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


‘Project Eden Vol.1’ Premiere Recap + Interview with filmmakers Ashlee Jensen & Terrance Young

Last week had been quite a whirlwind… but in the most wonderful way. Last Wednesday 2/15, my hubby and I attended the premiere of Project Eden Vol. I, part of Twin Cities Film Fest’ Insider Series event, with the cast and crew. It was a fun, festive night. It was lovely to chat a bit with the lovely lead actress Emily Fradenburgh, who arrived early to the event in a gorgeous dress, as I didn’t get to interview her in person. Everyone looked red-carpet ready, including the Twin Cities-based male lead actor Peter Christian Hansen, who was his usual charming self.

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I had met the duo filmmakers Terrance Young and Ashlee Jensen just hours before for our interview at Nina’s Coffee House. The screening ended with a fun Q&A with the cast and crew.


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Quick Thoughts on the film:

Well, the first part of Project Eden got off to a strong start. The sci-fi thriller deservedly won Best Vision at the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival just a week prior. It’s an intriguing sci-fi that played more like a conspiracy theory, set in a familiar world like ours, but with a few twists. I have to say the visuals looked amazing, shot by Twin Cities based DP Christopher Lange. It looked more expensive than it was, which is always a feat for indie films. The film’s is quite enigmatic and made you ponder about what’s really going on, but that’s to be expected as we haven’t seen the whole story yet.

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The two leads Evelyn and Ethan (played by Emily Fradenburgh and Peter Hansen) are definitely the strongest performers of the film. We’re not sure just how their worlds are connected, but we’re given just enough to care about their journey. It’s always interesting when we’re not sure if the protagonist is a good guy or not, and Ethan definitely keeps you guessing. Evelyn and the mystery surrounding her catatonic son is the focal point of the story, and her exchange with Erick Avari’s mysterious character in the third act leads to a massive cliffhanger!

I do have a few quibbles, such as the stock characters and their hackneyed dialogue. There are also odd situations that don’t quite add up, which you could refer to as plot holes or continuity problems. But overall, it’s a pretty thrilling set-up that made me eager to see Volume II!

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I met the duo filmmakers Terrance and Ashlee at another charming St. Paul coffee house called Nina’s. There’s a bit of logistical challenge trying to set up a time to meet, as they were only in town for a few days so no doubt their schedule is jam packed. But it was well worth the effort as they’re one of the nicest people you ever had the privilege to meet! They’re both from Sunshine Coast, Australia, and they certainly had such a sunny outlook on life. By the time I got there, Terrance had stepped out for a bit so I got to chat with Ashlee first.

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How did the concept/story idea of Project Eden first come about for you?

Ashlee: Terrance actually had the concept of the ending, this amazing grand ending, about ten years ago. And we’ve known each other for 11 years, so we talked about it back and forth throughout that time, but of course we ended up doing other things, including 500 Miles (Ashlee’s directorial debut that Terrance produced). Then we went on our separate ways, we did a bit of study and other projects in between. It wasn’t until we stopped here in Minneapolis on our way to Palm Beach for 500 Miles and we walked through the Stone Arch Bridge. And from one side of the bridge to the other we talked out the whole story of Project Eden.

Terrance: So the beginning and the end were always there. For some reason, I don’t know if it was a dream or something. So the idea was there but it’s a concept that was going to cost a lot of money so we put it off. I just weren’t at a point in my career yet [to make this]. So Ashlee and I did 500 Miles together in 2014, then a few years later we were here in Minneapolis and we came up with the whole story and started writing it. As we had the beginning and the end, we sort of weaved everything together. Then we decided to do it in two volumes as we know that if we’re trying to do it as one feature we wouldn’t have gotten the budget. It’d be too ambitious. But by doing part I, it opened up a franchise opportunity and we’re able to make Part I with a decent amount of money.

So are you saying the birth of the project is right here in Minneapolis?

Ashlee: Yes. It’s really interesting because when we had our final filming blocked, so this was a year and a half blocked in three different countries (Australia, New Zealand and the US), the very final scene that we shot was the one that happened at the Stone Arch Bridge.

You said you talked through the whole project as you both were walking in Stone Arch Bridge. Did you envision it to be multiple films instead of just one feature?

Ashlee: No, at the time, obviously we fell in love with the city, it has the right vibe and we’re like, ‘oh we have to film it here, it’s amazing.’ At the time we were hoping to get it into one story, but by the time it came down to to writing it all out and then of course being indie filmmakers, all the other things came into place. We didn’t have unlimited budget and all these political, behind-the-scenes stuff came up. But we knew in our hearts if we wanted to do justice to the story then we needed to separate it into two volumes. So the first one you’re really setting up the world of Project Eden and getting to know the characters in such a deep level, seeing all their flaws and the journey they’re about to embark on. But we ended it right at the point where things are about to kick off. It’s a massive cliffhanger.

You said Terrance had this grand ending idea initially, but did you have the characters in mind at the time? Or is it more about the concept?

Ashlee: We didn’t have the name but we knew the central core of the story is a young woman and her son who’s in a catatonic state.

In the concept video, both of you said that the world seems to think that spirituality and science are two separate things while you think it’s one and the same. Would you expand a bit on that thought?

Ashlee: Sure. Of course these are our personal perspectives how we view reality.. But we see time and time again where there’s always this opposing views that you’re either spiritual or you have this scientific belief. While we’re like, well why can’t it be combined? Because anything that is scientific has a spiritual element and vice versa. The nature of the universe and everything that we’re even sitting in today is so overwhelmingly vast and amazing, I don’t think you can pinpoint it down to just science. There is always this grander allusion of spirituality so we feel that the two are so complexly and deeply intertwined that it’s one and the same.

Terrance: I feel like our world today is governed by religion to the point of our detriment. We’re killing each other because of religion. At the end of the day everyone has a spiritual side, but we can still have science without discounting spirituality. That’s what we’re trying to do, with our science fiction [story], we do deal with science but there’s a spiritual element to it ‘cause I think that’s how the world is, physics and spirituality goes together. That’s our belief and people put in what they believe in into their own projects.

So did this film start out as a short film?

Ashlee: No, it’s a short film that Terrance and I did maybe about four years ago that has the same name. There are a few little themes that are similar to this feature film but it’s really more of a stand-alone story. If we’re ever going to expand on that little short, it’ll be more of a series. So no, this film didn’t originate as a short.

How about the financing aspect of this film? Did you go through crowdfunding route or did you talk to a bunch of financiers for this?

Terrance: Yeah, for the last film we did the crowdfunding route. It worked all right. But we knew we’d never raise the amount of money needed to make Project Eden. But we knew a guy who wanted to invest in our last film but the timing wasn’t right, so we went to him and he put in a bit of money. We also found a couple other investors so we’re able to put together some money to go and shoot the first half of the movie.

Ashlee: Yeah it’s a bit of an unorthodox approach. So we got a small pool of money and we knew it’s a catch 22. We need more money but we wouldn’t get more money until they see what we could do. So we took a massive risk. We came here [to the US] then came home with the first 20 minutes of the film.

Terrance: We had some money from investors but it was only like 50 grand here, 50 grand there, so we had about $150K all together to do the initial shoot. It’s totally unusual and a huge risk, because normally you don’t shoot the first 20 minutes in order. Then we presented that to the investors and showed them what it would look like. So we got more financing and went back to shoot the rest of movie in New Zealand and then back to Minnesota.

So in which country did you shoot the first 20 minutes?

Terrance & Ashlee: Here in Minnesota.

Wow, there’s a lot of Minnesota connection.

Terrance: Yes, we basically shot half the movie here in MN and half in New Zealand and a little bit in Australia.

The filmmakers w/ Twin Cities-based DP Christopher Lange + Helsinki-based Mark Hobson Source: Project Eden FB
The filmmakers w/ Twin Cities-based DP Christopher Lange + Helsinki-based Mark Hobson – Source: Project Eden FB

What made you decide to collaborate and co-direct this film?

Ashlee: This one is a huge… the premise of this concept is big, and there’s all these intricacies that work up to the grand ending. So for us, to make sure that we always have one another’s back that no one would fall behind, we’re always on the same page. Since we wrote this together, we decided to direct this together as well. We’ll do the same for volume 2, but this project is the only one we’ll do it like this.

Terrance: It was so ambitious that we knew that one of us could not just go and direct this. Ashlee is so great about working with actors and getting the performance out of them. My background is in post production so I’m more on the technical side. So we’ve got two different viewpoints but because we were on the same page when we wrote it, there was never any sort of clashes of creative ideas.

Yes, Peter mentioned that it was seamless collaboration that if it wasn’t the case, then you guys did a good job in shielding it from him and the other actors.

Terrance: Yes we sort of had this agreement that if they had questions about characters then they’d go to Ashlee. If they had other questions such as the logistical stuff then I can handle those. Of course there were times that we chimed in together, but for the most part I’d handle the business if you will, how we’d get everybody to New Zealand and all that. But yeah we both learned from each other.

So how was the experience of collaborating? Do you want to keep doing this, directing together again?

Terrance: Look, we’ll definitely would do this together for volume 2 but after that I think we’d go back to directing and producing as we have two different skill set. But I am looking forward to working together again for the next film.

Ashlee: It strengthened our relationship as well. I think the reason why we seemed like this united pair because at the end of the day, we’re always like ‘y’know what, we have respect one another, we listen to one another’s perspectives and we have trust in one another. Because we were the leaders, whatever energy between us would filter down, so we have to make sure everything’s good.

What has been the most challenging aspect about making this film, apart from the financing?

