THE FILM YAP » Indianapolis International Film Festival We Never Shut Up About Movies Fri, 20 Sep 2013 17:36:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Coldwater Mon, 22 Jul 2013 00:18:15 +0000 Joe Shearer Continue reading ]]> Coldwater 2

For Indy Film Fest showtimes, click here.

To read an interview with “Coldwater” writer/director Vince Grashaw, click here.

A harrowing, affecting film, “Coldwater” is a drama about accountability, power run amok, and finding justice.

Brad Lunders (P.J. Boudousque), a teenage drug dealer, is shipped off to a teen “boot camp,” the sort of place the exasperated parents of troubled teens send their kids in hopes of straightening them out. This camp is run by ex-Marine Frank Reichert (James C. Burns), who, much like the warden at Shawshank prison, promises that with obedience and discipline will come happiness.

But Brad is in no mood for cooperation and finds brutal penalties for disobedience or for falling behind on the backbreaking work and long runs in the sun. When the punishment goes too far for one, Brad decides he has to play along to survive.

Meanwhile, as Brad draws nearer to his “captors,” he has plans of his own, especially when a friend of his arrives in a new wave of “campers.”

Part revenge tale, part searing expose, “Coldwater” offers a question for those who cheer these sorts of boot camps: Do you really know to whom you’re turning over your children? With little real supervision or accountability, Frank becomes drunk with power, figuratively and literally, believing he can dodge responsibility as investigators begin sniffing around the compound.

Boudousque is a Ryan Gosling clone who more than acquits himself well in an indie role; he owns the film. His steely, expressive eyes are full of untamed principle and complete defiance. This is the kind of role that could get him noticed.

“Coldwater” could have just been a twist on prison movies, a “Cool Hand Luke” for the teen set. But where the juvenile delinquents of a generation ago would have been cheered, we now root for their humiliation and “straightening out.” Director Vince Grashaw asks an important question of the reality TV age: Can the people to whom your entrust your kids succeed where you, as a parent, did not?

A compelling film, “Coldwater” is a must-see.

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Liv and Ingmar Sun, 21 Jul 2013 13:37:58 +0000 Caine Gardner Continue reading ]]> LivandIngmar-inside

Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann was 25 years old when legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman cast her in “Persona.” Twenty-one years her senior, the director found the muse that would serve as the creative fuel for 12 of his films and result in a relationship that would last for the next 43 years of their lives.

Director Dheeraj Akolkar showcases the loving, and sometimes volatile, relationship between Ullmann and Bergman in the documentary “Liv and Ingmar.” Filled with passion and intensity, the duo’s 43-year collaboration went beyond the silver screen and was not the typical Hollywood fairy tale.

The documentary is told through interviews with Ullman, who is still stunning at 73. Her beautiful blue eyes recall the pleasure and pain of loving a man who was private and controlling. While the doc relies heavily on Ullmann’s memories, Akolkar also uses Bergman’s letters to Ullmann to help the deceased director lend his voice to the story.

In those letters, Bergman tells Ullmann he had a dream that they were “painfully connected” and that dream turned out to be a premonition. The couple shared five years of their lives together from 1966 to 1971 and had a daughter, but things never worked out. Bergman tried to shield his muse from the world by constructing a wall around the beautiful home he built on the tiny Swedish island of Faro.

After years filled with turbulent times, Ullmann left, which would be the end of the story for most relationships. That wasn’t the case for Ullmann and Bergman. The couple spent the rest of their lives navigating life apart but always connected up until the director’s death in 2007.

The interviews are conducted in and around the home Ullmann and Bergman shared, adding more weight to the words. Bergman’s presence seems to fill the house.

Two of the most touching scenes in the film come late in the 81-minute running time. One involved Ullmann describing a wall diary the two kept during their relationship. As the sun faded it during the year, she tells how Bergman would touch it up every spring, freezing it in time. Since his death in 2007, the images are fading into the ether much as the director has himself.

The other is when Ullmann discovers that the director kept a note she wrote him several years ago inside his teddy bear. She reads the note and begins to cry during the final lines.

The documentary is beautifully shot with breathtaking images of Faro intercut throughout. Akolkar crafts a beautiful documentary about Bergman and his muse.

While the movie tends to shy away from much of anything about their professional lives, “Liv and Ingmar,” at its core, is a film about passion, love and the enduring connection two spirits can have. It is wonderfully romantic yet tragically sad.

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“TINY” co-directors Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller Sun, 21 Jul 2013 10:17:47 +0000 Christopher Lloyd Continue reading ]]> Tiny filmmakers - lede

Merete Mueller, co-director of the documentary “TINY: A Story About Living Small,” talked to The Film yap about making the film and her personal journey. For Indy Film Fest showtimes, click here.

The Film Yap: What first drew you to the concept of tiny homes?

Merete: Christopher and I had both heard about tiny houses many years ago, way before we even knew each other or had any inkling that we might one day build one. I have a background in sustainability and environmental writing, and I’ve always been interested in architecture and design, but, to be honest, the size of homes wasn’t an issue that occupied too much space in my brain. What drew me to the topic was Christopher’s personal story.

