MN Short Film Spotlight: 100,000 Miles A Second + Interview w/ filmmakers/cast

As I have mentioned on the TCFF page, it’s time for another Minnesota Shorts Showcase, sponsored by Twin Cities Film Fest! Last week I had the privilege of chatting with the writer, producer and leading lady of one of the short films screening this Saturday… the highly acclaimed 100,000 Miles A Second (which I think is a pretty darn cool title!)

A woman with multiple sclerosis has a conversation with a homeless street musician about how fast we travel through the universe, realizing her thoughts about herself are the real issue in her life.

Director: Jeremy Bandow
Writer: Patricia Fox
Producer: Kelly Lamphear-Dash
Cast: Erin Roberts, Sean Emery

Despite its brief running time (only 7 minutes long), this film packs a punch. Both narratively speaking as well as emotionally. For the most part we only see a woman (a terrific Erin Roberts) in the car, basically having a nervous breakdown. We get a glimpse of what she is going through but it’s never explicitly-said what she’s suffering from. And that’s the beauty of Fox’s script, that what the protagonist is going through is something we could all relate to. A lot of our frustration, anguish, rage, etc. are internal struggles, something we feel so intensely more so than something we physically experience.

I always admire stories that deals with heavy subject matter without making it too heavy-handed. There is a lightness to the way the story unfolds, especially in the key scene where the woman interacts with the homeless street musician (Sean Emery). Both actors are so great in their roles and were memorable in conveying the emotions of their respective characters. I love the music too, which adds so much to the uplifting tone of the movie. Director Jeremy Bandow did a wonderful job telling this story beautifully. The use of special effects to emphasize the theme of ‘speed’ gets the point across in a fun and efficient manner. Kudos to the filmmakers involved in making this a memorable short that’s both inspiring and entertaining.

Last Thursday I had the privilege of chatting with three of the women behind this wonderful short film.

Interview with screenwriter
Patricia Fox

1. When I watched the film, I felt like this is personal story that’s perhaps based on a real-life experience. Is that the case? Can you tell me what’s the inspiration behind this story?

​Yes, this really happened to me. It happened 10 or so years ago and I’ve told the story to people and it always gets a strong response from people, so I sure it had emotional power. When I received free classes at FilmNorth (formerly IFP), I took one in writing film short form and when we pitched our ideas for a short film in class, the instructor said THIS is a short and encouraged me to do it. I already knew I wanted to do it but this confirmed my instincts about it.

2. How did the short film come to be? Did you know the director, Jeremy Bandow, before you collaborated on this film? 

I actually went to graduate school with Jeremy and we’ve always had the same aesthetics, a similar taste, in film. As a finalist for a grant, I got to take this class in web series/short film at IFP for free. And since I had this idea for a while, because the story of this film actually happened to me word for word, I pitched this idea to the class. I got encouragement from that class that my idea is perfect for a short. The teacher said it’s the kind of stuff festival programmers are looking for, where there’s something at the end of it, it’s like a ‘punch to the stomach’ so to speak, that opens your mind to think of something in a different way.

3. I love that the film opens with John Milton’s quote ‘The mind is its own place.’ How did you come up with that quote that’s so perfect for this story?

​I’ve been sort of obsessed with that quote for years. I first encountered it in book of daily inspirational readings called Pocket Full of Miracles by Joan Boasanko. It is from Paradise Lost by John Milton. The quote completely encapsulates our protagonist’s issue in the film. The “problem” is merely how she’s choosing to “think” about it.

4. I’m also curious about the intriguing title ‘100,000 Miles a Second.’ What’s the significance of that title for you?

The homeless guy I had this encounter with said that’s how fast we are traveling in the universe. It turns out, that speed is about half the speed of light. I thought it was a powerful title that would get people’s attention.

5. Despite the serious subject matter, there’s a lightness to the way the film unfolds, and there’s such cheerfulness in the way the street musician interacts with the woman. Is that a deliberate tone that you and the director agree on?

​Yes, it was deliberate. I want the message to be positive and give people the room to make up their own minds about what it all means. A lot of it has to do with the actor we cast, he’s extremely engaging, he is a performer, and we wanted to use his strengths as an actor to help us spin this tale.

6. Tell me a little bit about the music in the film, which somehow fits perfectly and adds such richness to the story. 

The real street musician I encountered at the Co-op was playing a fiddle and he was playing Bluegrass music. So I knew I wanted the same type of sound for the film. Just so happen that the actor, Sean Emery, knows how to play the instrument and this type of music. It’s in the call sheet when we’re casting that it’d help if the actor has a musical sense and can play music. He actually performs at the State Fair and he had taken class with our casting director Cynthia Uhrich, so he turned up to audition for this role. He ended up writing the song in the end credits, apparently he wrote it a while ago and never did anything with it. He played it for us and we thought it’d be perfect for this movie.

