Festivals - FCAD 2021 : Pig - Let's talk with Michael Sarnoski

By Mulder, Deauville, Hôtel Barrière Le Royal Deauville, 06 september 2021

Pig is a 2021 American drama film co-written and directed by Michael Sarnoski in his directorial debut. It stars Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, and Adam Arkin, and follows a truffle forager whose beloved truffle-finding pig is stolen. It was released theatrically in the United States on July 16, 2021, by Neon. The film received acclaim from critics, who praised its direction and themes, as well as Cage's performance.

Q :  Please can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background ?

Michael Sarnoski : i'm Michael Sarrnoskyi. i was raised in Wisconsin in the Midwest in the United States and i live in Los Angeles now and this is my first film.

Q : After directed some short movies as and Love of the dead (2011), Fight Night legacy (2011), That (2012), and some series episodes Fight Night legacy and Olympia, Pig is your first move. What can you tell us please about the origins of this one ?

Michael Sarnoski : This one was originally just the image of this old man in the woods with his pig that kept sticking in my head and i had  you know written down for a couple years before i even tried to write it and there was something about it that i just found very moving the isolation the sense of endearment and i eventually decided okay let's see where the story can go and so i explored it and wrote it and turned into big.

Q : What should be for you a good acting direction? What can you tell us about you work with Nicolas Cage and Alex Wolff ?

Michael Sarnoski : They were both incredible to work with.  They were super committed to the project super committed to their performances they both really just understood their characters that was i didn't have to worry about them because i knew they were talented and the fact that they understood where their characters were coming from was so helpful and then the fact that they had an amazing kind of energy together they really had this amazing relationship and friendship formed over the course of the film and it really came across on screen so that was nice to you know you can't design or direct that sort of chemistry uh and so that was really beautiful that they also formed a wonderful relationship over the course of it .

Q: What Can you tell us about your filming locations ?

Michael Sarnoski : So we shot everything on location in Portland Oregon um the only set we built was the shack in the woods and it was just a real shack in the woods it didn't have breakaway walls or built-in lights or anything i mean it was just a shack in the middle of the woods with a garden and a latrine outside and  everywhere else was a real you know Portland restaurant, Portland street, Portland mausoleum uh and that meant it was you know quite hard we had only 20 days to shoot and we had a lot of company moves we were moving sometimes multiple times a day to get to different locations but it also meant that there was a lot of real authenticity to the locations and you really felt the city and you felt like this was a real place even though it went into some kind of strange places and strange tones it always kind of felt like okay i could go to these places because you can.

Q : Many people have compared the starting point of the film with John Wick which is also distributed in France by Metropolitan FilmExport. What do you think about it?

Michael Sarnoski : I think they're very different films i actually i hadn't seen john wick until after i wrote the first draft i think i was aware of it but i think because people started mentioning like you know this is this sound a little john wicky i avoided watching it and then i finally watched it after i had a draft of the script and i was fine with it because i was like oh this is extremely different. The sort of core guy in his animal it's quite different I loved john wick i mean i really enjoyed it i don't have anything against a great action movie but i think we have very different films and i think we can both exist.

Q : What were your main sources of inspiration, some movies, some books ?

Michael Sarnoski : For Pig, big ones would probably be all Cohen Brothers. i love the Cohen Brothers i mean no country world man is one of my favorite movies um so it has it has a little bit of that i mean they're so just precise with their tone. They can mix this kind of darkness and emotional thing with humor and it's no one can do it like Cohen's, Jim Jarmusch was a big one there's this film called Revenge that i forget where it's from  but it's about a bank robber who's kind of basically it's his heist goes wrong and something kind of tragic happens and so he has to go out to live with his dad in this cabin kind of in the rural area and kind of cope with the tragedy that happened but also just kind of figure out how to live in a day-to-day way because like five-minute sequences of chopping wood and there was something about the kind of feel of that film that i definitely thought about a lot.

Q : In the role of this chef Nicole Cage came instantly in your memory and if so while he is rather known for action movies ?  You give him one of his best role in this movie.

Michael Sarnoski : What he brings to the chef character, i think Nick brings to this character when he brings every character which is an incredible amount of commitment i mean you know people think of him as this like larger-than-life actor doing these over-the-top things but all he is just commits 100 to whatever role he is and if it's a big action movie he'll commit to that if it's a small intimate drama he'll commit to that and so he brought a real commitment a huge professionalism i mean he showed up on set so ready to work i think he might have had the entire script beyond his dialogue memorized he knew the action lines i mean he's been doing this for almost half a century now so he really knows what he's doing and he brought he brought his artistry i think you know he's not a professional chef but we had some actual chefs train him and how to use the knives and all of that but you know that takes a lifetime to get to that level but. what he has is a lifetime of being an actor and being an artist and he found a way to really convey that sort of care and focus from his craft into the cooking so you feel like this is something he loves and cares about and can just be a part of it and the way. He uses his hands to kind of manipulate the food it's maybe technically not what a chef is would do i mean it is but it just he has that he has that care and that love and that focus that's really incredible.

Q :  Which are for you the good ingredients to create a good drama movie ?

Michael Sarnoski : For me that i focus on is just that character that that what is that core character why am i interested in him being knowing sort of why you're interested in the character but also having a little bit of mystery for yourself with the character where you kind of as the writer and director you want to lean in and kind of discover this character more and letting the character kind of grow on the page and inform you who they want to be is really valuable start with the character that you care about because then the audience will hopefully care about them and you'll be willing to go through whatever journal

Q : Please can you tell me how is difficult to work with animals as here a pig ? 

