Sundance and Slamdance #8 – The Lost Interviews

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on March 2, 2010

Following are a few interviews that I wasn’t able to complete in time to include with my other coverage during Sundance and Slamdance.

First up is Emma Bell, who along with Shawn Ashmore and Kevin Zegers, stars in Adam Green’s chiller, FROZEN. I really liked the film – thought it was a straight-up tension and suspense-fest and aside from Adam Green’s leap forward as a writer/director on the project, he chose wisely (as they say) with the casting of that threesome.

After making the film, are you now permanently a “warm weather person”?

Emma: Absolutely. I told the producers the next film they want me to do has to be in Hawaii.


Seeing as how FROZEN was actually filmed in the mountains and not on a sound stage, how much did your snowboarding or skiing skills improve over the course of the shoot?

Emma: I went from atrocious to awful! I had never done either before and had about a two hour training session. My incompetence is pretty apparent in the film. I hope it at least makes people laugh.

Between you, Kevin Zegers, and Shawn Ashmore, who was the “iron man or woman” and who had to come down off the chairlift for more pee breaks? Or was it actually Adam Green?

Emma: Shawn had a few brutal days in a harness, so maybe him. And there were no pee breaks. We all held it, including Adam!

You’ve been a TV force to be reckoned with over the past couple of years (“Dollhouse”, “Ghost Whisperer”, “Law & Order”). Any difference in approach as an actress in doing episodic TV versus a feature film?

Emma: Wow, thank you. I don’t know about being a “force” in TV, but I have been very lucky over the years. Episodic TV is interesting because if you come on to a pre-existing show, like all of the above mentioned, there are already relationships developed between people, and a lot of times you are only coming on for one or two episodes. So it can be challenging to connect and for me, therefore, more of a challenge to create a character. When you are a lead on a film, you become part of that family from the get-go, and in my experience, have a say in the over-all creation of the film and character you are portraying. Acting in both forms are pretty amazing experiences though.

I also asked her what was scarier, wolves or sharks, but she didn’t answer that one – possibly still traumatized from the shoot more than a year later. I didn’t ask but my guess is that the publicists decided they would omit that question so we wouldn’t know the movie has wolves in it. But I do know the movie has wolves in it. So, there. If you didn’t know before you do now. And they’re scary. So go see the movie and see the scary mystery wolves already.

Next up are the two directors of the Slamdance comedy DRONES. I enjoyed the film quite a bit and was curious about the directing dynamic between Amber Benson and Adam Busch. They seemed to have distinct personality differences during the Q&A following the film and I’m always curious as how that stuff shakes out and settles in on the set and in the editing suite.

You both have been acting for quite sometime and Amber has directed solo a few times, so why team up on this particular project at this particular time?

Amber: We had been working on a couple of music videos together (for David Garland and Sufjan Stevens) and really enjoyed collaborating. When DRONES came along, we felt it would be the perfect feature to co-direct together. We felt our disparate strengths would lend well to the very specific tone that the story needed in order to be told correctly.

Adam: Amber had a very specific vision of how the thing should look and I felt very strongly about what kind of cast we would need and how the comedy should play out. Jordan Kessler had seen the mopey lil’ music videos Amber and I had done. He felt if we could apply the sadness and somber tone of our music videos to Acker & Blacker’s script the story would come alive.

During the Q&A at the Slamdance screening I saw, you described a pretty clear separation in directing responsibilities. Can you repeat that here and explain how it turned out to be that way?

Amber: I love working with the crew, drawing storyboards, framing shots and bossing our DP, David McFarland, around. Adam is an ace at directing actors. He casts really well, knows what approach best suits each individual actor and works really hard to create a safe environment so the actors feel free to experiment without judgment. I think our two styles intermesh really well together – and when you’re shooting a film in 14 days, two heads are always better than one.

Adam: We wanted to make it clear that “aliens” could be anything or anyone “different”. Anything that would keep people apart. Whether it’s religion or sexual preference or ethnicity. Saying “I love you but my parents don’t approve of you” is the same as saying, “I love you but I’m going to destroy your planet.” It feels the same when you’re on the receiving end.

