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Actress Reese Witherspoon Highlights the Truth of "The Good Lie"

Reese, Margaret Nagle, Sarah Baker, & Corey Stoll

Nashville, Tennessee, might seem as remote a place from the African nation of Sudan as one could imagine. Yet given the fantastic journey of thousands of Lost Boys (and girls) who came to the United States in the 1990s — after an arduous walk from their homeland across 1,000 miles to Kenyan refugee camps fleeing a bloody civil war — it doesn’t seem so strange. And since many of them were settled in places like Missouri, experiencing drastic cultural contrasts became the norm for them.    

As a story initiated by this civil war, the upcoming film The Good Lie  encompasses the stark contrasts that came out of that conflict. It tells of the tragedies, but also of the determination and hope that drove these young people to survive as well. Filmed in Atlanta, Georgia, this feature draws on the collective experiences of the survivors of that war as they came to this country through various Christian charities. Having stirred audiences when it screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, The Good Lie recently premiered in Nashville — hometown of one of its stars, Reese Witherspoon.

To best aid in telling of these four survivors’ remarkable experiences, established actors such as Oscar winner Witherspoon, Corey Stoll and Sarah Baker joined with actors of Sudanese descent — Ger Duany (Jeremiah), Arnold Oceng (Mamere), Kuoth Wiel (Abital) and Emmanuel Jal (Paul) — to present a composite tale of four who not only walked those miles but grappled with the traumatic cultural conflicts adjusting to a new life in the cold American midwest.

Based on real-life events (compressed by screenwriter Margaret Nagle), Oscar nominee Philippe Falardeau directed Witherspoon to play Carrie Davis, a brash American woman assigned to find jobs for her young Sudanese charges who have won a lottery for relocation here.

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the 38-year-old actress spent her childhood in Nashville, where she went from a high school cheerleader  to attending Stanford University as an English literature major. After a year, she left to pursue acting.

Proud of her "definitive Southern upbringing," Witherspoon gave her character "a sense of family and tradition" and taught her about "being conscientious about people's feelings, being polite, being responsible and never taking for granted what you have in your life."

Witherspoon landed her first feature role as the female lead in The Man in the Moon in 1991. She went on to star in such films as Freeway, Cruel Intentions, Pleasantville and Alexander Payne’s 1999 hit Election, for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination.

In 2001, her career ratcheted up with the breakout role of Elle Woods in the box-office hit Legally Blonde, and then in 2002 when she starred in Sweet Home Alabama, which became her biggest commercial film to date. The following year saw her return as lead and executive producer of Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde.

By 2005, Witherspoon had received worldwide attention and praise for her portrayal of June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, which earned her an Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role and the Critics Choice Movie Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Now married to agent Jim Toth, Witherspoon has three children, two from her previous marriage to actor Ryan Philippe. After something of a hiatus, she now has several films being released this year, including this one and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice.

This Q&A is culled from a recent press conference and Reese’s introduction at the film’s Nashville premiere.

Q: This film has some great Tennessee connections such as Producer Molly Smith, who has quite a bit of credits to her name, Alcon Entertainment’s Fred Smith, who started a transportation company in Memphis that's changed the world (FedEx). And, obviously, a local girl who's done really well.

RW: I’m so glad to be here and represent Tennessee. Thank you for being here to support us. It's so good to see you all in Nashville. It's so exciting. I'm so used to seeing you in Los Angeles or New York.

Q: What was it like to show your film here in Nashville where you grew up?

RW: This theater [The Belcourt], where the premiere was, brings back so many memories for me that I was getting emotional when I got here. I've seen so many films here with my family. It's such a great thing to have a premier in Nashville, and to have any of my movies, ever, in Nashville.

Q: This is a spectacular season for you with this movie, producing, all the awards talk, and even popping up with Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice. Have you had a goal to do something like this?

sudan-trioRW: It wasn't planned. I think for a few years I was a little bit lost as an artist, not being able to find what I wanted to do — not making choices I was ultimately very happy with. What kind of started this whole string of things was just getting back to wanting to play interesting, dynamic female characters.

