TCFF 2017 Interview: VICTOR’S LAST CLASS’ Director/Producer Brendan Brandt

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.’


FILMMAKERS’ BIOS:

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).


Stay tuned for my Day 3 & 4 recap tomorrow

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Indie Film Spotlight: GUNN + Interview with writer/director C.J. Renner & four cast members

It’s always fun being able to wear my film journalist hat once in a while. So whenever there’s an opportunity to chat with a filmmaker, whether locally or from other parts of the world, I always jump at the chance. This time, we’ve got something special because I get to do the interview on a different format… on video! Thanks to Minnesota-based filmmaker C.J. Renner and producer Sasha Rayl, as well as four of GUNN cast members for taking the time to chat with me last Friday afternoon.

I always love a good noir. GUNN is a gangster crime drama unlike anything I’ve ever seen. From the way the story is written to the deliberate surrealistic production style, it’s so refreshing to see a classic story done in an unconventional way.

All Elston Gunn ever needed to survive was a little luck and his Tommy gun. But when he discovers his whole world is just a staged play, he must dodge not only cops but stagehands… he must save not only his crumbling empire, but his last hold on reality.

There’s a lot to like about GUNN. The film is quite stylish with great camera angles and lighting for maximum effect. Despite the limited indie budget, Renner and his team are very creative and resourceful in constructing the minimalistic sets to support the narrative. Right from the fantastic Mondrian style opening credits, this is a cool, stylish film. I like the deliberate dreamy/surreal quality which fits the themes and storyline well, and he’s got a terrific ensemble cast to bring his story to life.

Andrew Stecker as Elston Gunn

Andrew Stecker portrays the inner conflict of Elston nicely. The fact that he doesn’t look like a typical gangster works in the story’s favor, and I like the vulnerability he brings to the role. Amanda Day and Anna Stranz are two wonderful talents I’ve seen in previous films before, glad to see each have a decent character arc in the film. Richard Keats as the mob boss and Noah Gillett as Elston’s closest crony, as well as Peter Christian Hansen and Tyson Lietz as the two cops hot on the gangsters’ tail, are all terrific in their roles.

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Some films that are shot mostly on set sometimes felt constricting, but that’s not the case here. Once you accept the surrealistic nature, the film flows quite nicely. The creative use of lighting and camera work create some striking imagery on screen. Because of the minimalist set, the costumes play a huge part in conveying the Prohibition era and boy, do the cast look fabulous in 1930s outfits. I love the satin dresses, fur accessories on the women… and the guys look oh-so-dapper in vests, suspenders and Fedoras.

I can’t write this review without mentioning the wonderful music by Travis Anderson, one of the biggest strengths of the film. The jazzy score and some of the songs performed in the film are not only catchy, but they add so much to the mood and atmosphere.

The pacing could be a bit more dynamic, some of the heavy-dialog scenes, as the scene between Keats and Stecker in the middle of the film felt a little too long. But really it’s a small quibble in an otherwise a smart, enjoyable debut film. Kudos to C.J. for coming up with such a cool story, but also in executing it in such a clever way.

I hope GUNN will get some kind of theatrical release or VOD distribution soon! Check out some of the clips from the film embedded in the two videos below… enjoy!

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Interview video with writer/director C.J. Renner:

In my 7+ years covering Minnesota films and filmmakers as a blogger, I’m even more impressed by the local talents we’ve got in this town. C.J. is definitely a filmmaker to watch and I truly hope he continues to write and make more films in the future!

Interview video with cast members Andrew Stecker, Noah Gillett, Anna Stranz and Peter Christian Hansen:

It was so fun interviewing the cast! It was so great meeting Andrew for the first time just before the interview. Peter & Noah are both in my short film Hearts Want, so it was lovely seeing them again. I had met Anna last year at Twin Cities Film Fest and was impressed by her performance in Miles Between Us, surely she’ll have a fruitful acting career ahead of her.

I’m really grateful to everyone for taking the time out of their busy schedule to do this on a Friday afternoon. In fact, Peter had just got done filming another MN indie film shortly before the interview!

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Thanks so much C.J. Renner and the GUNN crew
for the delightful interview!

Indie Film Spotlight: LET ME GO + Interview with writer/director Polly Steele

When I first heard about Let Me Go about a year ago, I was immediately intrigued. Not just in terms of its story, but I’ve always been a champion of #womeninfilm and this one has a female writer/director AND a terrific female ensemble cast! I really wanted to see the film at Bentonville Film Festival last Spring, but I had just wrapped my first short film Hearts Want so I timing was an issue. But thanks to Evolutionary Films for sending me the screener link that I was able to see it last month.

The film is based on a true story, and though films about the holocaust are a dime a dozen, writer/director Polly Steele told the story from an unconventional perspective. It’s a unique and compelling approach on a real life story from the past that’s still relevant today. I love the talented female cast who effectively portrayed three generation of daughters being affected by a horrific past. It’s a thought-provoking, heartbreaking yet beautiful film that I wish I could see on the big screen. If you get a chance to see this, don’t miss it. Not only is it an absorbing tale, it’s also a visually striking film with an equally gorgeous score.

Let Me Go is a film about mothers and daughters, it is about ghosts from the past and the impact they leave on the present. Developed from Helga Schneider’s true life story, it explores the effect on Helga’s life of being abandoned by her mother, Traudi in 1941 when she was just four years old. The film is set in the year 2000 following not only Helga and Traudi’s journeys but the next two generations and how Beth, Helga’s daughter and Emily her granddaughter are confronted with the long-term effects of Traudi’s leaving.

 

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Read my interview with Polly Steele on her journey into bringing Helga Schneider’s story to life on screen…

Q: There are so many films about the holocaust done already but your film tells a story from such a different perspective, that is from the family of the perpetrators, instead of the victims. Can you tell me what inspired you to write this story?

When I first found this story I had no idea what attracted me to it. Looking back it was probably the vulnerable face of a small child in the black and white photo on the back cover. This vulnerability echoed inside me somewhere and I read the book. I know that trauma arises from all sides in a conflict and Helga’s trauma is no less valid than anyone else’s. Helga’s story was a difficult story to tell after the war had ended, there was no space for stories like hers. Now that 75 years has past since the war, I think we can acknowledge that innocent children from all sides of a conflict suffer. We cannot move on from our own suffering unless we acknowledge the suffering of others.

