It’s already Day 9 of the film fest! Whew, time sure flies when you’re having fun! Science, Relationship, Horror … definitely there’s something for everyone in today’s lineup!
We had the privilege of getting the insights from the people involved with two of the feature films playing today, Twin Cities and Ruin Me. So check ’em out below:
“Salvaging a marriage takes time and trust, two things that John and Emily no longer have. Emily is a writer with a career threatening case of writer’s block and deadlines approaching. The pressure to finish her novel grows when John sinks into depression and quits his job … right before their first baby is due.
As they head toward a mutual meltdown, John is given a terminal diagnosis that forces him to reassess his life and attempt to save his marriage—before it’s too late. However, inner peace proves elusive, the marriage might be too far gone, and John’s life may not be what it seems.”
At a glance, a film dealing with a troubled marriage, wife suffering from writer’s block, depressed husband haunted by his past, it sounds like a downer. But Twin Cities is actually a pretty entertaining film with plenty of humorous moments. It’s actually a lot funnier than you think, but also has a lot of poignant moments and spiritual matters that would make you ponder about your own life. Plus there’s also an interesting twist you won’t see coming.
Twin Cities is actually a sequel to David Ash‘s feature film debut 2021(which premiered at TCFF a couple of years ago). Clarence Wethern and Bethany Ford were both in 2021, and they’re both excellent in the lead roles in this one as well. They both balance the dramatic and humorous moments wonderfully, Clarence has such a natural comic timing that’s fun to watch.
The leading man of my short film Heart’s Want, Peter Christian Hansen, also have a supporting role in this film. I can’t say too much about his character without giving too much away of the plot though, but he’s a terrific addition to the cast. Hearts Want‘s director Jason P. Schumacher also produced this film and did the extras casting as well.
Q: What would you say are the main themes of the film?
Q: When you finished ‘2021’ did you already have a plan/concept to make a follow-up to that?
Q: Did you have a lot of prep work with your two lead actors despite having done a film together before?
Q: Tell me a bit about your decision to cast Peter Hansen in the role of David?
THANK YOU David Ash for chatting with me about TWIN CITIES!
There is a TCFF screening tonight at 8:45 that’s sold out, but there’s a RUSH LINE so if you get there in time you just might be able to see this film on the big screen.
Thanks Laura Schaubschlager for this interview article with actor ALEX GALICK from Ruin Me:
Horror movies can be polarizing. It seems like there are either hardcore fans of the genre, or people who are too scared to watch even the cheesiest of slasher films, with very little middle ground. However, independent film Ruin Me (written by Trysta A. Bissett and Preston DeFrancis) has the potential to appeal to both sides. Since its premiere in August, the movie has received overwhelmingly positive responses from audiences at nearly twenty film festivals (including London’s FrightFest and Los Angeles’s Screamfest-the longest running horror film festival in the U.S.), several nominations and awards, and a current IMDB rating of 7.8 (an exceptional score for a horror movie).
I had the opportunity to chat with Alex Galick, Ruin Me cast member and local actor, to discuss the film, his involvement in it, and the horror genre as a whole.
While on the surface, Ruin Me is a traditional horror film with familiar tropes, there’s more to (what Alex and others involved in the film call) this “sophisticated slasher” than meets the eye. “It definitely pays homage to the genre,” Alex explains. “But the focus is less on the jump scares and gore and more on mystery and character.” Despite the story taking place at an extreme event that is essentially a horror movie-themed camping trip, the movie itself is more of a psychological thriller. The main character, Alexandra (Marcienne Dwyer), is not just the stereotypical “final girl,” but a multifaceted character with a complex background. “[She] has a checkered past that may or may not be involved with what’s happening,” Alex hints.
As for Alex’s character (listed only as “The Skinny Kid” on IMDB), you’ll have to see the movie to find out more, as going into detail might give away some spoilers. “What is it Jeff Sessions says? ‘I plead the fifth,'” Alex laughs. “I can’t give you the skinny on The Skinny Kid.” It sounds like his portrayal of this mystery character will be quite the performance, though; while the filmmakers were originally thinking of casting someone from Muskegon, Michigan (where Ruin Me was filmed), they were so impressed with Alex’s reel that they decided to go with him instead, even though it meant having him regularly make the nearly 9-hour drive for filming.
Ruin Me isn’t Alex’s first venture into horror. His first professional film role was in the 2013 thriller Fractured (starring Vinnie Jones and Callum Blue), andmore recently, he wrapped on the upcoming horror comedy Ahockalypse, which was filmed here in Minnesota. While he isn’t necessarily a horror fan himself, he’s developed an appreciation for the genre through his work in it. “I think horror has an amazing fanbase,” he says. “The people who love to watch horror love it in a way I don’t think other genres enjoy…I have a great respect for the roller coasters these films take us on. They create visceral experiences, and that’s translatable, I think, across cultural boundaries.”
Based on initial responses, it sounds like Ruin Me will be a similar cinematic roller coaster experience. While the film may subvert some tropes, the writers were still very loyal to the horror genre, spending nearly five years researching and putting serious effort into making this something die-hard horror fans will appreciate.
Those of you in or near the Twin Cities have two chances to catch Ruin Me during TCFF at the Showplace ICON in St. Louis Park:
Thursday, October 26th at 10:15 PM and Saturday, October 28th at 11:00 PM.
There are still a slew of great films playing in the last two days of TCFF! Some are starring Oscar winners (J.K. Simmons in The Bachelors) and Oscar-worthy films such as Darkest Hour(starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill).
One of the many intriguing documentaries playing at this year’s TCFF is Victor’s Last Class, documentary about an acting teacher getting ready to end his life, and a student who attempts to change his mind.
Our blog staff Laura Schaubschlager talked to producer/filmmaker Brendan Brandt on the journey to making his film, where along the course of the project became more than just a filmmaker asking why, but became a close friend trying to change his new friend and mentor’s mind.
1. How did you discover Victor and his blog (and, subsequently, his announcement of ending his life)?
I’m an actor in Los Angeles. I was at a cast party after having just closed a play. The host of the party was a little upset, and when I asked why, he told me that his friend Victor was getting ready to kill himself in two weeks, and he didn’t know what to do.
I was fascinated with the story and asked if Victor would be willing to meet me. I just wanted to talk to him. Before we met, I read all his blogs and got a sense of who he was. At some point right before we met I got the idea to document his story in some way. So I pitched him the documentary idea sort of on the fly.
2. Why were you compelled to make this documentary? How did you hope to challenge Victor’s decision through filming this?
“Why was I compelled” initially is tough to answer. I’m not great at psycho-analyzing myself so there may be some subconscious stuff going on that I’m unaware of. If I was forced to guess I would say I had never truly experienced a death at that point in my life (other than losing a grandpa and grandma). I hadn’t lost a close friend or parent, so I think I was perhaps a little curious about it. That was at first. Then after I met Victor, I bonded with him in a very intense way, and I was compelled to “save” him. I had a mission, to talk someone out of killing themselves. I think that’s how I saw it after awhile.I hoped to do it by asking him some super smart questions. I was on a righteous mission! It sounds incredibly naive and a little arrogant to me now, but I really thought I could get into the philosophy and logic behind the decision and perhaps find a flaw or crack. I was convinced there was a chance to unlock some previously undiscovered angle, and when we fully looked at it, we could come to a different conclusion.
3. Last year, Jojo Moyes’s book Me Before You, which deals with the issue of assisted suicide and ending one’s life due to lifelong medical struggles, was adapted into a major motion picture. Have you read the book or seen the movie, and if so, how did you feel about the depiction of this situation after going through it yourself?
Oh man, I was not aware of that book or film. I will check it out when I’m ready to have a good cry.
4. Victor stated in the documentary that he didn’t believe ending one’s life has to just be due to physical pain (he gives the example of someone losing a wife and child in an accident and not being able to go on), but didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to say it would extend to mental illness.
What do you think? How do you feel it extends (or doesn’t) to mental illness? Where do you think the limit is?
Great question. Let me preface this with I don’t have a clear, concrete answer. One of the main lessons I got from this experience was that life is less ‘black and white’ and more ‘grey’. So you have to take it on a case by case basis. We can do a better job of seeking help for mental pain, and we can do a better job of treating mental illness. I didn’t like Victor’s car accident analogy in the moment. That seemed like an injury that, while horrific, would slowly, at least partially, heal with time, and deciding to die before giving it a chance to partially heal would be unwise. Maybe after 10 years, with no improvement in mental health, still devastated and unable to cope, I would be more willing to accept that.
All that being said, mental pain is often worse than physical pain, and ultimately an individual should be in charge of their own life. So, if a mental health expert could determine that someone who is suffering extreme mental pain and wants to die is not “crazy”, I would probably accept that. The main point would be to make sure they talk about it with experts and loved ones, and that we would get a chance to really explore that decision.
5. After going through all of this with Victor, what advice do you have for anyone who has a friend or family member considering ending their lives due to chronic pain or illness? You state toward the end of the film that while you understand his reasoning more, you still don’t agree with his decision; how do you come to terms with those conflicting feelings?
My advice would be to make sure you listen to the person. I’m very grateful I got to have this experience with Victor. And he was grateful I gave him that experience because we got to really investigate every facet of that decision. It was good for both of us, and I think it’s a healthy process to go through. Tell the truth, listen, question, and seek to understand. Not to be nit-picky, but I said: “I still don’t know that I agree”. I think that’s an important distinction. It goes back to my ‘things are grey’ point. I can’t say what he did was right or wrong. I don’t want to say that. But I do want people to look at it and think about it, and maybe make up their own mind.
When I made that comment toward the end of the film, I was hurting. I thought I made a pretty strong case to continue on. It was a little selfish of me to be honest. He was making my life better, and I didn’t want that to stop. It’s taken time and a lot of reflection, and the conflicting feelings are still there, but basically, at this point, I understand and accept. Wish it wasn’t the case, but I accept. Dealing with the conflicting feelings was interesting. As I spoke with his friends after the fact and heard their takes on it, I found myself swinging back and forth, and that continued for a while until I arrived at ‘there is no right answer. It just is.’
Brendan Brandt (Director/Producer), is a Los Angeles based actor who has been working professionally for the last twelve years in theater, film, and television. He’s appeared in prime-time dramas for CBS, sitcoms for ABC, Comedy Central, and CMT, and films that have been distributed by Netflix, Amazon, and Directv. In addition, he has been in over twenty commercials as a principal actor. His book “Waiting Tables, Dodging Bullets: An Actor’s Guide to Surviving Los Angeles” was published in 2010. Although he’s worked in the industry for twelve years, this is his first time directing a film.
Arielle Amsalem is an Emmy Award winning editor of feature length documentary films. After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts film program, where she apprenticed under the editor Sam Pollard, Arielle started her career working on Spike Lee’s award winning documentary “When the Levees Broke” (2006), a film about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. She has since been the editor of many feature- length documentaries including the Edward Norton produced HBO documentary “By the People: The Election of Barack Obama” (2009) for which she won the Primetime Emmy for Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming. She worked as a Producer on Jennifer Fox’s 6-part documentary series “Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman”, which premiered at Sundance and aired on the Sundance channel. Additionally, she has consulted on the production and distribution of many of the documentaries which she has edited.
What’s in store for Day 4
Today we are screening lots of movies, there is something for everyone!
Victors Last Class, Instructions for Living, Ice House, Coyote, Cold November, Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict, Bill Nye: The Science Guy, Beyond the Trek, Beauty Mark,and two blocks of short films (Age of Innocence – coming of age stories, and True Life Inspired– documentaries).
