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 2016 Reviews: ‘Oxenfree’ + ‘The Eyes Of My Mother’

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‘Oxenfree’ Review

oxenfree Many of us may remember that expression we used at the end of our games of Hide and Seek – “Olly, Olly, Oxenfree!” The longing to return to juvenile games and stories is a theme in “Oxenfree,” the feature film that had its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Fest last night. I had the pleasure of being in attendance with the director (Dan Glaser) and actors Steven Molony (Aaron), Paul Vonasek (Roy) and Timothy Lane (Benjamin). Undoubtedly there were many family and friends in attendance as the cast and crew received loud applause when the ending credits rolled.

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Oxenfree tells the story of three estranged foster brothers who return to the family cabin to rediscover the ruins of their childhood kingdom “Oxenfree.” Shot in the Fargo/Moorhead area, I appreciated the beautiful fall scenery throughout the movie. As it only features three actors (aside from a brief appearance of Kelli Breslin as Katie, Aaron’s girlfriend), the strength of this movie really comes from the actors’ camaraderie. It’s obvious these young men enjoy working together and their affinity for each other makes their characters more believable.

The one quibble I had with the film was that it didn’t seem to be able to decide whether it was a comedy or a drama so at times it seemed stuck in a muddling middle. (Even the actors at times looked confused about how to play a scene.) After Roy reclaims his “throne” (an old toilet) in the middle of the forest, he takes a cell phone call from his wife. And then moments of levity like this diverge into a medical drama concerning one of the other brothers. The production value of this movie was there, it just seemed like the script needed a little more work.

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Am I saying I didn’t enjoy the film? I am not. One of the strengths of a film fest is to see movies at many different levels of development. During the post show Q&A, Timothy Lane (Benjamin) talked about how this was the first film he has acted in and discussed the technical side of learning to act on camera. Paul Vonasek also shared how they came up with part of the plot – “We didn’t really look alike but we wanted to do a movie together so that’s how we came up with the idea of being foster brothers.” Oxenfree isn’t going to change your life but was it an enjoyable way to spend a cold and rainy evening? Yes.


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‘The Eyes Of My Mother’ Review

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Writing and directing a film that is both beautiful and horrifying isn’t easy- especially on the first try, and especially at the young age of 26 (which makes me, at 28, feel like a total underachiever). But newcomer Nicolas Pesce has managed it with his already critically-acclaimed movie, The Eyes of my Mother. While it has its flaws, it is an incredible debut, and it’s a promising start to what will hopefully be an illustrious career for Pesce.

The Eyes of my Mother is about Francisca (Kika Magalhaes), a young woman who tragically loses her mother an early age, and, through the trauma and following isolation, develops an unnerving hobby. I won’t say much more, for fear of spoiling the plot, but I will say that Francisca’s mother used to be a surgeon, and the two of them would practice dissections on cows, so the girl knows how to use a knife. I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest from there.

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The movie begins on a tense note, and is able to hold that suspense throughout most of the film, thanks to both Pesce’s skillful directing and the cast’s strong acting. There is very little background music, which creates an unnerving atmosphere. There are frequent shots from the first-person perspective and just over the actors’ shoulders, obscuring their faces, creating both an air of uncertainty and an opportunity for the actors to demonstrate their acting abilities by relying solely on their line delivery. Shooting the film in black and white was an excellent choice as well; it enhanced the shadowy scenery, and the starkness made the tone even more unsettling.

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That’s not to say the movie is without flaws. It’s a relatively short film, clocking in at only an hour and sixteen minutes, which doesn’t allow much time for character development- and in a movie where so much of the film centers around one character, it was especially needed. The short runtime also meant certain plot points weren’t properly explained. Ambiguity in horror movies can be a powerful tool, but too much can confuse the audience and take them out of the experience.

While The Eyes of my Mother isn’t a perfect movie, it is still a stunning first film from a promising young talent, and I look forward to seeing more from him.



TWIN CITIES FILM FEST ANNOUNCES AWARDS FINALISTS!

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Moonlight,’ ‘Blood Stripe’ and ‘Iron Will’ lead 2016 awards contenders…
many finalists are set to screen during TCFF’s closing weekend!

Check out the full list of finalists here


Check out some of the studio features
playing in the final days of TCFF!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and talent interviews!


TCFF 2016 Indie Horror Spotlight: Lake Runs Red – interview w/ director Jason Riesgraf + producer Jeff Fuller

Those who read my blog regularly knows I have such feeble nerves that I can’t handle most horror movies. But I’m always up for supporting indie films, especially Minnesota-made films! So when I got the chance to interview the filmmakers behind Lake Runs Red, I jumped at it. It’s a home-invasion horror + psychological thriller produced & filmed in the state, specifically in Atkins, which is about 2 hours north of the Twin Cities.

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Two college girlfriends go to their parent’s secluded northern Minnesota lake cabin to prepare for final exams. An uninvited visitor stops by. He isn’t there to study.

Director: Jason Riesgraf
Writers: J. Dan Moores and Jason Riesgraf
Cast:
 Kaci Wegleitner, Lauren Morris, C.J. DeVaan
Runtime: 66 min

Check out the trailer:


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Q: First of all thank you Jason and Jeff Fuller for chatting with me about your film. Talk about that title. I love that it has the word ‘lake’ in the title, the fact that we’re in the land of 10000 Lakes. So how did you come up with that?

Jason:  Yeah it was a very difficult process to come up with it. When I started writing it was actually called Panic, and that was kind of the title. And then that ended up sticking for a while. And then we did we kind of did with Jeff, our marketing director. We kind of did some you know some Google searches and realized that that wouldn’t be the best way to hit a target audience. So we kind of we kind of left it at that for a little bit and as we left it, we spent a while coming up with what would signify this film…  you know, lake is an obvious choice. You know in Northern Minnesota, everybody knows that… and then you know it’s because it’s a horror movie, we kind of played some with some words and then we came up with Lake Runs Red.

