Guest Post: MINARI (2020)


Editor (Ruth)’s note: This is a guest review from my friend and fellow movie lover Jessie Zumeta, who saw this at Sundance Film Festival last January. 


A charming exploration of what holds people together, Minari is a semi autobiographical story of a Korean American family trying to sustain their farm in rural Arkansas. Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, the film is set during the 1980’s during the heyday of agricultural subsidies. Like many Asian American films it follows a family in search of the American dream. The parents, Monica (Yeri Han) and Jacob (Steven Yeun) immigrate many years previously and their children have been raised stateside however they are still working hard to create the life they envisioned for themselves.

The set design was lovingly and painstakingly created from memory and the way the film is shot and lit creates a nostalgic and dream-like quality. The cast did a lot of preparation in order to create realistic and natural kind of dynamics between each family member. This care to the smallest of details elevates this film from a cutesy film about an individual family to a deeply moving, nuanced portrait of people finding their place in the world.

In a clever and charming juxtaposition, the young son David (Alan S. Kim) and his maternal grandmother Soonja (Yuh-jung Youn) form an unlikely bond. Their playful and prank-fueled relationship serves as a bridge between what the parents (particularly Monica) left in their homeland and what they were able to create in their new life. This intergenerational relationship serves as a fusion of their biculturalism. As grandma shows David minari, an herb used in Korean cooking, David shares his Mountain Dew. It is these interpersonal moments that sets this film apart.

Throughout the film each member of the Yi family is negotiating who they are in their new home, balancing aspects of their Korean identity with new traits they acquired while living and working in the United States. Chung explores this beautifully with kindness but also an unfiltered rawness of someone with personal knowledge of this experience. The one constant through everything is their constant love and care for one another.

This film, named for a hearty vegetable common in Korean cooking. This veggie is well known for growing back stronger the second season. Like the plant that can easily be transplanted and grows without too much difficulty, the Yi family uproot themselves to America and through determination are able to create a new life. This shows with careful tending, people and relationships like minari have the capacity to grow anywhere.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Per Wikipedia, the film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2020, winning both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award. It began a limited release in the US on December 11, prior to its wide release on February 12, 2021, by A24.


Have you seen MINARI? Well, what did you think? 

TCFF19 Review: LAST CALL (2019)

Last Call is a technical feat. It is a continuous shot film made doubly impressive by the fact that it is a split screen for the entire movie. That’s right. Last Call is a continuous shot film twice over. One screen is entirely devoted to single working mother Beth (Sarah Booth). The other features Scott (Daved Wilkins, also one of two writers on the project). Scott is a suicidal, depressed man who tried to call a help line, but mistakenly called the school where Beth is currently working as the night janitor.

Last Call opens on Beth driving to work and Scott finishing a long string of drinks at a local bar. Their stories don’t intersect until Scott settles into a worn couch at his apartment with, you guessed it, a freshly poured drink. He hesitantly dials the number he has been saving for a day as bad as this one and in that moment the two stories become one.

At first it seems unlikely that the two would stay on the line together. Scott called the wrong number, why wouldn’t he just hang up? Beth is at work and is worried about her son missing curfew. But at second glance their choice to stay on the line makes so much sense. Scott doesn’t have anyone else to talk to and before Beth realizes the stakes of the situation, it’s probably nice for her to have something other than her rising panic about her son to occupy her brain space.

Last Call is directed Gavin Michael Booth, who is the other writer of the project. What he accomplished (what the entire team accomplished, really) in directing this project is no small feat. Pulling off a dual split-screen is one thing from a purely technical standpoint (Were both shot at the same time? How close were the two sets? How many times did the actors rehearse on set? Did they shoot it more than once? I have so many questions!), especially considering how many props are involved, how extensive the set is, and how emotionally taxing the script is.

I understand the bragging rights behind making a continuous shot movie and I would love love love to see the behind the scenes of this entire project. But apart from the split screen giving me the ability to choose which actor I looked at in any given moment (like theater! so novel!) it didn’t really add anything to what is a strong story on its own. Several times I wished for a “normal” movie because a shot was blurry or shaky or a transition from horizontal to vertical split-screen was a little too reminiscent of Microsoft Powerpoint circa the early 2000s. But, ultimately, I did enjoy the shtick of it, so ignore me.

