I love music-themed movies, so I was excited to see SOLD OUT. Somehow I did not realize the Minnesota-connection until I started watching this movie, which opens with a snowy Minneapolis skyline. Strangely-enough, I warmed up to this movie right away. It centers on a down-on-his-luck construction worker John (Sam Bardwell) who wants to pursue his musical dreams as a singer/songwriter. We first meet John in marriage therapy with his wife who clearly isn’t too happy about her husband’s idea of becoming a musician. Later on we meet freelance talent scout Kat (Kelsey McMahon) who’s having a moment as the rock band Lincoln 8 she discovered just had a breakthrough. They’re playing to a sold-out crowd at First Avenue, a major Twin Cities landmark, and getting multiple offers. The scene of the band playing on stage is beautifully-shot and it’s even more fun for me to watch as I actually knew a couple of the actors in the band – Matt Bailey (looking every inch a rock star as the lead singer) and Alex Galick as the keyboardist.
John and Kat end up meeting by chance at a bar, when he overhears that she is a talent scout. John takes a chance and gives his CD to Kat to listen to, which leads to Kat taking him under her wing to help him realize his potential. I usually enjoy music-themed dramas like Begin Again, Sing Street, Once, etc. and this one has a similar vibe. The road-movie aspect as John and Kat go on the road together gives a chance for the two main characters to connect, plus it also showcases some really cool MN Wintry scenes. There’s a memorable scene right in the middle of a frozen lake at sunrise that could totally be the film’s poster!
It’s always important for films about music to have memorable musical sequences in them (on stage or otherwise) and there are a few here. I like the scene where John does a duet of Amazing Grace with Kat’s dad in the kitchen. It’s such a lovely, intimate moment. I love that the film shows the process, struggles and sacrifices that one has to make to pursue one’s dreams, even if it seems out of reach. Director Tim Dahlseid, is quite impressive in his feature film debut, ably balancing the music, drama and romantic aspects. I also commend Susan Brightbill (who’s written a TV movie called Holiday Hearts) for penning a compelling script with a complex woman at the center. There is a lot of layers to the story in terms of who Kat really is–there’s really a lot for a talented performer to dig into.
Two former lovers who reunite for a play face the consequences of a secret that threatens to tear them apart forever.
It’s FREE to stream if you have Prime subscription, but it’s also available to rent or buy for non Prime subscribers for a nominal fee. Would you be so kind as to lend support by watching the film, and better yet, leave a review/rating right on Amazon.I’d really appreciate it if you can also help us spread the word out to your friends & family!
It’s been nearly three years since we filmed our short film in mid April 2017, exactly the day after Easter. You can also read about the filmmaking journey here. Hearts Want had a wonderful journey in various film festivals, both here in Minnesota and abroad.
Thanks to director Jason P. Schumacher and the talented MN-based cast & crew for making this dream a reality. I also want to thank those who have backed this project via Kickstarter. We wouldn’t have been able to complete this film in time for Twin Cities Film Fest where it won the Audience Award for short and made the five finalists for Best Short!
You can keep up with the project via our website and Facebook page. Oh and you can also listen to the wonderful score by Charlie McCarron on Spotify!
One of the perks of covering film festivals is discovering cinematic gems that I otherwise would not have come across. This is one of those sparkling gems I got to see at MSPIFF this year. Not only is this film speaks of a topic that is near and dear to my heart as a female film critic/screenwriter/filmmaker, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is eye-opening, inspiring, captivating and absolutely delightful to watch!
Pamela B. Green’s energetic film about pioneer filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché is both a tribute and a detective story, tracing the circumstances by which this extraordinary artist faded from memory and the path toward her reclamation.
‘Be Natural’ Review
Directed by: Pamela B. Green
Written by: Pamela B. Green, Joan Simon
Have you ever heard of Georges Méliès? The Lumière Brothers? Thomas Edison? Most likely your answer would be yes. But how about Alice Guy-Blaché? If you say ‘Alice who?’ then you’re not alone.
I remember feeling really guilty that I didn’t know who Alice Guy was, I mean I consider myself well-versed in cinema history. Or so I thought. But then the opening of this film asked that very question, ‘Have you ever heard of Alice Guy-Blaché?’ to a number of filmmakers working in the industry (i.e. Catherine Hardwicke, Jon M. Chu, Peter Farrelly) and many of them had never heard of her.
By the time Jodie Foster’s voice came on as the narrator, I was glued to the screen, captivated and deeply curious to hear more about this untold story of Alice Guy, the forgotten ‘Mother of Cinema’ who’s seemingly been absent from cinema history through generations. Pamela B. Green has poured her passion and admiration for Alice Guy-Blaché and it shows. She utilized her background in motion design (she’s the founder/owner of Pic Agency in Los Angeles) in her storytelling style. I love that the film goes beyond showing talking heads and an immense wealth of archival photos/footage, but it’s also a thrilling detective story. The animation/motion graphics helped convey the filmmaker and team’s journey in finding the right people to tell Alice Guy’s journey, including her daughter Simone Blaché.
It’s immensely inspiring to see a woman behind the camera in the late 1800s. Alice Guy is shown in various photos directing actors on set. By her own account, she made the first narrative films ever in 1896! However, despite having made over 1,000 films, it’s heartbreaking that Alice had to fight to get credit for her work. It’s also astounding that even a hundred years later, there’s still a huge disparity for women behind the camera. I’m SO glad I finally learned about Alice Guy-Blaché and her crucial place in the cinema history. This film is so overdue, yet it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. As more people are championing gender parity in cinema, this film would likely inspire to keep up the good fight.