Terrance: Having not gone the film school route and being told about how to do things. There were certain things that I personally learned the hard way. Even though sometimes it’s the best way to learn, it was very stressful and there were times we thought the movie just wouldn’t get done. Because we had invested so much, so much of our personal lives and also financially and professionally. But of course there’s always the belief that we’d never not finish what we’d started, so definitely there has been a ton of great life lessons and next time we’ll know what to do. I mean there will be a new set of problems but hopefully then we’d know more what to do.

Any snafus/mishaps during filming that stood out to you?

Ashlee: Well, we came over to America and learned about the politics of how films are run here. Then we went over to New Zealand. It’s like it’s same same, but also totally different. So we learned a little thing the hard way. We did have one incident in NZ. I mean it happens but for us, it was the first big things that happened and we’re like, whoa! We were filming in this little place called Waipu, it’s in the middle of nowhere, about 2.5 hours drive [from Auckland] and in order to get there is this long mountain tracks, all gravel road. Then this generator truck pulled to the side of the road to let a car pass and after all the rain and everything the road gave way and the whole truck rolled four times down the side of the mountain. Fortunately the makeup artist who was in the truck only had this cut on his nose and that was it!

Terrance: I know, he could’ve died!

Ashlee: Yep, 50 meters off the road and he would’ve fallen into a massive canyon and it would’ve been completely different situation.

Terrance: Because of that we only had limited power so our unit base like catering and so on could only have limited power just to have the lights on to keep the schedule going. The thing is, we didn’t really have money for contingency days, so if the lights didn’t work for the shoot, we would be a day behind and we wouldn’t have the money to facilitate that. So it was bad, but we were lucky as nobody got killed. But yeah, the generator was gone, we had to have another one brought in from Auckland.

Peter Hansen, Ashlee Jensen, Paul O'Brien, Emily Fradenburgh prepare to step onto set on Day 1 – Source: Project Eden FB
Peter Hansen, Ashlee Jensen, Paul O’Brien, Emily Fradenburgh on set on Day 1 – Source: Project Eden FB

So about casting. How did you cast those sci-fi actors like Mike Dohpud, Cliff Simmons, etc as well as the Twin Cities actors like Peter and Emily?

Terrance: So Ashlee dealt with the casting of the Minnesota people, and I dealt with the agents of Mike Dohpud, Cliff Simmons, etc.

Ashlee: With the hierarchy of films, as we get further in our careers, casting directors would cast a lot of the actors. But I personally love the audition process, love it. Not obviously for the smaller, background extras but the key people, we want to be a part of that. So when it came to the leads, we’ve got this little tradition that we’re always going to continue doing because we believe in supporting emerging creatives. So we always wanted our leads to be up and comers rather than established actors. So when it comes to casting here, we did a round of auditions and then everyone we liked we’ve got call backs and we did a few little read throughs. I think the crux of it, and there were a lot of talents, but there were a set of people that we really liked so we just sat down and had a conversation with them. Because when you worked with in such a small level, the people you work with became your family. So you want to know that they’re good people, that you like them, and they’re true collaborators. Emily and Peter just hands down just stand out, they’re both just all around good people.

Terrance: And we saw a lot of people so it’s not like we just picked them because they were presented to us. Like for Emily we must’ve seen about fifteen people and I think Peter too, there were probably similar amount.

Ashlee: And people were sending tapes to us too, so there were quite a lot.

Terrance: One of our producers, Sallyanne Ryan, she connected us with a photographer named Dennis Alick [spelling?] who’s very connected with the sci-fi channel world. He’s friends with Mike Dohpud. And we actually initially talked with an actor by the name of Robert Knepper, he played the character T-Bag in Prison Break. He’s very well known for that. But then he ended up not being a good fit for us, so we said we wanted to speak to Mike. So I spoke to his agent and did the deal. He said the reason he wanted to do it was because he loved the script. And then, because of that, see I grew up watching Stargate-SG1 and I love Cliff Simon who’d be great for the Russian.

Erick Avari in 'Project Eden Vol. I'
Erick Avari in ‘Project Eden Vol. I’

Then we looked at Erick Avari who’s just perfect for the role of the Shepherd. So for the most part we dealt with their agents but I contacted Erick Avari on Facebook. I asked him, ‘I’d love to send you a script so who’s your agent?’ He said, ‘I don’t have an agent at the moment as I’m trying to retire from Hollywood but you never know what’s going to happen, so send me the script.’ So we did and he wrote back saying, ‘well I got to say you’ve got an ambitious script here and I’m sick of mediocrity.’

Ashlee: Yeah he said ‘I’d rather put my time and energy into something like this than mediocrity chasing mediocrity.’

Terrance: So we had a chat together, we had Skype sessions, we did hours and hours working on the script. We worked on the dialog, he got really heavily involved. He came to New Zealand and he shot his scenes. So I’d say those three guys (Mike, Cliff and Erick), who I called the Stargate alumni, really brought a whole extra layer, dimension to the cast. So we’ve got these emerging actors from Minnesota surrounded by veteran International cast. Mike is Canadian, Cliff was born in South Africa but now lives in L.A. and Erick is of Indian descent but lives in the US.

So this is Volume I. So have you set up a time for Volume II?

Terrance: Yes it’s in development. We’re already working on the treatment, we’re already working on the script and we want to head to it straight away.

Ashlee: Exactly. Ideally we’d like to shoot this in 12 – 18 months.

Is it going to be set in the same location or are you thinking of finding another spot?

Ashlee: A little bit the same but we’re thinking of diversifying the locations, so maybe Peru…

Terrance: It’s definitely still in North or South America, we’re not going outside of that.

And the same cast, too?

Terrance: Well, the thing is we don’t want to say yes, because then you spoil the movie as then you know who dies in the first film. We don’t want to give anything away.

Yeah I know, but I really want the MN cast to be in this again, they’re such good talents.

Ashlee: But let’s just say we would be very happy to work with them again.

Terrance: One thing we want to reiterate is that we purposely marketed this as Volume I. Because we felt that if we just call this Project Eden and they saw the movie and only saw half of the story, they might feel cheated. But if they go in knowing that this is Part I and it ends at cliffhanger, they hopefully won’t get mad about it.

Ashlee: Hopefully they’d leave feeling excited to see where it’s going.

Terrance: I know it is a risky move for an indie film [to do it as two movies] as you just don’t know. But we followed our instincts and ironically it’s sort of having an opposite effect where they want people to buy it to see part II.

How long was the shoot?

Terrance: If you add it all together, it’s only about 4-5 weeks of filming. But when we split it up, it took about 10 months if you spread it out. But from concept to the finished product [for Vol.I] it took about 2 years. As far as the number of days, about 24 days. With pick up it’s 24 days.

Ashlee: That’s the thing with indie films, we were fitting in 6-8 pages a day, where normally on a bigger set, you have the luxury of only doing 1 page a day.

One last question for you Ashlee. I’ve been a champion of female filmmakers for a long time, which I tried to do on my blog. So would you comment a bit about the lack of gender diversity in the industry?

Ashlee: It’s an interesting topic for me to talk about because I feel like, perhaps I’m just lucky but I also think it’s about the people you surround yourself with. Terrance and I, we hire people based on their skill set and nothing else. And so honestly, on most film sets that we’ve done we’ve actually got more women than men. And it just happens to turn out that way. I would love to see more women in higher up roles and I think it is slowly happening, there’s a bit more awareness there.

In fact there is a film festival recently that just had a gender blind [system] so that when people put in their submissions, there are no names nor gender attached. And within the first year, they went from 3% to 50% of female directors and producers as they base everything purely on merit, on the work themselves. Look I think it’s changing. I mean, Terrance and I, we naturally who we are, we’re pioneering for that [diversity] but we’re not seeking to stand up and put a fuss about it. We are who we are, and I think we stay true to who we are in hiring people based on their abilities then hopefully the perception will start to shift.

Terrance: Y’know I actually get angry when people go on and fuss about equality in films because I don’t even think about that. I just think, who’s good for the job, y’know. I mean somehow naturally, a lot of our crew are women. And again, that’s the way it should be. It should be based on the skill set.

Ashlee: So yeah, like Terrance said, we don’t want to make a fuss about it but we are going to be role models. Just by being who we are and doing what we do.

Terrance: So yeah, we’re not going to force it, we’re going to like count how many women we have in our crew. I think people can’t accuse us about gender discrimination. I think the proof is in the pudding.

The cast & crew of 'Project Eden' Source: Project Eden's FB
The cast & crew of the Waipu shoot of ‘Project Eden’ 
Source: Project Eden’s FB

THANK YOU so much Ashlee + Terrance
for the fun, insightful conversation!

Indie Film Spotlight: ‘Project Eden Vol.1’ + Interview with lead actor Peter Christian Hansen

This is the first time I’m actually doing a three-part interview posts for a single film, but it’s the first time I’m featuring an International production starring a pair of Twin Cities actors! This weekend I posted my interview with Emily Fradenburgh, the female lead of Project Eden Vol. I, so today I’m featuring the male lead Peter Christian Hansen. Some of you might notice that he’s the lead actor in my script reading post, so before even seeing this movie, I already knew the filmmakers picked the right talent for the job!

I’m thrilled that Twin Cities Film Fest is sponsoring the Minneapolis premiere of the film this Wednesday, February 15 (you can get your tickets here). I’m also looking forward to seeing the duo filmmakers Terrance Young and Ashlee Jensen who flew in all the way from Sunshine Coast, Australia!


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Since Peter lived in town, we’re able to sit down for our interview. We went to this charming Irish coffee house, Claddagh Cafe on West 7th in St. Paul, as it’s not as noisy as the big chain coffee houses. We started off with conversations about his theatre background and general discussion about acting for various mediums before we dived in and talked about his work in Project Eden.

