An Interview with Mark Fergus, director of “First Snow”
BY KEVIN CARR
Earlier this year, screenwriter Mark Fergus received an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of “Children of Men.” Now, he is getting ready to release his new film “First Snow,” a psychological thriller starring Guy Pearce, Piper Perabo and J.K. Simmons. Fergus took some time to speak with Kevin Carr about his Oscar nomination, his new film, and what inspired the movie. Excepts from the interview follow.
Hear the entire interview…
KC: CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR OSCAR NOMINATION (FOR “CHILDREN OF MEN”). CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE?
MF: We adapted that novel quite a while ago, and it was a fantastic sort of surprise to have it come back and be such a great movie and to have found its way into such great hands. The next thing you know, you’re invited to the Oscar luncheon, and you’re on line with Spielberg and Scorsese and Clint Eastwood. Every person you ever idolized, they’re all just hanging around in a room eating lunch with you.
And then Oscar night, it’s this ridiculous pageant. None of the photographers or reporters really want to talk to screenwriters, but you give it a shot anyway. Some people will talk to you, and some people will wait for the big guns to arrive.
You’re sitting in there, and you try not to think of winning. As it gets closer, you just can’t help it. It’s great. It’s really something you’ve gotta do once in your lifetime.
KC: TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT “FIRST SNOW.”
MF: We wanted to take this idea of free will, whether your choices and actions determine your destiny, or whether or not there’s sort of a universal order of fate, or destiny, or the gods watching. Whatever that creeping feeling that people get that they’re not entirely in control of their own existence, and service that to sort of a Hitchcock story to fuel a paranoid thriller or psychological thriller. There’s nothing pressing in on the main character except his own anxieties and fears about the things he’s done, the choices he made and the skeletons in his closet.
KC: TELL ABOUT WHAT INSPIRED THE FILM.
MF: There’s something really creepy about a five-dollar fortune teller saying something dead-on about your lifeline, about your circumstances. As much as you want to laugh that stuff off, there’s something that lingers with you when someone with a gift – or a supposed gift – looks behind the curtain of your life and tells you something disturbing about yourself.
KC: HAVE YOU EVER GONE TO A FORTUNE TELLER?
MF: I just did recently. My fiancée dragged me to one at a fundraiser. I had never done it, and I was glad that I had never done it because I feel the experience that I had was exactly what I was hoping not to have. It was a very unhappy reading from a tarot reader. I don’t remember the specifics, but it was all pretty negative, and she wasn’t happy with the cards that came up. There was some great crisis, and there was some great pain from my past that would lead to a crisis. It was decidedly downbeat, and I definitely did not need to go there. Like the movie, I don’t believe it, and yet I can’t really forget it that somebody didn’t like what they saw. I thought that they were all kinda positive and it just depended on how much you paid, how positive. So I was definitely unhappy. I wish I hadn’t done it.
KC: WHY DID YOU MAKE THE FORTUNE TELLER NOT A MISS CLEO, BUT A MAN?
MF: When I lived in New Mexico, I had seen some of those guys parked there, similar to the movie. I did see as many men as women, and people who didn’t look all that interesting, who didn’t look like the cliche. I feel like that’s someone who’s selling you a little bit of a show, which is why you go to them. You want a little bit of the razzle-dazzle and the beads and the candles and all that. I think what’s fun about playing against type is that if a guy like J.K. Simmons, who’s a first of all a male, but someone who looks like a fisherman or a wanderer, it’s more scary because he doesn’t look like he’s trying to sell you anything. The less interesting he was for a fortune teller, the more powerful he would be at getting under your skin.
KC: DO YOU PREFER WRITING OR DIRECTING?
MF: I prefer directing because it’s way more fun and more collaborative and social. I just think it’s an easier job because there’s so many people carrying you along. Writing is agonizing and miserable and lonely. But when you crack a story, there’s nothing more exhilarating than finally conquering a story that doesn’t want to be conquered. Writing, I believe, is the more harder discipline by far. But in terms of just the sheer exhilaration, and you’re in fight or flight mode for thirty days making a film is the most fantastic experience. So if you had to choose for the rest of your life, directing is a joy and writing is an agony. It’s great agony; it’s the best kind of torture. But I can’t say it’s fun the way directing is fun.
KC: WILL PEOPLE THINK SNOW IN THE DESERT IS STRANGE?
MF: That’s part of why I wanted to write this film in the first place. When I went out there and saw the expanse of it, the way it humbled you. I had never really seen that before, being a New Yorker. To be watching snow coming down in the desert, which is one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen, and also totally unexpected. From Arizona to New Mexico, there were huge stretches of desert that were high enough to be huge snowfall zones. It was that kind of stuff, the unusual juxtaposition of desert to snow, were the kind of things that made this story start to make sense to me. There’s something so powerful about nature and how we don’t know how it was going to be, so if the weather was tied to your fate or the length of your life, it was almost like the gods were sending you a signal.