Jeff: Yes, in fact I spent about nine hours researching and coming up with those titles. We have this gigantic list, but yeah, this one works well in our favor. We love it.

Pictured: Lauren Morris | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher
Pictured: Lauren Morris | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher

Q: Indeed it’s a great title, I love it too. So what inspired you to this story?

Jason: The biggest inspiration, I mean the [sub] genre of the film is actually home invasion, and home invasion to me is my biggest fear. Home is where he feels safe home is where you feel comfort, and when somebody invades that it’s not a fun feeling. And so I kind of played out my own fears and wrote it you know, from my perspective of what a home invasion would feel like. And coincidentally enough we actually, my wife and I had our house broken into while we were filming. So it kind of you know, I actually lived that what that fear is. And I’m hoping that that’s what the audience sees when they see it in the picture.

Q: Is this from the perspective of the invader or the invadee, if there’s such a word, I mean the people who were invaded?

Jason: Well, it’s not really from anybody’s perspective. It follows two college seniors and what happens after these traumatic events happen to them at the cabin.

Jeff: But the invader is one of the main characters.

Jason: So yeah, we have one main villain and then we have two college seniors.


Q: The reason I’m asking is the recent box office home-invasion horror/thriller Don’t Breathe starring Stephen Lang was from the perspective of the invaders. 

Jason: Yes I saw and it was worked very well. So yeah you can kind of use that spin on it if you want to. Except that this is in a cabin, so ours is a lot more secluded.

Q: Which in a way is scarier I think. I was just telling someone earlier, I’m actually not a big horror fan. I don’t have nerves of steel like most people, I get scared very easily. I also get really a headache if I watch those found-footage type movies. So what’s the filming style of this one?

Jason: We had very minimal very minimal tripod, we only used tripod where it was appropriate. We we don’t have the found-footage, shaky cam, we do run on a steady cam. So the steady cam we use was weighted, but it still showed kind of traumatic camera shots.

Q: So you wouldn’t categorize this film as a found-footage film then? 

Jason: No, no, I won’t categorize it as that at all. It’s not like Blair With where the shots are very shaky. You know my plan going into this is I don’t want to make people sick by the camera. It can take too much focus out of the story. You have to be wired for that kind of stuff.

Pictured: Kaci Wegleitner | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher
Pictured: Kaci Wegleitner | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher

Q: Ok, make sense. Now my question for you Jeff. You wore multiple hats here, you were the producer, art director, camera department and editor. What’s that experience for you?

Jeff: It’s been an amazing experience. You know I’m so glad to do this with one of my best friends Jason. And he was nice enough to bring me on this film. It’s a funny story, like when we started this it was like ‘Oh, so we’re really doing this! Let’s go for it!’ I think it’s probably the best experience to wear these different hats, from editor to producer to all that, you get such a ingratiated role into the whole process. It’s just been absolutely tremendous.

Q: Now, question for both of you. What’s your most memorable experience from making this, whether good or bad moments from filming?

Jason: Well, probably the most memorable is when we were actually at a production meeting and my house was burglarized. I mean that’s life imitating art you know. That was probably the most traumatic for me, and most unique experience that we had while filming.

Jeff: Oh, relive that experience when you drive home from the shoot one night and you got stopped…

Jason: That’s a great one too yeah. We actually we’re wrapping up from a quick little couple pickup shots up in Northern Minnesota. Getting up there you actually take a lot of very secluded roads, which if anyone knows northward it’s always the case. You know you take a left here and you go out the gravel road for 14 miles and that’s kind of it. And it turns out for some reason that night, it was I think it was maybe mid August, beginning August. My alternator went on my car and I was stranded on a the world’s most disgusting road, literally next to a barn for three hours waiting for a tow truck. I’m by myself and I had no cell service to look anything up. So all I had was my dying battery because I had no battery left in my car enough to call my wife and tell her you’ve got to give me a tow truck and I’m in the middle of nowhere and trying to explain to them where I am. I mean if it’s going to happen to anyone, it’s going to happen to me.

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Q: Oh my, well I’m glad to see you are okay! Now, last question… I was on your Twitter and you have a huge following on social media (12.3K followers). Is that a big part of your marketing and how did you build that huge following prior to the film opening?

Jason: I knew more about the physical parts of making a film. Marketing I didn’t know much about it. When I talked to Jeff about how we’re going to market this film, it’s like I don’t know. Then he said, I tell you what, I’ll take care of your marketing for you. I think within a year we were already have like 6 or 7000 followers. And I don’t know how he did it or what he does, but he handles most of that. I don’t watch him do it because that’s not really my thing.

Q: I feel like Twitter is sort of the water cooler, the internet water cooler, so it’s good to have that presence for your film. 

Jason: I’d say Twitter is our biggest success, by far.

Jeff: Yeah, I would say that social media has been the cornerstone of our marketing right there. It’s kind of the greatest equalizer on the Internet which Twitter was smarter our number one just because you can have conversations with the fans directly. Correct. We’ve had so many friends and some of the particular fans who still to this day constantly ask us hey how’s the movie going and stuff.

Jason: We’ve been on YouTube channels doing interviews me and some of the cast and crew, my co-writer and some of the cast and crew we’ve been on. We were featured on some humongous horror websites, Modern Horror, Movie Pilot, etc. So that was all Jeff, he took what we talked about marketing with a grain of salt and he took it as far as he could with it.

Q: So are you both horror fans yourself?

Jason: I am. I’ve been since my first four movies and really when I was nine or so, Nightmare On Elm Street, it has been in my blood. I mean there’s nothing really that I can’t handle. I mean there’s some stuff that makes me squirm, which is what I love. So Jeff, I actually brought him, so the last one he ever saw was when he saw with me and he couldn’t really handle it.