I can’t recommend this film enough to anyone who loves cinema, whether you’re a casual movie-watcher or involved in filmmaking at any capacity. Check out where this film is playing next on their official website.
* Photo courtesy of Be Natural Productions
** Photo courtesy of Anthony Slide
Check out the trailer:
Quick Bio on Pamela B. Green
Originally from New York, Pamela B. Green lived most of her life in Europe and Israel and as a result, is fluent in English, French, Italian, and Hebrew. In 2005, she founded PIC, an entertainment and motion design boutique based in Los Angeles, California. Green’s work ranges from feature film main titles, motion graphics, creative directing, directing and producing music videos and commercials. She is known in the industry for creating titles sequences and story sequences using her knowledge of graphic design, animation, editorial, and archival rare stock footage research.
Q&A with filmmaker Pamela B. Green
As soon as I saw Be Natural film, I went on Twitter to share about the film and to thank Pamela for shining a light on such a cinematic pioneer & visionary who’s somehow forgotten/omitted from film history books. I then contacted Pamela via her official site and was thrilled that I got to chat with her over the phone last Wednesday. Check out my Q&A below on some insights into her filmmaking journey.
Q1: What inspired you to tell Alice Guy’s story and let the world know that she is the true #MotherOfCinema?
I saw a tv show about women pioneers in cinema which included her. The show mentioned Mary Pickford (who co-founded Pickford–Fairbanks Studio with Douglas Fairbanks) who’s also well-known as an actress. But the fact that Alice Guy had done so much and had her own studio, she stood out. I had never heard of her at that point, and the more people I asked, I realized that many people also had never heard of her. I did more research and talked to some people in the academics community who said ‘oh everyone knows about Alice’ which made me angry because that [statement] is not true. Only a small group of academics knew about her.
I kept asking people that I work with in Hollywood, those I do jobs for, studios, and nobody had heard of her. I decided to do something about it. At that point I wasn’t sure what it would be yet, but coincidentally I was working with Robert Redford on a couple of films. On a second film, I told him about Alice and he was shocked as well. He said ‘well what are you going to do about this?’ Then I said, well I think I should do a documentary because I don’t think there’s enough work has been done to really explore Alice besides the academic aspect, restoring her films, documenting what she had done, etc. but it wasn’t a full exploration of her.
Q2: How long ago was this, that this journey started?
Oh a long time ago. In 2011 I was talking about this. Then we did a Kickstartercampaign in 2013 which was quite successful. Then the head of Geena Davis’ institute [SheJane.org] found out about it and then she talked to a big producers Geralyn White Dreyfous, Regina K. Scully, Jamie Wolf who came on board. They’re not part of Hollywood, but people who often fund social issues pertaining to women. Hugh Hefner and Jodie Foster also came on board as executive producers. They’re all visionaries who understood right away why I had to make this film. Instead of having to fight the system in Hollywood, I went the other way and they really helped me.
Q3: Did you face resistance from people who try to maintain the status quo of cinema history?
Yes. I get a lot of resistance from France, the Academics, professors. And Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. I mean they participated but Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. It’s completely donation-based. The ‘wallets’ just wasn’t available I guess, so I got funding from social media and these wonderful women. Barbara Bridges from the Denver Film Society is one, basically a lot of women behind the men who helped fund this movie, a lot of philanthropist women helped tell this story. The film is also distributed independently, outside of the studio system. But I see it as a positive thing, I was able to make the movie that I wanted to make, and marketed it the way I wanted to market it. There’s not many ‘fingers in the pot’ while I was making the film.
Q4: I love that the film also plays like a detective story, and the motion graphics helped convey that so wonderfully. Was that a conscious decision on your part to tell the story that way?
Yes, from the very beginning. I wanted to have Skype interviews, contact people around the world. Some people in the industry said to me ‘It wouldn’t be aesthetically correct. Why would you do that? It would look bad, what do you know about editing, etc.’ So I got a lot of resistance and people saying that I didn’t know what I was doing while making this film. So it’s similar to how Alice Guy was treated and had to deal with, that is having people second-guessing her as a filmmaker.
Q5: Where can people see Alice Guy’s extensive work? Is there plans to make her work readily available to the public?
Our film opened at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center on Friday, April 19. Then IFC Center in New York on April 26, then slowly we’re opening in multiple cities in the US and internationally [check out the film’s official site for schedule].
As far as Alice Guy’s films, there’s the Gaumont DVD collection [available on Amazon]. Kino Lorber Distribution company has some of her American films which they’ve released as part of the Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers disc [available on Amazon]. I’m also working on doing her American collections available for streaming. There are about 150 of her films in existence and we’re setting up a foundation that would hopefully support that venture.
There are countless of stories of war that have been depicted on screen, whether narratives or documentaries. They are inherently fascinating to me, and I’m especially intrigued by stories of survival, especially when told by the survivors themselves, as in the case of this remarkable WWII documentary with a Minnesota connection.
Told by U.S. Eighth Air Force Bombardier Lt. Charles Woehrle, one of 10,000 prisoners in Stalag Luft III – depicted in the movie ‘The Great Escape.’ At age 93 this remarkable man, a gifted storyteller, relives his experiences with vivid detail. His personal account of being shot down, captured by the Nazi’s and surviving two long years of tremendous hardship is filled with grit and grace.