I made these movies, and they all seem to be coming out within three months of each other. I'm in a little bit of a traffic jam right now. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all of them, and see them for their different qualities.

Q: How do you feel to be back in the Oscar buzz spotlight?

RW: It’s so nice; it’s so sweet to be getting [attention] for it. I’m excited that everybody’s liking the films I’ve been in lately.

Q: The Good Lie is a surprising film with an amazing story, told with such humor and compassion.

RW: I read Margaret Nagle's script, and was so moved. I just knew I couldn't not do it. Margaret did such an incredible job. You could tell that there was so much research involved, because when I started watching documentaries, it was completely accurate. Every story you've heard [about] the Sudanese refugees is somehow in the movie or in the script.

I remember when I met Philippe Falardeau, the director, the first thing he said to me was, "This movie isn't about you. And I just want to be really clear about that."

I've never had a director say that to me before but it made me happy, because I didn't want to make a movie where it was just a white American girl coming to save African people.

My character [Carrie Davis] is without family, just as emotionally distraught as they are. I thought it was such a beautiful opportunity to talk about [how] family is where you find it. The film is incredible.

Q: How did you arrive at Carrie's look? Was it written on the page, or did you have any input on that?

RW: Molly called me and told me she wanted me to be a brunette, and I was like, "All right." I've done that before.  We worked with the hair and make-up people. It's always nice to sort of depart from yourself. I was covering all my post-baby weight, too.

I'd just had a baby, and I was still nursing and taking care of him. That’s the reason why I didn't know if I wanted to make the movie. You know how your brain gets confused, right after you have a baby? I was really confused.

Q: What was in the message of the movie that spoke to you and made you want to do it?

RW: I felt that there are so many times when you don't appreciate your life until you see someone else's perspective on our privileges and the opportunities that we have, whether that's education, or health care, or just food and running water.

One of my favorite scenes is when [Ger’s character] is running his hands [in the water], turning the water on and off, after they'd walked through the desert without water or food.

I thought it was a great message also for families. I think it's really great to take your kids to this movie. It brings up a lot of integral conversations that we should all be having. I'll take my kids!

Q:  It must have been an incredible challenge for you to play a character where you don't know the backstory to the other characters. You have to discover it along the way. What did you learn about south Sudan in general?

RW: I came from a place of not knowing, so other than a random newspaper article or something, I knew very little about the story.  

A lot of the things that I learned were from talking to Emmanuel and Ger. Sometimes we'd be doing scenes and I'd say, "Well, did that really happen?"

Ger would tell us about being a young boy and walking all that way, and what it was like. It's hard to even conceive.

And then at the very end of the film, we got to go to the Kakuma Refugee Camp.

Even though I didn't shoot any scenes there, I didn't want to just do the part in Atlanta and be done and go home to my life. I really wanted to see what the experience was like, so I took my teenage daughter and we went.

Q:  Your daughter hasn't experienced that sort of poverty before, so what was her experience like? How did it help her perspective on the world?

RW: Well, she's a wonderful, socially conscious girl. Even if you read a million books on a situation, you don't understand it until you see it yourself. I was very lucky that they organized for her to be there, because she is a little young to be off on these trips.

Q: Was she 13 at the time?

RW: She had just turned 14. She didn't say a word the whole day. And then she really didn't talk about it until a couple of days later. I think it's definitely going to affect her for a long time, as it did me. It was amazing.

Q: What do you think she gained from the experience?

RW: Consciousness, awareness — hopefully, a feeling of wanting to give back.

Q: Why was it important for you to take her there?

RW: I think that travel is the antidote to any kind of selfish behavior -- service, really. It's not their fault, kids nowadays, we give them all these technologies, and access to things that disconnect them, so as much as you can show them of the world, it's great.

Q: Describe the experience; take us back there as it happened to you.

RW: It was really very emotional, seeing over 250,000 people displaced — sleeping on concrete slabs, and the sprawl of that many people living together. There were 12 different languages being spoken; seven different kinds of religions. There was very little health care, very little food.

We saw women giving birth on metal tables, with their infant sitting there with no clothes on. Kids that were sick, and babies like her brother's age, sitting on concrete slabs and sleeping with seven other brothers and sisters. But I think the conditions were worse.