Q: What is it?

Jason: It was Hostel. After he saw that he kind of like you know what, I’m done watching horror movies with you. Yeah, you have to take that on your own.

Q: Oh slasher flick is a whole other genre entirely that I avoid.

Jason: Ours is more psychological thriller. It’s the home invasion aspect, about not knowing really what’s going on in our head.


THANK YOU Jason and Jeff for chatting with me about Lake Runs Red!

Check out some behind-the-scenes photos of the film:

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What’s in store for Day 10 of TCFF!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews…
and the finalists of TCFF Awards!


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.

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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!


TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: ‘Miles Between Us’ + Interview with lead actor Dariush Moslemi

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I love road movies and Miles Between Us is an engaging mix of road trip + inspirational family drama. It’s a Minnesota-made production, and most of the scenes shot around the Twin Cities, so it’s cool to see a sold-out screening of it on Sunday. It also has a Minnesota crew, including one of TCFF staff members Briana Rose Lee who was the assistant director and wardrobe person!


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My review:

The fact that I didn’t grow up without a father, this film certainly resonated with me quite a bit. Interesting too that the father, Scott Dauer, is a film producer, just like my late dad was who was a screenwriter. The relationship of father and daughter (played by Dariush Moslemi and Anna Stranz, respectively) is pretty compelling, starting out testy but they slowly bond as they spend more time with each other.

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The dialog feels natural, peppered with comic moments as well as profound spiritual conversations that is organic to the story. I enjoyed the performances from both leads. There’s humor and touching moments, which makes the road trip far from boring. The only part that I find a bit awkward is the scenes between the daughter and a film star her dad’s pursuing for his film. Overall though, it’s a well-crafted and well-acted Minnesota-made indie drama that should appeal to teens, families and the faithful communities. Props to writer/producer Scott Peterson and director Andrew Hunt, it’s a lovely little story of pain, hope, healing, and redemption.

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Five questions with Miles Between Us‘ lead actor Dariush Moslemi:

Q: Ok so my first question is how did this project first come together for you. It sounds like you’ve met producer Scott Peterson before?

Right. So I worked with Scott and Diane Peterson who are the producers of IIFilms several years ago, and my wife was actually good friends with Diane through my wife’s mother’s work. Long story short. And anyway they’re wrapping up getting ready for their pre-production on the first film The Current, and they were still looking for one particular role a man playing in his mid thirties and I played a father and I was in my mid and on his father and so I really thought that I could do this but my brother is a professional actor in L.A. And so I said I’d pass that on to him, so I did. My brother had to pass it, he had other work going on. Then I told my wife, I said for some reason I really want to just audition for this list. Call it a bucket list or whatever. So I called up Scott. I tracked down his phone number because he didn’t give it to me and I said that Look, I don’t mean to bug you but I like to audition for this. He’s like ‘You know you don’t have the experience, on and on.’ And I said ‘Just give me five minutes, I’ll come to you.’

So I drove an hour into his home and audition for that role. And within five hours, he called me and said I had it if I wanted it, which was a supporting lead role on The Current. And so that’s how I met the Petersons officially in the film world. And I worked with them on that project and then I’ve done a feature film in between. And then Scott and Diane let me know they were doing Miles Between Us. And so at that point I expressed my interest, I said I’d like to audition for it. They brought in Andy, Andrew Hunt as the director. And he was the one who really put me through the paces. So Scott and Diane were pretty much set, they liked me for the role but Andrew wasn’t sure, which is ok. You know he was still getting all his options and had me audition and audition and audition. I mean tons of callbacks, it took months and eventually I got the job. So that’s how I came to be the lead in this movie.

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Q: So what attracted you to the script? Did you connect to the story in some ways?

Well, it was fun to play a lead role [laughs] It’s also nerve wracking because if this thing doesn’t do good we kind of knows what it is but it’s the opposite of everything that I have I’ve done it before I’m playing a character who left his family a long time ago. And in the real world I have five kids with my wife. I met my wife. She had already had four children before we got married and we had another baby together so it’s really kind of the antithesis of who I am, you know. And so it was a lot of fun to dive into kind of a darker character somebody who is not so good and has made some pretty selfish choices in life. Not saying I’m perfect in real life but it was just fun to dive into this because on screen I’ve never played that character before, and it was really intriguing to play something comedic, something fun, but at the same time narcissistic and and just kind of just really self-absorbed. But also the growth in the change through the film of going away from that. The ‘growing up’ into this different person, but it’s not so dramatic of a shift…I’m still me being that character, just a little bit different. A little bit a change that’s not so dramatic that it’s not believable. I like that, very much. It was just a realistic ‘Ok this kind of changed me.’ I really enjoyed playing that character.

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Q: Speaking of that, I kind of like spiritual aspect that seems organic to the story. It’s not that they set out to make a certain story with a particular message. Is that something that is deliberate from the beginning?

I would say yes. And I mean Scott and Diane have a beautiful faith and their vision for what they want their films to do is enormous. And it was really great to play it in such a way that it wasn’t force feeding the audience. It’s almost like you get some films don’t trust the audience to get it. And Anna Stranz (who played Scott’s daughter) and I had a great opportunity to still work with Andy, to still work with Scott, and to take some of our lines and alter them just to make slightly just to make sure that it’s really like a true conversation, not something somebody told us to say. And and that is I think what I hope comes across as I see in the film. But our intention was for it to come across as ‘Yes, it’s a faith-based film. Yes, it does speak about this area [of faith and spirituality], however anybody could watch it and won’t be insulted by it. At the same time there’s truth in it. There’s there’s aspects about it that are along those lines, they’re there, but they’re not forced down your throat, but it’s not beating around the bush, either. It’s not a Lifetime film, you know, it really is what it is. Our whole goal we set out as actors, Anna and I myself, and Anna who played Gaby my daughter did an unbelievable job at this being it’s her first time in film. She did such a fantastic job and we were able to play off each other because I’m the one who’s playing the non Christian father who doesn’t care, he doesn’t want to know. Anna’s playing the daughter who’s going to Christian school. And so the debate is between her and I. I think it’s relatable to anybody. Yes. I think you can relate to it. It’s just that really you’re like I’ve had this conversation before and it’s okay to discuss these things.

