TCFF 2019 Film Spotlight: ‘Only Dance Can Save Us’ – Interview with writer/director John Kaiser

Hello FC readers. It’s Ruth here. Today we’ve got another MN film and MN filmmaker whose film Only Dance Can Save Us is premiering tomorrow at 7:20pm.

I got to see the film last week and I’m really impressed! Kudos to John Kaiser on his feature film debut–it feels like a personal film which highlights the artistic process and the struggle of an artist. Even more impressive that he chose dance, which apparently is an uncharted territory for him, yet he’s able to capture the beauty of that world.

Larissa Gritty as Sophie

I like that that the film didn’t spoon feed everything to the audience, it’s not drowned by exposition. The pacing could’ve been improved a bit however, but overall it’s a terrific film that gives me an insight into the world of dance that I’m not familiar with. As someone working in the creative world, I can relate to the challenges of making a living as an artist.

Matt Bailey as Alan

The acting, especially Larissa Gritti (Sophie) and Matt Bailey (Alan) are strong and believable, which is important in a dialog-heavy film. The dance sequences by choreographer Berit Ahlgren are lovely to watch, and it works wonderfully with the music by Sarah James Elstran. The dynamic camera work by DP Tim Schrader also highlights the dance sequences beautifully.

It’s one of the most unique and creative indie films I’ve seen at TCFF, worth seeing on the big screen so don’t miss the screening tomorrow at 7:20pm! Get your tickets here.


Synopsis: Following the death of her estranged mentor, contemporary dance choreographer, Sophie Florence, seeks to make sense of their relationship through her art. As she faces her past, she can’t help but be influenced by her present. By weaving performance and narrative, Only Dance Can Save Us creates an interdisciplinary portrait of the artistic process.

 

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Interview with John Kaiser

1. The film explores the ups and downs of the artistic process. Was the story inspired by your own journey by any chance?

As an artist it’s impossible not to infuse a little of yourself into your work, nor should you ever resist that urge. For this film in particular I wanted to incorporate that sense of insecurity that we artists feel around our work. Those questions of, “Why are we doing this?  Should I be doing something else with my life?” Like our protagonist Sophie, I definitely have had those moments of self doubt. We all have.  Maybe a project doesn’t turn out how we thought, or we get rejected from festival after festival, and we question why we’re dedicating so much of ourselves to art.  Then we have another great idea and we’re pulled right back into that cycle.

2. You’ve written quite a bit of shorts and a few features, including DARK CLOUD that I covered last year. What made you decide to direct this story in particular for your debut?

For this project I really wanted to explore that artistic process. That self-doubt, that inspiration, how the world around us shapes our work. The key was finding the right medium to explore on film. Dance was an uncharted territory for me, I’ve grown to appreciate it over the years and it felt like the perfect vehicle to showcase that process.

Having written and directed a couple shorts, I knew I wanted to try my hand at a longer narrative. With all films, sometimes things just come down to timing, finding the right project at the right time. This was a story that had been bouncing around my head for awhile and felt like the right project to apply for a Jerome Foundation Artist Grant with. Low and behold, much to my surprise and delight, they liked the project and funded the majority of the production costs.

3. I love the dance sequences. Can you talk a bit about the process of casting those dancers, in addition to casting the actors for the film?

When it came to casting dancers, I leaned completely on our choreographer Berit Ahlgren. I gave her carte blanche to bring in anyone she thought would be a good fit.  In this case some of our restrictions acted in our favor. Due to some scheduling issues not everyone was available every day. So Berit developed pieces that required only a handful of performers and other pieces that required a lot more. She herself performs an incredible solo at the beginning at the film, so it’s a little like you never know who’s going to show up in the sequences. As the film progresses we see the pieces grow and become more complex, with more and more dancers joining in.

In terms of casting our actors, one of the challenges with some of the roles was finding individuals who could both act AND dance. This requirement really helped narrow our field and gave us a more strategic pool to focus on. And we were lucky in that we had enough talented people express interest that we didn’t have to sacrifice quality on either front.

4. I also notice that the music seems to appear in the dance sequences, while it’s mostly music-free in the dialog scenes. How was the process of incorporating music into this film?

