The Velvet Underground’s ‘The Gift’ Goes Visual, Courtesy Christina Brucato
You could go anywhere in the mails…
That’s how it began. Waldo would go postal (service, that is) from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin and meet his distant but dear Marsha there, finding her as faithful as ever.
Unfortunately it wasn’t so simple. But these things never really are.
The Gift, the second track on The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat, was originally a writing project from Lou Reed’s college days. The album rendition features the blank whispers of John Cale behind a buzzing instrumental bit entitled The Booker T, conceived in a few Reed-less live jam sessions. The Gift as we know it is quite the commotion, true to the overall “conscious anti-beauty” of The Velvet Underground’s second album. Yeah, it’s not exactly Sunday morning anymore.
Spoiler alert: Waldo finally finds himself in Wisconsin, but with a knife through his skull.
From story to song, the logical progression of The Gift leads straight to short film. Actress/producer/writer Christina Brucato is making it happen. “I remember the first time I heard The Gift. […] I stopped what I was doing, sat down, and completely submitted to Cale’s deadpan narration of Waldo’s wacky, tragic journey. I instantly knew this had to be a film,” she said. And so it shall be. With the blessing of the Godfather of Punk Rock himself (given just a few months before his passing on 27 October 2013), Brucato and her team are committed to making this adaptation of The Gift an exceptional tribute. Here’s what she has to say.
Congrats on your writing debut! Tell us a little about your TV and film background and how it brought you here.
I’ve been working as an actor here in NYC for a little over a decade now. I moved here my junior year of college when I signed with my agent, and I do a bit of everything — film, TV, theater, voice-overs and commercials. During my pursuit, I began to dabble in producing my own projects. I started with theater, producing a number of plays. The Gift will be the third film I am producing, and the first I have written, so it’s pretty exciting for me.
Tell us a bit about this project and how you got involved. What made you choose The Gift above all else?
I am a huge fan of the The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. White Light/White Heat is my absolute favorite album. Heroin is actually what first got me hooked on their sound. The song, not the drug. The first few times I heard The Gift, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t listening to the words. Just the music. Then, one day the song came on, and I sat down and finally listened to it – really experienced it. I was blown away. It was not at all what I had expected. It was dark, funny, and twisted. I loved it. It was everything I loved in a story. Everything I wanted in a film. It was as if this story was just sitting there for me on a silver platter, complete with a built-in soundtrack. I searched for a writer, pitching the idea, but no one seemed to understand the tone that I was sensing. Upon the urging of my friend Mara (the same friend who is responsible for introducing me to The Velvet Underground in the first place, and is also a founding member of Splinter), I decided to write it myself.
First I wanted to make sure I wasn’t wasting my time, so I tracked down Lou Reed’s manager. (The Gift was originally a short story written by Lou Reed in college, and was later made into the song by The Velvet Underground.) After speaking with Tom, his manager, he gave me the go-ahead, contingent on the fact that Lou had to approve the script. Amazing. Lou was being so freaking cool about this. So, after completing the script, I shot it over to Tom. Didn’t hear anything. Sent it again. Nothing. Freaked out a bit. OK, a lot. Finally decided to call him, and he said he would have Lou read it. Less than a day later, I got an email from Tom saying, “Lou approves this. When can we see the film.” I almost died.
And, here we are. Unfortunately Lou will never get to see the film. But it will most definitely be a sincere tribute to the late, great Lou.
What is most important to you in the adaptation process?
For me, as for most people I presume, the most important part in the adaptation process is staying true to the story. In fact, in the beginning of my writing process for The Gift, I took that a little too far. I became obsessed with honoring every single action in the short story. But luckily, several drafts later, I think my voice has wandered into this adaptation.
What will the visual style be like? What are some inspirations?
I wanted to defer to our director Stu Weiner for this question. Here’s what he had to say…
“It’s actually inspired visually from a lot of places – Some are the art films that The Velvets played to, some are more modern film from the likes of Wes Anderson, Mike Mills, Sophia Coppola and Terrance Mallick, some are crack-pot pieces of media from years ago – Last House on the Left, Sol Korine’s docs for PBS, the visual experimentation of some early video artists. I want there to be a dissonance between the picturesque and nostalgic qualities of the time and place that Marsha inhabits and the emotional state that Waldo is in, which is a really dark place. I want to juxtapose the Wonder Years of Marsha to the fevered nightmares of Waldo. It won’t be so jarring, but something that sneaks under your skin the way love and obsession do.”
So you’re currently in the process of starting a production company… what else is on your plate right now?
I got tired of waiting around to play the roles I wanted to play, in the projects I wanted to be part of. So some friends and I decided to make our own. “Splinter” off. Hence, the Splinter Group. We just finished shooting our first project a few weeks ago — The Untitled Halley Zein Project and are currently in post production with that. Our next project was just in the idea phase and was based on the Tupperware culture of the 1970’s, but unfortunately we just found out today that Sandra Bullock is in talks right now for that exact idea. Really!? Tupperware? What are the chances? So… onto the next. Which will be a feature film and is still in the development stage.
Aside from that, I spend my days acting, auditioning, and working as a VO artist. (I am the voice of TeenNick.) And next week I will be shooting an episode of the CBS show Unforgettable.
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Slider art by Olga Gruszka.