7. Since you also produced this film, what’s the process like in finding the right producer and cast to bring your story to life?

Kelly asked to be part of the project, which I gratefully agreed. Once I asked Jeremy Bandow to direct, he brought the shooting crew with him. They work together a lot. We knew all all the extras personally. We found the other people we needed to bring in during post production, like the sound designer. Since we were working on a hot set in the form of a busy, urban store open for business, but we also wanted to play with sound during the speed up and slow down of motion sections in the film.

Interview with lead actress
Erin Roberts

1. How’s the experience making this film different from your theater experience and other acting jobs you’ve done in the past?

In my experience film is very different from theater because you don’t have a lot of control over the outcome. I kept checking in with writer Patricia and director Jeremey and reminding them that they needed to tell me if I wasn’t giving them what they needed on camera. It’s hard as an actor, (and as a control freak), to hand over that power to someone else therefore The trust level must be very high and I learned that quickly. Luckily I had such amazing collaborators. Specifically with film, after the shoot, the final product is completely out of our hands as actors. The film, the TV show, the video, is all made in post production. So the actor needs to Step back knowing,!and hoping, that they did their job, then let it go. It’s very very different work for me.

2. How did you prepare for the role of  The Woman who suffers from MS?

In prepping for this role playing Patricia, an actual person living with multiple sclerosis, I just wanted to talk to her… A lot. I wanted to hear her thoughts and feelings and experiences now, and during the onset of the disease, which is when this short film is set. The film is so relatable because it’s not just specifically about MS but about people going through personal and very difficult times in their lives. I was less worried about imitating Patricia and more focused on bringing the essence of her experience to the screen. As per the physicality, she struggled with issues in her left foot which caused her to feel uncomfortable on that side while she walked.

As an actor it’s important to me that I don’t pretend that something is bothering me- that will just show a “ quality”but not specific realism or reality. For me I needed something real to remind me that that left side was trouble. In preparing for the role I walked around with a rock in my shoe as a physical reminder that there was something that’s bothering me. Ironically on the day of the shoot I walked outside and saw one of my neighbors nephews Lego blocks on the street, a bright color red, which was a color Patricia and I had talked a lot about for this character, and I knew that would be My “rock”. I taped it to the ball of my foot and the rest of the day walked around with it sticking into my foot as I walked. It worked like a charm. It hurt like hell. And I think did the trick. I have that Lego block on my desk as a reminder.

Exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from the set

 

Interview with Producer
Kelly Lamplear-Dash

1. How did you come across this project? Have you and Patricia collaborated before?

I’ve known Patricia for many years. We met in a screenwriting class and have been part of a writing group ever since. I had been encouraging her to produce something since she has so many wonderful scripts. This was actually a new script; however, it immediately had interest and momentum to being done. It made logical sense that this would be the one to get produced.

2. What have been the most challenging part in making this film?

Securing the location, finding the talent, getting the crew together all fell into place extremely easily. The challenging part was the weather on the day of the shoot, which was all outdoors. We had to cut it short. Then we had a time delay of a few weeks to be able to go back and re-shoot due to the talent’s schedule. It’s a challenge to make sure everything looks seamless. Added to that was the issue of the green screen for the little bit of special effects that were used. Again, in post trying to make it look seamless.

Oh and on the first day of the shoot, there was the major the solar eclipse! It was August 21st, and I remember we almost called it off. But I felt like, considering the storyline and themes on this film, astrologically, things had to get started that day! The weather did get the better of us that day, so we had to wrap things early, but yeah the first day of shoot was indeed when the solar eclipse happened!

3. I know you’ve produced several documentaries before. Is this the first narrative short you produced? How’s that different in terms of process with producing documentaries?

Yes, actually it was. The main differences are related to the size of the production. In documentary, you usually have a skeleton crew and a single or couple for the interview subject. In narrative, there is a much more detailed crew to handle all the various aspects, especially about lighting, plus tech for maneuvers like dolly shots, etc. For talent, you have to have makeup and wardrobe, plus set design, props, etc. Of course, you have the talent, which can be anywhere from one person to one hundred. Even though this story centers around the two main characters, there was still a fair amount of extras, plus we were at a real co-op that had customers coming in and out that we had to control. The biggest shift is that in documentary you have to capture what is interesting in the real world that applies to your story versus in narrative you are altering your surroundings to create the world of the story.


Check out a clip from 100, 000 Miles A Second:


 

Thanks so much Patricia, Erin and Kelly
for this fun interview! 

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.

FCInterviewBanner

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.

FCInterviewBanner

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!