Interview: ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes’ Director Daniel Leo on Shooting on a Budget, Using Little Dialogue

There was a nice moment that near the end of my interview with director Daniel Leo. As it drew to a close, Daniel said that before we spoke, he checked out Talkies Network and noticed that we don’t really cover “films like his.” I asked what he meant, and he said that we don’t cover a lot of art-house films, and that he was grateful that were watching and reviewing his film, Man Proposes, God Disposes.

He wasn’t wrong. This isn’t a film that I would immediately gravitate towards. It was quiet, abstract, and was an intercontinental love story that deals with an unplanned pregnancy. I told him that, while true, I am always looking at exploring new avenues in film, stretching the idea of the types of films that I enjoy. And I’m glad I did.

Man Proposes, God Disposes is one of the most interesting films I’ve seen in recent memory. Containing great performances and cinematography, the feature was Leo’s first foray in cinema. The film is holding a special screening tonight at Toronto’s Paradise Theatre, and Talkies Network was offered the chance to speak with Daniel about his work in photography and film, as well as his debut feature. Check it out below!

Nick: Hi Daniel, thanks for taking some time to talk to me about your film!

Daniel: No problem man, ask anything you want and take all the time you need.

Nick: First things first, I want to know a little bit about yourself. I know your first love was photography, so would you say it acted as the basis for you entering film?

Daniel: I didn’t always love film. As a kid, I would just go to any kind of blockbuster. Maybe ten years ago, I became incredibly interested in photography. I would call it an obsession. I was obsessed with taking the perfect picture. I was always trying to better myself. It was very obsessive for me. To give you an example, I was travelling in Malaysia and I went to the same Mosque ten different times. On each day, I’d go at the exact same time as the day before and take a picture, from the same angle as well. I’d go because I didn’t like the clouds. On the tenth day however, the clouds were perfect. So, yea, obsessive is what I’d call it.

Going back to film, I’d start watching films from all around the world, like Korean or Italian films. The passion transferred from still images to moving images. I think there is more… everything, when it comes to cinema. It’s not only images, you have dialogue and music, and you’re able to do so much more. And at a certain point, I viewed it as the next step for me. The next thing I wanted to do. Sorry for the long answer; I can give you shorter answers if you’d like.

Nick: No no, this is totally fine. Much better than having someone respond with “oh yeah, I just always liked film and that’s about it.”

Daniel: Okay perfect!

Nick: Would you say you had any photography or filmmaking inspirations growing up?

Daniel: Honestly, what helped me find my style in photography in the beginning was the symmetry of Stanley Kubrick. I had heard about the rule of thirds, and anyone who is a photographer or filmmaker knows that rule. If you split the image in thirds, it’s apparently easier on the eye. I don’t really know how to fully explain it, but I know it’s something you learn in school. But I never went to school for photography or filmmaking, So when I heard that Kubrick disregards that rule and opts for symmetry, I started to take a strong liking to it. I utilized it quite a bit in the film.

Nick: I noticed that quite a bit, especially in scenes in homes.

Daniel: There you go! I would say that, it wasn’t a Stanley Kubrick-inspired film, but in terms of how I shot it, I did take cues from him.

Nick: This is your debut feature, correct?

Daniel: That is correct, yes.

Nick: I found the film to be an incredibly ambitious story. What was your creative process when coming up with the narrative?

Daniel: Funny enough, I was living in Mexico, teaching english. I met someone and… well, you can connect the dots there, but luckily it didn’t happen, like that. But I have been in a version of this situation, and so I began to think about other ways a situation like this could go down. How would my life change? I have different scenarios for what I would do if something like this would happen to me. Getting someone pregnant from another country. Again, while travelling, I actually met people who have friends where this exact story happened. Stuff like this happens, and it’s an unusual circumstance, but one that happens. I hadn’t seen any film that deals with a story like this: an intercontinental love story about unplanned pregnancy. I researched literally the whole internet to try and find this story and I couldn’t.

Nick: Did it take a lot of convincing for the studio to fund a story like this?

Daniel: Well you see, surprise surprise, we didn’t even have a studio to fund this. It was me just wanting to make this film, and not knowing anyone in this cinema world. I was calling people asking how I could make this film, and got zero answers. I turned to my friends for support, and funny enough, I met the film’s two main actors through mutual friends of ours. I used my savings to fund this micro-budget feature.