Q: How did you first hear about Helga Schneider? Can you tell us the process of getting the rights to tell her story and how long it took you to write the script?

Polly (right) meeting Helga in Italy

After reading the book, I flew to Milan to meet her, she only spoke Italian and a little French and I spoke English and French and so we used her agent to translate and we sussed each other out with a lot of looking into each others eyes. I think we came to an understanding that day and I felt that she entrusted me with her life story, I am very grateful to her.

After seven years of writing and re-writing the script, working with various different companies and even putting it aside for a while, somehow the right team came together, the energy changed and here we are having raised the money in a year and made the film the following year, but the whole process was 10 years in the making.

Q: How involved was Helga herself in making this film? I believe you flew to Italy to meet with her?

After meeting her the first time, we kept in touch, I would write to her asking her questions and she would write back . I would google translate and on it went. After a couple of drafts of being completely true to her story I made a leap to include the two youngest characters who are fictitious, because I was fascinated with inherited trauma. I made these creative decisions with Helga’s blessing. The two new characters are based on information given to us by Helga who wanted to protect the real identity of her close family members. She understands now that her story has continued to affect those who came after her and that is what the film focuses on. Ironically when I met her again just before we started filming she told me that the two new characters were very accurate relative to her own experience.

Traudi (Karin Bertling), Beth (Jodhi May) Helga (Juliet Stevenson) and Emily (Lucy Boynton) – Andrew Ogilvy Photography

Q: I love the idea of a multi-generation of daughters being affected and dealing with a shared past. Would you share about the casting process for Juliet Stevenson, Lucy Boynton and Jodhi May, as well as Stanley Weber as the only prominent male character in the film?

Juliet came on board very early on. She read the script and then we met and she followed the films progress always remaining committed. She was our rock.  Jodhi also met me early on in the process and committed whole heartedly, she was fascinated by the subject of inherited trauma and also stayed with us until we were green lit. Lucy I saw on a taped video that she did in L.A and immediately thought she had a special something, elegance, an innocent maturity if that is possible and a very natural look on the screen. Lucy could only confirm very close to shooting but thats because she was up for another film at the same time but luckily we got her! Karin was the last to join and the most difficult character to cast. No one wanted to be a hardcore Nazi… but then we cast our net wider and Karin was waiting in the wings in Stockholm and she is a Gem! I am very proud of all of them and Stanley Weber, and Eva Magyar, I think they all did an amazing job.

Stanley Weber in a still from the film

Q: This is the second narrative feature you wrote and directed. What’s the biggest challenge for you as indie filmmaker in terms of bringing your story vision to life?

These days making an independent feature is an incredibly difficult task…to get the stars to align is a rare and beautiful thing but I also believe that as a woman it has been even harder. This was not an easy story to tell, but I had an amazing team of people supporting me and the film. My producer Lizzie Pickering who has been incredible, raising money relentlessly, never giving up as well as our Executive Producers Georges Tsitos who kept us on track from the beginning and then Rupert Labrum who was our first serious investor and stayed loyally with us until the end and many more who subsequently joined. We gathered support by holding storytelling circles in peoples houses and inviting them to listen to a video of Helga and hear her story and then slowly, slowly the money came.

Q: There are some really difficult scenes to watch, especially between Helga and her mother. Can you tell me what’s been the most challenging aspect of filming this?

Filming any scene whatever the content is about making sure that the actors are 100% in the space and time and world that they are meant to be inhabiting, that way they are authentic and then we have done our job. The whole reason that the scenes between Traudi and Helga are different from anything that I have seen before on this subject is that Traudi makes us understand from her perspective what normal was for them in that extreme situation. It is untenable for us in our world knowing what happened, to accept what she says but it’s equally important that we realise what it was like in their shoes. Helga’s dearest wish is that the film may play a tiny part in preventing history from repeating itself.

Still from Let Me Go trailer – All images are courtesy of Evolutionary Films

Q: I love that the films are shot on location and it was stunningly shot by Michael Wood, set to a lush score by Phil Selway. Can you share about finding the locations in the UK and Austria, as well as the scoring process?

Michael Wood is an amazing D.O.P but then he also had the fabulous Alex Walker our designer to pair up with. The two of them did a beautiful job with few resources. David Broder our other producer found Minley Manor in Kent which was used for the old peoples home and then we decided that being in a few key places in Vienna was crucial, like the Judenplatz and so made the financial commitment to shoot in Vienna too. Michael understood very quickly what I wanted to do with the light in this film and the energy of the restless camera. I feel he achieved a great look and Alex also indulged my minimalist approach to spaces, allowing me to eliminate a lot of props and furniture so that we could really focus on the emotional intensity in some of the scenes. We had a great thing going between the three of us. I also want to mention Daniel Goddard who I have worked with for many years as an editor, he too completely understood what I was aiming for, he is a very sensitive and experienced editor and worked wonders.

Philip Selway has been amazing from the absolute beginning. He came on board before most other people and immediately started talking to me about the script. He was so supportive and also so positive about the story, he really understood the themes and spent a lot of time building up sound beds and themes laying the foundations for what turned out to be a stunningly beautiful score. Philip was key in keeping me true to my initial ideas.

Q: Last but not least, would you tell me some of films that’ve influenced you, particularly those dealing with WWII?

I actually grew up in many different countries but spent ten years of my childhood in France and was very influenced by French films. They have far more stories that are about the emotional journey rather than the physical one and that very much influences how I like to tell stories. I can’t say that I see this film as a WWII film and so never approached it like that. I just wanted to tell the story of a family , who had lost their men in the war and had to find their way in the world together, four women , carrying with them a secret that was so extraordinarily heavy, a secret that could have destroyed them all, but they were given a moment in time to let it go, to tell the truth and to let it go and in that way there is hope.
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The film is available in UK cinemas & digital download on September 15. Hopefully it’ll be available in the US soon.
For more info visit Letmegomovie.com


Thanks so much Polly for chatting with me!