I often joke that when characters in this film aren’t talking, they are dancing. And that was sort of the approach with the music as well. I personally like to let the dialogue (and there’s a lot of dialogue in this film) speak for itself and not compete with the score. I like to find a rhythm and pacing with the actors that feels musical at times.

This also gives our dance sequences their own energy and feel when we finally do add music into the film. The dances and dancers are there to act as a Greek Chorus of sorts and really portray Sophie’s mental state. We were incredibly lucky to have Sarah James Elstran (The Nunnery) contributing the music. Her work sounds like nothing I’ve heard and that’s what jumped out to me when I was exploring composers. It’s haunting at times, celestial at other moments, but it’s also incredibly catchy and upbeat when it needs to be. It really gives the film its own unique sound.

Larissa Gritty w/ supporting cast Jessie Scarborough Ghent + Alex Galick

5. The film practically takes place in a single building, save for a couple of scenes. What has been the biggest challenges of setting a film that way?

As a writer it’s always a fun challenge to create something with as few locations as possible and this piece for the most part takes place not only in one building but one room for the majority of the film. So it’s this fun little challenge where you give yourself limited resources to work with.

As a director though, focusing your story on one particular space presents a different set of challenges. Namely, how can we keep that space fresh for the audience. We were able to do a lot with lighting, playing with the time of day the scenes are set in. I also wanted each corner of the room to feel more like it’s own space. There’s a space for socializing, one for business, one for reflection, then of course a big empty space for the dancers to move in.

6. When I first noticed the dancers’ costumes, I thought I noticed the specs of blood in them. Is that just my imagination thinking that perhaps it’s hinting at the ‘bad blood’ between Sophie and her recently-deceased mentor, or just a coincidence?

Oh that’s a very interesting observation. I hadn’t thought of that before, but that’s the fun thing about getting this film out in front of an audience. Everyone brings their own interpretations to things. Part way through the production I noticed the blood-like spots. For me that represented the dedication and passion these artists have for their craft.

The costumes themselves were created by the incredibly talented Caroline Sebastian. She and I shared vision boards and had several discussions about what these pieces should look like. We wanted something that made them stand out from the rest of the world. We drew a lot of inspiration from dancer costumes of decades past.  In particular we were both drawn to those used by the choreographer Merce Cunningham in the 1970’s and 80s. Caroline had the brilliant idea of adding this tie-dyed pattern which gave the outfits a texture that stands out in the space and on film.

7. How excited are you that your first feature is premiering at TCFF, on its 10th anniversary no less?

I’m ecstatic. TCFF has always been a great supporter of the local film community and it’s always fun to play to a hometown crowd. There’s just a different energy when you know your friends, family, collaborators, and colleagues are in the audience.  It gives the screening a Sunday dinner kinda vibe.

8. What’s next for you? Would you share about some of your current/future artistic endeavors?

The next thing on my agenda is to breathe and to unplug for awhile. This project has been my life for the last year and a half and now it’s out in the world. We’re hopefully going to focus on taking it around to other festivals across the country and get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

Beyond that, I’m writing for the fun of writing. Playing with new ideas and seeing what the next story to take root in my mind will be.


Set Visit – Fall 2018

I had the privilege of visiting the about a year ago in St. Paul MN, thanks to writer/director John Kaiser, executive producer Jay Ness, and producers Ellie Drews & Kirstie House for arranging the visit. Jay, Ellie and Kirstie, plus DP Tim Schrader + costume designer Caroline Sebastian were actually part of the crew of my own film Hearts Want). I really enjoyed the visit and meeting some of the cast/crew, here are some pics from the fun visit:


Thank you for chatting with me, John!


TCFF screening times of Only Dance Can Save Us:
Tuesday October 22nd 7:20 PM


TCFF19: DAY 3+4 Reviews: Greywood’s Plot + Documentaries: The Truth About Marriage & Salvage

It’s already Day 4 at TCFF! Well, time sure flies when you’re having fun! Here’s a video recap from Saturday, courtesy of TCFF’s awesome media producers Ellie Drews & Kirstie House:


Greywood’s Plot

Greywood’s Plot, directed by MN-based director Josh Stifter (whom Ruth interviewed for his film The Good Exorcist), is a fantastically fun and funky horror comedy. Shot in black and black and white, it’s a throwback to old late night comedy shows.

