Just two days away until Twin Cities Film Fest’s MN Shorts Showcase event! Today we’ve got yet another Q&A with a talented MN filmmaker whose film Classic. Becky. Party will be screening on Wednesday night (more info below).
I met first met John at the TCFF Gala in September 2017, thanks to his creative partner Jay Ness (one of the excellent camera crews who worked on my short film Hearts Want). John and Jay are the owners of CutJaw Film Co., a Minnesota-based film production company that’s done a number of short films such as Curse of the Invisible Werewolf and Bobby’s Run Off.
Check out my Q&A on his female-led comedy drama starring Rachel Weber, Larissa Gritti, and Anna Stranz, filmed entirely in Minneapolis.
Becky has arranged every detail for what’s supposed to be the perfect party. The food, the ambiance, the decor is all set, all that’s missing are the guests.
Q: What inspires you to write Classic Becky Party? The premise sounds quite personal. Was it?
Classic. Becky. Party. really came from an insecurity that a lot of people I think have which is what do you do when you throw a party and no one shows up. It has happened every time I’ve thrown any sort of party. Fortunately none of those have ever been as disastrous as Becky’s party. But it’s definitely a kind of funny kind of sad scenario that lots of people identify with. An empty party is a level of loneliness that audiences can really empathize with.
Becky is the kind of person that desperately wants everyone to think she has her shit together, so it was fun to see how much she could unravel and lower the facade she presents to those around her. Having her sisters arrive to witness her embarrassment just adds fuel to the fire.
Q: You’ve written quite a number of shorts and you often direct your own work. What’s the biggest challenge for you as a director to do that?
The biggest challenge to being both writer and director on a project is you have one less person to bounce ideas off of. Film is a collaborative medium so it’s good to have input from your cast and crew, experts in their field, so when you’re directing your own script it’s even more essential to listen to those collaborators. Of course it’s a two sided coin and there’s something incredibly liberating and fulfilling about taking an idea to the page and then taking that page to the screen.
Q: Who are some of your filmmaking influences? Specifically for dramas.
When tackling a drama I think it’s incredibly important to find moments of levity and catharsis for the audience, so any writer/director that can incorporate that balance into their work is someone that I gravitate towards.
A few filmmakers that come to mind are Billy Wilder, Mike Mills, the Coen Bros., and on the writer front definitely Greta Gerwig and Aaron Sorkin. I’m sure there are a million more, but those are the first that come to mind.
Q:Your film was set in a single location (an apt), what’s the challenges you faced in filming in one confined space like that? On the flip side, what are the main biggest strength?
The biggest challenge of a single location film is finding ways to keep the location feeling fresh. Luckily the loft we filmed in had a few distinct areas, such as the kitchen, the living room, and the dining room. This allowed us several options for us to block out the scenes in. It was also important to keep our characters moving around the space so that the audience doesn’t feel claustrophobic.
The biggest benefit of a single location though is saving on time and budget. Once we “moved in” to the space we were able to stay put for the two days it took to film. We didn’t have to worry about loading out and loading in to another location. Using a single location also brings a theatrical quality to the film. It’s a script that could easily be adapted to the stage.
Q: I love your three all-female cast. Would you tell us a bit about the casting process? Is it especially tricky since they’re playing sisters?
The casting process for this film was remarkably simple. I was familiar with the work of Rachel, Larissa, and Anna and knew instantly that they would work well as sisters. From our first pre-production meeting, it was obvious that the three of them shared a rare bond that was going to translate well to the screen. I was more interested in finding three performers that shared chemistry than three performers that looked like sisters. For me it was all about creating a believable relationship and rapport between these characters and Rachel, Larissa, and Anna were an essential part of that process.
This Is Home is screening on
Wednesday May 30th at 7:30 PM
Many filmmakers, cast and crew will be present representing their films and answering your questions.
John is a Minneapolis, MN based screenwriter and film director and co-founder of CutJaw Film Co.His directorial debut, Bobby’s Run Off, premiered at the Twin Cities Film Festival in 2016 and has since screened in multiple film festivals and featured on filmshortage.com.
In 2017, John was awarded a Jerome Foundation Artist Grant in support of his first feature length film Only Dance Can Save Us. Slated to begin production in 2018, aiming for a 2019 release. CutJaw Film Co. is currently working on a sci-fi thriller feature film Dark Cloud, also scheduled to be released next year.
It’s time for another Twin Cities Film Fest INSIDER SERIES event! One of the perks of being a member of TCFF is you get to see various indie films on the big screen AND also get to partake in the Q&A with the filmmakers afterwards.
This February, TCFF is showcasing a dramatic short filmed in Ely, a beautiful town in the Boundary Waters area in Northern Minnesota. Thanks to TCFF’s managing director Bill Cooper and filmmaker Molly Katagiri, who worked as script supervisor on the film, for arranging the interview with writer/director Brian Austin.
Dillon (Jared Ivers) has been moved again. A familiar life of being passed from one household to the next, but this time it’s much worse. Dillon struggles with speaking up, in order to expose his abuser. He reaches out to any adult that may hear ; but will anyone really listen?
This event will take place on Monday, Feb. 19 7:30PM* SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRES 1625 West End Blvd St. Louis Park, MN 55416
RUSH LINE tickets are still available, be sure to arrive early!
What’s the inspiration for this film? Is there something personal in the story in any way?
