TCFF 2014 – Interview with Ink & Steel Filmmakers/Cast

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It’s the final day of Twin Cities Film Fest and there are tons of great films playing today! Here are some of the highlights:

I had the privilege to chat with some of the talented filmmakers/talents of two of the films playing today: Ink & Steel and Time Lapse! I shall have the interview with Bradley King & George Finn from Time Lapse sometime this weekend.

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In this upstate New York drama, when a turf war engulfs the city, aging mob enforcer Michael retrieves the Don’s troubled son from his college partying. After they survive an attempted hit on the road home, Michael seeks refuge at a rural farm, imposing on a single mother and her teenage son living there. As violence escalates in the city, Michael is ordered to wait it out, keeping the boss’ son safe while coexisting as unwelcome house guests. But, when dark pasts threaten to collide, Michael, a man more comfortable solving problems with force, must find a way to keep the peace, and decide if he should break the Don’s son free of the cycle of violence which has haunted the family for generations.

FCInterviewBannerIt was quite a whirlwind day Thursday night. A half hour before the Kumiko: Treasure Hunter screening at 8:30, we managed to squeeze in a quick interview with the filmmakers and actors of Ink & Steel up at the ICON lounge. Directors Jonathan Ehlers and Patrick Ward-Perkins and actor Tyler Noble had just arrived from L.A. that late afternoon, but they were both so gracious and totally game to chat about their film. It’s so awesome to see Molly Ryman again, whose film Things You Don’t Understand premiered here in 2012 and she won Best Actress Award for her performance!

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Q: So Jonathan/Patrick, how did you come up with the concept of the film story?

Jonathan: Well, it came out part creative desire and part necessity. We had this wonderful location in Upstate New York at a farmhouse and we knew we wanted to shoot something there. Having grown up in NY, there’s that I know a guy who knows a guy and I knew a few guys growing up and that sort of inform the voice of the characters. We felt it was important to sort of take a soldier archetype and take this aging mob enforcer and put him into this unique set of circumstances where he’s not equipped for, which is to show compassion and take care of this young man. And we sort of rolled from there and built this world where this sort of mentorship would happen. It’s just a strong character piece that we believe in and again it’s sort of a necessity thing as we knew we wanted to complete a feature film and this story sort of make sense and we have the means and location to do it, and we wanted to find talented actors out of NY and we put this together and this is what we came up with.

Q: So Jonathan and Patrick, do you know each other before? How did the decision come up that you wanted to work together?

Patrick: We knew each other long before we made this film. Jonathan actually came from NY to LA and we met up there. We worked together screenwriting for about seven years and we wrote this Ink & Steel script together a while back with another guy Jason Radspinner and we knew this would be an exciting film we want to get off the ground so Jonathan and I got on the directing chair and made it happen.

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Q: Tell us a bit about the casting process for the film, did you have to hold auditions to cast the actors?

Jonathan: Back in 2006 before I went down to LA I studied w/ an acting teacher, Robert Modica. Modica is a bit of a legend, he’s a revered acting teacher in NY as he taught alongside Sanford Meisner. He taught actors like John Turturro and David Duchovny so when we knew when we wanted to cast actors from NY for this film, we knew his acting school would be the place for us to find the great pedigree of talents. I had a fun memory of being there and so we went over there and sat in on some classes and that’s how we found Richard Fiske who played Michael and also Jason Beckmann who plays Noah, the son of Vanessa’s, the single mother [Molly’s character] also came from there. The fact that I’m transitioning from music to film and wanting to be a serious director, I got a lot of out his teaching there, so it’s really gratifying to sort of go back to that great school. We had a reading in NY and Molly and Tyler came highly recommended from friends of hours.

Q [for Molly]: Tell us a bit about your role here in Ink & Steel.