In the promotional material for the film fest, the film is billed as ‘saga filled with grit and grace.’ I couldn’t agree more after seeing the film, I feel that it was how the late Lt. Charles Woehrle lived all his life… up until he passed away at the age of 98. It’s truly a good thing that Mr. Woehrle’s niece Louise is a gifted filmmaker, as she brought her uncle’s story to life so beautifully.
Though this film depicts a harrowing story, it has such hopeful, uplifting tone, a certain quiet grace that shines through when the then 93-year-old Charles Woehrle told his story on camera. Director Louise Woehrle used footage from 13+ hours of interviews with her late uncle, and combined them with various photos, real footage, countless memorabilia, plus re-enactment scenes to tell an inspiring tale of survival.
Lieutenant Woehrle spent 22 months at Stalag Luft III prison camp along with other Allied officers. This film allowed him to provide the voice for his fellow comrades who couldn’t tell their own stories. There’s also a delightful story about how he received an unexpected gift from Patek Philippe, the luxury watch company from Geneva while he was a prisoner of war. I was so invested in the soldiers’ stories that when I saw the footage of General Patton liberating the Allied prison camps, I literally cheered. As a movie fan, I was amused to see footage of classic Hollywood star Clark Gable who joined the Army Air Force and was part of the 351st Bombardment Group.
This is a film told with passion and care. The amount of meticulous details is astounding, and they’re woven together seamlessly with the ‘talking head’ interviews and re-enactments to tell a cohesive story that’s suspenseful, thrilling, deeply-touching and inspiring. I have to mention the wonderful music which mixes the classic theme from The Great Escape by Elmer Bernstein, as well as those made specifically for this film. Great music adds such richness to the whole experience and that is definitely the case here.
I’m glad I got to see this film and learn more about a real life hero, as well as others whose stories are told through him. A brilliant showcase of the triumph of the human spirit. Lt. Woehrle’s and his comrades’ experience certainly gives me a whole new appreciation about life and the freedom we enjoy every day. …
Q&A with filmmaker Louise Woehrle
Q1. What sparked the idea that you wanted to tell your uncle’s story?
The idea was sparked after my dad died in 2006. I was still working on my feature documentary Pride of Lions (co-directed with my brother John Woehrle) so I knew it couldn’t happen right away. By 2010 when my uncle was age 93, I could wait no longer, and that’s when I got busy. I knew that even if my uncle passed away after I shot his interviews in the studio, I could still tell his story.
Q2. Sounds like you filmed this five years before your uncle passed (when he was 93), how long was the interview process with him specifically?
The interview process happened in 3 in-studio interview sessions, lasting 3-4 hours each. I had subsequent interviews at his apartment later.
Q3. Did you learn new things about his tale you didn’t know before?
Yes, I learned a lot of new things. The one that stands out the most is the watch story. We had been shooting at a Stalag Luft III reunion in Detroit. I was interviewing a PoW who was on oxygen. He was wearing a Rolex watch that was broken and he said he never took it off because he had it in prison camp. So, when my uncle and I were flying back to Minneapolis, I asked him if he had a watch in camp? He looked at me and said, “Let me tell you a story about a watch.” That’s the first time I heard about the Patek Philippe. I think it was never mentioned because his house was robbed in the 70s and the watch was one of the stolen valuables. He just moved on and did not talk about it. I knew, at that moment, what that watch meant to him and so began my search for the watch and ultimately a replacement watch from Patek Philippe.
The watch from Patek Philippe
The watch was specially engraved for Charles Woehrle
Q4.When watching the film, I was astounded by the amount of details of footage, photos, memorabilia, etc. that really makes for effective documentary storytelling. Would you share a bit about the research and process of collecting all of those items?
My uncle held on to his WWII documents, logbook, journal, artifacts, letters from home, Patek documents and the negatives from the photos he took at the end of the war with the Voigtlander camera that ended up in the Nuremberg Trials. I also attained scans from Col. Clark’s photo collection from the Air Force Academy Library. Those photos were taken with clandestine cameras by the PoWs. I also worked with the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley in Little Falls, MN. They provided uniforms, tin cups, red cross parcels, the French Box car and more.
I was able to attain 2 film reels from the footage that was used in William Wiley’s 1944 documentary film Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress. 16 mm reels from an archival film licensing online platform, Critical Past. I did a deal with them. If they sent me the reels of film, we would do the digital transfer for them. My colorist, Dave Sweet at Pixel Farm specializes in the transfer of 16mm and 35mm. Because we worked out an even trade, Critical Past did not charge for the use of the film. I also scored on the use of the B-17 from EAA in Wisconsin. That’s a whole other story of convincing them why they should work with me. All things led back to Uncle Charles and his true story. He lived it and we get to document that story! It was a 95-degree day when they landed for 4 hours at Anoka Airport. I had to rent commercial air conditioning units so none of our re-enactors would pass out from heat stroke with all that gear on.
Q5.I thought the re-enactment scenes were well-crafted and looked very believable. How’s the process of casting the actors and recreating those air battle scenes?
We used green screen while shooting the B-17 on the ground at the Anoka airport. The goal was to shoot as much as we could with the limited time that we had. VFX were always going to be a part of the equation but I had no idea how far we could take it. I saw this sequence as being critical to the film. I was working with one of my several shooters on the project, Alex Fournier, who also assisted in some editing too. He studied art at the Chicago Institute of Art so he had a real talent for learning VFX. Alex fell down the rabbit hole learning what he needed to make a bullet coming through the fuselage look real, taking a still image and animating it and creating a scene of jumping out of the B-17 look real. He must have worked for 3 months, straight. I was very involved in editing that sequence. I knew it had to have the right rhythm to work and so did Jim Stanger, my editor who seamlessly connected each piece. Splice came in and took the VFX to the next level with their contributions.
