that he could have breastfed these children?
I’ve never thought about “carrying” my own child. I’m so grateful to my wife, but it opened my eyes to where this guy was coming from. And if you took that away from him, what kind of energy that would generate? I would imagine you would be dealing with a human being that was not himself. So, I love that Robert opened the film the way that he did because we get to see him with his foot on the pedal. Like, I mean, standing upon it. He is flooring it. And now we’re going to pull back and start to see who he really is and why he’s been pushed to such extremes. But that’s all a very interesting retelling.
Another thing to note about the film is the amazing performance by the cast. The performances all around were genuine and fully believable, to say the least. I wouldn’t be surprised if Crawford or Moafi were on the receiving end of many accoladed for their acting in The Killing of Two Lovers.
The relationship portrayal between David and Nikki came off very naturally. What went into accomplishing that notion because you and Sepideh Moafi clicked like you two were married for years.
Clayne Crawford: We shot in a small town in Kanosh, Utah population, 350, and there was nothing in that town, but a mercantile. There was one gas station and it was connected to the three-bedroom motel where are my actors stayed. The town itself is I think, one mile in diameter and there’s nothing within 45 miles of any direction. So, we were kind of isolated in this little space. That meant when we weren’t eating and when we weren’t sleeping or shooting, we were rehearsing. And look, not to belittle it, but that’s kind of our job, right? Our job is to create relationships. I mean, that’s what filmmaking is all about is the director has got to create a bubble or a world that we’re immersed in.
Then the actors have to create connections in which we can kind of relate them for our own lives and follow quotes and the arts that precede. We were fortunate enough to be again in this isolated environment and I was fortunate enough to have actors that played ball and that they came in knowing what this was. I’ll say this, Robert’s children play my children in the film. His youngest, Jonah “Bug”, from the moment Sepi walked in, climbed up into her lap, and fell asleep–that’s day one. He gets in her lap after we eat dinner and goes to sleep in her lap.
I think the point I’m trying to make is that we all understood what we needed to do for the audience to buy that we were a true family and the environment provided that, obviously, without any distractions. Then Robert created an environment for us to really live and breathe by having those beautiful frames and without having cuts. He just allowed us to live inside of these little frames and we knew what our parameters were. I think that benefited the storytelling.
Robert Machoian‘s The Killing of Two Lovers is out now in limited release and on-demand.