Seeing that is one thing, but the other remarkable thing [we saw] was the joy and determination of these people to rise above [it] and have a better life for their children. They greet you with smiles and laughter and dancing. Their spirit was just incredible.

It was incredible to be there with Ger and his family — so many of his family members are there — at that very camp.

It really brought it all home to me. This is an opportunity to raise awareness, but it's also an opportunity to create change.

As I was talking to the religious leader Rick Warren, he said, "Sometimes we assume because people are poor that they're not intelligent, that they don't have anything to offer to society. But these are people who are on top of their field. They're doctors, educators, community leaders, and they've essentially been displaced."

So it's been really educational for me to learn about refugees, and their contribution to society, and how we hopefully lift more of them up out of those situations.

Q: Why do you think it's hard for us, as Americans, to grasp what's going on —the persecutions going on in Sudan? How can this movie change that?

RW: I think there's not been a lot of media coverage. A lot of people are making comparisons [of this film] to Hotel Rwanda, but it wasn't a situation that a lot of people knew a lot about. Once [you] saw the film, it makes you want to go home and look it up and get more involved.

I really like the part when Corey's character says in the movie [that] he’s so reticent to get involved. He's like, "Let's not get involved. We're probably going to get sued."

One of the things I think is so great about this story is that you don't have to be a perfect person to do something great for somebody else. The imperfections in your life actually might be helped in the process of meeting and helping and creating community for people who are displaced.

It's not just for the saints of the world. We can all make a difference.

Actor/Filmmaker Robert DeNiro Shaped Chazz Palminteri’s "A Bronx Tale" As His Directorial Debut

On February 262014, the First Time Fest team held a special event in tandem with Tribeca Enterprises in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of A Bronx Tale, Oscar-winning actor Robert DeNiro's directorial debut. Since the concept of the fest is to celebrate directors and their debut features, this film screening served to hail a career benchmark for DeNiro and Chazz Palminteri, its star and story creator. 

Though DeNiro has since done another film as director, 2006's The Good Shepherdhe had a powerful personal connection to this story. 

Though Taxi Driver really made him the figure to reckon, several of his earlier films such as Mean Streets and Godfather II really drew on his Italian heritage and life growing up in Manhattan's Little Italy

That background served him well for appreciating A Bronx Tale and transforming Palminteri’s story into something both personal and universal. 

In anticipation of the sophomore festival’s schedule from April 3rd to 7th, 2014,  DeNiro’s detailed the development of this film during a discussion after this anniversary screening. And since he has a deep love for festivals — as the founder of the Tribeca Film Festival in its 13th year this April 16-27th — it also served a suitable celebration of both festivals.

This Q&A is based on the transcript of the night’s talk.

Q: Apparently Chazz decided that if he was ever going get a good part he would have to write A Bronx Tale for himself — and perform it, first as a one-man off-Broadway production. How did you come across his wonderful play that you eventually directed as your first movie? 

RD: And he did, exactly. He was doing this one-man show when I was in LA and heard about it and then saw it. We started talking about my doing it as a director. It was a long process.

Q: Chazz had received offers to have the film done and turned them down. What was he waiting for?

RD: He wanted to make sure that he could play the part of Sonny in the movie. I said to him, “Well you have a lot of offers” and it seemed at the time he did. In Hollywood everyone wants something and it’s a feeding frenzy for a certain thing.  At that time this was what A Bronx Tale was for movie studios the way as I understand it. 

So he had the piece that was given lots of attention. I said to him, “If you want to be able to play the part of Sonny, it’s going to be tricky because they’re going to buy it from you if you opt to sell it to them. At the end of the day, they’re going to want to have someone with a name to hedge their bets. And they’re going to probably come to  me. So let’s just eliminate that whole process and tell me that you’ll give it to me to direct and I’ll promise you I will guarantee you that you can play that part.” 

And that’s what happened. We had Savoy Pictures at the time wanting to do it and they were more likely to agree to the terms. So that’s how it started and how it happened.

Q: You hadn’t directed movies before. What made you want to do this?

