“The whole spectrum of life can be found on the New York subway.” – @HowFollowsWhat
Sam Fleischner lives in New York, but today he is standing under the California sun. He is far from his home in the Rockaways – a beach town at the end of the line on the A train.
On the subway, Fleischner says, “The things you see are unexpected, you see things of beauty and life as well as hate and decay. It almost feels like it’s own super-organism.”
Fleischner is in California because the film he directed, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, has been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. The film follows Ricky, a teen with Asperger’s syndrome who rides the city’s subway for 11 days. His family members search for him without help from the authorities, forced to reconcile differences among themselves to bring him home.
The film portrays New York City as a subway ride in and of itself: sometimes jerky and terrifying, sometimes quiet and serene. Fleischner shot the film on an open set: the subway platforms themselves.
“You’re constantly pulling into stations and the background and sounds are changing,” says Fleischner. “The advantage is that you get things that are unexpected and unplanned, and if you embrace spontaneity it can be a boon for the story you’re telling. That’s something I like a lot.”
One such spontaneous occurrence was Hurricane Sandy. The storm hit during filming and put his main set—the New York City subway–out of commission for months, and Fleischner was forced to change the film’s ending. But throughout the project, Fleishcner never fought nature. The film was shot on location using natural and existing light when possible.
“It’s a film in the realist realm and it seemed like natural light would best suit the story,” says Fleischner. “It had a natural and authentic feeling, bordering on fiction and non-fiction.”
Shooting with natural light also helped stretch the independent film’s tight budget. Eighty percent of the energy used on film sets goes towards lighting; using extant lighting helped keep costs and energy use down, something that was important to the environmentally conscious Fleischner.
“I try to live my life in an efficient way,” says Fleischner. “We spend energy with every move we make, so I’m always striving to conserve and be mindful of resources that go into everything I do.”
But here in the California sun, surrounded by crowds pushing their way into the ceremony, there’s no shortage of light or energy. The interview ends, and Fleischner ducks inside. The show is about to begin.
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors was one of four films honored at Film Independent’s 2015 Spirit Awards. Stand Clear of the Closing Doors is available on iTunes, and Amazon instant video.