There are SO many things going on during Twin Cities Film Fest! It’s fun to see filmmakers and talents coming to present their films and see them do the red carpet interviews! This year I’ve a couple of bloggers helping me out not just in reviewing stuff but also in doing interviews. That’s super helpful as I can’t be in two places at the same time (can someone invent something that enables us to do that?)
In any case, thanks to FlixChatter’s blog contributor Andy Ellis, we’ve got an interview with Lea Thompson and Madelyn and Zoey Deutch, her two daughters and fellow collaborators in The Year of Spectacular Men. So the film is Lea’s directorial debut based on Madelyn’s script and the three starred in the film together.
Take a listen to Andy’s interview below:
I first met filmmaker Jack Norton when his documentary Jug Band Hokum was playing at TCFF in 2015. I’ve seen Jack & Kitty at various events and film screenings since, but it’s so cool to see them back at TCFF, this time as musicians!
Jack and Kitty are high school sweethearts that play Organic Vaudeville and Jug Band Folk for All Ages. They are an Emmy Award winning musical duo that also makes critically acclaimed films and television. Based in Minnesota, they love to perform concerts nationwide and play a variety of folk instruments including: banjo, guitar, ukulele, washboard, jug, kazoo, harmonica, whizbang, rumba box and much more. The Minneapolis Star Tribune hailed them as “one of the most entertaining groups in the midwest!”
I remember that when I talked to Jack a few years ago how much he admired filmmaker Sean Baker (who made his breakthrough with his film Tangerine, shot entirely on an iPhone). So I’m so thrilled that he ended up working with him on his new film The Florida Project, starring Willem Dafoe!
Take a listen below on how the collaboration got started… and also specifically about their music.
Check out their Facebook page for events in the area and around the country. Subscribe to their YouTube page too, while you’re at it.
Watch them share their incredibly inspiring story of how they went from homeless to having four songs in THE FLORIDA PROJECT.
Jack & Kitty are the loveliest, funnest people you’d ever be blessed to meet, so thank you guys for chatting with me!
Stay tuned for another interview post tomorrow with Victor’s Last Class’s filmmaker Brendan Brandt … thanks Laura Schaubschlager!
Last week had been quite a whirlwind… but in the most wonderful way. Last Wednesday 2/15, my hubby and I attended the premiere of Project Eden Vol. I, part of Twin Cities Film Fest’ Insider Series event, with the cast and crew. It was a fun, festive night. It was lovely to chat a bit with the lovely lead actress Emily Fradenburgh, who arrived early to the event in a gorgeous dress, as I didn’t get to interview her in person. Everyone looked red-carpet ready, including the Twin Cities-based male lead actor Peter Christian Hansen, who was his usual charming self.
I had met the duo filmmakers Terrance Young and Ashlee Jensen just hours before for our interview at Nina’s Coffee House. The screening ended with a fun Q&A with the cast and crew.
Quick Thoughts on the film:
Well, the first part of Project Eden got off to a strong start. The sci-fi thriller deservedly won Best Vision at the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival just a week prior. It’s an intriguing sci-fi that played more like a conspiracy theory, set in a familiar world like ours, but with a few twists. I have to say the visuals looked amazing, shot by Twin Cities based DP Christopher Lange. It looked more expensive than it was, which is always a feat for indie films. The film’s is quite enigmatic and made you ponder about what’s really going on, but that’s to be expected as we haven’t seen the whole story yet.
The two leads Evelyn and Ethan (played by Emily Fradenburgh and Peter Hansen) are definitely the strongest performers of the film. We’re not sure just how their worlds are connected, but we’re given just enough to care about their journey. It’s always interesting when we’re not sure if the protagonist is a good guy or not, and Ethan definitely keeps you guessing. Evelyn and the mystery surrounding her catatonic son is the focal point of the story, and her exchange with Erick Avari’s mysterious character in the third act leads to a massive cliffhanger!
I do have a few quibbles, such as the stock characters and their hackneyed dialogue. There are also odd situations that don’t quite add up, which you could refer to as plot holes or continuity problems. But overall, it’s a pretty thrilling set-up that made me eager to see Volume II!
I met the duo filmmakers Terrance and Ashlee at another charming St. Paul coffee house called Nina’s. There’s a bit of logistical challenge trying to set up a time to meet, as they were only in town for a few days so no doubt their schedule is jam packed. But it was well worth the effort as they’re one of the nicest people you ever had the privilege to meet! They’re both from Sunshine Coast, Australia, and they certainly had such a sunny outlook on life. By the time I got there, Terrance had stepped out for a bit so I got to chat with Ashlee first.
How did the concept/story idea of Project Eden first come about for you?
Ashlee: Terrance actually had the concept of the ending, this amazing grand ending, about ten years ago. And we’ve known each other for 11 years, so we talked about it back and forth throughout that time, but of course we ended up doing other things, including 500 Miles (Ashlee’s directorial debut that Terrance produced). Then we went on our separate ways, we did a bit of study and other projects in between. It wasn’t until we stopped here in Minneapolis on our way to Palm Beach for 500 Miles and we walked through the Stone Arch Bridge. And from one side of the bridge to the other we talked out the whole story of Project Eden.
Terrance:So the beginning and the end were always there. For some reason, I don’t know if it was a dream or something. So the idea was there but it’s a concept that was going to cost a lot of money so we put it off. I just weren’t at a point in my career yet [to make this]. So Ashlee and I did 500 Miles together in 2014, then a few years later we were here in Minneapolis and we came up with the whole story and started writing it. As we had the beginning and the end, we sort of weaved everything together. Then we decided to do it in two volumes as we know that if we’re trying to do it as one feature we wouldn’t have gotten the budget. It’d be too ambitious. But by doing part I, it opened up a franchise opportunity and we’re able to make Part I with a decent amount of money.
So are you saying the birth of the project is right here in Minneapolis?
Ashlee:Yes. It’s really interesting because when we had our final filming blocked, so this was a year and a half blocked in three different countries (Australia, New Zealand and the US), the very final scene that we shot was the one that happened at the Stone Arch Bridge.
You said you talked through the whole project as you both were walking in Stone Arch Bridge. Did you envision it to be multiple films instead of just one feature?
Ashlee:No, at the time, obviously we fell in love with the city, it has the right vibe and we’re like, ‘oh we have to film it here, it’s amazing.’ At the time we were hoping to get it into one story, but by the time it came down to to writing it all out and then of course being indie filmmakers, all the other things came into place. We didn’t have unlimited budget and all these political, behind-the-scenes stuff came up. But we knew in our hearts if we wanted to do justice to the story then we needed to separate it into two volumes. So the first one you’re really setting up the world of Project Eden and getting to know the characters in such a deep level, seeing all their flaws and the journey they’re about to embark on. But we ended it right at the point where things are about to kick off. It’s a massive cliffhanger.
You said Terrance had this grand ending idea initially, but did you have the characters in mind at the time? Or is it more about the concept?
Ashlee:We didn’t have the name but we knew the central core of the story is a young woman and her son who’s in a catatonic state.
In the concept video, both of you said that the world seems to think that spirituality and science are two separate things while you think it’s one and the same. Would you expand a bit on that thought?
Ashlee:Sure. Of course these are our personal perspectives how we view reality.. But we see time and time again where there’s always this opposing views that you’re either spiritual or you have this scientific belief. While we’re like, well why can’t it be combined? Because anything that is scientific has a spiritual element and vice versa. The nature of the universe and everything that we’re even sitting in today is so overwhelmingly vast and amazing, I don’t think you can pinpoint it down to just science. There is always this grander allusion of spirituality so we feel that the two are so complexly and deeply intertwined that it’s one and the same.
Terrance:I feel like our world today is governed by religion to the point of our detriment. We’re killing each other because of religion. At the end of the day everyone has a spiritual side, but we can still have science without discounting spirituality. That’s what we’re trying to do, with our science fiction [story], we do deal with science but there’s a spiritual element to it ‘cause I think that’s how the world is, physics and spirituality goes together. That’s our belief and people put in what they believe in into their own projects.
So did this film start out as a short film?
Ashlee:No, it’s a short film that Terrance and I did maybe about four years ago that has the same name. There are a few little themes that are similar to this feature film but it’s really more of a stand-alone story. If we’re ever going to expand on that little short, it’ll be more of a series. So no, this film didn’t originate as a short.
How about the financing aspect of this film? Did you go through crowdfunding route or did you talk to a bunch of financiers for this?
Terrance:Yeah, for the last film we did the crowdfunding route. It worked all right. But we knew we’d never raise the amount of money needed to make Project Eden. But we knew a guy who wanted to invest in our last film but the timing wasn’t right, so we went to him and he put in a bit of money. We also found a couple other investors so we’re able to put together some money to go and shoot the first half of the movie.
Ashlee:Yeah it’s a bit of an unorthodox approach. So we got a small pool of money and we knew it’s a catch 22. We need more money but we wouldn’t get more money until they see what we could do. So we took a massive risk. We came here [to the US] then came home with the first 20 minutes of the film.
Terrance:We had some money from investors but it was only like 50 grand here, 50 grand there, so we had about $150K all together to do the initial shoot. It’s totally unusual and a huge risk, because normally you don’t shoot the first 20 minutes in order. Then we presented that to the investors and showed them what it would look like. So we got more financing and went back to shoot the rest of movie in New Zealand and then back to Minnesota.
So in which country did you shoot the first 20 minutes?
Terrance & Ashlee: Here in Minnesota.
Wow, there’s a lot of Minnesota connection.
Terrance:Yes, we basically shot half the movie here in MN and half in New Zealand and a little bit in Australia.
What made you decide to collaborate and co-direct this film?
Ashlee:This one is a huge… the premise of this concept is big, and there’s all these intricacies that work up to the grand ending. So for us, to make sure that we always have one another’s back that no one would fall behind, we’re always on the same page. Since we wrote this together, we decided to direct this together as well. We’ll do the same for volume 2, but this project is the only one we’ll do it like this.
Terrance:It was so ambitious that we knew that one of us could not just go and direct this. Ashlee is so great about working with actors and getting the performance out of them. My background is in post production so I’m more on the technical side. So we’ve got two different viewpoints but because we were on the same page when we wrote it, there was never any sort of clashes of creative ideas.
Yes, Peter mentioned that it was seamless collaboration that if it wasn’t the case, then you guys did a good job in shielding it from him and the other actors.
Terrance:Yes we sort of had this agreement that if they had questions about characters then they’d go to Ashlee. If they had other questions such as the logistical stuff then I can handle those. Of course there were times that we chimed in together, but for the most part I’d handle the business if you will, how we’d get everybody to New Zealand and all that. But yeah we both learned from each other.
So how was the experience of collaborating? Do you want to keep doing this, directing together again?
Terrance: Look, we’ll definitely would do this together for volume 2 but after that I think we’d go back to directing and producing as we have two different skill set. But I am looking forward to working together again for the next film.
Ashlee:It strengthened our relationship as well. I think the reason why we seemed like this united pair because at the end of the day, we’re always like ‘y’know what, we have respect one another, we listen to one another’s perspectives and we have trust in one another. Because we were the leaders, whatever energy between us would filter down, so we have to make sure everything’s good.
What has been the most challenging aspect about making this film, apart from the financing?
Terrance:Having not gone the film school route and being told about how to do things. There were certain things that I personally learned the hard way. Even though sometimes it’s the best way to learn, it was very stressful and there were times we thought the movie just wouldn’t get done. Because we had invested so much, so much of our personal lives and also financially and professionally. But of course there’s always the belief that we’d never not finish what we’d started, so definitely there has been a ton of great life lessons and next time we’ll know what to do. I mean there will be a new set of problems but hopefully then we’d know more what to do.