He was approaching his 30th birthday when he impulsively decided to buy a plot of land in the mountains and make a lifelong dream of building his own cabin a reality. Watching Christopher ask questions about home and place, and seeing how building the house was so tied to his process of growing up and finding out what was most important to him, made me realize how necessary having a sense of home is to all of us.

What is “home” anyway? It’s this magical word that we all seem to know and want, but it’s very hard to define what exactly makes a place feel like home. Tiny houses are perfect case studies to explore this because everything in them in condensed to the most basic essentials.

Once Chris decided to build one, when did the idea enter to also make a film about the process?

Merete: I have a background in writing and Christopher has a background in film. He was finishing up grad school at the time and, in the midst of planning the tiny house project, he was also thinking about starting a film project and looking for ideas. I was watching the whole thing unfold and suggested  the process of building the tiny house would make a great story for a film. He asked me if I would be involved, and so we embarked on the project together.

At first, we really thought we were just making a short video about building a house from scratch. We thought maybe we would post it on YouTube or enter it into a few film festivals. It wasn’t until we began learning more about the tiny house movement and the issues and the community surrounding tiny houses that we realized the story was much bigger. And so the film grew from there, and eventually became a feature-length documentary.

Christopher, I have to ask: Did you REALLY think you were going to finish in 3 to 4 months? Do you think the documentary would’ve been less interesting if it had actually been that easy?

Christopher: Believe it or not, I really did think that I could get it done that quickly. When I looked into other people’s tiny house builds, I kept thinking to myself that I would go quickly and it can’t be that hard. But it turns out that building a tiny house is just like building a big house but just a little bit smaller. You still have to include all the same systems and features of a big house.

In terms of the film, it certainly did make a more interesting film that it was much harder than I anticipated. But when we filmed those earlier interviews, we had no idea we were even going to make a feature film out of it, so we didn’t have some master story arc in mind. Luckily, Merete had the foresight to ask that question knowing that I have a tendency to underestimate everything.

Merete: Haha … I remember when he first started building, Christopher kept saying that he would be finished within a few months and I was thinking, “Yeah, right!” So when I asked him that question, I sort of knew that the building would probably take much longer than he expected and that would be a big part of the drama of the story. Of course, I had no idea exactly how long it would take!

The longer it dragged on, the less I was thinking about how it would make a good narrative for the film and the more I just wanted it to be done already. That said, looking back on it, despite our crazy schedule, the act of working on the house together was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done, so I suppose the lesson I learned is that sometimes you have to drop the schedule and just enjoy the process.

Your interviews with tiny home owners were so varied, with a mix of young and old, singles and married people, offering all sorts of different perspectives. What do you think is the unifying thread between them all that makes them want to pursue this lifestyle?

Merete: I think quality of life and the idea of “quality over quantity” is one thing that everyone we interviewed has in common. All of our characters arrived at tiny houses in very different ways. Some wanted to lessen their environmental impact, others were trying to get out of debt or just wanting to spend more time with friends and family rather than on working and upkeep on their bigger homes. But the message that we heard from everyone, over and over again, is that not having as much stuff freed them up to focus on the things that really matter to them in life. We learned that “the good life” is much more about the experiences and the relationships that people have rather than the material things they own.

This documentary is as much about the two of you as about building a small house. How did you get over the idea of essentially interviewing each other in addition to tiny home dwellers? Was there any hesitancy about exploring your lives and relationship on film?

Merete: We knew from the beginning that the personal story of building the house would make an interesting film. So often in documentary filmmaking, filmmakers want to capture an issue or a problem but don’t always have a compelling story to keep the viewer invested. We were lucky in that we had a full story arc figured out from the beginning — the beginning, middle and end of this process of building the house.

That said, even though we had a clear idea of what our story would be from the very beginning, we were still surprised by it as events unfolded. When the project started out, building the tiny house was mostly Christopher’s project. Even I thought that the film would be focused mostly on him and his process of finding home. But as things started to take longer than expected, and I began to step in more and more to help finish the house, our relationship became more a part of the story.

The first cut of the film that we edited was a short, 40-minute version, and it didn’t include anything about my decision to move to New York City. Initially, we thought it would be too complicated to dive into all of that, but we eventually realized that the complexity and relationship tension made our story more interesting, and that my own questions about where I belong and where my home is added to the depth of the questions that we were asking in the film.

We wrote and edited the film ourselves and it was definitely a challenging process — to find the perspective to tell our own story, even while we were still in the middle of it. By the end of it, we were referring to ourselves as “Character A” and “Character B”; I’d say, “We need to develop Character B!” instead of “I need to be on camera more!” It was sort of funny, but it helped us to put the story first and to keep in mind how to develop our characters and tell our story in a way that made a better film rather than taking things personally.

I thought the cinematography and music added so much to “TINY.” Talk about working with your team to achieve the beautiful look and sound of your movie.