Nick: What kind of cameras did you use for the film? I know you made use of drones quite a bit…

Daniel: There was two elements: the first is drones, as you said, and the second was a Panasonic, which was like a standard DSLR camera. It only has one lens on it, but after researching, it really was the best camera to use on a budget. You think about filmmaking cameras, and they’re like ten or twenty thousand dollars. The premier camera, an Alexa, is like $50,000. But we didn’t need them.

Nick: I think that just shows how far technology has come. You’re able to shoot high quality imagery on a budget.

Daniel: It was almost more freeing in a sense. I didn’t need all the bells and whistles of a massive camera. It was me, the camera, and the images. The quality was exactly where I wanted it to be. People ask me if I used an Alexa camera on the film, and I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty cool telling them no.

Nick: Going into the actual film, I’m going to be honest, when I was asked to cover this film, from the title alone, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself in to. What was your inspiration for settling on Man Proposes, God Disposes, for the title?

Daniel: Good question, because that was the reaction I intended. When we were trying to name this film, I wanted a title that would stick out. Not something that you’d forget about. We had different titles in consideration, but none stuck. But this title, which is based on a painting, actually came from my mother. When I first heard it, I didn’t love it, and it wasn’t until we had saw the film fully edited where I was like “okay, this is it.” That title says everything we want to say about this film: the complexity of life.

Nick: It’s funny because I was actually talking about the title with the guys I co-run the site with and we were all thinking about why the film has this title.

Daniel: You know, I noticed that people aren’t really familiar with proposes and disposes. Like, obviously they are, but for me, I found that people don’t really use these words. In the title, I saw it as man proposes and idea or plan, and also proposes the idea to a woman. But God, everything ends with him, it is he who makes the final call in these plans. Man makes plans, but God may say otherwise. Which all ties back to the complexity of life. After researching, I noticed that countries, cultures, and religions, all use this saying, or at least a variation of it.

Nick: What would you say are the driving themes of the film?

Daniel: I don’t want to give you a cliché answer, but I think it boils down to life, and the intricacy that comes with it. We tried to make the film as realistic as possible, and when we were making this film, we were just living our lives. There were moments that would happen in our real life that we would then decide to include in the film. One moment in the film where Karol is walking into the building, and a super mean looking guy is right behind him. Karol is obviously spooked, but the guy ends up saying like he just forgot his keys. And you think, should I let the guy in? That happened in real life. We wanted to tell a story about life, things that could happen to every one of us.

Nick: I’m glad you brought up the story about the lead actor. For most of this film, at least from my point of view, I saw a lot of it as you subverting expectations. Was it your intention to do this, or am I reaching here?

Daniel: No you’re definitely on the ball here. When crafting the story, we obviously knew that conflict would push the movie forward. In storytelling, we needed something to push this narrative forward, and we started discovering new and innovative ways to do so. Not just utilizing the predictable outcomes to each decision; it was very much looking at different avenues. There are so many ways to tell a story, and we thought of different scenarios for Karol and Bruna’s relationship. We didn’t want the easy route here. There is no right or wrong way to tell a story.

Nick: Going back to your cinematography for a second, I very much loved the way you opted against using dialogue in a lot of sequences, leaving the camera to linger on the main characters to showcase the emotions their feeling; especially the scene where Karol arrives in Brazil and there’s no talking, only Karol on screen going through all the emotions one would feel in an unknown country, and as an expecting father. What made you decide to go against dialogue in favour of using images and music?

Daniel: That’s honestly what I really wanted to do with this film. It’s the one thing that interests me the most about film: what can you say without words? The movies that inspired me to make this movie, a lot of them are a part of the art-house genre. They are films with no dialogue. It’s just about how people tell a story in innovative ways. I wanted to use a little dialogue as possible, with the rest of it being how they’re feeling, and what kind of expressions do they give? I wanted to let the music as well speak on its own in certain scenes, or sounds to convey what they characters are experiencing. It was definitely a calculated approach.

Editor’s Note: At this point in our conversation, we spoke about spoilers pertaining to Man Proposes, God Disposes. We’ll most likely eventually release this portion of the interview after the film screens.

Nick: One last question, do you hope to keep making films in the art-house genre, or are you looking to tackle bigger films?

Daniel: I’ve been asked this question before, and art-house films are definitely why I fell in love with cinema. But, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider maybe a thriller or a different kind of film. I would still try to include the aspects of silence, images, and sounds, in a bigger film, because that’s why I love to watch.

Man Proposes, God Disposes is screening TONIGHT at Toronto’s Paradise Theatre at 6;30pm. For tickets, click here!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.