Spotlight on BBC One’s miniseries SS-GB + Interview with actor Maximilian Dirr

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This past Sunday, BBC One finally aired one of my most anticipated series (well it’s a 5-part miniseries) starring my fave Yorkshireman Sam Riley. I’ve mentioned the project several times, including here and here.

Naturally it’ll make you think of Amazon’s Man in the High Castle but set in London. Based on the 1978 novel by Len Deighton, SS-GB is a dystopian thriller set in an alternative 1940s London, where the Germans have won the Battle of Britain, and the capital is under Nazi occupation. Sam Riley stars as Douglas Archer, a Scotland Yard detective who’s torn between co-operating with the SS or joining the resistance. He becomes embroiled in a sinister underworld while investigating what appears to be a simple black-market murder.

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Joining Riley is Kate Bosworth, as American journalist Barbara Barga, who finds herself linked to the case Archer is working on. SS-GB is written by James Bond movie writers Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and other cast members include Jason Flemyng, James Cosmo, Aneurin Barnard, Maeve Dermody.


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Well, recently I got to chat with one of SS-GB’s supporting cast member Maximilian Dirr, a Munich-born actor who spent his childhood in both Germany and Italy, speaking both languages fluently. Check out my interview with the talented International actor on his work on SS-GB, as well as his next project in The Crown season 2.

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Q: It seems that you have a stage background following your studies at National Theatre Academy, but you’ve been doing various TV and film work. Which medium do you prefer and most comfortable with?

I’ve started working on the stage very early so I’m more comfortable with it but in the last years I made many experiences also on TV and movies. The languages are very different and I think both can learn from each other. At the moment I’m working more on film and I must admit that I really love it.

Q: What’s your first film role and how did you get cast in that project?

My first film role and experience was a short film in Genua. I was studying at the National Theater Academy and a casting director came to cast this short film. I had a lot of fun during the audition and they chose me for an northern Italian guy. From there on I definitely knew that I wanted to do more film projects.

Q: What was your role in The Best Offer and how was it working with Geoffrey Rush?

In The Best Offer (directed by Cinema Paradiso‘s Giuseppe Tornatore) I played an assistant of Geoffrey Rush and it was wonderful working with him. Even only from watching him you can learn so many things. It was also one of my first roles in a feature film.

Q: Now, as for SS-GB, could you tell us a bit about your role in that BBC miniseries? You said you had a scene with Sam Riley, can you tell us a bit about how your filming day went and your experience working with him?

In SS-GB I´m a Patrol Commander. I have a very nice scene with Sam Riley where I threatened him because he is with a girl who doesn’t have a passport with her. We had a lot of fun playing this scene also because at one point he also had to speak german and he wondered how much you can hear his accent. Sam has a very nice British accent when he speaks German.

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Maximilian in a still from SS-GB

Q: It’s such a bummer that The Vatican pilot didn’t get picked up as I’m a big fan of that cast and it looks like an intriguing series. How was it working with Ridley Scott and/or any of the cast members?

Yes, it’s a bummer that the series didn’t get picked up. I had a lovely part in it and played a swiss guard who was very close to the Pope played by Bruno Ganz. My part would have been very big in the series as I was the right hand of the antagonist. But sometimes when one door closes another one opens. So who knows what´s up next. Working with Ridley was awesome. He trusts his actors very much and respects them. It was my most amazing experience until now. I met great actors and lovely people.

Q: How difficult is it to work with German/ Italy/ English productions? There must be quite a different process for each country as well as the inherent cultural distinctions. How do you manage to overcome some of the challenges?

I love to work on the international market so it’s a pleasure for me coming to shoot in London or wherever. Having said that, of course the process in every country is very different. To be honest with you I prefer the English/American Film market and also the German Films. I have the impression that they risk more. I’m based in Berlin and Rome, and travel a lot for work. Nowadays you make many self-tapes so it’s not so important where you stay. You have to be flexible.

Q: What’s next for you? Feel free to elaborate about your future projects.

Last Summer I completed a feature film called Maria Mafiosi directed by Jule Ronstedt. It’s a German comedy about the Italian mafia and I have a very funny role. I also just finished shooting for The Crown season 2, directed by Stephen Daldry. I’ve a nice small part in one episode. Recently I’ve also finished an international feature film called Sobibor directed by Russian filmmaker Andrey Malyukov where I’m in the main cast. We shot in Lithuania and the film is about the escape from the Camp Sobibor. A true story.

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Next week I’ll start shooting in a leading role for an episode of Non Uccidere for Rai/Netflix. Also many different films will be released soon so we’ll see what’s next.

THANK YOU Maximilian for chatting with me!


‘Project Eden Vol.1’ Premiere Recap + Interview with filmmakers Ashlee Jensen & Terrance Young

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.

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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.


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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

The filmmakers w/ Twin Cities-based DP Christopher Lange + Helsinki-based Mark Hobson Source: Project Eden FB
The filmmakers w/ Twin Cities-based DP Christopher Lange + Helsinki-based Mark Hobson – Source: Project Eden FB

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.

Peter Hansen, Ashlee Jensen, Paul O'Brien, Emily Fradenburgh prepare to step onto set on Day 1 – Source: Project Eden FB
Peter Hansen, Ashlee Jensen, Paul O’Brien, Emily Fradenburgh on set on Day 1 – Source: Project Eden FB

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.

Erick Avari in 'Project Eden Vol. I'
Erick Avari in ‘Project Eden Vol. I’

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.

The cast & crew of 'Project Eden' Source: Project Eden's FB
The cast & crew of the Waipu shoot of ‘Project Eden’ 
Source: Project Eden’s FB

THANK YOU so much Ashlee + Terrance
for the fun, insightful conversation!

Indie Film Spotlight: ‘The Babymoon’ + Interview with writer/director Bailey Kobe & lead actress Julie McNiven

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The Babymoon was one of the terrific indie films playing at Twin Cities Film Fest last year. I had missed seeing it on the big screen, but the lovely Kate Sloate over at Double Entente Films was kind enough to send me a screener link.

