Spotlight on indie drama A Year & Change + interview with director Stephen Suettinger

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I always love stories of redemption and I think a smaller film can often tell such stories in a more sincere, heartfelt way. A Year and Change is a slice-of-life film of a divorcee named Owen who after a failed marriage is a bit lost and drifting aimlessly through life. After falling off the roof at a New Year’s Eve house party, Owen decides that it’s time to make some wholesale changes in his life. In the course of one year, he tries to regain control of his life and in the process he finds new love again. Romance is a big part of the film but it’s not everything this film is about, it’s more about a man’s journey of overcoming the hurdles in his life that keeps him from making the most of his life.

I’ve never seen any film of Bryan Greenberg before and suddenly I saw two of his films where he played the lead. He’s definitely got the gentle charisma as a leading man, but I love the authentic way he portrays the role of Owen. A lot of actors might have the charisma, but not necessarily the sincere vulnerability that make a certain character sympathetic and relatable. The bittersweet romantic drama is a solid directorial debut from Stephen Suettinger. I like how he tells Owen’s story in an understated way and nary of grating over-sentimentality.  The film also deals with dark subjects but without resorting to being overly gloom and doom.

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The film has a terrific supporting cast: Claire Van Der Boom, T.R. Knight, Jamie Chung, Jamie Hector and Marshall Allman. Interesting that he’s shared some scenes with Jamie again whom he co-starred in It’s Another Tomorrow in Hong Kong. The script is engaging and the pacing is just right, plus it’s got a pretty cool soundtrack that fits the tone and mood of the story.

I’m glad to hear that the public will be able to see this soon! Vision Films will release the film across North America on DVD and VOD this Thanksgiving November 24th 2015.

Check out the trailer:

 


TCFF Screening Time(s): 
10/27/2015 (8:15 PM)


I had the privilege of chatting with director Stephen Suettinger about making the film, so thanks so much Steve for the wonderful and entertaining insights!

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Q. How did you come to collaborate with Emily Ting? Did you work together before this project?

A couple of years ago, Emily produced one of Jim Beggarly’s scripts called ‘The Kitchen’ which also happened to star Bryan Greenberg. So when Bryan attached to AYAC, I went straight to Emily to see if she’d be interested in coming on board to produce. Thankfully she joined the project or else we may never have gotten the movie made!

Q. I’m always interested in films about second chances in life or starting over, how did you and/or Jim Beggarly come up with the story? I think this is the first time I come across a film with a vending machine owner as the protagonist.

Jim sent me the original script back in 2006. Yes, it took 9 years (!) to finally get it to the screen. To put that in perspective, I’ve had 4 kids since I first read the original draft of Jim’s script which used to be called ‘Dear Jen.’ After reading it back then, I fell in love with the characters. They reminded me of people I knew growing up in Maryland (Jim also grew up here). I was a big fan of Owen being a vending machine owner because there’s this natural paradox of him being in a position to help people (even if just to satisfy their hunger) and yet it’s this very solitary kind of job. He’s often alone, even within a crowd of people.

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Bryan with T.R. Knight

I knew I loved the characters, but I didn’t find my way ‘in’ to the story until after my Mom passed away in 2011. They say that when a parent dies, you take one step into the grave with them. Luckily I have a supportive family that made sure that I didn’t spiral into depression. AYAC’s lead character Owen, I realized, didn’t have that kind of support system. So after the many tragedies that he’s lived through (the loss of his parents, the dissolution of his marriage), he’s just kind of ‘stuck’. It became clear to me that AYAC should be a story about Owen surrounding himself with a surrogate family. So that’s the direction that we ultimately took with the story.

Q. You’ve worked as an AD as well as in Special Effects (for Avatar, wow!!), how did you get into the film industry?

My first job in the industry was as an Editor’s PA on the movie ‘Contact.’ I helped set up the editing bays and a screening room in Washington DC when the crew came here to shoot on location. One of the perks of the job was that I got to watch dailies with the director (Robert Zemeckis), the actors, the DP, the editors, and the Producers. It was my first time ‘seeing behind the curtain’ of a movie, and I was instantly hooked. From there I worked as a PA on a bunch of movies that came through the DC/Baltimore area before working as a Production Coordinator for the Discovery Channel.