Michael Sarnoski : it's tricky to work with a pig especially we can afford a trained pig so we just had to go around to local farms in Portland uh and early on Vanessa Block my producer we did these early trips up to Portland and we just drove around to local farms found some farm pigs that were all extremely sweet we decided on one named brandy um who just had very soulful eyes and it was a beautiful pig and that's the type of pig from New Zealand and we decided on her and then you know we had an animal trainer work with her for a week or two which isn't really enough time to train tricks or anything like that but you know nick spent some time with her and she learned that he had food and she would follow him around for food and then otherwise we just had to keep things very calm on set the days that she was there because she hadn't she wasn't used to a movie set and i think you know movie animals have a little bit of experience with the set which can be a really loud hectic place people shouting and moving things and lights and all of that so the days that randy was on set we just had to keep everything very toned down and very quiet and calm and no one can make any sudden moves because things can get kind of spooked and run off um so yeah and beyond that we just you know she she's authentically just kind of being a pig in the movie there's no acting there it's just her being a pig.

Q : What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot and why ?

Michael Sarnoski : The most difficult scene probably the probably the underground fight sequence was difficult just because that was sometimes that was the most kind of constructed scene that was the there was a lot going on there were a lot of extras we were really creating this world and we were also shooting in an abandoned paper factory that was really difficult and dirty and  you know we all wear masks and it was a hard one and there were a lot of moving parts and it was a sort of it's a complicated there are a lot of things happening that the audience is a little not 100% clear on and finding that right balance between leaving some mystery and some space for imagination but also giving them enough to hang on to um yeah that was just a complicated sequence to do.

Q : What can you tell us about your collaboration with the composers Alexis Grapsas and Philip Klein ?

Michael Sarnoski : They were amazing and you know. It's a tricky movie. So finding the right vibe of the music for different times and then how that changes over the course of the film and when to use silence and when to use music it was it was a long conversation it was one of those movies that you could sit down and be like okay we're going to do this here this year this year and this year it was something where you know they really tried a lot of different things and we experimented like what if we did put something here and what if we you know how would this affect the pace how would this affect things emotionally um so it was a very kind of back and forth experimental process but I’m just you know I’m so happy with how we ended up i hope i i don't think they want to murder me i think i think I’m sure i was very stressful to sort of have that back and forth and need to kind of discover it as we went along but you know they were both just really sweet people and i adore them as human beings and as artists and I’m so impressed with what they pulled off because you watch it now and it's like this makes sense this music fits perfectly but it's not as easy as that to actually get to that place when you have a movie that kind of shifts tones as much as ours does

Q : What did you learn and retain from making this film ?

Michael Sarnoski : What did i learn from making this movie as a first movie. I think i mean obvious things i learned that you need to surround yourself with people that care about the project and are on the same team because it's really hard to make a movie especially on a tight budget and if you don't have people that understand what they're trying to do and really care about what they're trying to do you're not going to make it through or make something that has kind of a heart to it so you know finding people that believe in the project and are just kind artistic passionate people is everything.

Q : Your film was very well received yesterday at the American Film Festival in Deauville and the debate after the film was just as successful as the film. Did you expect such a good reception in France ?

Michael Sarnoski : I mean i didn't expect such a good reception anywhere i you know i knew we were making a movie that we cared about and that i think it was a strong film but i also know that it's a very specific kind of strange film and you know i thought there was a chance that there could be a small group of people that really loved it and a bunch of other people that kind of were like where's all the action what's what is this so i've been really pleasantly surprised to see that the vast majority of people like what it is and respond to it emotionally and are moved by it so yeah that's been wonderful

Q : The American film festival in Deauville is my favorite festival in France because it allows me to discover the best of American independent cinema. What is your feeling about this beautiful festival ?

Michael Sarnoski : It has been amazing. I mean this is the first festival i've got to go to and it's you know after a year and a half of the pandemic to be in this amazing town these amazing hotels and they do such an incredible job with this festival and the screening was the largest screening i've seen this film at yet i mean it was kind of terrifying but the theater was beautiful and huge and i mean i just i've had a wonderful time and also the food here is amazing i've been eating a lot of seafood and i can't get enough of the oysters the mussels everything is incredible so yeah I will try to come back to this festival every time i can nice.

Q :  Which are your currents projects ?

Michael Sarnoski : so I’m writing a few things I’m writing a couple features I’m working on a tv show with vanessa block the producer for pig and then I’m taking some meetings and talking about some other possible projects so i'm kind of trying to take my time on them i don't want to dive into a second film too quickly i want to figure out you know what i care about what i want to explore and you know not get too starry-eyed and excited about any one i'm trying to take my time so i have a few things that I’m working on and hopefully I’ll be able to talk more about them soon but for right now just seeing which one goes forward first.

Synopsis :
A truffle hunter lives as a hermit in the Oregon wilderness, when the kidnapping of his truffle sow forces him to return to civilization in Portland where he must face the demons of his past.

Written and directed by Michael Sarnoski
Story by Michael Sarnoski, Vanessa Block
Produced by Vanessa Block, p.g.a., Dimitra Tsingou, p.g.a., Nicolas Cage, Steve Tisch, David Carrico, Adam Paulsen
Thomas Benski, Ben Giladi, Dori Rath, Joseph Restanio
Starring  Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin
Cinematography : Patrick Scola
Edited by Brett W. Bachman
Music by Alexis Grapsas, Philip Klein
Production companies : AI Film, Endeavor Content, Pulse Films, BlockBox Entertainment, Valparaiso Pictures
Saturn Films
Distributed by Neon (United States)
Release date : July 16, 2021 (United States), October 27, 2021 (France)
Running time : 92 minutes

We would like to thank Michel Burstein for this great interview and Michael Sarnoski

Photos : Copyright Neon / Metropolitan FilmExport

Video : Boris Colletier / Mulderville