I went through a terrible upbringing and I wanted to relive it and put it on screen.
Tell me a bit about your creative process. Did you write the script? If so, how long did it take you to write it and how did Nobody’s Son project come together?
I am a somewhat good writer and with my other writers Charles Dutka and Gerald Dahling, I composed a very good script that I needed to make as a film. I wrote the script myself with Gerald Dahling for LA Film School for my Associates in Film in LA, California Hollywood.2 I had to take two script writing classes and my first script my teacher didn’t like and I only had a few days to finish the second one so I came up with my childhood experiences growing up because it was easy to remember those trying days and I wanted to have a interesting and compelling story to tell.
Would you tell me a bit about filming in Ely? I believe you went to school in that town?
I decided to make the film where the events happened initially… I knew it would be more expensive but money was no big deal. I went to Ely Elementary school till 2nd grade then moved to a nearby town .. my experiences in ely were mostly bad.. especially since I was raised by my cousin and her husband.. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.. and it was a very difficult childhood.. the only thing that helped me escape mentally was baseball. I turned out to be a great baseball player (pitcher) at a young age and that was my love.
How long was principal photography? What’s the biggest challenges for you as an indie filmmaker?
It took 9 days to shoot .. we were up by 5 and stopped around 1 or 2 in the morning.. the biggest challenge was to feel confident in my abilities as a director.. I was relying on a Assistant Director for too much of the shoot because I didn’t believe I could do some of the things necessary to make a quality movie. As I progressed through the days, I decided to fire the AD and work by myself and my DP and script writer to help come up with he shot lists for the next day. I felt very comfortable directing after I fired that AD… ha ha 🙂
Lastly, what’s next for you? Specifically in regards to Nobody’s Son, or in general about your filmmaking career?
I am making a feature finally.. It will most likely be filmed in LA and should take a few months to shoot.. it will be a very expensive film to make but sometimes you can’t skimp on quality and need to pay for what you get in the movie industry. I am still trying to pitch Nobody’s Son as a series on TV or Netflix.. We have been with my script writers.. writing several episodes of the tv series already and plan on pitching it soon as a pilot first for tv.
Saturday was a jam-packed day for me. I’m bummed that I missed the early Filmmaker Brunch as I wasn’t feeling well so I overslept (hey bloggers are humans too!), but my morning started with two great film panels, part of TCFF’s freeEducational Programs!
The first panel was on Making, Distributing, Marketing & Watching: What’s the Impact of Digital? at 11:00am
Like many industries, the business of TV and Film distribution is certainly changing due to digital – whether you’re watching on your phone or tablet, dropping the cable package, making a web series or seeing a film online at the same time it’s in theaters…the landscape is shifting quickly.
I learned quite a few things from this very insightful panel… these are just small sampling:
Don’t create films in a vacuum
Make a beautiful film you believe in and passionate about, but also marketable
Marketing/PR is critical for film distribution even if your film is already on iTunes or some other platform, simply because most people don’t even know it’s there
The second panel is one I’ve been looking forward to as I’ve become a filmmaker myself this year…
Film Fatales in the Twin Cities
Members from the newest chapter of this global collective of female feature film directors discuss the power of collaboration in the fight for gender equality within the film industry.
It’s so inspiring to learn from Lisa Blackstone, Melissa Butts, Norah Shapiro,Missy Whiteman, and moderator Melody Gilbert. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences making films, and for inspiring aspiring filmmakers like me to keep on keeping on and not to give up on my dream of making my feature film one day!
Here’s my quick thoughts on the two films I saw on Day 4…
This is the kind of heart-wrenching films that’s hard to watch at times, but you’re glad you did. Inspired by true events, it’s a story of a poverty-stricken young mother forced to move out of her condemned house. Anchored by a harrowing, bravura performance by Auden Thornton, the film transports you into her painful reality of a life and forces you to wake up from your comfortable confines of your own.
The protagonist single mother Angie can’t seem to catch a break… taking care of her toddler son and alcoholic, overbearing mother with only sixty five dollars to her name. Slowly it’s revealed she has been abused as a child. As if that wasn’t tough enough, she realized he’s the only person with money she felt she could turn to.
Writer/director Harris Doran made you truly empathize with Angie despite some of her questionable decisions. It’s a truly gritty, upsetting and even haunting film that made you want to scream for the injustices the character suffers.
Spoiler alert (highlight to read) One thing I wish I didn’t see was the topless scene towards the end, given the topic against abuse and sexual objectification of women. Yes perhaps it’s a deliberate choice of the filmmaker, but I feel that there are SO many ways to show what the character does/show without actually showing it to the audience. It’d still be just as impactful IMHO because the character (and likely the actress playing her) has gone through so much in the film. That’s just my honest personal opinion anyways, others might feel differently about this.
In any case, it’s a well-made, phenomenally-acted piece that should be seen. I sure hope to see Aiden in more films as she’s definitely one of the best actresses I’ve seen in my years of covering TCFF.
It’s October, so Winter is definitely coming soon. No, I’m not looking forward to snow at all, especially during my commute. But watching this film makes me appreciate just how beautiful is the Minnesota Wintry landscape. The film centers on a midwestern matriarchy guiding 12-year-old Florence through the rite-of-passage of her first deer hunt.
Bijou Abas plays the young protagonist and this is her feature film debut. I learned that she was in an episode of In An Instant with Hearts Want’s lead actor Peter Hansen back in 2016. I thought she did a wonderful job giving a reserved but assured performance, where most of the time she has to communicate only with her facial expression.