Well, the film has just been released on Valentine’s Day, so it’s now available on iTunes Digital, Amazon Digital, Cable VOD. Distributed through Gravitas Ventures. There’s also a planned DVD Release on March 14th!

In the adventure-comedy The Babymoon, a husband in a fragile relationship tries to impress his pregnant wife with a luxurious and romantic babymoon vacation to the most beautiful and exotic country imaginable, which places the couple in the middle of a poorly-planned political revolution!

Featured Cast
This star studded and well known cast brings a multitude of talent and relatable emotion to the big screen.

The Babymoon features Shaun Sipos (Vampire Diaries, Melrose Place), Julie McNiven (Mad Men, Supernatural), Jessica Camacho (Sleepy Hollow, Dexter), Michael Steger (90210), Mark DeCarlo (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Jimmy Neutron), Phillip Garcia (Telenovela, Fuller House), and Kelly Perine (Drew Carey, The Parent ‘Hood).

About the director
Double Entente Films is an international production company with offices is Paris and Los Angeles, specializing in luxury and high tech clients, with a select slate of feature films in the action and comedy genres. Innovative Los Angeles-based writer and director Bailey Kobe (Caterpillar’s Kimono featuring Ben Savage and Joey Kern) first partnered with dynamic French Producer Frédéric Imbert as classmates at The University of Southern California’s renowned Peter Stark Cinema Program. Kobe is a graduate from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts elite Peter Stark Program. He is well known for his commercial work with brands Louis Vuitton, Dior, Mini Cooper, BMW, GQ, and videos for Kanye West, French Icon Johnny Hallyday, and Marc Lavoine.

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Interview with Bailey Kobe

A look behind the scenes of our film with cast members Phillip Garcia, Julie McNiven, Kelly Perine and writer/director Bailey Kobe
A look behind the scenes of our film with cast members Phillip Garcia, Julie McNiven, Kelly Perine and writer/director Bailey Kobe

Q: So how did the concept of the film come about? Did The Babymoon idea come from a personal experience for you?

Most of my career I have adapted novels or plays, but Babymoons have been a hot concept since celebrity couples were announcing elaborate vacations, like Kanye West/ Kim Kardashian, and Prince William/ Kate Middleton, while pregnant.

I never expected to go on one until my wife informed me that we were expecting our first child. I was overjoyed at the news, but then to have this extra vacation to plan, at a time when we should be the most pragmatic, well, it sounded absurd. But after experiencing our trip together, I realized this is a trend that is growing for a reason. We ere able to get away from the daily grind and really talk – not just plan, but really get into the “why” of our plans, and it made us a stronger couple at a time when we needed be on the same page more than ever in our lives. And I wanted to share that.

Q: Would you speak a bit about the casting process? I know Julie was in your first film, but how about the others?

Shaun Sipos was the first person to walk into the casting office for Trace, and he became a high-water mark that no one else could match. Once we knew who our main couple was, we started looking at the rest of the cast, and it was surprising how many actors loved the characters in the script. Big turnouts that my casting directors Kendra Clark and Helen Geier had to manage and because we were an indie, I was lucky enough that when I begged the best actor for each role to be in it, they said yes!

The fruits of which are stunning, if you follow our main cast, you will see that most are now a regular on major TV shows or are finalists when big film castings come up. The same with my first film. Not that I have a magic touch, but I should start promoting myself to actors as the good luck charm to book a major TV series!

Julie McNiven & Shaun Shipos
Julie McNiven & Shaun Sipos

Q: It seems that you as well as other cast members were expecting when you did the film. So I presume Julie was really really pregnant in the movie?

Maybe we are all just at that time in our lives, but Julie and I met and had this idea to do the film together while we were both expecting so that both sides of the camera would have a unique attention to emotional detail that we had never seen before. Not only did that create interesting work, but I think we inspired some cast members, because immediately after filming, two cast members, Michael Steger (90210) and Elmer Tollinchi Ruiz (genius polymath who just did a TED talk), had their first children.

And yes, Julie is actually pregnant during some of the filming. We of course, did the stunts and any of the more adventurous sequences months later after baby bonding time.

Q: How was filming in Puerto Rico? What was the biggest challenge in filming all those jungle scenes?

Puerto Rico is absolutely stunning visually, but we wondered if we could find a great crew down there. Thanks to the Puerto Rico Film Commission, we were able to make initial contact with crew who have worked on major shows like Pirates of the Caribbean! And once you have a good crew that understands the challenges of heat, constant rain, dangers of the jungle, etc. you can move forward with confidence!

El Conquistador Resort, Puerto Rico
El Conquistador Resort, Puerto Rico

Q: What was the inspiration behind the political revolution and kidnapping plot?

The political revolution is meant to be simply an externalization of the turmoil in a relationship in the middle of a big life transition. Two sides have strong ideas about how things should go, and without levelheaded discussion it can turn fast!

The kidnapping plot is actually based on real stories I heard while hiking in the Amazon on a 5 day trek into the jungle to see the ruins of a lost city of gold. No joke. Called the Ciudad Perdida. I noticed some heavily armed guards along the way, and my guide regaled me with stories of how they would kidnap groups from time to time and march them around the jungle so they could never be caught. A constant camping trip that would last for months!

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Q: There seems to be a familial/parenting theme in your first two features. Coincidence or intentional?

You are right. Great observation. In the first, parenting was a metaphor for the economy. Remember we were in one of the worst recessions in history, but here we are just a short time later, ready to reduce regulation all over again. Will that father remember the consequences of his choices in the past.

And vice-versa, in The Babymoon, the revolution is a metaphor for parenting.

Q: Lastly, who are some of your favorite comedy filmmakers who’ve inspired you?

There is the usual litany of well known writer-directors, but I am particularly inspired by a lot of the TV directors who are finding long term homes on shows right now. I love Pamela Fryman (How I Met Your Mother, The McCarthys), Steven Tsuchida (Inside Amy Shumer, Jim Gaffigan Show), and Hiro Murai (Atlanta).

And of course working under a great like Anthony Russo (Community, Captain America:Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War) was completely revelatory for me.


