Director and Actor Mark Webber premiered his new film Flesh and Blood at SXSW earlier this month; a docu-style film which stars his own family and blurs the line between fact and fiction. I sat down with Mark, his mother Cheri Honkola, brother Guillermo Santos, and actress Madeline Brewer (Orange Is the New Black) to talk about the film, which we reviewed HERE.
Congratulations on the film. One thing I was immediately curious about was the writing process behind the film. Is this something that you do in a collaborative sense on set? Is it all really mapped out beforehand? Or is it a bit of both?
Mark Webber: It’s totally both. It’s a whole lot of mapping out before. My mantra is like preparation to let go. So the more we prepare on the back end, the more we can really let go and sit in the moment. So I was pretty meticulous with this treatment that I came up with and set down. I met with Madeline and we talked about kind of the intentions of what our relationship was supposed to represent in the film.
Cheri Honkola: With me, he kind of took it minute by minute…
Like on set, or in the lead up…
Cheri Honkola: No. On set. I never knew what direction we were going into, but I love him and I trust him so I was willing to do that. And I, when I learned that he was going to see his Dad for the first time, that was a difficult pill to swallow, just because I’m his Mum and I’m protective of him. I’ve been protective of him since he was five. Maybe since birth. So that was a hard thing. But at the end of the day he was right, because I’ve always raised my children and taught them that they can love who they want to love. They can be with who they want to be with and it’s important for them to forgive people and to love themselves.
So when you saw those scenes with Mark and his father, were they hard to watch?
Cheri Honkola: It was incredibly difficult because the first time I saw it was in a theatre yesterday with a bunch of people.
You hadn’t let her watch it before hand?
Mark Webber: No. No.
You were really keeping your cards to your chest.
Mark Webber: Yeah.
Cheri Honkola: Because he’s smart and because he knows me too. So that was difficult. However, I’m incredibly proud of him because the way he handled everybody in the film, it was in a very dignified way and …
You’re saying he’s a good director.
Cheri Honkola: He’s a great director.
Mark Webber: Thanks Mom.
Cheri Honkola: He’s a great director.
Mark Webber: Thanks. Yeah, there was a lot of trust. There’s a lot of trust there and that’s necessary in order to kind of lean into and explore these really emotional moments. I kept putting off the scene where me and my Mum had to get into an argument. I think what I’m most proud of in this film, is that it does really successfully blur the lines between reality and fiction, which is really kind of blurring the staging and the filmmaking part of it.
We shot that argument, we did a few takes of it and to fight over and over and over again was not fun. At all. But, I think that the cool thing about being raised by this woman here is that she’s instilled in me and my brother a sense of responsibility to the world and that’s always kind of permeated in my work.
Cheri Honkola: I’m worse than the church.
Mark Webber: So we all went into this feeling like this is bigger than us and we want to put something on screen that’s different and unique. And that can resonate with people in a deep and meaningful way. We’re trying to push that genre of film making.
So for everyone apart from Mark, as you’re being kind of pushed down the rabbit hole of this story, was there anything that surprised you along the way? The way you ended up and how strong your performances were in the end?
Guillermo Santo: I wasn’t on set much, but I’ve definitely seen how the outcome of the process was very different from the shooting process, especially since we had only seen it last night. And I think that’s sort of the magistry of the film… that it’s so open ended… that it’s a documentary and it’s also a narrative. And it shows all of these people’s worlds and their lives and their stories all weaved into one mosaic of a movie. It makes it that even when you’re watching, even after you’ve experienced it, even after you keep learning things about it, the movie changes and your experiences with it grow as you do with the film.
It’s really powerful. I personally hated myself in the movie because it captured the awkward teenage years perfectly. And so now that’s going to be stuck in cinematic history forever.
The rest of us can forget about that stuff …
Guillermo Santo: Yeah. I’m a child star now. I’m ruined.
You’re the next Miley Cyrus is that what you’re saying?
Guillermo Santo: Yeah. It’s gonna be great. I’ll be back in South by Southwest 2020 for my comeback.
The next Flaming Lips reunion record.
Guillermo Santo: Exactly … But I really liked how Mark was able to bring together everything to the extent he was, because I only knew my scenes. Even then, watching the movie I had questions, like I had no idea who the guy was who was kissing my Mum early on. Gave her a hickey. That was weird. But it’s …
Mark Webber: Smoke
Guillermo Santo: Yeah. No clue. But even as the movie goes on and you see different performances. I know these people. I know that the tears they’re shedding are real. That they are horrible actors, but they are human and that’s what this film is really showing. That we can, even in this world of show business and spotlights and glitter, that these human interactions, that the truth is stranger than fiction. That’s the heavy hitter. That’s the thing that’s making people cry in theatres. That’s the real world that Mark is trying to show.
This is the kind of place where even after you do something heartbreaking and even after your world collapses, you still have your family and you still have your friends and I feel like after you watch this movie, we become part of your family. And vice-versa to an extent.
Definitely, and you talk about the line being blurred between reality and fiction. Obviously with you as the auteur and being behind every aspect of the story, were there still moments where it was hard … I mean when you argue with you Mum, is it hard to disconnect that? Okay there are cameras rolling, I know this is a performance, but she’s still your mum!
Mark Webber: It was so hard. Every single day I’d wake up and I got to the point where my friend Sam who was a producer on the film sitting over there, I’d be like, why the fuck … Why am I doing this again?
So when it got to the stuff with Madeline who is an actor and is used to working in more traditional environments it was like, okay I’ve got another actor here so it was like this fun little gift that I got when I got to that point, because it was really emotionally taxing to have to tell my Mum what to do and then her not listen to it was hard.
That must just be nothing new though …
Mark Webber: Totally. And then just no matter what I do, just being completely upstaged by my brother in every scene that we’re in, which was the intention. It was … look I like it hard. I like to be challenged. I like to push myself and I think that we were striving to make something incredibly unique and in this sea of typical kind of independent drama narratives we wanted to push the genre. We wanted to be like hey, it’s its own thing. It’s not even like calling it a hybrid. It’s its own thing. You know?
Well I certainly, I mean apart, probably apart from your own films, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It does feel quite within the narrative of the sort of meta-dialogue you’ve created in your films over the years. But no one’s quite making films like yourself, at least in English language. But I really enjoyed the film. I hope it gets some great life beyond this festival.
Mark Webber: Me too. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to show our movie and talk with people and the fact that you connected with it, it’s just encouraging man, you know? It makes me want to keep going.
Flesh and Blood premiered at SXSW earlier this month.