Highlights from TCFF 2017 Opening Night… BREATHE, THE FLORIDA PROJECT & THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN

It’s that time of the year again folks! Yep, it’s the time when I basically made Showplace ICON at the West End as my second home for the next eleven days. And for the eighth year in a row, Twin Cities Film Fest always opens up with a bang! This year we’ve got such a strong line up that there are not one, not two, but three strong films playing on opening night… Breathe, The Florida Project and The Year of Spectacular Men.

I saw Breathe and The Year of Spectacular Men practically back to back, but before I get to the films, I also got to interview talents (one of the major perks of a blogger’s life!), and even better if the talents are your friends!

I haven’t got a chance to transcribe the interview just yet (I got home around 11:30 and had to work the next day), but for sure it’ll be posted in the next few days. Congrats Jack & Kitty! How awesome that director Sean Baker himself picked the four songs they wrote to be in The Florida Project! Stay tuned on how that came about in the interview!

I wish I could be at two places at the same time! I was hoping I could do the red carpet interview w/ Lea Thompson and her two daughters, Madelyn and Zoey Deutch, but I was still in the theatre for Breathe. Thankfully, my guest blogger Andy Ellis was able to do it… so hopefully we’ll get the interview in the next few days.


Films based on a true story is a dime a dozen in Hollywood, but once in a while comes along one that truly tugs your heart strings. Breathe is Andy Serkis‘ directorial debut, who’s best known for his mo-cap work for Lord of the Rings and the ‘Apes’ films. Featuring two extremely talented performers, Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, this film not only inspires but also sweeps you off your feet with its beauty. Beauty in terms of the visuals of the English countryside and Kenyan landscape, but also the beauty of the human heart.

Garfield portrays Robin, a man stricken by polio at the age of 28, which left him paralyzed. But with the help of his loyal wife Diana and his caring family and friends, Robin is able to not only survive but truly live. The film perhaps feels decidedly old school and unabashedly sentimental at times, but I was engrossed throughout by the performances. It’s not all gloom and doom despite the protagonist’s grim prognosis, thanks some bits of humor peppered throughout. I enjoyed Tom Hollander‘s performance as well playing Diana’s twin brothers.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Garfield as another Oscar contender next year, it was such a genuinely moving performance given the confines of his physical limitations.


The Year of Spectacular Men

I remember chatting to Lea Thompson last year when she came to visit TCFF and how excited I was when she said she’s making her first film! Well here we are… it’s so cool that TCFF goers are the first ones to see this. It’s so new there’s not even a trailer yet!

Talk about #womeninfilm… not only did Lea directed this, it’s also a family project with her two daughters Madelyn and Zoey Deutch. Madelyn wrote, star and scored the film as well, and her husband Howard Deutch produced the film. The story is about a young girl struggling to navigate life after graduating from college. So it’s a Millennial movie, but the themes of ‘trying to find answers’ and ‘wanting real human connections’ are something we can all relate to no matter how old we are.

The script is brutally honest and not afraid to show the pain and absurdity of millennial dating life. The two sisters have an effortless chemistry together, and the the joy and pain of sisterhood is genuinely moving. I like the scene towards the end where the two sisters laid down on concrete in front of their apartment and yelled out things that have caused them pain. During the Q&A, Lea revealed that is her favorite scene to shoot.

Madelyn’s certainly a talented writer, and like their mother, both Madelyn and Zoey have good comic skills. It’s so inspiring to see a family come together and make art together, it’s fun seeing the three of them come up for Q&A after the film. What a great film to end a strong opening night… I love that TCFF continues to support and encourage women filmmakers!

Q&A following the screening

What’s in store for Day 2

Well I’ll be seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, starring another actress from Minnesota, Rachael Leigh Cook. It’s a Shakespeare adaptation set in modern-day Hollywood, where bold declarations, idiotic miscommunications and wandering amorous eyes feel right at home. That’ll be quite a contrast to the documentary A Human Flow which centers on the global refugee crisis – the greatest human displacement since World War II.

So, stay tuned to more daily TCFF coverage!


The 8 Twin Cities Film Fest tickets to get – recommendations from our Artistic Director Steve Snyder

It’s now just a week away until Twin Cities Film Fest starts on Wednesday Oct. 18 – Saturday Oct 28. I’ve mentioned some of the studio/MN feature films as well as documentaries you shouldn’t miss.