The movie follows two lifelong friends who receive a mysterious VHS tape containing some footage of a vampire-type animal. They decide to go on and adventure into the woods to investigate the validity of the tape and in the process hope to make a documentary about it. The journey becomes much more than they expected as the terrifying truth is uncovered.

This full-length horror-comedy film made almost entirely by Stifter and his friends. It also stars his longtime collaborator Daniel Degnan who was in The Good Exorcist. Josh along with directing, also served as the co-writer and producer, while Nathan Strauss was the assistant director, executive producer and special effects artist and Keith Radichel rounded out the team as the films antagonist. Shot in Detroit lakes in a friend’s family’s small hunting shack the film is 100% Minnesota made. Even the extras were residents of Detroit lakes, serving as tree zombies.

Josh has been in the movie business for years, working with both Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez. He has a background in special effects which I think adds to the really playful and imaginative kind of horror comedy he makes. I also really appreciate the way he incorporated the surrounding woods and fields of Detroit Lakes. It would have been easy enough to keep the film contained in the shack but by expanding the films location it creates a much more immersive environment.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


The Truth About Marriage (Documentary)

This documentary by filmmaker Roger Nygard (“Trekkies”) follows three not-so-ordinary couples to see how things turned out several years after the honeymoon. The film presents challenging ideas about relationships, as it answers the question: Why is marriage so hard for people?

Engaging and entertaining examination by veteran documentary filmmaker, Roger Nygard, into the complicated subject of marriage. As the saying goes, everyone’s got an opinion! And they are insightful and, sometimes, humorous. I liked the fact that there was a mix of a vast variety of “experts,” along with a variety of real life couples—some that were in untraditional arrangements. It’s another great film by him that’s a fantastic conversation starter. The film examines the history of marriage, how it’s evolved, and what we expect from it now. In the end, it’s up to us to decide: what is it’s purpose?

– Review by Kelly Lamplear-Dash

A feature-length documentary about the city dump in Yellowknife, Canada. In Yellowknife, the remote capitol of the Northwest Territories, the town dump is the city’s most popular and notorious manmade attraction, mined by a colorful community of thrifty locals. But the new city administration is determined to see it tamed, and the battle for Yellowknife’s identity is on.

An “A” for effort. This film is a unique peek into the salvage subculture of a small town in Yellowknife, Canada, which has a history of mining. There was great use of historical footage and stills. I would have like to seen more. There was an interesting cast of characters; however, maybe too many.

I am interested in the themes of re-use, re-purpose, recycling, minimum waste, environmental impact, and dumpster diving for food. It also touched on the issues of community interest versus politics coupled with the ever-increasing issue of gentrification. This film was trying to do a lot, but could have been cut back a little. Maybe even been a short. I really did appreciate it.


Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!

 

 

MN Short Film Spotlight: 100,000 Miles A Second + Interview w/ filmmakers/cast

As I have mentioned on the TCFF page, it’s time for another Minnesota Shorts Showcase, sponsored by Twin Cities Film Fest! Last week I had the privilege of chatting with the writer, producer and leading lady of one of the short films screening this Saturday… the highly acclaimed 100,000 Miles A Second (which I think is a pretty darn cool title!)

A woman with multiple sclerosis has a conversation with a homeless street musician about how fast we travel through the universe, realizing her thoughts about herself are the real issue in her life.

Director: Jeremy Bandow
Writer: Patricia Fox
Producer: Kelly Lamphear-Dash
Cast: Erin Roberts, Sean Emery

Despite its brief running time (only 7 minutes long), this film packs a punch. Both narratively speaking as well as emotionally. For the most part we only see a woman (a terrific Erin Roberts) in the car, basically having a nervous breakdown. We get a glimpse of what she is going through but it’s never explicitly-said what she’s suffering from. And that’s the beauty of Fox’s script, that what the protagonist is going through is something we could all relate to. A lot of our frustration, anguish, rage, etc. are internal struggles, something we feel so intensely more so than something we physically experience.

