Rooftop Films presented indie romance “Pink Wall” at The William Vale, with writer-director Tom Cullen and actor Jay Duplass in attendance.
The hauntingly beautiful film Pink Wall was screened on Monday at The William Vale as part of the Rooftop Films summer series. Co-sponsored by SundanceTV, the evening began with live atmospheric music and cocktails as the sun lowered over Brooklyn.
Known for his roles in Downton Abbey and Knightfall, actor Tom Cullen made his directorial debut with Pink Wall. Cullen wrote the film in only three months, and eventually pivoted the original concept of a weekend trip with an unraveling relationship to six scenes encapsulating a six-year romance between Jenna (Tatiana Maslany) and Leon (Jay Duplass). The emotionally intimate film is deeply personal, capturing both a modern universal truth and an inherent struggle of balancing compromise with ambition.
“The film is absolutely an exploration of my successes and my failures as a partner,” Cullen said during the post-screening Q&A. “It was a really intense process.”
Pink Wall was filmed on-location in Wales over nine days, shooting the final scene first and moving backwards. The non-linear film is situated like a series of memories with each scene being shot in a different aspect ratio to represent the emotional distance between Jenna and Leon over the course of their relationship. “It’s designed like memory because when we reflect on relationships or anything in our lives, memory isn’t linear. It’s expansive, and I think that we juxtapose different moments in our lives to fill the emotional landscape,” Cullen explained.
The shortened shoot time also provided for actors Tatiana Maslany and Jay Duplass to explore their characters through improvised “flagpole” discussions, like skiers finding their way down a mountain– or bog, in the case of the Welsh countryside location. Cullen drew inspiration in part from Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight trilogy with the natural dialogue between Duplass and Maslany, and requested to have two hours every morning with the two actors to find their comfortable physical chemistry and banter.
Duplass particularly thrived in the improvised settings, himself a multi-hyphenate talented veteran of independent filmmaking. “I don’t have formal acting training so it just has to happen for me 100%,” Duplass said. “I just have to do it.”
Maslany and Duplass’ relationship onscreen is deeply centered in the gender roles and social expectations, with Maslany’s Jenna grappling with her professional success and personal dissatisfaction. Cullen sought to challenge the character stereotype by mirroring the driven Jenna with the seemingly-aimless Leon.
“Men in film are afforded so much room to be brooding and assholes but funny and ambitious, all of these things and we forgive them. But if a woman is given that place in a film, we hate it. I definitely wanted to explore that,” Cullen explained. “I flipped and reversed those traditional gender roles because I wanted to make a character who was ambitious and funny and angry and an asshole but also just wonderful and funny and vibrant, which is reflective of the women in my life.”
While writing Jenna, Cullen relied on his real-life love Maslany. “I’ve spent a lot of time listening and reading and trying to absorb as much of the female experience as I can through the women in my life, but I can never really understand them,” Cullen admitted. “A big part of that process was sort of talking to Tat [Manslay] and what I wanted to say and then filtering it through her experience and her ideas. It’s a great collaboration and there’s a real ownership of the female character which is so much Tat [Manslay] and I’m so proud of that.”
Manslay was also the accidental inspiration behind the title of the film. When pressed for a working title for the film before production, Cullen saw a picture of Manslay in front of the pink-walled Paul Smith storefront on Melrose in Los Angeles. “Then I said ‘fuck it, this is a great writing challenge to work it into the script,’ ” Cullen joked. “I worked this idea of this big pink neon wall [into the final scene]….But that’s just the catalyst of it, it’s just the consequence of what the film is exploring, not the action.”
After the Q&A, the evening at The William Vale concluded with a party of complimentary beer and music. Yet the haunting weight of the film prevailed, as Pink Wall felt like an experience rather than a film. “The beautiful thing about relationships is that even when you’re falling out of love, you’re falling in love. It exists in all of its sense and its capacity even in those hardest moments,” Cullen said. “I feel very strongly that even at the end of something, it’s worth it because it was beautiful at some point.”
For those watching Pink Wall on a rooftop overlooking the Manhattan skyline, the experience was beautiful all the way through.