Now, there are some films you’re probably already excited about that you’ve gotten tickets to. But there are those which are some best we have to offer that for whatever reason just haven’t gotten as much attention. Well, thanks to TCFF artistic director and lead programmer Steve Snyder, we have some recommendations on films you definitely should check out.


Click on each title that’ll take you to its respective page on TCFF site.
Tickets are selling fast, so don’t delay.


The Fall season is always a romantic time of year… and the first two films are romantic comedies…

The Year of Spectacular Men

Screening Wednesday October 18th – 8:15 PM
Lea Thompson, MN native and star of Back to the Future and Caroline in the City, makes her directorial debut with this critically-acclaimed comedy from the LA Film Festival. Starring Zoe Deutch of Why Him and Vampire Academy. Both are coming to Minneapolis in person – and your ticket gets you into the opening party. About two smart and sassy sisters and their crazy romantic misadventures.

We don’t have a trailer yet but here’s a clip from the film:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Screening Saturday, Oct. 28

Hilarious new adaptation of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, set in modern-day Los Angeles. Starring an awesome mix of actors who veer from sweet to silly. It stars Rachael Leigh Cook who will be appearing in person, and receiving the TCFF North Star Award. Your ticket also gets you into the epic closing night party.

 
Best Actor Watch
Breathe
Screening Wednesday, Oct. 18 
Andrew Garfield has quickly become one of the top actors of his generation. He now stars in the new biopic that’s on this year’s Oscar watch list – Breathe, an inspiring story about a man who fought for the rights of the disabled. Garfield plays Robin Cavendish, a man who became paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 28 but who spent the rest of his life becoming a pioneering advocate for the disabled.

*Editor’s note: this film is also the directorial debut of motion capture expert Andy Serkis, known for playing Golum in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy
True MN story 
Screenings:
Friday October 20th – 7:20 PM & Saturday October 21st – 2:10 PM
A critically-acclaimed documentary about a true Minnesota tragedy that has become a hit on the film festival circuit, and moved executive producer Werner Herzog to help it get released. It’s the haunting story of local Minnesota filmmaker David Crowley, who in 2010 started working on a film about the government crushing civil liberties. When he and his wife and their children were found dead in their home in 2014, conspiracy theorists went wild with government assassination theories. We will have the filmmaker, and some of Crowley’s family, in attendance. And will host the world premiere of a special “director’s cut” of the film.
Indie Surprise of the Year
Screening:
Friday October 20th – 5:30 PM, Friday October 27th – 12:45 
If you’re looking for one of this year’s true indie discoveries, here’s the surprise you’ll keep talking about: Tater Tot & Patton an incredibly moving and heartfelt family drama shot in South Dakota about a city girl and her rancher uncle – two people who don’t really get along but who bond over one summer as they mourn his dead wife, and her dead aunt. It’s a film that brings you into their world and their life.

Taut Thriller
The Midnighters
Screenings:
Friday October 20th – 9:45 PM, Thursday October 26th – 1:15pm 
A creepy, scary and exhilarating thriller that was a hit at film festivals in Los Angeles…it’s about a couple who accidentally hit a man with their car – and then throw him in the backseat when they flee the scene to avoid the consequences. They chose poorly.

Western / Thriller w/ a great cast 
Screening Wednesday, Oct. 25 

Bill Pullman, Jim Caviezel and Peter Fonda star in this moody, dark Western about a cowboy who sets out on a sprawling, dangerous journey across the countryside to avenge his longtime partner’s brutal murder. It’s the most interesting new Western realized by Hollywood in years.
Family Pick!
Screening Sunday October 22nd – 12:00 PM 
One of the most interesting titles in our first-ever Family Fest – a touching tale about a young girl who leaves a lasting mark on a broken family, bringing healing to their hearts and music to their world. It stars Broadway and Hollywood legend Constance Towers, and is a true gem for families who want to be part of this year’s festival.

One film I choose to champion today is the documentary SHE STARTED IT

She Started It is an award-winning documentary that provides a rare look in the lives of five ambitious young women entrepreneurs (Thuy, Stacey, Sheena, Brienne and Agathe) who will stop at nothing to pursue their startup dreams.


Check out the full lineup schedule on TCFF official site


Thoughts on any of these films? Which one(s) caught your interest?

Spotlight on 10 great documentaries playing at 2017 TCFF!

