A recent graduate of the film program at New York University, 22-year-old Dan Day is a writer and director from Boxford, Massachusetts. His short film, Gutter, a film about the friendship between a social reject with deep-seeded emotional problems and a chain-smoking prostitute, premiered in the Cannes’ 2009 Cinèfondation Selection, a program of the Cannes Film Festival whose objective is to present and highlight films from film schools. Of the over 1,500 entries, only 17 were chosen to be presented in the Cinèfondantion Selection, Day’s being the only US film in the festival’s student film program.
Day is currently writing a screenplay specifically for the actors of Gutter, which he intends to film in locations around New England. He can be contacted via his personal website, which also features a trailer of his Cannes’ 2009 Cinèfondation Selection submission.
HEC: How did you get started in your career as a writer/director?
My parents gave me an analog video camera when I was in the third grade. I would go over to my friend’s house after school where there were absolutely no rules (his parents were hardly ever home). Most of the time, we would be in the yard lighting toys on fire with gasoline or blowing them up with ground-up model rocket engine powder. I have a few hours worth of footage of third grade pyrotechnics. I suppose that these shots were the first moving images where I consciously began framing the camera in order to capture dramatic moments.
From a writing standpoint, I always loved to make up stories-not only for myself, but to share with my friends and family. I’ve always been an awkward conversationalist so finding creative means of communication have been important to me to connect with people I care about.
HEC: How has your education/training helped you?
I spent three years at NYU, where I made my short film, Gutter. NYU is very good about teaching all the technical aspects of the craft of filmmaking, from writing to shooting to editing. I took some great writing classes there that were taught by wonderful professors, and it was very helpful to get technical feedback on my creative work. The good thing about the film school at NYU is that students get a lot of creative freedom and a lot of constructive criticism. I valued my freedom to write whatever I wanted and not have to worry about censoring myself or fitting a mold of any kind.
That said, I think that you learn the most about movies by watching a lot of them. By no means is school for everyone, and most of my favorite directors are college dropouts.
HEC: What is it like as a writer/director?
The film industry is a pretty cutthroat, sink-or-swim world, so I feel very lucky and honored to have been recognized by Cannes. I’m currently writing the script for a feature film because I know that now, I actually have a chance at getting funding. I basically owe my potential future career to Laurent Jacob at Cannes, because Gutter was rejected by every single other festival I entered. I guess it’s because the film looks very gritty and unpolished (on purpose). I feel very privileged to have the chance to make the kind of feature I’ve always wanted.
HEC: What is the best part of being a writer/director?
Being on a set and watching your actors take the script to a whole new level. You write the script one way, but then you get to shoot it and realize that the tone has to be different than when you first imagined it. Maybe you realize a scene that was written to be played dead serious is going to seem over-melodramatic, so you have to tell the actors to just say “screw it” and take it from an odd angle. It’s a really fun thing to watch great actors give your script a life that it would have never achieved on its own.
HEC: Any advice for new graduates?
Don’t be afraid to go by your gut and disregard the advice of your teachers or peers.
HEC: What is your most memorable work experience thus far?
During the filming of Gutter, we shot some exteriors at a crack house in Brooklyn. Each morning, this huge Latino guy would come out, high as a kite, with a bulletproof vest on, leading two Doberman pinchers. He would just come out and stare at all of us. Then he would walk across the street and sic his dogs on a nearby telephone poll while we were filming scenes on this guy’s doorstep. The whole time the crew was on the verge of soiling their knickers but everyone played it cool. I had a dedicated crew.