Actor Evan Peters, and Actress Juno Temple on the set of Safelight.
Director Tony Aloupis, talks exclusively about making the highly anticipated feature Safelight. The film stars renown talent Juno Temple (The Dark Knight Rises), Evan Peters (Kick-Ass), Kevin Alejandro (True Blood), Jason Beghe (Californication), and Ariel Winter (Modern Family).
Your first writing credit was for the feature film Sugar. What inspired you to become a screenwriter?
I was formerly a musician and I felt comfortable writing within a structured song format. When I decided to write more, I found the same structure in screenplays. That’s what led me into screenwriting.
Safelight tells the touching story of a teenage boy and girl as they go on a road trip to photograph lighthouses. Can you tell us where the idea came from?
I used to take a train into Manhattan for writing classes and there was a kid on the same train who had CP. I wondered how he might come to accept his affliction. I liked the idea of young people helping each other believe in themselves. And, the lighthouses added visual and thematic dynamics.
Evan Peters also gave one incredible lead performance as handicapped Charles. How do you achieve making Evan crippled in the film?
I studied the different ways CP could affect someone. Then, Evan and I discussed Charles and which type would fit him. It came down to Evan feeling good about this direction. During filming, it was all Evan making Charles’s handicap real.
Safelight tells the story of a teenage boy and girl who discover a renewed sense of possibility as they go on a road trip to photograph lighthouses along the California coast.
Everyone knows California is famous for it’s beautiful lighthouses. How many lighthouses did you actually visit during production?
We actually shot 3 lighthouses: Point Arena, Point Cabrillo and Pigeon Point.
Safelight was shot in the vast California desert. Can you give us some insight into the location scouting for Safelight?
We started in LA and went north until we found lighthouses that we loved. The northern California lighthouses were perfect for the way we wanted to shot the scenes. The furthest north we went was Mendicino.
Actor Evan Peters, and Actress Juno Temple in promotional posters for Safelight.
The immensely talented Ariel Winter from Modern Family plays Vicki’s little sister Kate. How did Ariel approach acting in such a dramatic role being so well-known for playing Alex Dunphy on Television?
Ariel is so prepared and professional. We briefly discussed her character and she ran with it. She needed very little direction from me.
Rising actress Juno Temple gave a breathtaking lead performance as Vicki. How did you end-up casting Juno?
Our casting agents, Nancy Nayor and Andy Henry, sent the script out to the talent agencies and the response was amazing. Juno came in for an audition and then came back to read with Evan and we decided that she was the one. She had an incredible understanding of the character of Vicki.
Safelight features the music of alternative rock band Typhoon performing there single Young Fathers.
Safelight recently screened at the Newport Beach Film Festival back in April. What has been the audience reaction so far?
The audience reaction has been fantastic. People seem to respond to different aspects of the film.
Safelight is a perfect example of how one can tell a beautiful story while, still getting captivating performances. Do you have any advice for our readers who might be looking to choosing screenwriting as a profession?
I think you have to learn the craft and then write as much as possible. Everything you write is important to developing your skills.
Lastly we’ve gotten requests asking where people can view the film. Do you have any more upcoming festival screenings for Safelight?
We have actually just sold the film to a domestic distributor and it looks like we will have a theatrical and digital release very soon!
Follow Safelight on Twitter, and Facebook.
Youth filmmaker Shantal Freedman (A Strange Day in July, Ticketed) shares her advice for students who are looking to study filmmaking in College, and shares her professional journey in the film industry.
Your career in the film industry began at just 14 years old. Tell us how you got involved in the business?
I was always very creative. My parents were very supportive through each and every interest that I developed growing up. It started with piano lessons and drawing, than gardening, than back to drawing and painting, then horseback riding, then back to piano lessons, then guitar lessons, then writing lyrics, then making slide shows for friends and for school (I loved doing digital visual presentations in school. I think I was the only one who enjoyed putting pictures and music and making them look nice!), then finally, combining all of these experiences, I moved on to filmmaking. And it stuck! I believe that filmmaking is the most powerful form of communication. It’s visual, musical, dramatic, comedic, sad, and exciting. It’s a universal language.
Universal Music published a song you wrote while still in High School. How does a teenager accomplish such a feat?
I just always had to shoot for the stars. I also think one of the things that helped me push so hard and never give up was the fact that I was so young. It’s harder now than back then because now I have all of these other elements of life and responsibilities calling for my attention as well. When I was younger, it was easier to be able to focus all of my energy on these things. You have so much available energy as a kid, and I channeled that into specific areas. One of the things I used to do was send my lyrics to bands and A&R executives, my press kits to labels, etc. I would go on all of the music sites and search all of the artists. When I came across someone I liked, I messaged him or her. I once had this guy email me back 6 months after I emailed him my lyrics. He said he loved them and wanted to write music to it. He then got signed with Universal Music Group in the UK. The point is that no one is too small and no opportunity is too little. I can now say I wrote lyrics for an artist that was signed to Universal because I sat for hours every night emailing people big and small.