I have to say being that I’m not into hunting at all (can’t even hurt a squirrel!), all I had to avert my eyes during all the deer skinning scenes. The scene of Florence all alone in the woods after she killed her first deer is also tough to watch for me. The rite-of-passage story is nicely-told, as well as the multi-generation familial connections. The story is supposedly told from Florence’s point of view, but I find the film’s lacking a sharp focus. Apart from her aunt Mia (Heidi Fellner), the supporting characters didn’t seem fully fleshed out. At 104 minutes, I also think the editing could’ve been much tighter.
Overall it’s a gorgeous film with a quiet grace. Filmed in Hibbing, Northern Minnesota, at times the film is so beautiful it could double as a Wintry skiing resort commercial. Kudos to writer/director Karl Jacobs (who also played uncle Craig) for creating a compelling MN family drama with a strong young woman that many girls can aspire to. At the Q&A afterwards, Bijou seemed really delighted to play the lead role and sounds like she, as well as everyone in the cast/crew, enjoyed making this, too!
What’s in store for Day 6
Boy, Monday is jam-packed with a ton of amazing films!! Four strong documentaries – ABU, Legends of the Road, Purple Dreams and She Started It. There’s also three feature films, Blue Balloons, Butterfly Caught and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
It’s always fun being able to wear my film journalist hat once in a while. So whenever there’s an opportunity to chat with a filmmaker, whether locally or from other parts of the world, I always jump at the chance. This time, we’ve got something special because I get to do the interview on a different format… on video! Thanks to Minnesota-based filmmaker C.J. Renner and producer Sasha Michelle, as well as four of GUNN cast members for taking the time to chat with me last Friday afternoon.
I always love a good noir. GUNN is a gangster crime drama unlike anything I’ve ever seen. From the way the story is written to the deliberate surrealistic production style, it’s so refreshing to see a classic story done in an unconventional way.
All Elston Gunn ever needed to survive was a little luck and his Tommy gun. But when he discovers his whole world is just a staged play, he must dodge not only cops but stagehands… he must save not only his crumbling empire, but his last hold on reality.
There’s a lot to like about GUNN. The film is quite stylish with great camera angles and lighting for maximum effect. Despite the limited indie budget, Renner and his team are very creative and resourceful in constructing the minimalistic sets to support the narrative. Right from the fantastic Mondrian style opening credits, this is a cool, stylish film. I like the deliberate dreamy/surreal quality which fits the themes and storyline well, and he’s got a terrific ensemble cast to bring his story to life.
Andrew Stecker portrays the inner conflict of Elston nicely. The fact that he doesn’t look like a typical gangster works in the story’s favor, and I like the vulnerability he brings to the role. Amanda Day and Anna Stranz are two wonderful talents I’ve seen in previous films before, glad to see each have a decent character arc in the film. Richard Keats as the mob boss and Noah Gillett as Elston’s closest crony, as well as Peter Christian Hansen and Tyson Lietz as the two cops hot on the gangsters’ tail, are all terrific in their roles.
Some films that are shot mostly on set sometimes felt constricting, but that’s not the case here. Once you accept the surrealistic nature, the film flows quite nicely. The creative use of lighting and camera work create some striking imagery on screen. Because of the minimalist set, the costumes play a huge part in conveying the Prohibition era and boy, do the cast look fabulous in 1930s outfits. I love the satin dresses, fur accessories on the women… and the guys look oh-so-dapper in vests, suspenders and Fedoras.
I can’t write this review without mentioning the wonderful music by Travis Anderson, one of the biggest strengths of the film. The jazzy score and some of the songs performed in the film are not only catchy, but they add so much to the mood and atmosphere.
The pacing could be a bit more dynamic, some of the heavy-dialog scenes, as the scene between Keats and Stecker in the middle of the film felt a little too long. But really it’s a small quibble in an otherwise a smart, enjoyable debut film. Kudos to C.J. for coming up with such a cool story, but also in executing it in such a clever way.
The film is now up on Amazon… FREE for prime subscribers! Just search “gunn” wherever you watch Amazon, or click banner below:
Interview video with writer/director C.J. Renner:
In my 7+ years covering Minnesota films and filmmakers as a blogger, I’m even more impressed by the local talents we’ve got in this town. C.J. is definitely a filmmaker to watch and I truly hope he continues to write and make more films in the future!
Interview video with cast members Andrew Stecker, Noah Gillett, Anna Stranz and Peter Christian Hansen:
It was so fun interviewing the cast! It was so great meeting Andrew for the first time just before the interview. Peter & Noah are both in my short film Hearts Want, so it was lovely seeing them again. I had met Anna last year at Twin Cities Film Fest and was impressed by her performance in Miles Between Us, surely she’ll have a fruitful acting career ahead of her.
I’m really grateful to everyone for taking the time out of their busy schedule to do this on a Friday afternoon. In fact, Peter had just got done filming another MN indie film shortly before the interview!
Thanks so much C.J. Renner + Sasha Michelle + the GUNN cast
for the delightful interview!
I first met Minnesota filmmaker Jesse Mast when he was premiering his action thriller short The Just starring Michael Madsen back in 2015 at TCFF. I then met him again at one of the TCFF after parties when I first heard him talking about the idea for Kid West.