Merete: “TINY” was a true DIY effort, and Christopher and I did a lot of the work on the film ourselves, but we were incredibly lucky to have a few very talented friends working with us. Timothy Cleary wrote the score for the film (and also performed much of the soundtrack himself). Tim and Christopher have been friends since they were teenagers — they actually used to be in a band together — so it was fun for them to collaborate again. Elliot Thompson did our sound design, which was a huge help because Christopher and I had recorded all of the on-location sound ourselves with pretty basic equipment.

And although Christopher actually did a lot of the cinematography himself (in the early days, he would set up the camera on a tripod and just let it roll as he was building), Kevin Hoth also contributed some incredible cinematography. Kevin is a still photographer by trade and his eye really captured the texture of the landscape and the light in Colorado, and the interesting shapes of objects at the building site.

So how has the tiny home existence been since you made the film? (If you’ve since bought a 5,000-square-foot McMansion and the tiny home is parked out back being used as a shed, I’ll be VERY disappointed!!)

Merete: For my part, I feel like the tiny house has affected my life in ways that I never expected. Watching Christopher work through questions about home and place forced me to ask myself where I really wanted to be. And helping him to achieve one of his lifelong dreams encouraged me to to pursue one of my own: to move to New York City (where my living space is still pretty small…). Having the tiny house helped me to take the leap because I knew that if all else failed, I would always have a place to come back to.

I’m still figuring out exactly where I want to be, but the process of building the house had a huge impact on me and has made me feel more connected to the landscape of Colorado than I ever had been before. I’ve always been a minimalist — I’ve moved and traveled a lot, so I haven’t had too much of a chance to accumulate things — but now I think about the amount of space and stuff I’m consuming in a completely different way.

Christopher: We recently moved the tiny house from where it was located up in the mountains back to Boulder. With all the traveling we have been doing promoting the film, it seemed like a good idea to have the tiny house closer to a town where we could use it more. I am currently living in it full-time and I can say that it is every bit as amazing as it seems like it would be in the film and I am in no rush to move out of it!

Like Merete, it is still forcing me to ask really good questions about my values and what is important in a home and in life. No McMansion has ever done that for me in the same way, so I am incredibly grateful for the learning experience that building and living in the tiny house has been.

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Medora Sat, 20 Jul 2013 12:30:42 +0000 Joe Shearer Continue reading ]]> Medora inside

For Indy Film Fest showtimes, click here.

In a state where high school basketball is king, there is also a flip side. The documentary “Medora” focuses on the worst high school basketball team in the state of Indiana, a tiny school whose student body only yields about 50 boys, of whom eight play on the basketball team.

Medora is a small, depressed town in southern Indiana, where drug use is rampant and employment is scarce. And its boys basketball team finished 0-22 the previous year. Undersized and understaffed, the team can’t compete with the larger consolidated schools — from which several school districts, each probably at least of a similar size to Medora, combined into a larger district. With pools of hundreds of boys from whom to choose, their rosters regularly overwhelm and smother the outmatched Medora squad.

Filmmakers Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart follow the team, its players and coach (who by day, and sometimes night, is a police officer) individually, gathering their backstories and living situations. One player has behavior problems and is booted from the team; we see the coach worry about the player because, as they both said, basketball was keeping him out of trouble to begin with. Losing it means he either straightens himself out or finds even greater trouble.

Another kid’s mother has an alcohol problem, and he’s one of the lucky ones because it means he has a role model of some type, even if it’s a model for what not to be. He takes her story to heart, refusing to drink at a party despite some really heavy pressure from a teammate.

And none of them has any idea how to win. We see them coming close, only to panic late and miss game-clinching free throws or turn the ball over. As a team, they are unable to break a press. They continue to lose, each defeat more heartbreaking and demoralizing than the next, whether they lose by 40 points or four.

But the team continues to work hard and press on, finding opportunities for small victories and capitalizing on them.

“Medora” is one of those films you call a triumph of the human spirit not because its subjects succeed against all odds but because they find any measure of success at all. “Medora” is harrowing, heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time — a tremendous documentary, the anti-”Hoop Dreams,” where athletes are counting on basketball not to provide them fame and fortune but to simply give them a reason to be hopeful about something.

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The Bounceback Thu, 18 Jul 2013 20:28:34 +0000 Joe Shearer Continue reading ]]> The_Bounceback_credit_Ryan_Green

For Indy Film Fest showtimes, click here.

A lewd, crude romantic comedy, “The Bounceback” has moments of ridiculousness but ultimately displays more heart than most of your standard Hollywood romcoms.

“Bounceback” follows Cathy (Ashley Bell) and Stan (Michael Stahl-David of “Cloverfield”) as lovers who parted company when Cathy got accepted to school in New York, while Stan chased his dream as a writer in Los Angeles.

When each of them separately end up back home in Austin, Texas, their mutual friends Kara (Sara Paxton) and Jeff (Zach Cregger) look to not only keep them separated but help them move on. Both Cathy and Stan are not over their old flame and each seems reluctant but willing to rekindle the fires.

Stan meets cute with a musician (Addison Timlin) while Cathy meets Tim (Justin Arnold), each a third wheel for Kara’s reluctant fling with the douchey Ralph (Marshall Allman). Did I mention that Kara and Jeff are also exes, though they have no such anxiety about meeting up with each other?