I directed my first short called ‘Writing Wrongs’ and it was a great experience – but I learned quickly that I didn’t know some of the basic fundamentals of filmmaking. So I went back to grad school at USC’s School of the Cinematic Arts and tried to learn a bit about every discipline involved in the craft of filmmaking. Upon graduating, I reached out to my friends from ‘Contact’ and got a job on Robert Zemeckis’s new motion capture movie ‘Beowulf.’ My job was basically to take Bob Z’s notes and to help out the script supervisor. From there, I moved onto ‘Avatar’ where I was taking James Cameron’s notes and was also on the 3D implementation team for a couple of years. But my dream was always to direct this little script that a playwright from NYC had sent me in 2006 – and after 3 weeks of shooting in December 2013, we finally got it in the can. And now here we are.

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Q. How did you come to cast Bryan Greenberg? Would you share about the casting process?

At the premiere of ‘The Kitchen,’ my understanding is that Bryan asked Jim what else he was working on. Jim called me and asked if he could give the script to Bryan. I’ve long been a fan of Bryan’s work so of course I said “please do!” Bryan read it on the plane back to LA, and loved it. I flew out to meet with him shortly after that and we hit it off. He happened to be friends with some of the people I had in mind for the other roles, so it worked out perfectly. Bryan is such a wonderful guy that people really wanted to work with him, so once he came on board, casting moved forward quickly.

Q. You shot your film on location in Montgomery County, MD, which was your hometown. I saw that you shot it during Autumn, my favorite season. What’s been the best moments as well as challenges of making your first feature?

It’s hard to shoot a movie that takes place over an entire year on a very limited budget and a three week production schedule. In order to make Maryland look like any season (but pre-dominantly Fall/Winter since the bulk of the movie takes place in these months), we knew that we’d either have to shoot in December or March. To be honest, we got incredibly lucky with the weather. There’s a saying in Maryland that if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes. There were days when it snowed 6+ inches, which was perfect for the winter scenes, and there were days where it was 60 degrees outside which was perfect for the Spring/Summer scenes. Incredibly, the weather cooperated with us for the most part. Of course there were several occasions where I had to re-write a scene to take place indoors when it was supposed to be an exterior scene, on the night before shooting it – but that happens all the time with low budget independent film-making.

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We went to great lengths to shoot during the hiatuses of the big shows that film in Maryland (House of Cards and Veep) so that we could hire some of their crewmembers. We’re very fortunate to have experienced industry professionals as well as vendors (rental houses, post facilities, sound facilities, etc) in the area who are always willing to lend a hand to local filmmakers.

Since I knew we’d be shooting in Maryland, I tailored the script to take place in some of the locations that I knew and loved. But that can be both a blessing and a curse. One of the biggest lessons I learned along the way is that I should try very hard not to shoot in my own house (displacing my family of 5 – including 3 young kids at the time), my in-law’s house, my father’s house, my sister’s house, etc… They were very supportive and we wouldn’t have been able to make the movie without their generosity, but filming in your loved one’s houses brings a whole other set of worries to the table.

Autumn is my favorite season too! It was one of the things I missed most about the East coast while living in LA.


Thanks again Emily and Stephen for chatting w/ me yesterday!

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What are your thoughts of A Year and Change? 

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9 thoughts on “Spotlight on indie drama A Year & Change + interview with director Stephen Suettinger

  1. Two films starring Bryan Greenberg? I remember him from A Perfect Score. He was alright. I’m sure you haven’t heard of that film but if you did. You definitely know who else was in that film as well.

      1. Well, it’s not a great movie but it does have some fantastic performances from Chris Evans and pre-LiT Scar-Jo (though the film did come out in January 2004 but it was filmed before she made LiT) where it is about high school kids planning a heist to steal SAT scores.

  2. More fascinating coverage Ruth. It’s interesting to hear director Stephen Suettinger talk about his earliest experiences on a film set, particularly because he worked alongside one of my favorite filmmakers (Rob Zemeckis) on one of my favorite films (Contact).

    It’s also interesting to hear how the film was conceived and made. I’m looking forward to seeing this one.

  3. Never heard of this one. I’ve mostly seen Greenberg in rom-coms like Bride Wars, Prime, and Friends with Benefits, but this looks like a better direction for his career. Nice interview, Ruth!

  4. Pingback: My Top 10 Picks from Twin Cities Film Fest |

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