TCFF 2018 Film Spotlight: SAVING FLORA & interview with writer/director Mark Taylor

Since we’ve past the halfway mark of the Twin Cities Film Fest, I think I have seen enough movies to indicate which ones have been my favorites. Well, Saving Flora is definitely one of those that I thoroughly enjoyed and I can see myself watching again! Thank you Mark Taylor (and Synkronized Films) for taking the time to chat with me!

Flora is a circus elephant who can no longer perform her tricks. The night before she’s scheduled to be euthanized, the circus owner’s 14-year old daughter, Dawn, sneaks Flora from the circus. All that stands between them and the safety of the elephant preserve is two hundred kilometers of woods, one raging river, two elephant hunters and the fear of not making it.

How did this project come about for you and what’s the inspiration for the story?

I was a creative director at the advertising agency Saatchi in Los Angeles and was getting frustrated creatively and wanted to writes a story that I felt had some sort of meaning, something that had soul. I’d always loved family films and knew how influential my favorites ones growing up had been to me. I knew that I was going to want to direct this story also as just handing it over to an already established film director was going to short change my creative journey. I stories that depict the relationship between a child and an animal and having trained as an advertising Art Director I do tend to see things very visually. What better visual than a small child and an elephant. It was important for me that the young child was a girl, I have many strong females in my life one of which was my seven year old daughter Maya. It was easy to see her making such a journey with an elephant if she had the desire. I started writing Saving Flora with my writing partner David (at the time also a fellow creatively frustrated ad guy), we both love animals  and although against animals in circuses we also knew we had to have compassion and an understanding of circus life .

David Arquette as the ringmaster

2. There’s always something so mystical and maybe dark about the world of circus, but yet Saving Flora has a lightness and sweetness to it given it’s a family film, was that tough to achieve that balance?

Yes, as I mentioned before, David and I are very much animal lovers but we did spend time with former circus owners and performers and Flora (Thai) herself. Everyone we met was extremely loving and caring and there was very much a family vibe amongst them all. We never intended this story to be a statement about elephants in circuses but a story about the bond between a girl and an animal.

3. I would like to ask you about casting, but firstly I’m curious how it was working with elephants as your directorial debut. Were there a few elephants cast as Flora?

There was only ever one elephant cast and that choice was a no brainer. We visited Thai and her owners a number of times before the shoot. She’s amazing. Not only had she been in a number of films before but she is an older elephant also and her story in some ways related to Floras. Elephants cost a lot of money to feed and keep every year and she is not funded by a charity Thai has to work for her keep. Indians weddings mostly. She is very much loved by her owners and you can feel their concern for the years to come.

Thai (playing Flora) with Jenna Ortega

4. I adore Jenna Ortega as Dawn, she is completely charming and believable in her relationship with Flora. How did you find her, did you do a big casting process? The boy who played Sebastian is also pretty great.

We had looked at lots of girls to play Dawn but when Jenna was put forward she not only helped us define Dawn’s character but also define some of the tone of the film. Jenna’s latino heritage inspired our choices for casting the other characters also. It made us shake things up a bit and create a world that was a bit more representative of America.

Jenna Ortega as Dawn

5. How’s the process in getting the appropriate bond between Dawn and Flora for the film? 

That was easy. An amazing elephant and a fearless lead actress. The first scene they had to shoot together was Dawn lying down asleep on Flora. Thai lay down on her side and Jenna instantly crawled into her neck and snuggled up. It really was magical. 

6. Visually the film looks stunning. Where did you film this and how long was the entire shoot?

It was a 21 day shoot so we knew we had our work cut out for us, especially as we were essentially filming a road movie. We also needed to shoot with the 50 mile LA film zone. Luckily our location guy Frank was amazing. We settled on a private area of land called Newhall ranch, a little town with a train station called Piru, a few days at Piru lake and a day at Angeles Crest. Newhall ranch is 126,000 acres and within reason we could move around quickly and efficiently within it creating different textures and environments depending which way we pointed the camera. I always knew a circus, a girl and an elephant in the desert would look amazing but I was lucky  enough to have my friend and DP Michael Pessah on the film. I had directed a number of commercials that Michael had DP’d and we had developed a great working relationship based on trust and respect. We worked our asses off.