So I was thrilled that Twin Cities Film Fest is presenting this movie as part of its INSIDER SERIES event. I’m always intrigued by the process of filmmaking, especially indie films now that I’ve dipped my toes into making my first short film. I have even more appreciation and respect for indie filmmakers and am always grateful for the opportunity to learn from them.
A young spitfire cowgirl, and her coolheaded Native American friend, race a gang of neighborhood bullies to find a mysterious treasure supposedly having mystical powers.
This event will take place on Monday, July 31 7 PM – 10 PM The Heights Theatre
3951 Central Ave NE,
Columbia Heights, MN 55421
You went from doing an action thriller to a family adventure film. What’s the inspiration behind this movie?
Somehow I knew I’ll be asked this question. The short answer is: my wife. She told me a while back, if you want to win over my heart with a movie. Give me kids or charming old people. Some movies combine them, sometimes it’s one or the other. I immediately thought about doing a Western. So I have an idea for a modern Western with kids. That started to develop a little bit. Overall what I wanted to do as a filmmaker is take the spirit of films that I love and repackage them with original characters for new audiences. So taking inspiration from Indiana Jones, Kid West was created.
So this film is basically a combination of what my wife said to me and my desire to make films that were birthed from films that I love.
So did you go on to write the script once the concept is developed? I know you worked with another writer for this film?
Yes, his name is Nick Bain. He lives in LA but originally from Minnesota. We had written another script together the year before that we thought ‘oh hopefully we’ll get to make this into a film one day’ But when that one had to be put on the shelf, I asked if he’d be willing to write Kid West with me. I don’t like writing first drafts. I’m such a perfectionist and so much has to change so I asked him, ‘hey would you consider writing the first drafts?’ He wrote a lot of really good stuff and then I went in and change what needed to change. I’m really glad we worked together on this. I find that working a script by yourself is really hard, so having him to collaborate with was really great.
How long ago did you finish the script?
The script was finalized in February 2016. Then we shot it in the Summer of 2016. So the script was totally done five months before we started shooting.
What’s the process from the time the script is finished to shooting the film? Five months doesn’t seem like a long time of pre-prod for a feature.
We did some pre-production that happened before that. The most important part is raising the funds to make this movie.
So can you talk a bit about how you raised the funds for your film?
Yeah I raised nearly all the funds (about 80%) through donations from friends and family. These are people who want to see me succeed. They’d say ‘here’s money towards your film.’ A few people gave a large gift, some are smaller. So we didn’t go through Indiegogo or Kickstarter, I mean there’s nothing wrong with those things. But I thought if I were to raise money for this, it’d be from people I know, those who believe in me. So I raised half the budget by the time the script was done. Then I knew I needed to raise the rest by the time we finished shooting. So I had raised enough to film it, to hire the actors, etc. While I was doing post production, I raised more money for that. Once the script was done, that’s when I worked on casting. Then when casting was done, then I worked on pre-production stuff.
That’s a good segue as my next question is casting. I love the young actress Mary Bair who’s the lead of your film. How did you find her?
I’m friends with a SAG actor by the name of Bruce Bohne and I went and saw him in To Kill A Mockingbird at the Guthrie in the Fall of 2015. I saw a lot of young talented actors in the play. So I ended up casting four out of the six kids in the movie from that play, including Mary, who played Scout in the play. There were a few other adult actors from there that I ended up casting as well. So anyway, Bruce was friends with Mary’s mom and I said, ‘hey can you get me in touch with her?’ So I contacted her about my interest in casting Mary in my film. I basically sat down with her and offered her the role right then and there. Seeing someone perform in something is a great audition. You just knew they could do [this role in my film] when I saw her in this play.
How about Ashley Rose Montondo? How did you come to cast her?
Ashley was also part of To Kill A Mockingbird. So Bruce, Ashley, Ansa Akyea, Regina Williams were all in this play. When I saw them perform I was like, ‘oh they’re great!’
Where was the film shot in the Twin Cities?
It’s mostly shot in the east side of the cities near Wisconsin. In a town called Bayport. Bayport is a cute little quiet town. I have a childhood friend who lives there growing up so we had some fun memories there. But I wanted the look of the film to look like what it would look like when I was growing up. I wanted a nostalgic look of a town. I tell people that Kid West is like The Sandlot meet Raiders For The Lost Ark with 12 year-old girls. So when I said The Sandlot versus The Goonies or The Little Rascals which was fun but a little silly, but The Sandlot has a lot of charm and a lot of depth. It’s not as ‘adult’ as Stand By Me, which has a lot of mature themes. Kid West is more lighthearted. But The Sandlot, you still take it seriously. You care about the people, they’re very real, very charming. It’s lighter in its tone but it’s not silly.
What do you love about making Kid West?
I like that there’s a lot of humor in Kid West. And that’s something that, after I made The Just, which I enjoyed, I like the action in it, but there’s barely any moment of levity in the whole thing. I think the audience loves to laugh. When they see a movie, they want to feel something and maybe the most they want to feel is a release of laughter. Even when I’m watching a drama, when there’s an unexpected thing that comes up, it’s always a laugh out loud moment because it gives you a breather from the seriousness. I feel like The Just didn’t have any of that, it didn’t have any breather, it’s all suspense. But with Kid West, there is suspense and moments of serious action but it’s action that made you grin y’know, and the humor is strong. I’m looking forward to the premiere and hopefully there’ll be moments of laughter from the audience.