Q: Yeah, it resonated with me as in the trailer there’s a conversation in the car where your character said something about that it’s too late. And she said, ‘You mean with you and mom or is it with God?’

Yes, it was kind of unexpected. I hope that it’s enough that it gets across, you know, because that’s what you want your audience to feel. You want them to think about and really walk away like ‘Oh yes I feel like I was in that conversation, I feel like it was in that car.’

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Q: So was this filmed here in Minnesota? I wasn’t sure as there are parts in L.A. as well in the film.

Yes, it was all filmed in Minnesota. It was different parts of Minnesota but all within about an hour or two the Twin Cities. So in order to make it look like we’re going through different states we may have to go south through the cities or North East of the Cities or East or West or whatever. Yeah. And there was that part was just kind of fun. I live in Stillwater so you know a lot of it was still far enough away that I would stay in a hotel.

A lot of this 16 hour drive won’t come in and be like you know on the ball by any means. So it felt like I was far away, but in reality it was here all whole time. While certain they did the car scenes like Scott and his dad did a fun road trip themselves. They literally flew out to L.A. got the same picture car that we have for the film at leased it and then drove across all the way from L.A. from the South Carolina, which is the film, they drive from L.A. to South Carolina. It took them about a week or something like that.

THANK YOU Dariush for chatting with me about Miles Between Us!


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Check out a plethora of FREE educational events (PDF) offered by TCFF, as well as other events such as Script Reading, Film Panels, etc.

TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘First Girl I Loved’ + ‘My Scientology Movie’ doc

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‘First Girl I Loved’ Review

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First Girl I Loved is a coming-of-age story for the social media generation. Mix this with a narrative about teenage sexuality and you have the new feature film written and directed by Kerem Sanga. It stars Dylan Gelula as Anne, the nerdy high school yearbook photographer, Brianna Hildebrand as Sasha, star of the softball team and the object of Anne’s desire, and Mateo Arias as Clifton, Anne’s best friend who secretly loves her.
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This is a movie that whether you like it may depend on what mood you are in. On one hand, the lead characters in this movie are teenagers that act like teenagers (no deep psychological speeches here). On the other hand, there is a lot of giggling and nonsensical teenager speak that can get annoying.

The narrative at times can be confusing as it’s told in flashback from each character’s perspective. If this was intentional to help the audience understand how conflicted these young people are, it succeeded. Dylan Gelula in particular is a standout in this movie, as she aptly portrays the angst of the high school years. I feel like this movie will really strike a chord with some viewers but unfortunately I am not one of them.

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‘My Scientology Movie’ Review

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I was intrigued by this documentary when I learned of the unconventional method that documentarian Louis Theroux (apparently cousin of actor Justin Theroux) in approaching the controversial subject matter. Directed by John Dower, Louis traveled around Los Angeles to investigate what goes on behind the scenes of the elusive church of scientology. But instead of featuring expert ‘talking heads’ as most documentaries typically do, Louis instead chooses to re-enact some of the practices and speeches, based on recruitment/marketing videos from the church that he got from whistleblowers.
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The style immediately reminds me of The Act of Killing documentary where filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer exposed one of the most brutal genocide in history that took place in Indonesia with re-enactments of the murderous ‘act’ itself. The difference is, Joshua used the actual perpetrators of the event to re-enact them, whilst Louis hired unknown actors to play the roles of major figures of scientology, including the church leader David Miscavige and the movie star Tom Cruise, the most famous celebrity scientologist in the world.

The result isn’t quite as hauntingly profound as The Act Of Killing, but still it’s quite a revelatory as well as amusing documentary. There are moments that are downright hilarious, such as when people start showing up across the street from where Louis was filming with their own video camera. When they’re confronted, they refuse to say who they are, but there’s little doubt they’re likely sent by the church to investigate Louis’ crew. The church also blocked certain roads and claimed they owned the property, which at the end is proven that it was in fact a public road. These encounters are often hilarious, but that’s not to say there’s no serious nor intense moment in the film.

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The exchange between Louis and Mark Rathbun, a former senior executive of the Church of Scientology who ‘blew’ from the church, is quite intense. There’s a certain unpredictability to Mark given that he was the inspector general of the church at one point. In fact, another whistleblower claimed that Mark had punched him during one of the most controversial practices. The scene where the actors re-enacted a brutal interrogation scene where Miscavige was berating some church members inside a room was quite intense, and I never know if at one point the actor playing Miscavige might snap and start hitting people.

Of course the church denies all the malpractices depicted in the film, including the infamous Hole that’s basically a prison for senior executives they deem as misbehaving. The whistleblowers were candid about the extreme abuse and human rights violation they suffered, to the point that they’d rather die than having to stay in the church. One of the most memorable moments was when Louis and his crew were watching a video of Tom Cruise talking passionately about scientology and they paused at a footage of him with a wild, fierce look on his eyes, as if he’s ready to strangle anyone to defend his religion. But I think its leader Miscavige is just as scary if not more as Cruise was, and he’s even more elusive.

As this is the first documentary on scientology I’ve seen so far, I don’t know if this is the definitive film on the subject. I’d think Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief might give more insights into scientology, just based on Gibney’s previous work. Still, this one is worth a look, an entertaining doc that’d make an intriguing discussion afterwards.

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Get the TCFF App!

The TCFF app is such a lifesaver for me. Instead of futzing with paper that’s easily lost, download the app so you have easy access the film schedule at your fingertips! It’s got all the info for the daily educational events as well as film schedule, which is immensely helpful!

