Director Adam Rifkin premieres Dog Years at Tribeca, talks Ariel Winter, and advice for breaking into the business
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Kara Croke, Tinseltown, Feature Flash Photo Agency, Shutterstock.com
- Los Angeles, California
Director Adam Rifkin premieres Dog Years at Tribeca Film Festival, discusses casting Ariel Winter outside her bookworm role on Modern Family, Legend Burt Reynolds, and advice for breaking into the film business.
Dog Years is the story of Vic Edwards, an aging former movie star, who is forced to realize his glory days are behind him. Can you tell us how you came to write this film?
I've always been a huge Burt Reynolds fan. In fact, he was my hero growing up. Not only was he cool and funny and self deprecating, but he always struck me as being such a down to earth, great guy. I also always felt like he rarely got his proper due as an actor. He's so natural and at ease in front of the camera that people didn't even think he's acting. Which is a tremendous compliment but it's also tragic because I feel he's been under appreciated for all the fabulous work he's done throughout his career. Burt is a brilliant actor and I wanted to give something back to Burt for all of the years of enjoyment he's given me and so many other people. So I wrote DOG YEARS specifically for Burt and Burt alone.
Vic Edwards is an interesting character that's different from Burt's past roles. How did you go about casting Burt Reynolds?
I had never met Burt prior to writing DOG YEARS but I rolled the dice and wrote it anyway, hoping he would spark to the material. It was a warts and all kind of charter so I was nervous approaching him. We called Burt's manager and I said to him that I wrote DOG YEARS for Burt and nobody else. I said to please tell Burt that if he didn't want to play the part I wasn't going to make the movie. I know it was a gamble but I just couldn't conceive of anybody else playing Vic Edwards other than Burt.
Imagine my elation when Burt called me the next day. Burt Reynolds called me and told me he loved the script and he wanted to play the part! I was over the moon! And man, did he deliver. He gave such a brave and heartfelt performance, stripped of all vanity. For a guy famous for his swagger he had no problem digging deep and exposing his most vulnerable self. He blew us all away.
The feature also stars the talented Ariel Winter from Modern Family, who plays Lil. Can you tell us how you cast Ariel Winter?
The role of Lil required someone young enough to be believable but experienced enough as an actress to be able to pull off such a fragile and emotionally unstable person. Ariel is literally a veteran of the craft at the tender age of 18. She's been acting her entire life, so I knew Lil would be in good hands. She's also known for playing the bookish Alex Dunphy and I though it would be exciting to see her play completely against type.
This is a very adult role for Ariel and she played it brilliantly. Lil is a troubled girl who's been making a series of questionable choices in life up to now. She meets Vic while teetering on the precipice of complete self destruction and the adventure they find themselves on together forces her to reassess her direction. People who are only familiar with Ariel from Modern Family are going to be shocked when they see her here.
An interesting part of Dog Years is the use of archival footage from Burt Reynolds real life filmography. How did you go about achieving this effect in the movie?
At its core, DOG YEARS is a story about growing old and how fast the years fly by. I thought an effective way to explore this visually was to see footage of young, virile Burt juxtaposed against current day Burt. As a result I included some fantasy sequences where Vic confronts his younger self and tries to convince him not to live so recklessly. The way we achieved it was merely through standard movie magic but the end result had a very emotional effect. Once we saw the visuals coming together we were moved in ways we didn't anticipate.
When casting a film, what qualities do you look for with actors?
That always depends on so many variables. What the character should look like and sound like based on the description in the script. How the character would react in a crisis or would respond to a challenge. I can honestly say I look for something wholly unique for each and every role, each and every time. That said, I suppose an overarching quality I'm always keenly aware of is an actor who never feels like their acting.
Burt told me the the best advice he'd ever gotten as an actor was from his old friend Spencer Tracy. Tracy once said to him, "Kid, never let them catch you acting". Remarkably simple yet amazing advice. And I can definitely relate. When I'm casting, if someone feels like their acting, no matter how good they may look for the role, they'll never get the part.
We often talk with up-coming filmmakers who are interested in breaking into the business. What advice would you give them?
My advice is two fold: Firstly, for anyone who's pursuing a career in film, or any of the arts for that matter, you're undoubtably going to experience a lot of rejection. Don't let it slow you down. It's easy to take rejection personally and start to second guess yourself but do everything you can to fight that urge. Don't let rejection even be a blip on your radar. Everyone who's ever achieved success in this insane business has experienced tons of rejection so you're not alone. Just ignore it and keep trudging forward. Secondly, don't wait for permission to make a movie. Technology has finally caught up to people's ambition.
You can now make a movie for next to nothing. Talent is the cheapest production value in the world. Make a movie for whatever amount you can. If you only have a few hundred bucks, figure out a way to make the best movie ever made for a few hundred bucks. Shoot it on your phone. Edit it on an app. Do whatever you need to do get your story told and your voice heard. Take inspiration from maverick filmmakers like Giuseppe Andrews and go out there and just make a movie that nobody has seen before. If it's good, really good, and bold and unique and original, it will change your life.
Dog Years will be screening at the Tribeca Film Festival from 4/22 - 4/30. Check out the official Tribeca website for the complete list of showtimes.