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Q: First let me ask about your theatre career as you’ve done an extensive amount of stage work here in town. How many shows do you typically do a year?

Depends entirely on the year. This past year and a half has been different for me as I’ve been doing a lot of film and I’ve done very little stage work. Usually I do about 3-6 shows a year. Well, more like 3-5 shows and then I’d do smaller workshops, readings and other smaller projects throughout the year.

Q: How do you approach a particular project. As you run your own theatre (Gremlin Theatre), how do you choose which plays you’d do there, as well as other stage work around the Twin Cities?

I do have the luxury of choosing which plays I would produce. But otherwise I’m at the mercy of somebody else. So I’d do auditions for other stage productions or someone might call me and say, ‘hey do you want to come in and do this?’

Q: Would you talk a bit about the inception of Gremlin Theatre?

I started it back in 1998, so about eighteen years ago right after college. We stared it because we were a bunch of young actors with weird schedules. So me and this actress I was working with at the time, we were doing this touring children theatre thing where we’d go around these different places in the Upper Midwest doing a bunch of different shows. So we’re on the road all the time and we couldn’t really audition for anything else or be involved in anything else, so over the course of the year, we’re always looking for something to do. So we and some other friends who had strange schedules thought ‘hey why don’t we start our own show?’ and so it got started that way and we just kept it up.

One of the first shows we ever did, we actually built out a space temporarily into a performance space. So that was our model for a while. We had a couple places that we rented for a little bit or we’d book a theatre. A couple of years later, we took another space and converted it temporarily into a theatre. Then after that we decided we wanted to build our own place, so we built our first space in 2002 in Downtown St. Paul. We had that for six years. It’s great because we had it as our home but we also could rent it out to other companies. So there’s a lot of opportunities for other performers to use that space, which is good.

Gremlin Theatre Artistic director/founder Peter Hansen sits in the St. Paul theater, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)
Gremlin Theatre Artistic director/founder Peter Hansen sits in the St. Paul theater, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)

Then we moved to another space on University Avenue and that was a cool space. We had a lot of success so that was really great. But we’ve been looking for a space where we could be in for the long haul, so we closed down that space in 2013 because it wasn’t going to be that place. It wasn’t going to be in the long term. So the last couple of years we’ve been producing in various locations, taking on different projects that don’t have to be in our space, while we think about where we want to be. Well recently we found our space [in Vandalia Tower, St. Paul] and that’ll be great as we can be there for a long time. It’s going to be an exciting performance space. So yeah, that’s sort of the evolution of our company.

Q: So were you a theatre major in college in St. Olaf College? 

No, my majors were History and Latin. But I did tons of theatre when I was in college and also back in high schools. I just never majored in it, I think I’ve taken maybe two [acting] classes total. I think training is good, it’s worth a lot of things. But for me, the best training is by doing. I certainly learned by doing. One of the first jobs I got out of college was I got hired as an actor for the touring children company, and I was fortunate to keep getting work. And also, as a producer you can provide work for yourself. It’s great as you’re not always at someone else’s mercy and you get to choose projects that you think are worthwhile. The downside is that, well, what’s nice about working for someone else is they’d just hand you a paycheck.

Q: Now that you’ve done TV, films and theatre. What’s one main difference between those three formats in terms of how you approach the role you are playing?

I think the main difference is, unless you’re working on a movie that has like an enormous set of budget where you have a whole lot of time to prepare, in theatre you get a lot of rehearsals. With films or TV, you don’t get that. I mean you do have the script and you prepare on your own, but a lot of it is going as you go. You shoot as you go, you don’t usually get a lot of rehearsal time. But at the same time, it’s sort of like rehearsal and performing rolled into one in film, as you’d have to do a bunch of takes so you explore things as you’re going. For me, I always find that I learn about the story, about my role and other people’s roles while I’m doing [the scenes]. But in theatre, you get that during rehearsals, as well as during the live performances. But in film, the process is sort of rolled together…you learn as you’re shooting the thing. So I think there’s a different sort of way of how things are discovered.

Peter in a 2015 production of H20 with Ashley Rose Montondo
Peter in a 2015 Gremlin Theatre’s production of H20 with Ashley Rose Montondo

Also, the time commitment is so much less in film. But theatre is so much more time consuming. That doesn’t mean that [doing a] film is easier or less tiring as I find them to be just as tiring and demanding in very different ways. I usually feel really energized after I put in a really good day’s work, especially in a theater performance. It’ll take me a while to wind down and go to sleep. It doesn’t make me tired. Even if I’m exhausted, I’m still energized. It just stimulates my mind a lot, it’s a very physical thing what you do on stage. I’m not saying I don’t get that with films, it’s not that I never get the same sensation, but there’s a different rhythm to it. You have to pace yourself very differently, so I guess the pacing is what I find really different between the two mediums.

Q:  Do you feel that theatre is a “purer” form of acting, if you will, than films or TV?

No, I don’t feel that’s true. I would say that for something where you’re essentially doing the same thing, you’re using a different muscle, if you will. So there’s a root or a trunk that’s the same, but then you find different ways of what you’re going to do. I don’t think one is purer than the other. Some might say that film is purer because you can be so up close and personal an more natural, but I don’t find it to be the case either. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily ‘a mirror up to nature’ you might say [nice Hamlet reference there!], because you’re conveying someone’s story through two different mediums, so neither one of them is really sitting down at a table like I am with you. One of them is a film, the other is a stage. We fool ourselves into thinking that one or the other is like real life. It’s not that one is purer than the other. It’s just different.

Q: Now, spring-boarding into ‘Project Eden’. I’ve always championed female directors and here we’ve got a pair of male and female directors helming the the project. How was the experience of working with them?

It was cool as we’ve got two different perspective of going about things. Some of it is simply because Ashlee is a woman and Terrance is a man. But also partly because of the different focus they both brought into the project. He’s good in the technical side, whilst she worked more on the performance aspect for the characters. At the same time, I don’t want to give the impression that their worlds don’t overlap. It’s very rare that they weren’t on the same page as to what they wanted, both from the technical aspect and how they want the performance to be, how they want to tell the story. If that wasn’t the case, then it’s also to their credit as they’ve certainly done a good job in shielding that from me and the other performers.

Yes, there’s always that initial worry as to ‘Well who’s going to be calling the shots here? What happens if they don’t agree on something?’ But from the very first time I met them, I didn’t feel like it was going to be the case. We had an interesting audition process for this, and I really liked them both personally from the moment I met them. So I was really excited to work with them. It has been true the whole way through, I just really enjoyed them both as people, which makes working with them really fun. It’s been a delight working with them, and it’s not always the way it goes in my career. One of my favorite part about this whole project has been getting to know them and being a part of this whole journey of Project Eden.

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Photo credits Alyssa Schneider via Project Eden Facebook

Q: How did you come aboard this project? Would you speak a bit about the casting/audition process?

When the filmmakers decided they wanted to shoot partly here and brought some people from here to the project, they contacted my talent agency and so I went and read for them. A lot of the audition process is chatting with them about the project, but we also did some of the performance. So we did some scenes and they filmed it. They wanted me to bring in a monologue so I did a bit of that on camera as well, but we also spent some time together.

Q: Tell us a bit your character, Ethan Varick.

He’s a bit of a wild card. There’s a lot of unknowns in this movie, it’s about how we start to put the puzzle together as the film progresses. When we’re first introduced to him, we don’t necessarily know if we should trust him or not. In fact, that’s the question that goes throughout the whole the movie, we don’t know if we should trust him or not… Which side is he on? What is he after? He is conflicted a bit himself. He’s a character who has a very troubled past, someone who’s trying to find himself in the midst of a story that’s much larger than himself. He is searching for the truth. The thing for him is that regardless of some of the things that transpire in the course of the movie, centering around trying to figure out who everybody is, the core of what he is after, in his own way, is truth.

In the trailer it’s revealed that he’s lost his daughter and his wife, so that’s the common bond he has with Emily Fradenburg‘s character Evelyn whose son is in danger. But he seeks her out and she’s trying to figure out why he seeks her out, what does he know about her. And she’s been warned off of him, so the theme is who do you trust.

Q: I like that this is more of a grounded sci-fi, it’s a more relatable world like the one we live in now.

Yes, it is a sci-fi movie but the world it’s set in isn’t an outrageous world. It’s not a post-apocalyptic nightmare with monkey people running around. It’s pretty much like the world we’re in now but with a few twists. The world is different enough to allow us to explore interesting possibilities, as well as metaphysical ideas that pick up steam as the film goes along.

Q: Is it set in the future?

It’s set in the same world we live in now, perhaps a little bit in the future but the world isn’t quite the same world we live in. That’s the sci-fi part, otherwise it’s the same world. It’s not 100% clear where the characters and events are set in. So the world is familiar, but it’s not quite the same.

Q: The scenery that’s in the trailer, it looks absolutely stunning. Tell us a bit about filming in New Zealand.

New Zealand is a beautiful place. One of the things that’s great about it was you can go quickly from location to location. So we shot those beautiful forest and the sand dunes, it was like 20 yards away from each other. So in between takes, we were sitting high up on the sand dunes, Emily and I. It was kind of windy that day, I remember I started laughing like a little kid and she’s like, ‘what are you laughing about?’ And I said, ‘whatever else people might take away from this movie, when I watched this I’d feel like I’m watching Emily & Pete’s Travel Log, going from one exotic place to another.’