I always admire stories that deals with heavy subject matter without making it too heavy-handed. There is a lightness to the way the story unfolds, especially in the key scene where the woman interacts with the homeless street musician (Sean Emery). Both actors are so great in their roles and were memorable in conveying the emotions of their respective characters. I love the music too, which adds so much to the uplifting tone of the movie. Director Jeremy Bandow did a wonderful job telling this story beautifully. The use of special effects to emphasize the theme of ‘speed’ gets the point across in a fun and efficient manner. Kudos to the filmmakers involved in making this a memorable short that’s both inspiring and entertaining.

Last Thursday I had the privilege of chatting with three of the women behind this wonderful short film.

Interview with screenwriter
Patricia Fox

1. When I watched the film, I felt like this is personal story that’s perhaps based on a real-life experience. Is that the case? Can you tell me what’s the inspiration behind this story?

​Yes, this really happened to me. It happened 10 or so years ago and I’ve told the story to people and it always gets a strong response from people, so I sure it had emotional power. When I received free classes at FilmNorth (formerly IFP), I took one in writing film short form and when we pitched our ideas for a short film in class, the instructor said THIS is a short and encouraged me to do it. I already knew I wanted to do it but this confirmed my instincts about it.

2. How did the short film come to be? Did you know the director, Jeremy Bandow, before you collaborated on this film? 

I actually went to graduate school with Jeremy and we’ve always had the same aesthetics, a similar taste, in film. As a finalist for a grant, I got to take this class in web series/short film at IFP for free. And since I had this idea for a while, because the story of this film actually happened to me word for word, I pitched this idea to the class. I got encouragement from that class that my idea is perfect for a short. The teacher said it’s the kind of stuff festival programmers are looking for, where there’s something at the end of it, it’s like a ‘punch to the stomach’ so to speak, that opens your mind to think of something in a different way.

3. I love that the film opens with John Milton’s quote ‘The mind is its own place.’ How did you come up with that quote that’s so perfect for this story?

​I’ve been sort of obsessed with that quote for years. I first encountered it in book of daily inspirational readings called Pocket Full of Miracles by Joan Boasanko. It is from Paradise Lost by John Milton. The quote completely encapsulates our protagonist’s issue in the film. The “problem” is merely how she’s choosing to “think” about it.

4. I’m also curious about the intriguing title ‘100,000 Miles a Second.’ What’s the significance of that title for you?

The homeless guy I had this encounter with said that’s how fast we are traveling in the universe. It turns out, that speed is about half the speed of light. I thought it was a powerful title that would get people’s attention.

5. Despite the serious subject matter, there’s a lightness to the way the film unfolds, and there’s such cheerfulness in the way the street musician interacts with the woman. Is that a deliberate tone that you and the director agree on?

​Yes, it was deliberate. I want the message to be positive and give people the room to make up their own minds about what it all means. A lot of it has to do with the actor we cast, he’s extremely engaging, he is a performer, and we wanted to use his strengths as an actor to help us spin this tale.

6. Tell me a little bit about the music in the film, which somehow fits perfectly and adds such richness to the story. 

The real street musician I encountered at the Co-op was playing a fiddle and he was playing Bluegrass music. So I knew I wanted the same type of sound for the film. Just so happen that the actor, Sean Emery, knows how to play the instrument and this type of music. It’s in the call sheet when we’re casting that it’d help if the actor has a musical sense and can play music. He actually performs at the State Fair and he had taken class with our casting director Cynthia Uhrich, so he turned up to audition for this role. He ended up writing the song in the end credits, apparently he wrote it a while ago and never did anything with it. He played it for us and we thought it’d be perfect for this movie.

7. Since you also produced this film, what’s the process like in finding the right producer and cast to bring your story to life?

Kelly asked to be part of the project, which I gratefully agreed. Once I asked Jeremy Bandow to direct, he brought the shooting crew with him. They work together a lot. We knew all all the extras personally. We found the other people we needed to bring in during post production, like the sound designer. Since we were working on a hot set in the form of a busy, urban store open for business, but we also wanted to play with sound during the speed up and slow down of motion sections in the film.