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Director Rod Blackhurst discusses the Tribeca feature film Here Alone, and casting Lucy Walters via Twitter
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Rob Fleming
- Los Angeles, California
Award winning director Rod Blackhurst talks about the Tribeca audience favorite thriller "Here Alone", casting lead actresses Lucy Walters, and Gina Piersanti via Twitter. Also Rod dishes about filming the critically acclaimed Netflix documentary "Amanda Knox".
Here Alone is the story of a young woman named Ann who, struggles to survive after a mysterious epidemic. Can you tell us how you came to direct this film?
For almost six years my friend David Ebeltoft and I had been trying to make our first feature film and try as we might, we kept running into the same roadblock over and over again; money. Before HERE ALONE we built two different films into turnkey operations - projects that were fully realized across the board from a production, logistics, and creative standpoint - yet because we weren't independently wealthy ourselves, and because we didn't know anyone who could afford to produce a 1-2 million dollar film with us, those films stalled out. We were exasperated with the process of trying to find the producing partners we needed to help us source that kind of financing and so David reversed engineered a film that we could produce on our own, for the amount of money we could raise, that would allow us to have agency as friends and collaborators, instead of continuing to wait around asking for permission from those who said "Well, you've never made a feature film, so how do we know you can make a feature film".
David wrote HERE ALONE for me to direct. He also wrote HERE ALONE to be a film that in producing it ourselves could prove our business acumen and understanding of how to be responsible filmmakers who make films for audiences. We had three goals when we set out to make the film; to prove that we were capable of delivering a coherent and cohesive feature length film no matter the constraints, to have the film play at any film festival, and to have the film distributed world wide. Two years later we can proudly say that we've accomplished everything we set out to do.
The star of Here Alone, is one of our favorite actress Lucy Walters, from Starz hit series Power. How did you end-up casting Lucy to play Ann?
We cast both or our actresses, Lucy Watlers and Gina Piersanti, via Twitter. True story. We couldn't get the bit talent agencies in Hollywood to cover our film and then because we couldn't afford a casting director we decided to do it ourselves. Lucy steals a scene in Steve McQueen's film SHAME and just based on that we knew that she was the right actor for us. I wrote her a message on Twitter. We Skyped and then we went off to make the movie. It was that simple.
Here Alone takes place in upstate New York's rugged wilderness. What did Lucy do physically or mentally to prepare for such a challenging role?
No amount of physical or mental preparation could have prepared Lucy (or any of us for that matter) for spending the first two days on set in pouring rain and in mud up to our shins. The role of Ann was already demanding on the page, and I think Lucy would be comfortable with me saying that after we finished shooting she told me that she truly had no idea how much more physically and emotionally exhausting the role would be than it was on those pages. I have no idea what juju she conjured up to keep up with our relentless production schedule but she did. Lucy is in almost every scene in the film and she owns this performance.
Here Alone also stars Adam David Thompson (Mozart in the Jungle), and Shane West (A Walk to Remember). When casting a film what qualities do you look for with actors?
As a filmmaker I want to work with actors whose first inclinations and choices are better out of the gate than what I could first ask of them. I want to work with actors who make bold choices, have a reason why, and have something to prove. Our producing partner Noah Lang had worked with Adam David Thompson on another film and knew that Adam, who was a bit tired of being typecast as the bad/creepy/weird guy, would be fired up about taking on the role of Chris. But past all of that, I wanted to work with Shane West because in 2005 he was on my wife's Top 5 Hottest Guys list, and I just wanted my wife to think I was cool.
Last year you directed the critically acclaimed documentary Amanda Knox which, is streaming on Netflix. Our readers would be interested to learn what Amanda Knox is like in real life?
Amanda Knox, like all of the individuals who were caught up in this tragic situation and story became 'accidental celebrities'. None of these people asked to be in the spotlight. None of them wanted to be reality TV stars. None of them wanted to be in the positions they found themselves in, especially not the poor victim Meredith Kercher who tragically lost her life. Everyone at the heart of the story were turned into characters living this Kafka-esque existence. They were all trapped inside a nightmare which had been created by the media and the audiences voraciously consuming the narratives they were presented - most of which were false narratives designed purely for entertainment. I often tell people that everyone involved at the heart of this story has had an identity and narrative crafted for them when at the end of the day, they're all very normal and real people.
Congratulations! Here Alone opens in theaters on March 31st from TriBeca Films. Can you tell us how you achieved some of the amazing make-up effects on Lucy?
In researching and writing HERE ALONE David Ebeltoft was inspired by the work of the Cuban American performance artist, sculptor, painter and video artist Ana Mendieta who was known for her "earth-body" artwork. What you see on screen is an amazing interpretation of that by our hair and makeup artist Lisa Forst. Lisa deserves all of the credit for crafting the shit/mud look, all of which was done practically on set. Lucy and Gina started calling the 'mud look' the 'spa treatment'. It took hours to layer on the different makeup and clay that you see on screen and to this day Lucy and Gina tell us that they still have dirt under their fingernails and behind their ears from all that beautiful grime.
Here Alone will be released in theaters and VOD March 31st, 2017.
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