Any snafus/mishaps during filming that stood out to you?
Ashlee:Well, we came over to America and learned about the politics of how films are run here. Then we went over to New Zealand. It’s like it’s same same, but also totally different. So we learned a little thing the hard way. We did have one incident in NZ. I mean it happens but for us, it was the first big things that happened and we’re like, whoa! We were filming in this little place called Waipu, it’s in the middle of nowhere, about 2.5 hours drive [from Auckland] and in order to get there is this long mountain tracks, all gravel road. Then this generator truck pulled to the side of the road to let a car pass and after all the rain and everything the road gave way and the whole truck rolled four times down the side of the mountain. Fortunately the makeup artist who was in the truck only had this cut on his nose and that was it!
Terrance:I know, he could’ve died!
Ashlee:Yep, 50 meters off the road and he would’ve fallen into a massive canyon and it would’ve been completely different situation.
Terrance: Because of that we only had limited power so our unit base like catering and so on could only have limited power just to have the lights on to keep the schedule going. The thing is, we didn’t really have money for contingency days, so if the lights didn’t work for the shoot, we would be a day behind and we wouldn’t have the money to facilitate that. So it was bad, but we were lucky as nobody got killed. But yeah, the generator was gone, we had to have another one brought in from Auckland.
So about casting. How did you cast those sci-fi actors like Mike Dohpud, Cliff Simmons, etc as well as the Twin Cities actors like Peter and Emily?
Terrance: So Ashlee dealt with the casting of the Minnesota people, and I dealt with the agents of Mike Dohpud, Cliff Simmons, etc.
Ashlee: With the hierarchy of films, as we get further in our careers, casting directors would cast a lot of the actors. But I personally love the audition process, love it. Not obviously for the smaller, background extras but the key people, we want to be a part of that. So when it came to the leads, we’ve got this little tradition that we’re always going to continue doing because we believe in supporting emerging creatives. So we always wanted our leads to be up and comers rather than established actors. So when it comes to casting here, we did a round of auditions and then everyone we liked we’ve got call backs and we did a few little read throughs. I think the crux of it, and there were a lot of talents, but there were a set of people that we really liked so we just sat down and had a conversation with them. Because when you worked with in such a small level, the people you work with became your family. So you want to know that they’re good people, that you like them, and they’re true collaborators. Emily and Peter just hands down just stand out, they’re both just all around good people.
Terrance:And we saw a lot of people so it’s not like we just picked them because they were presented to us. Like for Emily we must’ve seen about fifteen people and I think Peter too, there were probably similar amount.
Ashlee: And people were sending tapes to us too, so there were quite a lot.
Terrance:One of our producers, Sallyanne Ryan, she connected us with a photographer named Dennis Alick [spelling?] who’s very connected with the sci-fi channel world. He’s friends with Mike Dohpud. And we actually initially talked with an actor by the name of Robert Knepper, he played the character T-Bag in Prison Break. He’s very well known for that. But then he ended up not being a good fit for us, so we said we wanted to speak to Mike. So I spoke to his agent and did the deal. He said the reason he wanted to do it was because he loved the script. And then, because of that, see I grew up watching Stargate-SG1 and I love Cliff Simon who’d be great for the Russian.
Then we looked at Erick Avari who’s just perfect for the role of the Shepherd. So for the most part we dealt with their agents but I contacted Erick Avari on Facebook. I asked him, ‘I’d love to send you a script so who’s your agent?’ He said, ‘I don’t have an agent at the moment as I’m trying to retire from Hollywood but you never know what’s going to happen, so send me the script.’ So we did and he wrote back saying, ‘well I got to say you’ve got an ambitious script here and I’m sick of mediocrity.’
Ashlee: Yeah he said ‘I’d rather put my time and energy into something like this than mediocrity chasing mediocrity.’
Terrance:So we had a chat together, we had Skype sessions, we did hours and hours working on the script. We worked on the dialog, he got really heavily involved. He came to New Zealand and he shot his scenes. So I’d say those three guys (Mike, Cliff and Erick), who I called the Stargate alumni, really brought a whole extra layer, dimension to the cast. So we’ve got these emerging actors from Minnesota surrounded by veteran International cast. Mike is Canadian, Cliff was born in South Africa but now lives in L.A. and Erick is of Indian descent but lives in the US.
So this is Volume I. So have you set up a time for Volume II?
Terrance:Yes it’s in development. We’re already working on the treatment, we’re already working on the script and we want to head to it straight away.
Ashlee: Exactly. Ideally we’d like to shoot this in 12 – 18 months.
Is it going to be set in the same location or are you thinking of finding another spot?
Ashlee:A little bit the same but we’re thinking of diversifying the locations, so maybe Peru…
Terrance: It’s definitely still in North or South America, we’re not going outside of that.
And the same cast, too?
Terrance:Well, the thing is we don’t want to say yes, because then you spoil the movie as then you know who dies in the first film. We don’t want to give anything away.
Yeah I know, but I really want the MN cast to be in this again, they’re such good talents.
Ashlee: But let’s just say we would be very happy to work with them again.
Terrance:One thing we want to reiterate is that we purposely marketed this as Volume I. Because we felt that if we just call this Project Eden and they saw the movie and only saw half of the story, they might feel cheated. But if they go in knowing that this is Part I and it ends at cliffhanger, they hopefully won’t get mad about it.
Ashlee:Hopefully they’d leave feeling excited to see where it’s going.
Terrance:I know it is a risky move for an indie film [to do it as two movies] as you just don’t know. But we followed our instincts and ironically it’s sort of having an opposite effect where they want people to buy it to see part II.
How long was the shoot?
Terrance:If you add it all together, it’s only about 4-5 weeks of filming. But when we split it up, it took about 10 months if you spread it out. But from concept to the finished product [for Vol.I] it took about 2 years. As far as the number of days, about 24 days. With pick up it’s 24 days.
Ashlee:That’s the thing with indie films, we were fitting in 6-8 pages a day, where normally on a bigger set, you have the luxury of only doing 1 page a day.
One last question for you Ashlee. I’ve been a champion of female filmmakers for a long time, which I tried to do on my blog. So would you comment a bit about the lack of gender diversity in the industry?
Ashlee: It’s an interesting topic for me to talk about because I feel like, perhaps I’m just lucky but I also think it’s about the people you surround yourself with. Terrance and I, we hire people based on their skill set and nothing else. And so honestly, on most film sets that we’ve done we’ve actually got more women than men. And it just happens to turn out that way. I would love to see more women in higher up roles and I think it is slowly happening, there’s a bit more awareness there.
In fact there is a film festival recently that just had a gender blind [system] so that when people put in their submissions, there are no names nor gender attached. And within the first year, they went from 3% to 50% of female directors and producers as they base everything purely on merit, on the work themselves. Look I think it’s changing. I mean, Terrance and I, we naturally who we are, we’re pioneering for that [diversity] but we’re not seeking to stand up and put a fuss about it. We are who we are, and I think we stay true to who we are in hiring people based on their abilities then hopefully the perception will start to shift.
Terrance:Y’know I actually get angry when people go on and fuss about equality in films because I don’t even think about that. I just think, who’s good for the job, y’know. I mean somehow naturally, a lot of our crew are women. And again, that’s the way it should be. It should be based on the skill set.
Ashlee:So yeah, like Terrance said, we don’t want to make a fuss about it but we are going to be role models. Just by being who we are and doing what we do.
Terrance:So yeah, we’re not going to force it, we’re going to like count how many women we have in our crew. I think people can’t accuse us about gender discrimination. I think the proof is in the pudding.
THANK YOU so much Ashlee + Terrance
for the fun, insightful conversation!
This is the first time I’m actually doing a three-part interview posts for a single film, but it’s the first time I’m featuring an International production starring a pair of Twin Cities actors! This weekend I posted my interview with Emily Fradenburgh, the female lead of Project Eden Vol. I, so today I’m featuring the male lead Peter Christian Hansen. Some of you might notice that he’s the lead actor in my script reading post, so before even seeing this movie, I already knew the filmmakers picked the right talent for the job!
I’m thrilled that Twin Cities Film Fest is sponsoring the Minneapolis premiere of the film this Wednesday, February 15 (you can get your tickets here). I’m also looking forward to seeing the duo filmmakers Terrance Young and Ashlee Jensen who flew in all the way from Sunshine Coast, Australia!
Since Peter lived in town, we’re able to sit down for our interview. We went to this charming Irish coffee house, Claddagh Cafe on West 7th in St. Paul, as it’s not as noisy as the big chain coffee houses. We started off with conversations about his theatre background and general discussion about acting for various mediums before we dived in and talked about his work in Project Eden.
Q: First let me ask about your theatre career as you’ve done an extensive amount of stage work here in town. How many shows do you typically do a year?
Depends entirely on the year. This past year and a half has been different for me as I’ve been doing a lot of film and I’ve done very little stage work. Usually I do about 3-6 shows a year. Well, more like 3-5 shows and then I’d do smaller workshops, readings and other smaller projects throughout the year.
Q: How do you approach a particular project. As you run your own theatre (Gremlin Theatre), how do you choose which plays you’d do there, as well as other stage work around the Twin Cities?
I do have the luxury of choosing which plays I would produce. But otherwise I’m at the mercy of somebody else. So I’d do auditions for other stage productions or someone might call me and say, ‘hey do you want to come in and do this?’
Q: Would you talk a bit about the inception of Gremlin Theatre?
I started it back in 1998, so about eighteen years ago right after college. We stared it because we were a bunch of young actors with weird schedules. So me and this actress I was working with at the time, we were doing this touring children theatre thing where we’d go around these different places in the Upper Midwest doing a bunch of different shows. So we’re on the road all the time and we couldn’t really audition for anything else or be involved in anything else, so over the course of the year, we’re always looking for something to do. So we and some other friends who had strange schedules thought ‘hey why don’t we start our own show?’ and so it got started that way and we just kept it up.
One of the first shows we ever did, we actually built out a space temporarily into a performance space. So that was our model for a while. We had a couple places that we rented for a little bit or we’d book a theatre. A couple of years later, we took another space and converted it temporarily into a theatre. Then after that we decided we wanted to build our own place, so we built our first space in 2002 in Downtown St. Paul. We had that for six years. It’s great because we had it as our home but we also could rent it out to other companies. So there’s a lot of opportunities for other performers to use that space, which is good.
Then we moved to another space on University Avenue and that was a cool space. We had a lot of success so that was really great. But we’ve been looking for a space where we could be in for the long haul, so we closed down that space in 2013 because it wasn’t going to be that place. It wasn’t going to be in the long term. So the last couple of years we’ve been producing in various locations, taking on different projects that don’t have to be in our space, while we think about where we want to be. Well recently we found our space [in Vandalia Tower, St. Paul] and that’ll be great as we can be there for a long time. It’s going to be an exciting performance space. So yeah, that’s sort of the evolution of our company.
Q: So were you a theatre major in college in St. Olaf College?
No, my majors were History and Latin. But I did tons of theatre when I was in college and also back in high schools. I just never majored in it, I think I’ve taken maybe two [acting] classes total. I think training is good, it’s worth a lot of things. But for me, the best training is by doing. I certainly learned by doing. One of the first jobs I got out of college was I got hired as an actor for the touring children company, and I was fortunate to keep getting work. And also, as a producer you can provide work for yourself. It’s great as you’re not always at someone else’s mercy and you get to choose projects that you think are worthwhile. The downside is that, well, what’s nice about working for someone else is they’d just hand you a paycheck.