For the B-17 air battle sequence, I had to rely on Minnesota Military Museum’s help, specifically historians Doug Thompson and Charlie Pautler. I told them that I wanted young guys for the roles who were in shape and could wear their hair short. My historians delivered a great group. I also used some of the same guys on the forced march sequence. Three of the PoWs were family, my son Luke Enyeart (age 19), nephew, Dylan Woehrle and my uncle Charles grandson, George Kelly. Keep in mind, none of my reenactors were actual actors. The only true actor in the film was the voice over for Charles mother, Anna. That was voiced by veteran actor Sally Wingert. The woman who played the mother role, Joan Lambert had acted in high school and she was a mother, therefore, she could relate to the story. How I found Joan is yet another serendipitous event.
Q6. Did you make contact with any of Charles’ former crew that you’re making this film?
Actually, it was a family member of one of my uncle’s fellow crew members who contacted me. The daughter of Sgt. Charles Eaton (Top Turret) who is standing next to Charles in the photo of the 4 PoWs standing after they were captured. Eaton is standing next to my Uncle. They pretended they did not know each other. The daughter called me because her dad did not talk about the war and she hoped that Uncle Charles could shed some light on some unanswered questions. I arranged a conference call with Charles, the daughter and her sister and myself. They asked what their dad was like back then because the man they grew up with seemed fractured emotionally from the war. Their dad could never get over the fact that he could not get the radio operator to jump. The kid was too scared so he went down with the plane. After Uncle Charles told them about want a great guy he was and how you could always count on him, etc. they started to cry. Later they wrote to us and said how healing it was to talk to my Uncle and that it explained a lot. Uncle Charles also told them that their dad did everything he could to help the radio operator but had to jump at the last second to save his own life.
Q7. And was it Charles’ idea to honor their stories, as in providing a voice for those who didn’t make it?
Uncle Charles honored his fellow airmen, always. When he went to France as the last survivor of the crew, he took it upon himself to represent all his crew in the best way he knew how. He documented every part of the trip and put together books for each family of the crew and sent to them. He felt it was his duty as the last man standing. That’s just how he lived his life. So when you ask, was it his idea to provide a voice for those who did not make it, I would have to say yes. Was it my idea to include that theme in the film? Yes. The mission for Whirlygig Productions from inception in 2002: “Telling stories that help us see ourselves and others in new ways, promote healing and connect us as human beings.” I have shortened the tag line to “Shining a light on stories that need to be told.” For me, there always needs to be the purpose of a greater good that can come from a story. Uncle Charles lived his story, I was lucky enough to document it through this film.
Q8. Sounds like your uncle lives his life with ‘grit and grace.’ Would you share one personal moment of you and your uncle that you’ll always carry with you?
Yes – one day we were talking over dinner and I asked him who in the family reminded him of my Dad (his identical twin). I was thinking one of my 4 brothers, maybe my sons. He gently pointed his finger at me. I was moved. Uncle Charles and I were there for each other – at that moment, I understood our connection on another level.
Q9. The moment where Charles went to a Detroit Air Show is very moving, esp when he got inside the bomber airplane similar to his B-17. Please tell me one of your favorite moments making this film.
Well, that was one of my favorite moments because up until that point he was telling me there would be no way he would ever get into a B-17 again after all he had been through. So when the young captain on the tarmac asked Uncle Charles if he wanted to go up into the plane and he said “no, no, no,” and the guy driving the golf cart said “yes, yes, yes,” or something like that…something switched in him and he did it! I was blown away. It brought a lot of joy to not only him, but the rest of us watching him.
Q10. I love the music used throughout and you’re credited as the Music Supervisor. I noticed that you used the theme from The Great Escape film by Elmer Bernstein.
Thank you. Music is the bedrock of my storytelling. I studied music growing up and into college. I became a music therapy major at the U of Minnesota. Music is integral to every story. When we were editing the Stalag Luft III prison camp sequence my editor, Jim Stanger asked if we could use the music from the Great Escape movie to get us in the spirit of being there. Of course, I said yes but was worried we would get so attached that I would never be able to find music to replace it. Elmer Bernstein composed beautifully to the spirit of that film. Well, as I thought, I got attached to the music so much that I reached out to the Elmer Bernstein Family Foundation. They referred me to Sony ATV. It took 4 months of emails back and forth with detailed examples of how the music cues would work with the sequences. Finally, they said yes and allowed me to use 4 cues at a minimal fee. They understood this was an independent film about a pretty impressive man who lived the real Stalag Luft III. I am very grateful that they got on board.
Q11. How did you select the music for this film?
I have a good sense of what a scene or sequence needs emotionally and musically. I used that inner knowing when diving into the various music libraries. The right music sort of jumps out at me. I lost myself for days looking for various music cues. There were a few cues that my editors used to cut to that we left in too. My music editor Ken Chastain did a great job providing transitional music or creating certain classics, like Silent Night, Amazing Grace or tonal segues.
My son Luke Enyeart composed 4 cues after Uncle Charles capture and during his time in the cold and hardship in prison camp. Luke wrote a couple of the cues with his good friend Will Honaker. Luke’s primary instrument is the guitar. He has composed music for 4 of my film projects and possesses great emotional intelligence in his music. You can’t teach that.
