One of the best things about covering a local film fest is the ample opportunities to not only watch Minnesota-made films, but also the chance to chat with those who made them. These three films have had their Midwest premieres this past week at Twin Cities Film Fest. Hopefully those of you who missed the screenings would get to see these when it’s released either in theaters or on VOD.
Today we have three filmmakers sharing their insights into the making of their films, so read on…
JUG BAND HOKUM
Jug Band Hokum is the debut feature-length film by Emmy Award winning director and musician Jack Norton. Filmed in Minnesota, the 2015 documentary stars Anne Baggenstoss, Brooklynd Turner, Amnesia Starr and Lil Majesty. It follows the eccentric lives of band members competing for a broken waffle iron in the 33rd Annual Minneapolis Battle of the Jug Bands. The film includes appearances by: Garrison Keillor (of Prairie Home Companion fame), rap legends Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Charlie Parr, Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Baby Gramps among others. Friendships are made, trust is broken, and in the end only one band will be crowned champion. This is an absolutely true story of pure hokum, Jug Band Hokum.
Interview with Jack Norton
Q: What inspires you to do this film? Is there a personal connection to these jug bands or you just find them fascinating?
A: A little bit of both. In high school I played in a jug band. I played in an old time folk jug band music. For those of you who didn’t know about jug band music, it’s kind of a folk tradition in America. Specifically it rose to popularity during the Great Depression in the 1930s, a lot of jazz musicians in the Deep South couldn’t afford real instruments. So drummers couldn’t afford drum sets so they start banging on pots and pans, base players couldn’t afford a base so they got a moonshine jug, things like that. A lot of people trace the roots of punk rock music to jug bands, that sort of DIY influence and so that’s what attracted me to this music in high school. Then I stopped listening to it to that music, but I was aware of the jug band battle in Minneapolis that’s been around for 30-some years.
People from all over the country come to Minnesota in February to compete for a broken waffle iron. It’s surprising that it gets passed down year after year and the winner’s name get engraved on it. In fact, last year’s winner didn’t even realize that it was broken and they tried to make waffles and they started their house on fire and the St Paul Fire Department had to get involved. I think the battle attracts some really eccentric and interesting people. I had wanted to do a film and I’ve been producing a PBS kids show for the past couple of years. Since I have a season off and I have all these equipments, this seems like a natural fit. I’ve always been attracted to interesting characters and I figure this will provide that opportunity.
Q: What’s the one thing that stood out the most about making this film?
A: What stood out the most for me whilst making this was, I thought I was gonna be making a film about jug band music, and it turns out to not to be. I mean jug band music was the glue that held everything together, but it’s more of a study of specifically of four people who play jug band music. So it’s more about their lives, what inspires them, just their own lovable quirky-ness. So I just focused on the four of them. People who are into jug band music might be a little disappointed, I mean the first 45 minutes you don’t hear any, you just followed these four people. But I think it turned out really sweet and funny. There’s definitely some adult content language. I don’t know. I just think it’s a fun thing, I was trying to focus on letting the story tell itself instead of me telling the story. So I feel like as a director, I got to the river and took it down stream rather than forcing everything to happen. It took a lot of patience to sort of let go and just follow, which is exciting, it was a different [experience] for me.
Q: Now that you said that, it seems that the film isn’t so much about the music but about the characters.
Q: It reminds me a bit of that film FRANK with Michael Fassbender where he wore this large paper mache head?
A: Oh yeah, I love that movie. It’s one of my favorite films of last year.
Q: The reason I mentioned that is that it’s also not so much about the music as you don’t hear that much of it, but more about this character and the band. Do you have any films and filmmakers that inspire you?
A: That film actually was really inspiring, I LOVE that film. There’s a director called Sean Baker, he just did that film Tangerine that was shot on the iPhone. I love Sean Baker. Actually his film Starlet, I had seen that and it was fearless, beautiful and so well-shot. It’s such a beautiful story. When I was producing the kids show… I was in Nashville, though I’m originally from Minneapolis, but when I was living in Nashville I saw Starlet and I said, ‘that’s it, I’m gonna take a year off of my life and make a film as that was really inspiring to me. I just love Sean Baker’s approach, I think all his films are amazing.
Q: As your film is a documentary, any documentarian you really admire?