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What’s in store for Day 5 & 6!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and talent interviews!


TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: ‘June Falling Down’ + Interview with writer/director Rebecca Weaver

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One of the perks about covering film festivals is we get to watch a plethora of independent films and discover new filmmakers! One of my most anticipated indie films playing at TCFF is June Falling Down… a story of love and loss, set in a small town in Wisconsin. 

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June tells the story of a young woman living in California who returns home for her best friend Harley’s wedding, a year after her father’s death. Once there, she must confront the rush of memories of her father’s cancer and the fact that Harley and everyone else in her life has moved on without her. It’s as much a family drama as a romantic one, with a compelling and heartfelt portrayal of family dynamic. The theme of loss and learning to let go is one I can relate to. In terms of losing a loved one, it’s not something one simply ‘get over,’ which this film touches upon. The scenes of June with her father in the flashback scenes are particularly poignant, whilst her at times testy relationship with her mother feels grounded and relatable. The scenery of Door County, WI, is gorgeous, it certainly adds to the warm, small-town vibe that also makes for a naturally romantic setting.
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June Falling Down marks Rebecca Weaver‘s feature film debut. She previously wrote, directed, as well as acted in two short films, Winter Guest and Cam Companion (Wisconsin and Las Vegas Film Festivals, 2015). She studied theater at Northwestern University and dramatic literature at New York University. Raised in Wisconsin, she currently resides in Los Angeles and is writing her next feature.

Check out my Q&A with Rebecca below on her personal connection to the story, filming in her favorite part of the world, her challenges as a female filmmaker working on her debut feature, and more!

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Q: The story of June Falling Down is a personal one for you, as you also lost your father to cancer like June did in the film. Would you say that the film was semi-biographical in a way? What made you decide to turn your story into a feature film?

This is definitely semi-autobiographical – with an emphasis on the “semi.” I lost my dad to cancer a month after I turned 22 and after that it was all I could think about for years. So it’s almost like the story had to come out of me. At that time I had friends growing up and continuing with their lives, graduating from college and some getting married, getting professional jobs, while I dropped out of school for a while and really wasn’t emotionally growing up at the same rate – because I was stuck in my grief. That was the inspiration for the movie.

But that being said, I also took a lot of elements from my life and really exaggerated them and created characters that could tell the story externally of what it felt like to lose a father and go through that. For example, June is a very different character than me, even though I play her. She’s very tough and arrogant and at times rude to people and I’m naturally a more introverted, nicer person in real life. I swear! But it was important to have a character that wears her heart on her sleeve so blatantly because that’s just more interesting in a film.

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Q: Given the setting of a small town in Wisconsin, it almost felt like a love letter to the state you grew up on. Would you comment a bit on that and how you choose the filming locations, etc.?

Oh, I 100% wrote this movie to be set in my favorite place in the world – Door County, Wisconsin. I wrote the script imagining my family’s home and I even wrote in the exact names of the local pizza restaurant and bars, all of which we ended up using. It’s funny how growing up as a restless teenager I couldn’t wait to leave Wisconsin, but over the years I’ve missed it terribly (I live in LA now) and I realize how deeply the land and the people there are a part of me. And you so rarely see the Midwest portrayed in films with intelligent, culturally-aware characters and gorgeous landscapes. So it was really important to me to show my home as the beautiful place I know it to be.

Q: Would you share one of the most memorable experiences making this film?

I remember shooting the wedding reception scene with our full cast, about fifty extras, and a blues band playing in an old town hall. I was walking through the crowd filming everyone dancing, and in the original footage you can hear me laughing as the camera moves through the crowd. I was just so grateful and in shock that we were doing this. I couldn’t believe that I had written this movie and somehow, through sheer will, we were making this dream into reality. I was so touched by all the people that had come out and were supporting us by being extras. There were candles lit and a white cake from Costco that my mom helped us find, and everyone was having a blast. It was so unlikely that we were pulling this off. It was such an emotional moment that all I could do was laugh. I’ll remember that forever.

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Q: As you wore triple hats in this film as a writer, director and actor, what’s the biggest challenge that you encounter in the filmmaking process?

Trying to juggle everything was really the hardest part. To be honest, writing, directing, and acting were the fun parts. They were all a lot of work, but because I love them they were much easier. But organizing, scheduling the shoot, raising money (we did two crowdfunding campaigns plus credit cards), and slogging through post-production were all really really difficult. I guess when it comes down to it, the invisible administrative work surrounding making the movie was what really killed me and wore me out at times. I definitely need a producer next time! Even an assistant would be heaven.

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Q: I asked another female director about this last year… Given that the gender disparity in the film industry is such a hot topic these days, would you comment about your own experience as a female filmmaker working on your feature debut?

I actually feel like I’ve kind of hit the jackpot having an indie film come out at this time when there’s extra attention being brought to female filmmakers. And personally I have been frustrated for years about the portrayal of women in film and that certainly helped motivate me to create a character like June. I remember a while back when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were becoming famous, several years at least before Bridesmaids, and thinking to myself, there will be a place for me, things are changing. So I’m glad that there’s a ton of dialogue about women in film now. (There’s also a part of me thinking, why has it taken so long for this conversation to really get going…) And I’m also really glad that nothing about me being female or having a female lead hurt me in making this movie as far as I can tell. But that’s what’s so amazing about independent film now with crowdfunding and cheaper cameras – you can tell the story you need to tell without anyone’s permission other than your own.

Q: Lastly, who are your personal cinematic heroes who inspired you? Please share some of your favorite films as well.

