Swimming against the current
Publication Date: Friday Jul 18, 1997

Swimming against the current

Palo Alto native Finn Taylor's new film, "Dream with the Fishes," defies convention. It opens today at the Aquarius

by Therese Lee

Filmmaker and Palo Alto native Finn Taylor doesn't mind taking a risk every once in a while.

Like with his latest movie. He turned down big actors and big studios in favor of the artistic freedom that would accompany an independently produced film. So far, he believes his decision has paid off.

His new movie "Dream with the Fishes" has received rave reviews. It opens today at the Aquarius (See review in movie section).

"It was critical that I had creative control of the film," Taylor said. As writer of the screenplay, Taylor had additional motivation to protect his creation from the ravages of big studio production. "I've had movies made by the studio before," he said, "and they really destroyed it."

"Pontiac Moon," a 1994 film starring Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, was one such script that Taylor had turned over to the Hollywood machine. After that experience, he was determined to produce "Dreams With the Fishes" independently.

The movie is about a young man, Terry, who has become disillusioned with life and decides to commit suicide. Just before jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, however, he meets Nick, who has a terminal illness. Nick convinces Terry not kill himself. Instead, the two men embark on a high-spirited adventure. The film has shown at the Sundance Film Festival and the San Francisco Film Festival.

The screenplay took Taylor three years to write and is largely based on Taylor's experiences with a friend who was "an uninhibited, wild guy." They had traveled around the country for six years together before parting their ways in New Orleans. Taylor then left for Europe.

"I had saved for years to go to Europe with him--and I went off to Europe on my own," Taylor said. He returned after receiving word that his friend was sick. Taylor spent all his savings helping his friend fulfill his fantasies in his last couple weeks of life.

"When you go through stuff like that--everything becomes a hyper-reality," Taylor said. "Everything smells stronger. . . . A lot of people that age (in their 20s) don't experience the death of a peer. It dashes that myth of immortality."

The experience has encouraged Taylor to take more risks. "I used to be really inhibited and threatened by risk," he said. "Now I always take risks when they should be taken."

Taylor graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1976. He doesn't mince words when it comes to his loyalty to the Bay Area. He shot "Dream with the Fishes" in 26 days in 58 locations in San Francisco, La Honda and Pescadero. "The Bay Area is a great place to be--it's beautiful," Taylor said. The New York and Los Angeles landscapes are overused, he said, and he wanted his film to have a different feel.

The first half of the film has a dark, urban atmosphere that later lightens up and moves to the more rural sites of La Honda and "little towns along the coast."

The film stock used for the darker fantasies of the first half of the film was invented specifically for this production by Barry Stone, the film's director of photography. Taylor wanted to replicate the look of 1970s films. The second half of the movie shifts to normal color.

He steered his film to tell the tale of two male friends whose love, like the film, resists conventional classification. "One interesting thing about the film is that it is a nonsexual love story between two men," Taylor said. His own experience with his friend was "definitely one that involved love, and I wanted to show that without being preachy or sappy."

He admits that the women in the film are sidelined, but he says they had stronger character than the men.

"I wanted the women to be strong, but didn't want to make them upstanding for `PC' reasons," he said. "They do have a stronger sense of self than the guys, but I also wanted their weirdness to match the guys' weirdness." The women had to fit into the men's reality, Taylor explained.

Taylor, who used to work as a waiter at the Good Earth restaurant in Palo Alto--is now working on another screenplay that he also wants to produce and direct as a movie. "After that, I'm not sure what I'm going to do," he said. "I've learned not to plan too far ahead."

He cited a personal favorite Buddhist phrase: "The only man who is truly alive is one who keeps death over his left shoulder."

Back up to the Table of Contents Page