A: Y’know to be honest with you, not really. I mean I watched a lot of documentaries. There’s one documentary on Chely Wright the country singer, it’s about her coming-out story and I loved it. I thought it was a beautiful story. To be honest with you, I want to shoot it more… well, some people who’ve seen the film wondered if it’s a mockumentary instead of a standard documentary. So Christopher Guest is a huge influence on this film and also Harmony Korine is a huge influence of mine. I mean Spring Breakers and the colors of that… and the jug band that I end up following, a couple of them didn’t even know what jug band music was. They heard about the competition and they thought jug bands were about tube tops, I mean because of JUG band. These girls signed up for the battle and they really thought they were gonna win and we just went along with it. So that’s more of that Christopher Guest-y moment of the film but this was real life.
Synopsis: A young woman Riley returns to visit her college town and the group of friends she left behind. Seeking something more than a nostalgic vacation, she stays at the house where she once lived with Adrien and Evelyn, the brother and sister with whom she has a complicated history. She later is forced to confront the traumas of her past.
Interview with director Vanessa Magowan Horrocks
Q: You changed the title from In Tragedy to Keepsake. What’s the reasoning behind it?
A: The motivation behind it was, honestly, that once we got closer to getting a rough cut done and people were asking about it, a bunch of people were saying that they don’t want to see a film called In Tragedy because it was a little obvious. I thought it was classy but some people were saying it’s too obvious and a little like ‘I’m gonna go to this film and be sad” which wasn’t entirely accurate. I mean the film is dramatic but it’s not a crying film, it’s one of those films that weigh on you a little bit. So once people express that the title is a bit of a turn off, that it gave them an impression of the film that I didn’t think were accurate, we spent a little, actually a lot of time coming up with a new title. Also the film’s material is also pretty dark so a lot of the sessions turn into what we shouldn’t call it, but eventually we settle into Keepsake, which refers to this very important photograph of these two girls who’re friends. So we’re really satisfied with this new title and it’s in keeping with the simplicity of it and it’s also a little more mysterious and compelling than In Tragedy.
Q: The theme of sense of belonging is universal but also a personal one. So I’m wondering if there’s a personal connection or a certain inspiration about someone’s life that you know that make you want to write this story?
A: Yes and no. I think that Riley’s character in the film, my producer who’s also my co-writer in the film, we spent a lot of time trying to epitomize our generation a little bit in her character. I think the sense of belonging and the sense of home, people my age tend to find that in friend groups more than their own families. It’s something that’s really beautiful but also really fragile because friend groups break apart which is different than a traditional family structure. Not that families don’t break up but I think that both of us in our lives have experienced some sort of break up in a friend family and the falling out and the experience of processing that. So that’s something both of us can relate to. The specifics events that Riley has gone through were not specific to us. None of the characters are based on this or that person, but the experience of losing something that you define as family and having to cope with that is something that’s personal.
Q: What are some of the challenges you faced making this film?
A: Oh gosh. We shot this film in nine days because our cinematographer was in school in South Carolina at the time. They were down on their Spring break so we have this finite number of days we can shoot. It was a gruelling 15-hour days and we also thought it’d be much warmer than it was. We shot in March and in the previous year it had been pretty mild in March like 50 something degrees. So our clothes were designed for the mild temps and we have these girls in little cocktail dresses and things like that which obviously wasn’t good with the weather so everyone brought these barrage of blankets, robes and comfy clothes to wear during rehearsals. So they’d wear it during rehearsals and we’d be like ‘ok we’re filming!’ and they’d take ‘em all off and all the PAs would come get ‘em. We’d run and shoot, then yell cut and they bring all the blankets back in.
Q: Where did you film this?
A: All the indoor scenes were filmed in Minneapolis, in a house on Lyndale and 48th. All the barn scenes was shot in Hutchinson, which is about 70-miles west of the Twin Cities. There are a couple of one offs, like one liquor store was shot in St. Cloud and an apartment that was shot in Minneapolis.
Q: Since you also wrote as well as directed this film, do you have a preference between writing and directing?
A: I think directing is the main passion for me. I really love facilitating really great performances. At that time, my producer and I didn’t have a collaborator. We had worked with a couple of other people’s scripts before that have mixed results, so we didn’t really have a collaborator at the time that we felt really strongly about. So we thought let’s write this one ourselves and she [her co-writer/producer] is certainly more passionate about writing than I am so yeah, definitely between those two, I definitely prefer to direct. If there’s not material, then I’ll make my own.