Q: Now that you’ve done TV, films and theatre. What’s one main difference between those three formats in terms of how you approach the role you are playing?
I think the main difference is, unless you’re working on a movie that has like an enormous set of budget where you have a whole lot of time to prepare, in theatre you get a lot of rehearsals. With films or TV, you don’t get that. I mean you do have the script and you prepare on your own, but a lot of it is going as you go. You shoot as you go, you don’t usually get a lot of rehearsal time. But at the same time, it’s sort of like rehearsal and performing rolled into one in film, as you’d have to do a bunch of takes so you explore things as you’re going. For me, I always find that I learn about the story, about my role and other people’s roles while I’m doing [the scenes]. But in theatre, you get that during rehearsals, as well as during the live performances. But in film, the process is sort of rolled together…you learn as you’re shooting the thing. So I think there’s a different sort of way of how things are discovered.
Also, the time commitment is so much less in film. But theatre is so much more time consuming. That doesn’t mean that [doing a] film is easier or less tiring as I find them to be just as tiring and demanding in very different ways. I usually feel really energized after I put in a really good day’s work, especially in a theater performance. It’ll take me a while to wind down and go to sleep. It doesn’t make me tired. Even if I’m exhausted, I’m still energized. It just stimulates my mind a lot, it’s a very physical thing what you do on stage. I’m not saying I don’t get that with films, it’s not that I never get the same sensation, but there’s a different rhythm to it. You have to pace yourself very differently, so I guess the pacing is what I find really different between the two mediums.
Q: Do you feel that theatre is a “purer” form of acting, if you will, than films or TV?
No, I don’t feel that’s true. I would say that for something where you’re essentially doing the same thing, you’re using a different muscle, if you will. So there’s a root or a trunk that’s the same, but then you find different ways of what you’re going to do. I don’t think one is purer than the other. Some might say that film is purer because you can be so up close and personal an more natural, but I don’t find it to be the case either. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily ‘a mirror up to nature’ you might say [nice Hamlet reference there!], because you’re conveying someone’s story through two different mediums, so neither one of them is really sitting down at a table like I am with you. One of them is a film, the other is a stage. We fool ourselves into thinking that one or the other is like real life. It’s not that one is purer than the other. It’s just different.
Q: Now, spring-boarding into ‘Project Eden’. I’ve always championed female directors and here we’ve got a pair of male and female directors helming the the project. How was the experience of working with them?
It was cool as we’ve got two different perspective of going about things. Some of it is simply because Ashlee is a woman and Terrance is a man. But also partly because of the different focus they both brought into the project. He’s good in the technical side, whilst she worked more on the performance aspect for the characters. At the same time, I don’t want to give the impression that their worlds don’t overlap. It’s very rare that they weren’t on the same page as to what they wanted, both from the technical aspect and how they want the performance to be, how they want to tell the story. If that wasn’t the case, then it’s also to their credit as they’ve certainly done a good job in shielding that from me and the other performers.
Yes, there’s always that initial worry as to ‘Well who’s going to be calling the shots here? What happens if they don’t agree on something?’ But from the very first time I met them, I didn’t feel like it was going to be the case. We had an interesting audition process for this, and I really liked them both personally from the moment I met them. So I was really excited to work with them. It has been true the whole way through, I just really enjoyed them both as people, which makes working with them really fun. It’s been a delight working with them, and it’s not always the way it goes in my career. One of my favorite part about this whole project has been getting to know them and being a part of this whole journey of Project Eden.
Q: How did you come aboard this project? Would you speak a bit about the casting/audition process?
When the filmmakers decided they wanted to shoot partly here and brought some people from here to the project, they contacted my talent agency and so I went and read for them. A lot of the audition process is chatting with them about the project, but we also did some of the performance. So we did some scenes and they filmed it. They wanted me to bring in a monologue so I did a bit of that on camera as well, but we also spent some time together.
Q: Tell us a bit your character, Ethan Varick.
He’s a bit of a wild card. There’s a lot of unknowns in this movie, it’s about how we start to put the puzzle together as the film progresses. When we’re first introduced to him, we don’t necessarily know if we should trust him or not. In fact, that’s the question that goes throughout the whole the movie, we don’t know if we should trust him or not… Which side is he on? What is he after? He is conflicted a bit himself. He’s a character who has a very troubled past, someone who’s trying to find himself in the midst of a story that’s much larger than himself. He is searching for the truth. The thing for him is that regardless of some of the things that transpire in the course of the movie, centering around trying to figure out who everybody is, the core of what he is after, in his own way, is truth.
In the trailer it’s revealed that he’s lost his daughter and his wife, so that’s the common bond he has with Emily Fradenburg‘s character Evelyn whose son is in danger. But he seeks her out and she’s trying to figure out why he seeks her out, what does he know about her. And she’s been warned off of him, so the theme is who do you trust.
Q: I like that this is more of a grounded sci-fi, it’s a more relatable world like the one we live in now.
Yes, it is a sci-fi movie but the world it’s set in isn’t an outrageous world. It’s not a post-apocalyptic nightmare with monkey people running around. It’s pretty much like the world we’re in now but with a few twists. The world is different enough to allow us to explore interesting possibilities, as well as metaphysical ideas that pick up steam as the film goes along.
Q: Is it set in the future?
It’s set in the same world we live in now, perhaps a little bit in the future but the world isn’t quite the same world we live in. That’s the sci-fi part, otherwise it’s the same world. It’s not 100% clear where the characters and events are set in. So the world is familiar, but it’s not quite the same.
Q: The scenery that’s in the trailer, it looks absolutely stunning. Tell us a bit about filming in New Zealand.
New Zealand is a beautiful place. One of the things that’s great about it was you can go quickly from location to location. So we shot those beautiful forest and the sand dunes, it was like 20 yards away from each other. So in between takes, we were sitting high up on the sand dunes, Emily and I. It was kind of windy that day, I remember I started laughing like a little kid and she’s like, ‘what are you laughing about?’ And I said, ‘whatever else people might take away from this movie, when I watched this I’d feel like I’m watching Emily & Pete’s Travel Log, going from one exotic place to another.’
So yeah, we parked in the same lot. We shot the forest part, then we went down an access road and into the beach. There’s this huge dunes and whichever way you pointed the camera, it’s just ridiculously beautiful.
Q: What’s the most memorable moment of filming? Any particular on-set snafus that stood out to you?
I tell you one of the most memorable nights. We were shooting in this place called Waipu (about 2 hours north of Auckland). We were shooting a night shoot, an overnight shoot, it was a pretty ambitious schedule. We just had one delay and difficulty after another. We had problems getting up to the location, which you could ask them [Ashlee & Terrance] in more details, but basically it’s one of those nights that culminated into not shooting a 4-hour scene at the end of the night that we have to pick up the next day. I think it’s totally the right call that I’m glad they made, as it’s the end of a long series of events of things getting pushed back and having problems.
It was memorable for a whole host of reasons, including the power generator going down, being caught in this rainstorm that wouldn’t stop. We were shooting this car chase and the weather would come in and out. We were sitting in the car and it started to rain. So people would come over with these umbrellas to keep the camera dry and then try to keep us from getting wet inside. Then it would stop raining and they would have to wipe down the cars so they don’t look wet. We tried to shoot some scenes and then it would rain again so people would come in again so we’d do this over and over. So that was memorable.
Q: How was your experience working with Emily Fradenburgh?
She’s great. We’ve worked together on smaller projects like readings and stuff, but she and I haven’t worked directly on a project like this. I feel like I’ve known her for a long time but we’ve never collaborated that way. She’s very sweet, very conscientious, always wants to help out, she always tries to do the right thing. She’s very giving, just lovely to work with. I had a good time shooting this with her.
I’m lucky with this project. I’ve been in a lot of projects, some are smoother than others. Sometimes you have to work with people you don’t care for that much. But I felt like we’re lucky with this one as everyone got along. It also helps that everyone was in on the project, everybody bought in. When that happens you have goodwill to fall back on. You have a sense of teamwork instead of just the hired hands.
Q: What’s your own favorite sci-fi films?
I like movies but I don’t watch a ton of them. My favorite sci-fi films are the original Star Wars trilogy. And what I really like is the old Twilight Zone episodes where the world is kind of like the world that we know, but a little bit different and weird. I like that when you take the rules and mix them up a little bit. I’m a big fan of those classic sci-fis like those.
Q: Well I noticed the name is Volume I. So are you going to be on Vol. II?
Well I don’t want to give anything away as I don’t want to give the ending of the movie, but you know what, I guess I can tell you that there will be Vol. II as I think it’s already on IMDb. We’ll see where we’ll film the next bit. In fact I’m hoping there will make three volumes, I think there’s enough materials for three films. So definitely there will be more because the movie gets us to a certain point of the story, and no farther. They’ve always planned for more films. The way we shot this movie, we’re only telling the first part of the story.
THANK YOU so much Peter for the delightful conversation. Can’t wait to finally see this movie on Wednesday, here’s hoping there’ll be a Project Eden trilogy!
It’s always a privilege when I get the chance to chat with indie filmmakers and actors from all over the world. I actually have heard from my dear friend Kirsten Gregerson, who has a small role in this movie, a year ago. Well, imagine my excitement when I heard that Twin Cities Film Fest is sponsoring the Minneapolis premiere of the film on Wednesday, February 15! (you can get your tickets here)
I got to meet Emily Fradenburgh last year at TCFF so I’m thrilled to be able to interview her for this film. It’s interesting how everything is connected, as it so happens that Emily’s co-star Peter Christian Hansen ended up doing my script reading last January! (stay tuned for my interview with him early next week!)
Q: First let me ask you about ‘Project Eden.’ How did you come aboard this project?
I first heard about Project Eden when I received a call from my agency, Moore Creative Talent.
Q: Did you have to audition for the role? Tell us a bit about the casting process.
I did have to audition. I always try to gather as much information about the production team/project as I can before an audition to get a sense of their style. I researched Mad Anth’m and watched their first movie, 500 Miles. We were given a monologue and sides and were asked to perform an additional monologue. When I found out I was being called back I was given notes and was asked to wear a singlet…which is what we call a wrestling garment in the U.S…in Australia it’s basically a tank top- good thing I clarified before I came in for the second audition. I again performed the sides and did another monologue. Then Ashlee (Jensen) and Terrance (Young) wanted to get to know me more and asked my feelings about the independent film process and we touched on some themes of the movie. I later found out that it was this latter part of the callback that was the deciding factor in them casting me as Evelyn Green.
Q: Tell us a bit more about your character Evelyn Green, and what appeals to you about portraying her?
In this first installment we get a glimpse of what life has been like for Evelyn Green for the last 7 years. Despite all that she’s gone through, she remains a dedicated mother and is willing to go to extremes in order to find answers that could mean the difference between life and death. I was drawn to this role because she’s not just on a physical journey, we slowly get to see her transition emotionally too. Evelyn will go through a major transformation in Project Eden Vol. II, which I’m so looking forward to, but that’s all I can say about that for now 😉
Q: How was the experience working in New Zealand with the Aussie filmmakers?
Everything wonderful that you’ve ever heard about NZ is true! It wasn’t hard for me to act like I didn’t know what was going to be around the next corner: a forest opened up to sand dunes which unveiled the ocean- absolutely breath taking! Not only were the Australian filmmakers fantastic to work with but the cast and crew consisted of talented folks on both sides of the camera from all over the world: New Zealand, UK, Finland, Italy, US, Canada and South Africa. It was remarkable the way everyone came together to help tell this global story.
Q: It must have been fun to film all the action scenes. Any particular memorable moment from the set?