So yeah, we parked in the same lot. We shot the forest part, then we went down an access road and into the beach. There’s this huge dunes and whichever way you pointed the camera, it’s just ridiculously beautiful.
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Q: What’s the most memorable moment of filming? Any particular on-set snafus that stood out to you?

I tell you one of the most memorable nights. We were shooting in this place called Waipu (about 2 hours north of Auckland). We were shooting a night shoot, an overnight shoot, it was a pretty ambitious schedule. We just had one delay and difficulty after another. We had problems getting up to the location, which you could ask them [Ashlee & Terrance] in more details, but basically it’s one of those nights that culminated into not shooting a 4-hour scene at the end of the night that we have to pick up the next day. I think it’s totally the right call that I’m glad they made, as it’s the end of a long series of events of things getting pushed back and having problems.

It was memorable for a whole host of reasons, including the power generator going down, being caught in this rainstorm that wouldn’t stop. We were shooting this car chase and the weather would come in and out. We were sitting in the car and it started to rain. So people would come over with these umbrellas to keep the camera dry and then try to keep us from getting wet inside. Then it would stop raining and they would have to wipe down the cars so they don’t look wet. We tried to shoot some scenes and then it would rain again so people would come in again so we’d do this over and over. So that was memorable.

Q: How was your experience working with Emily Fradenburgh?

She’s great. We’ve worked together on smaller projects like readings and stuff, but she and I haven’t worked directly on a project like this. I feel like I’ve known her for a long time but we’ve never collaborated that way. She’s very sweet, very conscientious, always wants to help out, she always tries to do the right thing. She’s very giving, just lovely to work with. I had a good time shooting this with her.
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I’m lucky with this project. I’ve been in a lot of projects, some are smoother than others. Sometimes you have to work with people you don’t care for that much. But I felt like we’re lucky with this one as everyone got along. It also helps that everyone was in on the project, everybody bought in. When that happens you have goodwill to fall back on. You have a sense of teamwork instead of just the hired hands.

Q: What’s your own favorite sci-fi films? 

I like movies but I don’t watch a ton of them. My favorite sci-fi films are the original Star Wars trilogy. And what I really like is the old Twilight Zone episodes where the world is kind of like the world that we know, but a little bit different and weird. I like that when you take the rules and mix them up a little bit. I’m a big fan of those classic sci-fis like those.

Q: Well I noticed the name is Volume I. So are you going to be on Vol. II? 

Well I don’t want to give anything away as I don’t want to give the ending of the movie, but you know what, I guess I can tell you that there will be Vol. II as I think it’s already on IMDb. We’ll see where we’ll film the next bit. In fact I’m hoping there will make three volumes, I think there’s enough materials for three films. So definitely there will be more because the movie gets us to a certain point of the story, and no farther. They’ve always planned for more films. The way we shot this movie, we’re only telling the first part of the story.


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Peter @ Claddagh Cafe, St. Paul – Feb 9, 2017


THANK YOU so much Peter for the delightful conversation.
Can’t wait to finally see this movie on Wednesday,
here’s hoping there’ll be a Project Eden trilogy!

Indie Film Spotlight: ‘Project Eden Vol.1’ + Interview with lead actress Emily Fradenburgh

It’s always a privilege when I get the chance to chat with indie filmmakers and actors from all over the world. I actually have heard from my dear friend Kirsten Gregerson, who has a small role in this movie, a year ago. Well, imagine my excitement when I heard that Twin Cities Film Fest is sponsoring the Minneapolis premiere of the film on Wednesday, February 15! (you can get your tickets here)

I got to meet Emily Fradenburgh last year at TCFF so I’m thrilled to be able to interview her for this film. It’s interesting how everything is connected, as it so happens that Emily’s co-star Peter Christian Hansen ended up doing my script reading last January! (stay tuned for my interview with him early next week!)


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Q: First let me ask you about ‘Project Eden.’ How did you come aboard this project?

I first heard about Project Eden when I received a call from my agency, Moore Creative Talent.

Q: Did you have to audition for the role? Tell us a bit about the casting process.

I did have to audition. I always try to gather as much information about the production team/project as I can before an audition to get a sense of their style. I researched Mad Anth’m and watched their first movie, 500 Miles. We were given a monologue and sides and were asked to perform an additional monologue. When I found out I was being called back I was given notes and was asked to wear a singlet…which is what we call a wrestling garment in the U.S…in Australia it’s basically a tank top- good thing I clarified before I came in for the second audition. I again performed the sides and did another monologue. Then Ashlee (Jensen) and Terrance (Young) wanted to get to know me more and asked my feelings about the independent film process and we touched on some themes of the movie. I later found out that it was this latter part of the callback that was the deciding factor in them casting me as Evelyn Green.

Q: Tell us a bit more about your character Evelyn Green, and what appeals to you about portraying her?

In this first installment we get a glimpse of what life has been like for Evelyn Green for the last 7 years. Despite all that she’s gone through, she remains a dedicated mother and is willing to go to extremes in order to find answers that could mean the difference between life and death. I was drawn to this role because she’s not just on a physical journey, we slowly get to see her transition emotionally too. Evelyn will go through a major transformation in Project Eden Vol. II, which I’m so looking forward to, but that’s all I can say about that for now 😉

Q: How was the experience working in New Zealand with the Aussie filmmakers?

Everything wonderful that you’ve ever heard about NZ is true! It wasn’t hard for me to act like I didn’t know what was going to be around the next corner: a forest opened up to sand dunes which unveiled the ocean- absolutely breath taking! Not only were the Australian filmmakers fantastic to work with but the cast and crew consisted of talented folks on both sides of the camera from all over the world: New Zealand, UK, Finland, Italy, US, Canada and South Africa. It was remarkable the way everyone came together to help tell this global story.

Q: It must have been fun to film all the action scenes. Any particular memorable moment from the set?

Indeed it was! We had fight choreographers, stunt coordinators, an armorer, and stunt drivers. One of the most thrilling days for me on set was riding in the truck with a stunt driver named Gareth. He was amazing! It also became a challenge as a performer- I had to fight my instincts to be giddy and cheer him on while filming a dramatic scene.

Q:  There were several Twin Cities cast members in the film, Peter, Kirsten and also Aleshia Mueller as the script supervisor. How was the experience working with them in an International production?

The MN actors and crew are top notch- MN really has it all. 10 of us were lucky enough to travel overseas to film Block 2. Peter Hansen and I were the 2 performers and the other 8 were part of the outstanding crew. When you film a movie, inevitably it’s like a new little family forms. This is especially true when you’re on the other side of the world for nearly a month and you’re living together.

Peter was awesome to work with. Not only is he a dedicated actor and completely invested, but he a great human being. I loved his confidence and commitment to the character and story. He’s also very open-minded and engaging in conversations…which led to us discovering more layers along the way. Working with him nearly every day was both exciting and comforting.

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Q:  You have done dozens of feature films and shorts throughout your career. What has been your most challenging role to date?

Often when I’m in the thick of preparing and filming a role, I tend to feel that it is the most challenging one to date. Roles can be challenging for different reasons- the character, the physical or environmental circumstances, the dynamics of the people I’m working with, and other various factors.  Thinking about a character though, I was in a music video recently where I portrayed a suburban mom who was also a heroin addict. As you might imagine, it was extremely emotional. I was filming with a young boy who, in real life, doesn’t know about the devastating reality of heroin, so we all tried to keep the mood light in between takes and scenes. It was taxing to jump in and out of character more often than I normally would, but I welcomed the challenge. This was a difficult one to tackle and hits close to home. I wanted to be very careful not to make a caricature out of her and I felt a dire responsibility to be truthful not only to the role but to the subject matter itself.

Q: How long do you typically take to prepare for a role? Specifically, someone like Evelyn who’s experienced trauma in her life. Does your psychology major help in tackling such a role?

I take as long as I’m given to prepare and it starts the minute I first hear about an audition- I’m all in! If I’m fortunate enough to be cast then I’m already off to a good start. If I’m not cast then I can walk away from an audition knowing I put absolutely everything I had into it. My psychology degree certainly helps with every role but especially with someone like Evelyn. After I was cast, Ashlee provided me with a detailed backstory of her character which I found extremely helpful. I had 7 months between being cast and Block 1 of shooting to prepare and was able to communicate with Ash and Terrance throughout that time. I changed my physical appearance a bit and spent a lot of time with the script and then walked away from it and spent time in nature trying to look at things like Evelyn would.

We filmed the movie in three Blocks and there were 8 months between Block 1 and 2 and another 2 months between Block 2 and 3. With so much time between Blocks I needed to keep Evelyn close while still trying to carry on with my “normal” life. To aid in this process I made a playlist of songs for Evelyn that I listened to quite a lot. After we wrapped it took me a few weeks to readjust and release Evelyn, it was a quite a process and I realized how close I had held onto her over the course of a year and a half. My psychology background helped with letting go too.

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Q: What’s your favorite genre of film? Which actors and/or directors whose work inspire you?

I can’t say that I have a favorite genre. Some of my favorite films are: Jacob’s Ladder, Harry Potter, The Burbs, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Neverending Story, Dead Poets Society, and The Usual Suspects. It would be a dream come true to be directed by Ron Howard and Tim Burton.

I have been inspired by countless performers and the list continues to grow. To name some: Kathy Bates, Cate Blanchett, Mary Louise-Parker, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Hilary Swank, Millie Bobby Brown, and Daniel Day Lewis, Bryan Cranston, John Lithgow, Gary Oldman, J.K. Simmons, and Ashton Sanders.

Q: What’s next for you? Any future project you would like to mention?