RD: I wanted to direct a movie for a while and wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I realized that you always want to tell the perfect story and to make your movie your letter to the world so I’d say it’s not quite what I’d imagined as my letter to the world but it’s a movie I understood and liked. If nothing else, it’s something that I wanted to do as my first film and commit to doing it. 

It was a practical move. I liked Chazz and the nature of it and all this stuff. I could at least attempt to make something special out of this material from my understanding of that world.

Q: At that point, you were coming off an amazing six-film collaboration with Martin Scorsese. Were you concerned that expectations would be too high?

RD: I didn’t care about all that. Who cares about the comparison, it was about just doing my thing. The movies that Marty and I had been doing to that point were wonderful experiences. But my doing the movie as a director with this material as it happened to be with Chazz was what it was and had nothing to do. It just happened to be of that subject that I happened to have a little bit of understanding of. 

I was happy to do it and take my chances. In my world, when you want to direct a movie, you jump in and take the leap of faith of directing. Finding a director of photography and all the other people, the department heads of a film and then going ahead, moving forward and shooting it is a big step. To me, that’s what I needed to do and did.

Q: What did it take getting used to that?

RD: The first day was a tricky one because I had to work with kids on a stoop. I’ve directed kids before so I had an idea of these kids. I don’t remember now what I did but I got them to do whatever they had to do for that scene. Somehow it worked out.

Q: Seeing the film 20 years later, there’s still a confidence about it.

RD: Thank you. I remember these kids, I was like, “What am I going to do with them?” They’re all jumping around and everything. These kids to get them to do what I wanted to do, I knew I just had to let them do what they wanted to and whatever they did within the confines of what I wanted to do, the parameters. Somehow it would have to work out and that was it.

Q: How different is your process as an actor from how you direct actors?

RD: I always feel to direct actors or non-actors or anybody — I suppose it could apply to documentaries too — you have to let people be comfortable and feel free to express themselves. That goes especially with the case of A Bronx Tale because these are kids. I always intended to not have be professional actors, you couldn’t find professional actors who wanted to be part of this film. 

I couldn’t do it. I had to find kids from that neighborhood who, if anything, had aspirations to be actors and singers, who understood the idea of acting for someone, whether it be for a camera or their mother or father or family member. Kids who understand that. That was my intention, to find those kids and have them be in the film. Like the boy who played my son who was 12, Francis, he said, “You want me to cry?” and I said, “Hold off.” 

This was at two in the morning. He understood the meaning and reason and importance of that emotion and was ready to do it. I was amazingly surprised how he understood that at such a young age and how important it was to the film. And he was ready to do it. It was great.

Q: A number of actors have become directors. A lot of this film is about people looking at each other and being looked at. Does this come from an actor’s sensitivity? 

RD: I think all actor/directors have an innate sensitivity to other artists. The actors who are being directed by them understand that because they’re being directed by other actors they’re going to give them more, unconsciously or subconsciously or whatever, it’s always there. If you have any kind of common sense as an actor directing other actors, you’re going to be sensitive to that because it’s right and you’re going to get better performances, more sensitive performances because the people working together understand each other. 

Q: It’s has very funny moments and a lot of sweetness. How did you get the whole shape and tone of the film?

RD: I thought about how these were kids and, again, not using real actors, you have to use kids from that environment who understand it and can improv. But these are kids who are 14, 15, 16 and who want to be men. In that culture, they want to be grownups. They aspire to what they see before them in the gangster culture and all that stuff. You have to get kids who understand that world so you don’t worry about getting a professional kid who came from some agent. There’s nothing wrong with that but this is about real people where it’s unspoken and understood what this is all about. 

To me that was the most important thing. Kids who are 13, 14, 15, 16 who want to behave and be adults and aspire to what they see around them in their culture, which is the Sonny’s culture, the gangster culture. 

Q: Goodfellas dealt with the same idea.

RD: Goodfellas was about the same thing with Henry Hill. There was no difference. The characters in A Bronx Tale aspired to the same thing that Henry Hill did. It’s just that Henry Hill was in Queens and this is in the Bronx.

Q: You dressed up Astoria for the movie, so what was it like shooting in that neighborhood.