Q12. Lastly, what would you want people to take away from after seeing this film?
I hope they feel like their hearts have been opened and tended to by the life of Charles Woehrle. I hope they can walk away feeling inspired by kindness, compassion, and love for our fellow man. I want future generations to know how much we owe the Greatest Generation and hope that my Uncle’s story starts a conversation and offers some healing for families like the Charles Eaton’s.
As a film blogger, I’m so fortunate that I got to ‘meet’ filmmakers (whether virtually or in person) from all over the globe and help champion their work. I first learned about Forget Me Not in early 2017, right when I was I was in crazy pre-production mode working on my own short film Hearts Want. Thankfully I got in touch again with director Nicholas Goulden and producer Angela Godfrey earlier this year and got to see his wonderful, heartfelt short film set during the holiday season in London.
Alone and invisible to the world, a homeless man and the ghost of a little girl discover they are each other’s only hope of finding peace in time for Christmas.
The title of this film is most appropriate as it’s one of those films that will linger in your mind long after you watched it. It also has a very significant meaning given the story revolves around two people who are ‘forgotten’ by people, especially during the hustle bustle of Christmas at a busy London junction.
Renowned Scottish actor James Cosmo played the homeless man Benedict, with Ruby Royle as the little girl Isobel and John Heffernan as a working man who offers Benedict coffee daily. It takes a bit of time to figure out just who the little girl is and why she keeps approaching Benedict, and that’s the point. I feel like the deliberate measured pace is a contrast to the speed of how everything and everyone is moving every day, unaware of what’s happening around us as we’re so focused on ourselves.
There’s such a quiet grace in the way the story is told, with few words spoken. Yet it packs an emotional punch and the scene at the end got me all teared up. I’m not going to give anything away, as I hope one day the film would be available for public view.
The cinematography (by Chris Fergusson) and music (composed by Matthew Slater) is absolutely stunning and adds even more emotional resonance to the overall viewing experience. I adore the story that speaks about themes of hope and caring for those who are most in need around us. Kudos to filmmaker duo, director Nicholas Goulden & producer Angela Godfrey (both of them also wrote the screenplay) for creating such a beautiful film, both thematically and visually speaking.
Q. What’s your background in film? And what made you decide to make Forget Me Not a short film?
Nicholas – I started at the bottom, as a runner, and worked up. I came to the film industry in my mid-twenties with the intention of telling stories that interested me, but first of all I had to learn the craft – and stay alive! While directing, writing and producing independent material, I moved up through the AD department to 1st AD, primarily on films and commercials. This experience has given me a huge wealth of knowledge which I’m able to bring to my directing work.
Regarding making Forget Me Not a short film, I guess the simple answer is we planned it that way. The short film format was perfect for the story that we wanted to tell.
Q. Angela, you’ve been involved in huge studio productions costing hundreds of millions. What’s been the most gratifying thing for you in making something much smaller on a personal level for you?
Angela – I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been involved with lots of high budget film and tv productions and I still very much enjoy being a part of them, but as a Script Supervisor I tend to only be involved in a very small way. So for me, having the chance to build a story that is important to me personally and see it grow right from a tiny seed to where it is now has been incredible.
Q. Forget Me Not is such a beautiful, poignant story. What’s the inspiration for the story? Was there a personal connection for either one of you?
Nicholas – The inspiration really came from the desire to address themes that are not only important to both of us as people but also resonate with a contemporary audience. We all go through times when life is against us and we feel lost and alone – hopeless – so telling a story that addressed different facets of that felt very worthwhile.
Angela – In doing so, we wanted above all to make as well crafted and affecting film as we could that could strike a chord with everyone who watched it. It is also a very visual and sound heavy film with minimal dialogue which means it can be enjoyed by people around the world no matter their age or language.
Q. There’s a magical realism in the story, yet it still very much grounded in the day-to-day reality. Tell me how you balance out those elements in the film, esp. for Nicholas as a director.
Nicholas – Finding that balance was really important and something we worked a lot on. I looked at it very much from the point of view of a real world where magical things happen, rather than a magical world where real things happen, so the emphasis was on a naturalistic approach. It was conceived exactly as you’ve described – grounded in reality with a touch of magic.
Q. Please tell us a bit about the casting for the project, particularly James Cosmo, who’s a pretty well-known character actor even here in the States. I’d also love to hear how John Heffernan come on board.
Angela – As relatively unknown filmmakers it’s very difficult to persuade an actor who is in high demand to come and work on a short film, in the freezing cold in the run up to Christmas, so we were very lucky to have a very talented Casting Director, Rachel Sheridan, on board, who knew both James and John would be perfect for the roles of Benedict and Jack. Having Rachel behind us, helped us approach James and Jack in a professional way so that we could be taken seriously.
Nicholas – For Isobel and Owen, we contacted agents all over the country, looking at hundreds of actors, dozens of submission tapes and ultimately auditioning about thirty actors. It was a long, time-consuming process but totally worth it, bringing us the fabulous Louis and, of course, Ruby.
Q. How many days did it take to shoot the film? Looks like there are mostly night shoots or was it in the wee hours of the morning?
Angela– We shot the film in 3 and a half days. We worked ‘split days’ which means our call time was later than a normal shooting day, allowing us a few hours of daylight at the start of each day and then the rest was shot after nightfall, and we’d wrap by 11pm. Having a child actor as a lead made life harder as we had very strict times that we had to adhere to, so everything was tightly scheduled.