Your second film The Child was a music video with a narrative. What did you find most challenging about that project?
My biggest challenge was the intricate and precise planning that happened between the script, music, and lyrics. I was really lucky because the composer that I worked with, Scott Reich, is my father. Asides from the fact that he is extremely talented and he brings the cinematic elements of his compositions to it’s highest potential; we also had a really great connection. We were really in sync with what each other was thinking and doing. This is most ideal form of collaboration. So it could have gone horribly as it was a task that required a lot of work and attention, but instead it was very fulfilling and rewarding.
The writing for the short A Strange Day in July was exceptionally good. Where did that story come from?
It’s based on a story that Andrew Freedman wrote when he was 12 years old. It’s about the need to accept the difficult things in life and find a silver lining. I really identified with the youthful aspect of it. It was only because of the innocence of being a child that the main character was able to push through. He let his memories and imagination guide him. I’ve found in my life that the way to get through a lot of difficult times is to tap into your inner child because sometimes adults can let their heavy thoughts and feelings weigh them down and they forget to dream.
We first met while I was working at (NFFTY) National Film Festival for Talented Youth. Do you find it hard for people to take young filmmakers seriously?
Sadly, yes. I remember when I was starting to network both in the film and music industries; I would always keep my age a secret. There was this band that once hired me to write lyrics for them, and they wanted to continue the collaboration in person by coming to their city. They had a small house that they were renting out but their manager offered for me to stay there for free. At that point I was 14! They had no idea! I made up some excuse instead of saying that would pretty much be impossible. As a matter of fact, every time I ended up telling someone in the film and music industry how old I was, their response was always shock. In a way it was flattering that they thought I was so much older (as if being “older” or an “adult” is actually a compliment when you think about it), but on the other hand, I didn’t like the attention it put on me and I just wanted to be viewed as an equal and not an exception. I wanted to be seen for who I am and not for my age. There are so many extremely talented young filmmakers out there capable of so much.
This question comes up quite a bit in our industry. Do I need a degree to get a job in film production?
I hope not! Haha! But in all seriousness, I don’t think you need a film degree. I think all you need is passion and a drive to make it. Degrees are becoming less and less significant because people are acknowledging more and more that there are creative forms of intelligence that aren’t necessarily sitting in science class all day. That’s why I chose to go to the New York Film Academy in LA. Their program was so hands-on and we can make over 12 films over the course of two years. Some universities only have their students make 1 film per semester! And in a program like the New York Film Academy’s, you then have so many films to test out and practice your personal interests. I think that makes you a strong candidate. Of course there are some jobs that would need an official degree, but those jobs are the less creative ones. I guess what I’m trying to say is, your success in the film industry is not determined by your degree or what college you went to, but rather by your passion and energy.
Can you give us some insight into Shantal’s directing style?
I like to do whatever will service the story best. This actually connects to the question before about “A Strange Day in July”. That was the beginning of something that I still believe today. That film made me realize what kind of films I want to make and, except for one really depressing experimental film, I’ve been making films like that ever since. I strongly believe that we all need a little more laughter and joy in our lives.
Your short film Ticketed just got accepted into Cannes Short Film Corner. Can you describe the feeling after you got the news?
It’s really nice to know that people like the film. I just hope that it gives more people an opportunity to see it, and enjoy it. And I also hope it gives me the chance to show people what I can do! I’m trying to work out a way to attend the festival. I would love to create some opportunities for myself while I’m there and meet people who I wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to meet.
Follow Ticketed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Ticketed
Boston native Elgin James talks exclusively about working with superstar talent Juno Temple (Maleficent, Safelight), in the critically acclaimed feature that rocked Temple to fame 2011’s independent film Little Birds. Elgin also tells us how the Sundance Institute Labs became essential in the making of Little Birds.
Little Birds was your directorial debut. Can you tell us what inspired you to become a Director?
I grew up in an environment where the very things that make someone an artist, empathy and vulnerability, were the things you had to bury inside yourself and keep hidden at all costs. When I was young I was terrified of the world and of the violence inside my home and developed nervous tics. The only time they wouldn’t affect me was when I was watching a movie, so film became my escape. I beat the tics by trying to become worse than all of the things I was scared of. Even when I was older and fully engaged in a criminal mindset, movies were still my refuge. I’d slip away from my friends and spend the day in one of Boston’s art house theaters like The Coolidge or The Brattle, discovering Terrence Malick, David Gordon Green, Larry Clark.
