Interview with Writer/Director/Actress Alisa Khazanova on the the process, insights, and behind-the-scenes on making the film of Middleground. This is Alisa’s directorial feature film debut. “Middleground” thriller will be available for a limited theatrical release and global VOD/Digital release beginning on June 8th, 2018“Middleground” made its world premiere at the Moscow International Film Festival and stars: Noah Huntley (“28 Days Later,” Snow White and the Huntsman”), Rob Campbell (“The Crucible,”“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), Alisa Khazanova (“The Woman in Black,”“Tale in the Darkness”), Marisa Ryan (“Wet Hot American Summer,”“Major Dad”), and Chris Beetem (“Emelie,”Black Hawk Down”). 

“Middleground” tells the story of a husband and a wife staying in a cozy hotel where it is easy to get trapped in the daily routine. Their time is like a flat circle in a deceptively intimate setting filling with a near psychedelic despair of a David Lynch film. Khazanova is a fascinating new voice crafting richly textured films for global audiences.

JP: What inspired you to do this film?

Alisa Khazanova: It’s a mixture of different things. First of all, I wanted to tell a story that I felt like I was connected to to begin with. Then I met my co-writer Michael Gregory Kupisk in Los Angeles. We started to talk about things, and how we wanted to work together, and he was talking about a film called Last Year At Marienbad by Alain Resnais, and this idea of a stranger coming up to you and telling you about something that happened between you a while ago, but you had no memories of it happening whatsoever.about it. I thought it was a very interesting idea to start with as an impulse. And then we tried to imagine it happening today as opposed to in the 60’s, and what kind of language we can use for it.

Also, before we came up with a structure, I came up with images and scenes in my head that I really liked. But then there was no connection between them. But we started to work on the structure of the script, they started to fall into place, like pieces of a puzzle. Then it became like circular, and repetition started to appear, and to use it all started to make sense.

Q: Was it meant to be the the same scenarios play out in different ways repeatedly over and over until someone or something drastically changes? Because maybe without drastic change, nothing actually changes?

Alisa:  The way I approached this and see it, and was trying to bring it to my team when working on Middleground, is I see it as a process in our mind. This is how our brain functions. It’s always circular thoughts. Especially when you’re in trouble or depressed, in a situation that troubles you, and you’re trying to go through it over and over agin. It’s sort of a vicious cycle that we’re trying to get away from. Every time you do it, it’s slightly different… different details appear, people look a little bit different, the situation the same but the small details change.

Initially this is where it started from, trying to capture the image of the brain going over and over the situation many times until they find a solution. And I believe that each person needs to find his/her own solution to get out of that situation in their minds. To get out of the vicious circle of your mind, this is how you can change things and take it to some other place. The repetition is partially explained by that structure. Also there’s a moment that you feel like you’re stuck in your life, and every day looks the same, and you don’t know if it’s maybe the same day, and the idea of time being non-linear I supposed, is also there.

The one guy (who seemed to be maybe her ideal partner) had insight into the scenarios that kept intertwining, and Deja Vu. How?

Alisa: I think in some way you can say that it’s a projection of a situation that she would maybe want to find herself in. But sometimes those two men are just one man, but there are different sides of the relationship.

I wouldn’t approach it from the real guy being there all the time. But instead play with the idea of two things happening simultaneously at the same time. In different realities. Sometimes this is what our brain is doing with us I think.

You will see a dream, and it’s so intense and so real, that when you wake up you feel like it’s more real than your reality. There was more intensity to it. It think it’s just again, comes back to the ideas of the human brain, and our thoughts being so intense that sometimes it feels more real than the real thing itself.

Q: How in the world did you write, produce, direct and act in this film? That is beyond extraordinary.

Alisa: I think I was sort of ambitious. It was an ambitious plan as I realized afterward. When you’re compelled to tell a story, sometimes it’s more efficient doing it from the inside.

I think that there’s a part when you write something and you want to do it yourself, and direct it, and put it out there, that part people are familiar with and can relate to it more. But doing it as an actor inside the project, for me was not because I think I’m the only one who can do it, there are amazing actresses who I would love to work with. Because we had so little time, and it was so intense, we only had like 17-18 nights to shoot the whole thing. We were working with my incredibly talented DP who was really close to me for an extended period of time, and this is how we managed to do it in such a short period of time.