Q. What’s your favorite part of the shoot? Conversely, any memorable on-set snafu you’d like to share?
Nicholas – My favourite part was shooting Benedict taking a bite of the cookie – his performance is delightful and still makes me chuckle. With so many emotion-laden scenes, the shoot was especially intense and that scene was always intended as a lovely moment of levity. James absolutely nailed it.
As for snafus, we had niggles but we were fortunate. Given the time restrictions everything went remarkably smoothly, which is a testament to the level of planning which went into it! But we had our moments – for example we had managed to hire the coffee cart but didn’t have transport to get it across London – the delivery costs would have blown a hole in the budget and we had no driver let alone usable van of our own. In the end, Jonathan, one of our floor runners who had come over by coach and ferry from Utrecht in Holland to be part of the shoot, cycled the thing across London through the freezing rain. It was titanic efforts like that which really held us together.
Q. The location in bustling Hammersmith is almost a character in itself. Tell us a bit about how you choose that location.
Nicholas – Angela and I were familiar with the location prior to the project. The architecture of the flyover has a brutalist beauty which really appealed to us. Also, there is a fascinating contradiction in the fact that it’s thronging with people and traffic practically 24-7 but only because people are trying to get from somewhere else to somewhere else. That makes it quite a lonely, isolating place, and the perfect mise-en-scene for our story.
Q. I LOVE the mood and tone of the film, brought to life by the gorgeous cinematography and score. Please tell me a bit about working with DP Chris Fergusson and composer Matthew Slater?
Nicholas – They were both fabulous to work with. We had a good run up as we waited for the right time of year, so we talked extensively with both Chris and Matthew about the mood and tone we wanted for the film to make sure we were on the same page.
Our budget didn’t allow us much shooting time given our ambitions, so with Chris we worked extensively to flesh out a tight shot list which would allow the vision to come to life despite the practical restrictions.
Angela – We spent lots of evenings inspecting the locations. Chris even made digital 3D mock-ups of the location so we could plot camera and actor positions and see what the shots would look like months in advance. This really helped when it came to the shoot because we didn’t have to waste any time on the basics, instead finessing already well thought out shots to tell the story in the most beautiful way possible.
Working with Composer Matthew Slater was incredible from start to finish. He really pushed the boundaries with the score capturing the emotion of the characters and the story perfectly. The recording took place at the infamous Studio One at Abbey Road Studios, conducted by Matthew and performed by the world renowned London Metropolitan Orchestra. We were extremely lucky to have this as it’s pretty much unheard of in the short film world and adds a whole new dimension to the finished film.
Both Matthew and Chris were an absolute dream to work with and both gave an incredible amount of time and expertise to the film. We hope Forget Me Not is the first of many!
Q. Lastly, what’s next for both of you? Any feature project that your prod company Keen City is working on?
Angela – We are currently developing a TV show called Lady of the Med which is about an ordinary expat mother, living on the coast of Spain who gets tied up with the local mafia and becomes a spy for the UK government, and a feature film called ‘Grace Escape’, a black comedy about an elderly grandma who wants to die her own way, so escapes her care home intending to jump off the cliff where her husband tragically died many years previous. Both very different to Forget Me Not, yet they deal with family relationships and will be very emotive and hopefully great watching!
As I’ve been blogging for more than a decade, it’s always a joy and privilege to feature indie filmmakers and supporting their work.
Josh Stifter is a local Minneapolis filmmaker who had the opportunity to be a part of the reality show for El Rey Network (elreynetwork.com) and he got to make a $7k feature with mentorship from Robert Rodriguez. Yep you read that right, he made his horror comedy The Good Exorcistfor seven thousand dollars. I sat down with Josh in a coffee shop in a Minneapolis suburbs and it was a blast listening to him talk about the experience making the film, shot in Texas in just 14 days!
The film premiered at a special event during SXSW Film Festival and it also won Best Texas Narrative at Austin Revolution Film Festival.
After a ranch in Texas is befallen to a mysterious, demonic presence, it is up to an eccentric, wandering priest to find answers and dispel the darkness. As he digs deeper he soon finds that he may be in over his head and out of time.
A Go90 and Rebel Without A Crew Production
Directed, Edited and Shot by: Josh Stifter Written by: Daniel Degnan and Josh Stifter Starring: Daniel Degnan, Brittaney Ortiz, Avery Merrifield, John Baran, and Ali Meier
JOSH STIFTER’S BIO
Josh Stifter began his filmmaking adventure crafting short movies with his friends after school everyday. He pursued animation and quickly found a job directing cartoons for the director Kevin Smith. After years of creating shorts and animated films, Josh has decided to tackle features, jumping at the opportunity to make his first feature length film with Robert Rodriguez. He has worked with companies such as Troma, CNN, SModco, 1517 Media, and El Rey Network.
Follow Josh Stifter & Flush Studios on social media:
Twenty-five years ago, Robert Rodriguez made his first feature-length film, El Mariachi. Armed with a budget of just $7,000 and 14 days to shoot his movie, Rodriguez created an award-winning film that changed independent filmmaking. To mark the 25th anniversary of “El Mariachi,” Rodriguez has invited five aspiring filmmakers to Austin, Texas to take on the same challenge.