When I finally had to leave Boston, I had nothing, so I had nothing to lose. I decided to dream big and try to make movies in Hollywood. It wasn’t until I got out here that I realized how utterly foolish that was. I didn’t know anyone, had no film education and absolutely no skills. I showed up and was like “How do you make a movie?
Little Birds tells the story of a restless teen that convinces her best friend to help her steal a truck and head to Los Angeles. Can you tell us where the original idea came from?
My best friend and I had ended up homeless in Boston as teenagers, and we, with a few others, helped form a multi-ethnic street gang that attacked Neo Nazis and robbed drug dealers. The gang would spread not only across the country but also to other parts of the world. We had nothing and we built, what we saw as, a kingdom. A lot of people, including law enforcement, saw it as only a kingdom of shit, of needless violence and terror. But at least we built something.
And after a year or so after I got to L.A trying to figure out how the hell to make a movie, suddenly people were interested in the numerous articles and media specials about myself and the gang at the time. A studio project of my “life story” quickly got set up with an A-List director and an A-list actor attached. And I was like “It’s easy to make movies, what’s everyone complaining about? (Obviously even more foolish on my part.) I wasn’t even going to write this version or direct this version; I was just the “dumb gang member” in the room to give it “authenticity.” But when the project began to take on a different tone, glorifying the violence I was just coming to terms with, I decided to write and direct it myself.
I’d never written a real script before, and in trying to do so I realized I didn’t want to tell the story of us building this “empire.” I wanted to tell the story of how we both got there. Of the hopelessness and the lack of opportunity and the constant desire to set the world on fire, only to always end up getting burned yourself. And to capture that emotionally I realized I had to strip away the sensationalism. So I turned our characters into two fifteen year old girls trying to leave their small town for L.A.
Ironically the day after we got the financing for the film, I was arrested by a dozen FBI agents outside my home for an old gang related charge (I had extorted someone with white power ties into giving money to an anti-racist charity.) So we lost our financing and had to somehow find the money again, and shoot the film before I inevitably went to prison. And after my arrest, so many of my “brothers in arms” three hundred pounds face tattooed criminals, ran for the hills. While a little English actress named Juno Temple never left my side. Leading us to your next question…
Rising actress Juno Temple achieved worldwide acclaim after playing Lily Hobart. How did you end-up casting Juno?
The producers had told me to make two lists of actresses. One of whom I wanted to play Lily. And one of whom I wanted to play Alison. I put Juno Temple (who I’d never met at the time) at the top of both lists. We were told by her agents that she wouldn’t be able to audition because she was leaving to go back to the UK, but on the very first day of casting she surprised everyone and showed up (like a fucking rock star, hangover in a leopard jacket.) And as soon as we laid eyes on each other, we were like two lost tribesman who’d finally found each other. She never did audition we just hung out and talked. And I told her she could have whatever part she wanted. She chose Lily, because she wanted to set Lily free.
And after my arrest she stayed with me and with the project. We didn’t know if the money would ever come back, and if we’d even get to shoot before I went to prison, but we still would get together several times a week to talk about the film, to talk about Lily, to talk about life. And we became family. Which we still are six years later.
Kay Panabaker played best friend Alison Hoffman a complete contrast to Lily. What went through your mind while creating the character?
Initially the characters of Lily and Alison were my best friend and I. But as I worked on it, I had incredible mentors who pushed me to make the script even more personal, and the characters became the two different parts of me. Like Lily, I grew up suffocating in a small town, wanting to get out into the world. And when I did, the world ate me up and spat me back out. And like Alison, what I wouldn’t give now to go back to that small town, to hear my mother’s voice calling me in for dinner. To understand how important the very things I was trying to leave, actually were.
Little Birds was filmed in the California desert. What made you change locations from Boston to the desert?
I’d spent my childhood in a small rural New England town, and I always felt like I was suffocating. I was a twelve-year-old brown-skinned punk rocker wanting to get out. I wanted asphalt and cement and adrenaline and I was surrounded by pigs and sheep and confederate flags in pickup windows. So when I went to the Salton Sea, with it’s dead water, dead bird bones lined beaches, and harsh acrid desert wind, I realized that even though it looked completely different, it perfectly captured how my small town felt emotionally to me.
The feature was produced though the Sundance Institute Labs. What kinds of opportunities come out of the Sundance Labs for Little Birds?
