What do world-famous onion rings, legendary band KISS, a beloved chef from Minnesota and a former gambling addict have in common? A loving tribute to a special family in Minnesota.
Hi everyone, Ruth here. This is perhaps one of the most unusual documentaries I’ve seen… it’s rare that a documentarian ends up being part of the subject of the film he’s creating, but that’s what happened here. Zach Capp initially wanted to make a film about a film about the Worthington chef and his famous onion rings, but The Ringmaster is what I would call a ‘meta’ film as it turns the camera on the filmmaker and ends up documenting the efforts and almost-failures over a 3-year journey. The result is something extraordinary… bizarre, sometimes even painful to watch, but also fascinating and endearing. I think the film is a sweet love letter to chef Larry Lang and perhaps even the town of Worthington as well. Zach said to me at the beginning of our chat that the film reminds us of an onion – the more you peel away the layers the more you discover.
Before I get to the interview, let me share a bit about the background behind the film, and Zach Capp specifically.
Zach’s subject, shy, quirky chef Larry Lang, is loved by his town, Worthington, MN and known for making the best onion rings in America (as verified by food critic Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post). Zach’s mother is from MN and his family vacationed in southwest MN when he was a young boy. Zach never missed an opportunity to sample the world-famous rings at Michael’s which was the Lang family’s restaurant. Larry’s father Michael created the “secret recipe” in 1949 – the 70th anniversary in 2019.
Zach’s beloved grandfather, Martin Capp spent his formative meager beginnings in St. Paul and later in life became a huge philanthropic figure in the Twin Cities area. His name appeared on downtown hotel towers in Minneapolis and St. Paul and thousands of families would live in houses built by his company, Capp Homes, which pioneered affordable pre-fabricated housing in the postwar years. Martin and wife Esther Capp aided many charities in the Twin Cities including the Minnesota Children’s Museum.
Martin Capp thought that his grandson Zach should pursue his passion and become a filmmaker. When Martin passed away, Zach decided to use the inheritance his grandfather left him to make a documentary. The young former gambling addict began a four-year journey filming onion ring chef Larry and sister Linda Lang with the intent of making them and their onion rings world famous. Much of the hundreds of hours of filming took place in Minnesota. Additional footage was shot in South Dakota and Las Vegas.
This documentary was made in loving memory of Martin Capp, who had such strong roots in The Twin Cities. Zach is continuing his grandpa’s philanthropic endeavors. Part of the proceeds from the film will go towards Alzheimer research.
Check out the trailer:
Listen below for the Q&A with Zach Capp:
1. Have you shown this documentary to Worthington residents who knew Larry? If so, how has the reception been?
2. In the doc, you said that ‘maybe I should’ve cut my losses and walk away.’ I’m curious as to the main reason why you didn’t walk away and persisted in telling this story?
3. Watching the doc, it’s evident that you really had a heart for Larry Lang and want to see him succeed. But it was evident that you faced some challenges in making this film. What was the toughest day filming in your 3-year journey?
4. How was working with directors Dave Newberg + Molly Dworsky?
Dave and Molly helped me see what I couldn’t see because I was too close to the story… they really reshaped the whole narrative, they breathe new life into this whole project. I’d say they helped the film find its voice.
5. Some people might see the film and think that you and the directors were unfairly coercing Larry into doing something he didn’t want to do. How do you feel about that viewpoint?
6. The part in the film with the KISS band and seeing Gene Simmons ate those famous onion rings, that must have been surreal. How did that scene come about?
7. Now that Ringmaster film is done. Are you still interested in making the American Food Legends series?
Synopsis: A woman stuck in a small, snowbound border town has dreams of doing comedy when she meets a washed up, burned out comedian with dreams of doing anything else.
International Falls is hard to fit in a genre. Dee (Rachael Harris) is born, raised, and settled in International Falls. Tim (Rob Huebel) is a traveling comedian who has a two-day stop in Dee’s little middle of nowhere Minnesota town. Both characters have reached a breaking point in their lives, and their meeting briefly gives them a human connection they both have been desperately missing. The two bond over their brokenness and by the time the credits roll both characters have made a huge decision.
Counterintuitive as it may sound, International Falls is a coming of age film. Sure, its protagonists are well into their forties, if not past that, but both are wrestling with decisions that will dramatically shape their futures. As Ernest Hemingway taught us in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, not all of us grow up on schedule, sometimes we have to grow up more than once, and more often than not there is collateral damage to that growth.
Amber McGinnis (writer/director) excels at directing emotionally fraught and comedically awkward scenes alike. She has a unique ability to make space for her actors to really dig deep into the non-verbals of their characters, which both Harris and Huebel put to good use.
Tonally, International Falls is almost romantic, but neither character is available. Their sweet moments are almost always intruded upon by their families.It’s a funny movie, but only in very short bursts. And the dramatic tension is broken every single time Dee’s husband Gary (Matthew Glave), who is every inch the caricature of aMinnesota native, steps on screen.
This leads me to my biggest, pettiest quibble about this movie. The accents were bad and unnecessary. Unless you’re trying to make a comedy (which International Falls is definitely not) the accents just get in the way. Do some people talk like that here? Sure, a couple. But they are few and far between and most of them are living in retirement homes at this point.
My only other quibble is that all of the standup writing is bad. For Tim, that’s kind of a given. He tells us a million times that he is bad and we are supposed to believe him. But (very mild spoiler alert) when we get to see Dee do her standup routine, it is also quite bad. Worse than that (she is a newbie after all, we can forgive her a little), her standup has a completely different tone that her character does. It doesn’t feel like the kind of standup that she would write.