It’s that time of the year again, folks! Less than two weeks until the 11-day film festivities and cinematic marathon begins. Yep, the 8th annual Twin Cities Film Fest begins starts on Wednesday Oct. 18 – Saturday Oct 28.

I’ve mentioned some of the studio and MN feature films screening at TCFF that I’m excited about, but here I wanted to focus about documentaries specifically. Year after year TCFF has always featured great documentaries that are both insightful and entertaining. Before I get to the list, check out the TCFF documentary promo:


Have you gotten your tickets yet?
They are selling fast, so don’t delay.

Click on each documentary title that’ll take you to its respective page on TCFF site.


Kudos once again to the programming team at TCFF for selecting such a varied list of films that covers so many different genres and topics! Whether it’s a murder mystery, inspirational tales, personal struggles, sports or timely human stories seeking refuge, there’s truly something insightful and illuminating for everyone here.

Here they are in alphabetical order:

A Gray State — Director’s Cut

  • Saturday October 21st – 2:10 PM

Director/Producer: Erik Nelson
Executive Producer: Werner Herzog

In 2010 David Crowley, an Iraq veteran, aspiring filmmaker and charismatic up-and-coming voice in fringe politics, began production on his film “Gray State.” Set in a dystopian near-future where civil liberties are trampled by an unrestrained federal government, the film’s crowdfunded trailer was enthusiastically received by the burgeoning online community of libertarians, Tea Party activists as well as members of the nascent alt-right. In January of 2015, Crowley was found dead with his family in their suburban Minnesota home. Their shocking deaths quickly become a cause célèbre for conspiracy theorists who speculate that Crowley was assassinated by a shadowy government concerned about a film and filmmaker that was getting too close to the truth about their aims.


To be honest with you I’m actually not that familiar w/ the David Crowley story at all. But upon reading about this I’m very curious about it, naturally. At the TCFF Kickoff soirée, my hubby and I ran into Twin Cities’ film legend Al Milgrom as we’re about to head out and got into a conversation with him. He told us to read this New Yorker article by Alec Wilkinson before we see this documentary, so I intend to do that.


ABU

  • Friday October 20th – 2:45 PM
  • Monday October 23rd – 3:15 PM

Director: Arshad Khan

This riveting documentary follows the struggles of Arshad Khan and his relationship with his conservative, strict father (Abu) and traditional mother. Combining vintage footage, animation, and recent interviews, Arshad shares his intimate story of being gay, embracing his culture and dealing with the death of his father.

 


This sounds like the kind of poignant, perhaps even bittersweet film about self discovery and the struggle to be accepted. His journey would certainly resonate with many people, whether or not we deal with sexual orientation or not.


Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict

  • Saturday October 21st – 12:10 PM

Director: Thomas Benca

Chasing the Dragon chronicles the lives of several people, from different backgrounds, who fell victim to the opioid epidemic. Their testimonies tell a tragic story that is being felt by families and communities across the country.


As someone who dealt with a mother who died partly because of pain meds and sleeping pills, this film would be tough to watch for me. But it’s certainly a story worth telling, as a cautionary tale that’s sadly prevalent in many households.


COYOTE

  • Saturday October 21st – 9:45 AM (SOLD OUT)
  • Sunday, October 22nd 7:10pm (SOLD OUT)
  • Sunday, October 22nd 9:40pm (Tickets Available)

Director: Thomas Simmons

The inspiring true story of legendary sailor, Mike Plant, the “Saltwater Cowboy” (Sailing World) who completed three solo circumnavigations and set the American record for the fastest lap of the planet. His adventurous spirit and colorful past make Plant “as close as yachting gets to a James Dean character” (The New York Times) with a universal story about daring to dream.


Though I haven’t been on a sailing trip before, I’ve always found the idea of sailing so fascinating. I’ve never heard of Mike Plant before but his journey sounds so fascinating, and the ‘dare to dream’ story is definitely a universal one. Plus, being in the ocean is always a fun escapism for me.


Human Flow

  • Thursday October 19th – 7:45 PM

Director: Ai Weiwei

Artist, activist and director Ai Weiwei captures the global refugee crisis – the greatest human displacement since World War II – I in this breathtakingly epic film journey HUMAN FLOW.


No doubt this film is as timely as ever. It’s definitely one I have to pack tissues for, even the trailer moved me to tears. As an immigrant, I’m always cognizant about what it means to have a home away from home… and I realize not many people are as blessed as I am in that regard.