Interview with Julie McNiven

Julie (with Shaun) in The Babymoon
Julie (with Shaun) in The Babymoon

Q: How did your experience as a mother contribute to your connection with Hanna? Do you think that the role was more or less challenging because of it?

I loved being pregnant. I didn’t have any fear or doubt about anything! I think it was the hormones. I felt blissful the entire time! Well, except when it got hard to sleep, but mostly it was amazing. Hanna on the other hand entered her pregnancy with feelings of doubt in her relationship and her ability to be a mother. Sadly, she wasn’t receiving the happy hormones that I had. Perhaps the only sort of anxiety I had was ‘when will I be able to get back to work and how will that work with Tasman being dependent on me.’ I booked my first job 10 weeks postpartum and shot ‘Babymoon’ at 6 months postpartum. Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband who brought my son to set for nursings or bottle fed him while I worked.

Q: Hanna went through a very challenging transition into parenthood with Trace. How do you think new parents can relate to and learn from this?

i imagine it’s very common to have hanna’s feelings of doubt, fear and stubbornness to think she can do it all by herself….which I’m sure she could have but, what she learned was to allow others in. To be a part of the community and help each other through everything. We could all do it by ourselves, but we would be doing ourselves and our children a disservice.

3. We’ve heard you were pregnant in the jungle. You’re amazing! What was that like?

Well, it was amazing because I loved being pregnant and I love the jungle!!

4. We’ve been hearing a lot from mothers on set who are doing a kick-ass job of being a new mom and an actress. Do you think that the industry is changing to be more accepting? What do you think Hollywood can do to improve this process for new moms?

I think it really depends on who you work with. Obviously, with Bailey it was great! He had a full understanding of what I needed…like 20 minute every 4 hours to pump in a Jeep in the jungle….or whatever 🙂

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Thanks so much Kate and Bailey!
It was lovely meeting you at TCFF last October,
hope one day our paths would cross again!

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Indie Film Spotlight: ‘Project Eden Vol.1’ + Interview with lead actor Peter Christian Hansen

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!


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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.

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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.

Gremlin Theatre Artistic director/founder Peter Hansen sits in the St. Paul theater, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)
Gremlin Theatre Artistic director/founder Peter Hansen sits in the St. Paul theater, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)

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.

Peter in a 2015 production of H20 with Ashley Rose Montondo
Peter in a 2015 Gremlin Theatre’s production of H20 with Ashley Rose Montondo

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.

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Photo credits Alyssa Schneider via Project Eden Facebook

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.
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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.
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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.


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Peter @ Claddagh Cafe, St. Paul – Feb 9, 2017


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!

Indie Film Spotlight: ‘Project Eden Vol.1’ + Interview with lead actress Emily Fradenburgh

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!)


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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

 

Indie Film Spotlight: ‘Funeral Day’ + Interview with director/lead actor Jon Weinberg

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One of my favorite parts about blogging for TCFF is meeting various indie filmmakers. I’m glad I got to meet Jon Weinberg over coffee one rainy evening, and it’s one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve done in my seven years covering the film fest!

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Scott thinks he might be dying. Not at all an uncommon thought for Scott, but today the lump he believes he found “down there” might actually be real. Today also happens to be the day of his friend Ken’s funeral. ­ Funeral Day is a darkly funny movie about a man who skips his friend’s funeral in an attempt to start living his own life to the fullest.

Funeral Day is a dark comedy that could double as a male health PSA. My blog contributor Sarah reviewed the film here, and while I agree it’s a bit on the raunchy side, the writing is fun and zippy. Definitely one of the strongest feature film debuts that premiered at TCFF, so I hope Jon would continue making movies in the future.

Collaboration with Testicular Cancer Society

testicularcancersocietyThe filmmaker raised awareness for testicular cancer in collaboration with the Testicular Cancer Society. During the post-production stage, Jon sent a tweet that caught the attention of Testicular Cancer Society founder, Mike Craycraft, a testicular cancer survivor who waited seven months after feeling his lump before having it checked. In the film, after feeling a lump on his testicle, the main character refuses to go to a doctor, “which is not uncommon in men,” explained Craycraft.

Both the society and the producers of the film hope that by engaging in co-promotion, more men (and the women in their lives) will become aware of testicular cancer and be proactive in the diagnosis and care process.

A full cast of experienced and recognizable talent include: Tyler Labine (Deadbeat, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil), Tygh Runyan (The upcoming Versailles, Stargate Universe), Suzy Nakamura (Dr. Ken, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Horrible Bosses 2), Dominic Rains (Best Actor award winner at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival for his role in Burn Country, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Loner) and many more.

Funeral Day is written by Kris Elgstrand, an award winning screenwriter, whose most recent film, Songs She Wrote About People She Knows, premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.


Quick bio about Jon Weinberg:

Funeral Day is the debut feature film of director Jon Weinberg, a Minnesota native who grew up in St. Louis Park. Weinberg received a degree in theatre from the University of British Columbia, and later continued his training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) before moving to Los Angeles in 2006. He has appeared on film, TV, stage as well as audio. His directing work includes several stage productions, commercials, and an award winning short film. Weinberg is also the author of the award winning photography and poetry bookA Calm Position (In Due Time Press). He is currently producing an upcoming web series with Ethan and Dominic Rains.


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Q: So that was interesting how you ended up partnering with the Testicular Cancer Society. Tell me a little bit about that.

Post [crowd]funding campaign on Seed & Spark, during that time I tweeted out. Just to get some people’s attention, I tweeted it out to the Testicular Cancer Society. They seemed like they had a little bit of a sense of humor with, you know, dealing with the disease, at least what I gather from their tweets and their website. And actually it caught the founders’ attention. It was Mike Craycraft and he tweeted back and then he said, I want to talk to you.

It was just like that. It’s very now, you know, that really wouldn’t have happened five years ago with the whole social media thing. And so, we connected and he basically said that, from seeing the site and reading the synopsis and stuff that he had a similar experience in it. I remember thinking at first like ‘I hope not because the guy goes through a lot of crazy shit in this movie.’ Then he starts to tell me how a number of years ago he found a lump. And for whatever reason he just thought ‘I have cancer, I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to go to the doctor. And he threw himself a going away party. He didn’t tell anyone why and didn’t go to a doctor and sort of went on an adventure thinking ‘Ok I’m going to die anyway…’ But eventually he said ‘Wait, what am I doing? This is silly.’ And he waited unfortunately a while [to get tested], but fortunately not too long because he’s still alive now. But he did have cancer and they had to remove one of his testicles.