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Molly: Sure. I played a single mom who rents a farmhouse from a gangster but she didn’t know they’re gangsters. She’s got a past that she’s leaving and she’s starting over and raising her son and so these gangsters show up… For me, this kinds of wakes her up. She’s sort of stuck in her life a little bit… she doesn’t have a lot of hope for a beautiful, full life, she’s sort of living for her son. So these gangsters show up and change her life a little bit. And her relationship with Michael… y’know, I don’t want to say that he’s a father figure per se, but that he’s umm, terrifying but also represents a good man and to remember that men are good and Jimmy [Tyler’s character] is like life for her, there’s something about him that she can relate to, there’s something between them that gives her hope again for a possible romance.

Q: How about you Tyler?

Tyler: Jimmy is the son of the mob boss whom you never see. But he has nothing to do with the mob, he’s the odd man in the family, kind of like Al Pacino in Godfather 1. He doesn’t get respect, so he’s kind of the dorky artist in the family so nobody understands him. Between that and his family being in trouble and stuff like that, he turns to drugs when he’s up at college experimenting . Then things got to be too much for him and he got too deep into it. So he’s struggling to get out of that and he’s helped by these two unlikely figures. One is this mob enforcer uncle who doesn’t know how to deal with this issue and then there’s Molly Ryman’s character [Vanessa] who’s very nurturing and sweet and gives him the piece that he’s missing, that love. It’s almost motherly… father is like the father that he needed and Vanessa being the mother figure. So maybe this is like Tyler going from being a boy to a man.

Richard Fiske & Tyler Noble
Richard Fiske & Tyler Noble

Molly: I feel that Both Vanessa and Michael helps Tyler realize that he doesn’t have to be tied to what his past is, what his family is, so he can move on. And they’re both rooting

Tyler: Yeah, for the first time in his life, he’s getting support from people. He gets love and support for his own strength and that he doesn’t have to follow the path of his family.

Q [for Jonathan & Patrick]: How’s the experience of working together like? Y’know like the Coen Brothers work together a lot. So what’s the strength and challenges and the dynamics of working together?

Molly: I want to answer this as I never get to talk about this [laughter] Well it’s like a dance… I’ve never worked with two directors before but it was flawless. They spoke a language that only they understands, there’s no conflict, at least not visible to the actors. They might have something going on behind the scenes, but from they show to the talents, they each kind of have their scenes.

Tyler: They have such great respects for each other. 

Molly: Yeah and they’re such a team. And there are some things I need to go to Jonathan for and some I need to go to Patrick for…

Tyler: I’ts like Voltron, remember Voltron? [laughter]

(For those who don’t know, is an animated television series that features a team of space explorers that pilot a giant super robot known as “Voltron”)

Molly: So it’s definitely one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I mean they’ve now become dear friends but as professionals and on the set, it was amazing. And we moved so fast, nobody would ever know how fast we moved and it was because of them that despite that, filming was still flawless.

Jonathan [left] and Patrick [right] filming Ink & Steel
Jonathan [left] and Patrick [right] filming Ink & Steel

Q: Ok, so in relation to that, how long was the shoot. Was it shorter or longer that you had anticipated? Was it on schedule?  

Patrick: Well we couldn’t afford not being on schedule. So the answer is yes. For how long the film is, we shot in 16 days. I mean it’s a drama over 2 hours, and there are gunfights, there are small car chases so there are a lot of things going on. The pace that we have to keep up was unbelievable.

Q: Now, I’m wondering which one is harder, the action stuff or the more emotional, quieter moments. Which on is harder? 

Jonathan: Well that’s a tough one. I would say, there’s definitely two parts to that answer. The action comes more naturally to us, but under the time and budget constraints that we had, it was more of a physical challenge, the cold and the discomfort of being in this barn in the Winter time in upstate New York. When you’re outside in the elements, you’re worried about people’s comfort and safety. So it’s more of a physical stress because planning the fight scenes is second nature to us… so like Molly said, it’s like a dance and we had that down. But to capture the sensitive, emotional scene, the micro-dynamic of what’s going on, it’s more of a mental stress.