Of course I’m thrilled about Project Eden Vol. II. I will also have a small part in a feature titled, The Dark Field, which is set to shoot in Germany. The feature of Evergreen is further in development and I look forward to teaming up with Adam Zuehlke (dir.) again on that. We did the short film, Evergreen, back in 2013.


THANK YOU so much Emily for your detailed, insightful answers to questions!
Here’s hoping there’ll be Project Eden Vol. II and III 🙂

 

Indie Film Spotlight: ‘Funeral Day’ + Interview with director/lead actor Jon Weinberg

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One of my favorite parts about blogging for TCFF is meeting various indie filmmakers. I’m glad I got to meet Jon Weinberg over coffee one rainy evening, and it’s one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve done in my seven years covering the film fest!

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Scott thinks he might be dying. Not at all an uncommon thought for Scott, but today the lump he believes he found “down there” might actually be real. Today also happens to be the day of his friend Ken’s funeral. ­ Funeral Day is a darkly funny movie about a man who skips his friend’s funeral in an attempt to start living his own life to the fullest.

Funeral Day is a dark comedy that could double as a male health PSA. My blog contributor Sarah reviewed the film here, and while I agree it’s a bit on the raunchy side, the writing is fun and zippy. Definitely one of the strongest feature film debuts that premiered at TCFF, so I hope Jon would continue making movies in the future.

Collaboration with Testicular Cancer Society

testicularcancersocietyThe filmmaker raised awareness for testicular cancer in collaboration with the Testicular Cancer Society. During the post-production stage, Jon sent a tweet that caught the attention of Testicular Cancer Society founder, Mike Craycraft, a testicular cancer survivor who waited seven months after feeling his lump before having it checked. In the film, after feeling a lump on his testicle, the main character refuses to go to a doctor, “which is not uncommon in men,” explained Craycraft.

Both the society and the producers of the film hope that by engaging in co-promotion, more men (and the women in their lives) will become aware of testicular cancer and be proactive in the diagnosis and care process.

A full cast of experienced and recognizable talent include: Tyler Labine (Deadbeat, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil), Tygh Runyan (The upcoming Versailles, Stargate Universe), Suzy Nakamura (Dr. Ken, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Horrible Bosses 2), Dominic Rains (Best Actor award winner at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival for his role in Burn Country, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Loner) and many more.

Funeral Day is written by Kris Elgstrand, an award winning screenwriter, whose most recent film, Songs She Wrote About People She Knows, premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.


Quick bio about Jon Weinberg:

Funeral Day is the debut feature film of director Jon Weinberg, a Minnesota native who grew up in St. Louis Park. Weinberg received a degree in theatre from the University of British Columbia, and later continued his training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) before moving to Los Angeles in 2006. He has appeared on film, TV, stage as well as audio. His directing work includes several stage productions, commercials, and an award winning short film. Weinberg is also the author of the award winning photography and poetry bookA Calm Position (In Due Time Press). He is currently producing an upcoming web series with Ethan and Dominic Rains.


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Q: So that was interesting how you ended up partnering with the Testicular Cancer Society. Tell me a little bit about that.

Post [crowd]funding campaign on Seed & Spark, during that time I tweeted out. Just to get some people’s attention, I tweeted it out to the Testicular Cancer Society. They seemed like they had a little bit of a sense of humor with, you know, dealing with the disease, at least what I gather from their tweets and their website. And actually it caught the founders’ attention. It was Mike Craycraft and he tweeted back and then he said, I want to talk to you.

It was just like that. It’s very now, you know, that really wouldn’t have happened five years ago with the whole social media thing. And so, we connected and he basically said that, from seeing the site and reading the synopsis and stuff that he had a similar experience in it. I remember thinking at first like ‘I hope not because the guy goes through a lot of crazy shit in this movie.’ Then he starts to tell me how a number of years ago he found a lump. And for whatever reason he just thought ‘I have cancer, I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to go to the doctor. And he threw himself a going away party. He didn’t tell anyone why and didn’t go to a doctor and sort of went on an adventure thinking ‘Ok I’m going to die anyway…’ But eventually he said ‘Wait, what am I doing? This is silly.’ And he waited unfortunately a while [to get tested], but fortunately not too long because he’s still alive now. But he did have cancer and they had to remove one of his testicles.

Now he’s fine, but from this experience, it motivated him to get other people more aware of it with this wonderful organization. It doesn’t just raise awareness but they’re also advocates for patients and stuff. Anyway, so we partner with him which has been great and I’m learning a lot. And our mission is to work together. He wants to be able to screen the film, maybe at some college campuses, to educate and just facilitate conversation. So yeah, this collaboration is obviously a win win. I get to be a part of something great, that has a great cause.

Q: How was your collaboration writer Kris Elgstrand? 

Yes, Kris is a writer based out of Vancouver who wrote the screenplay. We’ve worked together. He had originally written it for himself, but he put it on hold while he was working on the project. And then I got into it, and I had decided I wanted to make a feature. I was reading different scripts and I remembered that script because he had sent it to me. I basically said to him, ‘Hey can I do it?’ And he said ‘Yeah, let’s make that happen.’ So I took it from him and then I grabbed another couple of producers and then we started putting it together.

Q: So I’m curious, I know you wanted to make it. But what made you decide that you want to also star in it?

Yeah. So originally, I was looking for something to act and that I could also produce that I cared about. So that was, originally I wasn’t intending to necessarily direct. I had directed a short and a few other things. But this would be a first feature so I wasn’t intending to be just like ‘oh I’ll just direct myself.’ But as I started prepping for it, it sort of made sense that I was going to be the co-directing it with someone. So I just started directing it and certainly it was important to me to make sure I had one of the producers… you know, we have a full crew. It was a small film but we did have a 22-person crew. We did have a big truck and you know, we went by the rules, we had permits and all that. But on set it was very important to me to have someone at the monitor all the time, because I was in it. So you know one of the producers, Ron Buttler, help co-directed me up there on set. So I always had people I trusted around me, which you should always have. We had a really great team. And, we were able to, not with everyone, but we were able to do some rehearsals beforehand that made it a little bit more comfortable because we had a very quick shoot.

Scott (Jon Weinberg) & Clare (Sarah Adina)
Scott (Jon Weinberg) & Clare (Sarah Adina)

Q: Tell me a bit about the filming process? How many days it took you to shoot this?

13 days. It was a very quick shoot, you know. We shot the whole thing in like 13 days. We had some pick-ups but it was quick. We shot everything on location in L.A. We had a great cinematographer named Jeffrey Cunningham who just fantastic and everyone worked really hard. Kris [the writer] couldn’t make it out to the set but he was very hands on beforehand. We had a script supervisor and there were even times where we had to rewrite a little section or two, we could always call Kris, so we’re able to always be in contact. He’s great, he’s the kind of writer that writes for the actor. I mean it’s very dialogue-heavy kind of film, he writes a very talky kind of dialogue. A lot of people asked me if some of it was improv but no, he wrote a lot of it in the script.

Q: I have to ask you about casting. Tyler Labine, I saw his film at a film fest a couple of years ago. It’s called Best Man Down now, but at the time it was called Lumpy.

Yes, and he’s a great, great guy.

Tyler Labine as Chuck
Tyler Labine as Chuck

Q: And then Dominic Rains, too, who’ll also be here for the premiere for three of his films. I know he’s originally from Iran, but he plays an American in this movie, correct? 

Yes, he’s from Iran. He moved to England but he actually then grew up in Texas. So he speaks with an American accent in this movie and he’s fantastic with accents.

In fact in [Dominic’s film] Burn Country, he has an Afghan accent and in The Loner he also has an accent. I’m just going to talk about how much I love him. He’s a wonderful guy and an amazing actor. So in my film, he’s playing you know, like you said before, sort of a jerk and he’s funny, he’s really funny. It’s such a different role from the two other films he’s screening here in TCFF. As you already know, he plays an Afghan fixer in Burn Country and in The Loner he plays an Iranian gangster.

Q: So about your casting process. Did you have to audition the actors then, or did you just talk directly with them?

I was very fortunate. I’ve been in L.A. for a while so I had worked with various people and had made friends with various people. It was important to us to get the right cast. So of course we wanted people with some names, but we cared about putting the right actors in the right roles. We did have auditions but we were also able to deal directly with actors. Meaning it was either my friends or producers’ friends or friends of friends, and so we were able to get the script directly to actors, sort of bypassing the agent or the manager.

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Jon Weinberg & Dominic Rains

So we did hold auditions and you know, we’re very fortunate that they would even want to come out. So I’ve known Dom [Dominic Rains] for a while, we were in a play together ten years ago and Tyler and I knew each other from Vancouver. But of course they still need to want to do the productions. So some did come in to do the audition, and some we just knew they were right [for the role]. But we were very fortunate to sort of have these actors read it and say ‘oh yes I’m interested in doing it.’ And yes once that happened, we dealt with their managers, agents and all that, but we were also able to sort of just go directly to them. But yeah, for a number of the parts, we also did hold auditions. We’ve been very lucky with our cast.

Q: There’s always that chicken and egg question. You either have to cast everything all ready to attract the investors, or do you have to have the funding first in order to attract the cast. How was it for you in making this film?

I knew I had the energy and I’d be able to do enough to make a small movie. This is my first film, you know, I’ve never formed an LLC before and all that. So we did that. So I had friends that we’d been talking about making movies you know, and then finally, ‘OK here’s something to make.’ So we came together and we formed a company. Then you know, you literally just reach out to those you know first. Literally parents, friends, uncles, aunts, and then friends, and even friends of friends. So for the most part, most of the production budget came from the people we knew. You know, people who want to support you. I mean hopefully we can make them their money back of course, because you want them to trust you for later.