Overall this is a great movie. It relishes in the frigid Minnesota landscape, pays homage to a couple of our favorite eyesores (hello Smokey the Bear dressed up as a lumberjack holding ice skates), and subtly pokes fun at the Minnesota nice stereotype. I have a feeling that non-Minnesotans are going to like it better than those of us who live here (seriously those accents are grating), but it’s a nice reminder that the puberty isn’t the only chance that humans have to turn into adults.
– Review by Holly Peterson
Interview by Ruth Maramis
with Amber McGinnis
1. How did you get into filmmaking and how do you choose your projects.
This is my first feature and it’s been one of the most fulfilling, exciting, and hardest things I’ve ever done. I’m a trained theatre director, so I’m used to doing more long form storytelling in that medium, but up until this project I had only done shorts and industrials with film. I was ready to take the next step and make a feature but I had a hard time finding traction and funding. So in the spirit of true indie filmmaking I decided to stop waiting on someone else to give me an opportunity and set out to make one for myself. That meant partnering with our amazing writer Thomas Ward to develop the script, starting my own production company, and learning the nuance of producing a film alongside my co-producer Nick Dunlevy. It hasn’t been a perfect process. It’s been long and grueling but I have learned SO MUCH! And I am so proud of how we persevered. There were so many times when it felt like it wasn’t going to happen. Luckily I am a very stubborn Southern gal so when we hit obstacles I just dug in that much harder.
2. I read that this film is based on a 2-people play, which I find so intriguing. How was the process of adapting a play and what are the challenges of doing so?
Thomas really deserves all of the credit for the brilliant writing and adapting of this script. The two person play is basically a more stream-lined version of the same story. It all takes place in one night and in one location. So developing the screenplay was really about breaking open the possibilities that existed for the story visually: adding more locations and characters and time, while maintaining all of the heart and soul of the original story. One of the biggest changes that I love is that the town of International Falls now feels like another character in the film. We had the generous support of the Chamber of Commerce in International Falls and I think it really shows. Also the screenplay focuses more on Dee’s story and journey which excited me as a female filmmaker.
3. I also read that you were pregnant when you made this film? How was that experience, especially as the film deals with a protagonist dealing with a broken marriage?
I tell ya, giving birth to a feature film and a baby in the same year is no small task. We were still in the process of finishing the sound/color when I went into labor, and my husband has this insane picture of me sending emails from the hospital between contractions haha. “Hard” doesn’t even begin to describe it. But it was so WORTH IT. Our protagonist is on a journey in the film towards authenticity- for her it means confronting some really ugly truths in her life so she can fully be herself and chase her dream. I’ve been on a similar journey over the last few years. But once you set your mind to doing that, it doesn’t matter how hard or exhausting it is. Because being true to who we are will always, ALWAYS be less hard than faking it and living inauthentically.
4. Looks like you filmed it in Minnesota, was that in International Falls? Were you set on filming in the Winter months, which I’d imagine also possess an inherent challenge to tackle.
Yes, even though we filmed on location in International Falls in March we were still battling sub zero temperatures. We filmed on a frozen ice lake at Voyageurs National Park for 3 days and every day the park ranger had to come out and measure the thickness of the ice to make sure it was safe for us take all of our trucks out to the tiny island that served as our main shooting location. We had to put hand warmers on the camera batteries to keep them from shutting off. But our Twin Cities based crew was so amazing. They never complained about the cold or the long hours or the grueling work. It was such an awesome group of people, I am forever indebted to them.
5. The casting looks great for this film, would you talk a bit about the casting process?
The cast IS amazing! Everyday I feel so lucky that we got such an all star cast. We had an incredible casting director, Matthew Lessall who brought the core ensemble together. He had a keen eye for actors who could do comedy but were also not afraid of the dark and dramatic. Our lead Rachael Harris was also a great advocate for us as we rounded out the cast with some of the supporting roles. It was truly a team effort.
*All BTS photos are courtesy of Amber McGinnis
Thank you for chatting with me, Amber!
TCFF screening times of International Falls: Saturday October 19th 7:25PM …
Marvel Studios celebrated the in-home release of Avengers: Endgame with the ‘WE LOVE YOU 3000’ tour. Those who have seen that movie knows the significance of that line, uttered by Iron Man‘s cutie-patootie daughter.
Nine cities and 3,000 giveaways, it’s Marvel’s way to thank fans who’ve invested 11 years in the MCU! Beginning in San Diego at Comic-Con International on July 20 and ending in Anaheim at D23 Expo 2019 the weekend of Aug. 23-25, special guests from Marvel Studios and the MCU greeted fans at various cities.
So, last Wednesday August 14, Best Buy hosted director Anthony Russo for fan meet-n-greet and signing. Thanks to Allied Global Marketing, I and three other MN film bloggers got a chance to interview Mr. Russo on the red carpet prior to the fan event.
On Display at Best Buy were a few props from Endgame, including the broken Captain America’s shield at the hands of Thanos’ mighty sword.
So I was part of the red carpet interview with fellow Twin Cities film bloggers, Paul McGuire Grimes from Paul’s Trip To The Movies, Jared Huizenga from Man Versus Movie, and Mark McPherson from TwinCitiesGeek.com. Each of us took turns asking Anthony Russo a question, but because of time constraints, we only got to ask 1-2 questions each.
Listen below for the Q&A with Anthony Russo:
Paul: I have to ask what your first thoughts were when Kevin Feige told you and your brother Joe that you’d be directing the last two Avengers movies?
Ruth: In regards to your time working in the MCU, what makes you the proudest?
I’m proud that we put our best work in and I’m also grateful that it ended up working for others.
Jared: Now that we’ve come to the end of the Infinity Saga and there are 21 films. Which one is your favorite?