Aside from my tiny reticence about the continuous shot shtick, I did have a couple other small issues with the movie. There are several moments in the script that don’t feel organic; conversations that felt forced. I had to convince myself into thinking that Beth would have stayed on the line with Scott (said logic is conveniently laid out for you above). The end (no spoilers) is almost too intense after what is mostly a mellow ride through the story. But. All that said, I’m going to go out on a limb (a precarious limb) and say that this might be one of the best independent features at TCFF this year. It is skillfully directed; has a gorgeous soundtrack; feels more like weird new-age theater than film; and is a feature length, mumbled conversation that you want to eavesdrop on.

– Review by Holly Peterson


Here’s what in store for DAY 4, Saturday 10/19


Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!

 

TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: IN THIS GRAY PLACE + Interview with director Rudi Womack

Hello FlixChatter readers! Twin Cities Film Fest may have wrapped a couple of weeks ago, but today we’ve got another exciting indie spotlight!

Thank you director Rudi Womack for sharing his insights about his sophomore feature film. Apparently, this is the fifth collaboration between Womack and his lead actor Aleksander Ristic, set entirely in a single room.

Aaron, a petty criminal from the wrong side of the tracks teams with his girlfriend’s brother to rob a pawnshop. When the robbery goes south he barricades himself in a rest stop bathroom triggering a standoff with the police. As his reality slowly unstitches Aaron struggles to balance his unfaltering love for Laura with the inevitability of his situation. Featuring commanding performances from Aleksander Ristic, Angela Nordeng, and Marcus Johns, IN THIS GRAY PLACE is a memorable, beautiful story of a desperate man clashing with destiny.

Director: Rudi Womack (R.D. Womack II)
Stars: Aleksander Ristic, Marcus Johns, Angela Nordeng

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Interview with director Rudi Womack

Q&A questions courtesy of Andy Ellis

1. What made you want to tell this story? Was it inspired by any other similar movies such as Ryan Reynolds’ “Buried Alive”?

IN THIS GRAY PLACE evolved from a number of different places. I had just finished with my first feature film and was dying to get back onto set. I knew recourses and financing would be limited so from the start the story was going to be contained. I also wanted to explore deeper philosophical themes; fate vs. choice, destiny vs. consequence, and I wanted to push the envelope of what a person could do in order to protect the ones they love. Soon enough the story started to take shape! All the while I referenced several single location movies; as you mentioned, “Buried” was one of them. Also “Detour”, “Locke”, “Exam”, “Circle” (why do they all have single word titles?) I also explored others films like “The Thin Red Line”, “Apocalypse Now”, and what may be surprising to some, “Oldboy”. While all of these films had a deep influence on me I worked carefully to make IN THIS GRAY PLACE a unique experience for audiences.

2. What are the benefits and challenges filming primarily one room creates?

The obvious difficulty is keeping the film visually fresh. You have one man in one location, so you need to think of clever ways to keep it moving without boring the audience. By far the greatest benefit was also the greatest challenge. The majority of the film was made with only myself, the cinematographer, and the lead actor on set. That’s it; just three guys making a movie. Without an entire support team to worry about we could take our time. We’d frequently go for as many as 20 or 30 takes!

Once we did 42 takes. Most independent filmmakers don’t have that kind of luxury. It spoiled me for choice and assured the best moments made it to the screen. But as I said, there were only three of us. Juggling all of the jobs on set between just three people was an incredible challenge. It meant we all had to pitch in and help. I remember once I was applying Aleks’ (the lead actor) make up, then holding the boom pole, monitoring the sound levels, looking through the camera, and since it was a phone call scene, reading the other character’s lines for him! Truly I couldn’t have done it without the steadfast dedication of the team.

3. Ristic is the only actor in the movie for most of it. What was it that made him stand out from the rest of the actors who auditioned?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Aleks on several other projects, so when the story started to shape up he was immediately at the top of my list. I pitched him the idea, he fell in love with it, and we started work-shopping the character. This is the real “audition” period, where you see what an actor can do with the material. You push them to every imaginable limit you can think of. Aleks has this natural ability to embody the character he’s playing; from appearance, to mannerisms, he really explores what makes a person think and act as they do. And he’s not afraid to really “go there”! For example in the tear gas scene, that’s not makeup! All that snot, sweat, tears – it’s gross, but that’s all him, and most actors wouldn’t be able to deliver. And while Aleks will obviously get most of the attention, I was just as lucky to have a rich supporting cast. Working with actors is one of the best parts of this job and it was my privilege to work alongside Angela Nordeng, Nick Moss, Phil LaMarr, and Marcus Johns. All great people who went above and beyond to round out the story.