Patrick: Yeah, in a way the physical scene and action scene are challenging partly because of budget. Typically you have a bigger budget and you more time to shoot these things, whereas the challenging emotional scene is more of an intellectual challenge where it’s really more about for our actors to have the time and focus to get to the correct headspace to get into their characters. Some schedule allow us to do two of such scenes and at times we have to do five, and so you’re talking about going from one headspace to another.

So knowing that limitation, we try to make it as easy as possible for the actors and so we shoot everything as chronologically as possible so at least we have an anchor. I mean our crew was so small that we can’t tell them, ‘ok so we’re gonna shoot this scene from this part of the script and now your character is in this place.” But instead we all knew instinctively deep down where we were because as much as possible we stay in order.

Jonathan: What I’d add to that is we shot to edit. We knew we’re going to do the post-production of the film ourselves. So as long as we’re committed to our decisions in the action scenes, we can sort of in a way cover what we miss with sound design. We can always make fight moves more interesting in post production. But when two people are baring their souls, you can’t just necessarily cut around that. So there’s a lot of pressure to capture those scenes…

Patrick: Yeah, so to capture that moment. So when we’re on the set, when we’re done filming a scene, we’d glance at each other after a take. We know each other so well that we’d know if this is the one. We’d know that if we have time we can shoot a few more but if we don’t, we can move on. So that’s the tipping point that we know we can move on. Otherwise, editing won’t save anything.

Q [to Tyler & Molly]: How about you guys as the actors, in regards to emotional vs. action scenes.

Tyler: I think more people are learning to put together stuff on a smaller budget so an actor’s job is changing as well. So it’s an actor’s job to remember continuity, how the hair was. You have to step up to the plate and do as much as you can. Whether it’s holding a dog or holding a mirror to make sure your beard that you trim it the right way the next time. I think for the emotional stuff, a lot of the preparation is done beforehand. Whether it’s a song [gesturing wearing headset], whatever it is I can use to get to that headspace… for some reason, when that song is playing, it hit me really hard to get to what I’m supposed to feel, so I play it and let myself sink. They [the directors] usually give me a few minutes beforehand to prepare… so that stuff you can prepare beforehand.

Patrick: Our crew is so small that everyone had to pull a lot more weight than what they’re used to. Jon and I have done a much bigger budget production where there’s bigger crew, and you see that everyone has a very defined role that you could be spending 60% doing that task and 40% doing nothing. Whilst on our set, everyone was doing 100% of the day, sometimes more than that as some days are really long and hard. Even if all that you’re doing is moral support. Say, the crew is spending their time filming in the woods, and you’re at base camp, you’re making sure sure that there’s soup when they get back. When another crew work extra hard, you gotta make sure that you’re there for them and make sure that they’re ok. It’s such a familial experience.

Molly: It’s such a family experience, because in a bigger budget and you have people taking care of your wardrobe, etc. so much work is done for you. I mean you shoot your scene and you go away, but here you’re living together in this house, or hotel, all day long we’re together doing everything so it’s so amazing, it makes for an amazing family. It shows in the film how passionate we all were in making this happen.


 Check out the Ink & Steel featurette!

Ink & Steel 

Sat Oct. 25th, 5:30pm (followed by Q&A w/ filmmaker/cast!)


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, guys! 

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Hope you enjoyed the interview. Stay tuned for more reviews and the Time Lapse interview !

TCFF Roundup – Part 1 – A Late Quartet, Things I Don’t Understand & Problem Solving the Republic Reviews

Whew, this week has been quite a whirlwind! I saw a total of 13 films and attended four educational panels in the last nine days. Most of the films have been good to excellent, so even with a couple I didn’t really enjoy, it’s still a nearly a perfect record.