Lastly, your film will be available in Amazon in August. What has been the challenges for you in getting distribution?
What I’ve learned about Amazon is that they try to make it very easy for independent filmmakers to get their films out to the audience. Over the last six to eight months I’ve emailed them many times, asking specific questions. They’ve been very clear, very quick in their responses. The difficulty for any independent filmmakers has always been ‘how do you get your film out? How do you make some money?’ and there are different ways to go, but when another filmmaking friend told me about Amazon, I thought it was a good idea. I mean, you don’t sell your rights to them, it doesn’t cost anything and when you submit your film, for every sale, for every rental, they split the cost 50/50. So they get half, we get half. For every stream we get a little bit of money. I would love to continue to choose Amazon in the future… I think it’s a great avenue for this, I mean everybody knows Amazon. As soon as your film is on there, you’re putting the film into someone’s pocket. They can watch it on their phone, their tablet, etc. I mean the reach is amazing.
Next Tuesday, TCFF is hosting a screenplay reading BETTA FISH written by Josh Barsness, as part of its Insider Series events. This informal reading serves as a kick-off event for the Minnesota film project of the feature length script, it will be performed by a group of professional actors.
When TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper asked me to interview Joshua, I jumped at the chance! The fact that I just had a reading of my first script back in January, it’s always good to chat with fellow screenwriters and get insights on their own creative journey.
Betta Fish is a story that revolves around Danny Bishop, a mischievous, manipulative gambler who is known to be a prodigy con artist. Fresh out of prison and in trouble due to a large debt to Alex, a beautiful, elegant, malicious mob boss queen of the city. Motivated by the pain of her enemies and the destruction of Danny, she swears to kill him and his family if he does not pay his debt, putting Danny on a collision course with old friends and rivals to succeed. This socially progressive story involves a mixture of race and diverse communities, centering on family and the right to equality.
This event will take place: St. Paul Athletic Club Butler’s Bar and Cafe (Second Floor) 340 Cedar Street St. Paul, MN 55101
The event is free and open to the public and will conclude with a short Q&A session with the screenwriter and cast.
How long have you been involved in the film community, specifically as an actor and screenwriter?
It feels like forever, but as an actor five years. As a screenwriter about two years.
How did you come up w/ the idea for the story? Does it have a personal bent on it, what was the inspiration behind it?
I was in between jobs didn’t have much going for me as an actor always was one step away I looked in the mirror and told myself it’s time to do something about it. I sat down at my computer then it hit me like a lightning bolt. The story needed to be socially current but have something to say and give the audience something they haven’t had before. I noticed many issues in contemporary cinema a major one being women do get their fair share. They may get parts but there not good. Writers in Hollywood are incompetent at writing quality parts for women. So due to that I wrote a very exciting and provocative role specifically for a women more importantly a women in charge.
The other inspiration was a lack of character-driven films however it is getting better Moonlight was wonderful. The other driving force was, I’m inspired by other actor, producer, writers like Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, and Denzel Washington. To be in there league would be a great achievement something that always keeps me up at night is pondering whether I will be.
What’s the significance of the name Betta Fish?
The title Betta Fish was inspired by a film called Rumble Fish directed by Francis Ford Coppola based on the book by S.E Hinton. The story revolves around two brothers one of which walks in the others shadow. Furthermore, I used this as an inspiration to draw from for the dynamic between Arthur Bishop and his younger brother Danny Bishop who is the black sheep of the family. In addition, Betta fish fight to the death there can only be one in the same fish tank. This is the main draw of the story. The film will circle around Alex and Danny as they collide against each other in the criminal underworld resulting in a power struggle. Betta fish fight to the death there can only be one. They city they occupy and control serves as their fish tank that theme was inspired by a film called Heat directed by Michael Mann. Essentially he used the city as a third character that helped establish the battle ground and frontier for the protagonist and antagonist to duel over.
You said in the video that this is a socially progressive story that involves people of color, etc. What specifically is the message you would like people to get from your film?
Your film is better off drawing power from diversity then not. Whitewashing in Hollywood is an issue that we are tackling head on it’s the only way. The message is simple our film is flipping things on their head to make things right. Our film celebrates social change and diversity not necessarily to be rebellious but because it’s the right thing to do. And sometimes doing the right thing is the hardest thing, but I have no fear.
What are your plans in regards to the film, are you planning on having it shot here locally or somewhere else in the US?
I would love to shoot in the Twin Cities that’s the goal! There’s plenty of untapped beautiful locations here that I have in mind. However, it is possible we shoot somewhere else.
Since your film deals with gambling, what are some of films about gambling or game-playing for money that have inspired you?
The Hustler starring Paul Newman no questions asked. One of the characters in the film Danny Bishop is based off of Paul Newman’s character “Fast Eddie Felson” from the film. Both characters share the same theme that their natural raw talent at times is simultaneously their weakness which is something as humans we struggle with but rarely ever identify with. As far as the climax is concerned it’s purely inspired by the film The Cincinnati Kid starring the King Of Cool Steve McQueen. It’s an excellent film that introduces the two opposing forces and builds to a terrific climax for the final card game and is executed perfectly shot by shot.
In one sentence, what would you say to people to convince them to come to the reading as well as support your film?
If you want to be part of a cause that will bring people together then attend our reading and please support our film.