Legends of The Road

  • Monday October 23rd – 3:30 PM

Director: Gary Thomsen

Legends of The Road is a captivating blend of documentary techniques, mixing a unique style of candid student shot vérité footage with the in-your-face style of Leon Gast. It’s a deeply moving account of 28 public high school students from Chief Sealth High School, in Seattle, Washington, who in 1999-2000 completed an extraordinary research project on a largely unknown baseball phenomenon known as barnstorming. And, then in 2000, re-created a “Barnstorming Tour” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Barnstorming.


This sounds like a must for baseball fans (as our blog contributor Sarah Johnson can attest!). But even if you’re not into the sport, we can all enjoy an inspiring story about overcoming obstacles and achieving something against all odds.


Purple Dreams

  • Monday October 23rd – 6:15 PM

Director: Joanne Hock

“Packing all the drama of “A Chorus Line,” the adolescent charm of “Fame” and the talent of “Glee,” “Purple Dreams” is the story of students at Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte.

From auditions to callbacks to ultimate triumph, filmmaker Joanne Hock follows a group at the school as they undertake a production of “The Color Purple”.



Speaking of overcoming obstacles, this is another story about the triumph of the human spirit. Even the trailer is a charmer, I can’t wait to be swept off my feet by these Charlotte school children tackling an important play based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel.


Screenagers

  • Sunday October 22nd – 2:15 PM

Director: Delaney Ruston

SCREENAGERS probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including the director’s own, and depicts messy struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Thru surprising insights from authors and brain scientists solutions immerge on how we can empower kids to best navigate the digital world.


I’m surprised I actually haven’t seen a documentary on this topic sooner. I mean it’s not just teenagers who are suffering from screen addiction, I know I am guilty of that as well. As soon as one gets oneself a smart phone, we are prone to this addiction. I don’t have kids myself, but I certainly feel for parents who have to discipline kids in the digital age.


She Started It

  • Monday October 23rd – 6:30 PM

Director: Nora Poggi, Insiyah Saeed

She Started It is an award-winning documentary that provides a rare look in the lives of five ambitious young women entrepreneurs (Thuy, Stacey, Sheena, Brienne and Agathe) who will stop at nothing to pursue their startup dreams.


This is the kind of important documentaries I hope people would make more of. I can’t wait to watch and learn each of these women’s stories as they pursue their dreams. ‘Here’s to the fools who dreams…’ says La La Land, but y’know what, it’s not all all foolish to dream when you’ve got a plan.


Supergirl

  • October 23, 2016 3:45 pm

Director: Jessie Auritt

Naomi seems like a typical 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl; watching her lift almost three times her bodyweight tells a different story.

///

The word ‘uplifting’ takes a whole new meaning in this film. I always love stories of people who shatters people’s expectations and those who refuse to conform to what’s expected of them.


Check out the full list of documentaries on TCFF official website


As you know, this year I have even more reason to be excited about…


Thoughts on any of these docs? Which one(s) caught your interest?

A sneak peek into the 8th annual Twin Cities Film Fest schedule

Can’t believe it’s just a little over a month away until the fun film festivities begins here in the Twin Cities! If you follow me on Facebook, then you’d already know that this year’s film fest is an extra special for yours truly… yep, I’m still in a daze that Hearts Want is actually premiering at TCFF in October!! If you told me around the same time last year that I would have my own film playing at TCFF in 2017 I’d say that you are nuts. Our film will be playing in one of several short blocks at the fest, I will update this post as soon as I know the exact schedule.

Well, if you haven’t seen the teaser yet, well here you go…


This year’s fundraising gala’s theme is A Year of Spectacular Women… which is as timely as ever and it’s also a play on this year’s Opening Night film, A Year of Spectacular Men, a directorial debut of Minnesota native Lea Thompson and stars her daughters Zoey Deutch and Madelyn Deutch. The upcoming drama-comedy will make its world premiere at TCFF on Oct. 18 with both Lea Thompson and Zoey Deutch in attendance.

We don’t have a trailer yet but here’s a clip from the film:

The official 2017 Centerpiece film will be the inspirational documentary Purple Dreams, which follows lives of inner-city, at-risk students who succeed at their passion while embracing the transformative power of their arts education. The true-life adventure screens Oct. 23.

