The SXSW Film Festival is over and like always, it has produced new ‘ones to watch’. Joining us today to talk about their film, Miramax favorites and other semi-related tidbits, are the very lovely and talented emerging filmmakers behind the SXSW Narrative Feature Grand Jury Winner, Fort Tilden, Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers.
Fort Tilden: New York City’s secluded seaside nirvana where, like flies to honey, Brooklyn’s hip millennial set flocks on sweltering weekend afternoons for unbridled summertime indulgence. Amidst the vexing stagnation of quarter-life crises, Allie (Clare McNulty) struggles to prepare for the Peace Corps, while Harper (Bridey Elliot) awaits checks from her father to fund her artistic dreams. But the two friends quickly shun responsibilities for the day when a pair of good-looking guys invites them along for a carefree Fort Tilden afternoon. As the two young women board their fixed-gear bicycles and embark on a lengthy journey to the beach, they quickly realize that, akin to their confusing, transitioning lives, they neither know where they’re going nor how they plan to get there.
Congrats on your film Fort Tilden winning the Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize at this year’s SXSW Film Festival! Being you are both the writers and directors of the film, please tell us how it all come to fruition, including working together.
Thank you! It all started on a magical Spring day when we were standing on some large rocks in the East River, looking out at the Manhattan skyline, and honoring the city’s legacy of creative energy, like people do.
We were kicking around ideas for a web series with our soon-to-be-Director of Photography, Brian Lannin, when we thought of a very simple premise for one episode- two naive hipster girls who are just trying to get to the beach. We immediately connected to the idea and all of the places that we could take it. Minutes later, still standing on those rocks, we decided that we had to make this into a feature film and we had to make it by the end of the summer.
The directing process was much like the writing process- everything was a very conversational and collaborative experience. Considering how quickly we had to move, we followed our instincts with little time to ever reconsider our choices. It was hectic, but it made sense at the time.
With a celebrated history of supporting the newcomers, you know, Kevin Smith, Steven Soderbergh and that Tarantino guy to name a few, we’ve created this guest blog series as a way to introduce our fans to today’s Emerging Filmmakers. That being said, we’re always curious what Miramax film(s) may have inspired you along the way.
Even as a hard-core Mike Leigh fan I was skeptical when I saw the trailers for Happy-Go-Lucky. I felt betrayed by Leigh’s departure from hilariously tortured characters who struggle to put their pants on correctly. And Happy-Go-Lucky depicts a character who faces her obstacles in stride, moving on from each hardship with clumsy ease. It sounds tediously boring but somehow Leigh managed to elevate the drama in an invisible, elegant manner that snuck up on me, shaking me to the core.
The storyline that really gets to me is between Poppy (played by one of my favorites Sally Hawkins) and her driver’s ed coach Scott (played brilliantly by Eddie Marsan). Poppy is blessed (or plagued?) with a relentlessly positive outlook on life. She is a pixie-girl who spends the film meandering through her humble and what could be described as mediocre life with an adorable (or grating?) ear-to-ear grin. Not that she doesn’t suffer from loneliness, but her coping mechanisms are far advanced than the regular Jane.
Scott, on the other hand, is handicapped by sore-loser-syndrome. He’s an easily irritated stubborn mule who seethes with bitterness and prone to temper tantrums.
The scenes between these two opposites are unsurprisingly hilarious and then, quite unexpectedly brutally heart breaking.
Scott has a short fuse with Poppy. He goes bonkers over the shoes she wears to each driving lesson. Somehow Poppy always forgets (or doesn’t care) that she will inevitably be severely scolded when she wears these unfit-for-driving boots. He screams at her throughout each lesson for not taking her safety seriously. In fact, it’s abusive. And hilarious (there’s nothing Charles and I love more than a hysterical character.) Why does she keep returning to this miserable man? From Poppy’s perspective he seems harmless, until he nearly kills them both in a fit of rage that stems from his torturous, deep seeded, unreciprocated love for her. The sophistication of this climax lies in the truth that ultimately it’s Poppy’s good attitude that neglects to protect her from a dangerous situation, whereas anyone else with a fight or flight reflex wouldn’t have tolerated Scott’s unbearable behavior.
Leigh shows us that even happiness is a thorny subject that ultimately questions faith.
I’ve always loved lying. If I hadn’t been raised well, I would be a con-artist. I wouldn’t even have a larger mission as a con-artist other than to check into hotels with forged signatures and tell strangers in airports to look me up if they’re ever in the Amalfi Coast. Because that’s where my business is. I make colognes.