It felt like being on the inside and directing was a more efficient way to make it happen.
The way i wanted it to happen, the way I feel it should be in terms of rhythm and relationships. It’s easier for me to organize it, as some sort of a metronome for the orchestra.

It was really, really tough from the physical point of view. I felt really overwhelmed and tired. I think it was worth it really. I think it was actually a positive thing for the character of the woman. She was supposed to be this mirror-like character for everybody. Unemotional. Cold. Working as a mirror for everybody else. I think you can see the other characters more clearly in contrast to her being reserved.

Sometimes I see people like that in life. Sometimes I am myself like that. Reserved, just observing, alot of emotions inside but keeping them to yourself. And I see alot of women being in this situation. I see alot of them just silently being present. Through a lot of things really. We are taught from a really early age sometimes to be really nice, quiet, to behave, to be liked… it’s also related to that subject.

 Q:  You were quoted saying: “I see a life of every single person as a separate timeline. This bizarre hotel in my film is a place there those “time streams” intersect,” shares director Alisa Khazanova.

So do you believe in destiny, or that we completely choose our lifelines and stories?

Alisa: I believe that every person has a separate timeline and it sort of changes, and it’s very connected to the point in life and emotions that this person is going through at that very moment. I think they’re all accept of this idea of time, and we have to accept some things about it because we need to function as a society of people of course, but

We have to accept some things about time, because we need to function as a society of people of course, but I think if you forget about seconds/minutes/hours, it’s just a time flow that is always present there. And I think that people feel differently if you ask them about it, I’m sure that it’s different if you try to forget the watch and just ask people it; the way they feel about it.

I do believe that the happier that you are time flies faster. And sometimes it feels like it’s not moving at all.. for people who are depressed, it’s just not moving… it’s like this flat line.

So I approached it from an unemotional level because we are taught to hide our emotions, and to be efficient, and not to think about things that are really important to us, and then years later realize that we are unhappy because of that.

I also think that it has something to do with a generation of people – the way they were working with the dialogues with Michael – I would see a lot of people around me in their late 30’s or early 40’s – and they would just be searching for things like am I happy? Did I make the right choice? What would it be like if I made a different choices? Because they still feel young and powerful, but they feel like this is the point where they still have a chance to change something (which is obviously not true) but people seem to do it because they are still vulnerable. I think it’s part of growing up process and human nature.

What was your biggest challenge in making this film?

Alisa: Keeping the story the way that I wanted to tell the story, and not transforming it to any genre that would probably be easier in terms of production-in terms of finding more money for it. Sticking to the original idea was the toughest thing. And finding courage to do it really.

Because when you do something for the first time, people give you advice and mean well, but sometimes it’s overwhelming. The hardest part is to stick to something that you really believe in. Otherwise it’s not you anymore and it wouldn’t work anymore, at least for a film like this. There are different types of films and different types of stories, so this is how I wanted to tell this story, and this was the hardest part for me.

All the technical issues and tough schedule, you can go through it when you have people next to you, and I had an incredible team. I was really lucky to have people who believed in it next to me. But the initial part, when you have to find a way to do it, that was I think the hardest part.

Q: How did you originally raise the financing for the film?

Alisa: Well, I found the young producers. Hype Films production company, and one of the producers is my friend for a long time, his name is Roman Volobuev. He read the script in early stages and he liked it. He liked the idea of it, and said it was a good script. And then he was working with Ilya Stewart on his own film, and basically what they were trying to do is to give a voice to an artist who wanted to express himself. This was their ambition. To spend a little bit of money, but give a voice to a project. They were specializing in making films for a very low budget. There’s this theme of enthusiastic people  who are connected to the project and they want to make it happen. And I think I was lucky that way.

So we went through the shooting process, and it was really, really tough on us. If someone told us beforehand how tough it was going to be, I don’t know if we would go ahead with it or not. But it was this crazy bunch of people who decided to make this happen.

Then we had to raise money for the post production. We were basically doing it step by step really. Whenever we had a little bit of money we would do something. Which is not something I would recommend by the way! It is not the scenario I would recommend to do movies. But it is also possible, and this is how it happened for us.

Q: What’s next for you?

Alisa: I do work as an actor. I do love it. I would love to continue as well, but I’m working on a new project as a director. And writing a new script. Which is completely different! I’m working alot, in both directions. Sometimes you have to just through it in the air and see where it lands!!

Thanks to Alisa for interviewing! “Middleground” will be available for a limited theatrical release and global VOD/Digital release beginning on June 8th, 2018