Thanks Joshua for talking to me about the creative journey of Betta Fish.
Every year Twin Cities Film Fest selects a social cause to bring to light and this year the subject of the Changemaker series is veteran support. Five powerful films paint a picture of what our vets face post-combat and foster important discussions around how to better serve those who’ve given us their all, which starts with BLOOD STRIPE.
A female Marine veteran, battling unseen wounds from her recent service in Afghanistan, flees her suburban life in search of solace and escape in the North Woods.
Directed by: Remy Auberjonois Written by: Remy Auberjonois & Kate Nowlin Runtime: 87 min Cast: Kate Nowlin, Rene Auberjonois, Rusty Schwimmer, Tom Lipinski, Kristen Gregerson
Additional TCFF screening:
October 28 | 3:00 pm
I had the honor to speak to both the director Remy Auberjonois and lead actress Kate Nowlin, who also co-wrote the film. I interviewed them separately within the span of a couple of weeks. They are both so wonderful to talk to, I’m so inspired by their amazing talents, humility and generous spirits. I’m so thrilled to see the success of ‘Blood Stripe’, winning the Best Fiction Award at L.A. Film Festival is just the beginning. It couldn’t happen to two nicer people!
Q: What inspired you to that story about PTSD. Is that a personal thing for you is that something that somehow we come across something and then it’s like oh I want to make a story about this.
Remy:Oddly enough, the story was an organic outgrowth from the location in a way. We sort of decided to make a movie, first of all. Then we decided to make a movie on Lake Vermilion and then we were looking around to think about a story that we could tell that could feature Kate in a central role because I knew that I would have her full commitment and she would work all day every day. And I know what a wonderful actor she is. And and in doing that and figuring out what that character could be, we came upon the fact that there are a lot of veterans in that area. Once that opened up for us, then the story sort of took shape. There was been a tremendous amount of a lot of awareness about moral injury, about PTS, about veterans suicide and you know, it was sort of an undeniable aspect and military sexual trauma… there was an undeniable story where we felt that there was room to tell. It also appealed to me in the sense that I saw ways in which he could use the sort of tropes of a thriller film to get inside a sort of paranoid mindset. You know we’re not paranoid but hyper alert. So that aspect appealed to me as there are a lot of movies like that that I’ve really liked. Those that you know create a real sense of unease, and we wanted to try to get inside that.
I felt like the tools of both movies were a useful way to shed some light on that. And because we’ve seen a lot of documentary and we’ve read a lot about this thing that people call PTS or PTSD, we thought that telling a narrative story about it making a dramatic narrative feature about it was another way to contribute to that conversation, to that awareness. We were hardly aware of it except as regular consumers of news, but when we started looking into that character and things that that character might be burdened with, we started to really understand the scope of the really sort of epidemic of this thing. We thought ‘oh yeah this is something that we want to understand more about and we feel like the audience could as well.’
Q: I think the fact that you are focusing on a female combat vet specifically sort of adds another layer of novelty to your film too, because there are so few meaty roles for women as it is. I know that’s what appealed to me immediately, I mean aside from the military aspect of it. And I’m sure it appeals to others as well.
Remy:Yeah, you know I’m a male filmmaker, and for me I didn’t really see a difference. I worked with a very high profile wonderful actress. At one point she was telling us, she was talking to a filmmaker friend of hers: ‘just write the part for a man and I’ll play it.’ And Kate and I in approaching this film, we wrote the part just for a person. It’s complicated… you know she does things that you don’t see women doing a lot of, but that women do. She’s chopping wood, she’s mowing the lawn, etc. She has a husband and then she has the potential connection with another man. She’d get to fight, you know. Not to give things away, but you know, we just wrote it for a good complex character for Kate who is a powerful, physically very strong woman and an emotionally deep actor.
Q: What a great combination, yeah. One of the reviews I read was from Variety, and the reviewer said that it’s kind of rare that you’re not using the method of flashback in this. And so narratively was that something that’s deliberate that you want the story to be in present but of course implies that something has happened in the past?
Remy:Yes. You know it’s interesting it was something that was unintentional in some ways and then became very important to us, as we’re going ahead. We’re going we actually have written an event that happened in the past and that was a factor of time and money that we didn’t get to shoot it. It was something that could happen in a totally discreet location. So we kept it out of our principal photography because our budgetary and time constraints were such that we couldn’t get that, in a way that satisfied me.
And then as we were looking at the footage and telling the story and cutting it, it really felt that there were there so much thing unsaid, I mean this is not a dialogue-heavy movie. Having that event felt like it would be incredibly limiting to what the audience’s understanding could be. I’ve since spoken to someone who made a comment about that very fact and said they appreciated that [the trauma] wasn’t pinpointed to one event. Kate was very interested in these people who were exposed to war time, in a foreign country for a year or 18 months, you know that kind of heightened experience is ongoing, extended… so what is that like. So to sort of narrow it down to say it was this one thing that created this condition is very limiting. There’s lots of things. Her relationship with a man in the film is very fraught. Maybe there was something there. She has some physical impact from the war that she carries. Maybe it’s that. We didn’t want to limit it. Plus, to shoot that [scene], it’s as if we’re trying to be a different kind of movie than we were. I had a scene that I could do that I could accomplish. We had it written and I knew how I was going to shoot it. But I eventually thought, you know Hollywood has made war movies. We’ve seen The Hurt Locker, American Sniper, we’ve seen a lot of great depictions of these wars and wars in general. Let’s trust that the audience has these associations and we’ll bring them in with that.
