Short Film Spotlight: ‘Classic. Becky. Party’ + Q&A with writer/director John J. Kaiser

Just two days away until Twin Cities Film Fest’s MN Shorts Showcase event! Today we’ve got yet another Q&A with a talented MN filmmaker whose film Classic. Becky. Party will be screening on Wednesday night (more info below).

I met first met John at the TCFF Gala in September 2017, thanks to his creative partner Jay Ness (one of the excellent camera crews who worked on my short film Hearts Want). John and Jay are the owners of CutJaw Film Co., a Minnesota-based film production company that’s done a number of short films such as Curse of the Invisible Werewolf and Bobby’s Run Off.

Check out my Q&A on his female-led comedy drama starring Rachel Weber, Larissa Gritti, and Anna Stranz, filmed entirely in Minneapolis.

Becky has arranged every detail for what’s supposed to be the perfect party. The food, the ambiance, the decor is all set, all that’s missing are the guests.

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Q: What inspires you to write Classic Becky Party? The premise sounds quite personal. Was it?

Classic. Becky. Party. really came from an insecurity that a lot of people I think have which is what do you do when you throw a party and no one shows up. It has happened every time I’ve thrown any sort of party. Fortunately none of those have ever been as disastrous as Becky’s party. But it’s definitely a kind of funny kind of sad scenario that lots of people identify with. An empty party is a level of loneliness that audiences can really empathize with.

Becky is the kind of person that desperately wants everyone to think she has her shit together, so it was fun to see how much she could unravel and lower the facade she presents to those around her. Having her sisters arrive to witness her embarrassment just adds fuel to the fire.

Q: You’ve written quite a number of shorts and you often direct your own work. What’s the biggest challenge for you as a director to do that?

The biggest challenge to being both writer and director on a project is you have one less person to bounce ideas off of. Film is a collaborative medium so it’s good to have input from your cast and crew, experts in their field, so when you’re directing your own script it’s even more essential to listen to those collaborators. Of course it’s a two sided coin and there’s something incredibly liberating and fulfilling about taking an idea to the page and then taking that page to the screen.

Q: Who are some of your filmmaking influences? Specifically for dramas.

When tackling a drama I think it’s incredibly important to find moments of levity and catharsis for the audience, so any writer/director that can incorporate that balance into their work is someone that I gravitate towards.

A few filmmakers that come to mind are Billy Wilder, Mike Mills, the Coen Bros., and on the writer front definitely Greta Gerwig and Aaron Sorkin. I’m sure there are a million more, but those are the first that come to mind.

Q:Your film was set in a single location (an apt), what’s the challenges you faced in filming in one confined space like that? On the flip side, what are the main biggest strength?

The biggest challenge of a single location film is finding ways to keep the location feeling fresh. Luckily the loft we filmed in had a few distinct areas, such as the kitchen, the living room, and the dining room. This allowed us several options for us to block out the scenes in. It was also important to keep our characters moving around the space so that the audience doesn’t feel claustrophobic.

The biggest benefit of a single location though is saving on time and budget.  Once we “moved in” to the space we were able to stay put for the two days it took to film.  We didn’t have to worry about loading out and loading in to another location.  Using a single location also brings a theatrical quality to the film. It’s a script that could easily be adapted to the stage.

Anna & Larissa in between takes

Q: I love your three all-female cast. Would you tell us a bit about the casting process? Is it especially tricky since they’re playing sisters?

Top left: Rachel, Larissa & Anna on set | Top right: Filming the lead actress Rachel Weber

The casting process for this film was remarkably simple. I was familiar with the work of Rachel, Larissa, and Anna and knew instantly that they would work well as sisters. From our first pre-production meeting, it was obvious that the three of them shared a rare bond that was going to translate well to the screen. I was more interested in finding three performers that shared chemistry than three performers that looked like sisters. For me it was all about creating a believable relationship and rapport between these characters and Rachel, Larissa, and Anna were an essential part of that process.


This Is Home is screening on
Wednesday May 30th at 7:30 PM

Many filmmakers, cast and crew will be present representing their films and answering your questions.