Interview with lead actress
Erin Roberts

1. How’s the experience making this film different from your theater experience and other acting jobs you’ve done in the past?

In my experience film is very different from theater because you don’t have a lot of control over the outcome. I kept checking in with writer Patricia and director Jeremey and reminding them that they needed to tell me if I wasn’t giving them what they needed on camera. It’s hard as an actor, (and as a control freak), to hand over that power to someone else therefore The trust level must be very high and I learned that quickly. Luckily I had such amazing collaborators. Specifically with film, after the shoot, the final product is completely out of our hands as actors. The film, the TV show, the video, is all made in post production. So the actor needs to Step back knowing,!and hoping, that they did their job, then let it go. It’s very very different work for me.

2. How did you prepare for the role of  The Woman who suffers from MS?

In prepping for this role playing Patricia, an actual person living with multiple sclerosis, I just wanted to talk to her… A lot. I wanted to hear her thoughts and feelings and experiences now, and during the onset of the disease, which is when this short film is set. The film is so relatable because it’s not just specifically about MS but about people going through personal and very difficult times in their lives. I was less worried about imitating Patricia and more focused on bringing the essence of her experience to the screen. As per the physicality, she struggled with issues in her left foot which caused her to feel uncomfortable on that side while she walked.

As an actor it’s important to me that I don’t pretend that something is bothering me- that will just show a “ quality”but not specific realism or reality. For me I needed something real to remind me that that left side was trouble. In preparing for the role I walked around with a rock in my shoe as a physical reminder that there was something that’s bothering me. Ironically on the day of the shoot I walked outside and saw one of my neighbors nephews Lego blocks on the street, a bright color red, which was a color Patricia and I had talked a lot about for this character, and I knew that would be My “rock”. I taped it to the ball of my foot and the rest of the day walked around with it sticking into my foot as I walked. It worked like a charm. It hurt like hell. And I think did the trick. I have that Lego block on my desk as a reminder.

Exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from the set

 

Interview with Producer
Kelly Lamplear-Dash

1. How did you come across this project? Have you and Patricia collaborated before?

I’ve known Patricia for many years. We met in a screenwriting class and have been part of a writing group ever since. I had been encouraging her to produce something since she has so many wonderful scripts. This was actually a new script; however, it immediately had interest and momentum to being done. It made logical sense that this would be the one to get produced.

2. What have been the most challenging part in making this film?

Securing the location, finding the talent, getting the crew together all fell into place extremely easily. The challenging part was the weather on the day of the shoot, which was all outdoors. We had to cut it short. Then we had a time delay of a few weeks to be able to go back and re-shoot due to the talent’s schedule. It’s a challenge to make sure everything looks seamless. Added to that was the issue of the green screen for the little bit of special effects that were used. Again, in post trying to make it look seamless.

Oh and on the first day of the shoot, there was the major the solar eclipse! It was August 21st, and I remember we almost called it off. But I felt like, considering the storyline and themes on this film, astrologically, things had to get started that day! The weather did get the better of us that day, so we had to wrap things early, but yeah the first day of shoot was indeed when the solar eclipse happened!

3. I know you’ve produced several documentaries before. Is this the first narrative short you produced? How’s that different in terms of process with producing documentaries?

Yes, actually it was. The main differences are related to the size of the production. In documentary, you usually have a skeleton crew and a single or couple for the interview subject. In narrative, there is a much more detailed crew to handle all the various aspects, especially about lighting, plus tech for maneuvers like dolly shots, etc. For talent, you have to have makeup and wardrobe, plus set design, props, etc. Of course, you have the talent, which can be anywhere from one person to one hundred. Even though this story centers around the two main characters, there was still a fair amount of extras, plus we were at a real co-op that had customers coming in and out that we had to control. The biggest shift is that in documentary you have to capture what is interesting in the real world that applies to your story versus in narrative you are altering your surroundings to create the world of the story.


Check out a clip from 100, 000 Miles A Second:


 

Thanks so much Patricia, Erin and Kelly
for this fun interview! 