4. Did you stick pretty close to the script when filming or were there some improv that made its way in there?

Every movie is different. Most the time I think of scripts as ideas and not gospel. IN THIS GRAY PLACE was no exception. Often times we’d get onto set, start working a scene and come up with a better idea on the spot. Sometimes we’d see an opportunity that you would have never predicted just looking at the script. Overall I think we kept most of the script in the final version of the film. The scenes that we did improvise kept the main idea intact, which is the most important thing. Watching a script evolve on set, and then again in the editing room is really a sight to see.

5. It’s broken into chapters. Could you expand at all on what the titles refer to?

This is my favorite question! As I mentioned before IN THIS GRAY PLACE plays on themes of fate vs. destiny but it also has themes of birth. The chapter titles (SPACE, LIGHT, AIR, WATER, EARTH, LIFE) follow a sort of “process of creation” of our universe; I.E. birth. (I also argue that the location itself is a womb, and Aaron’s journey from the start of the film to the end is also reflected in this theme) Within each chapter there is both a physical and metaphysical manifestation of each element. Since I already gave away the tear gas scene let’s talk about chapter three, AIR. In AIR Aaron is literally struggling for air throughout the entire chapter, which is one of many physical challenges he must overcome.

From a character perspective Aaron is realizing the gravity of the situation he is in and is looking for any way out… in essence, he’s looking for a pocket of air. From a thematic point of view we explore Laura’s influence on Aaron’s decisions, and if it was in fact his choices, and not hers, that brought them to this point; and visually we see her referenced with Air several times. Every chapter is loaded with moments like these so I felt it vital to construct the film with this kind of framing device.

6. What’s next for you?

I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. My next directing project is a proof-of-concept short film about a man investigating the death of his cousin. We’re planning on shooting in March 2019. I’m also lucky to be producing a feature film titled “The Stalking Fields” directed by Ric Maddox, and starring Sean Crampton. It’s an awesome action thriller with a very interesting military twist. This one goes into production in January 2019. Aside from those two I have another half dozen projects in development right now.

As for IN THIS GRAY PLACE we hope to lock down a distribution deal by the end of the year.



Thanks so much Rudi Womack for talking to FlixChatter about your film!

TCFF 2018 Indie Film Spotlight: LEZ BOMB & Interview w/ writer/director Jenna Laurenzo

Year after year, Twin Cities Film Fest supports women filmmakers, as well as LGBTQ-friendly films. Lez Bomb is written and directed by a woman, Jenna Laurenzo, who also stars in the film, talk about a triple threat! It’s also one of the few indie films playing at TCFF that gets an encore screening. Oh and if you read the interview below, there’s a connection between Jenna and TCFF’s opening night film, Green Book!

Our reviewer Holly Peterson deems Lez Bomb an absolute must-see…The writing is tight, funny, and relatable, and her direction is impressive. Plus it’s got quite a star-studded cast, the likes of Steve Guttenberg, Bruce Dern and Kevin Pollack!

A comedy about a young woman who struggles telling her overbearing mother that the friend she brought home for Thanksgiving is actually her girlfriend.

Review by Holly Peterson

Lez Bomb is a coming out story/comedy of errors about Lauren (Jenna Laurenzo) trying to tell her family that her friend Hailey (Caitlin Mehner) is actually her girlfriend. Unfortunately, Lauren’s parents (Deidre O’Connell and Kevin Pollak) are terrible listeners; the rest of her family is walking, talking chaos; and she’s chosen Thanksgiving as the appropriate moment to drop the “lez bomb”. Lauren tries and fails to be heard through the increasingly unbelievable chaos until she finally finds her moment. Or does she?

Overall, Laurenzo (also the writer and director) put together a great film. The writing is tight, funny, and relatable, and her direction is impressive. This is especially apparent in her direction of group scenes: the audience never loses the thread of the primary conversation or any of the witty one-liners (of which there are many), but the hubbub of the large group still plays naturally in the background.

The cast is subtly star-studded, which makes for a fun group viewing experience. You will constantly be nudging your movie buddy to whisper “HEY, ISN’T THAT ___ FROM ___?!” Aside from that simple pleasure, all of the actors are just good at what they do. Every actor got a fun character to dive into (except Jordyn DiNatale, whose role as a horny teenager escalated way past where it should have and Davram Stiefler, whose unabashed, unwelcome flirtation ruined an otherwise charming character) and everyone (yes, even Jordyn DiNatale and Davram Stiefler) made their characters come to life with a sense of hilarity, whimsy, and believability.