There is a madcap arch tone to the film that pretty much flaunts its ridiculousness for the audience. Is it more or less difficult to do something with that kind of high style?

Amber: Creating the highly stylized world of DRONES was a true collaboration between Adam, me and the entire cast and crew. We used costume, acting style and a muted-color scheme in the production design to begin creating the world then our DP incorporated the same theme into the visuals via the lighting design and shot composition. We chose to do a lot of moving masters reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s rather than relying on heavy coverage, giving the film more of a timeless quality. In the edit process we focused on performance and letting the drama/comedy within the dialogue play out in its own time.

Adam: The dialogue is very clever and I think it’s important that none of the characters acknowledge that in any way. Sometimes when people work together or are in a small space for a long period of time speech patterns develop. Cadences and songs and nicknames become part of your vernacular and you can’t place how they started or when. I think you’ll find unique little sub cultures in offices and factories all over the world.

Was there a particular actor that brought something to their part that either of you hadn’t really planned on, but were thrilled to incorporate (and then take credit for after it was all said and done)?

Amber: Unlike most of the other actors, Tangi Miller had never worked with the writers, Acker & Blacker, before, so she had no idea what she was getting into. They have a very stylized way of writing dialogue that can be difficult for an actor to wrap his/her head around. I’ve seen it throw even the most accomplished of actors. But Tangi came in and just brought a real humanness to the role of ‘Miryam’, something that was a real achievement, in my mind, because that character had the propensity to become a caricature if it had not been handled correctly.

Adam: Marc Evan Jackson felt the most comfortable improvising. He knows how to make an entrance and exit. He knows how to stay memorable. He is a true comedy star in the classic sense. I remember hearing how in scripts for “The Carol Burnett Show” it would just say, “Tim Conway does something funny.” Then he would. That’s how Marc Evan Jackson operates.

Okay, look in the mirror and be honest here: Who would manage better if directed by the other on a future project? And who would be the bigger on-set diva?

Amber: Adam takes direction better than I do, so he’d probably easier to direct. As far as divas go, I think we both just love being on sets so much that we err too much on the humble side of the spectrum. We just love what we’re doing and are happy to have the opportunity to do it.

Adam: Amber’s right. I handle the process of receiving direction better than her but she can deliver what the director wants with a deliberateness that can only be described as athletic. She has a much better batting average than I do.

Suck ups. But they make a great team (going by what they pulled off with DRONES), and I would easily be coerced into the theater to watch their next one. As well as encourage anyone that enjoys the silly and won’t get hung up on budget issues to seek it out.

Next are some questions I sent to Laura Silverman, who starred in CUMMINGS FARM which also screened at Slamdance. I wasn’t the greatest fan of the film but really liked what Laura did. She gave a very nice performance of the kind of character that usually gets a few joke lines written at their expense during a sit-com – the non-ambitious, maybe not-so-bright young mom. And she actually made that person real and sympathetic.

How did you become involved with the project?

Laura: My manager called me with the offer. It was at the slowest time of the year and I was going crazy not working, so I pretty much said “yes” based on getting to go to Louisiana for a couple weeks and have some kind of new experience with new people. Then, I looked at the script and got really excited- I just don’t expect things to be great like that.  Oh- and, of course, the money.  I framed it, actually- it’s adorable!

Did your perception of what it would be like to participate in an orgy change due to working on CUMMINGS FARM?

Laura: No, not really.  I mean, I didn’t even try to understand wanting to do that, I just have a hard time believing that that could be a good time. I mean, sex for me is about a person- someone with whom you know you have at least above average chemistry- maybe a little light spanking if you want to go nuts. But any kind of group sex- swinging parties, whatever, I just don’t get the appeal. To me it’s just a lot of spit and strange skin and unpredictable smells made by glands and things. I mean, we’re people- we’re pretty gross- so it takes having that rare thing where you just aren’t at all icky to each other for it to really be enjoyable.

What would be more frightening to you personally: Being a mother or being in an orgy?

Laura: I think being a mother would be great- but, I mean, if either were to go horribly wrong, you’d want it to be the one that was over in one night and that you could be super high for- you know, and not have people look down upon you for it.  Being the orgy baby sitter would be a nice compromise, I guess.