Apparently 2018 has been the year of independent horror comedy for me-first with Ahockalypse, then Better off Zed, and now Josh Stifter’s The Good Exorcist. The Minneapolis writer and drector was a part of the El Rey Network reality show Rebel Without a Crew, where he had the opportunity to create a $7,000 featurein two weeks with mentorship from renowned filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. The result was a wonderfully bizarre and hilariously campy paranormal mystery starring a small but engaging cast.
The film follows Father Gil (Daniel Degnan), an eccentric but cheerful exorcist, to a small vacation ranch in Texas run by married couple Mr. and Mrs. Willows (John Baran and Ali Meier) to investigate a strong demonic presence. Along with the Willows’ dim-witted but good-natured son Stanley (Avery Merrifield) and enigmatic ranch employee Maria (Brittany Ortiz), Father Gil struggles to unravel the mystery behind the dark force plaguing the area.
Q&A with Josh Stifter
Thanks Laura Schaubschlager for the interview questions!
Q1: How did you get involved with Rebel Without a Crew? What was the process to get on the show like?
A little over a year ago, I sent an animation called Other Fish to El Rey Network I wanted Robert to see. It featured voice talent by Michael Parks, an actor Robert has worked with before who had recently passed away, and I thought he’d like to see it. After El Rey saw my work, they asked me to be on the program The Peoples Network Showcase. While I was there filming a sequence for that show, the show runner noticed that I had a copy of Robert’s book Rebel Without A Crew on me. I told him that I always have a copy with me. It’s my Bible.
Then, he asked if I had any live action films I could show him…
From there, I applied like the thousands of others who wanted to make a feature film for $7,000. The process of applying went in multiple steps. First, I filled out a survey. After that, I was asked to send in a synopsis for my film. I had an idea for what I could do (i.e. I had a priest costume, my best friend to star, and a few props such as a Teddy Bear and a fake tentacle), so before work one Monday, I wrote up a synopsis, made a really quick poster (which is still being used as the poster for marketing!), and came up with some ideas for characters. The next day I got a call asking for the script… which hadn’t been written yet…. I got on the phone with folks at El Rey and basically lied. I said, “I have the script kind of complete, but can I get two weeks to clean it up and make it more readable?” They said, “Okay” and from there, Daniel Degnan and I set out to write a feature film that Robert Rodriguez would be reading in two weeks. And somehow, miraculously, we did it! After a few weeks I got a call that my script was chosen by Robert and they wanted me to make my movie.
Q2: Being mentored by Robert Rodriguez must have been an incredible opportunity. What did you learn from him that you incorporated into The Good Exorcist?
One of the first things Robert told me was, “The road to success is going to be hell, but it’s going to worth it when you see your movie play on the big screen”. He was a cheerleader for keeping the independent spirit and pushing forward. But mostly, he was just a friend through the whole process. Sometimes the hardest part of making art is just continuing when you’re tired, frustrated, or feel like it’s all a waste of time. Robert continuously reminded me that 10 years from now, not a single moment will have felt like a waste of time because we keep learning and pushing ourselves.
I felt like quitting all the time on The Good Exorcist. For every shot that went right, 10 things went wrong. With the help of Robert, and my entire cast, I was able to push past the self doubt, bronchitis (yes, I got bronchitis on reality t.v. *doh!*), missing my family, being terrified of how the reality show would portray me, sound issues, and every other thing that went wrong.
Robert also told me, “Don’t be scared to put yourself up on the screen.” By that, he meant that I shouldn’t be afraid to go silly, ridiculous, and DIY with my movie. He really emphasized that I should use my strengths. That people won’t care that it’s super low budget if they can see the passion on the screen and my personality. Every time I thought a joke was too silly or a visual effect idea was stupid, I just remembered… I’M SILLY AND STUPID! That’s exactly what I should be showing! And in the end, some of the moments in the film that get the biggest reactions are those moments where I decided to just not hold back and put my personality on the screen.
Q3: What kind of obstacles did having such a small budget and short time frame present, and how did you overcome them?
There was a new obstacle around every corner while filming The Good Exorcist. Whether it was a construction crew tearing my set apart, sound equipment not working, my cast having too much fun and struggling to make the day, or bronchitis, we had to just keep adapting and pushing forward. A 14 day shoot doesn’t allow for anyone to get sick and take a day off, especially not the director.
We made the best use of the $7,000 we could, pinching every penny to get all we could from it. We utilized my knowledge of Visual Effects and tried to come up with ideas that wouldn’t cost a lot, but could be enhanced in post production.
Abaddon’s final form for instance was a garbage bag filled with El Rey Network teeshirts and other swag, ping pong ball eyes, a fake mouth from the Halloween store that was on sale the day after Halloween, and rubber snakes on sale at Target my wife bought a few years ago. All together, that final effect cost around $15. Then, I just added an extra tentacle, some fire, enhanced the eyes and mouth, and added some motion in post production that I knew would be fun to do.
I also utilized what I had at my disposal to add to production value. Originally in the script, Father Gil and Maria were supposed to be dancing at Father Gil’s car. But when John Baran (who played Mr. Willows) told me he had a really cool old car with flames and a skull shift, I rewrote the scene so that it could be Maria’s car. And why wouldn’t Maria have an awesome car, right? It was all about adapting the story to fit anything that would add to the value of the movie.
Q4: You hinted at a Good Exorcist sequel at the end of the movie (and gave me some Ash vs the Evil Dead vibes, which I love). Can you give us any clues about what Father Gil, Stanley, and Maria are up to next?
