Martin Carr chats with Opus of an Angel director Ali Zamani…
Where did the idea for this film come from?
I was always inspired by the thought of how someone would deal with the notion of losing everything that was so dear to them, what triggered them, when they were at the lowest moment of their life, to turn to suicide, and what stories they had to tell. One day while I was out for coffee, I saw a special ed class on a field trip. One child was visually impaired and had an infectious smile and life seemed to be so beautiful to her. It got me thinking of how these two extreme outlooks on life, if touched, would they be able to influence each other and to what extent.
How did you go about casting for the central duo?
For the role of Maria, I felt it was important to cast a person that was visually impaired to try to not only give the film a sense of authenticity but also be able to get an insight into the ‘perception’ and world of people with such a disability. Junior Blind of America, an organization based out in LA, was invaluable to our casting efforts for the role of Maria. When we reached out to them for recommendations of potential students that could play the part of Maria, Kaylynn’s name was the first on the list.
We actually auditioned more people for the role than I can count, but when I met Kaylynn in person it felt like I was actually meeting Maria. She read for the scene and I got goose bumps. It was abundantly clear to everyone in the room that the role was meant for her.
We audition dozens and dozens of great actors for the role of Stephen; ultimately William McNamara was a perfect fit for the role and instantaneously understood the deeper sense of grief of the character.
How did you decide on the look for this film?
Achieving a sense of realism was the main objective when it came to setting the look. Wanted the audience to really feel immersed into the journey of Stephen and Maria as they traveled across the City of Angels. I achieved this through a lot of visceral handheld camera shots and organic/on- location scenes rather than studio sets.
What challenges did you face shooting on location?
Having a lot of scenes throughout the film, general control over the environment sometimes proved challenging. Dealing with other sound and noise such as helicopters and airplanes was definitely not fun for our sound mixer.
Thematically Opus tackles some important ideas, what do you want audiences to take away with them?
From the moment we released that our story was something that could help people who are dealing with the struggle of depression, I knew it would be an emotional journey. Ultimately, the audience should be able to take away an uplifting message of being able to overcome tragedy and tribulations by believing in something more than earthly things and experiences.
Fragmented flashbacks and sensory manipulation add a unique element to Opus, why was it important to use these techniques?
It was important because I really wanted to be able to try and put the audience in the shoes of a person that is visually impaired. Doing this would help immerse the audience further into the world of my character Maria.
Both William McNamara and Kaylynn Kubeldis differ vastly in their acting approach. What challenges did you face in balancing these within the overall movie?
Being a veteran and conventionally trained actor, William brought a well-polished performance whereas Kaylynn brought an extremely natural and organic performance due to the Maria character being so alike her own character. The chemistry between these two approaches really meshed together well, even though in an awkward fashion, which further emphasized the two-character’s unlikely relationship in the movie.
There is a lot of emphasis on silence over sound and dialogue over visuals. What were the reasons behind these choices?
I wanted the audience to visualize scenes themselves, through Stephen’s descriptions of the world and life throughout his journey with Maria. Again – this would put the audience in the same boat as a visually impaired person.
If you had to believe in either pre-ordained destiny or divine intervention which would it be?
This is something that I’ve actually pondered on since an early age and throughout my own life experiences I’ve actually gone between the two. Still don’t think I can answer which I believe in more.
If you had to recommend Opus to a stranger using only one word what would it be?