Indeed it was! We had fight choreographers, stunt coordinators, an armorer, and stunt drivers. One of the most thrilling days for me on set was riding in the truck with a stunt driver named Gareth. He was amazing! It also became a challenge as a performer- I had to fight my instincts to be giddy and cheer him on while filming a dramatic scene.
Q: There were several Twin Cities cast members in the film, Peter, Kirsten and also Aleshia Mueller as the script supervisor. How was the experience working with them in an International production?
The MN actors and crew are top notch- MN really has it all. 10 of us were lucky enough to travel overseas to film Block 2. Peter Hansen and I were the 2 performers and the other 8 were part of the outstanding crew. When you film a movie, inevitably it’s like a new little family forms. This is especially true when you’re on the other side of the world for nearly a month and you’re living together.
Peter was awesome to work with. Not only is he a dedicated actor and completely invested, but he a great human being. I loved his confidence and commitment to the character and story. He’s also very open-minded and engaging in conversations…which led to us discovering more layers along the way. Working with him nearly every day was both exciting and comforting.
Q: You have done dozens of feature films and shorts throughout your career. What has been your most challenging role to date?
Often when I’m in the thick of preparing and filming a role, I tend to feel that it is the most challenging one to date. Roles can be challenging for different reasons- the character, the physical or environmental circumstances, the dynamics of the people I’m working with, and other various factors. Thinking about a character though, I was in a music video recently where I portrayed a suburban mom who was also a heroin addict. As you might imagine, it was extremely emotional. I was filming with a young boy who, in real life, doesn’t know about the devastating reality of heroin, so we all tried to keep the mood light in between takes and scenes. It was taxing to jump in and out of character more often than I normally would, but I welcomed the challenge. This was a difficult one to tackle and hits close to home. I wanted to be very careful not to make a caricature out of her and I felt a dire responsibility to be truthful not only to the role but to the subject matter itself.
Q: How long do you typically take to prepare for a role? Specifically, someone like Evelyn who’s experienced trauma in her life. Does your psychology major help in tackling such a role?
I take as long as I’m given to prepare and it starts the minute I first hear about an audition- I’m all in! If I’m fortunate enough to be cast then I’m already off to a good start. If I’m not cast then I can walk away from an audition knowing I put absolutely everything I had into it. My psychology degree certainly helps with every role but especially with someone like Evelyn. After I was cast, Ashlee provided me with a detailed backstory of her character which I found extremely helpful. I had 7 months between being cast and Block 1 of shooting to prepare and was able to communicate with Ash and Terrance throughout that time. I changed my physical appearance a bit and spent a lot of time with the script and then walked away from it and spent time in nature trying to look at things like Evelyn would.
We filmed the movie in three Blocks and there were 8 months between Block 1 and 2 and another 2 months between Block 2 and 3. With so much time between Blocks I needed to keep Evelyn close while still trying to carry on with my “normal” life. To aid in this process I made a playlist of songs for Evelyn that I listened to quite a lot. After we wrapped it took me a few weeks to readjust and release Evelyn, it was a quite a process and I realized how close I had held onto her over the course of a year and a half. My psychology background helped with letting go too.
Q: What’s your favorite genre of film? Which actors and/or directors whose work inspire you?
I can’t say that I have a favorite genre. Some of my favorite films are: Jacob’s Ladder, Harry Potter, The Burbs, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Neverending Story, Dead Poets Society, and The Usual Suspects. It would be a dream come true to be directed by Ron Howard and Tim Burton.
I have been inspired by countless performers and the list continues to grow. To name some: Kathy Bates, Cate Blanchett, Mary Louise-Parker, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Hilary Swank, Millie Bobby Brown, and Daniel Day Lewis, Bryan Cranston, John Lithgow, Gary Oldman, J.K. Simmons, and Ashton Sanders.
Q: What’s next for you? Any future project you would like to mention?
Of course I’m thrilled about Project Eden Vol. II. I will also have a small part in a feature titled, The Dark Field, which is set to shoot in Germany. The feature of Evergreen is further in development and I look forward to teaming up with Adam Zuehlke (dir.) again on that. We did the short film, Evergreen, back in 2013.
THANK YOU so much Emily for your detailed, insightful answers to questions! Here’s hoping there’ll be Project Eden Vol. II and III 🙂
I can’t believe I missed my darling Sam’s birthday yesterday!! My favorite actor turned 37 on January 8… and since he made his breakthrough debut in Control in 2007, he doesn’t seem to have aged a day!
He was born on January 8, 1980 in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. I love his Yorkshire accent, spoken with his signature husky voice. He’s a chain smoker which likely contributes to that… and he’s got that devil-may-care attitude paired with self-deprecating wit that’s so irresistible!
Oh Sam Riley… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
Yes I know the word ‘underrated’ is not a popular word to use right now, but I really do think Sam is grossly under-appreciated as for whatever reason, he’s simply hasn’t gotten as much work as his fellow Brits. Maybe because he lives in Berlin, away from Tinsel Town or even the UK’s movie scene in London. And he’s a happily-married man, he’s been married to Romanian/German actress Alexandra Maria Lara for 8 years (a lifetime by Hollywood standards) and has a young boy together.
They met on the set of Control, which is kind of a fairy tale romance in itself, and they worked together again in Suite Francaise in 2014. Look at these two, such a gorgeous couple!!
I was literally hyperventilating last week when I saw BBC ONE’s preview featuring SS-GB… can’t wait to get my copy of the February edition of EMPIRE magazine. Lookie here, Sam in a glorious spread as a Scotland Yard detective, decked in a dapper suit and fedora? YES PLEASE!!
I’m also super excited to see Sam in Free Fire! I’ve posted the first trailer here, which looks like a hoot w/ a terrific cast! So there are at least two of Sam’s work I’m looking forward to in Spring, hopefully more to come later in the year.
Well, I did a Sam Riley marathon last year which made me appreciate him even more as an actor. He’s so self-deprecating that he often says in interviews that they only hire him ‘to blow smoke rings and cry’ as his debut role as Ian Curtis is a forlorn, suicidal tortured soul who smokes like a chimney. But clearly he’s more versatile than that, having played a psychopath (Brighton Rock), Beat Generation pioneer Jack Kerouac (On The Road), a naval vampire (Byzantium), an Austrian cowboy (The Dark Valley), a man bird (Maleficent), a French farmer (Suite Française), and of course, Colonel Darcy (Pride + Prejudice + Zombies)… the role I fell head over heels in love with.
So in my tribute to the phenomenal actor who I think should get more leading roles… here are five key roles that will forever mark me as a Sam Riley fan.
A profile of Ian Curtis, the enigmatic singer of Joy Division whose personal, professional, and romantic troubles led him to commit suicide at the age of 23.
Since January 8th was also the birthday of rock icon David Bowie, it’s only natural I include THIS very scene from Sam’s debut role in a feature film. It’s been a decade since that film came out and I think it’s still regarded as one of the greatest, most poignant rock biopic ever made. Sam’s devastating performance doesn’t just capture Ian as a musical genius, but he captured the enigma and inner pain of the young man, who’s dealing with epilepsy and depression as his band gained fame beyond his control.
On the Road (2012)
Young writer Sal Paradise has his life shaken by the arrival of free-spirited Dean Moriarty and his girl, Marylou. As they travel across the country, they encounter a mix of people who each impact their journey indelibly.
Sam once again portrays a real-life persona, as his character Sal is basically Jack Kerouac. He sports an effortless American accent as a quiet, reflective writer observing his wild and carefree friend Dean. He works well with Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart, who at the time was at the height of Twilight’s mass hysteria. He’s the kind of actors who can disappear into his roles, he has an earthy every-man quality about him, yet he makes even the most mundane activity like typing or just scribbling in a notepad seems so darn sexy.
Residents of a coastal town learn, with deathly consequences, the secret shared by the two mysterious women who have sought shelter at a local resort.
Sam didn’t have a big part in this film but his role of Darvell is an important one to the story. Like the rest of the cast, the actors portray their roles in two separate timelines centuries apart. I’ve done a full review of it here, it’s quite a mesmerizing film by Neil Jordan… eerie, ethereal and mysteriously romantic. Wish I could find the exact clip, but I love all the scenes between Sam and Gemma Arterton. It’d be cool to see them do a film together again one day.
The Dark Valley (2014)
Through a hidden path a lone rider reaches a little town high up in the Alpes. Nobody knows where the stranger comes from, nor what he wants there. But everyone knows that they don’t want him to stay.
This is the film I tell everyone to see if they’ve only seen Sam in Control. It’s an excellent Schnitzel Western (read my full review) shot entirely in the Austria Alps where the characters are Austrian/German except for Sam. He learned German when he married his wife, and to me he sounds very much believable as a taciturn, lone-ranger type who exacts vengeance on a group of townsfolk in a meticulously-calculated way. I always love actors who could convey a lot of emotions with his eyes and facial expressions alone, and Sam certainly got to do that here, whilst also being a bad-ass cowboy at the same time!
Check out my Music and Cinematography appreciation for this filmhere.
Pride + Prejudice + Zombies (2016)
Five sisters in 19th century England must cope with the pressures to marry while protecting themselves from a growing population of zombies.
Well, THIS is the role that got me to notice Sam, which is a major reason why PPZ is on my top 10 list of the first half of 2016. Though I’m a huge period drama fan, for some reason I’ve never been into Mr. Darcy. Give me Captain Wentworth or Colonel Brandon any day over Darcy, but that is until Sam’s COLONEL DARCY came along. From the moment Lizzy saw him arriving at the ball (beginning at 01:48 in the clip below) I was a goner!
Then of course there’s the initially-awkward proposal scene that ends in a glorious, sexually-charged battle between the two… woo wee… THIS is the kind of Darcy I’ve ever hyperventilated over. The chemistry between him and Lily James is off the charts!
Some might say Sam isn’t as dastardly handsome as Colin Firth (which I beg to differ), but he certainly imbued his Darcy character with an extra dose of badassery without sacrificing his romantic side. In fact, in his second proposal scene, he’s perfectly swoon-worthy!
Favorite Sam Interviews
Well I always say that I can’t fall for any actor who lacks personality… no matter how good looking *cough* Henry Cavill *cough* But Sam’s interviews are a hoot, they’re almost as entertaining as watching him act.
His voice is music to my ear too, and he’s just as entertaining to listen to in a podcast interview!
I literally could go on and on in this post about Sam… but I better wrap it up and post this. I hope you learned a bit more about the talented actor, and hopefully check out more of his work!
Every year Twin Cities Film Fest selects a social cause to bring to light and this year the subject of the Changemaker series is veteran support. Five powerful films paint a picture of what our vets face post-combat and foster important discussions around how to better serve those who’ve given us their all, which starts with BLOOD STRIPE.
A female Marine veteran, battling unseen wounds from her recent service in Afghanistan, flees her suburban life in search of solace and escape in the North Woods.
Directed by: Remy Auberjonois Written by: Remy Auberjonois & Kate Nowlin Runtime: 87 min Cast: Kate Nowlin, Rene Auberjonois, Rusty Schwimmer, Tom Lipinski, Kristen Gregerson
Additional TCFF screening:
October 28 | 3:00 pm
I had the honor to speak to both the director Remy Auberjonois and lead actress Kate Nowlin, who also co-wrote the film. I interviewed them separately within the span of a couple of weeks. They are both so wonderful to talk to, I’m so inspired by their amazing talents, humility and generous spirits. I’m so thrilled to see the success of ‘Blood Stripe’, winning the Best Fiction Award at L.A. Film Festival is just the beginning. It couldn’t happen to two nicer people!
