I realized that for all of my discussion about the Gotham Writers’ Workshop a couple of entries back, I neglected to post a link to it. Enrollment is open for winter classes so if you’re interested in finally tackling that Outsourced spec script, here’s a potential launching pad:
I finally watched a film I’ve been eager to see. Winter’s Bone tells the story of Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old girl living in a bleak, impoverished community in the Ozarks who has to find her crystal meth-making father before the family home is repossessed. Total laugh riot, eh? This film won Sundance earlier this year, though, and definitely earned that win in my opinion. It’s raw and real…an unflinching look at a world I only glimpse at during certain episodes of Intervention on A&E. Imagine navigating a closed community of ravaged, paranoid addicts and addict-adjacents just to keep a roof over your head. The stakes are efficiently established from the get-go. And what an unsettling journey it will be.
Watching films like this are a great educational exercise as I think about the type of movie I want to make. Director Debra Granik shot it on the RED digital camera, a much cheaper option than a standard 35 mm movie camera and one I’m considering for Beneath the Surface. I first heard about the RED from Athena Lobit – she and her sister Alyssa used the camera on their indie film The Things We Carry. As digital cameras go, it’s a hot one now. Films that don’t necessarily need to take the cheapest route possible are using the RED camera – films like The Social Network and the next installment of Pirates of the Caribbean. I like the fact that a less expensive camera allows you to have more of them on set – two cameras give you that much more coverage, so you can get all of the action and reaction happening within a scene. That can be crucial when it comes to a drama that hinges on realistic performances.
Which brings me to one of the things that impressed me the most about Winter’s Bone: the casting. I’m again reminded of how critical the performances can be in an independent film. There are two or three semi-recognizable actors in the movie, one of whom is John Hawkes (from the indie film Me and You and Everyone We Know as well as supporting roles on the HBO series’ Deadwood and Eastbound & Down). As Ree’s alternately terrifying and protective Uncle Teardrop, Hawkes is commanding every time he’s on screen. The lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence, also gives an especially powerful, genuine performance – her character exhibits a toughness and weariness that feels all the sadder given that the character is only seventeen.
Lawrence was a relative unknown when she was cast in the lead role. In fact, most of the speaking parts were cast locally in Missouri. And I think Granik and Anne Rosellini (producer and co-writer on the film) were smart in taking the risk of using unfamiliar actors, marketing departments be damned! Every choice they made was pitch-perfect – the actors selected truly seemed to inhabit their roles. And this wise dose of authenticity kept me focused on the story rather than distracted by any “name” actors. Even indie filmmaker Gregg Araki says of the film that he “hadn’t seen a world as unusual as this since the movie Avatar.”
When I attended the Independent Filmmakers Forum we were given a huge booklet of information and resources to utilize. The book also included case studies of a variety of low-budget films; Winter’s Bone was one of the movies profiled. I appreciate the parting words Rosellini offers up in regards to her filmmaking experience. “Bottom line advice: choose well whom you work with,” says Rosellini. “…You’re more conscientious about keeping things healthy and in a good space if you’re starting off there.” She and Granik certainly chose well.
NEXT UP: I’m blogging from Britain, Mates!