6:30pm – Red Carpet Interviews and Photos
7:30pm – Screening
9:00pm – Q&A

Selected films include:

  • The Great White Storm – Directed by Jon Thomas
  • Deep Cover – Directed by Keith Langsdorf
  • Bite the Bullet – Directed by Ryan Huang
  • This is Home – Directed by Jason Schumacher
  • Classic.Becky.Party – Directed by John J. Kaiser
  • The Burial Plot – Directed by Chris Fletcher
  • Zomburbia – Directed by Nathan Wold
  • 2Bullets – Directed by Brandi Harkonen
$10 Earlybird*
$12 At the Door

*TCFF MEMBERS RECEIVE FREE ADMISSION!

Get your tickets! »


John is a Minneapolis, MN based screenwriter and film director and co-founder of CutJaw Film Co. His directorial debut, Bobby’s Run Off, premiered at the Twin Cities Film Festival in 2016 and has since screened in multiple film festivals and featured on filmshortage.com.

In 2017, John was awarded a Jerome Foundation Artist Grant in support of his first feature length film Only Dance Can Save Us. Slated to begin production in 2018, aiming for a 2019 release. CutJaw Film Co. is currently working on a sci-fi thriller feature film Dark Cloud, also scheduled to be released next year.


Thanks John for chatting with us!

Short Film Spotlight: ‘This Is Home’ + Q&A with writer/director Jason P. Schumacher

Going into its ninth year, Twin Cities Film Fest is launching a brand new initiative in its INSIDER SERIES program! As a first-time writer/producer who just made my first short film last year, I’m thrilled to see short filmmakers getting a platform to showcase their work. One of the eight outstanding short narrative films screening in TCFF’s first MN Shorts Showcase is a drama made by Jason P. Schumacher, whom many of you might know as the director behind Hearts Want.

Check out my Q&A with the MN-based filmmaker (who also directed the documentary Beyond the Thrill that’s screened at TCFF in 2016):

A coming-of age-story about a young boy realizing that his parents are alcoholics.

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Q: You’ve said that this is a personal film for you. Would you elaborate on that? Was it based on true events?

My co-writer, Jesse Frankson, and I have known each other since elementary school but never really realized we had similar experiences in our upbringing, when it came to our proximity to alcoholism. The film is a work of fiction, but it includes inspiration from things that happened to one or both of us, or things we’d heard from peers with similar experiences.

I’d also looked at the “Laundry List” created by the organization Adult Children of Alcoholics.  Those who grow up around alcoholics often share similar traits with one another; feelings of guilt and abandonment, an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, suppressing emotions, and also a tendency to also engage in addictive behaviors.  In “This is Home”, the young boy is in the early stages of developing and showing these traits, as he begins to realize more and more that his parents are alcoholics.

Q: The film had a child actor (who was about 10 at the time of shoot), who’s terrific in the role. What was the biggest challenge(s) working with a young talent?

Honestly, we didn’t really treat Will Hugo too differently from the adult actors. Working with any actor, it is all about building trust – letting them know that you trust them and earning their trust. The first day of filming was the scene in the river and successfully getting everyone through a logistically challenging and uncomfortable scene like can really be a bonding experiences for the whole cast and crew. The river was also two and half hours a way, so we got to talk on the way with Will and his mom and build rapport and get to know one another more. Will is very involved in various activities in his own life and has great supportive community around him (and siblings too), so we asked him to imagine how different his life might be if he didn’t have those things, which helped him imagine the feelings of the character more.

Jason with Will on set

We’d often talk him through what his character’s feelings are at each moment. He’s a sharp kid and we threw a lot at him. The rest of the cast was really great at working with him too. He was a little shy at first, but by the end he was cracking jokes with everybody, like, “Excuse me, excuse me – lead actor coming through!”

Q: Can you tell me a bit about casting? I recognize the taxi driver was the same actor who played the ringmaster in your other short, Sad Clown.

