Imagine this scenario: A director approaches you, gives you a list of images and a mood for what he envisions, but no specific storyline. He wants a script based on not an idea, but on a “feeling.” Would you be brave enough to do it, or would you tell him he’s crazy?
I don’t call that crazy; I call it brilliantly insane.
Together Doscher and Cohen made what is one of the most gorgeous and daring short films I’ve ever seen, Leave You In Me, which has garnered many awards and has been featured at some of the most prestigious film festivals.
What makes this film so bold is the level of nudity, that at first glance might feel a tad pornographic, but it is that very nakedness that makes the film so raw and real. Beautifully shot in black and white by cinematographer Peter Mariuzza and edited by Alex Kopit, the images and music are haunting and the acting fearless. From the first frame, my eyes never left the screen. I was captivated.
Leave You In Me is a story of a couple on the brink, with the man confessing to a meaningless affair, and his scorned lover’s retaliation. The actors are unclothed the majority of the film, but its not in a titillating way. They wanted a unique and fresh approach of exploring that moment in a relationship after the major blowup happens. This couple just happened to be making love at the time.
When I learned Doscher had previously directed eighty ABC Afterschool specials, I was even more intrigued.
“I wanted to do something that challenged me visually, scared me, and challenged the audience.”
Believe me, this is no afterschool special. This project pushes the boundaries of a director’s talent, and demands he stretch his wings. I’m a sucker for that kind of courage.
A mutual friend had given Doscher one of Cohen’s plays to read. After reading his work, Doscher knew he wanted to collaborate with him.
Cohen explained, “When Dutch approached me, he wanted to make an artistic film for himself. So, we began the project without any expectations, and we’ve been surprised and thrilled by the strong responses from those who have seen it in private showings and at festivals.”
Cohen enjoyed the freedom of creating a story out of texture and an intense mood. It allowed the story to grow from an organic place. It brought him back to his roots of fiction writing, creating stories from only a picture.
“I found it helpful to sit down with the director before writing the script in order to hear what emotions and images Dutch was interested in pursuing through the story; using them as a basis, I started imagining the scenes and developing the characters.”
The script they ended up with surprised them both.
In fact, during the collaboration process, they decided to leave the last seven minutes without a word of dialogue. Those scenes were so naturally executed that I hadn’t even noticed no one spoke the first time I watched. That’s great storytelling.
Cohen stated, “Silence and stillness on the screen were stronger than any line I could write, and while I realized it was a risky choice, I hoped that the drama would prove powerful enough on its own.”
Fearless storytelling doesn’t come without some concerns. As a trained fiction writer, Cohen is used to having total control. He had just come from a bad film experience where he and that director didn’t share the same vision. His first step into a new project made trust challenging.
“Even as an experienced writer, I found it difficult during the filming and editing to grasp how all the pieces would fit together. But Dutch had this amazing understanding of the whole process—so he stayed calm, while I panicked.”
The night before the shoot, there were a lot of nerves and tension, to the point where Doscher felt it necessary to rearrange the schedule. He had planned to shoot the scenes in order, but that night, as he did blocking with the actors, Andrew Ramaglia and Sarah Jaye, Ramaglia expressed concern his character would look weak due to his actions in the opening scene. But by simply switching the order of shooting, that eased the tension, and the actors gave Doscher everything they had.
“I’m incredibly grateful to Andrew and Sarah and have such a soft spot in my heart for both of them. They risked so much for us.”
I was curious what it was like for a writer to work with such a forward-thinking director. Cohen was on set all but one day, and shared that Doscher would listen to his thoughts and opinions whenever he had a concern.
Doscher didn’t hesitate to explain his philosophy toward writers: “I’ve had years of experience and am open to other viewpoints, as long as we discuss them first. Every actor has a different process on how to get them to where they’re going. So when I have a writer on set whose only intention is to make the project great, why wouldn’t I listen to him?”
Cohen pointed out that when he last watched the film’s ending, he noticed a detail he wished he had written into the film. His eyes followed the trail of clothing stretched out on a gouged and scared apartment floor. While you think you’re just following a trail of fabric, you’re actually seeing the landscape of their relationship that is nicked and knifed up. But unbeknownst to Cohen, Doscher intentionally picked that apartment because of its marked floor.
It’s a perfect example of how collaboration works. Between Cohen’s script, Doscher’s directing, Mariuzza’s camera work, Kopit’s editing, and the superb acting by Jaye and Ramaglia, Leave You In Me left a mark on the audience that will not soon fade.
No great piece of art comes from playing it safe. We need to stretch outside of our comfort zones, and perhaps outside of society’s comfort zone, to make films that leave us breathless. But most importantly, we need to create what excites us and what makes our hearts skip a thousand beats a minute. Sometimes that means taking on a project that scares the hell out of us. That’s exactly what Doscher and Cohen did, and did brilliantly.
Dutch Doscher and Michael Darin Cohen look forward to making a feature-length film together in the future. If you would like to contact them, you may do so via Doscher’s websiteor Cohen’s agent, Jenn Joel, at ICM’s New York office. Doscher will be in LA for Produced By Conference in June.