Now he’s fine, but from this experience, it motivated him to get other people more aware of it with this wonderful organization. It doesn’t just raise awareness but they’re also advocates for patients and stuff. Anyway, so we partner with him which has been great and I’m learning a lot. And our mission is to work together. He wants to be able to screen the film, maybe at some college campuses, to educate and just facilitate conversation. So yeah, this collaboration is obviously a win win. I get to be a part of something great, that has a great cause.

Q: How was your collaboration writer Kris Elgstrand? 

Yes, Kris is a writer based out of Vancouver who wrote the screenplay. We’ve worked together. He had originally written it for himself, but he put it on hold while he was working on the project. And then I got into it, and I had decided I wanted to make a feature. I was reading different scripts and I remembered that script because he had sent it to me. I basically said to him, ‘Hey can I do it?’ And he said ‘Yeah, let’s make that happen.’ So I took it from him and then I grabbed another couple of producers and then we started putting it together.

Q: So I’m curious, I know you wanted to make it. But what made you decide that you want to also star in it?

Yeah. So originally, I was looking for something to act and that I could also produce that I cared about. So that was, originally I wasn’t intending to necessarily direct. I had directed a short and a few other things. But this would be a first feature so I wasn’t intending to be just like ‘oh I’ll just direct myself.’ But as I started prepping for it, it sort of made sense that I was going to be the co-directing it with someone. So I just started directing it and certainly it was important to me to make sure I had one of the producers… you know, we have a full crew. It was a small film but we did have a 22-person crew. We did have a big truck and you know, we went by the rules, we had permits and all that. But on set it was very important to me to have someone at the monitor all the time, because I was in it. So you know one of the producers, Ron Buttler, help co-directed me up there on set. So I always had people I trusted around me, which you should always have. We had a really great team. And, we were able to, not with everyone, but we were able to do some rehearsals beforehand that made it a little bit more comfortable because we had a very quick shoot.

Scott (Jon Weinberg) & Clare (Sarah Adina)
Scott (Jon Weinberg) & Clare (Sarah Adina)

Q: Tell me a bit about the filming process? How many days it took you to shoot this?

13 days. It was a very quick shoot, you know. We shot the whole thing in like 13 days. We had some pick-ups but it was quick. We shot everything on location in L.A. We had a great cinematographer named Jeffrey Cunningham who just fantastic and everyone worked really hard. Kris [the writer] couldn’t make it out to the set but he was very hands on beforehand. We had a script supervisor and there were even times where we had to rewrite a little section or two, we could always call Kris, so we’re able to always be in contact. He’s great, he’s the kind of writer that writes for the actor. I mean it’s very dialogue-heavy kind of film, he writes a very talky kind of dialogue. A lot of people asked me if some of it was improv but no, he wrote a lot of it in the script.

Q: I have to ask you about casting. Tyler Labine, I saw his film at a film fest a couple of years ago. It’s called Best Man Down now, but at the time it was called Lumpy.

Yes, and he’s a great, great guy.

Tyler Labine as Chuck
Tyler Labine as Chuck

Q: And then Dominic Rains, too, who’ll also be here for the premiere for three of his films. I know he’s originally from Iran, but he plays an American in this movie, correct? 

Yes, he’s from Iran. He moved to England but he actually then grew up in Texas. So he speaks with an American accent in this movie and he’s fantastic with accents.

In fact in [Dominic’s film] Burn Country, he has an Afghan accent and in The Loner he also has an accent. I’m just going to talk about how much I love him. He’s a wonderful guy and an amazing actor. So in my film, he’s playing you know, like you said before, sort of a jerk and he’s funny, he’s really funny. It’s such a different role from the two other films he’s screening here in TCFF. As you already know, he plays an Afghan fixer in Burn Country and in The Loner he plays an Iranian gangster.

Q: So about your casting process. Did you have to audition the actors then, or did you just talk directly with them?

I was very fortunate. I’ve been in L.A. for a while so I had worked with various people and had made friends with various people. It was important to us to get the right cast. So of course we wanted people with some names, but we cared about putting the right actors in the right roles. We did have auditions but we were also able to deal directly with actors. Meaning it was either my friends or producers’ friends or friends of friends, and so we were able to get the script directly to actors, sort of bypassing the agent or the manager.

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Jon Weinberg & Dominic Rains

So we did hold auditions and you know, we’re very fortunate that they would even want to come out. So I’ve known Dom [Dominic Rains] for a while, we were in a play together ten years ago and Tyler and I knew each other from Vancouver. But of course they still need to want to do the productions. So some did come in to do the audition, and some we just knew they were right [for the role]. But we were very fortunate to sort of have these actors read it and say ‘oh yes I’m interested in doing it.’ And yes once that happened, we dealt with their managers, agents and all that, but we were also able to sort of just go directly to them. But yeah, for a number of the parts, we also did hold auditions. We’ve been very lucky with our cast.

Q: There’s always that chicken and egg question. You either have to cast everything all ready to attract the investors, or do you have to have the funding first in order to attract the cast. How was it for you in making this film?

I knew I had the energy and I’d be able to do enough to make a small movie. This is my first film, you know, I’ve never formed an LLC before and all that. So we did that. So I had friends that we’d been talking about making movies you know, and then finally, ‘OK here’s something to make.’ So we came together and we formed a company. Then you know, you literally just reach out to those you know first. Literally parents, friends, uncles, aunts, and then friends, and even friends of friends. So for the most part, most of the production budget came from the people we knew. You know, people who want to support you. I mean hopefully we can make them their money back of course, because you want them to trust you for later.