Q: I think that’s what they appreciate this reviewer appreciate. It’s like they just you know don’t spoon feed too much. You don’t want it to challenge the audience.
Remy:Yes, we wanted to respect and challenge our audience. I think some people find that infuriating because they want to be told something. And I think some people have really appreciated it. We had a guy on one of our screenings, he said I felt so smart watching this movie because I kept on being forced to make connections, to connect the dots. As a movie goer, I’m usually quite a head of a particular film. I don’t know that anybody is surprised by what happens in our movie, in terms of the sort of outcome insofar as you really know what the outcome is. And you don’t, we don’t make it very explicit.
Q: For this film, did you talk to anybody like from the military field to make sure you get certain things right?
Remy:You know we did a lot of reading, we did a lot of watching. We also have a female Marine veteran on set with us. But we had already written the script by then and she was great in terms of validating a lot of the right thing. I sent it to that vet but because we weren’t shooting the war. It was a creative, imaginative exploration of the thing. So we watched some wonderful documentaries like the film Lioness, The Invisible War to see stories about female marines. A lot of really wonderful books, there’s one by Sebastian Junger called War. But we wanted to sort of imaginatively take the hallmarks and the symptoms and the sort of generalized story of what those people experience and then imagine it into our location and our story. We wanted it to feel authentic and we’ve been very gratified. You know, Kate spent four months in physical training for the film. We wanted to have a sense of authenticity but we also wanted to not be telling a certain story. And hopefully that that approach is the thing that makes [the subject] a little bit more universal.
Q: I see. It’s a character driven piece so it’s not about a specific event.
Remy:Exactly. It’s a lot about the performance, about [Kate’s] understanding of it. There’s some of her own experience which she was able to bring to [the role], but she’s also just a very skilled actress and has a lot of technique.
Q: Last question. Is directing something you want to keep doing in the future?
Remy: Yeah I would love to get the opportunity to do it again. I have a couple of different projects in the beginning of story development and we’ll see which one I can get more traction on. I’m very much hoping to direct it again before too long. Maybe another film, and I’d love to direct episodic television actually. There’s a lot of exciting, wonderful thing happening in that medium, but it’s a difficult thing to get into. It’s hard to get a movie made, but at least it’s a discrete thing and in some ways it’s up to you.
Q: Yeah that’s true, but at the same time now it seems like there’s a blending between TV and films now, it’s not a big divide like was before. Lots of TV directors doing major, big-budget films and the other way around.
Remy:Yeah, who knows. We’ll see where it takes me.
Q: What I got from Remy’s was that the story grew organically from the location in Lake Vermilion. So I’m just curious how do you approach that role of the female Marine. I mean do you have any military experience or or was there any research. Do you have to do more to prepare?
Kate:Oh god no, no military experience before. Tremendous research.
Q: How long did it take you to do that? I mean did you have somebody on set?
Kate: I feel like I’m still doing research. I started when we started writing in October and we were shooting in August. I was doing research the whole, the whole time we were writing and learning about the subject matter, which evolved organically. Once we just decided on the subject matter, we felt obviously a real responsibility to this type of story, as we would to really any story. But this one was, we realized it was a large undertaking and something I knew nothing about, from a strictly military standpoint. In terms of dedication and exploration of her strength and her vulnerability, and just being a human being, I think there’s ways in which we can all relate. So the military part, I did my homework and then eventually yes I met I spoke to a number of servicemen and women. There’s one in particular, a woman named Amber Patton who’s a Marine herself.
Q: Is her last name spelled like the famous general?
Kate:Yes Patton, like the general. She’s a Marine veteran, USMC got her in. And she was on site. We met here in Minnesota and then we offered her I said ‘would you read the script and consult with us?’ We had some questions and we talked about some story points, and then I said ‘what are you up to this summer?’ As she was interested to get more into it. I mean she was in the film industry but she wanted to keep working on that, and so we said if you want a job, we’d love to have you on our set as a production assistant. So she came on as a production assistant but obviously she served as a consultant. She just was like my right hand she was, an assistant to me and in many ways and in the creation of the story.
Q: That’s cool because you’d want to make sure that the story is truthful and accurate and she’d have the experience.
Kate:Well there were there were things that we could research, but there were very practical things about like how the uniform is worn, things like that. She’s been an invaluable part of the process, and she’s still you know, we’re still close and and she was an invaluable part of the team.
Q: As for Lake Vermilion, it seems that you both wanted to shoot the film there and it works because there’s a lot of veterans there, so that makes sense.
Kate:Yes, there’s a tremendous amount of veterans. There’s a woman in the town, when we were just considering that idea [of filming at Lake Vermilion], she had just been named soldier of the year by Army Times in Cook Minnesota. And so we kind of thought… even though we didn’t tell her story but we wanted to give a little nod to keep moving in that direction.
Q: Remy mentioned that you both wanted to add to the conversation about the condition of PTSD. Tell us a bit more about that.
Kate:We want to add to the conversation about the traumatic aspect, but also really more about the female soldier, the female Marine. It’s rarely depicted even though they make up about 15 percent of our military, 20 percent of our reserves. So they should be more represented. I think as we were writing there was this great New York Times op-ed piece saying why aren’t we telling the story [of female soldiers] in film. So we were like, ‘we’re writing something, we’re doing our part, we’re trying to do our part!’ So it was so interesting how it evolved, but yes we were trying to add to a conversation about a lot of things… women in media, how women are portrayed in the media. The female fighter, the female warrior, representing them, representing veterans issues, across the board. You know, so we kept sort of packing the bag.