TCFF 2018 MN Film Spotlight: AMERICAN TENDER & interview w/ filmmaker C.J. Renner + lead actor Frank Foster-Bolton

I’m thrilled that I get to see not one but TWO films by talented filmmaker C.J. Renner this year. Earlier this Summer, TCFF showed the gangster thriller GUNN as part of their Insider Series in June. This time, C.J. and his longtime producing collaborator Sasha Michelle come up with another cool, stylishly-shot film that’s also set and filmed in the Twin Cities.

A Gen Z Bonnie and Clyde, the setting is deliberately simple but done with extended long takes that truly showcase the charisma of the two protagonists Nelle June Anderson and Frank Foster-Bolton, as well as the sharp script. I have to admit the hand-held camera style might make some people nauseous if they have issues with motion sickness, but the story is absorbing and intriguing that you want to stick around to see how it unfolds. The opening scene in the cafe is basically just two people bantering, but it’s amazing how the ‘less is more’ filmmaking sensibility can make quite an impact when done right.

Filmed in the Winter months, the cinematography by Tomas Aksamit (who also shot GUNN) is beautiful. The music by Nick Christopulos (who’s also the go-to sound guy for C.J. and he also did an amazing job in my short film Hearts Want) is also memorable and is an integral part to the storytelling style. After seeing a few of C.J.’s shorts and two of his features, he’s definitely a brilliant storyteller and filmmaker to be reckoned with. I hope he gets to do more films in the future!

She needed a fall guy to frame for a robbery, but when she suspects her partners of setting her up, her sucker is now the only one she can trust… not your average first date.

Q&A with filmmaker C.J. Renner

Q1. What’s the significance of the title?

After the first draft of the script (terribly titled, “Pennies” at the time) the most surprising thing that started to come through was how these two characters are unique to our time and place. Honing that with Frank and Nelle became a big part of pre-production. Exploring the subtleties of the way our young-20s leads discuss race, gender, politics, love became the most rewarding challenge of writing this film, and I think the only word that comes close to expressing that, for better or worse, is “American”. And “tender” hopefully conveys the dual flavor of the movie: both heartfelt (tender) and heist-y (legal tender).

Q2. Gunn was quite a novelty stylistically with the use of silhouettes, color, etc in storytelling. What’s evident in American Tender is the super long takes and that it’s very talky. How did you end up with this particular implementation to tell your story, particularly using the long takes?

I love a challenge, and as a filmgoer, I’m always excited to watch something bold. At every stage: writing, blocking, performing, and scoring- the real time storytelling was a huge difficultly. But at literally every stage, we discovered really exciting and necessary facets of the characters and story that would never have been captured if we didn’t have to perform, move, and rehearse in these incredibly long takes.

Q3. How long was the shoot overall and did you intend to shoot it in the Winter time?

We were firm on shooting in the winter… the visual of our Owen character walking out into the dead of winter, so in his head that he doesn’t consider his body, was a moment I wasn’t willing to give up. The actual shooting was insanely short; we shot the whole film in two weekends, but there was tons of rehearsal and blocking that occurred before that. The dance between the camera and actors was complex, and we didn’t have the luxury of tweaking individual line readings once the camera was rolling, so Nelle and Frank and I had to all be firmly on the same page about the way these characters interact at each step in the story before we started shooting.

Q4. Which part comes first for you… the concept of using long takes and hand-held storytelling, or the narrative story itself which calls out for that style of shooting? 

The story and the shooting style feed each other. I have a bunch of feature concepts I’m dying to make, anywhere from a couple sentences scribbled on a napkin to fully polished scripts, so I always feel like I have a healthy jumping off point. For me, the most exciting part of the process is asking the cinematographer, gaffer, actors, musicians, designers to be wildly creative and nakedly honest then doing my best to infuse their personalities into the story.

Q5. How was the casting process? Both Frank and Nelle are relatively new to acting, esp. as leads. Was that a deliberate choice?