Even though Darrin Shaughnessy is incredible in Sad Clown, we still made him audition! He’s great at playing characters that seem a little surly but are still sympathetic. When his character enters the bar to pick up the drunks, his face is worth a thousand words. We’ve all been there. We did a pretty extensive casting actually. We had two days with long casting sessions and then a call-back. We knew the film would live or die by the casting.

We needed actors that played the actors as real people, without too many preconceived judgements. And also actors that we could believe were a family. With the wrong casting or performances it could play like a PSA or a melodrama and we didn’t want that. It was very a delicate.

Megan Kelly Hubbell, Sean Dooley (who played the parents) and Will really stood out as the right people to play the family in the film. They just connected with the material. Megan’s audition was one of the best I’ve ever seen for anything. We actually saw a lot of great local talent and instead of performing a monologue, we asked them to tell a story about drinking or being around drinking. We heard some pretty wild stories! The co-writer of the film also appears in the film as Dan, their annoying drinking buddy.

Q: There is an extensive river tubing scene which I’d imagine must’ve been pretty tough to shoot. Would you share about shooting that scene and the toughest part about that particular shoot?

We filmed at a river on a relative’s property that I go tubing on every summer. Tubing down the river each year always felt like one of the most cinematic things I could imagine and I’d never seen tubing down a river in a film before. It became this perfect metaphor in the center of the film, this family drifting somewhat aimlessly together.

On the day we filmed, it was cold! Maybe 62 degrees, so who knows what the temperature of the water was? And it occasionally drizzled ice cold rain on us. We did a lot of the filming from a canoe that we managed to secure the camera and the tripod in. Luckily we didn’t tip. The director of photography (Max Sjöberg), myself, and the boom operator were in the canoe, simultaneously trying to steer it and capture the scene. There were a couple times where a branch almost knocked the camera in the water. It also was a challenge to get our canoe and camera lined up with the actors as the river moved us around. It was the first day of filming, so I was worried the actors would stop talking to me after I stuck them in a cold river all day. But I think it was a good bonding experience for everybody. Despite being uncomfortable, it was a really fun day. It was also the lead actor’s first time tubing.

Q: Lastly, what would you like the audience to take away from your film?

The film isn’t a PSA.  I don’t want to spell out a message for anyone, but I will say that alcoholism and low income families are rarely show this way in cinema, yet this situation is so common.  A loving family where the disruption of alcohol chips away at them.  The film a vignette, a glimpse into the lives of others, but for many who’ve seen it, it is a reflection of something they are all too familiar with.

That’s a wrap!

Check out the filmmaking journey of This Is Home


Thanks Jason for chatting with me!

TCFF Insider Series: NOBODY’S SON short film & my interview w/ filmmaker Brian Austin

It’s time for another Twin Cities Film Fest INSIDER SERIES event! One of the perks of being a member of TCFF is you get to see various indie films on the big screen AND also get to partake in the Q&A with the filmmakers afterwards.

This February, TCFF is showcasing a dramatic short filmed in Ely, a beautiful town in the Boundary Waters area in Northern Minnesota. Thanks to TCFF’s managing director Bill Cooper and filmmaker Molly Katagiri, who worked as script supervisor on the film, for arranging the interview with writer/director Brian Austin.

Synopsis:

Dillon (Jared Ivers) has been moved again. A familiar life of being passed from one household to the next, but this time it’s much worse. Dillon struggles with speaking up, in order to expose his abuser. He reaches out to any adult that may hear ; but will anyone really listen?

This event will take place on
Monday, Feb. 19 7:30PM*
SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRES

1625 West End Blvd
St. Louis Park, MN 55416

GET TICKETS

RUSH LINE tickets are still available, be sure to arrive early!

What’s the inspiration for this film? Is there something personal in the story in any way?

I went through a terrible upbringing and I wanted to relive it and put it on screen.

Tell me a bit about your creative process. Did you write the script? If so, how long did it take you to write it and how did Nobody’s Son project come together?