So it’s a certainly a process and you know, we’ve created an investor packet and we reached out to people, people we think might be interested. And some who do, it might not be the right time for them, so there’s a lot of ‘nos’ and you have to wear a business man hat. That was all new to me but you do it, because when you want to make something you’ve got to do it. So we thought, as long as we can get sort of enough to make the movie, if we need more money, it was my idea that we could raise a little bit more money through crowdfunding later after we have already made the film.

So once we felt we had enough that we feel we’re not going backwards, we started setting dates and trying to hire our crew, which was another process. It’s a small movie but still, y’know, it was still a SAG contract and all that kind of stuff.

Q: Were there any particular snafus during production that you wouldn’t mind sharing about? 

Oh yeah. We had many snafus and I’m told that’s normal. Though of course when it happened to you it felt sometimes like, ‘oh that’s it. I quit’ you know, those moments. One of the things that was frustrating was we lost two actors on day two. It was supposed to be like two days before we start shooting and they were actors we were very excited about. And coincidentally they play partners, like husband or wife or whatever. I can’t remember exactly, but one of them got a big part in a big NBC show or something like that, so what can you do. And they were actually needed for just two days out of the 13-day shoot. So you know, we talked to their agents and because our shooting was so tight, we couldn’t rearrange and they happened to have to shoot their projects at the same time. So all of a sudden it was literally like, a little bit of panic. So this was like day two and we had a 12-hour day literally after 12 hours we’re all stressed out. So we get together, the producers and everyone, we sent out e-mails, we talked to everyone on our crew if they know anyone that fits this [role] description and literally, the day after, after a 12-hour day we held auditions in my apartment. It was crazy. It was like, work all day and at night we held audition.

Ron (Jedd Rees) & Katrin (Kristin Carey)
Ron (Jedd Rees) & Katrin (Kristin Carey)

Well, we were so lucky. We’ve got Kristin Carey [who was in the Scandal series recently] who’s just fabulous and funny. And also Jed Reese, who we recently seen in Deadpool [as the recruiter]. He’s just this great actor and he’s also in Galaxy Quest if you remember that great film, he was one of the aliens. He’s so funny in this. So they came on with very little notice but really, they’re both phenomenal, I can’t say enough about them. So that was one of the big snafu that ended up working out much better for us.

Another thing was the location. We lost a location that was very important to us. We got a location so that was hell, and we were supposed to be there for three days. It was so bad because of various reasons. It was a condo and there were issues that even though we paid for and all those things, the owner even after a contract didn’t want us there and all the stuff, and she was watching every moment of it. So we were like, ok, so we had to rewrote some of the scenes so we didn’t have to shoot it at that location. So things like that happen.

Q: How about the location, you shot this film entirely in L.A.?

The story was actually written for Vancouver. But we ended up shooting it in L.A. I think it’s interesting because L.A. is, as they say, sort of a character in the film. The main character Scott, he doesn’t have a car and he runs from place to place, which is crazy in L.A. And so we thought it was really fun. And also you get to see little parts of L.A. and in Vancouver it has a similar feel in some ways. I mean there’s more transportation and stuff like that there, but it was sort of written in that same way. The character, even though it wasn’t said in the movie, but maybe he doesn’t really trust cars and stuff. I think it added more to the story that he’s running in L.A. Yeah, I think the way it was originally written in ways that you could move from city to city without sacrificing the story.

Q: I thought Dominic’s character you know, being a realtor with his fancy car, his Maserati, it made sense in L.A.

It’s funny. I think some of those little bits were actually changed once we Kris knew we were shooting it in L.A.

Q: What’s the most memorable moment for you as an actor AND director filming this? 

Yeah it was fun. I mean what we’re doing was certainly difficult, but like I said we had a good team. I had someone who was always at the monitor during the shoot. Because we were doing it so quickly you know, you could only watch playback so often right you can only we watched the tapes. Sometimes we just didn’t have time, so it was a huge help to have Ron Butler there. Honestly, as an actor, it was a fantastic experience working with the cast. I got to work with Tyler and I got to work with Jed and Dominic. Oh I didn’t mention Suzy Nakamura who’s on Dr. Ken on TV right now. She’s wonderful. I mean I just got to work with all these people you know, with Tygh Runyan [who’s starring on the Versailles series] and of course Kristin. So as an actor, that was the highlight to work with them. As a director, having some control over the actual product is pretty great. From the beginning of the shoot and being in the editing room.

Suzy Nakamura as Wendy
Suzy Nakamura as Wendy

Also working with the composer. We’ve got a great composer, Ariel Blumenthal, based out of L.A. Music is very important to me, so to actually having a composer for the whole film is amazing. As for ambient sound, or the practical music, so if there was like a song at a diner or something, I had musician friends who were wonderful and generous. They gave me their songs to use in the movie. So I think as a director and just being able to be a part of the whole thing is really something.

Q: So what’s next for you? Do you want to keep doing features?

Well I think it’s egregious to say I want to do it all. But definitely make more features. Acting certainly, but I want to be directing more, maybe with myself a little less in it, so I’m looking for the next feature to work on. And in the meantime I’m working actually with Dominic and his brother Ethan Rains. They’re awesome. So Ethan has has created a Web Series and so Dom, he and I are producing it. We have some writers for that, so we’re working on that but then hopefully, you know, we’ve been talking about creating another movie together also.

Q: So if people ask me, where can they see your movie?

So we just started our festival run. We premiered in a festival in Austin and you know, it was cool we were nominated for something and I won Best Director. And then TCFF is our second film festival. Then in November we’re going to Reading Film Festival in Pennsylvania, the EyeCatcher film festival in Oklahoma and then Key West Film Festival which I’m very excited about, I hear is just wonderful. Hopefully we will find a distributor, I mean you want to find the best situation that you can to get it out into the world. Less and less films are hitting theaters but still it’d be great if it could somewhere. But you know, you have so much you know from Hulu, Netflix to Amazon and all that.

On set at Elysian Park, L.A. — with Jeff Cunningham, Ronnie Butler Jr. and Michael Coulombe.
On set at Elysian Park, L.A. — with Jeff Cunningham, Ronnie Butler Jr. and Michael Coulombe.

Q: Nowadays a theatrical release doesn’t seem that important anymore because I think more people are watching stuff at home, right?

Yes I think it’s not as important in sharing your film. Of course I’m still an old school in that I believe in the shared experience of watching a movie at the theater. So I love going to the movies. I love the big screen. I love when you know, my movie is a comedy right, so I love watching people laugh watching it. But of course there’s is something so wonderful about the time now when you can make something and still put it out of the Internet or wherever that can be seen across the world.

Q: Last but not least. Who are your inspirations in terms of filmmakers?

I’m a big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. He’s he’s wonderful and I think during or before I was making this film, I watched Punch-Drunk Love a lot. Not to compare myself to that but you know, I love that the film is based in reality but slightly heightened and strange. I thought Adam Sandler was great in it. And of course I love the Coen Brothers and you know, the fact that they’re also from St. Louis Park 😉

So yeah, certainly I’m inspired by those kinds of films. But I also like great dramas, like Moonlight which is fantastic. Barry Jenkins, I met him briefly during his film premiere at Telluride and I heard him talking about it. It’s a beautiful film, it’s heavy but in a beautiful way. Another film I saw this year which had just enough comedy to keep it light even though it is heavy is Manchester by the Sea.


Towards the end of our interview, we also talked about how great Captain Fantastic was, and Viggo Mortensen’s performance. I teased Jon that hopefully he could cast him in his next film. ‘One day, one day,’ he replied. We also talked about how great Brooklyn was with Saoirse Ronan. We ended up chatting much longer than planned at Caribou across the street from Showplace ICON Theatre and really we could go on for hours talking about movies!


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Jon & yours truly 🙂

THANK YOU SO MUCH Jon for taking the time to chat with me!


Hope you enjoyed the interview! Hope you’ll check out Funeral Day when it arrives in theaters near you and/or VOD.

It’s a wrap! ‘Moonlight’ and MN-made ‘Blood Stripe’ won TCFF 2016 top awards

It’s a wrap!!

tcfflogoThe 2016 TCFF has concluded Saturday night with a festive closing night party.

I saw four films Saturday night. Starting with two great documentaries Actors Of Sound and Free Cece, followed by two powerful emotional dramas, Lion and Moonlight.

I had been crying so much watching Lion, a wonderful depiction of an incredible true story, and Moonlight was an even more emotional experience. It was a well-written, well-acted and simply powerful film about Black sexuality, featuring the kind of deep emotional intimacy I haven’t seen in many films, regardless of race and gender.

I also enjoyed the short film that preceded Actors of Sound called Boom Up!, it was hilarious! I won’t have the reviews of the films I saw in last two days of TCFF until later in November, but let’s just say I recommend all the four films I saw on closing night!

Concluding a star-studded showcase that featured more than 100 films spanned over 11 days, this is perhaps the largest-ever Twin Cities Film Fest ever with over 130 films, including shorts and documentaries! Top awards went to the critically-acclaimed coming of age drama Moonlight, which had been hailed by critics as the best film of the year and will hopefully gain more traction until the Oscars next year. Just like Room and Brooklyn last year, TCFF continues tradition in screening critical darlings that went on to win accolades at the Oscars.