Mark: There’s a lot of elements you juggled on Endgame. Was there any one key aspect that you wanted to maintain throughout Endgame as things were changing?
The important things for us is in regards to the character who’s going to die in the film. We made sure we give Tony Stark a proper arc, to give them the most we could do with that arc…
Paul: How has the technology changed now since The Winter Soldier. Was there anything that you could do in Endgame that maybe you could not have done in The Winter Soldier?
Ruth: How’s your working relationship is w/ the two writers, Christopher Markus + Stephen McFeely whom they’ve worked together for 4 movies. Was there ever any friction between all four of you, and if so how did you resolve that?
“Why my brother and I like to work as a team is because we have opposing points of views… it’s like point, counterpoint, point, counterpoint, it’s like a socratic dialogue we have all day long. We love that. So not disagreeing is actually a part of why the creative relationship has value, because it helps you heat up your ideas and pushes out of your comfort zone…”
Thank you Mr. Russo for chatting with us!
Your fans love you 3000 🙂
Have you seen Avengers:Endgame? Feel free to share your thoughts about the film and/or the interviews.
Last week, one of FlixChatter contributors Laura Schaubschlager got to meet the two lead cast of Dora and the Lost City of Gold (thanks Allied Global Marketing!) Read below on Laura’s conversation with Isabela Moner & Eugenio Derbez
The stars of Dora and the Lost City of Gold want you to know that this isn’t your preschooler’s Dora the Explorer. Okay, maybe it is. But it’s definitely for other viewers, too.
“I think it appeals to a broader audience,” mused Eugenio Derbez, who plays Alejandro Gutierrez, during a brief round-table press interview before a meet and greet event at the Mall of America.
“I really think that it speaks to everybody, especially my generation that really, like, grew up with Dora,” added Isabela Moner, who plays the titular young explorer.
While the movie is obviously aimed at a younger audience, with its source material stemming from the nearly 20-year-old educational Nick Jr. cartoon, it’s also an action-packed adventure film, something both actors were thoroughly excited about.
“For me, it was a dream come true,” Eugenio said.
“I grew up watching Hollywood action movies and I always wanted to be part of them. I never thought it was going to happen, but it happened, so I was really, really happy.” – Eugenio
But being in an action movie is obviously physically demanding, which Eugenio and Isabela weren’t shy about talking about.
“It was scary, it was very demanding-it was the most exhausting film physically that I’ve done,” said Eugenio. “We went through all the cardio. The underwater scene, the quicksand, everything was real. The log, also, we were inside the log.”
Isabela clarified, “We did, like, a simulation-type thing, so it was in a sound stage, so they had a trunk rolling but we were inside it. Someone threw up. We don’t know who, but we know where!”
The underwater scene was especially challenging.
“They taught us how to hold our breath,” explained Eugenio. “They wanted us to hold our breath for two minutes […] they trained us for like a week and finally we did it! But it was really hard. And also, before the scene, we had to be treading water for a few seconds and it was very exhausting.”
“Yeah, it’s hard to breathe fully and take a full, deep breath in when you’re already treading water,” added Isabela, who had a particularly harrowing experience filming the underwater scene.
“Everyone’s kicking water up and we’re all ‘choking’,” she explained, miming the actors pretending to choke on water, “But I actually started choking and we were already rolling and they were like ‘3,2, 1,’ they’re going to pull us underwater and I couldn’t tell them I was choking because I was choking and then they pulled me underwater.”
“They thought she was acting,” chimed in Eugenio. Isabela remained positive about the ordeal, though.
“It was pretty scary, but things like that happen. I think it’s great; I hope they used the original take!”
The action isn’t the only thing Isabela was excited about in the movie. Being of Peruvian descent herself, she was especially looking forward to Peruvian culture playing such a prominent role on such a large platform, even learning Quechua, an indigenous language spoken primarily in the Peruvian Andes and the highlands of South America, for the role.
“I had a voice memo to work with from San Marcos University in Peru, and that was all I had.”
“It’s an unwritten language, right?” Eugenio asked.
“Yeah,” Isabela replied. “They use a thing called a quipu, which is like knots on a rope, and the knots mean different things…it’s crazy. Usually you just learn it from hearing other people speak it, so a lot of my older relatives knew how to speak it, so I would call them if I needed an extra translation of something.”
This dedication to cultural detail meant a lot to both actors, along with the importance of Latinx representation in Hollywood overall.
“Representation in Hollywood, especially now, it’s really important,” said Eugenio. “Latinos, we’re being charged and harassed very much lately, so the timing is perfect. It’s good to tell our people with the Dora movie that being Latino is cool-to tell the kids that speaking Spanish is okay, is a good thing. So I’m glad the movie came out in this very moment where we need that kind of support.”
“Yeah,” agreed Isabela.
“We need to unite–we need to support each other more than anything because in the industry, at least in my point of view, there’s not many Latinos or Latinas. I see the same people at every audition, and it’s the same kind of roles, the same kind of dialogue, and the same attitude, and it would be great to see some diversity, or at least some roles that are ethnically ambiguous but are given to a Latino.” – Isabela
In addition to starring in the movie, Eugenio was also an executive producer, and he used his position to make sure the cultural representation in the film was done right.
“It was so great with Eugenio producing this, because it was authentic,” said Isabela. “It wasn’t like ‘Google Translate’ Spanish in the script, and he made sure the dialect was correct. There were no stereotypes like that, because I’m sure he’s faced many of them.”
With such talented, motivated, and passionate individuals as these two in the industry, hopefully we’ll continue to see an increase in more thoughtful and diverse cultural representation in film.
You can catch Dora and the Lost City of Gold in theaters now.
Thank you Isabela Moner and Eugenio Derbez for talking to Laura from FlixChatter!