Caitlin Mehner & Jenna Laurenzo

Visually, this is a great film. The shooting style is mostly story-forward, but there are several beautifully shot moments as well. For instance, a perfectly framed close-up of her Lauren’s face when she sprawls out on a bed with her cellphone by her head and a stunning long shot where she walks in front of an ornate building wearing bright red and blue winter clothes.

The comedy of errors element to the script eventually gets out of hand and several scenes at the end of the film are played completely straight (no pun intended) despite the rest of the film being comedically driven. These two things made the end of the movie a little bit harder to track with than the beginning, but the movie is undoubtedly worth seeing regardless.

See it to laugh. See it to star-watch. See it to be glad that your family isn’t quite as dysfunctional as Lauren’s. But whatever you do, definitely see it.

Q&A with filmmaker Jenna Laurenzo

Interview questions courtesy of Holly Peterson

1. Is this movie at all based on real life? I feel like I have to ask when the lead character is named Lauren and your last name is Laurenzo. 

I can’t believe you are the first person to ask about the Lauren – Laurenzo connection! The original character’s name was “Katie.” I used the name Katie in the character I played in Girl Night Stand and had planned to carry it over in Lez Bomb. But when Girl Night Stand went viral and there was interest in potentially developing it as a show, Girl Night Stand became separate to Lez Bomb, and I had to changed my name in the script. Since everyone has always accidentally called me Lauren, because of my last name, I thought I would continue to encourage the confusion and just go with it for Lez Bomb. All that aside, yes, there is so much based on my real life in Lez Bomb. How much so? Depends on who is asking. If my family is asking, I say “loosely based upon…” ha!

2. What was the casting process like for this film? There are so many great actors involved! 

Mia Cusumano is my casting director and guardian angel. Her and Meghan Rafferty cast the film and they did a spectacular job. Mia has been my biggest teammate and support net from the beginning and her enthusiasm has helped drive this project home! In fact, she’s who got the script into our producer’s hands. We spoke endlessly about the family feeling familiar and the importance of the family chemistry and all those dysfunctional family comedy dynamics that would pop and help heighten the comedy. When Kevin Pollak first said yes, I near fell over in my seat. I rewatched The Usual Suspects before he called to get in the Kevin Pollak zone. When he said, “I’ll see you in a month running around the motel in the freezing cold” (that’s a script reference) I was so beyond grateful.

3. What was it like to write, direct, and star in your film? 

It was a lot of work, though I had an incredible support team. From the crew to the cast, there was endless support and collaboration. We had such a tight shooting schedule we had to be precise with every shot. I worked with my acting coach before stepping on set to make sure I knew where I was emotionally each moment, and this allowed the necessary time to focus on the directing. People always ask if I’d do it all again, and I generally say no. But, ask me again in a year when I’ve slept, and it might be a totally different story. I had the opportunity to act in Peter Farrelly’s Green Book which is also out this November. That was an amazing set to be on. In future projects the dream is to act in other’s pieces, and then direct my own scripts.

4. What do you hope people leave this film thinking and feeling? 

I want people leaving the theater on a high note, feeling uplifted, and hopefully with a greater scope of compassion and empathy, but also with a sore stomach from laughing. Can I hope for all that?

5. What was the best part of this process for you?

Showing my family the finished film. Steve Guttenberg plays my uncle in the film, and my uncle sadly passed unexpectedly a few months ago. The last time I saw him was last Thanksgiving, showing him Lez Bomb. I am so happy he got to see the film.


TCFF Screening Date:

Friday October 26th, 2018 7:45 PM


Thanks so much Jenna for chatting with FlixChatter!

TCFF 2018 Indie Film Spotlight: THE BEST PEOPLE &Interview w/ writer Selina Ringel

We’re on a roll! Today we’ve got yet another insights into an indie film screening at TCFF. This time we’re featuring the writer of The Best People, Selina Ringel, a solid dramedy our reviewer calls ‘a must-see at TCFF.’ An emotional roller-coaster in the best possible way, it’s a story by and about women.

Just as she is recovering from a breakdown, Anna’s world is rocked when her younger sister gets engaged. She teams up with the alcoholic best man to break up the engagement; convinced they are trying to save her sister, his best friend, and themselves from a lifetime of misery.

Review by Holly Peterson

Make sure that The Best People is on your list of films to see at this year’s festival. Actors Anna Evelyn and Claire Donald play sisters – who weirdly both have the same first name as their characters – who wind up living together after their mother dies and Anna has a mental breakdown. The two could not be more different. Claire, the younger sister is an organized, accomplished woman in her early twenties. Anna, the older sister, can’t hold down a job, struggles to find the desire to get her life on track, and is probably an alcoholic. When Claire falls in love, Anna can’t handle it and the hijinks ensue.