Was there a fair amount of improvisation involved or was everything pretty much in the script?

Laura: It’s pretty much all scripted. A couple things were improvised and you can sort of tell what they are- the part where I say all the things that are wrong with me, and this little bit- kind of in the background where I’m all high and yammering about high school chorus… I liked that when I saw it, I forgot about doing it and I was glad they put it in- just kind of makes me laugh. People are so boring when they’re high!

Before filming, did you know how to make a proper mojito?

Laura: Neither before or after. I know there’s rum in there, and mint. I learned that at catechism.

I’ll just say here that not many things make me happier when someone turns out to be as fun and delightful or at the very least possessing a personality in person or in print as they were onscreen or via their directing. So, thank you Laura Silverman. Whew.

Because sometimes it can go horribly wrong and you ask these questions and you think to yourself, “Did your Amish Mom answer these for you? Or do you just have the latest in self-serious technology at your disposal to suck the very life out of me as I read your answers?”

At least that’s what I do.

However, in this last little interview. Not a problem. AT ALL. Clark and Cassidy Freeman are a brother and sister team that have so much personality that for years they were banished to the wide open spaces of Montana because heavily populated urban centers couldn’t handle them. At least not together. So they were Executive Producers and in the cast of a cool little F-with-your-brain-fest called YELLOWBRICKROAD, that also played at Slamdance (because apparently all the cool kids were there this year). Anyway, I tried to adopt these two years ago in a maneuver very similar to what those Idaho people tried to scam on Haiti. Same result, save for me skirting the whole incarceration thing…..

Knowing your mutual sordid pasts with The Sight Unseen Theatre Company, and knowing how YELLOWBRICKROAD easily falls within the style and themes frequently explored in the stage productions that company has been responsible for, what were your first impressions when the idea for the story was presented to each of you.
Cassidy: I’ve been acting Andy’s words since my first show at Middlebury College when I was 18. And before then, I’d gone to visit Middlebury to see Clark in shows Andy had written. I’ve always been enamored by his writing and maybe more so, by his storytelling. When he and Jesse teamed up, it was like yin and yang. I loved the influence that they gave/continue to give each other and when I first read the script, I was very impressed. It was a screenplay that didn’t really read like your normal screenplay. I didn’t immediately think about the brother/ sister team, but once it was discussed, I was really excited to be able to work with Clark. It’s not often that siblings love each other because they have to AND because they want to. All three of us are close, and I will always jump at an opportunity to work with Clark or (my brother) Crispin. The fact that everyone else connected to the project thus far were artists that I had worked with before and respected immensely was even more icing on the cake.

Clark: Well, it’s true that Andy, Jesse and I have been working together for quite some time. Andy and I actually founded The Sight Unseen Theatre Group, so needless to say, as a writer/director, I like his style. I had read a bunch of the earlier drafts of YELLOWBRICKROAD, and was just excited to give my input and thoughts as a friend. It wasn’t until a year and a half into the script process before we even started thinking about Cass and I playing ‘Daryl’ and ‘Erin.’ At that point, I had fallen so in love with the script, and Andy and Jesse’s ability to be open to every and all ideas without losing their sense of story-telling or aesthetic, that I was nothing but excited. They have an amazing talent at taking two disparate ideas (woods and 30s music), tying them together, and making a whole so much greater than it’s parts.

You mentioned during the Q&A at the Slamdance premiere that it was the first time the two of you had co-starred in a production together since a school mounting of “The Wizard of Oz”. What did you each play in that production? And how much did you draw upon that experience for this one?
Cassidy: Clark was the cat’s meow his senior year in high school, and so he was The Illustrious Wizard…though I thought he could have played the lion, too. He has a great singing voice. I was the Munchkin Lawyer. I was also in 5th grade. I bet you didn’t remember that there was a Munchkin Lawyer…I didn’t either. But I played it with gusto. I don’t think that the role of ‘Erin’ had much to do with Munchkin lawyers, but I did realize that my bro has my back, no matter what. It’s a blessing to be able to share this kind of stuff with a sibling.