I am a somewhat good writer and with my other writers Charles Dutka and Gerald Dahling, I composed a very good script that I needed to make as a film. I wrote the script myself with Gerald Dahling for LA Film School for my Associates in Film in LA, California Hollywood.2 I had to take two script writing classes and my first script my teacher didn’t like and I only had a few days to finish the second one so I came up with my childhood experiences growing up because it was easy to remember those trying days and I wanted to have a interesting and compelling story to tell.

Would you tell me a bit about filming in Ely? I believe you went to school in that town?

I decided to make the film where the events happened initially… I knew it would be more expensive but money was no big deal.  I went to Ely Elementary school till 2nd grade then moved to a nearby town .. my experiences in ely were mostly bad.. especially since I was raised by my cousin and her husband.. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.. and it was a very difficult childhood.. the only thing that helped me escape mentally was baseball. I turned out to be a great baseball player (pitcher) at a young age and that was my love.

How long was principal photography? What’s the biggest challenges for you as an indie filmmaker?

It took 9 days to shoot .. we were up by 5 and stopped around 1 or 2 in the morning.. the biggest challenge was to feel confident in my abilities as a director.. I was relying on a Assistant Director for too much of the shoot because I didn’t believe I could do some of the things necessary to make a quality movie. As I progressed through the days, I decided to fire the AD and work by myself and my DP and script writer to help come up with he shot lists for the next day. I felt very comfortable directing after I fired that AD… ha ha 🙂

Brian with lead actor Jared Ivers who played Dillon

Lastly, what’s next for you? Specifically in regards to Nobody’s Son, or in general about your filmmaking career?

I am making a feature finally.. It will most likely be filmed in LA and should take a few months to shoot.. it will be a very expensive film to make but sometimes you can’t skimp on quality and need to pay for what you get in the movie industry.  I am still trying to pitch Nobody’s Son as a series on TV or Netflix.. We have been with my script writers.. writing several episodes of the tv series already and plan on pitching it soon as a pilot first for tv.

Molly and Brian on the set of NOBODY’S SON

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


GET TICKETS to Nobody’s Son screening

RUSH LINE tickets are still available, be sure to arrive early!

*6:30pm Reception | 7pm Red Carpet Interviews/Photos
7:30pm Film Screening | 8:15pm Post Film Q&A


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


Documentary Spotlight: 112 Weddings + Interview with filmmaker Doug Block

112WeddingsPoster

The 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest may still be 10 months away but periodically, the organizers run an awesome Insider Series event for film fans to enjoy. Next week, they are featuring a special screening of a thought-provoking and fascinating documentary, 112 Weddings (more info here).

Filmmaker Doug Block is a documentary filmmaker (51 Birch Street, The Kids Grow Up) who does wedding photography on the side for some extra cash. Initially he didn’t really set out to create a film that examines the institute of marriage, but after having shot several weddings over the course of a couple of decades, he often wondered whatever happened to those couples years later. That curiosity sparked the idea for this film, and so we got an intimate and personal look into the lives of about a dozen couples who candidly share their marital stories for the film.

RabbiBlake_Wedding

As the poster tagline says, happily ever after is indeed complicated. And real-life love stories can often be more intriguing and dramatic than whatever Hollywood concocted and that’s what I found when I was watching this film last week. Each couple’s narrative is as varied as their weddings themselves, and it’s clear that marriage is a tricky journey in which there are no shortcuts. One couple is dealing with a child’s debilitating condition, another is dealing with crippling depression and so forth. It’s also surprising to learn which couples stay together and which have ended in divorce, as the film starts with the original wedding footage first. It’s also interesting to see the perspective of a same-sex couple and what marriage meant to them. One of those couples said that marriage sort of ‘solidifies our relationship as a team.’ One older couple decided NOT to get married initially, though they still have a celebration to mark their union as a couple. But later on, after their kids are grown, they did decide to officially marry.

Some of the couples featured in the film

The documentary is only 95-min long and it’s quite well-paced. Though each only have a few minutes to tell their story, you still get a glimpse into the intricacies of their lives. There are poignant and heart-breaking moments, as well as funny moments. One rabbi said the funniest lines that couldn’t be more accurate:

“Weddings are easy… just throw a lot of money at it & liquor. But marriage is hard. If you throw a lot of money at it and liquor, usually it doesn’t end up very good.”