I love Richard Linklater’s work. The Duplass Brothers. Nicole Holofcener. Lately I’m just astonished by Jeff Nichols. Midnight Special and Mud killed me. He’s a pure artist. I also love The Piano, I love Almost Famous. It’s hard not to be obsessed with Fargo. There’s something about filmmakers that really know the details of their worlds that I love. I don’t watch movies for special effects and camera moves. I want to feel that the filmmaker loves their characters and just humanity in general. I love tragedy and sweetness paired right up next to each other.


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Don’t miss the second TCFF screening of June Falling Down on
October 28, 2016 7:25 pm

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TCFF Opening Night Film: ‘Blood Stripe’ – Interview w/ Remy Auberjonois & Kate Nowlin

Every year Twin Cities Film Fest selects a social cause to bring to light and this year the subject of the Changemaker series is veteran support. Five powerful films paint a picture of what our vets face post-combat and foster important discussions around how to better serve those who’ve given us their all, which starts with BLOOD STRIPE.

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A female Marine veteran, battling unseen wounds from her recent service in Afghanistan, flees her suburban life in search of solace and escape in the North Woods.

Directed by: Remy Auberjonois
Written by: Remy Auberjonois & Kate Nowlin
Runtime: 87 min
Cast: Kate Nowlin, Rene Auberjonois, Rusty Schwimmer, Tom Lipinski, Kristen Gregerson


Additional TCFF screening:
October 28 | 3:00 pm


I had the honor to speak to both the director Remy Auberjonois and lead actress Kate Nowlin, who also co-wrote the film. I interviewed them separately within the span of a couple of weeks. They are both so wonderful to talk to, I’m so inspired by their amazing talents, humility and generous spirits. I’m so thrilled to see the success of ‘Blood Stripe’, winning the Best Fiction Award at L.A. Film Festival is just the beginning. It couldn’t happen to two nicer people!

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Remy Auberjonois

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Q: What inspired you to that story about PTSD. Is that a personal thing for you is that something that somehow we come across something and then it’s like oh I want to make a story about this.

Remy: Oddly enough, the story was an organic outgrowth from the location in a way. We sort of decided to make a movie, first of all. Then we decided to make a movie on Lake Vermilion and then we were looking around to think about a story that we could tell that could feature Kate in a central role because I knew that I would have her full commitment and she would work all day every day. And I know what a wonderful actor she is. And and in doing that and figuring out what that character could be, we came upon the fact that there are a lot of veterans in that area. Once that opened up for us, then the story sort of took shape. There was been a tremendous amount of a lot of awareness about moral injury, about PTS, about veterans suicide and you know, it was sort of an undeniable aspect and military sexual trauma… there was an undeniable story where we felt that there was room to tell. It also appealed to me in the sense that I saw ways in which he could use the sort of tropes of a thriller film to get inside a sort of paranoid mindset. You know we’re not paranoid but hyper alert. So that aspect appealed to me as there are a lot of movies like that that I’ve really liked. Those that you know create a real sense of unease, and we wanted to try to get inside that.

I felt like the tools of both movies were a useful way to shed some light on that. And because we’ve seen a lot of documentary and we’ve read a lot about this thing that people call PTS or PTSD, we thought that telling a narrative story about it making a dramatic narrative feature about it was another way to contribute to that conversation, to that awareness. We were hardly aware of it except as regular consumers of news, but when we started looking into that character and things that that character might be burdened with, we started to really understand the scope of the really sort of epidemic of this thing. We thought ‘oh yeah this is something that we want to understand more about and we feel like the audience could as well.’

It’s me, Cinematographer Radium Cheung, and Underwater Camera Operator Steve Speers (who is a Minnesota cameraperson). – Photo by Andrew Messer
Remy, cinematographer Radium Cheung, and underwater camera operator Steve Speers (who is a Minnesota cameraperson) – Photo by Andrew Messer

Q: I think the fact that you are focusing on a female combat vet specifically sort of adds another layer of novelty to your film too, because there are so few meaty roles for women as it is. I know that’s what appealed to me immediately, I mean aside from the military aspect of it. And I’m sure it appeals to others as well.

Remy: Yeah, you know I’m a male filmmaker, and for me I didn’t really see a difference. I worked with a very high profile wonderful actress. At one point she was telling us, she was talking to a filmmaker friend of hers: ‘just write the part for a man and I’ll play it.’ And Kate and I in approaching this film, we wrote the part just for a person. It’s complicated… you know she does things that you don’t see women doing a lot of, but that women do. She’s chopping wood, she’s mowing the lawn, etc. She has a husband and then she has the potential connection with another man. She’d get to fight, you know. Not to give things away, but you know, we just wrote it for a good complex character for Kate who is a powerful, physically very strong woman and an emotionally deep actor.

Q: What a great combination, yeah. One of the reviews I read was from Variety, and the reviewer said that it’s kind of rare that you’re not using the method of flashback in this. And so narratively was that something that’s deliberate that you want the story to be in present but of course implies that something has happened in the past?

Remy: Yes. You know it’s interesting it was something that was unintentional in some ways and then became very important to us, as we’re going ahead. We’re going we actually have written an event that happened in the past and that was a factor of time and money that we didn’t get to shoot it. It was something that could happen in a totally discreet location. So we kept it out of our principal photography because our budgetary and time constraints were such that we couldn’t get that, in a way that satisfied me.

And then as we were looking at the footage and telling the story and cutting it, it really felt that there were there so much thing unsaid, I mean this is not a dialogue-heavy movie. Having that event felt like it would be incredibly limiting to what the audience’s understanding could be. I’ve since spoken to someone who made a comment about that very fact and said they appreciated that [the trauma] wasn’t pinpointed to one event. Kate was very interested in these people who were exposed to war time, in a foreign country for a year or 18 months, you know that kind of heightened experience is ongoing, extended… so what is that like. So to sort of narrow it down to say it was this one thing that created this condition is very limiting. There’s lots of things. Her relationship with a man in the film is very fraught. Maybe there was something there. She has some physical impact from the war that she carries. Maybe it’s that. We didn’t want to limit it. Plus, to shoot that [scene], it’s as if we’re trying to be a different kind of movie than we were. I had a scene that I could do that I could accomplish. We had it written and I knew how I was going to shoot it. But I eventually thought, you know Hollywood has made war movies. We’ve seen The Hurt Locker, American Sniper, we’ve seen a lot of great depictions of these wars and wars in general. Let’s trust that the audience has these associations and we’ll bring them in with that.