Dramedies are not easy to pull off, but The Best People does it well. Characters struggle with substance abuse, death, jealousy, broken relationships, mental illness, and more; but the story arc is light enough that the comedic scenes (vagina yoga!) work as pallet cleansers.

Claire Donald as Claire
Anna Evelyn as Anna

Most of the performances in The Best People are solid, but Evelyn especially is a force throughout. From moments like the first scene, in which she gives a long expositional monologue that literally sets up the entire movie, to the tiny choices that she makes as a background character, Evelyn owns this movie. Her interpretation of a broken character with a thick shell and a tendency to lash out somehow still brings in the audience and effectively asks them to empathize with an unlikable character.

There are a lot of things to love in this movie. It is peppered with exactly the kind of manipulative sound design that we all expect in the genre. The incorporation of modern technology is perfect. And it’s a story by and about women.

If you are looking for something that can make you laugh, cry, and want to call your sister the moment you get out of the theater (or maybe you should just bring her with you!) this is the film for you. Jump on the emotional rollercoaster that is The Best People. You won’t regret it.

 

Q&A with writer Selina Ringel

Interview questions courtesy of Holly Peterson

What was the inspiration for this story? 

I got married very young for LA ( actually to the director of this movie!) and had a few people in my life react in an interesting way. I wanted to delve into the point of view of a character who felt like they were loosing everything when their best friend (sister) gets married. I wanted to explore what it means to feel behind, how hard it is to watch someone you love become closer to someone else and how we come to accept ourselves where we are without judgement. 

Why do all of the actors have the same name as their characters? How was the casting process since you also did casting for this film? 

We actually cast people we had already worked with before. I wrote the script with these actors in mind so I was writing from their voice, not as the characters but as the voices of the actors who we cast. 

What do you hope people take away from their viewing of The Best People

I hope people laugh and cry, but also realize that we spend most of our lives pointing the finger at others for things that don’t go right in our lives, but most of the time we aren’t looking at the real issue which is usually us. We can only control how we react to things and ultimately, growth is realizing we have the capacity to be better versions of ourselves but it takes looking inward instead of pointing outward. 

How has reception been so far? 

Honestly it’s been amazing, we’ve had an incredible festival run, multiple full theatres, we won Best Comedy Feature at WorldFest Houston and was selected as the Closing Night movie for Dances with Films with a full 500 person seating at the famous Chinese theatre in Hollywood. We are excited to have Shoreline Entertainment as our sales agent for the film. I feel incredibly lucky and in awe of what can happen when you just decide to go for it, we are obviously also surrounded by incredibly talented people which made the film possible and a huge support system from our families and friends but it really takes a lot of work, time, determination and passion to get a movie made and the truth is you never know where its going to land. You wonder if it will be seen, well received, etc so this has a been a dream come true for us. 

What are some highlights of creating this film, particularly for you as a writer?

One of the highlights for me was working side by side with my husband Dan Levy Dagerman who directed the film. He is such a smart, authentic director who really listens and gives the actors space to breathe and perform their best work. I think sitting by his side every day next to the monitor was a dream come true. He also would read all my pages and give me notes, we would talk through things, get obsessed together.

Another huge blessing was having such talented actors who helped the words come alive and on many occasions improv’d lines and made them better than what I wrote. I also think every crew member added so much to the production value and energy of the set. I really do joke with my husband that I’m not sure it gets better than this, although I hope it can always feel this beautiful and serendipitous!


TCFF Screening Dates:

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018 8:15 PM


Thanks so much Selina for chatting with FlixChatter!

TCFF 2018 Indie Film Spotlight: RICH KIDS & interview w/ filmmaker Laura Somers

One of the things I love most about blogging for Twin Cities Film Fest is getting the opportunity to see so many indie gems, as well as insights about making them from the filmmakers themselves. Filmmaker Laura Somers has been such a personal inspiration to me as a newbie filmmaker from the moment I reached out to her to do this interview. For the past four years, day in and day out, she somehow found the energy to push herself to get her film out there. “It’s a crazy form of dedication.” she says, and I can totally relate.

This film has been making ways in various film festivals and rightly so. Such a thematically-rich film (pun intended) with a talented young cast, plus diversity in front AND behind the camera. What’s not to like?

A group of troubled teens from a low-income community break into “Los Ricos”, the local mansion with a border fence, and spend the day pretending to be rich in order to forget their difficult lives.