Robert Redford, Michelle Satter and all of the Sundance institute changed my life. I was a gang member, and they made me an artist. There was no reason for them to take a chance on me. I didn’t even know what a grip was, I’d never been on a film set. But they saw something in me and gave me the tools to express myself in a different way than violence. And they pushed me constantly to go further inside myself to find truth. And after I was arrested, when I was bonded out they were the first people I talked to. They rallied behind me. And when I went to prison they sent me letters and books. The film had so many opportunities because of the labs, from it’s creation, to help getting film stock, to grants etc… But more than anything the labs and the institute gave me not only my career but also my life.
Both drug use and skateboarding culture are a strong underlining theme in the film. Was this based off any personal experiences?
Truth is, when I was growing up we were doing worst things than the boys in the film. Definitely worse than robbing people off of Craigslist. But these girls would come around and hang out or live with us for a while. At the time I was only interested in them for what teenage boys are interested in teenage girls for. But later, as I grew older I thought back on what the hell had led these people to us. And what happened to them after us. They’d come in seeing only this candy shell of excitement and danger and fun. But then end up getting close enough to see the real darkness and hopelessness in the center. I wasn’t as interested in the homeless boys in Little Birds, who become a family and pull off petty crimes to survive. I’d lived that. I was more interested in the girls, who even though they were smarter than us, had ended up snared in our web. Like Lily and Alison.
You developed a long-lasting working friendship with Juno. Did you give her any career advice before she hit superstardom?
It’s been incredible to watch Juno take off. She, and Reed Morano (Little Birds cinematographer) were really my bulletproof vest on Little Birds. No way I could have made that movie without them. That’s why they are still two of the closest people in my life. And it’s been really incredible to all be coming up career wise together, though I’m always trying to catch up to them, because those women are killing it. And no, no real advice, except the advice we all regularly ask of each other – about projects, our opinions on people we may possibly work with, reading scripts etc… But Juno doesn’t need my advice on her success. She is the most loyal, bravest and toughest soul I know. She’s gonna be fine.
I personally found little pockets of humor in Little Birds. How did you approach the humor in Juno Temple’s character?
I love Lily. She’s challenging, for sure, because she’s real. And she’s real because Juno played her that way. Juno did not care if anyone liked Lily, all she wanted was to bring her to life. Which I would later realize I was so spoiled by. The majority of actors, especially once, who’ve had success, are cowards, worrying if their character is “relatable.” Which is just code word for the actor is lazy and scared. It’s like a cinematographer asking if you could shoot the climactic rain-soaked night scene during the day when it’s sunny, because that would be much easier for him. If you’re an actor it’s your job to make the character human, no matter who they are and what they do. I met with a quite successful actor on a project where his character would be playing a fugitive on the run, which’s forced to do some pretty heinous things to survive. And he asked if I could write in that he had a little daughter he was doing it all for, so even though he has to kill people, the audience would still “like” him. I will never work with that guy.
Can you give us a small preview of your next film?
I’m currently in Pre-production on a film adaptation of the novel A Million Little Pieces with Plan B. Juno and I have another project we’ve been working on together since before we got to shoot Little Birds, a love story about traveling homeless kids. TV is an incredibly interesting place right now, so the journalist Lisa Ling and actor Diego Luna and I have a show in development at a cable network. And I’ve got a feature I’m doing with Jamie Patricof and Lynette Howell (Electric City) that I wrote with Justin Marks, where a fugitive has to do some heinous things to survive, but I promise you, he will not have a little daughter he’s trying to save.
Little Birds is available on DVD at Amazon and digitally on itunes.
Like Little Birds on Facebook.
Screenwriter ‘Judy White’ recalls family trip in Dramedy Lies I Told My Little Sister starring Lucy Waters (Starz TV Series Power), with a special appearance by Alicia Minshew (All My Children).
Your writing career began at Seventeen Magazine. Can you tell us what that experience was like?
My first published article was actually for a scientific journal, on my college research in neurobiology. But on the side, I was writing humor essays. I sent the first one to Seventeen Magazine – how I used to drop library books in the bathtub while reading and make my little sister return them so she’d endure the librarian’s wrath instead of me. If I’d known then how hard it is to be published in major magazines, I probably wouldn’t have had the audacity. But Seventeen bought the very first piece and asked for more, and I did a half-dozen funny columns. The second was called Lies I Told My Little Sister. So many of us either tortured our younger siblings, or got tortured, or (in the case of middle children) got to be on both ends. Childhood patterns fascinate me because we are set in cement so early on, which is why I returned to that idea for my first screenplay. Most of my career has been writing non-fiction books and articles, usually technical, but my trademark was to infuse humor wherever possible. So in Lies, there is a serious theme of dealing with grief, and a more humorous theme about trying to recover from being a sibling, and about integrating both into your adult life.