Hello readers, Ruth here! Welcome to another interview edition featuring two Minnesota filmmakers, Frank White (writer/director) and Jason P. Schumacher (producer).
For those of you loyal FC readers, you might be familiar with Jason’s name as we’ve featured him before when I interviewed him for his short film This Is Home, and he’s also the director of Hearts Want which I wrote and directed.
Corporate researchers go behind the back of their mysterious employer to test the telepathic abilities of a traumatized girl and her father.
The Chairman is a retro sci-fi/horror short about the intersection of business, media, and the supernatural, created by Minnesota filmmakers Frank White and Jason P. Schumacher, and featuring an original analog-synthesizer score by UK composer OGRE Sound. Frequently compared to the works of David Cronenberg and Paul Verhoeven, The Chairman is an attempt to dig below the surface of the late 20th Century retro aesthetics currently marbling popular culture, particularly when it comes to the horror genre. Instead of mere nostalgia for the analog era, the 20-minute short film seeks to explore how it underpins a mythology for our digital present.
The Chairman premiered at Cinepocalypse 2018, where it took home awards for best actor and actress. Other awards from its ongoing festival run include best editing and VFX from the 2018 Northern Frights Festival, and best horror short at Motor City Nightmares 2019.
Q: Where do you get the idea for this film that deals with a telepathic experimentation?
Frank: I’ve always been fascinated by ESP and the paranormal, in spite of being a skeptical person by nature. When Jason convinced me to make a short of my own, I combined that with a roughly sketched thriller I had been working on about a father being forced to watch horrible things happen to his family over CCTV. The evil corporation angle came from yet another unfinished story, so the core of the story is very much a family of orphaned stories. I don’t like to let an interesting idea go to waste.
Q: This is your first time directing. How’s that experience been for you? How has your background as a writer/editor assist you in directing?
Frank: Directing with a full crew is certainly intimidating at first, but we had a talented and enthusiastic bunch of people who made it a great first time experience for me. Plus we got extremely lucky with weather and locations, so I was able to focus on filmmaking rather than solving problems. Having edited narrative shorts before, I was familiar with most of the nuts and bolts of putting a scene together, and since we had a leisurely pre-production phase, I was able to do a great deal of planning for the shots I wanted, while also leaving some room for improvisation when circumstances demand it or a crew member comes up with a great new idea to try. The most helpful thing about being an editor is having some experience with struggling to put scenes together that didn’t get fully shot, and in the end I only gave myself one problematic scene as a director that I had to get creative with to put together properly as an editor.
Q: There’s a particularly intriguing scene in the film involving a bunch of extras in a lake. Would you tell me a bit about shooting that?
Frank: The big lake-ghost tableaux in the middle of The Chairman was a combination of careful planning and fortunate conditions. We had a series of ghost extras for other shots, which gave the make up artists time to get people ready one at a time, and since the ghosts don’t follow the usual laws of filmmaking continuity, we didn’t have to worry about keeping their positions constant between shots. It had been a wet, gloomy day for the shoot, which was ideal for our mood and lighting, and also had the bonus of keeping passersby away from the beach. I had a stockpile of towels and foil blankets on hand to keep people warm, but the water was surprisingly pleasant. (I spent a good portion of the day wading in it myself.)
Once we had all the extras ready, the weather decided to give us a perfect cloudy sky complete with shafts of light, and the camera crew hustled to get the jib ready just in time to get the shot. The hardest part of the shot ended up being keeping the kid ghosts focused, so it did take a couple takes to get everything right, but I couldn’t have asked for a better end result.
Q: There’s a vintage 80s feel to the film, even the grainy texture of the look. Is that deliberate and what’s the reasoning behind it?
Frank: The Chairman has a vague period feel of somewhere around 1990, which is mostly rooted in the movie’s analog media motif. There are a lot of CRT television screens and VHS equipment in the background, and the period look let us have a lot of fun with costumes and production design. ’80s aesthetics are always popular with millennials (and I have a soft spot for them), but we wanted to be a little subtler about it than most retro productions. So rather than loading the script up with references or going way over the top with period costuming, we tried to shoot it more like an ’80s movie, which meant things like using a lot less camera movement than we otherwise might; with the exceptions of one jib and two steadicam shots, everything is shot entirely on tripods. After that, we used color correction, artificial film grain, and an analog synthesizer score to enhance the retro feel.
Q: You also wrote the script for this. Was there anything that you had to change for the film that would make it work better cinematically?
Frank: Since I wrote The Chairman from the ground up for myself to film, it was all ready to go from the shooting script. Some dialogue got axed while editing for pacing reasons, but otherwise it’s all on screen as intended. It was quite the journey from the first draft to that shooting script though. I initially wrote without any thought towards budgetary concerns, but fortunately a lot of the stuff that would have been wildly expensive to make (there was a biomechanical monster at one point) was cut out while streamlining and focusing the narrative.
Interview with Jason P. Schumacher
Q: I saw on IMDb this is your 11th short films you’ve produced? What is it about this project that set it apart from the other projects you’ve produced?
Jason: I’d say, the scale and ambition of it. We had to create our own evil corporation and the marketing for two of their products. It is also a period piece with period appropriate locations, costumes, and technology. I’ve done a few period pieces before, but not with this many characters and locations. The biggest difference from previous projects though, is that The Chairman has various supernatural elements that we had to use special effects and cinematic language through editing and camerawork to convey. We had to figure out how we wanted to portray ghosts and psychic energy in the world that that we were creating.
Q: This film is a horror/sci-fi, are you a big fan of this genre? What’s your favorite sci-fi/horror films?