RD: That block on 30th Avenue — that church — was the same as in the Bronx. Part coincidence, part design. There were abandoned stores on that block, which helped us. We could use the funeral parlor, the back part and downstairs cellar— all of that. We had all these and it was perfect. If you had to go for a reshoot, things were ready. We’d go down to the store we used before for this or that so we were very fortunate in that it was like a little backlot. 

Q: There’s a deli there that still sells the “DeNiro Hero.”

RD: I go there and I get one for a nickel.

Q: The music in the film was another part of its character as well.

RD: The music is the third character, if you will. It was very important to me that we had the right music. I love the music from that period because I’m from that time. Well, I’m actually from 10 years earlier, the jazz is like eight to 10 years younger than me, but we blended those periods together. I spent a lot of time with jazz and one of the composers of the play, Barbella, we’d sit on weekends and listen to music, the obvious stuff, though I was always looking for something a little more obscure. 

But at the end of the day, it was about what worked for the movie and sometimes it would be something that was so popular from that period, less popular at the moment, and then you might hear it on a commercial, but it was so right for the movie that we had to use it. You knew what was right as you went along. It was hunting, pecking and listening for hours and hours. 

Q: Were any other movies models for you?

RD: No other movies at all. It wasn’t a Scorsese movie influence. Marty does his movies, I do mine. I just followed what I thought was right for the movie and it was that simple. It had nothing to do with anything before or after or anything like that. No influence. 

It’s my love for movies and for music of that period, or five years after. That whole period was a little bit of fudging of time because the jazz period was 10 years later but it was all about the love of the music and the period.

Q: What did you see as some of the themes of the film — the theme of being a father for example.

RD: There was the father-son thing and that’s the bottom line. As an actor, I’d go more for father parts, then grandfather parts. As long as I’m around, I’ll be offered grandfather, great-grandfather parts. 

Q: You just made a film about your father.

RD: I did, I made a documentary about my father. 

Q: I guess we’ll have to wait to see it?

RD: Yeah. 

Q: Was that a difficult film to get off the ground?

RD: They’re all difficult. Making a movie is very difficult whether you make it for a million dollars or 50 million dollars or 100 millions dollars. They’re all difficult. There’s so many moving parts, one cannot imagine. Many people have many opinions that you have to field all the time. It’s just difficult. 

It’s a collaborative effort, a communal effort, it’s complicated and you have to be able to deal with all that, take in everyone’s else’s opinion and deal with everyone else’s input and come out with the final outcome.

Q: There’s so many films that come out around this story that feel dated but this one doesn’t.

RD: I don’t know if you’re just being nice...

Q: It’s true. 

RD: I didn’t think of other films. I just thought of telling this story, Chazz’s story, the story of these kids. It’s a true story. That’s how it was in those neighborhoods.

Q: At this point in independent film, you see a lot of movies trying to be hip that don’t stand the test of [history]. Maybe you just didn’t care so much about that.

RD: I didn’t care and was assured of what I was doing because it was what it was. It was Chazz’s story, a good story, a true story, a real story. 

Q: Being an adaptation of a play, what did you change from it being onstage?

RD: Well it was an adaptation of his one-man show with the characters and he wrote the script and we used the script to do the movie. It was pretty simple. He added some characters and I was looking for people in certain neighborhoods like Little Italy and all around and I found someone and I said, “Chazz, where is this guy, little Mush?” and he said, “He’s in the Bronx.” I said, “Well, can we find him?” He found him, I met him and I said, “Let’s use him.” 

And we did and he was great. We used real people when needed because you can’t replace real people. You cannot add an actor to recreate something that a real person can do to add the texture to what that life is about. So when you have that opportunity, you must take advantage of it.

Q: Obviously you were happy with the finished product but was there anything you would have change in it if you could?

RD: There’s always something you want to change but I was happy with what we did because I tried my best. 

Q: How do you decide when and what you want to direct?

RD: For The Good Shepard, I had always been interested in that subject matter. Eric Roth had written that script and I said I want to do this because I wanted to do this subject matter and we did. I wanted to do a sequel to it but he hasn’t come up with that thing. We dillydallied with doing it for television which means we would have more time to get into the details of the intricacies of that world. 