Lies evokes nostalgia, the older sister who tortures her little sister with myths. Is the script loosely based on your family?
Yes, definitely. I don’t know why my little sister always would believe the ridiculous things I would tell her, but she kinda still does. And we had an older sister who died of cancer. So those two realities became the backbone of the script. The reason I even wrote it was that my nephew, Jonathan Weisbrod, who is the son of my tortured little sister, ended up at NYU majoring in film & television, and he said, “You’re a writer; write a screenplay,” and eventually he became co-writer. So here we were, writing a story about a family trip with a little kid in it, and that little kid is now grown and in college, helping me write the screenplay based on our family. When you write fiction about your own life, you have to toss out a lot of actualities in order to drive the plot, but there are things in the film that really happened. Including my mother with that porn magazine!
Lies I Told My Little Sister was your first feature-length film. Did you find any difficulty with securing funds?
After helping me co-write Lies, Jonathan decided to produce it himself. He recruited the most talented of his NYU colleagues, with whom he’d already been making award-winning short films. He put together a SAG-ULB budget that was funded entirely by equity investors in first-position, allowing a lot of people to have a piece of the film for very little money. It was the crew’s first feature film, but because these were kids clearly at the beginning of promising careers, there were a lot of people who wanted to invest.
Backdrop was set in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. How did you locate that beautiful beach house?
Lies follows a NJ family who travel to Cape Cod (which we used to do), and so of course a lot of the film was shot on iconic spots on the Cape, but that beach house was actually in Sea Bright, New Jersey. We used our home state as much as possible to keep costs down. As co-producer, I found the house on a vacation rental site, and not only was it used as location, a lot of the cast and crew lived in it during filming. Four months afterwards, Sea Bright was decimated by Superstorm Sandy. That beautiful house was flooded, though it is still standing.
Lucy Walters portrayed Cory brilliantly. You mentioned this was her first lead role?
Lucy is astonishing in Lies, a perfect combination of tough and sexy and vulnerable and broken. She essentially plays “me” as the middle child. Lucy first got noticed in director Steve McQueen’s Shame – stunning in two sex-charged scenes opposite Michael Fassbender. Now she is in 50 Cent’s STARZ drama series, Power, playing the ‘hot white chick’ – which has just been picked up for a second season. Lucy wowed us at the Lies audition. It was obvious how good she is, and also how completely she got the humor as well as the agony. Besides being incredibly intelligent and beautiful, she has an older sister and two younger brothers, and knows all the sibling tricks. Lucy Walters. Remember that name, for she is definitely a rising star. I adore her.
Lies deals with loss in the family. What has been the audience reaction thus far?
There’s been wonderful word-of-mouth because the film is funny as well as touching. People who have had a family loss really relate, especially if they also have siblings. I love the story of one viewer who said that she had been a little afraid to come see it because she’d recently lost her sister, but came anyway, lugging a box of tissues – and she never had to use any of them, because every time she’d start to tear up, something funny would happen. I tried for a good blend so that you never feel like you are wallowing. Because life keeps happening all around you, and some of it makes you laugh out loud even when you are terribly sad. The older you are, the more likely you are to have gone through some hard stuff. I am always amazed, for example, at how much older men like this film. It’s kind of a litmus test of how much you’ve personally been through, because if you’ve been touched by grief, no matter what your age, you appreciate that you can keep going, and that you are allowed to be happy. It’s a very hopeful film.
Alicia Minshew from All My Children makes a special appearance. How did you casting such a notable actress?
We were so lucky in the timing, because All My Children was ending after 41 years. We needed someone gorgeous and fabulous as the oldest, favorite sister who dies, so we sent the script to two-time Emmy nominee Alicia Minshew (10 years on AMC as ‘Kendall Hart’). Alicia reads lots of scripts, and said most are pretty terrible, but she thought Lies was really special. We only see her in flashbacks, but she is the heart of the family, whose loss causes such a hole that it triggers the entire plot of everyone trying, badly, to go on without her. At one point Lish was made up as ghastly sick, and I said, “Oh my God, you look awful!” She laughed and said, “This is my third coma!” Being a soap opera star means you love getting your teeth into a good coma.
How did William J. Stribling approach directing Lies?