TCFF will continue its tradition of honoring a Social Cause this year by putting a spotlight on ‘Addiction.’ To highlight addiction TCFF will screen three documentaries (Chasing the Dragon, Addicted to Porn and Screenagers) and a drama called Tatertot and Patton which showcases alcohol addiction.

Some of Fall’s most-anticipated films are also amongst the lineup…

Acclaimed director Sean Baker’s The Florida Project starring Willem Dafoe:

Dramedy Last Flag Flying starring Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell and Laurence Fishburne:

WWII drama The Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman as Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

It’s a year of debuts it seems. Motion capture virtuoso Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe, starring Andrew Garfield as a young man struck down with polio looks like a heart-warming tearjerker.

Those are just the studio films. There are plenty of indie features to be excited about…

The Bachelors stars J.K. Simmons dealing with an early death of his wife with his teenage son.

A grizzled, rugged looking Matt Bomer stars in Walking Out, where he plays an estranged father who faces a brutal encounter in the heart of Montana wilderness with his teenage son.

Little Pink House stars Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn about a working-class neighborhood struggling to save their homes from political and corporate interests bent on seizing the land and handing it over to Pfizer Corporation.

I gotta give a shout out to Minnesota-made indie feature Twin Cities, produced by the filmmaker who directed my short film, Jason P. Schumacher. Hearts Want‘s lead actor Peter Christian Hansen also has a supporting role in the film. Directed by David Ash, its prequel 2021 actually premiered at TCFF in 2015.

The festival will close with writer and director Colette Burson’s Permanent, a film centering on a story of a hairstyle gone incredibly wrong and a young girl’s fight to fit in while encountering bullies at a new school. Burson will be in attendance for the red carpet and hosting a Q&A following the film.


Tickets will open up to members and pass holders on September 29th, with general public access the following week. To find out how to become a TCFF Member and for a full list of films playing at this year’s festival please visit TCFF official site »



Hope to see you at TCFF next month!
Which of these films are you most looking forward to?

TCFF Insider Series: KID WEST movie & my interview w/ filmmaker Jesse Mast

I first met Minnesota filmmaker Jesse Mast when he was premiering his action thriller short The Just starring Michael Madsen back in 2015 at TCFF. I then met him again at one of the TCFF after parties when I first heard him talking about the idea for Kid West.

So I was thrilled that Twin Cities Film Fest is presenting this movie as part of its INSIDER SERIES event. I’m always intrigued by the process of filmmaking, especially indie films now that I’ve dipped my toes into making my first short film. I have even more appreciation and respect for indie filmmakers and am always grateful for the opportunity to learn from them.

Synopsis:

A young spitfire cowgirl, and her coolheaded Native American friend, race a gang of neighborhood bullies to find a mysterious treasure supposedly having mystical powers.

This event will take place on
Monday, July 31 7 PM – 10 PM
The Heights Theatre

3951 Central Ave NE,
Columbia Heights, MN 55421

Go to TCFF official site for more info & to get tickets

You went from doing an action thriller to a family adventure film. What’s the inspiration behind this movie?

Somehow I knew I’ll be asked this question. The short answer is: my wife. She told me a while back, if you want to win over my heart with a movie. Give me kids or charming old people. Some movies combine them, sometimes it’s one or the other. I immediately thought about doing a Western. So I have an idea for a modern Western with kids. That started to develop a little bit. Overall what I wanted to do as a filmmaker is take the spirit of films that I love and repackage them with original characters for new audiences. So taking inspiration from Indiana Jones, Kid West was created.

So this film is basically a combination of what my wife said to me and my desire to make films that were birthed from films that I love.

So did you go on to write the script once the concept is developed? I know you worked with another writer for this film?

Yes, his name is Nick Bain. He lives in LA but originally from Minnesota. We had written another script together the year before that we thought ‘oh hopefully we’ll get to make this into a film one day’ But when that one had to be put on the shelf, I asked if he’d be willing to write Kid West with me. I don’t like writing first drafts. I’m such a perfectionist and so much has to change so I asked him, ‘hey would you consider writing the first drafts?’ He wrote a lot of really good stuff and then I went in and change what needed to change. I’m really glad we worked together on this. I find that working a script by yourself is really hard, so having him to collaborate with was really great.

How long ago did you finish the script?

The script was finalized in February 2016. Then we shot it in the Summer of 2016. So the script was totally done five months before we started shooting.

What’s the process from the time the script is finished to shooting the film? Five months doesn’t seem like a long time of pre-prod for a feature.