The film is a mix of raunch and romance; Kara is, dare I use the word, bitchy and vulgar, and Jeff crashes on the couch with his roommates and participates with them in “air sex” shows (think a more amorous air guitar, and yes, this is utterly ridiculous).

With all four leads fighting their feelings, there is time for both some mature, smartly managed relationship narratives and sophomoric shenanigans. The film’s climax occurs partly at a sold-out air-sex show, where a farcical face-off between two exes, performing in mime, demonstrates how the other is a poor lover. Somehow it manages to be patently ridiculous and kind of sweet at the same time.

The four leads perform admirably, and Stahl-David and Bell are great foils for one another (though they have only a few scenes together, their feelings often match up, and a sequence where the exes, each on dates, get calls from each other at the wrong time, is really great). They are both as likable as their sidekicks are not, creating a nice balance for all four characters.

A veritable study in late-20s romantic angst, “The Bounceback” is a fun, breezy flick that should entertain a broader audience while making them think a little.

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Vince Grashaw, Director/Producer/Writer, “Coldwater” Thu, 18 Jul 2013 13:14:15 +0000 Joe Shearer Continue reading ]]>
“Coldwater” represents Vince Grashaw’s first feature, but he’s no newbie to filmmaking.
He produced the 2011 indie hit “Bellflower” and sports an IMDb profile that features credits as a producer, editor, cinematographer and writer.
Grashaw’s long-gestating film stars PJ Boudousqué as a juvenile delinquent who is sent by his mother to a “boot camp” run by an ex-marine (James C. Burns), who is given virtually unchecked power over what is essentially a crew of prison inmates.
Grashaw spoke about “Coldwater,” why he’s happy the film was delayed for more than a decade, why he made it and how to collaborate with others on your own pet project.
Vince Grashaw

Where did you get the idea for “Coldwater”? The film plays a bit like a prison movie on the surface, but it creates a new dynamic by setting it in a juvenile boot-camp type facility. 

I originally got the idea to write a script based on these places after I had run into a kid I played hockey with. One night a few years prior, he was abducted in the middle of the night and taken away to a place like Coldwater. I ran into him a few years later and he just wasn’t the same kid. He had always been this funny, goofy, charming individual. When I saw him again, he seemed to have lost it, and it appeared was a lot worse than when he went in. I don’t know what his life is like now, but it sparked an interest for me to write a story based on this. I still had no idea what a big issue certain juvenile rehabilitation centers were. The scope came over the years of research. I didn’t want people to think we were saying all places are like this.

I was struggling with the script and couldn’t get it to where I wanted it to be, so in 2003, I brought on my writing partner, Mark Penney, and we literally did a page-one rewrite. Writing with Mark was a pleasure because we complemented each other. With us, it’s not like a writers’ room where we both sit together and talk and write together. He lives in Canada, I live in Los Angeles. We just would Skype or talk and meet occasionally, but we each took a stab at different portions and fleshed it out to what it is today.

I think aside from making an entertaining, thrilling film, we want people to talk about things opposed to jumping to conclusions. Do your due diligence before signing your child away. I’ve spoken to several people who have either attended these type of places or families who have lost loved ones — where instructors don’t really have any accountability. It’s just sad because they really have no voice or people to turn to, and they always ultimately think it’s their fault. It’s a hopeless feeling. Although “Coldwater” is a fictional story, over the years, it has gained more credibility through cases in reality.

I was really impressed by your lead, P.J. Boudousqué. He is almost a clone of Ryan Gosling, and I mean that in the best possible way. He was tremendous. His acting was strong and he really carried the movie. Can you talk a little about him as a lead?

PJ Boudousqué came out of nowhere quite frankly. He literally walked in for the audition because he lived down the street and it was his last few days in L.A. before moving to New York. I had seen his headshot on the breakdowns and thought he had a good look. But he didn’t have any resume, no experience. But when he came in, I remember feeling his presence. It was pretty extraordinary, even for me. There was definitely an instant connection to the character, and I could just feel it. He read literally two scenes out of 21 pages of sides and that was it. I was sold, I think everyone was sold. He’s getting a lot of traction from playing this role and I couldn’t be happier for the guy. He’s gonna do some damage out there.