In a feature, you have less time to do that but it’s more grand; it like opera. It’s unresolved at this point but I don’t know if I ever do another movie. If I did five in my life, I’d be happy. If I do three, I don’t know if I’ll do another. It’s a lot of work. It’s very tough, especially if you care about it. It’s an uphill battle. It’s  always about money and about budget and you have to constantly be fighting it every second.

Q: Is it hard to juggle so many different roles in this?

RD: No, the acting was small compared. Some people are directing and acting throughout and it’s not easy but it’s not impossible. It’s work. It’s difficult. Which I enjoy doing but it’s tough work.

Q: In 2014, is there anything left, the good and bad, for the real characters in this story?

RD: Oh definitely. Definitely. Chazz is not here but he would have his opinion about that of course. Where those characters are and where their positions are today and where they stand racially, absolutely. That’s another movie without a doubt.

Q: Was the two-part structure something that was also on stage or was that something that was modified?

RD: The racial thing was what it was, it was always constant.

Q: How much time elapsed since you first saw Chazz’s one man show and the beginning of filming?

RD: I’d say somewhere between five and six years but I could be off by a year or two.

Q: What took up most of that time?

RD: My getting ready to do it and Chazz finally agreeing to it and allowing it to be done. The way I remember, I could be off about certain things, but he wanted the guarantee that he could play the part of Sonny. I guaranteed him that. It was a feeding frenzy; they were after him for the thing — it’s sort of real and some of it’s illusion but the studios were after him. 

I said, “Look, they’re going to try to get you to sell the script and then at the end of the day, they’re going to come after they buy it from you, you want to play the part of Sonny, but once they own it, you have no guarantee that they’re going to give it to you. If you give the script to me, I guarantee you that you’ll play Sonny and we’ll eliminate the middle men for the men who would later be the distributor so we’ll need them at the end of the day but not in the first part.  I said I would direct it and we could go from there. I’d play the father, he’d play Sonny and that’d be it. 

Q: What lessons did you learn making this film?

RD: It could be a low-budget film but the bottom line is you’ll feel pressure about cost and budget and it’s all connected. So you have a certain amount of time to do the movie and a certain amount of money to do it with. You may have visions to do this and that but at the end of the day, you only have this much money to do it with. 

Unless you’re lucky, from a rich family that’ll give you 100 million dollars to do a movie, you’re going to have restrictions and parameters. It’s a good thing in some ways because it forces you to be creative within the constrictions you have. That’s the reality because you have to set down so many days that you can shoot the story you want to tell, whether it’s five or 35, 16 or 10 and however many hours you can shoot that in and how many set ups you can do in order to tell the story. 

If you have 10 set ups a day and 10 days to shoot it, you have 100 set ups to tell that story. You have to find yourself in all those restrictions and parameters, unless you’re doing it with an iPhone and maybe you’re making an American iPhone classic, we don’t know that yet. Maybe it’s the new thing. Those are the real problems you have when you have an investor who wants a return on their money no matter what they say — they do it for the art, they do it for this — they want a return on their money. 

The more money it is, the more they want the guarantee that at least get their money back. If it’s $100,000 they want their $100,000 back. If it’s a million, they want it back, maybe they’ll make a profit. It’s all very simple. That’s the bottom line of it all. 

Q: How has your approach to acting changed since you were younger a taking a more dangerous, method like way of being?

RD: I don’t know what the dangers are because I’ve never experienced that. If you’re saying somebody gets too involved in their role where they end up losing themselves and going crazy, I’ve never seen that ever. Ever. 

As actors, the best thing you can do, I feel, at the end of the day, actors use whatever can work for them. When they’re in there for the moment, you have to use whatever is good for you. Think about your mother who died last week or think about this or that, you can do whatever.

The two things are: you don’t hurt yourself, and you don’t hurt others. Everything else is okay. Whatever your wildest imagination is that can make you arrive at that point in that scene, that’s fine. But the rest of it is all bullshit. 

Everyone has a way of arriving at that thing and no matter what they say or what lip service they give to it all, that’s the bottom line. I have great respect for all of them but that’s the bottom line. You have to choose for yourself. 