Jason: I love any good film that makes me feel like I’ve just had an experience. Frank really introduced me to a lot of horror films and directors in college when we were roommates. One of the first movies we probably watched together was John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), which is a masterpiece. It has incredible and disgusting practical effects but it also has equally compelling scenes of characters just being paranoid and suspicious of one another. I’m a huge fan of the Polish horror fairy-tale musical, The Lure (2015). It manages to be this completely weird fusion of things that still hits me on an emotional level. The Orphanage (2007) scares the heck out of me and also manages to be a soul crushing character study.
Frank and I both are excited about this new resurgence of arthouse horror that’s been happening; The Witch, Us, Hereditary, Susperia. We try to go see as many of those together in the theater as we can.
For Sci-Fi, I like a lot of the standards. Robocop, Arrival, Ex-Machina, and The Matrix all come to mind. I’m also a huge fan of the original Twilight Zone. Lately, I’ve been wanting to watch more animated Sci-Fi films because Paprika (2006) might be my actual favorite Sci-Fi film. Iron Giant, Ghost in the Shell, and A Scanner Darkly are also great.
Q: I know you have dealt with casting for most of the films you directed/produced. How’s the casting process go with this one as there’s quite a big ensemble?
Jason: Well, we held a big audition and saw a lot of people! I know a lot of actors in the Minnesota community but I actually didn’t know anyone that we cast before we met them for The Chairman. I’d met Tessa Meath (Samantha) briefly at another casting session and thought she had the most incredible speaking voice. I thought she’d be perfect for the part of Samantha, who’s needs to communicate a lot with few words. James Detmar (Vincent), I’d had seen in another audition where he was playing someone commanding and intimidating. His performance was so effective in that other audition that I was a little nervous reaching out to him, but he’s an incredibly kind and lovely person. All of our cold, cruel baddies in real life, are some of the nicest people around. There’s some very funny behind-the-scenes shots of them smiling and laughing in the abandoned office set, under the menacing lighting. I auditioned Jeremy Frandrup previously for This is Home and really liked him.
Q: You’ve collaborated with Frank quite a bit on short films. How much input do you have in this film in terms of the story?
Jason: Frank has been behind-the-scenes on pretty much all of my films and the other stuff we’ve created at GreyDuck. This was his time to jump in, direct, and lead a project of his own. I like to think my biggest input was just to keep asking him “When are we gonna make this thing?” But the story and script are entirely his creation. Earlier drafts of the script were longer and so we had discussions about what to cut. There was another supernatural experiment that survived many drafts of the script, but ultimately had to be cut because there wasn’t enough time to clarify what it was, without distracting from the main experiment that the story revolves around. Hopefully, in the future, we can expand the world of The Chairman and tell other stories involving Pantheon and their other products, either in a feature film or some kind of mini series.
Q: What kind of challenges did you encounter making this film and how did you overcome them?
Jason: The whole thing was filled with a lot of new challenges. But with how big and ambitious this film was, all the people involved, and all the moving parts, it was actually a joy to make. I thought the biggest challenge was going to be the lake scenes, but because we were so worried about them and planned so carefully, they actually weren’t that bad. The biggest challenge was probably the darn elevator towards the end of the film. There’s a moment where 2 characters exchange some dialogue while leaving the elevator and another character steps in and takes it to the top floor. The building that we used for the Pantheon headquarters was a highly secure building, so we needed someone on staff there to swipe their security badge for every single take. And, course, the elevator doors would shut automatically at just the wrong time. Everyone remained relatively patient and we got through it, but it all took far longer than anyone expected. Beyond fighting with an elevator, I just had to be really prepared and to help clearly communicate Frank’s ambitious vision to everyone involved, so that they knew what we were aiming for and could bring their own skill and artistry to it, to bring it all to life.
One of the perks of covering film festivals is discovering cinematic gems that I otherwise would not have come across. This is one of those sparkling gems I got to see at MSPIFF this year. Not only is this film speaks of a topic that is near and dear to my heart as a female film critic/screenwriter/filmmaker, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is eye-opening, inspiring, captivating and absolutely delightful to watch!
Pamela B. Green’s energetic film about pioneer filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché is both a tribute and a detective story, tracing the circumstances by which this extraordinary artist faded from memory and the path toward her reclamation.
‘Be Natural’ Review
Directed by: Pamela B. Green
Written by: Pamela B. Green, Joan Simon
Have you ever heard of Georges Méliès? The Lumière Brothers? Thomas Edison? Most likely your answer would be yes. But how about Alice Guy-Blaché? If you say ‘Alice who?’ then you’re not alone.
I remember feeling really guilty that I didn’t know who Alice Guy was, I mean I consider myself well-versed in cinema history. Or so I thought. But then the opening of this film asked that very question, ‘Have you ever heard of Alice Guy-Blaché?’ to a number of filmmakers working in the industry (i.e. Catherine Hardwicke, Jon M. Chu, Peter Farrelly) and many of them had never heard of her.
By the time Jodie Foster’s voice came on as the narrator, I was glued to the screen, captivated and deeply curious to hear more about this untold story of Alice Guy, the forgotten ‘Mother of Cinema’ who’s seemingly been absent from cinema history through generations. Pamela B. Green has poured her passion and admiration for Alice Guy-Blaché and it shows. She utilized her background in motion design (she’s the founder/owner of Pic Agency in Los Angeles) in her storytelling style. I love that the film goes beyond showing talking heads and an immense wealth of archival photos/footage, but it’s also a thrilling detective story. The animation/motion graphics helped convey the filmmaker and team’s journey in finding the right people to tell Alice Guy’s journey, including her daughter Simone Blaché.