We did some pre-production that happened before that. The most important part is raising the funds to make this movie.

So can you talk a bit about how you raised the funds for your film?

Yeah I raised nearly all the funds (about 80%) through donations from friends and family. These are people who want to see me succeed. They’d say ‘here’s money towards your film.’ A few people gave a large gift, some are smaller. So we didn’t go through Indiegogo or Kickstarter, I mean there’s nothing wrong with those things. But I thought if I were to raise money for this, it’d be from people I know, those who believe in me. So I raised half the budget by the time the script was done. Then I knew I needed to raise the rest by the time we finished shooting. So I had raised enough to film it, to hire the actors, etc. While I was doing post production, I raised more money for that. Once the script was done, that’s when I worked on casting. Then when casting was done, then I worked on pre-production stuff.

That’s a good segue as my next question is casting. I love the young actress Mary Bair who’s the lead of your film. How did you find her?

I’m friends with a SAG actor by the name of Bruce Bohne and I went and saw him in To Kill A Mockingbird at the Guthrie in the Fall of 2015. I saw a lot of young talented actors in the play. So I ended up casting four out of the six kids in the movie from that play, including Mary, who played Scout in the play. There were a few other adult actors from there that I ended up casting as well. So anyway, Bruce was friends with Mary’s mom and I said, ‘hey can you get me in touch with her?’ So I contacted her about my interest in casting Mary in my film. I basically sat down with her and offered her the role right then and there. Seeing someone perform in something is a great audition. You just knew they could do [this role in my film] when I saw her in this play.

How about Ashley Rose Montondo? How did you come to cast her?

Ashley was also part of To Kill A Mockingbird. So Bruce, Ashley, Ansa Akyea, Regina Williams were all in this play. When I saw them perform I was like, ‘oh they’re great!’

Where was the film shot in the Twin Cities?

It’s mostly shot in the east side of the cities near Wisconsin. In a town called Bayport. Bayport is a cute little quiet town. I have a childhood friend who lives there growing up so we had some fun memories there. But I wanted the look of the film to look like what it would look like when I was growing up. I wanted a nostalgic look of a town. I tell people that Kid West is like The Sandlot meet Raiders For The Lost Ark with 12 year-old girls. So when I said The Sandlot versus The Goonies or The Little Rascals which was fun but a little silly, but The Sandlot has a lot of charm and a lot of depth. It’s not as ‘adult’ as Stand By Me, which has a lot of mature themes. Kid West is more lighthearted. But The Sandlot, you still take it seriously. You care about the people, they’re very real, very charming. It’s lighter in its tone but it’s not silly.

What do you love about making Kid West?

I like that there’s a lot of humor in Kid West. And that’s something that, after I made The Just, which I enjoyed, I like the action in it, but there’s barely any moment of levity in the whole thing. I think the audience loves to laugh. When they see a movie, they want to feel something and maybe the most they want to feel is a release of laughter. Even when I’m watching a drama, when there’s an unexpected thing that comes up, it’s always a laugh out loud moment because it gives you a breather from the seriousness. I feel like The Just didn’t have any of that, it didn’t have any breather, it’s all suspense. But with Kid West, there is suspense and moments of serious action but it’s action that made you grin y’know, and the humor is strong. I’m looking forward to the premiere and hopefully there’ll be moments of laughter from the audience.

Lastly, your film will be available in Amazon in August. What has been the challenges for you in getting distribution?

What I’ve learned about Amazon is that they try to make it very easy for independent filmmakers to get their films out to the audience. Over the last six to eight months I’ve emailed them many times, asking specific questions. They’ve been very clear, very quick in their responses. The difficulty for any independent filmmakers has always been ‘how do you get your film out? How do you make some money?’ and there are different ways to go, but when another filmmaking friend told me about Amazon, I thought it was a good idea. I mean, you don’t sell your rights to them, it doesn’t cost anything and when you submit your film, for every sale, for every rental, they split the cost 50/50. So they get half, we get half. For every stream we get a little bit of money. I would love to continue to choose Amazon in the future… I think it’s a great avenue for this, I mean everybody knows Amazon. As soon as your film is on there, you’re putting the film into someone’s pocket. They can watch it on their phone, their tablet, etc. I mean the reach is amazing.

Thanks Jesse for taking the time to chat w/ me!


