Indie Film Spotlight: GUNN + Interview with writer/director C.J. Renner & four cast members

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 as Elston Gunn

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.

Click to see a larger version

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:

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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!

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Thanks so much C.J. Renner + Sasha Michelle + the GUNN cast
for the delightful interview!

A quick blog update… and my first script reading session

Happy Monday everyone! As you might’ve noticed, I haven’t been blogging much. Well, this weekend I caught a nasty cold… y’know, the constant sneezing, runny nose, etc. Luckily I don’t have a fever or cough but still it sucks and my nose is raw as I forgot to buy Kleenex w/ lotion on them :\

Well, some of you might’ve heard about my screenplay that I finished last July. On the spur of the moment I made this graphic just for the fun of it… little did I know I end up using them for the script reading months later.

heartswant
So, I thought I’d share a bit about the reading. It pretty much came about when I met Joanne (JoJo) Liebeler at one of the TCFF after parties, who happens to be the president of MNWIFT (I mentioned in this TCFF recap) She kindly offered her beautiful home for the reading and almost immediately we started planning for a reading in mid January. Thanks to my dear friend Kirsten Gregerson who helped me with casting, and she also did a splendid job reading a few supporting roles!

I had gone to only one reading before and it was a pretty big one. I’m glad my friends and I decided to do a small reading, there were only about 23 people, including the talents. It’s such a privilege to have Lucinda Winter from MN Film & TV Board, and Andrew Peterson from IFP MN among the audience. I had been fretting about the weather as MN Winter is so unpredictable, but thank the Lord that Sunday ended up being pretty warm and sunny!

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Top (from left to right): Shawn, Peter, David, yours truly, Kirsten, Sam, Holly, Noah and the narrator, Remy) – Thanks to my hubby Ivan for taking the photos!

We were so blessed to have been able to cast the seven talents plus one narrator. I’m especially thrilled to have Remy Auberjonois, an accomplished actor/filmmaker who’ve been in major Hollywood films and did theatre on Broadway with the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman narrated the reading. I had featured him on my blog when he did the MN indie feature Blood Stripe (in which Kirsten also had a supporting role), one of my top 30 picks 0f 2016. I’ve also just seen him as Col. Brandon in Guthrie Theatre’s Sense & Sensibility last October. Remy added such gravitas to the reading with his commanding voice. The narrator is such a crucial role in the reading, and I couldn’t imagine anyone better to do the job.

The female lead Lily was played by Sam Simmons, a local tv host for EVINE Live whom I met back in April at MSPIFF. She happens to be from the UK who moved to MN a year ago. My story is set in the UK w/ British characters so it’s cool to get an actual native Brit as one of the leads. She’s absolutely brilliant as Lily. Not only does she look like who I pictured Lily to be, she also sounds lovely and conveyed the emotions of the character very well.

The handsome leading man Peter + gorgeous leading lady Sam
The handsome leading man + gorgeous leading lady

Again, thanks to Kirsten we somehow landed a massively talented Twin Cities actor Peter Christian Hansen as the male lead, Jacques. He’s starred in a bazillion plays in town in which he won two Ivey Awards, as well as a few film projects. He did such an amazing job as Jacques… he’s got a bit of a bad boy edge that makes him perfect for the role. Given his extensive theatrical background, he also gave a very expressive performance, complete with gestures, instead of just reading the script! There’s such a scorching chemistry between Sam and Peter too, which is electrifying to watch.

If you’re interested about the actors bio, you can view the flyer here

I absolutely LOVE every single actor who read the script… THANK YOU Peter, Sam, Kirsten, David Coral, Noah Gillett, Shawn Dunbar and my lovely friend Holly Peterson! It’s quite surreal to see my story came to live thanks to their performances. Thanks to Ted and D.J. for taping the reading. I’ve watched it a couple of times already and I’m still amazed at even the subtle performances of the supporting cast… even just saying a simple line of ‘Would you like a playbill?’ gets everyone laughing, well done Holly! 👍

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Now my plan is to make a short film of Hearts Want… hopefully to have it wrapped this year yet. It’d be awesome have the same cast from the reading, so fingers crossed that would happen.

Update:

We did shoot the short film in mid April. Here’s the blog update… and you can always follow the Hearts Want journey on Facebook!

In terms of blogging, well I will try to keep posting about once a week. But you will see more guest reviews for the coming months. Suffice to say, I may not be blogging about Oscar nominations tomorrow… it’s just too much going on for me right now to do so.

Wish me luck with the short film project, we will likely do the crowd-funding route to help with financing, so hopefully I can count on you kind and generous people to help out 🙂


Well that’s the scoop folks. You could say I have my work cut out for me.