It’s immensely inspiring to see a woman behind the camera in the late 1800s. Alice Guy is shown in various photos directing actors on set. By her own account, she made the first narrative films ever in 1896! However, despite having made over 1,000 films, it’s heartbreaking that Alice had to fight to get credit for her work. It’s also astounding that even a hundred years later, there’s still a huge disparity for women behind the camera. I’m SO glad I finally learned about Alice Guy-Blaché and her crucial place in the cinema history. This film is so overdue, yet it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. As more people are championing gender parity in cinema, this film would likely inspire to keep up the good fight.
I can’t recommend this film enough to anyone who loves cinema, whether you’re a casual movie-watcher or involved in filmmaking at any capacity. Check out where this film is playing next on their official website.
* Photo courtesy of Be Natural Productions
** Photo courtesy of Anthony Slide
Check out the trailer:
Quick Bio on Pamela B. Green
Originally from New York, Pamela B. Green lived most of her life in Europe and Israel and as a result, is fluent in English, French, Italian, and Hebrew. In 2005, she founded PIC, an entertainment and motion design boutique based in Los Angeles, California. Green’s work ranges from feature film main titles, motion graphics, creative directing, directing and producing music videos and commercials. She is known in the industry for creating titles sequences and story sequences using her knowledge of graphic design, animation, editorial, and archival rare stock footage research.
Q&A with filmmaker Pamela B. Green
As soon as I saw Be Natural film, I went on Twitter to share about the film and to thank Pamela for shining a light on such a cinematic pioneer & visionary who’s somehow forgotten/omitted from film history books. I then contacted Pamela via her official site and was thrilled that I got to chat with her over the phone last Wednesday. Check out my Q&A below on some insights into her filmmaking journey.
Q1: What inspired you to tell Alice Guy’s story and let the world know that she is the true #MotherOfCinema?
I saw a tv show about women pioneers in cinema which included her. The show mentioned Mary Pickford (who co-founded Pickford–Fairbanks Studio with Douglas Fairbanks) who’s also well-known as an actress. But the fact that Alice Guy had done so much and had her own studio, she stood out. I had never heard of her at that point, and the more people I asked, I realized that many people also had never heard of her. I did more research and talked to some people in the academics community who said ‘oh everyone knows about Alice’ which made me angry because that [statement] is not true. Only a small group of academics knew about her.
I kept asking people that I work with in Hollywood, those I do jobs for, studios, and nobody had heard of her. I decided to do something about it. At that point I wasn’t sure what it would be yet, but coincidentally I was working with Robert Redford on a couple of films. On a second film, I told him about Alice and he was shocked as well. He said ‘well what are you going to do about this?’ Then I said, well I think I should do a documentary because I don’t think there’s enough work has been done to really explore Alice besides the academic aspect, restoring her films, documenting what she had done, etc. but it wasn’t a full exploration of her.
Q2: How long ago was this, that this journey started?
Oh a long time ago. In 2011 I was talking about this. Then we did a Kickstartercampaign in 2013 which was quite successful. Then the head of Geena Davis’ institute [SheJane.org] found out about it and then she talked to a big producers Geralyn White Dreyfous, Regina K. Scully, Jamie Wolf who came on board. They’re not part of Hollywood, but people who often fund social issues pertaining to women. Hugh Hefner and Jodie Foster also came on board as executive producers. They’re all visionaries who understood right away why I had to make this film. Instead of having to fight the system in Hollywood, I went the other way and they really helped me.
Q3: Did you face resistance from people who try to maintain the status quo of cinema history?
Yes. I get a lot of resistance from France, the Academics, professors. And Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. I mean they participated but Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. It’s completely donation-based. The ‘wallets’ just wasn’t available I guess, so I got funding from social media and these wonderful women. Barbara Bridges from the Denver Film Society is one, basically a lot of women behind the men who helped fund this movie, a lot of philanthropist women helped tell this story. The film is also distributed independently, outside of the studio system. But I see it as a positive thing, I was able to make the movie that I wanted to make, and marketed it the way I wanted to market it. There’s not many ‘fingers in the pot’ while I was making the film.
Q4: I love that the film also plays like a detective story, and the motion graphics helped convey that so wonderfully. Was that a conscious decision on your part to tell the story that way?
Yes, from the very beginning. I wanted to have Skype interviews, contact people around the world. Some people in the industry said to me ‘It wouldn’t be aesthetically correct. Why would you do that? It would look bad, what do you know about editing, etc.’ So I got a lot of resistance and people saying that I didn’t know what I was doing while making this film. So it’s similar to how Alice Guy was treated and had to deal with, that is having people second-guessing her as a filmmaker.
Q5: Where can people see Alice Guy’s extensive work? Is there plans to make her work readily available to the public?
Our film opened at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center on Friday, April 19. Then IFC Center in New York on April 26, then slowly we’re opening in multiple cities in the US and internationally [check out the film’s official site for schedule].
As far as Alice Guy’s films, there’s the Gaumont DVD collection [available on Amazon]. Kino Lorber Distribution company has some of her American films which they’ve released as part of the Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers disc [available on Amazon]. I’m also working on doing her American collections available for streaming. There are about 150 of her films in existence and we’re setting up a foundation that would hopefully support that venture.
There are countless of stories of war that have been depicted on screen, whether narratives or documentaries. They are inherently fascinating to me, and I’m especially intrigued by stories of survival, especially when told by the survivors themselves, as in the case of this remarkable WWII documentary with a Minnesota connection.
Told by U.S. Eighth Air Force Bombardier Lt. Charles Woehrle, one of 10,000 prisoners in Stalag Luft III – depicted in the movie ‘The Great Escape.’ At age 93 this remarkable man, a gifted storyteller, relives his experiences with vivid detail. His personal account of being shot down, captured by the Nazi’s and surviving two long years of tremendous hardship is filled with grit and grace.