Q: That’s great. I just think female driven narrative is still rare, which you would think by 2016 that’s not the case. But yet it is. That is why on my blog I always champion female-driven stories, especially independent stories. I mean if it’s something like Wonder Woman or whatever, those already get the studio backing, but the smaller stuff I really want to support. So I’m grateful you are working on this.
Kate:Yes me, too. You know, it wasn’t our intention, conscious intention when we started. I mean we know Romney wants to direct and I was a resource of his. But it evolved into that and it became a very significant to us too. And I was aware that there was a lack, just in the scripts that I was being presented or the roles that I would read. I was just like ‘can we create someone full-fledged, someone who’s fully-dimensional… who happens to be a Marine.
Q: I was just wondering as I was reading the cast list. Your character is described only as Our Sergeant. Is it deliberate that there’s no specific name given to your character?
Kate:Yeah it is. It is deliberate. We want her to stand in for a lot of people like her, to be able to sort of let the audience project a lot onto her. Honestly, creatively, as we’re working the name just never came. We never had a name and it always just felt like that there’s a sort of space around her character so people could project whatever they want to. Not necessarily a name but that she is, in some ways, unaccounted for and that she’s nameless.
Q: So the fact that she is nameless is almost a message in itself.
Kate:I think so yeah I think so. And we actually, there was one point when we made her uniform. So on the one hand she’s standing in for someone’s wife, sister, daughter, we keep that open. Once you’re in the military and you have a title, that’s an important part of the identity. That comes first, in that mindset you’re committing your life, you know, to serving your country and then that is an important part of the identity. So that felt like that was going to be an important part, maybe more important than the personal identification. So when we she was in uniform at one point we created a name tag that we chose to be nameless in Norwegian because I’m Scandinavian and there’s a lot of Scandinavian people in Northen Minnesota. At one point we did choose a name. So it was Navnløs, which is Norwegian for nameless.
Q: Now this question, it’s up to you whether you want to speak to this or not but given the subject matter, I was wondering if you have dealt with something similar to your character and whether that impact your approach to the role or not.
Kate:No I really haven’t. Not to that degree. But I think as we’ve said, trauma is a universal experience. It doesn’t have to be military-related. So I can understand it, but no, I have not dealt with it, nowhere near anything she had going through. It’s interesting because I’ve been asked that question a lot and I think that. I guess my answer is no, but I understand what I understand about struggle. It’s my job to be able to portray someone who’s different than I am. That I have to investigate and find my way in the way that I can to create something in an authentic way. I think there are universal things that we know and that we share and feel as human beings and that’s my job to explore that. Because I was writing her, co-writing and co-creating her, I was able to track her so to speak.
Q: Cool. So how was that process when you’re writing. Co-writing with Remy. I mean how do you do that division work goes?
Kate:I loved the writing. We really just sat across the table from each other and sort of plotted things out. Once we got off the note cards you know at first we put everything on no cards and then we sort of sat down. We each had a computer in front of us and we talk through scenes, we created dialogue. I would sort of think about her voice when she did speak. Remy was really good at writing the sort of what we saw, the breakdown the scenes. The emotional journey, in some ways was hard to do because it was all brand new. And because we were doing it in such a really a relatively short period of time. it’s hard to kind of understand or quantify what that experience was. We were just sitting down every day for three hours doing what we could.
Q: How about the physical training. I mean you kind of have to bulk up a bit don’t you? I mean you probably already are a fitness enthusiast.
Kate:Yes I’m naturally athletic. Being forced to play sports growing up and I was a dancer as a kid and all of that. And then of course in graduate school or whatever you do a lot of movement training and stuff. But no, I work from probably about three and a half months, not a tremendous period of time but I work six days a week. I worked with a trainer once a week starting in May, June, July, August, so about three and a half months. That’s on how to get into the role, that’s a mindset. I had to transform my metabolism, my metabolic system. I was inspired by how strong they are and the rigors that they go through in order to become a Marine. And so I knew I had to do something I hadn’t done before and get a kind of mental toughness and physical strength also to set an example, to represent how strong these women are. I just want to create a different portrait of a female in the film. Something we don’t get to see very often.
Q: So now that you’ve written a film that you start in, what’s next for you? Do you want to keep doing it, being a content creator on top of being an actress?
A: Absolutely. Oh that’s you can’t go back. I feel like it’s it’s a hard thing to come back from once you start oncw you start making your own stuff. It’s more challenging in ways but you get to say more… it’s a much more dimensional creative space and I find that incredibly gratifying. I have never been happier from an artistic point of view as when I was making this thing, as we’ve been making this thing. As hard as it’s been, it’s so fulfilling so. And I found that over the course of it that I have things I’d like to say. I really enjoy the writing. Not like a soapbox, but I think that there are I think that there’s room for all sorts of stories and I’m drawn to what I’m drawn to. I like the research, I like immersing myself in new world from scratch.
THANK YOU so much Remy & Kate for chatting with me about Blood Stripe!
Hope you enjoy the interview! If you’ve seen Blood Stripe, I’d love to hear what you think!