Actually, they stole the roles in the auditions. We had two fantastic actors in mind (who we definitely will work with in the future), and we auditioned them and several other pairs. We could have made this with any of the pairs actually… they were all great in their own way. But there was genuinely something electric with Nelle and Frank… even in the quiet moments during auditions. It was a surprise, but a very exciting surprise. The first time we’d seen Nelle she was the lead in an opera… the casting director and I were blown away by this very young woman who was commanding the stage of all these huge, seasoned opera performers. But opera is so big, we didn’t expect her to be able to go to the subtle places she’d need to in this… but we discovered amazingly she brings that authority with even just a tiny look or a small movement.

Q5. Music is very effective here, just like in Gunn. As a filmmaker and musician, can you tell me a bit about the process of integrating your music into your film?

Huge thanks for the compliment! I’m really excited for people to hear this score. The guy who did the score, Nick Christopulos, was on board this project from its inception, so we had the luxury to discuss the score during blocking and production, to actually be able to say to an actor, “don’t verbalize that line, the score guy here is confidant we can accomplish that with a look and the music” is such an asset. Also, as soon as we had a lead with incredible opera pipes, Nick ran with the idea of using her voice as an instrument in the score of the film. Because music unashamedly crafts your mood when watching a film, having the voice of our lead in the score really adds an exciting window into her character’s headspace.

Q6. What’s been your cinematic inspirations in terms of story and style for this film?

I was able to have a long talk with the cinematographer of Victoria about the nuts and bolts of extreme long take filmmaking, he challenged us to change the scale (close-ups, long shots) as much as possible, which was fantastic advice. Band of Outsiders was another huge influence… it was a reminder to keep our characters playful with each other. And the current political climate had the whole crew feeling very rebellious… looking back, the production feels like a “f*ck you” to authority and filmmaking conventions.


Q&A with lead actor Frank Foster-Bolton

Q1. How do you prepare for your role?

Because we knew our shoot was only going to take place over two weekends, we started prep work months prior to production. At first it was just the four of us (me, Nelle, CJ, and Sasha) talking about the characters outside of the events of the film – motivations, insecurities, strengths, etc. After that the main focus was rehearsing the script to death and finding moments that would be special. The biggest leaps for me happen when everyone’s working in the room together, so preparing for that is super important. I like to start that process solo – taking a bunch of notes on every scene, getting the tone down, all that – so when we have full rehearsals and we’re exploring different ways to do the scene, I have a strong base to work from.

Q2. There’s a ton of dialog done in multiple long takes. Was there a lot of improvisation happening during shoot?

Dialogue improv was very limited on this project. Because the takes were going to be so long, and we were only going to get so many cracks at them, CJ, Sasha, Nelle, and I worked really hard on getting the words right. With the words set in stone, we didn’t have to worry about them. The idea, at least in my head, what that because we didn’t have to worry about the words, our body posture and movement came across as more natural. If anything I’d say that movements in the blocking were what we improvised the most.

Q3. What’s been the most challenging as well as most gratifying part to shoot?

As it most often is, the most gratifying thing on this project was entwined with the most difficult. The takes were very long, and because we weren’t going to be doing any cutting, everyone had to get everything right for a usable take. As you can imagine, it took a lot of hard work from the crew and the cast to get a 15-minute “sweet-spot” take. When it came together, and everyone was firing on all cylinders, it was such a reward. Those takes transported everyone on set to the world of our story, and made the end product all the more special.

Q4. How was working with CJ as writer/director?

Awesome. Traditionally we’ve worked together behind the camera (most recently I edited his film, Gunn, and he and Sasha produced a project I directed), so we have a pretty good understanding of each other’s taste and style. It was great getting to springboard off of our previous relationship into a new artistic dynamic. The big thing I learned about CJ: He knows what he wants to see in his movies. He has a big goal with each scene. Once you figure out how to accomplish that goal he kind of lets you loose on the character. So it’s a good balance of structure and freedom.

Q5. If you were on a first date playing the same game as in the movie, and your date asks you to do something way out of your comfort zone, what would you do?

Eat potato salad with raisins in it.


TCFF Screening Date:

Wednesday October 24th at 2:45 PM


Thanks so much C.J. and Frank for chatting with FlixChatter!

TCFF Insider Series: BETTA FISH script reading & Interview w/ screenwriter Joshua Barsness

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. 

Synopsis:

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