Coldwater 1
 When you are as close to characters as you were with this film, how much are you able to balance realizing your vision of the characters with what the actor wants to do with the character? Do you find yourself changing your vision of the movie as actors make character choices, or do you default to asking them to alter things a bit?
Directors should not be dictators. It’s all about collaborating but knowing what you want. There’s nothing worse for a cast and crew than when a director doesn’t know what he wants and isn’t confident about his choices or communication. The director needs to have a grasp of it in all departments. You’re creating a world, so you need to know what the world is at a second’s notice if asked by one of your key crew members.  In all aspects of production, things evolve, problems arise, you compromise, you get new ideas, other people spring ideas on you. So when I’d sit with PJ, or any actor for that matter, I just wanted him to know that the character was his now. I wanted him to make it his own and feel comfortable turning to me for guidance. Some ideas you vocalize and throw out. Some are gold. It’s just a good process to be open to.
What was the key to the success or failure of this film? What one aspect of the film had to be right for the movie to be a complete success, and do you feel like you got that aspect right?
I lived with this movie for so long, and it was almost made several times and fell apart every time; it had worn me out. I had basically come to terms with it never getting made. And to be honest, part of me had moved past this topic as a filmmaker. I didn’t even really care to make it anymore because I was so frustrated. In hindsight, I am happy it wasn’t made back in 2002 or 2004; it would’ve been a completely different movie. It was the perfect storm this time around. I had met our executive producer at Flying Pig Productions, Joe Bilotta, in 2011. He had seen our success with my previous film, “Bellflower,” and he asked me what else I had on the horizon. I gave him the script for “Coldwater” and he said he wanted to do it. Joe has a post-production studio down in Orange County, and it was where we did most of our post. Our composers, Chris Chatham and Mark Miserocchi, would literally be in the next room over from the editor, Eddie Mikasa, and me. It was a luxury for me as a filmmaker to have access to them right there in the next room every day. We did all the songs and score out of Flying Pig. Even the opera song in the film is ours! That is the one aspect that had to be right to be a complete success. Without someone who believes in you, all you have are white pages with some black ink and a lot of noise. So thanks to Joe for stepping up and making this dream a reality. We nailed it and we have something special to show for it. We got that aspect right in my eyes.
Coldwater 2

You wore several hats on this film and have some solid indie credits on your resume in a variety of roles. Which aspect of filmmaking do you enjoy most?
I enjoy all aspects of filmmaking — directing, editing, acting, producing, sound design. I think that is why I dabble in all of it, especially on my own films. Without a doubt, I enjoy directing the most. There’s just no question. When you produce, you not only have to fall in love with the script, you have to fall in love with the filmmaker. It’s awesome when that happens, but it’s not as creatively fulfilling, in my opinion. I would only like to produce very select projects because I’d rather focus my attention solely on directing.
Are you looking to “make it” big time in Hollywood, or do you like the relative freedom of the more low-budget indies?
In terms of “making it big,” I don’t think I even know what that means. The business is changing so much that I think films in the independent world are carrying a lot more weight. People are making more movies and getting more exposure than ever. Am I against making a big-budget film with a studio? Hell, no. I would love to take on a project with a studio. But it all comes down to the script. Making “Coldwater” and “Bellflower” were two totally different experiences, and I learned a lot on both of them. I think if anything, it has prepared me for whatever else comes my way, whether it be films with a studio or independent productions. I don’t discriminate.
“Coldwater” has a very cinematic look to it. Visually speaking, your film wouldn’t look out of place if you dropped it into a multiplex. A lot of indies tend to have a less-polished look. How do you achieve that? Is it buying the right camera? Lighting? Sets? Or something else? 
It’s a combination of a lot of things to achieve the final look on a movie. The look of “Coldwater,” in terms of its cinematography, is something I talked about with our director of photography, Jayson Crothers, a lot. I didn’t want “Coldwater” to come off like one of those stripped-down indies, so from the get-go I wanted to make sure we shot it in a way that would stand on its own and, like you said, not look out of place in a multiplex. I thought the beautiful landscape and cinematography would be a nice contrast to the brutality that the characters endured there. In my opinion, though, the more that can be done in camera, as in when you’re shooting, the more money you save in post when coloring it. We were very prepared with how we wanted the movie to look. We shot on the RED EPIC with Panavision Primo Lenses. Usually with a director of photography, you get two out of the three of fast, cheap and good. Without question, I can say Jayson delivered on all of those.
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Dan Hartley, writer/director of “Lad: A Yorkshire Story” Wed, 17 Jul 2013 15:06:09 +0000 Christopher Lloyd Continue reading ]]> Dan Hartley - inside

Writer/director Dan Hartley talked to The Film Yap about making his semi-autobiographical drama, “Lad: A Yorkshire Story.” For Indy Film Fest showtimes, click here.

This film was semi-autobiographical. Can you talk about your own experiences as a youth and how they colored your making of the movie?

I had a cherished childhood in the Yorkshire Dales. Our house was the last in the village, and everywhere beyond was beautiful countryside, so naturally, I explored the hills and rivers constantly. I think this is what encouraged my imagination and lead to me fantasizing about stories and different worlds so ultimately that has fed into my work as a filmmaker. Also, because I love the countryside, I find that my approach to filmmaking inevitably leads me to making the landscape one of the characters in the film, and so, in the case of “Lad,” I actually started the process by conducting expansive location research before I’d written the script so that I could ground the story in real locations.

How did the screenplay and production come together?

Several years ago, I’d made a short film called “Love You, Joseff Hughes” and I’d discussed with my producer at the time the idea of making a feature film based on the friendship I had growing up with a park ranger named Al in the Yorkshire Dales. At the time, I didn’t really know how the story would play out, but over the years, I kept getting asked about the film and it encouraged me to start developing it further.

