A conversation with filmmaker Alexander Poe
Alexander Poe is a New York City-based actor/writer/director with one indie feature and a bunch of award-winning short films under his belt. He first came to my attention after he posted one of his Columbia University film school exercises to YouTube—a compelling, two-and-a-half-minute recreation of a scene from John Schlesinger’s 1985 movie The Falcon and the Snowman.
Filmed in 2008, the short starred actors Teddy Bergman and Ian Unterman as the titular characters. I stumbled across it one day while routinely scouring the interwebs for any mention of falcons or snowmen (like you do). I’ll admit, I clicked “Play” with a cautious pessimism. You can’t blame me. These days, there’s no end to the terrible things you can find on YouTube. But by the time those 150 seconds had run their course, I was fairly blown away.
What struck me the most about Poe’s piece—aside from it being a contemporized take on the now-classic 80s flick that incorporated the use of a cell phone instead of a pay phone, for example—were the actors’ interpretations of the characters.
Back in 1985 when The Falcon and the Snowman was released, Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn were at the peak of their game, two of the greatest young actors in Hollywood. Penn’s over-the-top portrayal of Andrew Daulton Lee was a star-making scene stealer, and Hutton’s depiction of Christopher Boyce was the epitome of smoldering inner turmoil. That a young, relatively inexperienced director like Poe would purposefully steer his cast of unknowns away from pulling off carbon copy imitations of these iconic screen characters struck me as a ballsy move. I was impressed.
Immediately, I forwarded the link to Christopher and Cait Boyce. I wanted to know if it was just me, or if this short scene really was as awesome as I thought it was. They watched it and were both instantly blown away by the fact that Poe and his film school skeleton crew had managed to capture the “real” Boyce and Lee more accurately than Hutton and Penn had some 20-odd years earlier.
I did a little more digging on Poe and found out that he had recently written, directed, and starred in an independent feature called Ex-Girlfriends. The fact that the movie just so happened to co-star one of my favorite actresses, Jennifer Carpenter (of Dexter and The Exorcism of Emily Rose fame), didn’t exactly diminish my impression of the guy. Nor did the mature artistry and subtle humor of Ex-Girlfriends when I sat down to watch it a few days later.
After connecting with Poe via Facebook and a volley of back-and-forth messages, I managed to get him on the phone to ask him a few questions. First and foremost, I was curious to know what made him choose a scene from The Falcon and the Snowman for a film school exercise. I mean, it’s not exactly a lousy movie. But considering the trillion or so other movies made throughout the long history of celluloid, why this one? Turns out, he’s just got good taste.
“It was one of those movies I always found fascinating,” Poe told me. “It touched on a number of compelling themes: friendship and rebellion, fathers and sons. What made it even more interesting were the real events it was based on. It was a movie I would watch frequently, and I always found something new and interesting about it.”
So, why that particular scene? Poe told me he chose it because it fit perfectly within the limitations of his zero-budget exercise.
“I was taking a directing class at Columbia,” he said. “One of my assignments was to take an existing script and shoot a scene from it. I chose that particular one because I wanted something I could shoot easily, with just two actors. But more than that, there’s also a very interesting power dynamic going on between Chris and Daulton. They’re two friends who hold a lot of power over one other, and the stakes are so incredibly high, that it makes it fascinating to watch. It’s a very cool drama.”
Next, the obvious question: how the hell did he manage to get such spot-on performances without having access to a crystal ball?
“As I recall,” Poe said, “neither Teddy (Bergman) or Ian (Unterman) had ever seen The Falcon and the Snowman. That helped them to not imitate the original performances. I certainly had notions about the characters, but I limited my direction in that area so that they could discover a bit of authenticity for themselves.”
Another unique aspect of the scene involves the setting. Anyone who’s ever watched (and re-watched) The Falcon and the Snowman will be familiar with the distinctly “SoCal” beach settings that crop up throughout. In Poe’s reimagining, Chris Boyce and Daulton Lee are transplanted to a location quite different from the one they inhabited in real life. Instead of taking place in and around Los Angeles, Poe’s scene takes place on the other side of the country in Manhattan, offering a clear view of the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.
“We shot down at the South Street Seaport,” Poe said. “It felt like a location where two guys living an espionage lifestyle would hang out. It also seemed to me like a place Daulton would choose for a secret meeting. It was a fun shoot. All we had was a camera, a boom, and two actors. We went down at dawn. Security pretty quickly realized we weren’t supposed to be there and cut the shoot short, but I think we got what we needed. We shot the whole thing in about an hour and a half.”
Turning the conversation to the present, I asked Poe about his most recent endeavors—namely, his first feature film Ex-Girlfriends, which he not only starred in but also wrote, directed, and co-produced.
“It was great fun to make a feature movie after a bunch of shorts,” Poe said. “Ex-Girlfriends went through the festival circuit, and then got released here in New York. It’s available on DVD now, as well as iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. Right now, I’m just working on other scripts, shooting a bunch of commercials and other short films, and trying to work my way towards the next movie.”
Alexander Poe is one of those rare filmmakers whose abilities behind the camera far surpass his years. It’ll be interesting to see how his career develops. I know I’ll be watching closely.
Vince Font is the co-author and publisher of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. The book was co-written with Christopher Boyce and Cait Boyce. Font is the founder of Glass Spider Publishing, which he launched in 2016 to publish the writings of underrepresented authors.