Clark: It’s crazy how things come full circle, isn’t it? In that production I played the Wizard, and Cass played the Munchkin Lawyer. She was tall even when she was young, so they definitely had to put her on a stool to roll around with on stage. I was also definitely probably one of the largest Wizards that that show has ever seen. . .I kinda wanted to be the Lion, to be completely honest. I wouldn’t say I drew upon that production for the movie. I think we were just lucky enough to be so close in real life that we have a wealth of experiences to draw on together, and also professional enough that, during tougher scenes, we didn’t bring any of that animosity home. Honestly, it was a dream experience for me.

You both share executive producer credits as well as being co-stars in the film. What exactly did you do as executive producers beyond writing a check? And, had you not written those checks, do you believe the film would have been made?
Cassidy: Before this, I hadn’t had much experience producing things, except as Clark’s wingman. And it was something that I was pretty excited about doing.  The part I think I liked the most was being a bit of a den mother, and making sure that people were being heard and that all sides of the production communicated well. I’m still learning how to do this, and I hope I get more chances. I believe this movie would have been made with or without me, I’m just glad I get to be a part of it.

Clark: Executive Producer is one of those credits that can mean a variety of things. In this case, I’d say, our investment in the picture was probably the most mundane thing. Like I said before, Cass and I were tapped by Andy and Jesse early in the process as trusted friends to read many of the iterations of the script, and give thoughts and notes. I got to watch them work out each draft, and we even got to do a reading of it up in Vancouver, all together. Having produced a bunch of other short films and theatre with them, I’d say at the beginning I was much more another producer than an “executive”. Once we got to set, Cass really stepped it up as a producer as well. Andy and Jesse had such a strong drive and clear intent in making this movie that it would have been made with or without us. I just consider myself lucky to have been a part of it.

What was more irritating or the set, bickering between your co-directors, Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland? Or the black flies?
Cassidy: Black flies for sure. But MORE irritating was the corn syrup blood PLUS black flies. Ewwww!

Clark: This question is easy. The black flies. Andy and Jesse shared a brain for the entire process. There was no bickering.

What is your favorite horror film?
Cassidy: Probably THE SHINING. Horror films really scare me though. Clark taught me this great trick where when a scary scene comes on, you don’t close your eyes…you cover your ears. The scariest part is the sound. I’ll tell you what is NOT my favorite horror film…all those Chucky movies. Gave me nightmares for years. No dolls for this girl’s birthdays.

Clark: Ooohhh. I have to throw ALIEN in there, but that’s not your average horror movie. THE EXORCIST is fairly quintessential, but I also have to say THE SHINING. That’s three. Deal with it.

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The Complete Sundance/Slamdance Reports #3 – “Brian, you’re project manager. You’re saving the earth.”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 22, 2010

Sundance/Slamdance – Day #3

Sometimes, in the spirit of “things happen,” a day here will take on its own theme. You miss one screening and have to duck into another one, you run into someone at a party or on Main Street and they steer you in another direction, and so on.

As it happened, today turned out to be Slamdance Day. It began as I watched a screener of the comedy, CUMMINGS FARM. Because, let’s face it, what better way is there to start your morning than by watching a movie about an orgy.

CUMMINGS FARM

Andrew Drazek’s CUMMINGS FARM is supposed to be a dark comedy fueled by one awkward situation piled upon an embarrassing revelation after another awkward situation. Supposed to be. The story of three troubled couples prepping for and trying to take part in an orgy is labored at best. The film wants to give us characters that are barely able to coexist in their own relationships let alone play well with others, but it strains to leave not a single stone unturned when it comes to ladling on the dysfunctional.

And for a film that seems to pride itself on defying expectations, there is A LOT of convenience on the scene. The guys are the ones saddled with all the issues: One couple is dealing with HIS alcoholism, another couple has lost the relationship’s spark due to HIS relentless nebbish ness, and the host couple is plagued by HIS borderline sociopathic behavior. Characters condemn one another or give each other more allowance than elite Hollywood gives Roman Polanski depending on what’s necessary to move along a plot point. But wait, there’s more: conveniently, the members of each couple have focused their desires on a single member of one of the other couples and not one of them has designs on the same person. Great! Glad no one has to choose straws.