I had, at that time, written a short film about the relationship between two brothers growing up the in the dales, so I decided to use that as a stepping stone and then worked on building it up to tell the story of the younger brother and the park ranger. At that time, I hadn’t lived in the area for around 20 years, so I decided to start casting some of the roles that I knew existed and then workshopped and improvised with the actors to build the relationships and develop the characters. We then began shooting the film in a mostly chronological way over the course of a year and during that time, I continued developing the script and editing the film to find the most poignant story that I could tell.

Talk about casting the film and how you found the right actors.

Almost all the actors were from the area where the film is set and where I’d grown up, and they attended an open casting call advertised in local papers. Bretten Lord, the lead “lad,” was from the village I’d grown up in and several of the child actors attended the school that I’d attended. The ranger Al was a tremendous find, as he’d never acted before but decided to chance the audition and delivered an incredible performance. In fact, during the audition, I asked him to improvise a scene where he was to nurture the young lad and a great deal of what he created in that moment ended up in the final film.

I think in the casting we got very lucky, but we genuinely found that there was a lot of local talent in the area. As a director, once you’ve cast a film, well, then a good part of your work is done because so much of their performance is down to their naturalism and what they bring personally to the role. And that’s what gives the film poignancy.

You’ve got a lot of experience in various roles on a film set, but this is your first outing as a feature-film director and screenwriter. What made you believe you were ready to step behind the camera?

Although this is my first feature film, my progression has been quite slow and steady. I began making short films around 12 years ago and roughly made a short film every year. I’d also written another feature film script that I’d hoped to get financing for but later realized it was too big-budget for anyone to give me the opportunity. As with just about anything I’ve done, I didn’t really stop to consider if I was ready but just set the ball rolling and figured that time would tell. As it happened, the whole process was really quick.

We began scouting in November 2010 and had finished shooting the film a year later. That might sound like a long time, but in that time we had to write the film, cast it, fund it and I also had to take four months’ work on a different film to pay the bills. I think sometimes momentum is the greatest attribute you can hope for because once you get a project off the ground, so many people are there to help you make it and it’s this collaboration that ultimately brings the goods.

The chemistry between Alan Gibson and Bretton Lord is so naturalistic. I was astonished to learn neither had acted on film before. How did you direct them to get such organic performances?

The trick with good acting is good casting, and what I saw in their initial auditions is what you ultimately see on screen. The fact is they’re both incredibly naturalistic actors. So my job wasn’t to give them anything; rather, it was to make sure that nothing impeded them.

I did have to introduce technique and film set etiquette in such a way that it didn’t make them self-conscious. I think most of this was done by taking the time to explain what was happening and also by having a small friendly crew with whom the actors felt comfortable. Another piece of luck, though, was that Bretten and Al were essentially neighbors, so they would come to work together. I encouraged them to spend a lot of time in each other’s company becoming real-life friends. That sort of chemistry translates very well on screen.

Tone is one of the hardest things to get right as a filmmaker. “Lad” seems to find the sweet spot — heartfelt and probing without getting maudlin. How did you “earn” those tender moments, especially toward the end?

I’d would agree that tone is so crucial to this film. I mentioned earlier a short film I made called “Love You, Joseff Hughes,” and that really was an introduction to this type of story. So I had some experience of how the tone should feel. In the case of “Joseff,” the film is perhaps a little too whimsical, so I was careful not to make that mistake again.

What I ultimately wanted to strive for is what I think the UK can do very well, which is to incorporate character humor into drama. That was a constant challenge, as I had to make sure that these didn’t lessen the gravity of a film that is principally about mourning. It’s the humor, however, that draws you into the characters and makes you will them to succeed. I felt very strongly that we should try and incorporate as much as the film could take, and I think this is what ultimately makes the film heartfelt.

What’s up next for you?

I’ve currently got two projects that I’m developing. One is a thriller set in Alaska about an amnesiac filmmaker trying to track down his missing family, and another is a sci-fi/dystopian film set in London about surveillance culture. Both are rather different from “Lad,” and that’s because I’m drawn to story first as opposed to genre.

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“Medora” co-director Andrew Cohn Wed, 17 Jul 2013 13:45:21 +0000 Christopher Lloyd Continue reading ]]> Medora filmmakers - inside

Andrew Cohn, co-director of the documentary “Medora,” about a small-town Indiana high school basketball team, talks about the making the film along with Davy Rothbart. For Indy Film Fest showtimes, click here.

The Film Yap: Are either of you Hoosiers (born or raised in Indiana)? What drew you to the story of the Medora High School basketball team?

Cohn: We were both born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but both of my parents are from Indiana originally and went to Indiana University. My mom is actually from a town smaller than Medora, outside Lafayette. I spent a lot of time in Indiana with family as a kid, and my mother lives in Indianapolis now. The story of Medora was a very personal story, but also a universal story about underdogs, the value of small-town America and the small victories in life. As lifelong friends, documentary junkies and basketball fanatics, the story of Medora was a film we felt we were born to make.

Tell me about the process of getting the school and community to agree to shoot a documentary about them, and getting them to open up and invest with you.