When you’re in a scene, you say what does this scene mean to me, what does this character mean to me and you have to interpret it. You have to let it be personal to yourself and that’s the most important thing. 

Q&A With Patrick Brice of "Creep"

At the premiere of his debut horror/thriller Creep, director and star Patrick Brice took to the stage to put some A's to some Q's and give some context for his found-footage creeper. But Brice's film;s greatest accomplishment lies in the performance eeked from Mark Duplass. He's magnetic, unpredictable and an absolute joy to watch. From our review,

Read more: Q&A With Patrick Brice of "Creep"

Q&A with Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers of "Fort Tilden"

After winning the special jury award for Best Narrative Feature, Fort Tilden saw a little bit of backlash from the critical public, many of them unconvinced that it was necessarily a deserving winner. But this can be expected of a noncommittal culture, more suited to complaining after the fact than making a decision. But this is neither here nor there (although I personally rather enjoyed the film) and the decision can be chalked up to the fact that a committee of only three are responsible for selecting the winners for any given category.

Regardless of this odd rocking of the boat that Fort Tilden has ushered, it's a wonderful picture of big city ineptitude. From our review,

"Unfit for a seemingly painless journey such as this, watching this odd couple mess their way through the "rough" spots of the city is co-writers and directors Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers' condemnation of an incomptent age of the e-tarded. Destitude without their iPhones, never able to look three steps into their futures and wholly lost without an aiding stranger, Allie and Harper are the bane of the millenials."

Fort Tilden is at its core an absurdist, girls running amuck in NYC dramedy and is the product of directorial duo Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers. Here to talk about millennials, discovering the actresses and getting naked at the beach, read on to see how Tilden came to be.


Can you talk a little bit about how you collaborate? How do you divide up all of the duties?

Sarah-Violet Bliss: There isn’t much division of our responsibilities. We sat at the computer next to each other writing all day. It wasn’t one of those, you write five pages and then show it to your partner. You have your every day, nine to five, writing jobs, and on the side, two people with the same thoughts, and also some different thoughts that would collaborate in a way that gave the film a voice of its own.

Charles Rogers: I don’t think it would have been possible to co-direct, without having co-written. I think the process was inseparable. In that way, we both knew what the vision for the film was, even though we might have had a different angle on it, they were angles that would inevitably come together. We both were always on the same page. Otherwise, I don’t know what it would have looked like.

Had you worked together before?

SVB: No. This was our first collaboration.

CR: We’ve been friends, but this was our first collaboration. Nine months ago, we didn’t even know necessarily that we were going to be making this film. We had the idea at the very beginning of the summer, and we wrote it in six weeks, and we produced in that amount of time.

I loved it. Obviously, you guys won, so it’s a great film. I laughed through the whole thing. You guys are older than millennials so how did you get in touch with your qualities of millenials? What do you think they are and how do you represent them?

SVB: I’m technically Generation-Y, but I think I’m friends with millenials. There’s a blend. I’m kind of on the cusp, so I feel like it wasn’t too hard to tap into that.

CR: A lot of it was stuff that we were thinking about in our own issues. Our own issues ended up working their way into the film and that’s sort of what’s hard in the writing process, if you know that going in to it or not. Also, just drawing from friends and people that we knew. We have a lot of friends who do absurd things and I guess there’s a particular kind of absurdity that comes with the millennial generation. That wasn’t hard to draw from, when it’s all around you.

Tell me a little about the production in New York. It looks great. Were you just stealing shots? What kind of channels did you go through and were there any challenges or tricks?

SVB: We tried to permit as much as possible. We had our things covered for a lot of it and then there were a lot of things that we had to steal. There’s always a lot of great stuff to put in front of the camera but that also comes with a lot of challenges.

CR: We met so many characters along the way. The type of people who would come up to me, they were always very specific to the kind of neighborhood that you were in. So the girls go on a journey from home and we sort of also went on a journey. There’s just a lot of different kinds of neighborhoods and every day was a different flavor because of that.

I was just wondering about the two actresses. Were they a comedy team?