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Here are the winners from Twin Cities Film Fest 2016:

Best Short Film: Lend a Hand For Love, directed by John and Amy Thompson

Audience Award – Short: Waabooz, directed by Molly Katagiri

Best Documentary: I Do? directed by Joe Brandmeier

Audience Award – Documentary: Iron Will, directed by Sergio Valenzuela

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Non-Fiction Film: They Call Us Monsters, directed by Ben Lear

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Feature Film: No Light and No Land Anywhere, directed by Amber Sealey

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Performance: Kate Nowlin (Blood Stripe)

Best Feature Film: Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins

Audience Award – Feature Film: Blood Stripe

I’m so thrilled for Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin who won the Audience Award in the Feature Film category. As you know from my review of Blood Stripe, I was so impressed with this film. It’s so well-written, well-directed AND phenomenally-acted by Kate Nowlin, who deservedly also won Best Breakthrough Performance this weekend. I certainly think Kate’s performance is Oscar worthy!

Kate & Remy receiving the award from TCFF exec director Jatin Setia
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Kate with TCFF artistic director Steve Snyder

Another well-deserved award, that is the TCFF North Star Award goes to the massively talented indie actor Dominic Rains. You may not know who he is yet folks, but mark my words, you will! He’s already won Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film at Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year for his performance in Burn Country (originally named The Fixer), which also screened at TCFF, along with two others, Funeral Day and The Loner.

Dominic Rains with Steve + Jatin

I have seen two of the three films he’s in and was really impressed by his strong screen presence and versatility as his role in the thriller/drama Burn Country (as a former Afghan journalist) and the comedy Funeral Day (as a rather obnoxious American realtor) couldn’t be more different from each other, but yet he pulls off both roles effortlessly. Stay tuned for my in-depth interview with Dominic on his career, as well as with Funeral Day‘s director Jon Weinberg!

As I’ve mentioned in this post, I’m glad to see quite a few female filmmakers as well as female-driven films represented at TCFF! One of the finalists for Breakthrough Feature Film that I was really impressed with was Claire In Motion, which was directed by a pair of female filmmakers, featuring a terrific performance by Betsy Brandt.

It was already close to 11pm by the time I came out of the Moonlight screening, TCFF’s final film, but I couldn’t miss the award ceremony at TCFF lounge. I was only there for an hour or so and I had a blast hanging out with my friends, Kirsten Gregerson and Emmylou Barden.

me with Emmylou & Kirsten
me with Emmylou & Kirsten

I don’t know how long the party went on but clearly everyone had a great time! I’m glad I got a chance to congratulate Kate Nowlin for her award, my interview with her and her husband/collaborator Remy Auberjonois are certainly one of the highlights of covering TCFF, not just this year but of all seven years I’ve been with the film fest! Just before I left for the night, I even got a chance to chat with Remy about the enigmatic ending of Blood Stripe. Once you see it, I think you’ll know what I mean!

Thanks to my darling hubby for taking pictures of the closing party festivities! Check out his Instagram for his awesome travel photography (and I’m not just saying that ’cause I’m his wife) 🙂


Congrat Jatin, Bill, Dani, Steve and Naomi for another great year!
It was so gratifying to be a part of TCFF once again… watching, discussing & celebrating indie films and the art of filmmaking.


TCFF 2016 Short Film Reviews: ‘The Clubhouse’ + ‘Hookin’ Up’ + ‘The Mermaid Story’ + ‘Twinsburg’

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Can’t believe we only have two more days of TCFF! It’s been quite a whirlwind couple of weeks for me, and I’ve been running pretty much on adrenaline! It’s been so awesome meeting new people, from filmmakers, talents, producers, etc., it’s been so exhilarating and inspiring! I’ll be sure to include pictures in my closing night post!

Today we’ve got some reviews of short films that played during TCFF. I think it’s great there are plenty of short films being screened at the film fest, which feature innovative stories that talented filmmakers capture within a short amount of time. Thanks again Sarah for all your great reviews!

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Club House

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“The Clubhouse,” a seven minute short film directed by and co-written by Dan Delano, tackles one of the vexing issues of a boy’s youth – what to do when a girl moves into the neighborhood and wants to join your game of Dungeons and Dragons? “Girls don’t have any battle strategies,” one boy says dismissively.

I’m always impressed when filmmakers can present a fully fleshed out story in such a short amount of time and this effort is no exception. What ensues is a fantastical “Game of Thrones” inspired thriller that allows the warrior princess to prove her mettle. As many might remember from their youth, she receives acceptance in the most unassuming of ways – an invitation to get ice cream. How does this all come together in seven minutes? Take a “short” break and find out for yourself.

Hookin’ Up

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In “Hookin’ Up,” Jessica (Katie Cunningham) and Peter (Timmy L’Heureux) attempt to have a “perfectly normal Tinder date.” I’m not sure if either have any personal experience with the popular dating app but they do a fine job tackling the awkward conversation that follows. “Oh you like to travel? How orig…too bad your haircut isn’t allowed out of the country,” Katie muses.

“In my last relationship we bought a printer together and when we broke up it was just awkward,” says Peter. The nine minute short film directed by Michael Busch is an unassuming ode to the sometimes bizarre world of relationships…and Scattergories.

The Mermaid Story

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“The Mermaid Story,” the 14 minute short film from Director James Snapko, would have fit in well at the Twin Cities Film Fest in previous years as one of the educational subjects the festival has tackled is the issue of bullying. Although short, this movie’s narrative proves what can happen when people are pushed too far and constantly told that they are stupid or not good enough.

The story centers on two brothers, Curt (Max Giles) and Ace (Chase Hammond), who own a bar in Northern Minnesota. (As the movie was shot on location in Outing, some might recognize local landmarks.) When Curt comes in after a day on the lake and tells of seeing a mermaid in the water, his bar tale is met with skepticism. “What an idiot,” they say.

Giles does a good job of conveying the hurt and anger someone can feel when they are dismissed indifferently. When his brother says angrily, “Okay, show me your water whore” a day on the lake turns into something much more sinister. This film is a good reminder that words do matter.


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Twinsburg

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I grew up with fraternal twin brothers, so I’m immediately intrigued by the premise of identical twin brothers reunited for the largest twins gathering at Twinsburg Ohio. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale from director Joe Garrity, who stars in the film with his real-life twin Phil Garrity. They both have a certain deadpan delivery that’s really a hoot to watch.

Joe plays Jerry, who’s still sentimental about his twin identity and thus more excited about attending the festival than his reluctant brother Paul. It’s amusing to see them riding a tandem bike in their matching costume-y suits, and participate in multiple festival competitions from talent show, most-alike contest to singleton hunt in the woods.

Filmed at the 2014 Twins Days Festival, it’s a quirky, funny yet bittersweet tale of coming to terms with how their childhood tradition no longer fits their changing adult lives. There’s a hint of romance with fellow twins who seem more comfortable doing things apart. Joe Garrity is certainly a talented filmmaker with comic talents, I’m curious to see what else he’d come up with in the future. 

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What’s in store for closing day!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews with Harold Mintz (of 1-800-Give-Us-Your-Kidney short), actor Dominic Rains (who’ll receive the TCFF North Star Award tomorrow night), and director Jon Weinberg (Funeral Day).

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Jon & Dominic in ‘Funeral Day’

FUNERAL DAY’s second screening:
Saturday, October 29 – 10:30am 

GetTicketsTCFF


TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘Oxenfree’ + ‘The Eyes Of My Mother’

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‘Oxenfree’ Review

oxenfree Many of us may remember that expression we used at the end of our games of Hide and Seek – “Olly, Olly, Oxenfree!” The longing to return to juvenile games and stories is a theme in “Oxenfree,” the feature film that had its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Fest last night. I had the pleasure of being in attendance with the director (Dan Glaser) and actors Steven Molony (Aaron), Paul Vonasek (Roy) and Timothy Lane (Benjamin). Undoubtedly there were many family and friends in attendance as the cast and crew received loud applause when the ending credits rolled.

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Oxenfree tells the story of three estranged foster brothers who return to the family cabin to rediscover the ruins of their childhood kingdom “Oxenfree.” Shot in the Fargo/Moorhead area, I appreciated the beautiful fall scenery throughout the movie. As it only features three actors (aside from a brief appearance of Kelli Breslin as Katie, Aaron’s girlfriend), the strength of this movie really comes from the actors’ camaraderie. It’s obvious these young men enjoy working together and their affinity for each other makes their characters more believable.

The one quibble I had with the film was that it didn’t seem to be able to decide whether it was a comedy or a drama so at times it seemed stuck in a muddling middle. (Even the actors at times looked confused about how to play a scene.) After Roy reclaims his “throne” (an old toilet) in the middle of the forest, he takes a cell phone call from his wife. And then moments of levity like this diverge into a medical drama concerning one of the other brothers. The production value of this movie was there, it just seemed like the script needed a little more work.

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Am I saying I didn’t enjoy the film? I am not. One of the strengths of a film fest is to see movies at many different levels of development. During the post show Q&A, Timothy Lane (Benjamin) talked about how this was the first film he has acted in and discussed the technical side of learning to act on camera. Paul Vonasek also shared how they came up with part of the plot – “We didn’t really look alike but we wanted to do a movie together so that’s how we came up with the idea of being foster brothers.” Oxenfree isn’t going to change your life but was it an enjoyable way to spend a cold and rainy evening? Yes.


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‘The Eyes Of My Mother’ Review

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Writing and directing a film that is both beautiful and horrifying isn’t easy- especially on the first try, and especially at the young age of 26 (which makes me, at 28, feel like a total underachiever). But newcomer Nicolas Pesce has managed it with his already critically-acclaimed movie, The Eyes of my Mother. While it has its flaws, it is an incredible debut, and it’s a promising start to what will hopefully be an illustrious career for Pesce.