Because on first glance this is a “female-driven” film, William confessed he was a bit intimidated going in. But the lead character’s choices made sense to him on both an intellectual and emotional level, regardless of gender, connecting to the universal struggle between order and chaos. He definitely didn’t want to hit the sad stuff too hard, and the ultimate takeaway is a peaceful, spiritual one. William is inspired by music, and he compared Lies to a Beach Boys song, one from Pet Sounds or Surf’s Up – melodic and catchy and complex, definitely pleasurable to listen to, but with something darker and unsettling going on under the surface. “And that’s where the honesty is,” he says, “because that’s life; often happy and upbeat on the surface, but underneath there’s something you’re trying to work out.”
Are you currently developing any new scripts?
I’m working on two new scripts. One is a romantic comedy (Nora Ephron is my hero), and the other is another comedy-drama, about trying to fit in where you just don’t fit in. I want to keep working on stories that touch universal real feelings – and to keep interweaving sad with humor, because even amid grief, even amid hard stuff, life is still funny, if you just let it.
Like the film on Facebook at Facebook.com/LiesIToldMyLittleSister Visit the official website at www.liesitoldmylittlesister.com
Director Jen McGowan shares exclusively the journey to create her feature debut Kelly & Cal starring Oscar nominated actress Juliette Lewis (Cape Fare, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape).
You received a BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. What first got you interested in filmmaking?
I did but I actually studied acting there. I first got interested in filmmaking after I finished NYU and tried making a film on my own for myself, and my friends to be in. When I did that I realized directing suited me far better than acting.
Kelly & Cal tells the story of a punk-rocker turned suburban mom. Can you tell about the inspiration behind the film?
Well, really the person to answer that is the writer, Amy Lowe Starbin, but I’ve heard her answer this before so I hope she won’t mind. It was a combination of experiencing new motherhood and a memory of having been attracted to a guy who used a wheel chair she sort of combined elements of those two things to create a script that examined identity, aging and new parenthood.
Oscar nominated actress Juliette Lewis did an outstanding job in the lead role of Kelly. How did you end-up casting Juliette?
Thank you. Amy and I had her in our minds when Amy was writing. She was our dream cast. But we didn’t really think we’d get her. It was an incredible amount of luck. When we offered the project to her it just so happened that she was starting to act again after having taken six or eight years off to tour with her band. Also, she really connected to the material and she & I hit it off too. Lots of things you can’t really plan for. But I am so grateful it worked out that way. She really is my perfect Kelly.
The relationship between Kelly & Cal played by (Jonny Weston) is quite complex. Can you describe the writing process for Kelly & Cal?
I can in as much as I developed the script with Amy. When we first discussed the project she had about a third of it written I believe. But she knew what she wanted to do with it and knew the characters intimately. Basically, she would write, I would read and give feedback. We would talk. She would write again. As a director I love working with writers because I know the script is being crafted specifically for me so the development process is very constructive. I think writers also enjoy working like this because they know they’re never going to get opposing notes. There’s only one of me!
Filmmakers often wonder how to fund their next project. How did you raise funds for your feature film debut?
I know. It’s the worst. The tricky thing is each situation is not really replicable until you get to the studio level. And even there projects are being set up in ever more complicated ways. For me, quite honestly, my producers discovered me online. They happened to be looking for young up & coming directors and I happened to have a short, TOUCH, playing the festival circuit at that same time and it was doing really well winning a bunch of awards. They saw my name popping up again and again.
They got in touch through LunaFest and asked me if there was anything I wanted to make. I had KELLY & CAL ready to go so I said YES! I sent them the script; they loved it. And they were able to put together all the finance through private equity. That’s pretty much a nice way to say “film-loving rich people”. Like I said, not exactly repeatable. But they key takeaway in that is you just have to always do your best because you have no idea where it can lead. If my short film sucked, this film would never have happened.
You were a finalist for the prestigious Clint Eastwood Filmmaker Award. Can you give us some advice for aspiring directors?
I was! Well, for all filmmakers, just make what you love. You have to have a point of view and an opinion and then just make it. Don’t try to copy any one else just do your thing. And give yourself time. This is a very different time than when anyone who got into Sundance got a deal somewhere. Take your time. Do your thing. Let the world catch up to you.
You studied acting at the Atlantic Theater Company under William H. Macy. What made you change your direction?
He taught a couple of my classes. As did David Mamet and Felicity Huffman, I loved acting. And I was good at it. But I did not at all care for the business of acting. I think I was just impatient but I felt as a director I had more control over my work and my career. That may not actually be correct but it’s how I felt. No way to know what would have happened, but I love where I am now so it doesn’t matter. And my acting studies and experience gave me the best training for my directing so it was a good route for me. Everyone has to find the path that works best for him or her.
Kelly & Cal premiered at South By Southwest in 2014. How much involvement did you have in post-production?