7. Lastly, what’s the most challenging part of the shoot, but on the flip side, what’s the most surprisingly delightful part of filming?

The most challenging part of the shoot was definitely the 21 days to shoot it in combined with the 4 to six hours of shooting time with the elephant for only ten days and the limited amount of hours you can shoot with a 15 year old. The surprising and very delightful part was the magic that happened in the filming. I was told that things would go wrong in the making of the film but I felt so blessed to be doing the film in the first place that I felt that if things did go wrong then they would go wrong for a reason and that reason was to make the film better. And I was right. Magic happens on set if you allow it to.

Thank you Mark Taylor for chatting with me!

Check out this TCFF red carpet interview with our host Doug Sidney:

Stay tuned for FlixChatter video interview w/ actors David Arquette and Tom Arnold at TCFF red carpet!

TWIN CITIES FILM FEST announces a star-studded 2018 lineup!

TCFF announces a diverse and inspiring lineup of films for their 2018 festival, to be held October 17-27 at Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres at The Shops at West End with ICON•X. Coming off of a successful September Gala that honored Steve Zahn with the Lifetime Achievement Award and Rachel Mairose from Secondhand Hounds with the Changemaker Award, this year’s festival will officially open their ninth year with Peter Farrelly’s Green Book (November 21, Participant Media and DreamWorks Pictures).

When Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger—as well as unexpected humanity and humor—they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.

Green Book recently won the Toronto International Film Festival’s coveted People’s Choice Award this past week! Producer Jim Burke, Academy Award nominee for “The Descendants,” will be attending.

Opening night festivities will also include a screening of Time for Ilhan, a documentary about State Representative and Federal House candidate, Ilhan Omar, who will be in attendance along with director Norah Shapiro and cinematographer Chris Newberry.

The Centerpiece Highlight on Friday, October 19 is the Newport Beach Film Festival hit comedy When Jeff Tried to Save the World starring Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite). Heder and director Kendall Goldberg will be in attendance. United Skates, a documentary about roller skating and a community’s battle to save an underground subculture will close out the festival on October 27, with producer and Minnesota native Tiffany Fisher-Love in attendance.

Other visiting guests this year include David Arquette and Tom Arnold with the U.S. premiere of Saving Flora, the story of a 14-year-old girl who kidnaps an elephant from a circus to take it to a nature reserve, screening on October 22. Chef Andrew Zimmern will also be in attendance on Thursday, October 25 for the Midwest premiere of Chef Flynn, a documentary about a ten-year-old who transformed his living room into a supper club and achieved sudden fame.

TCFF is also thrilled to feature Widows (20th Century Fox) a modern-day thriller from Steve McQueen starring Viola Davis and Liam Neeson, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Fox Searchlight Pictures) starring Melissa McCarthy, Boy Erased (Focus Features) starring Joel Edgerton and Nicole Kidman and The Favourite (Fox Searchlight Pictures) starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

In addition to their regular programming this year, TCFF is pleased to collaborate with the Jewish Film Festival and the Northstar Science Film Festival, showing a slate of thought provoking films while launching a brand new initiative, TCFF Tech. TCFF Tech is a one-of-a-kind 3-day event spotlighting the impact of technology on social issues, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

I’ll post the complete schedule later with some of my most-anticipated selections!

Tickets are on-sale this weekend for TCFF Members and will be open to the public next week beginning Friday, September 28th, 2018. Ticket prices are $12 for General Admission & $20 for Gala Tickets.

Festival Passes can also be purchased as follows: Silver Pass – $50 (5 pack of non-Gala tickets); Gold Pass – $80 (10 pack of non-Gala tickets); Platinum Pass – $120 (12 pack of non-Gala tickets + 2 Gala tickets); Gala Pass – $100 (6 tickets to any Gala Film); and the All Access Pass – $500 (Guaranteed seat in premiere row at ANY screening +more!).

To learn more about TCFF, events, film submissions or to donate, visit the newly-redesigned


Oh and as if great films aren’t enough for the 11-day festivities, check out the amazing lineup of FREE EDUCATIONAL events!!

So yeah, TCFF 2018 can’t come soon enough!