Q: What inspired you to that story about PTSD. Is that a personal thing for you is that something that somehow we come across something and then it’s like oh I want to make a story about this.
Remy:Oddly enough, the story was an organic outgrowth from the location in a way. We sort of decided to make a movie, first of all. Then we decided to make a movie on Lake Vermilion and then we were looking around to think about a story that we could tell that could feature Kate in a central role because I knew that I would have her full commitment and she would work all day every day. And I know what a wonderful actor she is. And and in doing that and figuring out what that character could be, we came upon the fact that there are a lot of veterans in that area. Once that opened up for us, then the story sort of took shape. There was been a tremendous amount of a lot of awareness about moral injury, about PTS, about veterans suicide and you know, it was sort of an undeniable aspect and military sexual trauma… there was an undeniable story where we felt that there was room to tell. It also appealed to me in the sense that I saw ways in which he could use the sort of tropes of a thriller film to get inside a sort of paranoid mindset. You know we’re not paranoid but hyper alert. So that aspect appealed to me as there are a lot of movies like that that I’ve really liked. Those that you know create a real sense of unease, and we wanted to try to get inside that.
I felt like the tools of both movies were a useful way to shed some light on that. And because we’ve seen a lot of documentary and we’ve read a lot about this thing that people call PTS or PTSD, we thought that telling a narrative story about it making a dramatic narrative feature about it was another way to contribute to that conversation, to that awareness. We were hardly aware of it except as regular consumers of news, but when we started looking into that character and things that that character might be burdened with, we started to really understand the scope of the really sort of epidemic of this thing. We thought ‘oh yeah this is something that we want to understand more about and we feel like the audience could as well.’
Q: I think the fact that you are focusing on a female combat vet specifically sort of adds another layer of novelty to your film too, because there are so few meaty roles for women as it is. I know that’s what appealed to me immediately, I mean aside from the military aspect of it. And I’m sure it appeals to others as well.
Remy:Yeah, you know I’m a male filmmaker, and for me I didn’t really see a difference. I worked with a very high profile wonderful actress. At one point she was telling us, she was talking to a filmmaker friend of hers: ‘just write the part for a man and I’ll play it.’ And Kate and I in approaching this film, we wrote the part just for a person. It’s complicated… you know she does things that you don’t see women doing a lot of, but that women do. She’s chopping wood, she’s mowing the lawn, etc. She has a husband and then she has the potential connection with another man. She’d get to fight, you know. Not to give things away, but you know, we just wrote it for a good complex character for Kate who is a powerful, physically very strong woman and an emotionally deep actor.
Q: What a great combination, yeah. One of the reviews I read was from Variety, and the reviewer said that it’s kind of rare that you’re not using the method of flashback in this. And so narratively was that something that’s deliberate that you want the story to be in present but of course implies that something has happened in the past?
Remy:Yes. You know it’s interesting it was something that was unintentional in some ways and then became very important to us, as we’re going ahead. We’re going we actually have written an event that happened in the past and that was a factor of time and money that we didn’t get to shoot it. It was something that could happen in a totally discreet location. So we kept it out of our principal photography because our budgetary and time constraints were such that we couldn’t get that, in a way that satisfied me.
And then as we were looking at the footage and telling the story and cutting it, it really felt that there were there so much thing unsaid, I mean this is not a dialogue-heavy movie. Having that event felt like it would be incredibly limiting to what the audience’s understanding could be. I’ve since spoken to someone who made a comment about that very fact and said they appreciated that [the trauma] wasn’t pinpointed to one event. Kate was very interested in these people who were exposed to war time, in a foreign country for a year or 18 months, you know that kind of heightened experience is ongoing, extended… so what is that like. So to sort of narrow it down to say it was this one thing that created this condition is very limiting. There’s lots of things. Her relationship with a man in the film is very fraught. Maybe there was something there. She has some physical impact from the war that she carries. Maybe it’s that. We didn’t want to limit it. Plus, to shoot that [scene], it’s as if we’re trying to be a different kind of movie than we were. I had a scene that I could do that I could accomplish. We had it written and I knew how I was going to shoot it. But I eventually thought, you know Hollywood has made war movies. We’ve seen The Hurt Locker, American Sniper, we’ve seen a lot of great depictions of these wars and wars in general. Let’s trust that the audience has these associations and we’ll bring them in with that.
Q: I think that’s what they appreciate this reviewer appreciate. It’s like they just you know don’t spoon feed too much. You don’t want it to challenge the audience.
Remy:Yes, we wanted to respect and challenge our audience. I think some people find that infuriating because they want to be told something. And I think some people have really appreciated it. We had a guy on one of our screenings, he said I felt so smart watching this movie because I kept on being forced to make connections, to connect the dots. As a movie goer, I’m usually quite a head of a particular film. I don’t know that anybody is surprised by what happens in our movie, in terms of the sort of outcome insofar as you really know what the outcome is. And you don’t, we don’t make it very explicit.
Q: For this film, did you talk to anybody like from the military field to make sure you get certain things right?
Remy:You know we did a lot of reading, we did a lot of watching. We also have a female Marine veteran on set with us. But we had already written the script by then and she was great in terms of validating a lot of the right thing. I sent it to that vet but because we weren’t shooting the war. It was a creative, imaginative exploration of the thing. So we watched some wonderful documentaries like the film Lioness, The Invisible War to see stories about female marines. A lot of really wonderful books, there’s one by Sebastian Junger called War. But we wanted to sort of imaginatively take the hallmarks and the symptoms and the sort of generalized story of what those people experience and then imagine it into our location and our story. We wanted it to feel authentic and we’ve been very gratified. You know, Kate spent four months in physical training for the film. We wanted to have a sense of authenticity but we also wanted to not be telling a certain story. And hopefully that that approach is the thing that makes [the subject] a little bit more universal.
Q: I see. It’s a character driven piece so it’s not about a specific event.
Remy:Exactly. It’s a lot about the performance, about [Kate’s] understanding of it. There’s some of her own experience which she was able to bring to [the role], but she’s also just a very skilled actress and has a lot of technique.
Q: Last question. Is directing something you want to keep doing in the future?
Remy: Yeah I would love to get the opportunity to do it again. I have a couple of different projects in the beginning of story development and we’ll see which one I can get more traction on. I’m very much hoping to direct it again before too long. Maybe another film, and I’d love to direct episodic television actually. There’s a lot of exciting, wonderful thing happening in that medium, but it’s a difficult thing to get into. It’s hard to get a movie made, but at least it’s a discrete thing and in some ways it’s up to you.
Q: Yeah that’s true, but at the same time now it seems like there’s a blending between TV and films now, it’s not a big divide like was before. Lots of TV directors doing major, big-budget films and the other way around.
Remy:Yeah, who knows. We’ll see where it takes me.
Q: What I got from Remy’s was that the story grew organically from the location in Lake Vermilion. So I’m just curious how do you approach that role of the female Marine. I mean do you have any military experience or or was there any research. Do you have to do more to prepare?
Kate:Oh god no, no military experience before. Tremendous research.
Q: How long did it take you to do that? I mean did you have somebody on set?
Kate: I feel like I’m still doing research. I started when we started writing in October and we were shooting in August. I was doing research the whole, the whole time we were writing and learning about the subject matter, which evolved organically. Once we just decided on the subject matter, we felt obviously a real responsibility to this type of story, as we would to really any story. But this one was, we realized it was a large undertaking and something I knew nothing about, from a strictly military standpoint. In terms of dedication and exploration of her strength and her vulnerability, and just being a human being, I think there’s ways in which we can all relate. So the military part, I did my homework and then eventually yes I met I spoke to a number of servicemen and women. There’s one in particular, a woman named Amber Patton who’s a Marine herself.
Q: Is her last name spelled like the famous general?
Kate:Yes Patton, like the general. She’s a Marine veteran, USMC got her in. And she was on site. We met here in Minnesota and then we offered her I said ‘would you read the script and consult with us?’ We had some questions and we talked about some story points, and then I said ‘what are you up to this summer?’ As she was interested to get more into it. I mean she was in the film industry but she wanted to keep working on that, and so we said if you want a job, we’d love to have you on our set as a production assistant. So she came on as a production assistant but obviously she served as a consultant. She just was like my right hand she was, an assistant to me and in many ways and in the creation of the story.
Q: That’s cool because you’d want to make sure that the story is truthful and accurate and she’d have the experience.
Kate:Well there were there were things that we could research, but there were very practical things about like how the uniform is worn, things like that. She’s been an invaluable part of the process, and she’s still you know, we’re still close and and she was an invaluable part of the team.
Q: As for Lake Vermilion, it seems that you both wanted to shoot the film there and it works because there’s a lot of veterans there, so that makes sense.
Kate:Yes, there’s a tremendous amount of veterans. There’s a woman in the town, when we were just considering that idea [of filming at Lake Vermilion], she had just been named soldier of the year by Army Times in Cook Minnesota. And so we kind of thought… even though we didn’t tell her story but we wanted to give a little nod to keep moving in that direction.
Q: Remy mentioned that you both wanted to add to the conversation about the condition of PTSD. Tell us a bit more about that.
Kate:We want to add to the conversation about the traumatic aspect, but also really more about the female soldier, the female Marine. It’s rarely depicted even though they make up about 15 percent of our military, 20 percent of our reserves. So they should be more represented. I think as we were writing there was this great New York Times op-ed piece saying why aren’t we telling the story [of female soldiers] in film. So we were like, ‘we’re writing something, we’re doing our part, we’re trying to do our part!’ So it was so interesting how it evolved, but yes we were trying to add to a conversation about a lot of things… women in media, how women are portrayed in the media. The female fighter, the female warrior, representing them, representing veterans issues, across the board. You know, so we kept sort of packing the bag.
Q: That’s great. I just think female driven narrative is still rare, which you would think by 2016 that’s not the case. But yet it is. That is why on my blog I always champion female-driven stories, especially independent stories. I mean if it’s something like Wonder Woman or whatever, those already get the studio backing, but the smaller stuff I really want to support. So I’m grateful you are working on this.
Kate:Yes me, too. You know, it wasn’t our intention, conscious intention when we started. I mean we know Romney wants to direct and I was a resource of his. But it evolved into that and it became a very significant to us too. And I was aware that there was a lack, just in the scripts that I was being presented or the roles that I would read. I was just like ‘can we create someone full-fledged, someone who’s fully-dimensional… who happens to be a Marine.
Q: I was just wondering as I was reading the cast list. Your character is described only as Our Sergeant. Is it deliberate that there’s no specific name given to your character?
Kate:Yeah it is. It is deliberate. We want her to stand in for a lot of people like her, to be able to sort of let the audience project a lot onto her. Honestly, creatively, as we’re working the name just never came. We never had a name and it always just felt like that there’s a sort of space around her character so people could project whatever they want to. Not necessarily a name but that she is, in some ways, unaccounted for and that she’s nameless.
Q: So the fact that she is nameless is almost a message in itself.
Kate:I think so yeah I think so. And we actually, there was one point when we made her uniform. So on the one hand she’s standing in for someone’s wife, sister, daughter, we keep that open. Once you’re in the military and you have a title, that’s an important part of the identity. That comes first, in that mindset you’re committing your life, you know, to serving your country and then that is an important part of the identity. So that felt like that was going to be an important part, maybe more important than the personal identification. So when we she was in uniform at one point we created a name tag that we chose to be nameless in Norwegian because I’m Scandinavian and there’s a lot of Scandinavian people in Northen Minnesota. At one point we did choose a name. So it was Navnløs, which is Norwegian for nameless.