I worked with my editor, David Hopper, who cut my short films. We cut out of the office in the back of my house so I would say I was fairly involved. Maybe too involved! You’d have to follow-up with him. J we cut in LA and we colored and did sound post in NY. I was there from first draft of the script until final delivery. Editing and sound design are incredibly important to me. They really are the last secret weapons of movie making.
Getting feedback from an audience is essential for any director. What has been the reaction thus far for Kelly & Cal?
It’s been incredibly positive. From critical response to individual members of the audience it has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m very, very grateful.
Kelly & Cal is available to purchase and rent on itunes, Amazon, and Google Play.
Wisconsin native Hunter Adams talks exclusively about making his newest horror feature Dig Two Graves, starring Sami Isler (Captain Fantastic, Sean Saves the World) and Ted Levine (American Gangster, Silence of the Lambs) currently on the festival circuit.
Dig Two Graves is a period thriller set in Southern Illinois. Can you tell us where the script came from?
The script started out as a story about a young boy wrestling with a difficult and morally ambiguous choice. I had lost my mom around this time and became a little obsessed with the hypothetical question ‘How far would I be willing to go to bring her back?’
There are many films that involve adult protagonists burdened with difficult choices, but I wanted to see this inner conflict reflected through the eyes of an innocent child. During the casting phase, I began to notice that the young girls auditioning for the role of the sibling were much more interesting than the boys who were auditioning for the lead. So I flopped the gender of the main protagonist. But I kept the name Jake because I was too lazy to think of a girl’s name.
Dig Two Graves started life as the short film Jakes’ Choice. Did you find any difficultly developing a short into a feature?
DTG started out as a short because we planned to use it as a fundraising tool for the feature. It didn’t help with the financing per say, but it definitely helped me clarify the visual and aural design of the film. I was fortunate to work with a very talented cast and crew in Northeast Wisconsin where we shot it.
While watching Dig Two Graves I noticed how well the different time periods were captured. How much research went into designing the sets?
Production took place in Southern Illinois, about 6 or 7 hours south of Chicago. We shot in January during one of the coldest winters on record. So there’s also a stark beauty you get from the dead trees, howling wind and hanging icicles.
Southern Illinois feels like it’s frozen in time. It was lucky for us because we didn’t have much money to create the period feel so we relied heavily on real locations and what we could find in local thrift stores. And I’m not a huge stickler for exact period authenticity. More important to me is the emotional impact of a location. How is the set and the art direction supporting the themes of the movie. Our set designer Merje Veski did an incredible job (on a very limited budget) of creating sets that conveyed the moral decay and dissolution that is an important visual theme of the movie.
Having cast Sami Isler in my short film No One Knows, watching her work is like being in acting class. How did you end up auditioning Sami for the role of Jake?
I auditioned hundreds of young actresses from across the country for the part. Late in the process I received an audition tape from Sami. She made really strong and clear choices in the reading. I knew her instincts were good and she clearly had a strong intellectual capacity to analyze and comprehend very complex emotions and relationships that were present in the script.
And she ended being an absolute joy to work with. Her first day on set she had to gut a dead deer, fire a hunting rifle and hold her own against an intimidating Ted Levine.
Dig Two Graves blended some incredible live acting stunts. How did Tom Lowell prepare the actors on-set?
We did have some challenging stunts but Tom is one of the best in the business. In fact, when we were trying to convince Ted Levine to do the film he was reluctant at first. But then he first learned that Rick Lefevour was the stunt coordinator and that convinced him. Ted actually called me up and said, “If Rick is doing the film, I’ll do the film.” Tom eventually took over production, and was very good at finding a way to make a stunt work with maximum visceral impact. And most importantly, he ensures the stunt is done safely.
Ted Levine is famous for his roles in The Silence of the Lambs, and American Gangster. What kind of presence did Ted add to Dig Two Graves?
Ted is just a great actor. Having him around elevated everyone’s work, both cast and crew. His acting style was pretty subtle and I didn’t fully appreciate his performance until I was in the editing room and I just couldn’t stop watching him. He’s mesmerizing. And he gives you so many options to work with. He’s an absolute pro.
How can people follow the latest news on Dig Two Graves?
People can follow DTG on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/digtwograves or our website www.digtwograves.com.
Director Maggie Kiley talks about her second feature Dial A Prayer starring Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect, Finding Amanda), and William H. Macy (Shameless, Cake). Giving us the exclusive low down on casting, and filming on location in dreary slush Michigan.
You were one of just eight directors selected for the AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women. How did this experience help your career?