Now to give credit where credit is due, the cast is not filled with GOSSIP GIRL or THE NEW MELROSE PLACE types. These aren’t Ready For US Magazine tabloid pretty people. I mean, I’m not saying they’re not attractive enough to be allowed to procreate and stuff by a jury of their peers. I’m just saying they’re “real”. And did I mention the part about the black drug dealer coming to crash the party with dreams of horny white women primed for the taking? And there’s ecstasy! Because people are hilarious when they’ve had the ecstasy!

CUMMINGS FARM does have its moments and I enjoyed Laura Silverman’s performance as the accepting and submissive mom hosting the orgy and blithely supporting her bizarro husband. Ultimately, though, it struck me as something that likely plays as roll-on-the-floor funny to the people involved in the production yet doesn’t translate easily to the general public.

SLAMDANCE FEVER: Great Slamdance movie. It’s “outrageous” and edgy and done on the cheap.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: No.

Next up was a trip to the Treasure Mountain Inn to see DRONES. I’ll state right now that I LOVE Slamdance. I love the idea of it and love the reality of it. First time I did the Sundance thing ten years ago; Slamdance was actually the place that I immediately felt  “okay” at. Like I could walk around the premises unescorted (if you know what I mean). The first screening I saw there had issues with the projector forcing us to watch a photo negative of the film for a good 30 minutes – and no one walked. It made it that much more weird and fun.

There is an enforced simplicity and rejection of the formal that just puts you at ease and prepares you for the films you’re about to see. And you forgive the fact they still haven’t conquered that air conditioning issue.

So, the fun bonus was that the film’s publicist sat me down next to animation legend Bill Plympton. And after chatting him up and talking about past film festivals, we got started. My first thought was that Slamdance wins the trailer contest by a landslide with its “Sweet 16” spot. A feverish Latina teen literally dancing an animatronics bird out of its egg/shell almost dares the film following to step up its game.

HORSEFINGERS 2: BUT I AM THE TIGER

Kirsten Kearse’s HORSEFINGERS 2: BUT I AM THE TIGER is the second in a trilogy of HORSEFINGERS films, following last year’s HORSEFINGERS 3: STARF***ER. This one is a silent trip following the “life cycle” of the mythical Horsefingers (which is Kearse with two large hooves instead of hands. We follow Horsefingers as she goes on some sort of treasure hunt through the woods, the treasure apparently being a nice pantsuit and a cup of coffee. Then she finds her way to the city and an office and naturally a lot of secretarial work ensues and an instant pregnancy, until she returns to the woods, gives birth and the whole thing starts again.

It is kind of cute, somewhat inventive, and quirky to a T. And I would’ve been fine with it all had she not insisted (twice) during the brief Q&A afterwards that she couldn’t hold the mike because of her “horsefingers”. And no she wasn’t wearing the hooves. And yes, it was irritating. The cutesy, quirky routine quickly dissipated any goodwill I had for the film.

DRONES

Directed by Adam Busch and Amber Benson, DRONES is comedy with equal parts silly and droll mixed up in a story about an office worker, ‘Brian’ who is happily whistling his life away in a cubicle when the discovery that his best friend, ‘Clark’ is an alien followed by the discovery that his office girlfriend, ‘Amy’ is also an alien throws his life – which is his work routine – into chaos.

To say that everyone takes everyone else’s (literally) out-of-this world revelations in stride would be to state the obvious. Actually, make that beyond obvious. Brian deals with the plans their respective planets have for our planet like most people would deal with changing dinner plans. That is until things with Amy hit a snag (and let’s just say that negotiation would be tough enough without bringing potential interplanetary war to the table).

DRONES is the kind of arch comedy where characters speak in strange cadences, behave strangely with casual nonchalance and have as much concern about the reality they’re presenting as a high school play would. Because it’s just for fun. And if you’re asking for more, then maybe you’re having a low sugar moment. Top-to-bottom, the cast is game for all of it. Jonathan M. Woodward, Samm Levine and Angela Bettis are solid as Brian, Clark and Amy. And if James Urbaniak (their boss who has more natural “alien” to him than the real thing – according to this movie) isn’t “money-in-the-bank” then no one gets to claim that compliment. Few actors can deliver the line, “Brian, you’re project manager. You’re saving the earth.” with the style and aplomb that guy can.