Twin Cities Film Fest Screening:

Sunday October 21st – 10:10 AM

Q&A with filmmaker Laura Somers

Q1. Before I go into the film itself, I’d like to ask you about your filmmaking background. What makes you want to be a cinematic storyteller?

I have been making films since I was five. My mom and dad bought an 8mm camera and we used to write scripts and act and my parents would shoot and edit them. I got hooked early on, and it’s always been a part of my life. I ended up directing theater for a long time before I decided that for me the stage felt like it wasn’t enough. The biggest obstacle for theater to me is limited audience reach. Being an indie theater director often means short runs in one city – now as a filmmaker my work can live forever and travel around the world – for better or worse!

Whenever I talk to a filmmaker, I’m always interested in what inspires them to make this particular film. How did you come across this screenplay that’s based on an actual event?

The idea for Rich Kids came out of an incident that happened in the neighborhood I grew up in. Our road cut through two completely different neighborhoods, one, a low-income working class neighborhood and the other, an upper middle class neighborhood. Although the road was only eight feet wide, the divide was clear as day.

My house was on the edge of the upper middle class neighborhood at the road. It was a beautiful, ostentatious fortress built incongruously in the neighborhood. The house was a neighborhood legend that the locals spun stories about. School friends and kids in the neighborhood were always breaking in to get a look inside. It wasn’t until I moved out on my own, did I grow to appreciate what that house represented to people who didn’t even have a house. The luxury and tranquility it offered. An escape from the hardships of life.

A few years ago, a group of kids broke into the house. Evidence left behind tells us that these kids lived in the house for a few days, having one hell of a time before it ended in tragedy. We turn on the local news and see stories like theirs all the time. And many people just think, “Well, they were bad kids,” change the channel, and forget about them. But I knew kids from this community, they were my friends. I wanted to use this opportunity to give those kids a voice.

The story speaks about economic and perhaps racial disparity amongst youth, which is a timely subject in today’s climate. Yet the title signifies that ‘richness’ isn’t always about money/materialism. How did you/your team come up with that?

The title was literally the first thing I came up with. It was just the obvious choice. At that time I really only took it as face value – that poor kids were pretending to be rich. The dual meaning grew organically out of the whole process – the writing, the crowdfunding, the acting, the editing, the music. Everyone that has touched this film approached it with so much dignity, so much love for the story and the characters – the themes evolved and presented themselves as we went along. It was truly a magical experience.

What’s the biggest challenge you as a filmmaker faced in bringing this story to life?

I’m a filmmaker, and I’m also a mother to a four year old. I started working on Rich Kids when my son was six months old. I’ve been a stay at home parent with him this entire time, and my husband and I don’t have any family near us in Los Angeles to support us and we couldn’t afford regular childcare. So for the last several years I’ve been juggling these two worlds – new motherhood and indie filmmaker-hood – two dreams have come true at the same time, which is such a thrill!

Since the story is based on a real event, were you able to film it in the location where it happened? If not, how was the location scout process?

We filmed in the actual house the event took place in – it was my childhood home. The location was really the push that we needed to get us going – my parents were preparing to sell the house as we were writing the script – I kept telling them – “I’m doing this film that I want to shoot in the house, but if you have to sell the house, do it – don’t let me hold you back”. So I was really moving fast to get it all done. We shot the film right as my parents hired a real estate agent and they started showing it after we wrapped. Lucky for me that agent wasn’t very good – because after we did our first edit pass, we had to come back a few months later and shoot a few extra days at the house – and it was still available. They’d gotten a new agent by then who literally sold the house a week after we wrapped that second shoot! The universe works in amazing ways sometimes.

I’m interested to hear about casting, as most of the young cast are unknowns. Is that a deliberate choice and did you do a wide casting call to find the right people?

It was a deliberate choice to work with unknowns. I just find it really exciting to discover new talent. I love their energy, they are so joyful because they’re at the beginning of their careers and that really radiates on the screen. There’s so much talk right now about the need for diversity and representing people of color on screen, about lifting each other up. This is the small part I can play in that. If any of the people who worked on Rich Kids can benefit from this film in any way, I’ll be very proud.