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

Next Tuesday, TCFF is hosting a screenplay reading BETTA FISH written by Josh Barsness, as part of its Insider Series events. This informal reading serves as a kick-off event for the Minnesota film project of the feature length script, it will be performed by a group of professional actors.

When TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper asked me to interview Joshua, I jumped at the chance! The fact that I just had a reading of my first script back in January, it’s always good to chat with fellow screenwriters and get insights on their own creative journey. 

Synopsis:

Betta Fish is a story that revolves around Danny Bishop, a mischievous, manipulative gambler who is known to be a prodigy con artist. Fresh out of prison and in trouble due to a large debt to Alex, a beautiful, elegant, malicious mob boss queen of the city. Motivated by the pain of her enemies and the destruction of Danny, she swears to kill him and his family if he does not pay his debt, putting Danny on a collision course with old friends and rivals to succeed. This socially progressive story involves a mixture of race and diverse communities, centering on family and the right to equality.

This event will take place:
St. Paul Athletic Club
Butler’s Bar and Cafe (Second Floor)
340 Cedar Street
St. Paul, MN 55101

The event is free and open to the public and will conclude with a short Q&A session with the screenwriter and cast.

How long have you been involved in the film community, specifically as an actor and screenwriter?

It feels like forever, but as an actor five years. As a screenwriter about two years.

How did you come up w/ the idea for the story? Does it have a personal bent on it, what was the inspiration behind it?

I was in between jobs didn’t have much going for me as an actor always was one step away I looked in the mirror and told myself it’s time to do something about it. I sat down at my computer then it hit me like a lightning bolt. The story needed to be socially current but have something to say and give the audience something they haven’t had before. I noticed many issues in contemporary cinema a major one being women do get their fair share. They may get parts but there not good. Writers in Hollywood are incompetent at writing quality parts for women. So due to that I wrote a very exciting and provocative role specifically for a women more importantly a women in charge.

The other inspiration was a lack of character-driven films however it is getting better Moonlight was wonderful. The other driving force was, I’m inspired by other actor, producer, writers like Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, and Denzel Washington. To be in there league would be a great achievement something that always keeps me up at night is pondering whether I will be.

What’s the significance of the name Betta Fish?

The title Betta Fish was inspired by a film called Rumble Fish directed by Francis Ford Coppola based on the book by S.E Hinton. The story revolves around two brothers one of which walks in the others shadow. Furthermore, I used this as an inspiration to draw from for the dynamic between Arthur Bishop and his younger brother Danny Bishop who is the black sheep of the family. In addition, Betta fish fight to the death there can only be one in the same fish tank. This is the main draw of the story. The film will circle around Alex and Danny as they collide against each other in the criminal underworld resulting in a power struggle. Betta fish fight to the death there can only be one. They city they occupy and control serves as their fish tank that theme was inspired by a film called Heat directed by Michael Mann. Essentially he used the city as a third character that helped establish the battle ground and frontier for the protagonist and antagonist to duel over.

You said in the video that this is a socially progressive story that involves people of color, etc. What specifically is the message you would like people to get from your film?

Your film is better off drawing power from diversity then not. Whitewashing in Hollywood is an issue that we are tackling head on it’s the only way. The message is simple our film is flipping things on their head to make things right. Our film celebrates social change and diversity not necessarily to be rebellious but because it’s the right thing to do. And sometimes doing the right thing is the hardest thing, but I have no fear.

What are your plans in regards to the film, are you planning on having it shot here locally or somewhere else in the US?

I would love to shoot in the Twin Cities that’s the goal! There’s plenty of untapped beautiful locations here that I have in mind. However, it is possible we shoot somewhere else.

Since your film deals with gambling, what are some of films about gambling or game-playing for money that have inspired you?

The Hustler starring Paul Newman no questions asked. One of the characters in the film Danny Bishop is based off of Paul Newman’s character “Fast Eddie Felson” from the film. Both characters share the same theme that their natural raw talent at times is simultaneously their weakness which is something as humans we struggle with but rarely ever identify with. As far as the climax is concerned it’s purely inspired by the film The Cincinnati Kid starring the King Of Cool Steve McQueen. It’s an excellent film that introduces the two opposing forces and builds to a terrific climax for the final card game and is executed perfectly shot by shot.

In one sentence, what would you say to people to convince them to come to the reading as well as support your film?

If you want to be part of a cause that will bring people together then attend our reading and please support our film.

Thanks Joshua for talking to me about the creative journey of Betta Fish