interview by Michael McCarthy

I’ve known David S. Marfield for nearly my whole life.  Back in 1995, I was publishing a hair metal zine called ANT, The Only Cool Magazine that bites.  One of the interviews I did was with Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider.  Rather than talk about music the whole time, I discussed Dee’s screenwriting career with him at length. Dave saw a post I’d made about this on AOL and e-mailed me, asking me to send him Dee’s interview immediately and in exchange, he would subscribe to my zine.  Well, I was thrilled to hear that someone else was as curious about Dee’s screenwriting career as I was, so I sent him the interview and we’ve been friends ever since.   Interestingly, Dave wound up becoming Dee Snider’s first webmaster and did some work on Strangeland, directing the fake porno shown in the film, which Dee wrote and starred in.  (Nowadays Dave and Dee are good friends.)  From there, Dave went on to write and direct a killer suspense thriller called Deepwater then he spent the next several years working as a screenwriter.  But after he heard his friend Auni’s EP and was blown away by it, he eventually was struck with the idea to make her a music video.  It’s called “The River” and it’s been winning awards as it makes its way around the film festival circuit.  

MM: Auni mentioned meeting you when she was waitressing at an Italian restaurant in Encino, but I didn’t think to ask for the name of the restaurant. Can you tell us about it?

DM: That’s Cafe Carolina!  Authentic Italian food with an emphasis on organic ingredients, owned and operated by a really cool Italian family.  We’d go there and end up spending more time talking to Auni than we spent eating, and that was before I knew she was a musician.  She was just a friendly person.  As we got to know her better, she started mentioning the EP she was working on.

MM: Auni couldn’t recall if she’d sent you and Adana her EP or if you bought it. How did it get into your hands? What did you think the first time you heard it?

DM: I bought it the moment it was finished.  They had a small pile of the discs for sale at the restaurant, and I wanted to support my friend.  I bought it with expectations that I’d enjoy it for the time and effort she invested, but I wasn’t expecting to be blown away.  I WAS BLOWN AWAY.  This was not the typical homemade vanity project; this was a powerful first release from someone who was clearly a visionary artist.  It was such an amazing surprise to learn that my waitress friend was also a musical genius.

MM: How long after you first heard the EP did you start thinking about making a video with her?

DM: Not right away.  But that’s only because I wasn’t someone who made music videos.  I was working as a screenwriter and I had directed one feature, but music videos were nowhere on my mind.  When I was a kid I used to love to make music videos with my friends for songs we liked, but I hadn’t done one of those since I was 13 years old.

MM: Was the video always going to be for “The River” or did you consider other songs? If so, which song(s)?

DM: It was always “The River.”  As much as I loved her whole EP, “The River” really stood out as something unique, timeless and haunting.  My lovely producer / life-partner Adana first suggested to me that we make the video.  I think she said, “Let’s make a video for ‘The River’ where Auni’s floating and spinning.”  Made sense to me, so I went off and wrote the rest of the video.  The image of the ghostly string players in the Victorian attic was the first thing that came to me, and then the contrast of that claustrophobic space with the breathtaking openness of California’s coastal nature areas.  Only after I had worked out the details of the story did I propose the idea to Auni.  I said, “I think I can make this work if you trust me,” and she did!  Incidentally, we actually shot a lot of stuff where Auni was levitating.  Lots of green-screens and uncomfortable positions for Auni.  But in the end, the floating stood out as a special effect in a video that otherwise felt very organic and grounded, so it had to be cut.

MM: She mentioned that you had some darker versions for “The River” script. Could you tell us about them?

DM: That’s funny, I had forgotten about that.  The completed video is very close to my original idea, but there were some detours on that journey.  The big one was our difficulty finding an attic in Los Angeles. Nobody seems to have one! And even if we had found one, we needed to shoot that scene right in the middle of summer, it would have been unbearably hot in a real attic.  So I tried to come up with some non-attic versions of the video.  The one I remember had Auni as a kidnapping victim, shackled in some dude’s basement, dreaming of escape.  I guess I had recently read the book “Room” and was imagining a sort of dark musical version of it.  This was a terrible idea, though, so I’m glad we stuck with my more metaphysical original concept.

MM: What’s your interpretation of the video? As the one who wrote it, I imagine you would know better what it’s about than anyone.