Cohn: It was a process, for sure. It took us more than a year to convince the school to let us film. Once we were there, it took some kids longer to open up than others. Some were very inviting while others were more hesitant. But if you keep showing up, which we did, and show a genuine interest in people, eventually they get to know you and will open up. We were very fortunate to have great access. The players and their families were so gracious about opening up their lives to us, and that trust is very important with a project like this. I think that trust and openness really comes across in the film, as we were able to catch some very personal moments on camera.

What was it like to follow a tiny high school team for an entire season? Did you live in Medora or find yourself becoming part of the community?

Cohn: We all lived in a small motel in Seymour, about 20 minutes outside Medora for almost eight months. Typically, we would shoot seven days a week, 10 to 15 hours a day. Myself, Davy, Rachael Counce (our director of photography) and a few others were basically in and around Medora everyday.

The town’s population is only about 500, so eventually you begin to recognize just about everyone. We weren’t shy about filming, so we would often be walking around filming, interviewing families or townspeople and really becoming a part of the town. We shot practices, games, interviews and most importantly, just time at home with the kids. As a documentary filmmaker, you really need to capture things happening in real time, and you can only get that by being there and filming constantly. We ended up with more than 600 hours of footage, which had to be edited down to an hour-and-a-half, which is quite a challenge.

The film has a very polished and professional look, which you don’t always get with documentary films. Talk about your funding and production process, the type of cameras and crews you used, etc.

Cohn: Rachael Counce, our DP, did a tremendous job. We funded the filming of the movie ourselves entirely, so we had to make the most with what we had. Early on, she made some really smart decisions. She found a cheap dolly with which to shoot the basketball scenes. This enabled her to get those wonderful rolling/dolly shots you see throughout the movie. Another small but smart move was that she decided to film all the kids’ interviews at their homes. This made them more comfortable and gave the film a very casual feel, as if you we just hanging out and talking with them in their rooms. She used minimal lighting and an HVX camera to give it a “real” look as opposed to a more stylized look. In the end, they were the right calls to make.

Eventually, when we got back to NYC, we got Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci on oard, and we raised some money on Kickstarter to fund the editing process. We also ended up having a production company come on to invest and partner with us on the film. Beachside Films, who has a great track record including “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Safety Not Guaranteed” and others, really gave us the resources to get the film over the top. They were a great company to work with, and the film wouldn’t be what it it today without them and our wonderful producer Rachel Dengiz’s support.

The movie more or less concentrates on four of the team members. Was it obvious at the start of filming that they would be your focus, or was it something that emerged as time went on?

Cohn: Sometimes you know right away. Robby and Chaz, for instance, I immediately knew they could drive a film because of their personalities. Honestly, all the kids on the team had wonderful stories, but we wanted storylines that related to the overall themes in the film. One player we followed quite closely, Derek, didn’t make it into the film; but his story was just as compelling as any other. As we learned more about Dylan’s and Rusty’s stories, we knew they were going to be a focus of the film, so it was a process. Many of the secondary characters revealed themselves in the editing room.

What’s your takeaway impression after making this documentary? Any thoughts about any of the young men and what their future holds? Or about the consolidation of schools in Indiana? The future of Medora, as a team and a town?

Cohn: We keep in touch with all the kids, and that’s really the most rewarding part of this. They’re such great kids, and getting to know them and their families has been such a joy. I hope the school will stay open, as I think there is a value to small towns like Medora.

I’m not sure what the future holds, though, and there are no easy answers. In some ways, the film is a glimpse at a way of life that seems to be disappearing. It’s similar to that last moment you’re with a grandparent before they pass away. They may be sick and old, but for a moment they look at you and you remember them as they once were — beautiful, strong and happy.

You probably get asked this a lot, but obviously one of the greatest documentary films in modern memory is “Hoop Dreams.” Did that movie influence or inform you at all before, during or after production?

Cohn: “Hoop Dreams” is probably our favorite documentary of all time. We were influenced by a number of films: “Murderball,” “Gummo,” Marshall Curry’s films and so many others. Ultimately, no two docs are alike, and we had to find out what the story of Medora was on our own. We just feel fortunate to have had such a great crew, the support of a wonderful production company and producers and the willingness and courage of these kids to trust us to tell their stories. It’s a process I will never forget.

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Nikki Braendlin, “As High as the Sky” Wed, 17 Jul 2013 13:07:34 +0000 Christopher Lloyd Continue reading ]]> Nikki Braendlin - inside

Nikki Braendlin talked with The Film Yap about her debut as a feature film writer/director with “As High as the Sky.” For Indy Film Fest showtimes, click here.

The Film Yap: How did you come up with the concept for this film, which I believe is your first feature as a writer/director?

This was a different writing process than my other scripts because I had the location (Caroline’s house), the two actresses (Caroline and Bonnie McNeil) and a ballpark of a budget and needed to create something around those elements.

I used to work in a group home for girls and they were forced to confront every emotion, every memory. I was interested in exploring a character who has been raised with the opposite thought process, to never address anything traumatic. Having struggled with OCD myself, I understand it well and felt that it was something with which this character could definitely be grappling. The minimalist nature of the house (Caroline’s actual home) lent to this decision.