Made for almost literal pennies, “This Loneliness” is a coming of age story without the coming of age. Corey Smith stars as Steven Meissner, who is 20 years old and has ‘just friends’ stamped on his forehead; Steven has pined for classmate Robin Chapman (Breann Thorne) all the way through high school and into his first year of college, but even when encouraged by friends Russ (C.B. Jacobson) and Ben (Mike Peterson), cannot bring himself to tell her how he feels. Film uses this classic premise as an entree into exploring the ways in which young Midwestern men fear, desire and are fascinated by women.
Interview with C.B. Jacobson
Q: You directed as well as acted in this film. What has been the toughest challenge about balancing those two?
A: The energy level is what’s difficult because there’s so much involved in just getting everybody there, getting the shot set up, getting the lighting right, figuring out what coverage you’re gonna have to shoot. Then there’s the realization, ‘God, now I have to get in front of the camera and act! what am I going to do… On the set is what’s the hardest, because the pre-production wasn’t that hard. Basically when I was prepping for the day’s shoot, I was prepping my lines anyway, so it wasn’t that much more difficult, but definitely keeping the energy level up is tough. I’m not normally a highly-energized person.
Q: How did you come into the decision that you’re part of the ensemble? You knew you’re going to direct it, so what made you decide to be part of the cast?
Well it’s just practical concerns. Because if you have no money on movies, people don’t show up. So I figured if I’m in the movie, that’s one less actor I have to worry about coming to set, basically. Also, we couldn’t find anybody to play the three main guys in the movie. So the three main guys ended up being played by myself, my best friend from high school (Corey Smith) and a close friend of ours from college, St Cloud State (Mike Peterson). We haven’t seen anybody that we liked for the movie so I ended up texting my friends late one night ‘how about the three of us play these guys?’ because if the audience see us on screen, they’d immediately believe that the three of us cannot get dates.
Q: If you don’t mind me commenting, Corey Smith reminds me of a boyish version of Domhnall Gleeson. So did you have someone in mind, a certain type for the main actor?
Generally, when I was writing the script, I don’t really have anybody in particular in mind. In the very early stage, I kind of based characters on people that I know. But they end up taking a life of their own, so it becomes some anomalous other thing. So what I’m looking for when I’m casting, I hate reading actors and I have auditioning actors, but I love meeting with actors and talking to them person to person. Because my feeling is that the camera is like a lie detector, it’s gonna suss out who somebody is regardless of the character they’re playing. Some essence of them is what’s going to end up on screen. That’s what I’m looking for, do they have the energy that’s going to work with this character.
Q: What’s the most memorable moment during filming that you could share? I’m curious too how long it took you to film this project.
The initial shoot was over the course of two months, so March and April of 2012. Mostly on weekends so maybe like 3 days a week each of those weeks. We shot about 80% of the film at that point and I thought we’d only have about a week of pick-up shooting because I was stupid and didn’t know better. So we ended up shooting bits and pieces for the next three years [chuckles] I mean I guess my main experience with this was… I didn’t go to grad school for filmmaking, but this movie ended up BEING my grad school because I ended up doing everything on it. And it actually took four years and I spent a lot of my money. I ended up learning, not that I learned how to do everything well or anything like that. I certainly didn’t come out making this thinking ‘I am now an ace cinematographer, I’m now an ace editor, I’m a great y’know, sound recordist’ but I did shoot some stuff… very badly, I did record all the ADR, I did sync all the ADR, I did some work on the mix, I acted in it, I directed it, I wrote it, if we had ever fed all the actors I’d have been the caterer probably. I ended up doing bits and pieces on everything. So the most valuable thing from this movie is the learning experience.
Q: Now that you’ve finished it, did it come out the way you expected it to be?
If I’m honest, maybe it’s about 50% of the movie I had in my head. Which is better than the first movie I did, it was only 20% of what I had in my head which was a really painful experience. So I’m improving!
Q: So based on this calculation, your next film will be 75% of what you have in mind.
Hopefully, hopefully. I’m actually doing post production of my next film and it’s about 70-75%…
Q: What’s your next movie about?
It’s about the same stuff as this one which is about miserable college students. You can tell where I was emotionally when I was writing this one.
Q: So is a lot of this story autobiographical in some ways?
It’s… I’m ashamed to say that it’s all semi-autobiographical. Not strictly, but certainly emotionally.