Linoleum – Interview with Writer/Director Colin West

Linoleum - Interview with Colin West
Shout! Studios
Heartfelt science fiction drama film Linoleum (2022) follows a failing children's science host Cameron (played by Jim Gaffigan), and the bizarre events which cause him to question his reality. The film features Jim Gaffigan, Rhea Seehorn, Katelyn Nacon, and Gabriel Rush.
Below, the interview with the writer and director Colin West covers different creative aspects of the filmmaking process. 

What was the inspiration and driving force for Linoleum?

While the film has a heavy sprinkle of sci-fi and a large ensemble scope, it is, in the end, a love story. And that love story is based on my grandparents who met when they were 16 and were married their entire lives until passing away a few years ago. But the rest of it — the themes within the film and ideas of individualism and dreams and memory, are all driven by own personal insecurities. So in that way, it is very vulnerable.

Can you tell us the meaning of the title?

Here is my take -- Linoleum is a material that is pervasive in many of life's major events -- schools, hospitals, libraries, homes, etc. and our film is about those things. It is a material that sort of lives in the places live in. In our film, we used the same linoleum flooring throughout all the sets in the movie, and that motif added to the kind of surreal quality of the film, even subconsciously. The title also kicks off a kind of mystery to the film, even before it starts. Which I like. Lastly, that speckled pattern of linoleum looks an awful lot like the stars in the cosmos in the sky, but it is below us -- like walking among the stars if you will.

Did you have any particular actors in mind when writing the screenplay?

No, I did not.

What was the casting process like for the film?

Our amazing Casting Director, Jessica Sherman, worked with us for over a year and a half to cast the movie. We didn’t have a huge track record, so we had to rely on the material to speak for itself. Thankfully, people seemed to like the script, and Jessica was able to get it to the major agencies. From there it found its way to our leads — Jim Gaffigan and Rhea Seehorn, and then for the supporting characters, we held a more traditional auditioning process.

The reveal at the end of the film is devastating. What was the screenwriting process like for Linoleum?

Every step in the process of making this movie was time-consuming, including the writing process. It took me many years to write it, or rather, to find it. About five years actually — from 2015 through 2020. My writing process often goes like this, but it felt a lot more like a subtractive sculptural process rather than an additive process. The subtractive sculpture is to start with a big block of material and to strip away to “find” the form within. That was certainly this. I overwrote this story to a fault and then continues to strip away until I was left with the narrative at hand. I have a Fine Arts education and often think about my process in these terms.

What are your favorite scenes in Linoleum — during filming and the final cut?

One of my favorites is what we liked to call “the train scene”. This is the scene where the younger characters, Marc and Nora (played by Katelyn Nacon and Gabriel Rush), are falling in love — sharing their vulnerabilities and dreams for the future. It was a really loose scene to shoot, and we had a lot of fun with it. On top of that, what our editor, Keara Burton decided to try with the scene was truly inspiring. I love how cinematic that scene became in the final cut and how visceral and feeling-based it was. Like watching a dream.

What was the inspiration for Cameron's Science TV Show?

Bill Nye the Science Guy. Through and through. Every generation has their version of this — be it Mister Wizard before that or Carl Sagan. I remember reading Bill Nye’s autobiography about the making of his show and being really inspired by his show’s manifesto — which was all about creating an environment for discovery and inspiration. I took that to heart with our film, making the scientific concepts reflect the emotional states of the characters. It was a fun conceit to thread throughout the film.

What were the influences for the visuals of Linoleum — what was it like working with the Cinematographer Ed Wu?

Ed Wu is incredible. He has such a good instinct behind the camera and took the film to another level. We looked to both photography and films for inspiration. Photographers like Todd Hido and Gregory Crewdson inspired a lot of the kind of strangely beautiful banality of suburbia. And films that inspired the shooting aesthetic, including movies like A Serious Man and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind— but we also looked at the way in which color was considered in movies like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, American Beauty, and Welcome to the Dollhouse.

Yellow was a prominent color in the film — what was the reason behind this creative choice?

We were very specific with color in the movie, and both our cinematographer, Ed Wu, and production designer, Mollie Wartelle, were instrumental to the cohesive look. Very early on we decided to focus the film around the color purple actually. And the opposite of purple on the color wheel is yellow, so that was for sure a complimentary color choice we used for emphasis. The character of Erin was color coded with yellow actually. All of her outfits centered on that color. In my mind, she is the true protagonist of the story, and using yellow to have her sort of oppose the world around her was a deliberate choice.

The score was remarkably compelling — can you please tell us how it came to be?

Mark Hadley! He is the composer of the film, and every little bit of music in the film was done by him. I’ve worked with him many times in the past, but it was fun to work at this scale. Because the film takes place in (spoiler…) many different time periods all at once, we needed the score to also kind of exist in this sort of out-of-reality tone. To do this, Mark mixed traditional instrumentation with modular synth techniques and put a lot of it through physical tape loops — this kind of layered auditory anachronism really hit the right chord for the film. It sort of services our conceit while also keeping an eye on the flow of emotion happening throughout. I’m very proud of Mark’s work on this and always say that if nothing else comes out of this process, at least the world now has this incredible score.

How did you find the post-production process with Editor Keara Burton?

One thing interesting is that we edited the entire movie over Zoom screen-share. This was deep in the pandemic, and it was truly the only way. While this presented a certain challenge, the experience was still wonderful. It was not our first time working together, so we already had shorthand we’d built through the years, so that was helpful. Much of the film uses the language of the cinematic edit to tell the story — as in, there would be sort of no other way to tell the story than with the tools of the film, mainly the edit. Much of this sort of cinematic narrative storytelling happens in the last fifteen minutes of the film, and it is where we spent the vast majority of our time. It was fun.

Where was the movie filmed, and how long was principal photography?

We shot for 24 days up in Kingston, New York.

Watch Linoleum