What past experiences or advice guided you in directing this film?

I studied acting at Stella Adler in Los Angeles and began directing theater while I was there. I knew I would be comfortable working with the actors but, having never attended film school, I was less certain about the technical aspects. Basically, I self-studied a lot the year before we shot the film!

Obviously, this movie is very dependent on the success of the three main characters and the women who played them. Talk about the process of casting them.

I chose to self-fund the film so that I could maintain creative control. Caroline and Bonnie are both friends of mine and, I think, really strong, interesting actresses. I wanted them to have a chance to be leads in a film and I wanted, as a first-time film director, to work with actors with whom I felt comfortable. I created the characters for them and then we cast for Hannah. I saw about 50 to 60 young girls for the role as I was still figuring out what age I thought Hannah should be. I decided on 10 because I felt she would still be young enough where she needed a mother figure but old enough to really understand what was happening and how to process it. Laurel Porter was just fantastic in the first audition and subsequent callbacks. She connected well with Bonnie, and we were thrilled to find her.

Caroline Fogarty faced a tough balance in making her character seem alienated but not off-putting. How did you two collaborate to maintain such a difficult tone?

Fortunately, Caroline is very charismatic in person, and I think that helps draw the audience to her. In addition, we talked a lot about her backstory and how this is a person who is more pained than angry, someone who has been through very traumatic events. In a way, Margaret is childlike in her ability to process emotions or really evaluate situations. I think Caroline did a great job of having that underlying innocence come through at the right moments.

Laurel Porter is just terrific as Hannah. Had you worked with child actors before, and what sort of direction did you give her?

I’ve been joking that I still don’t feel like I’ve worked with a child actor because Laurel is more mature than I am! She brought that perfect mix of self-possession and playfulness to the role. We talked a lot about her character during rehearsals so once we were on set, it was more about trying different intentions within the scenes. Laurel was open about her life (as she put it, she was 11 so she “didn’t have any secrets”), which was helpful for me, especially during the more dramatic scenes because I knew what she was drawing from and could help her relate the character to her own experiences.

This is a film in which production design was very important. Tell me about finding and staging Maggie’s home to give it that antiseptic look.

I always love this question because … we didn’t do anything! I made two paintings to go on the walls and bought a rug. The rest is how the house always looks. I wrote the script knowing we were shooting there, so I tried to make it one of the characters, or at the least, have it help define Margaret.

One of the things that was most refreshing about “As High As the Sky” is that these three females exist as distinct individuals with inner lives rather than being defined by their romantic relationships. Do you face any pressure or temptation to throw in a love interest for any of them?

Because I self-funded, I didn’t have to answer to anyone, which was wonderful. Matthew’s recent departure is obviously a catalyst for Margaret’s exacerbated symptoms, but I didn’t want him involved past that. I felt this was more a story about sisters and family and reconciling their pasts.

What’s next for you?

My producer and friend Lena Bubenechik and I are in development on our next film, “The Great Steed.” It’s a script I wrote about a man in a midlife crisis who has to confront it when he’s forced to take care of a 13-year-old girl. We are in the process of attaching an actor for the lead role and then we’ll start securing the financing.

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Euphonia Wed, 17 Jul 2013 04:59:54 +0000 Christopher Lloyd Continue reading ]]> Euphonia - inside

For Indy Film Fest showtimes, click here.

A clever and skillfully made film, “Euphonia” is a movie that at first feels formless and experimental but gradually gains narrative shape and heft as it goes on. Danny Madden wrote, directed and edited the picture, as well as leading the intricate sound design.

A number of other Maddens took part, including Will Madden as the never-named main character. A non-descript high school teen, he schleps from home to school to work at a big-box store without much enthusiasm or purpose.

One day on a whim, he buys a high-quality digital sound recorder from the store where he works and begins playing around with it. He and a buddy go into the city for a night, and he has fun recording the music and commotion of the urban landscape. Feet slapping against payment, a street poet unspooling his prose on a grimy corner, discordant mechanical plonks — he’s fascinated by it all and records it all.

Soon, the protagonist is taping virtually everything in his daily life. His friends find it a bit odd but go along. The boy, who parcels out his words ungenerously, only responds to their puzzled queries by saying the recorder is a prop that “helps me remember.”

One female pal (Maria Decotis) chastises him for offering to play the recording of his breakup with his girlfriend — though she does so playfully, as she is clearly gearing up to be the replacement.

The overlapping sounds are beautiful and eerie, and at first we think this is just going to be a technically impressive jaunt marrying the boy’s visual journey to the auditory one in his head. But then strange things to start to happen. He finds he can manipulate what he hears, just as if pressing buttons on his device — for example, dubbing over a boring teacher’s lecture with a George Carlin comedy skit he previously taped.

Things get deeper, and grimmer, as his hobby turns into obsession and eventually a prison.

At a little under an hour in length, “Euphonia” is more a concept film than a true feature. It has a novel idea and then takes it as far as it can reasonably go. But this is the sort of sly, witty filmmaking that gets a young crafter noticed. Remember the name Danny Madden, and keep listening.

4 Yaps

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