In the promotional material for the film fest, the film is billed as ‘saga filled with grit and grace.’ I couldn’t agree more after seeing the film, I feel that it was how the late Lt. Charles Woehrle lived all his life… up until he passed away at the age of 98. It’s truly a good thing that Mr. Woehrle’s niece Louise is a gifted filmmaker, as she brought her uncle’s story to life so beautifully.
Though this film depicts a harrowing story, it has such hopeful, uplifting tone, a certain quiet grace that shines through when the then 93-year-old Charles Woehrle told his story on camera. Director Louise Woehrle used footage from 13+ hours of interviews with her late uncle, and combined them with various photos, real footage, countless memorabilia, plus re-enactment scenes to tell an inspiring tale of survival.
Lieutenant Woehrle spent 22 months at Stalag Luft III prison camp along with other Allied officers. This film allowed him to provide the voice for his fellow comrades who couldn’t tell their own stories. There’s also a delightful story about how he received an unexpected gift from Patek Philippe, the luxury watch company from Geneva while he was a prisoner of war. I was so invested in the soldiers’ stories that when I saw the footage of General Patton liberating the Allied prison camps, I literally cheered. As a movie fan, I was amused to see footage of classic Hollywood star Clark Gable who joined the Army Air Force and was part of the 351st Bombardment Group.
This is a film told with passion and care. The amount of meticulous details is astounding, and they’re woven together seamlessly with the ‘talking head’ interviews and re-enactments to tell a cohesive story that’s suspenseful, thrilling, deeply-touching and inspiring. I have to mention the wonderful music which mixes the classic theme from The Great Escape by Elmer Bernstein, as well as those made specifically for this film. Great music adds such richness to the whole experience and that is definitely the case here.
I’m glad I got to see this film and learn more about a real life hero, as well as others whose stories are told through him. A brilliant showcase of the triumph of the human spirit. Lt. Woehrle’s and his comrades’ experience certainly gives me a whole new appreciation about life and the freedom we enjoy every day. …
Q&A with filmmaker Louise Woehrle
Q1. What sparked the idea that you wanted to tell your uncle’s story?
The idea was sparked after my dad died in 2006. I was still working on my feature documentary Pride of Lions (co-directed with my brother John Woehrle) so I knew it couldn’t happen right away. By 2010 when my uncle was age 93, I could wait no longer, and that’s when I got busy. I knew that even if my uncle passed away after I shot his interviews in the studio, I could still tell his story.
Q2. Sounds like you filmed this five years before your uncle passed (when he was 93), how long was the interview process with him specifically?
The interview process happened in 3 in-studio interview sessions, lasting 3-4 hours each. I had subsequent interviews at his apartment later.
Q3. Did you learn new things about his tale you didn’t know before?
Yes, I learned a lot of new things. The one that stands out the most is the watch story. We had been shooting at a Stalag Luft III reunion in Detroit. I was interviewing a PoW who was on oxygen. He was wearing a Rolex watch that was broken and he said he never took it off because he had it in prison camp. So, when my uncle and I were flying back to Minneapolis, I asked him if he had a watch in camp? He looked at me and said, “Let me tell you a story about a watch.” That’s the first time I heard about the Patek Philippe. I think it was never mentioned because his house was robbed in the 70s and the watch was one of the stolen valuables. He just moved on and did not talk about it. I knew, at that moment, what that watch meant to him and so began my search for the watch and ultimately a replacement watch from Patek Philippe.
The watch from Patek Philippe
The watch was specially engraved for Charles Woehrle
Q4.When watching the film, I was astounded by the amount of details of footage, photos, memorabilia, etc. that really makes for effective documentary storytelling. Would you share a bit about the research and process of collecting all of those items?
My uncle held on to his WWII documents, logbook, journal, artifacts, letters from home, Patek documents and the negatives from the photos he took at the end of the war with the Voigtlander camera that ended up in the Nuremberg Trials. I also attained scans from Col. Clark’s photo collection from the Air Force Academy Library. Those photos were taken with clandestine cameras by the PoWs. I also worked with the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley in Little Falls, MN. They provided uniforms, tin cups, red cross parcels, the French Box car and more.
I was able to attain 2 film reels from the footage that was used in William Wiley’s 1944 documentary film Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress. 16 mm reels from an archival film licensing online platform, Critical Past. I did a deal with them. If they sent me the reels of film, we would do the digital transfer for them. My colorist, Dave Sweet at Pixel Farm specializes in the transfer of 16mm and 35mm. Because we worked out an even trade, Critical Past did not charge for the use of the film. I also scored on the use of the B-17 from EAA in Wisconsin. That’s a whole other story of convincing them why they should work with me. All things led back to Uncle Charles and his true story. He lived it and we get to document that story! It was a 95-degree day when they landed for 4 hours at Anoka Airport. I had to rent commercial air conditioning units so none of our re-enactors would pass out from heat stroke with all that gear on.
Q5.I thought the re-enactment scenes were well-crafted and looked very believable. How’s the process of casting the actors and recreating those air battle scenes?
We used green screen while shooting the B-17 on the ground at the Anoka airport. The goal was to shoot as much as we could with the limited time that we had. VFX were always going to be a part of the equation but I had no idea how far we could take it. I saw this sequence as being critical to the film. I was working with one of my several shooters on the project, Alex Fournier, who also assisted in some editing too. He studied art at the Chicago Institute of Art so he had a real talent for learning VFX. Alex fell down the rabbit hole learning what he needed to make a bullet coming through the fuselage look real, taking a still image and animating it and creating a scene of jumping out of the B-17 look real. He must have worked for 3 months, straight. I was very involved in editing that sequence. I knew it had to have the right rhythm to work and so did Jim Stanger, my editor who seamlessly connected each piece. Splice came in and took the VFX to the next level with their contributions.