I was 12 when I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley and it spoke to that part of me – the part that likes to write in the voice of other people and perform characters, the part that still enjoys prank calls. It was probably a young age to watch the film but the themes left a significant impression on me. It’s a good film to watch if you are a closeted pre-teen who is navigating a long and perilous journey made up of lies.
The story presents the rise and fall of a liar; the seductive protection that dishonesty proposes and the inevitable unsustainability that is a web of lies. The more you lie, the more you control but the more you control, the more you risk losing. It’s a good lesson, and one that we all find our own way to at some point in our lives.
I also really like the name Dickie Greenleaf.
What was your favorite film of 2013?
I would be lying if I were to name any movie other than Blue Jasmine, which is an unpopular answer but I have to admit it. Like I said before, I love a good hysterical character and Cate Blanchett’s performance is hauntingly captivating and courageously on point (obviously).
The manner in which Jasmine slips into her inner/outer monologue with an inability to distinguish reality from fiction makes me worry about my own mental health and potential to go completely mad. How many times have I caught myself yelling out loud at a person with whom I am having an imaginary conversation, particularly someone who has betrayed me and caused me a great deal of suffering. Could I cross over into a delusional realm? Probably.
I really really enjoyed Sebastian Silva’s Crystal Fairy.
The tone has a looseness and freedom to it that elevates the poignancy, and its emotional turns are surprisingly moving. Michael Cera and Gabby Hoffman are really amazing in it. Their characters are extreme but completely believable. The image of a naked Gabby Hoffman on mescaline trying to resurrect a dead rabbit is forever burned into my brain.
What is your favorite TV/online series?
Bob’s Burgers is hilarious and beautifully odd. It’s an animated show where the only character who is drawn with a chin is Bob’s handsome nemesis Jimmy Pesto. Jimmy owns the Olive Garden-esque Italian restaurant across the street from Bob’s Burgers and frequently upstages Bob’s business. Their rivalry is destructive to both of them.
The voice of Bob’s wife Linda is played by John Roberts who you might recognize from his youtube sensation The Christmas Tree. It’s perfect casting.
Sarah-Violet showed me Jenny Slate’s web series Catherine and I love it so much. I credit her as showing me because she is equally obsessed. It’s an absurdly simple story that takes place in an office and the performances are inspired by stiff workplace behavior training videos. My roommates hated it and things got tense.
So, fresh off the fest, getting lots of attention – what type of work/films do you see yourself doing in 5 years?
I’m not really the kind of person who makes a five year plan. When I get excited about a project I like to follow the inspiration and see where it takes me. I I love working and want to continue strengthening my voice and taking risks but that could mean a number of different things.
I see myself in a fun hat with a small dog, waiting for a train in a country that respects me.
I’m excited and grateful for the recognition that Fort Tilden has received so far, and I’m looking forward to building on that. I’m writing my next feature film, which is similar in many respects to Fort Tilden in that it is a comedy, however it takes place in a very different setting with big personalities. Sarah-Violet and I are also developing an idea for TV that we really like, and I want to keep performing comedy and growing in that direction, so in 5 years I hope that these things will have all happened and that I can keep being creative for an audience.
A big thank you to Sarah-Violet and Charles for joining us today and contributing to our Emerging Filmmaker Series. Keep an eye out for news on Fort Tilden’s release and learn more about the film on their website and Facebook page.
Sarah-Violet Bliss is a filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY.
She has written and directed five award-winning short films and the segment “Still Life” from the collaborative feature Tar produced by Rabbit Bandini and starring James Franco which premiered at the Rome Film Festival. Her short film Three, two premiered at the 40th Telluride Film Festival in August 2013. And her short Priceless Things will be featured in the second season of the PBS program, Film School Shorts. Sarah-Violet is an MFA candidate at NYU Grad Film and currently works on the popular web series High Maintenance, and directed the episode “Stevie”.
Charles Rogers is a Brooklyn based filmmaker and MFA Candidate at NYU Graduate Film.
His award-winning short films, Oysters Rockefeller and Autumn Whispers, have screened at festivals around the country. Charles is one of the writer/directors of Black Dog, Red Dog, a feature film produced by James Franco, which is in post-production. He is also the director and co-creator of Tech Up, a comedic web series for Subway, which was featured on IFC. Charles is also a comedic performer who can be seen regularly at the major comedy venues and theaters in the city.