TCFF certainly has a super packed schedule all the way down to the homestretch. The nine-day film fest has come to a close last night with LUMPY, the Minnesota-shot dramedy by MN-born writer/director Ted Koland, starring Justin Long and Addison Timlin who were present at the panel earlier in the day. I didn’t get a chance for a one-on-one interview with Long, though I did meet briefly with Ted Koland and congratulated him on his film.

Justin Long & Ted Koland at the LUMPY panel – photo by James Ramsay

Below is a recap and review from Friday,

FRIDAY

Saw two very good films today, they couldn’t be any more different from each other yet both have intriguing stories about people dealing and coping with a dark chapter in their lives.

Things I Don’t Understand

Written/directed by David Spaltro and starring Minnesota-born Molly Ryman. I was very impressed with the character-driven story and also Molly’s excellent performance. June and I had the pleasure of interviewing David to talk about his film and also listened to Molly talk about her character Violet during the ‘Strong Women in Independent Films’ panel.

Thanks to David for sitting down with June and I at the ShowPlace ICON lounge to give us some insights about his film. Check out the full interview.

Meeting both David and Molly are easily one of the highlights of covering the film fest for me. David told me TCFF is the 16th point of their film tour all over the country, going to one film festival to the next. In fact, right after the panel, David was off to the airport to the the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita Kansas. They’re both so talented with so much going for them in their careers, yet they’re so down to earth and so fun to talk to.

Congrats to both David and Molly on the success of Things I Don’t Understand. Here’s my review of the film:

This film centers on grad student Violet who’s studying near-death experiences which led her to actually attempt suicide. After her failed suicide attempt, Violet becomes withdrawn and somewhat morose, plus she also has to deal with being evicted from the Brooklyn loft she shares with her two roommates. At the advise of her therapist, Violet reluctantly visits a terminally ill girl in a hospice and their unlikely friendship becomes her catharsis to start appreciating life again.

I sympathize with Violet right away though she’s not exactly likable at first. She’s sardonic and lacks self control, but you know deep down she’s a good girl. Spaltro frames her story well and surrounds her with interesting characters. Her two room mates, artist Gabby (Melissa Hampton) and a gay French rocker Remy (Hugo Dillon) also have personal issues of their own, but you could say they’re the comic relief of the movie. And then there’s the cute but mysterious bartender Parker (Aaron Mathias) who befriends Violet but refuses her advances.

It’s intriguing to watch Violet’s journey throughout the film, how her relationships with Parker and Sara (Grace Folsom) who’s dying from bone cancer changes her as the film progresses. Despite the dark theme though, director David Spaltro peppers the film with fun and lighthearted moments, so it’s definitely not a complete downer.

Like many of us who seek to figure out the basic questions of the meaning of life and what happens when we die, it’s certainly a thought provoking film that David has explored with care. One thing though, I feel like the themes of faith and spirituality aren’t explored as deep as I’d like, it merely scratches the surface and lacking conviction. That said, I appreciate that it’s at least being talked about and I’m also thrilled that David has crafted a compelling and multi-layered female character in Violet, something we need to see more in Hollywood.

I’m not surprised that this film has been winning all kinds of awards in various film festivals. It’s a bummer that somehow the movie appears very dark in the theater screens, as the cinematography in NYC looks beautiful. The day after the film screening, David told me that it wasn’t supposed to be so dark, and he gave me access to re-watch the film again.

Kudos to David once again and to Molly and Grace for their affecting performances. The scenes between Violet and Sara are very moving without resorting to overt sentimentality. I look forward to David’s upcoming film Wake Up in New York, hopefully it’ll be shown at TCFF again!

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A Late Quartet

When people think of Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s films this year, they’re likely going to think of Seven Psychopath and The Master, but I’m glad I’m able to see both of them together in this smaller independent drama. The story centers on members of the world-renowned string quartet Fugue, comprised of Peter (Walken), Robert (Hoffman), Juliette (Catherine Keener) and Daniel (Mark Ivanir). Soon we learn that the oldest member of the group, Peter, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which inevitably shakes the group in ways none of them could imagine.