DM:  I love that everyone has different interpretations of it.  I’ve had a couple people tell me that Auni’s dead and on her way to the afterlife in the video.  Definitely not what I was thinking, but I can see how that makes sense.  To me, it was simply about stagnation vs change.  The attic represents the boring routine that we’re all prone to get stuck in.  The idyllic beach/woods scenes represent the better life we all know we’ve got inside us.  Making any real change in our lives takes enormous effort, and that’s why she’s dissolving from one world to the other and back, really fighting to stay in the better place.  One thing you might not notice on your first viewing is that the attic is packed full of creative objects: mainly the zither she plays, but there’s also a photograph, a radio, a painting (painted by Auni, I might add), a novel, a VHS tape of a concert, a camera, etc.  The idea is that creativity frees us.  In the case of this video, she uses the musical instrument (the zither) to ultimately teleport to a better place.  But all the other artistic tools were also there for the taking, just like they are in everyone’s life.  In a sentence: Creativity helps us escape the traps of stagnation.  It opens up our mind.  It’s not exactly a new idea, but it’s always a good one.

Auni and David S. Marfield in the spotlight.

MM: Was “The River” the first music video you ever made? (I know you’d previously directed the feature film Deepwater starring Lucas Black and Peter Coyote, among others.) If it was, did you have any anxiety about whether or not you’d be able to pull it off?

DM: Yes, first music video since I was 13 years old, so I was terrified of not being able to pull it off!  I think that’s probably why I worked so hard on it.  I loved the music, I loved my friends I was making it with, and I didn’t want to let anyone down.  How embarrassing would it be to drag everyone up to Big Sur for days of really hard work and then have it turn out bad?

MM: How long did it take to shoot the video? How long did it take to edit it?

DM: We shot about three days in the Big Sur area and then a few more days in my house where we had built the attic.  The Big Sur stuff was really fun, very much like a tiny version of making a feature film.  We took the whole thing very seriously, woke up well before sunrise so we could steal the beach scenes before anyone got there, etc.  The actual edit took about 10 days, but there were months of delays surrounding those 10 days.  In the end, a project I figured would take a couple months ended up stretching out over a full year.

Auni in the front, David in the back.

MM: Was it your idea to submit the video to the film festivals? Did you choose which festivals to send it to?

DM: Adana spearheaded the festival initiative and selected the best festivals for music videos.  She was great at this, and we’ve gotten some really good exposure around the world because of her tireless researching and then coordinating with the different festivals.

MM: Were you surprised when the video started winning awards? What went through your head when you found out you won best cinematography and editing at the New Zealand festival?

DM: What can I say–that was wonderful!  We put a ton of work into this thing, so it was very gratifying to see that strangers on the other side of the planet dug said work.

MM: Have you been present at any of the festivals when the video has received awards?

DM: No, sadly it’s a pretty long, expensive flight to New Zealand, or Berlin, etc.  I wish we could have been all of those places though.

MM: Is the video scheduled to be shown at any other festivals? If so, will you be attending any of them?

DM: Last week it had its west coast premiere at a festival that played in Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  That one was especially fun because we got to go in person!  Seeing it projected huge in what’s probably the most famous theater in the world was a real trip.  It will be at a few more festivals.  The next one coming up is the “SoCal Indie Clips Film Fest” in August.  That’s another local one, held on the lot of the Raleigh Studios, which means I get to go in person again!

MM: Auni told me the attic in the video isn’t actually a real attic but a set you had designed in a spare room of your house. Was putting that together an expensive project? How long did it take to construct?

DM: That came purely out of necessity, out of our inability to find a real attic to film in.  My childhood friend, Adam Esco, builds sets for commercial photographers in Minneapolis.  If you’re looking at ads for towels in Target’s newspaper pullout, chances are my friend built the bathroom in which those towels are hanging.  He was amazing:  he flew to Los Angeles, rented a truck, bought supplies at Home Depot, built an attic in my spare bedroom, and was back on a plane to Minneapolis two days later!  So no, it wasn’t expensive, I just happened to know the right guy.

If you like grotesque horror movies that make your skin crawl then you’d love Strangeland. Of course, if you’re a self-respecting horror fan then you’ve probably watched it at least 3 times already., but if you haven’t caught it yet you need to catch it asap.

MM: I understand the attic was there for over a year. What made you finally decide to take it down? Did you try to think of a short film you could make – aside from “The River” – using the attic location?

DM: The plan was to take it down as soon as we finished shooting, but we fell in love with our “attic.”  It was so much more interesting than the bedroom hiding under it.  I probably would have left it there forever, but then one day I needed to build a newsroom set so the attic had to come down.

MM: What’s next for you? Do you have anything planned right now? Do you hope to make more music videos? Any desire to make another movie or short film?

DM: I’d love to make more music videos!  There’s something so fun and freeing about the form.  I also hope to take some of what I’ve learned making this video and apply it to a longer dramatic film.  What does that mean?  In theory, it would mean treating the soundtrack as more than just an afterthought.  Not an outright “musical,” but the idea of designing dramatic scenes around existing music, or working with my composer to create the music BEFORE we shoot so that the scene can really pulse to the rhythm of the song.  I tried to do some of this with DEEPWATER, but budget and scheduling concerns always got in the way.  Maybe I will try again!