I would absolutely LOVE to make a sequel to The Good Exorcist. In fact, we already have a script called Father Gil and the Daughter’s of Lilith. And coming from an animation background, I plan to make some of the stories that Father Gil told, such as the Ice Cream Demon and the Hell Hound Infestation into cartoons at some point. Growing up on Evil Dead, Gremlins, The Burbs, and the other creepy comedies of the 80’s, I wanted the film to feel like something you’d see on cable late at night. Those were always my favorite films, so trying to recreate that midnight movie feel was paramount for me.
At the moment though, we’re just waiting for this first movie to release and how the audience reacts. So, while we wait, Daniel and I have been shooting and editing our second film titled Greywood’s Plot. We loved making The Good Exorcist with the Rebel mentality and we’re trying to do that again without a reality crew following us around this time.
Q5: When you first got into filmmaking, did you plan on specifically focusing on horror?Are there any other genres you’d like to explore?
I don’t actually see The Good Exorcist as a horror but more as a comedy. There are definitely horror elements along with dramatic scenes, but blending genres is always fun. I definitely enjoy making people laugh and can’t see myself not putting some sort of humor into everything I do, but I also always want to be challenging myself.
While I never see myself not having some sort of “dark sense of humor” I’d love to try making content for different audiences. In 2019, I’ll be hopefully finishing up two more features that both sort of play in the horror genre, but I’m really hoping to make a kids movie while my sons are still young. I personally love movies that my whole family and I can enjoy and I’d really enjoy making something that I would know other families are enjoying together.
Since Twin Cities Film Fest always happens around Halloween, there’s always selections that will please horror fans. MUSE is one that looks intriguing for self-proclaimed NON-horror fan like me (as I simply don’t have the nerves for it), as there’s something SO intriguing about Celtic folklore. I hadn’t heard of the Leannán Sí before, which is essentially the mythology of a fairy being who takes a human lover, but I think it makes for a terrifying yet enchanting subject matter for a horror film.
A painter’s life is forever changed when a mythical and deadly spirit from Celtic lore — a Leannán Sí — becomes his muse and lover.
Interview with writer/director John Burr
Interview Questions via Laura Schaubschlager (aka our horror contributor)
1. What about the Leannán Sí appealed to you as a film subject over other potentially more well-known mythical creatures?
It was definitely appealing to share a lesser-known mythical being with my audience rather than a more familiar one, but the way that this particular legend made it into the film was somewhat unorthodox. I knew I wanted to make a movie in the dilapidated lofts in the arts district of downtown LA, and I knew I wanted to have a weak male character inspired by a powerful female. The legend of the LS was something I came across after I already had the framework for this story, and it fit perfectly. It was part happy accident, part the result of being the sort of person that googles “creepy legends” and goes down the rabbit hole on a regular basis.
2. How much of the Leannán Sí in the movie is based on the original folklore and how much is your own creation?
The idea was to take this timeless, immortal creature that adhered to the rules of the original folklore and to place her in a modern setting, but in taking this approach, I found that I was forced to confront certain elements of the mythology and choose how to interpret them. For example, according to Celtic legend, the lover of the LS is said to live a brief but inspired life. Obviously, many would view this as sinister dynamic; in the work of 20th-century poet W. B. Yeats, the LS is presented as essentially a vampire. But I wanted to leave it more open-ended. I wanted my audience to ponder whether they would chose the short but inspired life over the long, normal one if given the choice.
3. This movie’s score is beautiful, striking, and does a great job of setting the film’s tone. What was the process of choosing the music like?
The process really boils down to one thing: work with a great composer. Alex did an outstanding job on our score, and I’m delighted to say that his work has been recognized by a number of the festivals we have played in — we have won awards for Best Musical Score at the Austin Revolution Film Festival, the Sin City Film Fest, and the HorrorHaus Film Festival in LA, as well as receiving nominations from a number of others. The idea was to create a sort of haunted fairytale, with the work of Danny Elfman on similar Tim Burton films as one of the strongest inspirations. He did an incredible job.
4. What kind of challenges are there in incorporating a creature from Celtic folklore into a modern American setting?
To be honest, the question of how certain character traits from this legend might be expressed in modern times did not end with the “brief but inspired life” issue mentioned above. That was something almost entirely related to the protagonist Adam’s arc. But it was also important to consider how to emphasize certain traits in the LS character while still remaining loyal to the mythology. If anything, the present-day setting made it feel even more essential that she be a proactive presence rather than simply the object of a man’s obsession. Casting Elle in the role helped immensely. She’s able to be impossibly alluring in one moment and abjectly terrifying in the next. We were very fortunate to have her in the film.
5. Why did you portray what sounds like a more supernatural/ethereal creature as more human?
The intention was for her to become more and more human as the narrative progresses. I think that our first few glimpses of her make her seem a bit more supernatural, but as Adam starts to truly fall for her, it is important that she feel real to him, and while always being vaguely otherwordly, also display recognizable human traits that he could connect with. As a side note, I also tend to prefer the aesthetic of practical special effects and characters that feel real and tangible, especially in thrillers and horrors. I won’t pretend that there’s not one sequence at the very end in which I wish we had been able to afford some big, crazy stunts, but we’ll just save those for the next one. This was a sexy independent thriller shot in 15 days, not a Marvel movie, and I couldn’t hope for a better result.
TCFF Screening Date:
Friday October 26th, 2018 9:45 PM
Thank you John Burr for chatting with FlixChatter!