In the wake of Peter’s medical revelation, the rest of the members deals with their own turmoil. Robert and Juliette faces a marital stride due to infidelity, on top of Robert’s pent-up rivalry with Daniel, as he’s no longer content with being the second violinist. To make matters worse, Daniel suddenly discovers his once-repressed passion involving a romance that certainly brings even more complication to the already-fragile group. One thing for sure though, the group wants to stay together as Fugue has been an integral part of their lives for more than 20 years.

This is director Yaron Zilberman‘s first feature film and what a great venue to display the fantastic acting prowess of the talents involved. Nice to see Walken in an understated role, he’s the most ‘normal’ guy in the group (imagine that), but he plays his part brilliantly. Hoffman’s role is much more explosive as Robert deals with unbridled ego and lust that threatens to break his marriage. Keener is always wonderful to watch, she definitely has the elegance and grace to play Juliette though her character is the most enigmatic of the four to me. Last but not least, the Ukranian actor Ivanir also plays his part of the über perfectionist violinist who’s been so obsessed with his music that he hasn’t had time for love. Imogen Poots has quite a memorable part as Hoffman & Keener’s daughter, she definitely holds her own against her much older, more experienced co-stars. Her scene with Keener in particular is quite gut-wrenching.

Though both contains beautiful classical music and also has a similar name, A Late Quartet is quite different in tone from Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet. This one feels like it’s got more depth in terms of character development and deals with such raw emotional situations that stays with you long after the credits. It shows that beneath such flawlessly-played music, there are real and flawed people behind them, struggling through change and relationships like the rest of us. It’s a compelling picture of humanity, and it’s such a treat for the senses not only for the musical arrangements, but also the lovely cinematography. I adore the gorgeous scenery of New York City in the Winter time, everything just looks so romantic! I highly recommend this for any fan of the actors involved, I sure hope this won’t get lost in the shuffle when it opens in limited release sometime in November.

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Problem Solving the Republic

Unfortunately I couldn’t see this one as it’s showing at the same time as A Late Quartet, but I’ll definitely try to see it when it’s available on VOD. It’s a Minnesota production and shot on location in Minneapolis, even just looking at the bizarre genre-bending tagline made me curious enough to see it. You can check out the TCFF interview with writer/director Elliot Diviney on TCFF Youtube Channel.

Below is the review by Emery Thoresen:

Problem Solving the Republic is a Minnesota-made political satire, that uses musical numbers and slap stick humor to tell its story. The humor turned out to be more entertaining commentary than knee slapping jokes. The movie had a charm akin to the campy-horror-movie genre, in that it isn’t for everyone, or, it doesn’t try to appeal to everyone, but viewers who do subscribe to the genre will have a good time watching this. It reminded me of Super, both movies incorporated  superheroes and animated inserts – like a comic book. They both share a similar sense of humor, but Problem Solving the Republic isn’t nearly as violent, super natural, or sad as the Rainn Wilson feature.

I started to get restless in the last couple minutes, it could have been because I had been seeing so many films all day, but it was more likely due to how long it took to wrap the story up. Overall it was a charming movie, the bloopers before the credits were memorable, along with the snap shots of the cast that rolled with the credits. I really enjoyed the characters and actors they chose.

During the discussion afterwards, the director and producer talked about the difficulties they encountered in creating a local film with a small budget, in less than a year. Through their brief explanation they kept pointing to people and mentioning names of contributors, it turned out that a surprising number of people in the audience have had a hand in making this film – which made the laughter and reactions much more genuine.

The TCFF was the premiere, it will be showing at The Riverview Theater in November, but in the mean time pre-ordering a copy online is always an option. Remember, it is always good to support local talent, and this could be a warm-up to election day.