Remy, Kate, and producer Julie Christeas of Tandem Pictures – Photo by Andrew Messer
Remy, Kate, and producer Julie Christeas of Tandem Pictures – Photo by Andrew Messer

Q: I think that’s what they appreciate this reviewer appreciate. It’s like they just you know don’t spoon feed too much. You don’t want it to challenge the audience.

Remy: Yes, we wanted to respect and challenge our audience. I think some people find that infuriating because they want to be told something. And I think some people have really appreciated it. We had a guy on one of our screenings, he said I felt so smart watching this movie because I kept on being forced to make connections, to connect the dots. As a movie goer, I’m usually quite a head of a particular film. I don’t know that anybody is surprised by what happens in our movie, in terms of the sort of outcome insofar as you really know what the outcome is. And you don’t, we don’t make it very explicit.

Q:  For this film, did you talk to anybody like from the military field to make sure you get certain things right?

Remy: You know we did a lot of reading, we did a lot of watching. We also have a female Marine veteran on set with us. But we had already written the script by then and she was great in terms of validating a lot of the right thing. I sent it to that vet but because we weren’t shooting the war. It was a creative, imaginative exploration of the thing. So we watched some wonderful documentaries like the film Lioness, The Invisible War to see stories about female marines. A lot of really wonderful books, there’s one by Sebastian Junger called War. But we wanted to sort of imaginatively take the hallmarks and the symptoms and the sort of generalized story of what those people experience and then imagine it into our location and our story. We wanted it to feel authentic and we’ve been very gratified. You know, Kate spent four months in physical training for the film. We wanted to have a sense of authenticity but we also wanted to not be telling a certain story. And hopefully that that approach is the thing that makes [the subject] a little bit more universal.

Q: I see. It’s a character driven piece so it’s not about a specific event. 

Remy: Exactly. It’s a lot about the performance, about [Kate’s] understanding of it. There’s some of her own experience which she was able to bring to [the role], but she’s also just a very skilled actress and has a lot of technique.

Q: Last question. Is directing something you want to keep doing in the future?

Remy: Yeah I would love to get the opportunity to do it again. I have a couple of different projects in the beginning of story development and we’ll see which one I can get more traction on. I’m very much hoping to direct it again before too long. Maybe another film, and I’d love to direct episodic television actually. There’s a lot of exciting, wonderful thing happening in that medium, but it’s a difficult thing to get into. It’s hard to get a movie made, but at least it’s a discrete thing and in some ways it’s up to you.

Q: Yeah that’s true, but at the same time now it seems like there’s a blending between TV and films now, it’s not a big divide like was before. Lots of TV directors doing major, big-budget films and the other way around.

Remy: Yeah, who knows. We’ll see where it takes me.


Kate Nowlin

katenowlin

Q: What I got from Remy’s was that the story grew organically from the location in Lake Vermilion. So I’m just curious how do you approach that role of the female Marine. I mean do you have any military experience or or was there any research. Do you have to do more to prepare?

Kate: Oh god no, no military experience before. Tremendous research.

Q: How long did it take you to do that? I mean did you have somebody on set?

Kate: I feel like I’m still doing research. I started when we started writing in October and we were shooting in August. I was doing research the whole, the whole time we were writing and learning about the subject matter, which evolved organically. Once we just decided on the subject matter, we felt obviously a real responsibility to this type of story, as we would to really any story. But this one was, we realized it was a large undertaking and something I knew nothing about, from a strictly military standpoint. In terms of dedication and exploration of her strength and her vulnerability, and just being a human being, I think there’s ways in which we can all relate. So the military part, I did my homework and then eventually yes I met I spoke to a number of servicemen and women. There’s one in particular, a woman named Amber Patton who’s a Marine herself.

Q: Is her last name spelled like the famous general?

Kate: Yes Patton, like the general. She’s a Marine veteran, USMC got her in. And she was on site. We met here in Minnesota and then we offered her I said ‘would you read the script and consult with us?’ We had some questions and we talked about some story points, and then I said ‘what are you up to this summer?’ As she was interested to get more into it. I mean she was in the film industry but she wanted to keep working on that, and so we said if you want a job, we’d love to have you on our set as a production assistant. So she came on as a production assistant but obviously she served as a consultant. She just was like my right hand she was, an assistant to me and in many ways and in the creation of the story.

Q: That’s cool because you’d want to make sure that the story is truthful and accurate and she’d have the experience.

Kate: Well there were there were things that we could research, but there were very practical things about like how the uniform is worn, things like that. She’s been an invaluable part of the process, and she’s still you know, we’re still close and and she was an invaluable part of the team.

Kate in a scene on Lake Vermilion
Kate in a scene on Lake Vermilion

Q: As for Lake Vermilion, it seems that you both wanted to shoot the film there and it works because there’s a lot of veterans there, so that makes sense.

Kate: Yes, there’s a tremendous amount of veterans. There’s a woman in the town, when we were just considering that idea [of filming at Lake Vermilion], she had just been named soldier of the year by Army Times in Cook Minnesota. And so we kind of thought… even though we didn’t tell her story but we wanted to give a little nod to keep moving in that direction.

Q: Remy mentioned that you both wanted to add to the conversation about the condition of PTSD. Tell us a bit more about that.