I commend Doug Block for tackling on such a project and as someone who’ve been married for over a decade, it definitely makes me reflect on my own married life. Early in the film, Doug asked one of the couples ‘What’s your biggest fear that your marriage will turn into?’ and that’s really a thought-provoking question that I’d think every couple would have to face at one point or another. It may seem at first, to me anyway, that the filmmaker seems to have a rather pessimistic view on marriage. He asks ‘What does it say when the most hallowed institution ends in failure half the time?’ He also quipped, ‘It’s one thing to take a gamble on a marriage, it’s another to have as much of a chance of success as flipping a coin.’ But overall it’s a sobering & honest look at the subject that presents things as they are, no sugar-coating it. The film actually ends in a hopeful note with a young couple walking blissfully following a festive outdoor ceremony, and it leaves me wondering how things would turn out for the happy couple years down the line.

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I had the chance to chat with Doug via email about his film. Read below on the filmmaking process:

DougBlock_112WeddingsOut of the 112 weddings you have filmed, how did you decide which ones to feature in the doc?

Half were couples who popped right into my memory bank as lively and interesting. Others were picked by way of contrast, and to obtain as much diversity as I could within the parameters of who hired me. Finally, I deliberately tracked down two divorced couples, as I felt that aspect of marriage needed to be represented. Needless to say, those were the toughest couples to find and secure interviews with.

How long did it take you to make the film? I’d imagine it involves a pretty grueling editing process?

It’s something I had thought about for many years, for almost as long as I’d been shooting weddings. But once I actually began in earnest it only took about two years to make altogether, which is relatively quick for a feature documentary. The first year was spent not just interviewing our main couples but viewing as many of the 112 weddings I shot as I could to find moments to use interstitially throughout the film. That was done simultaneously with the fundraising. The second year was primarily devoted to the editing. It was actually a lot of fun to edit because I love collaborating with my amazingly talented editor, Maeve O’Boyle.

Out of all the couples that stood out to me the most were Sue & Steve and the interracial couple Yoonhee & Tom who met on a plane. Could you elaborate a bit on the process of filming either one of the two couples and how that came together?

Sue & Steve
Sue & Steve
Yoonhee & Tom
Yoonhee & Tom

In all cases, not just with those two, I simply called the couples and explained what I was doing. I also told them upfront that I was making the film in partnership with HBO, so that they’d be aware that this was something that would eventually be seen widely. As I say in the film, when I shoot a wedding I form a pretty intimate bond with the couple very quickly, as I’m with them at close quarters on perhaps the most extraordinary day of their lives together. Many years later, they all remembered who I was right away and, I’m happy to say, quite fondly. So I think I had their trust from the beginning. That became very clear when I did the interviews, which, like my weddings, I shot by myself without a crew. At times I was astonished at how open and candid they were with me. It was almost like they mistook me for a therapist

What have you learned from the experience of making this documentary? Not knowing what your view is about marriage, did it alter your opinion in any way?

Well, when I started the project I’d been married for over 25 years, so I’d say I knew a thing or two about marriage.  But I didn’t want to impose my own views and go into the filming with any set agenda.  I just wanted to capture a collection of snapshot-like portraits of marriage by revisiting some of my wedding couples and, when put together, seeing what they added up to.  It actually led to a number of surprises, including questioning why we even bother getting married at all.  I never thought that would be a major question that would come up.
Lastly, what would you like people to take away from seeing this film?

I hope it will get them thinking about marriage in a deeper way, and hopefully lead to some lively discussions. I think too often people conflate marriage with the wedding day. Their fantasies are usually directed at the dress and the cake and what it will be like to walk down the aisle. But weddings are just day one of what will theoretically be a lifetime commitment.

So I hope it shows marriage in an affectionate but much more realistic light. As someone says in the film, happily ever after is complicated.

Check out the trailer below:


112 Weddings is available on HBO Go, iTunes, and Dogwoof TV.