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Check out the trailer below:


Stay tuned for Part II with reviews of Saturday films
and also my Top Five Favorites from the film fest!


Thoughts on any of the films above? Well, I’d love to hear it!

TCFF: 6 Films. 2 Days. 1 Programmer’s Personal Picks

Call it the Ultimate Film Fest Experience. With only 2 more days to go, there are still a bunch of great films playing at the ShowPlace ICON Theatre through Saturday. If you haven’t been able to catch any of the films during the weekdays, but you’re ready for a TCFF movie marathon this weekend, then you’re not too late!

Earlier today I sat down with Steve Snyder, TCFF’s Artistic Director—who’s also TIME.com’s Assistant Managing Editor—to list his recommendations for the last stretch of the film fest. After screening about 200 submissions including a mix of features and shots, and circling other film festivals around the country with executive director Jatin Setia, here are Steve’s picks are that you can still catch at TCFF.


Get your tickets now before they sell out!  Oh and check out this
Amazing Ticket Deal of Saturday Movie Marathon.


FRIDAY:

6pm – Things I Don’t Understand (independent)

I’ve mentioned this on yesterday’s post when I met with director David Spaltro. Well, this film has won Best Feature Film and Best Actress for Minnesota-born actress Molly Ryman in various film festivals. Steve calls Molly a ‘MN star is born’ and this is one of the films that he’s most thrilled about that he was able to get it screened at TCFF. Both David and Molly will be in attendance for a red carpet spotlight and Q&A after.

Having recently chatted with him, I’m even more intrigued by his film and can’t wait to see it. I will post the transcript of the interview when it’s ready, but check out the trailer below:

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9pmA Late Quartet

This is also on my most-anticipated list. I mean the cast alone should get you to rush to see it. Christopher Walken + Philip Seymour Hoffman + Catherine Keener playing members of a string quartet struggling to stay together in the face of death, competing egos and in-suppressible lust. Great thespians making beautiful music together? Steve said you can’t miss this, and I tend to agree. You can view the trailer here.

SATURDAY:

10:45Bay of All Saints

Winner of Audience Award, Documentary at SXSW 2012: In Bahia, Brazil, generations of impoverished families live in palafitas, shacks built on stilts over the ocean bay. Steve said that not only is the subject matter intriguing, but the incredible access director Annie Eastman was able to get to shoot this film gives it a uniquely intimate portrait of the individual stories of poverty shown in the film.

12:45 After I Pick the Fruit

This is a documentary that follows the lives of five immigrant farm worker women over a ten-year period as they labor in the apple orchards and fields of rural western New York, migrate seasonally to Florida, raise their families, and try to hide from the Bush-era immigration raids that were conducted in response to September 11, 2001. This doc is more of an investigative journalism of sort, which illuminates a community that is nearly invisible to most Americans. Director Nancy Ghertner will be in attendance.

These two documentaries are also my picks I’ve listed on this post.

3 pm Take Care

Two estranged women tread cautiously into each other’s lives and their newfound friendship creates a mirror of self-discovery in this character-driven indie drama. I actually have had the pleasure of seeing this one earlier this month and I absolutely agree with Steve that this one is definitely worth checking out. It’s rare to see a meaty role written for a woman, let alone two in one film. Both Ryan Driscoll and Elise Ivy are both fantastic here, and the revelation for both characters are quite intriguing to watch. Don’t miss Ryan Driscoll and director Scott Tanner Jones in attendance for Q&A.

5:30 Dead Dad

When their dad dies unexpectedly, estranged siblings Russell, Jane and their adopted brother, Alex, come home to tend to his remains. Don’t be put off by the title, even though it deals with the loss of a loved one, it’s also about a celebration of family and how they come together to achieve a proper goodbye. Steve said he’s very impressed how the actors could pull off such complex characters. He even went so far as calling it some of the best acting performances of this year. Trailer below:


So, what are you waiting for? Get your tickets now »