Taking a rare break from one of three active projects currently in his editing suite, Todd Verow recalls what he enjoys most about filmmaking.
“What’s important is the story,” the director states frankly.
A classically trained actor, Todd Verow’s adventure into filmmaking began at the Rhode Island School of Design and the American Film Institute. He took an interest in cinematography after realizing how much more comfortable he felt on the other side of the lens. Today a recognized veteran of New Queer Cinema, the openly gay Verow has built an impressive career for himself, often working underground on projects with little or no budget.
“I learned from more experienced directors how to work for no money. I liked working that way,” recalls Verow. “In fact, I was always impatient with the raising money aspect anyway. It was easier to just…go make the movie.”
And make movies he did. Since his start in 1989, Todd Verow has over 30 feature films, shorts, and documentaries on his resume – many of which are recognized globally for their contributions to queer cinema and underground filmmaking. One of his most famous (or infamous) works is 1995’s Frisk, a feature based on the novel by Dennis Cooper. Banned in a number of countries for its content, the film received a very strong reaction from audiences, even inciting rioting. But, was director Todd Verow surprised by this?
“Yes,” he states with mired conviction. “But anyone whose read the book – I don’t know what they were expecting…”
However the crowd reaction was not a deterrent to the filmmaker, who was still a young up-and-comer at the time of Frisk’s release.
“It’s great to get that strong of a reaction,” says Verow. “But I thought, ‘If I can get that reaction, I want it to be over something more personal to me.’”
A pioneer of digital cinema, Verow abandoned traditional filmstock and began working with early DV, famously stating, “Film is dead” in the mid-1990s. Verow boldly began experimenting with relatively crude digital tools at a time when the rest of the film industry was still clamouring for celluloid. For the record, the first mainstream features to be shot entirely in digital medium wouldn’t reach audiences until the very end of the decade, years after Verow went digital.
“It’s just a medium. What’s most important is always the story,” Verow points out. “I’m always a fan of ‘dirty cinematography’ anyway, using only natural and available light. So why not shoot video if you could still do the movie?”
His 2006 film, Hooks on the Left took the concept of dirty cinematography to a whole new level. Todd Verow shot the entire film using a Nokia cell phone camera.
“And it wasn’t even a good one,” laughs the director. “Back when I was in school I had a teacher tell me to always have a camera with me. Then I got a cell phone. [The camera] made everything so pixelated and abstract. I was mesmerized.”
Todd Verow’s enthusiasm for impactful stories and dirty cinematography continues to shine, giving audiences a glimpse into this director’s unique storytelling style up through his most current works. As a testament to this, one needs only look at the three films Verow has in his editing suite today:
Available Light is a collection of unrelated stories shot only using natural and available light sources. The innovative film Required Field was shot all over the world using a Flip Cam, and is a diary of a travelling serial killer, told from his point of view. And finally, This Side of Heaven is a heavily scripted and stylized piece nearing its final days of filming.
“This Side of Heaven is a departure for me, but I’m actually shooting it in true black and white – rather than colour with desaturation in post,” admits the director.
An old school twist on modern filmmaking, from a director whose style continues to enchant audiences worldwide.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Bangor Films