So it’s a certainly a process and you know, we’ve created an investor packet and we reached out to people, people we think might be interested. And some who do, it might not be the right time for them, so there’s a lot of ‘nos’ and you have to wear a business man hat. That was all new to me but you do it, because when you want to make something you’ve got to do it. So we thought, as long as we can get sort of enough to make the movie, if we need more money, it was my idea that we could raise a little bit more money through crowdfunding later after we have already made the film.

So once we felt we had enough that we feel we’re not going backwards, we started setting dates and trying to hire our crew, which was another process. It’s a small movie but still, y’know, it was still a SAG contract and all that kind of stuff.

Q: Were there any particular snafus during production that you wouldn’t mind sharing about? 

Oh yeah. We had many snafus and I’m told that’s normal. Though of course when it happened to you it felt sometimes like, ‘oh that’s it. I quit’ you know, those moments. One of the things that was frustrating was we lost two actors on day two. It was supposed to be like two days before we start shooting and they were actors we were very excited about. And coincidentally they play partners, like husband or wife or whatever. I can’t remember exactly, but one of them got a big part in a big NBC show or something like that, so what can you do. And they were actually needed for just two days out of the 13-day shoot. So you know, we talked to their agents and because our shooting was so tight, we couldn’t rearrange and they happened to have to shoot their projects at the same time. So all of a sudden it was literally like, a little bit of panic. So this was like day two and we had a 12-hour day literally after 12 hours we’re all stressed out. So we get together, the producers and everyone, we sent out e-mails, we talked to everyone on our crew if they know anyone that fits this [role] description and literally, the day after, after a 12-hour day we held auditions in my apartment. It was crazy. It was like, work all day and at night we held audition.

Ron (Jedd Rees) & Katrin (Kristin Carey)
Ron (Jedd Rees) & Katrin (Kristin Carey)

Well, we were so lucky. We’ve got Kristin Carey [who was in the Scandal series recently] who’s just fabulous and funny. And also Jed Reese, who we recently seen in Deadpool [as the recruiter]. He’s just this great actor and he’s also in Galaxy Quest if you remember that great film, he was one of the aliens. He’s so funny in this. So they came on with very little notice but really, they’re both phenomenal, I can’t say enough about them. So that was one of the big snafu that ended up working out much better for us.

Another thing was the location. We lost a location that was very important to us. We got a location so that was hell, and we were supposed to be there for three days. It was so bad because of various reasons. It was a condo and there were issues that even though we paid for and all those things, the owner even after a contract didn’t want us there and all the stuff, and she was watching every moment of it. So we were like, ok, so we had to rewrote some of the scenes so we didn’t have to shoot it at that location. So things like that happen.

Q: How about the location, you shot this film entirely in L.A.?

The story was actually written for Vancouver. But we ended up shooting it in L.A. I think it’s interesting because L.A. is, as they say, sort of a character in the film. The main character Scott, he doesn’t have a car and he runs from place to place, which is crazy in L.A. And so we thought it was really fun. And also you get to see little parts of L.A. and in Vancouver it has a similar feel in some ways. I mean there’s more transportation and stuff like that there, but it was sort of written in that same way. The character, even though it wasn’t said in the movie, but maybe he doesn’t really trust cars and stuff. I think it added more to the story that he’s running in L.A. Yeah, I think the way it was originally written in ways that you could move from city to city without sacrificing the story.

Q: I thought Dominic’s character you know, being a realtor with his fancy car, his Maserati, it made sense in L.A.

It’s funny. I think some of those little bits were actually changed once we Kris knew we were shooting it in L.A.

Q: What’s the most memorable moment for you as an actor AND director filming this? 

Yeah it was fun. I mean what we’re doing was certainly difficult, but like I said we had a good team. I had someone who was always at the monitor during the shoot. Because we were doing it so quickly you know, you could only watch playback so often right you can only we watched the tapes. Sometimes we just didn’t have time, so it was a huge help to have Ron Butler there. Honestly, as an actor, it was a fantastic experience working with the cast. I got to work with Tyler and I got to work with Jed and Dominic. Oh I didn’t mention Suzy Nakamura who’s on Dr. Ken on TV right now. She’s wonderful. I mean I just got to work with all these people you know, with Tygh Runyan [who’s starring on the Versailles series] and of course Kristin. So as an actor, that was the highlight to work with them. As a director, having some control over the actual product is pretty great. From the beginning of the shoot and being in the editing room.

Suzy Nakamura as Wendy
Suzy Nakamura as Wendy

Also working with the composer. We’ve got a great composer, Ariel Blumenthal, based out of L.A. Music is very important to me, so to actually having a composer for the whole film is amazing. As for ambient sound, or the practical music, so if there was like a song at a diner or something, I had musician friends who were wonderful and generous. They gave me their songs to use in the movie. So I think as a director and just being able to be a part of the whole thing is really something.

Q: So what’s next for you? Do you want to keep doing features?

Well I think it’s egregious to say I want to do it all. But definitely make more features. Acting certainly, but I want to be directing more, maybe with myself a little less in it, so I’m looking for the next feature to work on. And in the meantime I’m working actually with Dominic and his brother Ethan Rains. They’re awesome. So Ethan has has created a Web Series and so Dom, he and I are producing it. We have some writers for that, so we’re working on that but then hopefully, you know, we’ve been talking about creating another movie together also.

Q: So if people ask me, where can they see your movie?

So we just started our festival run. We premiered in a festival in Austin and you know, it was cool we were nominated for something and I won Best Director. And then TCFF is our second film festival. Then in November we’re going to Reading Film Festival in Pennsylvania, the EyeCatcher film festival in Oklahoma and then Key West Film Festival which I’m very excited about, I hear is just wonderful. Hopefully we will find a distributor, I mean you want to find the best situation that you can to get it out into the world. Less and less films are hitting theaters but still it’d be great if it could somewhere. But you know, you have so much you know from Hulu, Netflix to Amazon and all that.

On set at Elysian Park, L.A. — with Jeff Cunningham, Ronnie Butler Jr. and Michael Coulombe.
On set at Elysian Park, L.A. — with Jeff Cunningham, Ronnie Butler Jr. and Michael Coulombe.

Q: Nowadays a theatrical release doesn’t seem that important anymore because I think more people are watching stuff at home, right?