Q: Now this question, it’s up to you whether you want to speak to this or not but given the subject matter, I was wondering if you have dealt with something similar to your character and whether that impact your approach to the role or not.
Kate:No I really haven’t. Not to that degree. But I think as we’ve said, trauma is a universal experience. It doesn’t have to be military-related. So I can understand it, but no, I have not dealt with it, nowhere near anything she had going through. It’s interesting because I’ve been asked that question a lot and I think that. I guess my answer is no, but I understand what I understand about struggle. It’s my job to be able to portray someone who’s different than I am. That I have to investigate and find my way in the way that I can to create something in an authentic way. I think there are universal things that we know and that we share and feel as human beings and that’s my job to explore that. Because I was writing her, co-writing and co-creating her, I was able to track her so to speak.
Q: Cool. So how was that process when you’re writing. Co-writing with Remy. I mean how do you do that division work goes?
Kate:I loved the writing. We really just sat across the table from each other and sort of plotted things out. Once we got off the note cards you know at first we put everything on no cards and then we sort of sat down. We each had a computer in front of us and we talk through scenes, we created dialogue. I would sort of think about her voice when she did speak. Remy was really good at writing the sort of what we saw, the breakdown the scenes. The emotional journey, in some ways was hard to do because it was all brand new. And because we were doing it in such a really a relatively short period of time. it’s hard to kind of understand or quantify what that experience was. We were just sitting down every day for three hours doing what we could.
Q: How about the physical training. I mean you kind of have to bulk up a bit don’t you? I mean you probably already are a fitness enthusiast.
Kate:Yes I’m naturally athletic. Being forced to play sports growing up and I was a dancer as a kid and all of that. And then of course in graduate school or whatever you do a lot of movement training and stuff. But no, I work from probably about three and a half months, not a tremendous period of time but I work six days a week. I worked with a trainer once a week starting in May, June, July, August, so about three and a half months. That’s on how to get into the role, that’s a mindset. I had to transform my metabolism, my metabolic system. I was inspired by how strong they are and the rigors that they go through in order to become a Marine. And so I knew I had to do something I hadn’t done before and get a kind of mental toughness and physical strength also to set an example, to represent how strong these women are. I just want to create a different portrait of a female in the film. Something we don’t get to see very often.
Q: So now that you’ve written a film that you start in, what’s next for you? Do you want to keep doing it, being a content creator on top of being an actress?
A: Absolutely. Oh that’s you can’t go back. I feel like it’s it’s a hard thing to come back from once you start oncw you start making your own stuff. It’s more challenging in ways but you get to say more… it’s a much more dimensional creative space and I find that incredibly gratifying. I have never been happier from an artistic point of view as when I was making this thing, as we’ve been making this thing. As hard as it’s been, it’s so fulfilling so. And I found that over the course of it that I have things I’d like to say. I really enjoy the writing. Not like a soapbox, but I think that there are I think that there’s room for all sorts of stories and I’m drawn to what I’m drawn to. I like the research, I like immersing myself in new world from scratch.
THANK YOU so much Remy & Kate for chatting with me about Blood Stripe!
Hope you enjoy the interview! If you’ve seen Blood Stripe, I’d love to hear what you think!
And allow me this opportunity to state that those rumors of my being deodar mysteriously abducted by aliens have been grossly exaggerated. Though, I have endured two side trips to Northern Virginia’s massive, expansive Mother Ship of Specialized Medicines, INOVA (A sub state unto itself. With superior doctors and eerily always smiling staff) for problems related to age. Leaving me with a surfeit of time to root around, excavate and shine some light on a stalwart of the thespian trade. Whose talent and trade craft, those not always “A-List” or Top Notch through the 1950s, 60s and beyond. Did manage to easily bring many memorable characters. Sometimes heroic. Sometimes creepily slimy, to life under the guidance of some of the best directors Hollywood had to offer.
So, allow me but a few moments of your time while I wax nostalgic and meticulous about one of the near forgotten greats of the trade with:
Consummate Utility Infielder!
First crossed my path as a wide eyed eight year old kid indulging in the forbidden fruit of “Late night” (9:00pm) television movies. And WTTG’s “Movie Greats” presentation of Kiss Of Death. A more than medium budgeted 1947 treasure that, unbeknownst to me at the time; was shot all over key locations throughout Manhattan and its five boroughs. Which added enormously to the film’s strength and tense, gripping story line. And would lock this tile away as a long time favorite.
Focusing around down on his luck Nick Bianco (Victor Mature). Who decides with three others to rob a jewelry store in the upper levels of a skyscraper to improve the lives of himself, his wife and two daughters. The heist goes off well enough. But the proprietor sets off the alarm. A cop intervenes and shoots Nick in the leg. Nick is caught. Held at the Tombs prior to arraignment. Keeps his mouth shut throughout the trial and catches a 20 year sentence at Sing Sing for his efforts. Unaware until three years later that his wife committed suicide after being raped by one of his accomplices, And that his daughters have been sent to orphanages.
Bianco is anxious to cut a deal. But all that he knows and can do has been made useless by the passage o time. So the District Attorney, D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) arranges an early parole and points Bianco towards another case. Putting the word out from Sing Sing that Rizzo squealed and sold out not only Bianco years ago. But is leaking to the cops information on the third member of the robbery crew, Tommy Udo (Mr. Widmark in his debut film role.). Well, but not richly dressed. With an upturned sneering smile that barely hides his close to the surface inner Psychopath. And his paranoid aversion to “squealers”.
Tommy finds Rizzo’s paraplegic mother (Mildred Dunnock) in her apartment and questions her about her son. Mrs. Rizzo says that he is out and will be back later. Udo thinks she’s lying. Ties her into her wheelchair and pushes her down a long and lethal flight of stairs, killing her,
Bianco is finally released and has a “chance encounter” with Udo. Who shows Nick around. Takes him to clubs where there are about twenty parole violations within arm’s reach before calling it a night. Bianco goes running to D’Angelo with a boast or two of Udo’s referring to recent murders.D’Angelo tells the local cops to scoop up Udo for murder.
Bianco gets cold feet. Udo is let go. Udo and Bianco meet at a restaurant. Udo makes threats against Bianco brand new family. A showdown looms on the cobbled, rain reflected streets. Bianco calls D’Angelo. Warns him about what is about to happen. Then exits the restaurant without a gun. A henchman of Udo’s draws on Bianco, but Udo shoots the henchman. Aims at Biance. Fires and hits Bianco as uniformed cops unload on Udo. Killing him in the street, And leaving Nick Bianco with a bright and pleasant future!
Required viewing. Not just for the layered tale itself. But just to relax and bask in what Greatness can truly be!
Now. What Makes This Film Good?
Henry Hathaway in charge of one of the earliest and best “Organic” New York films. Filming on several different locations and lighting each and their surroundings in ways to intimate and hint at danger or lascivious delight hidden within. And making me a decades long sucker for most any film or television series shot in and around New York City
Add Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Karl Malden and Coleen Gray to the mix. Give them intelligent dialogue from Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer that moves the plot along without deliberately telegraphing what is to come. And you have the makings of smart entertainment. Enhances by Cinematography by Norbert Brodine. Music by David Buttolph. Art Direction by Leland Fuller and Lyle Wheeler, Plus Editing by J.W. Webb, Jr. help to place this near forgotten early Noir classic high in the genre’s pecking order.
Now. What Makes This Film Great?
The adversarial pairing of veteran, Mature opposite a just starting out Mr. Widmark. Whose film time and scenes are dwarfed by others. Though, in those minutes Mr. Widmark can call his own. He does make the most of and makes them his own. Violence and his scary. creepy laugh not withstanding. Had a lot to do in earning this ingenue a Golden Globe win. And an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Along with a nomination for Best Original Story by Eleazar Lipsky.
With Mr. Widmark firmly locked into my “Actor To Watch” category. Pursuit and finding him in other films was part and parcel of the WTTG’s ‘Movie Greats” and “NBC’s Saturday Night At The Movies” to find Mr. Widmark playing a similar, more powerful and lucrative role in The Street With No Name a year later.
Then a shift in gears and character into “Jealous Sap Territory” in 1948. For a B&W, Noirish trifle directed by Jean Negulesco titled Road House. Where Mr. Widmark’s Jefferson T. “Jefty” Robbins owns and runs a road house out in the sticks, Hires and falls hard for Ida Lupino’s tough talking Torch Singer, Lily Stevens. Who starts playing Jeffty’s restaurant owner and partner, Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde) against him. So, Jeffty starts to frame Pete for embezzlement. And worse once Pete proposes to Lily.
Making time through 1949 for a whaling tale. With Mr. Widmark going upscale, cast wise. Taking on the First Mate’s role, Dan Lunceford. But also the tutor of the Captain Bering Joy’s (Lionel Barrymore) grandson, Jed (Dean Stockwell) in Down To The Sea In Ships. Under the direction of Henry Hathaway. In a surprisingly good maritime drama as young Jed learns about honesty, courage, teamwork and responsibility.
And an upgrade in directors the next year and Panic In The Streets. For the first of its kind police and medical procedural directed by Elia Kazan. And his take of tracking down the carrier of pneumonic plague in the port city of New Orleans. The unwitting carrier and future “Patient Zero” is Jack Palance. And the hero is Navy Lt. Commander Clint Reed, Aided by Police captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) as they canvass, interview and slowly eliminate others and narrow the suspect pool as Palance’s slimy ‘Blackie’ slinks around the piers and seeks a way out after a failed robbery.
Then a ground breaking racial drama and thriller. No Way Out (1950) under the direction of Joseph L. Mankwicz with Sidney Poitier and Harry Bellaver, Where Mr. Poitier plays Dr. Luther Brooks. Who works on wounded low rent racist thief, Ray Biddle and his brother, George. Who dies on the table. And sends Ray on a deep and very personal mission of revenge
Followed by the Marine service drama, Halls Of Montezumawith Jack Palance and Richard Boone. The Frogmen. A personal favorite. With Dana Andres, Gary Merrill, Robert Wagner and Harvey Lembeck. Dircetor Lloyd Bacon renders a pretty fair exposition about what Underwater Demolition and the removal of barriers and obstructions is all about before a sea borne invasion. Then onto parachuting “Smoke Jumpers” in Red Skies Of Montana. And the drama involved when two of Mr. Widmark’s Park Rangers and firefighters die after a tragic wildfire. Not a bad film, actually. Under the direction of Joseph M. Newman. And all four films being early top choices for ‘NBC’s Saturday Night At The Movies’.
Another contender from 1953 is an odd WWII film from Robert Wise. Destination Gobi. Where Navy meteorologists are dispatched to the Gobi desert to set up shop and record and transmit weather data to a picket ship to aid the air war against Japan. When not bartering with Mongols for assistance and protection in the form of saddles for their horses. Another ‘Saturday Night At The Movies’ offering. And Robert Wise’s first color film. With Mr. Widmark as a lowly chief Petty Officer (NCO) in charge of Don Taylor, Martin Milner, Darryl Hickman, Alvy Moore and Earl Holliman. In a surprisingly good film which has a pronounced hardscrabble, no frills “You’ve Got To Start Somewhere” vibe, cast wise. While using several parts of the Mojave Desert, Fallon, Nixon and Yuma, Arizona to fill in for Mongolia and southern China..
To this point, Mr. Widmark seems to have spent far more time in military uniforms than civilian finery. Becoming on of the “Go To Guys” along with Martin Miler, Richard Jaeckel. Ty Hardin, Marshall Thompson, Robert Ryan, Van Johnson, James Whitmore and Dana Andrews to play G.I.s, sailors and Marines in immediate post war Hollywood. And to Mr. Widmark’s credit, he did pull those roles and characters off quite well. Usually in the lead. Though often as a small part of a larger objective or story.