It was a great honor to be selected for DWW and my time there 100% solidified and launched my future career as a director. Before AFI, I had really only acted and I wasn’t entirely sure I had the skill set or drive to direct. My time there was really life changing and I am still a large part of that community. The DWW alumni pool is a pretty fantastic collection of accomplished working female directors.I wouldn’t be here without it or them.
Dial A Prayer tells the story of a troubled young woman answering phones at a Prayer Call Center. Can you tell us where the idea came from?
I honestly think I heard an ad for a prayer hotline on the radio and it stuck with me. I wasn’t writing movies at the time but it planted a seed for a story I later went back to. I was fascinated with the idea that someone would farm out this kind of hope. Then it got me thinking about who is answering the phone and what that room looks like the same way you imagine the disconnect at a Sex Hotline or the integrity of a place like a Suicide Hotline. I thought what if you could make a difference over the phone? And what if you did but you didn’t really mean to?
The writing was exceptionally good between all the different characters. How did you approach the more comedic tone in Dial A Prayer?
Thanks! I hope it’s funny. It was important to me that the people who worked at the center were fully realized in their quirky uniqueness. As an actor whose played supporting roles it was always satisfying for me when someone more on the sidelines had a real sense of wholeness and their own arch so especially in this script I wanted everyone to have that. I write a lot for actors I know and I imagine how they’ll play it I think that helps things comically. If I’m laughing when I‘m writing and still laughing at the auditions that’s usually a good sign.
MTV Movie Award winner (2013) the immensely talented Brittany Snow plays the lead role of Cora. What was the audition process like for Brittany?
Brittany was someone we were certainly really aware of right off the bat. We worked with incredible casting directors Paul Schnee and Kerry Barden and they had cast Brittany in Pitch Perfect. But for me she wasn’t exactly what I had pictured in my head so we agreed to meet before going further. That meeting really changed everything for me. Brittany had such a strong connection to the script and Cora she had insights into the character I had never been able to articulate. She is charming and lovely as you would expect but her approach to the material as an actor really floored me. We met and worked through some scenes at her suggestion and it was instantly clear she was Cora. It was a really exciting discovery and I’m so happy audiences will get to see her do something like this. It’s very different for her and I think her performance is fantastic.
Oscar nominated actor, and star of Showtime’s Shameless William H. Macy played the lead role of Bill. How do you cast the beloved William H. Macy?
I’ve known Macy since I was an acting student at NYU. He is a longtime mentor and friend via off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company (founded by Macy and David Mamet) where I am en ensemble member. I wrote the part with Bill in mind but, you certainly never know how things will end up. I was very nervous when I first sent it to him I remember and I have his email back on my bulletin board in my office. It said ‘I think you’ve got something with this script’ and well that was just pretty cool coming from someone who I look up to so much. So I kept writing and eventually he signed on to play Bill. I should say we did try to change the character name right before we shot but we kept it as we were all so used to it. He is just such a class act actor and I really love him in this movie.
Dial A Prayer was shot in what can be considered small town USA. Can you tell about the location scouting specifically how you created the Dial A Prayer center?
My producers are Michigan/LA based and we are able to participate in the Incentive via the Michigan Film Office. I had originally set it in my own hometown of Rochester, NY but Michigan delivered the dreary ‘slush life’ small town winter I was after. There was tremendous support in Michigan for the film locally and we used a lot of homes and locations via connections my producer Jason Potash had. It was really fantastic being there and digging into that world. My production designer Lauren Fitzsimmons gets full credit for the amazing Dial a Prayer Call Center. We built it up from scratch in an office space designing the cubicle layout so that we could maximize shooting angles and change the feel of the space depending on where we were with the film. Lauren and her team (and many many art interns) created all of the materials prayer binders, call order forms, inspirational posters, details on all of the desks. It was amazing to watch it all come to life.
While doing research for the film I found out Dial A Prayer is a real 24-hour service. Have they contacted you at all inquiring about the movie?
I haven’t heard from any prayer centers as of yet! I didn’t actually research any centers for the film I wanted to take the story and imagine it on my own. I’m sure the work they are doing is wonderful and I entirely respect all of the different ways of ‘believing’ that are out there. The DAP of this film though is entirely fictionalized.
Congratulations! Vertical Entertainment picked-up Dial A Prayer for worldwide distribution earlier this year. Can you tell our readers how you landed the deal?
Thanks! We went out with the movie via a great sales team pretty closely on the heels of completion and Vertical was one of the first companies to take a real interest. We sold the film ahead of a festival debut and the sale was announced at Sundance. I’m really excited to be releasing with Vertical. They responded to the film in such a deep and full circle way it makes it all the more exciting.
Follow the film on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DAPMovie
Dial A Prayer hits Theaters and itunes April 10th