SLAMDANCE FEVER: Again – fun. And sitting in the conference rooms made into makeshift screening rooms, no one begrudges and slight production design limitations.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: I don’t think so. Which is too bad. Cable could give it a lot of play though.

For the next screening, I found myself sitting next to the sister of the director of the short film preceding the feature. Which meant that she was also a production member and the head of his street team. Because that’s how you do things in Sundance/Slamdance land. Family IS staff. I think it’s a law in Park City or something. She tells me his name is S. Vollie Osborn, but his real name is Sam. He’s just highlighting the Vollie (his middle name) because that adds to the coolness factor. Okay, we can dance with that.

Again, I LOVE the “Sweet 16” trailer.

MONSTERS DOWN THE HALL

S. Vollie Osborn’s short film, MONSTERS DOWN THE HALL is a creepy, scary exercise in perception. A little black boy lives in squalor with his heroin addict white mother. And in his world, the hallway becomes a frightening path to a forbidden door his mother tells him never to enter.

Which means, of course, after he draws a picture of a monster next to his “ABC’s”, that’s exactly what we must do. And that little trip down horror lane doesn’t disappoint with scary imps and monsters and horrific images take us where you’re supposed to take us when your title says there is a monster down the hall.

The connection made between mom’s heroin use and the visions of madness aren’t groundbreaking but that gooey-scary imagery is well done.

Not a bad lead in to set the table for the feature-length scary.

YELLOWBRICKROAD

Directed by Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland, YELLOWBRICKROAD follows the descent into the unknown and a special kind of hell a small group of book researchers and map specialists undertake as they seek to solve a decades old mystery as to what happened to an entire town’s population that left all of their belongings behind and ultimately their lost their lives as they hiked up a trail into the wilderness.

Sounds like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT? Of course, it does. Send some people into the woods without backup, and with a not-so-healthy lack of respect or fear for the potential of evil. To their credit, we are spared the shaky cam video “real” footage. This is a movie movie. So there’s that. And that IS appreciated, to be sure.

The roster is made up of a married researcher, their psychologist friend, a brother/sister map team, a forestry ranger guy, an intern and a local gal that knows some history. Things start predictably enough after some initial hurdles. The coordinates they’re given for the trail deliver them to the doorstep of a spooky old theatre house, but before they all can turn around and ditch the project, the girl behind the counter agrees to take them to the real start of the trail if she can go along with them.

The slow burn or build that follows establishes the personalities via the psychologist’s “brain test” video interviews (you know, so we’ll know when they’re going crazy later) and their prep time bonding moments as well. That is until 30’s music starts coming from somewhere within the woods. Then, it starts getting interesting. And the horror ensues.

At the interest of not spoiling things, I don’t want to offer more details than that. So – the central question is, of course, is the film scary. The simple answer would be, “Yes, it is.” But just as I believe that the funny has many styles and shades that need to be specified, horror also needs to properly characterized. And simply, this isn’t a “monster” movie, and it’s not a “slasher” movie, it’s more ambitious than that. Mitton and Holland are aiming for the horror that potentially lies within everyone’s cerebral cortex. They don’t want to just scare you, they want you to think and ponder and ruminate on the horror of it all. They don’t completely get there and arguably, the fate of the various victims can get repetitive, but if you care about having some horror film choices that don’t start with the word “saw” or are retooled versions of a handful of 80s franchise baddies then you’ll give this one a shot.

SLAMDANCE FEVER: Ambition. Scares. Films without easy conclusions, but with scenes that people can talk about and a theme that people can argue about in the lounge. This is what they come to Slamdance for.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Not really. A Syfy channel staple potentially. Although they’d have to provide enough space between Syfy’s CGI giant mosquito movie or Raptor Family movie and this film. You’ll probably have to look for it in the DVD horror/genre section.