MM:  What was the first concert you attended?
DM: Weird Al Yankovic at Valleyfair amusement park outside of Minneapolis, spring 1983.  I was 12 and I didn’t really know what to expect.  Al’s amazingly energetic, gymnastic performance thrilled me to no end, and I still remember it as one of the most physically exhausting-looking performances I’ve ever seen.  I loved him then and I still love him now.
MM:  Who were your childhood heroes?
DM: My first was probably David Copperfield.  I was actually a working magician when I was 10-12 years old.  I had a no-kidding steady job at the local McDonalds.  Every Wednesday was “Magic Night” there, and I’d do a half hour of stage magic back in the kids area, then walk table to table and do close-up throughout the restaurant for another half hour.  I’d get shooed away from some tables, but most people really dug it.  That gig led to countless private birthday parties at kids houses, a TV appearance, and I think the biggest show I ever did was when the mayor of St Paul hired me for some huge city event.  David Copperfield’s yearly network TV specials were my favorite thing back then.  I retired from performing when I was 13, but still remain fairly obsessed with Penn & Teller.

MM:  Tell us 3 things from your bucket list that you’ve yet to do.
DM: 1)  Write a novel.  I really enjoy the art and style of writing, but screenplays are very limited in that regard.  The form requires that you stick to dialog and fairly precise action.  There’s no room to spend a page talking about someone’s thoughts or describing an incredible landscape.  It seems like fewer and fewer people are reading novels lately, but I’d like to write one anyway.
2)  Influence politics.  This one is very vague, but it’s something I’m increasingly driven toward.  I’m very passionate about the value of freedom, all kinds of freedom, and I see both the left and the right working non-stop to erode freedoms.  Especially since 9/11, American life has been full of “emergency measures” of all kinds, all of which pretend to grant us more safety while in actuality just pushing us closer to a totalitarian dystopia.  I think RULES are the root of all evil.  People are amazingly good and kind when they’re truly free.
3)  Live out in the middle of nowhere.  And it looks like I’m about to do this one!  There will be many long drives back to LA for meetings and projects, but I think it will be worth it.  Los Angeles has great people and lots to do, but I really miss the stars, clean air, quiet, critters and beauty that you only find far from cities.

MM:  Who are your top 3 all-time favorite filmmakers?  Why?
DM: Only three?!  Ok…
1)  Roman Polanski is my vote for the most talented director in the history of film.  His work gets confused with his personal/legal troubles far too often.  But if you’re just asking about who’s the best filmmaker, take a look at Polanski’s THE PIANIST or BITTER MOON and you’ll have your answer.
2)  Charlie Chaplin.  I think so many of us know Chaplin from grainy, terrible transfers of his masterworks, and the low quality really wrecks his stuff.  I didn’t start to understand his insane genius until I started seeing the more recent restorations of his films, thank you Criterion Collection.  When you see the frame as he photographed it, which is full of sharp detail and subtle gradations, it’s much more interesting than anything currently playing in a theater.  I highly recommend the original silent version of THE GOLD RUSH from 1925.  He wrecked the film when he re-released it in 1942 with tacked on sound, narration, etc., and that’s sadly the most commonly available version.  But take the time to dig up the 1925 version from Criterion’s Blu-ray.  It’s technically a “special feature” on the disc, but it’s really the only one you should watch.
3)  Stanley Kubrick.  I rarely watch films more than once, but Kubrick somehow draws me back to his films over and over.  I don’t think you could watch THE SHINING or 2001 or FULL METAL JACKET too many times.  There’s always some new detail to see!  I’m always drawn into the plot, even when I know exactly what’s going to happen.  Even his less perfect films like EYES WIDE SHUT have a hypnotically re-watchable quality to them.

MM:  Tell us about the worst day job you ever had?  How long ago was it?  How long did you have it for?
DM: Videotaping weddings.  I actually did this in high school.  To get the work I’d have to charge almost nothing, I think in the $300 – $500 range for the full package.  I was a high-schooler after all, so I had no chance of competing with more expensive services.  The work was long and grueling.  People were consistently annoyed that I was in their way at the wedding, and then disappointed that I didn’t get the broadcast-quality magical footage they imagined of their special day.  It was all suffering and no reward.  I still hate weddings to this day, and this may explain why I’m nearing 20 years of blissful non-marriage with the most beautiful and talented woman I know!

Click here to read Auni’s interview.




  1. Dean Avatar

    Mr. Marfield definitely needs to direct more videos. Clearly, he’s brilliant.

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