For the B-17 air battle sequence, I had to rely on Minnesota Military Museum’s help, specifically historians Doug Thompson and Charlie Pautler. I told them that I wanted young guys for the roles who were in shape and could wear their hair short. My historians delivered a great group. I also used some of the same guys on the forced march sequence. Three of the PoWs were family, my son Luke Enyeart (age 19), nephew, Dylan Woehrle and my uncle Charles grandson, George Kelly. Keep in mind, none of my reenactors were actual actors. The only true actor in the film was the voice over for Charles mother, Anna. That was voiced by veteran actor Sally Wingert. The woman who played the mother role, Joan Lambert had acted in high school and she was a mother, therefore, she could relate to the story. How I found Joan is yet another serendipitous event.
Q6. Did you make contact with any of Charles’ former crew that you’re making this film?
Actually, it was a family member of one of my uncle’s fellow crew members who contacted me. The daughter of Sgt. Charles Eaton (Top Turret) who is standing next to Charles in the photo of the 4 PoWs standing after they were captured. Eaton is standing next to my Uncle. They pretended they did not know each other. The daughter called me because her dad did not talk about the war and she hoped that Uncle Charles could shed some light on some unanswered questions. I arranged a conference call with Charles, the daughter and her sister and myself. They asked what their dad was like back then because the man they grew up with seemed fractured emotionally from the war. Their dad could never get over the fact that he could not get the radio operator to jump. The kid was too scared so he went down with the plane. After Uncle Charles told them about want a great guy he was and how you could always count on him, etc. they started to cry. Later they wrote to us and said how healing it was to talk to my Uncle and that it explained a lot. Uncle Charles also told them that their dad did everything he could to help the radio operator but had to jump at the last second to save his own life.
Q7. And was it Charles’ idea to honor their stories, as in providing a voice for those who didn’t make it?
Uncle Charles honored his fellow airmen, always. When he went to France as the last survivor of the crew, he took it upon himself to represent all his crew in the best way he knew how. He documented every part of the trip and put together books for each family of the crew and sent to them. He felt it was his duty as the last man standing. That’s just how he lived his life. So when you ask, was it his idea to provide a voice for those who did not make it, I would have to say yes. Was it my idea to include that theme in the film? Yes. The mission for Whirlygig Productions from inception in 2002: “Telling stories that help us see ourselves and others in new ways, promote healing and connect us as human beings.” I have shortened the tag line to “Shining a light on stories that need to be told.” For me, there always needs to be the purpose of a greater good that can come from a story. Uncle Charles lived his story, I was lucky enough to document it through this film.
Q8. Sounds like your uncle lives his life with ‘grit and grace.’ Would you share one personal moment of you and your uncle that you’ll always carry with you?
Yes – one day we were talking over dinner and I asked him who in the family reminded him of my Dad (his identical twin). I was thinking one of my 4 brothers, maybe my sons. He gently pointed his finger at me. I was moved. Uncle Charles and I were there for each other – at that moment, I understood our connection on another level.
Q9. The moment where Charles went to a Detroit Air Show is very moving, esp when he got inside the bomber airplane similar to his B-17. Please tell me one of your favorite moments making this film.
Well, that was one of my favorite moments because up until that point he was telling me there would be no way he would ever get into a B-17 again after all he had been through. So when the young captain on the tarmac asked Uncle Charles if he wanted to go up into the plane and he said “no, no, no,” and the guy driving the golf cart said “yes, yes, yes,” or something like that…something switched in him and he did it! I was blown away. It brought a lot of joy to not only him, but the rest of us watching him.
Q10. I love the music used throughout and you’re credited as the Music Supervisor. I noticed that you used the theme from The Great Escape film by Elmer Bernstein.
Thank you. Music is the bedrock of my storytelling. I studied music growing up and into college. I became a music therapy major at the U of Minnesota. Music is integral to every story. When we were editing the Stalag Luft III prison camp sequence my editor, Jim Stanger asked if we could use the music from the Great Escape movie to get us in the spirit of being there. Of course, I said yes but was worried we would get so attached that I would never be able to find music to replace it. Elmer Bernstein composed beautifully to the spirit of that film. Well, as I thought, I got attached to the music so much that I reached out to the Elmer Bernstein Family Foundation. They referred me to Sony ATV. It took 4 months of emails back and forth with detailed examples of how the music cues would work with the sequences. Finally, they said yes and allowed me to use 4 cues at a minimal fee. They understood this was an independent film about a pretty impressive man who lived the real Stalag Luft III. I am very grateful that they got on board.
Q11. How did you select the music for this film?
I have a good sense of what a scene or sequence needs emotionally and musically. I used that inner knowing when diving into the various music libraries. The right music sort of jumps out at me. I lost myself for days looking for various music cues. There were a few cues that my editors used to cut to that we left in too. My music editor Ken Chastain did a great job providing transitional music or creating certain classics, like Silent Night, Amazing Grace or tonal segues.
My son Luke Enyeart composed 4 cues after Uncle Charles capture and during his time in the cold and hardship in prison camp. Luke wrote a couple of the cues with his good friend Will Honaker. Luke’s primary instrument is the guitar. He has composed music for 4 of my film projects and possesses great emotional intelligence in his music. You can’t teach that.
Q12. Lastly, what would you want people to take away from after seeing this film?
I hope they feel like their hearts have been opened and tended to by the life of Charles Woehrle. I hope they can walk away feeling inspired by kindness, compassion, and love for our fellow man. I want future generations to know how much we owe the Greatest Generation and hope that my Uncle’s story starts a conversation and offers some healing for families like the Charles Eaton’s.