The casting process was amazing. I did a very wide open call, reaching out to acting teachers and agents, putting ads online everywhere, including Craigslist! I looked at a ton of people, just trying to find talent who I felt had a similar soul of the characters. My sister and I held a big group audition and we had 10-15 actors in two hour blocks and we did improv and cold readings. Then we had each person spend five minutes talk about why they felt they could relate to the story of Rich Kids and what it would mean to be in a film like it. And these amazing young people just talked and talked – they were so anxious to tell their stories. It was so cathartic for all of us. We went back and used some of the inspiration from the auditions as lines and scenes in the film. Once I’d narrowed down my favorite actors, I spent a lot of time on Skype getting to know them and letting them know me so that we could build a lot of trust and we could use our life stories to craft their performances. And the actors who were finally cast spent a lot of time getting to know each other on the phone and in person, so by the time we walked onto set, we had already built solid relationships.

DP Eun-ah Lee on the set of Rich Kids

What’s your favorite parts about filming? Is this the first time you work with a primarily young cast?

I love working with actors! I really have fun guiding them to great performances, helping them see a moment or movement that they hadn’t considered before. I love all the emotion that gets poured into their craft and I enjoy emoting along with them. I’ve worked many times with a young cast, their creative energy is always invigorating and inspiring to me.

Lastly, what would you like the audience to come away with after watching your film?

Simply that they feel like they’ve been on a really good journey. They walked in as one person and left as another. And they’re excited about what kind of film we’re going to make next.

Check out some exclusive BTS photos from the set
(Thank you Laura!)


Follow RICH KIDS journey online:


Check out the trailer below:


Thanks so much Laura Somers for chatting with FlixChatter!

TCFF 2018 Indie Film Spotlight: NOAH WISE & Interview w/ writer/director Ben Zuckert

The best part about attending film festivals is you get to see indie gems you normally won’t be able to see on the big screen. Twin Cities Film Fest celebrates indie films and indie filmmakers from all over the globe. And TCFF loves alumni! Ben Zuckert is back to TCFF after he premiered his directorial debut Larchmont a couple of years ago.

For his sophomore feature, Ben has crafted a wonderful music-themed comedy drama Noah Wise that’ll surely made you leave the theater with a big smile. It’s one of my 20 most-anticipated TCFF selections!

As a saxophonist’s quartet comes to an end, he meets a singer-songwriter whose career is just beginning.

Review by Vitali Gueron

Having it’s World Premiere at the Twin Cities Film Festival is the indie drama Noah Wise. The movie stars Mat Vairo and Raffaella Meloni as leads, and is written, directed and scored by Ben Zuckert. The premise seems quite simple — Noah Wise is a saxophonist whose quartet comes to an end.  Just as it seems like he is down on his luck, he gets set up on a blind date with singer-songwriter Rachel Byrd. The two hit it off right away and are there to support each other as they go through their own struggles in music and in life. The reason this movie is a must-see is because of its music, especially the delightful guitar and vocal performance by Raffaella Meloni towards the end with a trio of backing musicians.

The movie never feels like it’s trying to preach a message to its audience, although several subjects are brought up through character conversations including young peoples’ life ambitions, their financial responsibilities, and how one becomes civilly-engaged in the political process. The characters are very relatable and easygoing, and the young musicians cast in this movie — some are quite young — are very talented which adds a family-friendly element to the main plot line. Also mentioned in the movie is an average New Yorker’s lack of knowledge about the Midwest and how the fall foliage in Minnesota is far superior to that found in New York City. Maybe writer/director Ben Zuckert might have anticipated a fall trip to the Twin Cities, where audience would appreciate his knowledge of windchill values and the cold temperatures.

Overall, this is the perfect indie drama to watch with your best friend or significant other. You’ll find new appreciation for each other and come out at the end with a big smile. It’s just what is needed for the current politically-charged climate we’re living in. And just how many times can you say: “I just watched the world premiere of a movie in Minnesota!” This film certainly does not disappoint.

Q&A with filmmaker Ben Zuckert

Interview questions courtesy of Vitali Gueron

Q1. You’re returning to the Twin Cities Film Fest after successfully premiering Larchmont in 2016 with your second film Noah Wise – a world premiere! First of all, congratulations! Welcome back. Is there something about Minnesota or the Twin Cities that’s special for you and what have you learned about this state/these cities since premiering your first movie here?

Thank you, excited to be back! I had a great time visiting with my first film and really enjoyed the city. Being a part of the festival two years ago helped give me the momentum to write this new script and put the film together. In terms of Minneapolis, a big takeaway for me was how much the city is invested in the arts. I loved the museums, especially the MIA.

Q2. Your movie stars Mat Vairo as Noah Wise, a struggling musician who’s less than successful in a quartet, living off cans of sardines, and seems to be struggling to find himself career-wise. Is this character based on yourself or someone you know? If so, who is that person and if not, how did you come up with the idea of the character when writing the movie?