And Mr. Widmark’s luck was about to change in a very noticeable way. By signing onto low budget, independent maverick director, Sam Fuller. And the director’s embellished screenplay about pick pockets flourishing around 1950s Manhattan. To include Russian agents,hollow coins and microfilm regarding atomic bomb secrets and blueprints in the minor 1953 “Red Scare” classic, Pickup On South Street.
Where Mr. Widmark plays Skip McCoy. Two time loser and somewhat gifted “dip” or “cannon” (pick pocket) making his living on the city’s crowded subway trains. Who runs afoul of a cell of Russian agents by snatching the wallet of an unassuming courier, Candy (Jean Peters). And later rifling through an envelope and discovering highly classified documents and microfilm. While still unaware that Candy was being watched by US Federal agents hoping to discover the higher up on the receiving end.
Creating an equally compact and intriguing, noir-ish B&W film that clocks in at 75 minutes. Excels in cramped, neglected and dirty sets and sound stages of 20 Century Fox’s many back lots. Yet looks like thr film was shot on many locations throughout New York City. As the cops stick their noses in. Interviews are logged. Deals are made. Specifically between local soft crime maven, Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter) and Detective Dan Tyger (Murvyn Vye) to narrow the number of suspects down to Skip McCoy. Who has no problem dealing with the highest bidder. Even if it isn’t the US government.As Candy’s boyfriend, Joey (Richard Kiley and a silenced pistol) tidy up loose ends.
In a film that threw critics, select politicians and J. Edgar Hoover for a loop. The critics loved the film’s low budget, Mickey Spillane grittiness. While politicians and the FBI had conniptions over Widmark’s and Skip McCoy’s arrogant, “You’re gonna wave the flag at me?!” line and its inherent “Anti-Americanism”. Especially in the backwash of the House Un American Activities Committee Hearings and The Cold War. Though, for a skint 780.000 dollars. Sam Fuller put together a cramped, claustrophobic and shadowy masterpiece that rises up into the firmament of “Required Viewing’. With an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Thelma Ritter. And a Venice Film Festival Gold Lion win for director, Sam Fuller. Reaffirming his position as a Master of cinematic”Bang For The Buck!”
Which Mr. Widmark would return the following year. After a brief detour to the Army’s anwer to Hell On Earth, Fort Bliss and the city of El Paso, Texas for a Richard Brooks directed Basic Training drama, Take The High Ground!. With Karl Malden training draftees, Steve Forrest, James MacArthur, Russ Tamblyn and others for crucible that is the Korean War. Before returning to Sam Fuller’s next project.
A neat, compact little Cold war thriller titled, Hell And High Water. Where Mr. Widmark takes on the role of former Navy Sub Commander, Adam Jones.Who is mysteriously approached by a group of nuclear scientists in Japan. Who want Jones to take over a retired Japanese sub and check around a string of islands north of Japan. The scientists suspect that China may have had something to do with a recently exploded nuclear device outside the continental US.. And may have designs to join “The Nuclear Country Club” and intimidate their neighbors to the west.
The sub goes out with Jones and a small crew of Jones’ shipmates. Following a Chinese freighter into the North Pacific. Though, due to events. the Japanese sub left in pursuit. Without time to inspect its torpedo tubes. Leaving the boat nearly weaponless. A cat and mouse game with the Chinese navy ensues. A Chinese sub is rammed as the specific island is found. With either a restored American B-29. Or Russian TU-4 in a US paint job on the island’s bare base taxi way (A superb glass matte painting!). One of the scientists sneaks ashore of Capt. Jones. Signals the bomber’s take off… And I’ll leave it right there!
Surely in the simplistic realm of kid and schoolboy fantasy. But superb, well thought out and executed low budget kid and schoolboy fantasy. Director Fuller again raises the tale with deft sleight of hand, excellent model and pool work for the Japanese sub and its Chinese protagonist. And some well spent money (1,870,000 dollar budget) on artists and matte paintings. Since outside of some lush on location shots at Orly Airport, The Arc de Triomph and sights around Paris to establish the plot. Mr. Fuller and company never left 20 Century Studios. Its sets, sound stages and properties.
Setting the stage for three years of training and yeomanry work in post war thrillers and westerns( The Prize of Gold, Broken Lance, Garden of Evil, Backlash, Run Fro the Sun, Saint Joan, The Cobweb). Before joining up again with Karl Malden in the director’s chair for a neat and compelling 1957 post Korean War procedural titled Time Limit. Where Mr. Widmark plays Colonel William Edwards. A JAG officer trying to determine the limits of The Military Code of Conduct for POWs experiencing near Arctic cold, starvation and torture at the hands of the North Koreans. When one can snap. And the end results of possibly finding a traitor among their ranks. With Richard Basehart and Rip Torn under suspicion, Martin Balsam as the Colonel’s aid and conscience, Dolores Michaels as Corporal Jean Evans. And Martin Balsam as the Colonel’s Top Sergeant and conscience.
Then three more years of westerns before an upgrade in cast members with John Wayne directing and starring in The Alamo. Along with Richard Boone and Laurence Harvey. And major stage piece whose parts would be used again in The Green Berets. Giving Mr. Widmark a chance to add to an exceptional ensemble cast as Colonel Jim Bowie. In a fairly accurate depiction of those historic thirteen days. Plus an upgrade in directors to John Ford for his project.
Two Rode Together. With James Stewart, Shirley Jones and a swath of Mr. Ford’s cinematic regulars re-indoctrinating those captured by Indians back into the world and society. And continuing his high end ensemble streak with Stanley Kramer’s Judgement At Nuremberg, With Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich and a “Who’s Who” of Next Generation talent filling any and all remaining roles. Followed quickly by larger than life, generational family Magnum Opus, Covering the Gold Rush and Comstock Lode. To the Civil War. Manifest Destiny. Captains of Industry and the Railroad in How The West Was Won. With not just one director, but four! Henry Hathaway, John Ford, George Marshall and Richard Trope. Each with their own tale or area of expertise to heighten and tell. And enough old and new talent signed on and assigned characters to fill a medium sized high rise apartment complex.
And making the mid 1960s the time when Mr. Widmark seem to come into his own. With small films which made large impressions. With Stanley Kubrick alum, James B. Harris’ The Bedford Incident with Sidney Poitier, Martin Balsam and James MacArthur on a navy destroyer trying to surface a Russian sub inside Territorial Waters. And what can go wrong. Alvarez Kelly. With William Holden and Mr. Widmark as an eye patched Confederate officer wanting to follow the tenets of William Quantrill and John S. Mosby in rustling and hijacking cattle and horses. As long as Mr. Holden’s Alvarez Kelly teaches them how.
It has often been said that I am a sucker for any film shot in Manhattan and its boroughs. And one of the better ones of the 1960s is a near forgotten police procedural with Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, James Whitmore, Sheree North, Michael Dunn, Don Stroud, Steve Ihnat, Susan Clark. Raymond St. Jacques and Harry Guardino in the Don Siegel directed, Madigan.
Where Mr. Widmark plays Detective Daniel Madigan assigned to a precinct in Spanish Harlem and partnered with Detective Rocco Bonaro (Harry Guardino). Who lose their guns after a third rate low life, (Steve Ihnat) gets the drop on them, And now have 72 hours to catch the creep and get their guns back. In one of the better made for TV “Partner Movies” to be generated by NBC and clocking in at 110 minutes full of dirty, cramped and un glamorous places, sights and sounds rarely seen in 1968. Which adds to the film’s grittiness and no apologies attitude. Ane was so well received as a pilot. That NBC created a six 90 minute episodes package for their Sunday night ‘NBC Mystery Movie’ series in 1972.
Returning to ensemble work for Sidney Lumet’s Murder On The Orient Express with Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bissett and John Gielgud two years later.
The Doomsday thriller, Twilight’s Last Gleaming with Burt Lancaster and directed by Robert Aldrich. Stanley Kramer’s 1977 political thriller, The Domino Principle with Gene Hackman as an expendable Presidential assassin.
And Mr. Widmark preparing to go out on his own terms with Michael Creighton’s Coma the following year. Then playing a high ranking US hostage in Ian Sharp’s well detailed and executed gritty, sweaty, no frills British Special Air Service (SAS) against an IRA splinter cell gem. The Final Option. And a final return to “Bad Guy Territory” in Taylor Hackford’s Against All Odds. A film that tries very hard to be an updated remake of Jacques Tournier’s Out Of The Past, but doesn’t quite make it!
Like so many actors while I was growing up. I cannot remember a time when Mr. Widmark was not working. Consistently supplying grist for the imagination with often more than one film a year. And on the whole, very good films at that. Good guy. Bad Buy. In uniform and out. Mr. Widmark offered something unique in most of his characters. The possibility that there may be a double cross at worse. Or that proposed events would not occur in their correct order.
Slowly covering the spectrum of character types. For his initial “Creep” with Tommy Udo in Kiss Of Death. To “Rebel” in Pickup On South Street and Panic In The Streets. To racist “Thug” in No Way Out. A side trip to Rugged Individualist in The Alamo and How The West Was Won. And “Hero” in War Films, Don Siegel’s Madigan and its later mini-series! …
Happy Monday all! How’s your weekend? Mine was quite a busy one and given the glorious weather on Saturday, my hubby and I tried to be outside as much as we could. We made a stop at the Guthrie Theater as we love to visit the endless bridge and get a great view St. Anthony Main & the Stone Arch bridge over the Mississippi River. It’s the second week run of Sense & Sensibility there and I actually caught a glimpse of a couple of the actresses during intermission of the 1pm performance! I’ll be seeing the play on Oct 14, can’t wait!
On a sad note, CharmianCarr, best known as Liesl in The Sound of Music just passed away this weekend at the age of 73 😦
I felt such a pang in my heart when I heard the news Sunday night. I was writing a review of the film I saw this weekend, but when I heard of her passing, I felt compelled to do a tribute for her instead.
The Sound of Music is one of the three major Hollywood classics that my late mom first showed me. She brought home three VHS from her trip to the US: Gone With the Wind, My Fair Lady and The Sound Of Music. Those three films hold a special place in my heart (as those are amongst a handful of films that defined me)… so I get sentimental whenever I hear news about the film and/or the cast.
But more than that, since I saw the film when I was in my early teens, I so identified with Liesl and Carr’s performance is so beautiful and indelible. Her Sixteen Going On Seventeen rendition (with Daniel Truhitte’s Rolfe) is such a joyful and sweet celebration of young (and oh-so-innocent) romance that never fails to put a smile on my face.
I also love the reprise of the song later in the film with Julie Andrews‘ Maria. Even though Maria wasn’t Liesl’s real mother, there’s such a formidable bond between them.
It wasn’t just that Carr was beautiful and could sing beautifully, she brought the character of Liesl to live in such a wonderful way. The Sound of Music is as beloved and memorable as it is today because we all root for the Von Trapp family, and as the eldest, Liesl is certainly the most developed character of the seven children. She fell in love, went through a heartbreak, and later had to face the harsh realities of war when the boy she loved joined the Nazi party.
This Edelweiss scene where Liesl sings with her father (Christopher Plummer) always gets me all teary eyed. It’s perhaps one of my favorite on-screen duets of all time.
Though Charmian Carr only had a single film credit in her career, her contribution to film is so tremendous. I think it’s only fitting that I ended with this delightful farewell scene performed by the Von Trapp children…
Farewell Charmian Carr and rest in peace.
Thank you for your beautiful performance as Liesl…
your iconic performance shall live on.