Yes I think it’s not as important in sharing your film. Of course I’m still an old school in that I believe in the shared experience of watching a movie at the theater. So I love going to the movies. I love the big screen. I love when you know, my movie is a comedy right, so I love watching people laugh watching it. But of course there’s is something so wonderful about the time now when you can make something and still put it out of the Internet or wherever that can be seen across the world.

Q: Last but not least. Who are your inspirations in terms of filmmakers?

I’m a big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. He’s he’s wonderful and I think during or before I was making this film, I watched Punch-Drunk Love a lot. Not to compare myself to that but you know, I love that the film is based in reality but slightly heightened and strange. I thought Adam Sandler was great in it. And of course I love the Coen Brothers and you know, the fact that they’re also from St. Louis Park 😉

So yeah, certainly I’m inspired by those kinds of films. But I also like great dramas, like Moonlight which is fantastic. Barry Jenkins, I met him briefly during his film premiere at Telluride and I heard him talking about it. It’s a beautiful film, it’s heavy but in a beautiful way. Another film I saw this year which had just enough comedy to keep it light even though it is heavy is Manchester by the Sea.


Towards the end of our interview, we also talked about how great Captain Fantastic was, and Viggo Mortensen’s performance. I teased Jon that hopefully he could cast him in his next film. ‘One day, one day,’ he replied. We also talked about how great Brooklyn was with Saoirse Ronan. We ended up chatting much longer than planned at Caribou across the street from Showplace ICON Theatre and really we could go on for hours talking about movies!


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Jon & yours truly 🙂

THANK YOU SO MUCH Jon for taking the time to chat with me!


Hope you enjoyed the interview! Hope you’ll check out Funeral Day when it arrives in theaters near you and/or VOD.

TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: ‘The Architect’ + Interview with writer/director Jonathan Parker

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When I saw the trailer for this indie film, I was immediately intrigued! Firstly, I LOVE Parker Posey AND James Frain, and the premise sounds ripe for an offbeat comedy.

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When a couple sets out to build their dream house, they enlist the services of an uncompromising modernist architect, who proceeds to build HIS dream house instead of theirs. Parker Posey and Eric McCormack played the affluent suburban couple Drew and Colin and James Frain plays the title role, Miles Moss.

Billed as a comedy, it’s not quite a slapstick in style but more about amusing situations and dialog. I love Parker Posey and she’s her usual fun, quirky self here. The story does have some darker moments, especially towards the end. If you’re watching this movie as you’re thinking about building a home, it’d certainly make you more cautious about hiring your next architect  😉 I think the funniest moment is when the couple AND their builder Conway (John Carroll Lynch) saw the model of their house for the first time at Miles’ office. Their expressions, especially Conway’s, is hilarious!

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I don’t think the film paints architects in a bad light, it’s more about an overly-ambitious man who happens to be an architect, not necessarily a commentary about the profession. I do think it made for an interesting commentary about a privileged suburban life set in a gloriously scenic Seattle, WA area. It’s another film that practically doubles as a tourism video of the region it’s filmed in. True to its title, it also features some very interesting architecture, including the house their building. But I think the most impressive architectural style is Miles’ architecture studio, it’s so strange but beautiful at the same time.

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Check out my Q&A below with filmmaker Jonathan Parker whose work include Bartleby, The Californians, and (Untitled).

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Behind the scene – Production designer Trae King, producer Deborah Parker and director Jonathan Parker
Behind the scene – Production designer Trae King, producer Deborah Parker and director Jonathan Parker

1. I read in an article in Conversations.org that you had an interesting path to becoming a filmmaker from being a musician for years, and that you grew up in an artistic family. Would you share a bit about that and what inspires you to be a filmmaker?

I was playing in a band in the 80s and we made a couple of self-directed music videos that did better than the band was doing. I felt I needed to put the pictures with the music so I shifted from songwriting to screenwriting. Yes, I come from an artistic family. My mom is an artist and my dad was a musician, among other things. My mother founded the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco, which closed a couple of years ago after a 30-year run.

2. The Architect isn’t the first film you did that deals with the world of art and design (i.e. (Untitled)). How did you (and or your collaborator Catherine DiNapoli) come across the idea for this film?

I had the idea of an architect who considers himself a visionary genius, without any evidence of that, and without any thought of serving a client. The story deals with the art vs. commerce theme that I’ve used in all my films, in some fashion. Meanwhile, Catherine, my-co-writer, was suffering through a relationship that had the same dynamic as Parker’s and Eric’s characters, so we used that.

Drew, Colin and Miles at construction site
Drew, Colin and Miles at construction site

3. There are quite a lot of architectural jargons and quotes from famous architects. Did you consult many real architects for this movie?

Yes, we consulted a few architects and I did a lot of research.

4. I really like the trio of cast. Both Parker Posey and Eric McCormack are such great comedians and I’m a big fan of James Frain’s work as an excellent character actor. Would you talk about the casting process, especially how you come to cast Frain as the architect?

Both Eric McCormack and James Frain came to our attention from the casting director. Parker and I have a mutual friend, who helped facilitate our meeting. I agree the three of them had great chemistry together.

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5. The scenery around Seattle Washington is absolutely stunning. How did you end up choosing that particular area for your film?

We came to Washington for the tax credit and also received a grant from Snohomish County, where most of the film was shot. When we got there, I was struck by the physical beauty of the area and decided to feature it.

6. I have to ask how Lars Ulrich is one of the associate producers, did you know him from your days as a musician?

Lars reached out to me after he saw (UNTITLED) and we’ve been friends ever since. We both live in Marin County. He was helping me produce another movie before THE ARCHITECT, which we put on hold and are now working on again.

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7. Lastly, have you shown the film to some architects? I’m curious as to their reactions to the title character Miles Moss.

Many architects have seen the film. Most really like it. Some feel I’ve set the profession back fifty years. Thankful to have that power! I could have created a more realistic architect character who is congenial, responsive and service oriented, but it may not have been very funny.

 


Check out some of the Minnesota-connected films playing this year


We’ll have another interview post coming soon!
Stay tuned for my Q&A with the director and producer of MN-made horror film Lake Runs Red!