The Eyes of my Mother is about Francisca (Kika Magalhaes), a young woman who tragically loses her mother an early age, and, through the trauma and following isolation, develops an unnerving hobby. I won’t say much more, for fear of spoiling the plot, but I will say that Francisca’s mother used to be a surgeon, and the two of them would practice dissections on cows, so the girl knows how to use a knife. I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest from there.

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The movie begins on a tense note, and is able to hold that suspense throughout most of the film, thanks to both Pesce’s skillful directing and the cast’s strong acting. There is very little background music, which creates an unnerving atmosphere. There are frequent shots from the first-person perspective and just over the actors’ shoulders, obscuring their faces, creating both an air of uncertainty and an opportunity for the actors to demonstrate their acting abilities by relying solely on their line delivery. Shooting the film in black and white was an excellent choice as well; it enhanced the shadowy scenery, and the starkness made the tone even more unsettling.

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That’s not to say the movie is without flaws. It’s a relatively short film, clocking in at only an hour and sixteen minutes, which doesn’t allow much time for character development- and in a movie where so much of the film centers around one character, it was especially needed. The short runtime also meant certain plot points weren’t properly explained. Ambiguity in horror movies can be a powerful tool, but too much can confuse the audience and take them out of the experience.

While The Eyes of my Mother isn’t a perfect movie, it is still a stunning first film from a promising young talent, and I look forward to seeing more from him.



TWIN CITIES FILM FEST ANNOUNCES AWARDS FINALISTS!

tcffaward

Moonlight,’ ‘Blood Stripe’ and ‘Iron Will’ lead 2016 awards contenders…
many finalists are set to screen during TCFF’s closing weekend!

Check out the full list of finalists here


Check out some of the studio features
playing in the final days of TCFF!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and talent interviews!


TCFF 2016 Indie Horror Spotlight: Lake Runs Red – interview w/ director Jason Riesgraf + producer Jeff Fuller

Those who read my blog regularly knows I have such feeble nerves that I can’t handle most horror movies. But I’m always up for supporting indie films, especially Minnesota-made films! So when I got the chance to interview the filmmakers behind Lake Runs Red, I jumped at it. It’s a home-invasion horror + psychological thriller produced & filmed in the state, specifically in Atkins, which is about 2 hours north of the Twin Cities.

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Two college girlfriends go to their parent’s secluded northern Minnesota lake cabin to prepare for final exams. An uninvited visitor stops by. He isn’t there to study.

Director: Jason Riesgraf
Writers: J. Dan Moores and Jason Riesgraf
Cast:
 Kaci Wegleitner, Lauren Morris, C.J. DeVaan
Runtime: 66 min

Check out the trailer:


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Q: First of all thank you Jason and Jeff Fuller for chatting with me about your film. Talk about that title. I love that it has the word ‘lake’ in the title, the fact that we’re in the land of 10000 Lakes. So how did you come up with that?

Jason:  Yeah it was a very difficult process to come up with it. When I started writing it was actually called Panic, and that was kind of the title. And then that ended up sticking for a while. And then we did we kind of did with Jeff, our marketing director. We kind of did some you know some Google searches and realized that that wouldn’t be the best way to hit a target audience. So we kind of we kind of left it at that for a little bit and as we left it, we spent a while coming up with what would signify this film…  you know, lake is an obvious choice. You know in Northern Minnesota, everybody knows that… and then you know it’s because it’s a horror movie, we kind of played some with some words and then we came up with Lake Runs Red.

Jeff: Yes, in fact I spent about nine hours researching and coming up with those titles. We have this gigantic list, but yeah, this one works well in our favor. We love it.

Pictured: Lauren Morris | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher
Pictured: Lauren Morris | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher

Q: Indeed it’s a great title, I love it too. So what inspired you to this story?

Jason: The biggest inspiration, I mean the [sub] genre of the film is actually home invasion, and home invasion to me is my biggest fear. Home is where he feels safe home is where you feel comfort, and when somebody invades that it’s not a fun feeling. And so I kind of played out my own fears and wrote it you know, from my perspective of what a home invasion would feel like. And coincidentally enough we actually, my wife and I had our house broken into while we were filming. So it kind of you know, I actually lived that what that fear is. And I’m hoping that that’s what the audience sees when they see it in the picture.

Q: Is this from the perspective of the invader or the invadee, if there’s such a word, I mean the people who were invaded?

Jason: Well, it’s not really from anybody’s perspective. It follows two college seniors and what happens after these traumatic events happen to them at the cabin.

Jeff: But the invader is one of the main characters.

Jason: So yeah, we have one main villain and then we have two college seniors.


Q: The reason I’m asking is the recent box office home-invasion horror/thriller Don’t Breathe starring Stephen Lang was from the perspective of the invaders. 

Jason: Yes I saw and it was worked very well. So yeah you can kind of use that spin on it if you want to. Except that this is in a cabin, so ours is a lot more secluded.

Q: Which in a way is scarier I think. I was just telling someone earlier, I’m actually not a big horror fan. I don’t have nerves of steel like most people, I get scared very easily. I also get really a headache if I watch those found-footage type movies. So what’s the filming style of this one?

Jason: We had very minimal very minimal tripod, we only used tripod where it was appropriate. We we don’t have the found-footage, shaky cam, we do run on a steady cam. So the steady cam we use was weighted, but it still showed kind of traumatic camera shots.

Q: So you wouldn’t categorize this film as a found-footage film then? 

Jason: No, no, I won’t categorize it as that at all. It’s not like Blair With where the shots are very shaky. You know my plan going into this is I don’t want to make people sick by the camera. It can take too much focus out of the story. You have to be wired for that kind of stuff.

Pictured: Kaci Wegleitner | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher
Pictured: Kaci Wegleitner | Photo Credit: Mike Ascher

Q: Ok, make sense. Now my question for you Jeff. You wore multiple hats here, you were the producer, art director, camera department and editor. What’s that experience for you?

Jeff: It’s been an amazing experience. You know I’m so glad to do this with one of my best friends Jason. And he was nice enough to bring me on this film. It’s a funny story, like when we started this it was like ‘Oh, so we’re really doing this! Let’s go for it!’ I think it’s probably the best experience to wear these different hats, from editor to producer to all that, you get such a ingratiated role into the whole process. It’s just been absolutely tremendous.

Q: Now, question for both of you. What’s your most memorable experience from making this, whether good or bad moments from filming?

Jason: Well, probably the most memorable is when we were actually at a production meeting and my house was burglarized. I mean that’s life imitating art you know. That was probably the most traumatic for me, and most unique experience that we had while filming.

Jeff: Oh, relive that experience when you drive home from the shoot one night and you got stopped…

Jason: That’s a great one too yeah. We actually we’re wrapping up from a quick little couple pickup shots up in Northern Minnesota. Getting up there you actually take a lot of very secluded roads, which if anyone knows northward it’s always the case. You know you take a left here and you go out the gravel road for 14 miles and that’s kind of it. And it turns out for some reason that night, it was I think it was maybe mid August, beginning August. My alternator went on my car and I was stranded on a the world’s most disgusting road, literally next to a barn for three hours waiting for a tow truck. I’m by myself and I had no cell service to look anything up. So all I had was my dying battery because I had no battery left in my car enough to call my wife and tell her you’ve got to give me a tow truck and I’m in the middle of nowhere and trying to explain to them where I am. I mean if it’s going to happen to anyone, it’s going to happen to me.

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Q: Oh my, well I’m glad to see you are okay! Now, last question… I was on your Twitter and you have a huge following on social media (12.3K followers). Is that a big part of your marketing and how did you build that huge following prior to the film opening?

Jason: I knew more about the physical parts of making a film. Marketing I didn’t know much about it. When I talked to Jeff about how we’re going to market this film, it’s like I don’t know. Then he said, I tell you what, I’ll take care of your marketing for you. I think within a year we were already have like 6 or 7000 followers. And I don’t know how he did it or what he does, but he handles most of that. I don’t watch him do it because that’s not really my thing.

Q: I feel like Twitter is sort of the water cooler, the internet water cooler, so it’s good to have that presence for your film. 

Jason: I’d say Twitter is our biggest success, by far.

Jeff: Yeah, I would say that social media has been the cornerstone of our marketing right there. It’s kind of the greatest equalizer on the Internet which Twitter was smarter our number one just because you can have conversations with the fans directly. Correct. We’ve had so many friends and some of the particular fans who still to this day constantly ask us hey how’s the movie going and stuff.

Jason: We’ve been on YouTube channels doing interviews me and some of the cast and crew, my co-writer and some of the cast and crew we’ve been on. We were featured on some humongous horror websites, Modern Horror, Movie Pilot, etc. So that was all Jeff, he took what we talked about marketing with a grain of salt and he took it as far as he could with it.

Q: So are you both horror fans yourself?

Jason: I am. I’ve been since my first four movies and really when I was nine or so, Nightmare On Elm Street, it has been in my blood. I mean there’s nothing really that I can’t handle. I mean there’s some stuff that makes me squirm, which is what I love. So Jeff, I actually brought him, so the last one he ever saw was when he saw with me and he couldn’t really handle it.

Q: What is it?

Jason: It was Hostel. After he saw that he kind of like you know what, I’m done watching horror movies with you. Yeah, you have to take that on your own.

Q: Oh slasher flick is a whole other genre entirely that I avoid.

Jason: Ours is more psychological thriller. It’s the home invasion aspect, about not knowing really what’s going on in our head.


THANK YOU Jason and Jeff for chatting with me about Lake Runs Red!

Check out some behind-the-scenes photos of the film:

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What’s in store for Day 10 of TCFF!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews…
and the finalists of TCFF Awards!