SVB: They had never met before we cast them. Ally, the blonde, is one of my best friends from college and she’s been in a lot of my short films and we work together a lot. We discovered Bridy Eliot, who plays Harper, and we took them to dinner when she was in town and it was really good chemistry. We all really got along. They worked phenomenally together and hopefully they continue to. This was their first collab.

When you say you “discovered her,” how did you discover her?

CR: She was concussed on the side of the road and… Bridy Eliot is a comedian and performer in the Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s a major comedy theater in New York. She has a presence in the comedy world but she hasn’t really been in a lot of films. This is both their sort of break out role. It was great to find out on the first day that we cast right. We knew it going into it, because we felt, but when you’re on set there’s that first day where you’re nervous. Getting to see them perform on the first day was like, “We don’t have to worry about this!”

Do you guys want to talk a little bit about your background before you came to this film?

SVB: We both went to NYU grad film school together. We’re still there. That’s where I’ve been making my shorts, through film school. Before that, I was a theater major at Oberlin, which is where I met Claire. I’ve been writing plays and stuff for a really long time. After I graduated, I was actually more interested in film. I became more of a filmmaker than a playwright.

CR: I went to college here and then I went to grad school at NYU. I’m not from New York necessarily. I do a lot of comedy and improv and standup in New York, which is cool because I want to do a lot of comedy and I get to know a lot of the talent pool in New York. I feel like it’s nice when you can see all of your worlds coming together. I feel like this film did that for me.

What were the themes that were most important to you about this idea of challenging friendship or friendships that indicate more about the challenges that you have yourself with your actual relationship that you have with the other person? Were there certain ideas that you hoped would carry throughout the film?

CR: We were drawing from different life experiences. I think one part of the millennial generation – the idea of this age – is that you get to this point in your life where you start to evaluate all of your friendships. Before this point, your friendships are out of convenience or commonalities that are more trivial. And the older you get, you begin to sort of focus in on what’s important to you and what actually matters to you. You begin to realize that the people you thought mattered to you, there’s issues there. Before this age, I don’t think that you necessarily evaluate those things. I was drawing from some difficult relationships that I had, but also there were people that I love, and don’t want out of my life. All relationships are really hard.

SVB: The themes are stuff that we really discovered while writing and developing what we were writing originally. We thought it would be a funny idea to have two characters who were trying to get to Fort Tilden, except their not really good at stuff. As we were writing, we really discovered more of what was actually very compelling to us and about what it means to be 25 right now… and how the older generations, the parents of these millenials, feel like, “Oh you can be whatever you want to be.” And not really thinking about their responsibilities and pursuing that in a really hardworking way, just expecting that it’s going to happen. You get taken by surprise, when you realize that you’ve got to take some control over that.

Sounds like you might know some of these people.

SVB: Sure.

CR: Yeah.

You keep bringing up the comedic elements of this, but there was also a lot of drama to this story. Did it start out as a comedy and then you kind of found these dramatic beats? Or did it start out as more of a drama but then developed into a comedy?

SVB: The original idea we had was: “This is a funny idea.” All the work that I’ve done in my past at least – Charles too – there’s always some more dramatic depth to it. That’s what I think makes the comedy better and the drama better. They are opposites that flatter each other. Really it was just about making something truthful and making the story richer. We never were like, “This is a COMEDY.” It develops into what it develops into. That’s my favorite kind of work to create.

CR: I think the fact that it started with characters, rather than an idea about the tone or the genre, I think it got both funnier and sadder. I don’t think it necessarily started out as one or the other. The more we understood the comedy, the more we understood how that related to drama. I think that the fact that it gets sadder makes it funnier and the fact that it gets funnier makes it sadder. These characters, ultimately, are very flawed. The comedy comes from that, but also the struggle has to come from that too. So I think it sort of started in a simple place, then everything layered outside of that.

I love that they all had their tops off at the beach. I wondered who’s idea that was, or if they actually do that out there.

CR: It’s an unmonitored beach, so a lot of people do end up taking their tops off.

SVB: Knowing that that’s a place where people go to be cool and free or whatever, and then the idea that someone would be put in that situation and feel uncomfortable by feeling like that’s the cool decision to do.

CR: Our actresses were very comfortable with the toplessness. Everything was consensual.

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