The character is fictionalized, but there are definitely aspects of myself. For one, I do tend to eat canned fish. But I also relate to Rachel and her self-doubt. I wanted her to be opposite Noah. She has talent, but questions music’s meaning, and he has less talent, but doesn’t question it.

Q3. I really enjoyed the music in this movie – especially the last song performed by Raffaella Meloni’s character Rachel Byrd. You’re credited as the music creator for the film on IMDb. Can you talk about the process you used to write the music and any struggles you had doing so?

Really glad you enjoyed the songs. I spent countless hours trying to write chord changes and lyrics that could fit both characters’ storylines. I would imagine the scene and try to have the tone match the feeling of the story at that moment.
I had never written lyrics before and I found it to be a good challenge – too on the nose and they fall flat, but too ambiguous and the song has no meaning.
Raffaella actually didn’t know how to play guitar before the movie, so I simplified all the guitar voicing. She learned how play them in only a month. I couldn’t believe it. She really made them her own.

Q4. In the movie when Noah Wise is asked if he’s Jewish by two separate Jewish Orthodox men on the street, he tells them that he’s not and “it’s complicated”. What did you mean by that and did this come from any personal experiences you might have experienced?

In New York, I get approached by Orthodox men during Sukkot and Hanukkah, and I find the conversations really fascinating – I always try to talk to them. Some of them will walk with you for multiple blocks! So it’s definitely from personal experience and also thinking about my own identity, being raised one way, but not currently practicing and sometimes feeling like others can define your identity for you.

Q5. While the movie is set in New York City, one of your characters (Rachel) talks with her roommate about the weather in Minnesota and the foliage this time of year. Is this because you’ve seen the foliage first hand and you can talk about it or is it purely coincidental?

Definitely firsthand – the last time I was here was the fall and the season really struck me. I was also trying to capture how people talk about the weather as a way to get conversation going. I tend to think, are you actually talking about anything?

Q6. There are some fairly young actors and musicians in this movie, and a good number of grade school level children. Talk about the process of working with these young musicians and the challenges (if any) to working with them?

It was one of the best parts of filming, but I had never worked with a group of kids that size before. I started to figure out a few techniques – I stopped saying “Action!” and we did slate after we finished filming. This way, the 5th graders wouldn’t get tense. I would point to Mat, who played Noah, and then he would just start the scene. So they didn’t always know when we were filming a real take. None of them had ever acted before. They were just local musicians in my hometown.

All their playing was recorded live on set. An unexpected challenge was them faking playing badly. I first said, “Ok, just play anything,” but it sounded too ridiculous. Instead, they each played the song in a different key/tempo. For getting the different angles for the performances, I’d have the 5th graders or lead characters play the song again each time we changed camera positions. They all did a great job with keeping tempos consistent between takes – it saved me a lot of time while editing.

Q7. Both main characters Noah and Rachel are set up on a date by mutual acquaintances. Have you ever been set up on date by someone you know and how did that end up? Do you think that Noah and Rachel have a future together or is their relationship just a good friendship?

It was made up for the story. I was trying to weave in a joke about people knowing people through other people and how you can’t keep track of how someone knows someone.

I was thinking that it’s just a friendship – I didn’t intend for it to be a romance. I wanted them both to be focusing on where their music and careers were headed. But it’s definitely up to the viewer to decide.

Q8. At separate times, Noah and Rachel meet a man in the park who is interested in talking/complaining about the elections and politicians, but admits that he didn’t vote himself. This seems timely as the 2018 Midterm elections are just a few days away. Was this on purpose? What has been your experience with the elections and why did you include it in your movie?

After the 2016 election, it was a strange time, and I was thinking a lot about politics and art and how they intersected. I was trying to figure out how art played a role in society under the new government. I was asking myself, could there be better uses of my time besides making films? Should I only be making something political? I was grappling with these questions and tried to explore them through different characters and viewpoints. I always find it interesting when people are opinionated politically, but don’t actually vote.

Q9. What’s next for you and when do we expect your third movie/project? Maybe next year in a few years back here at the Twin Cities Film Fest?

I’ve become more interested in politics in the past few years, so I’m hoping to write a story more in that realm. I find all the Democratic energy for change really inspiring. I’d love to come back in the years to come. It’s a great festival that supports independent filmmakers in a tangible way.


Noah Wise is now available on AMAZON PRIME and TCFF Streams!


Thanks so much Ben Zuckert for chatting with FlixChatter!