Kate: We want to add to the conversation about the traumatic aspect, but also really more about the female soldier, the female Marine. It’s rarely depicted even though they make up about 15 percent of our military, 20 percent of our reserves. So they should be more represented. I think as we were writing there was this great New York Times op-ed piece saying why aren’t we telling the story [of female soldiers] in film. So we were like, ‘we’re writing something, we’re doing our part, we’re trying to do our part!’ So it was so interesting how it evolved, but yes we were trying to add to a conversation about a lot of things… women in media, how women are portrayed in the media. The female fighter, the female warrior, representing them, representing veterans issues, across the board. You know, so we kept sort of packing the bag.

Q: That’s great. I just think female driven narrative is still rare, which you would think by 2016 that’s not the case. But yet it is. That is why on my blog I always champion female-driven stories, especially independent stories. I mean if it’s something like Wonder Woman or whatever, those already get the studio backing, but the smaller stuff I really want to support. So I’m grateful you are working on this. 

Kate: Yes me, too. You know, it wasn’t our intention, conscious intention when we started. I mean we know Romney wants to direct and I was a resource of his. But it evolved into that and it became a very significant to us too. And I was aware that there was a lack, just in the scripts that I was being presented or the roles that I would read. I was just like ‘can we create someone full-fledged, someone who’s fully-dimensional… who happens to be a Marine.

Q: I was just wondering as I was reading the cast list. Your character is described only as Our Sergeant. Is it deliberate that there’s no specific name given to your character?

Kate: Yeah it is. It is deliberate. We want her to stand in for a lot of people like her, to be able to sort of let the audience project a lot onto her. Honestly, creatively, as we’re working the name just never came. We never had a name and it always just felt like that there’s a sort of space around her character so people could project whatever they want to. Not necessarily a name but that she is, in some ways, unaccounted for and that she’s nameless.

Q: So the fact that she is nameless is almost a message in itself.

Kate: I think so yeah I think so. And we actually, there was one point when we made her uniform. So on the one hand she’s standing in for someone’s wife, sister, daughter, we keep that open. Once you’re in the military and you have a title, that’s an important part of the identity. That comes first, in that mindset you’re committing your life, you know, to serving your country and then that is an important part of the identity. So that felt like that was going to be an important part, maybe more important than the personal identification. So when we she was in uniform at one point we created a name tag that we chose to be nameless in Norwegian because I’m Scandinavian and there’s a lot of Scandinavian people in Northen Minnesota. At one point we did choose a name. So it was Navnløs, which is Norwegian for nameless.

Kate, 1st. Assistant Camera Yousuke Kiname, 2nd AC Chris Savage (Minnesota based) – Photo by Andrew Messer
Kate, 1st. Assistant Camera Yousuke Kiname, 2nd AC Chris Savage (Minnesota based) – Photo by Andrew Messer

Q: Now this question, it’s up to you whether you want to speak to this or not but given the subject matter, I was wondering if you have dealt with something similar to your character and whether that impact your approach to the role or not.

Kate: No I really haven’t. Not to that degree. But I think as we’ve said, trauma is a universal experience. It doesn’t have to be military-related. So I can understand it, but no, I have not dealt with it, nowhere near anything she had going through. It’s interesting because I’ve been asked that question a lot and I think that. I guess my answer is no, but I understand what I understand about struggle. It’s my job to be able to portray someone who’s different than I am. That I have to investigate and find my way in the way that I can to create something in an authentic way. I think there are universal things that we know and that we share and feel as human beings and that’s my job to explore that. Because I was writing her, co-writing and co-creating her, I was able to track her so to speak.

Q: Cool. So how was that process when you’re writing. Co-writing with Remy. I mean how do you do that division work goes?

Kate: I loved the writing. We really just sat across the table from each other and sort of plotted things out. Once we got off the note cards you know at first we put everything on no cards and then we sort of sat down. We each had a computer in front of us and we talk through scenes, we created dialogue. I would sort of think about her voice when she did speak. Remy was really good at writing the sort of what we saw, the breakdown the scenes. The emotional journey, in some ways was hard to do because it was all brand new. And because we were doing it in such a really a relatively short period of time. it’s hard to kind of understand or quantify what that experience was. We were just sitting down every day for three hours doing what we could.

Q: How about the physical training. I mean you kind of have to bulk up a bit don’t you? I mean you probably already are a fitness enthusiast.

Kate: Yes I’m naturally athletic. Being forced to play sports growing up and I was a dancer as a kid and all of that. And then of course in graduate school or whatever you do a lot of movement training and stuff. But no, I work from probably about three and a half months, not a tremendous period of time but I work six days a week. I worked with a trainer once a week starting in May, June, July, August, so about three and a half months. That’s on how to get into the role, that’s a mindset. I had to transform my metabolism, my metabolic system. I was inspired by how strong they are and the rigors that they go through in order to become a Marine. And so I knew I had to do something I hadn’t done before and get a kind of mental toughness and physical strength also to set an example, to represent how strong these women are. I just want to create a different portrait of a female in the film. Something we don’t get to see very often.

Q: So now that you’ve written a film that you start in, what’s next for you? Do you want to keep doing it, being a content creator on top of being an actress?

A: Absolutely. Oh that’s you can’t go back. I feel like it’s it’s a hard thing to come back from once you start oncw you start making your own stuff. It’s more challenging in ways but you get to say more… it’s a much more dimensional creative space and I find that incredibly gratifying. I have never been happier from an artistic point of view as when I was making this thing, as we’ve been making this thing. As hard as it’s been, it’s so fulfilling so. And I found that over the course of it that I have things I’d like to say. I really enjoy the writing. Not like a soapbox, but I think that there are I think that there’s room for all sorts of stories and I’m drawn to what I’m drawn to. I like the research, I like immersing myself in new world from scratch.

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THANK YOU so much Remy & Kate for chatting with me about Blood Stripe!


Hope you enjoy the interview! If you’ve seen Blood Stripe, I’d love to hear what you think!