I noticed that you are a filmmaker that cares a lot on creating a profound character-study. Can you tell me something about Laurence Fuller and Micah Parker and how they brought to life the main characters of your story?
The search for Jack and Frank was a pretty overwhelming experience, as we needed not just two individuals who could convey the chemistry between the characters, but also be able to shift and adapt with the rapid pace of production. I knew there was something special from both Micah and Laurence from the moment they entered the room, as up until that point every person who read just felt far too disconnected from the material - either too funny or too dramatic, never finding the right balance.
What makes Micah and Laurence so skilled is they both have ability to locate the humor in any situation. I knew each scene needed to stand on that precipice, teetering back and forth between drama and comedy, which they were able to find and exceed beyond any expectations I had going in. These two guys were incredibly prepared from the first take, giving above and beyond to their roles, while conveying a true sense of history between the characters, adding wildly complex layers of depth. I'm pleased to say that the three of us have become pretty good friends since wrapping production, and I couldn't be more excited to work with both of them again and see what we can make with round two.
So you have these two talented new actors and then you have Marshall R. Teague, a veteran one.
Marshall Teague is a machine. He had this magnificent ability to maintain continuity to the finest detail - whether picking up his drink on a certain line, or looking to a character at a particular moment. With many of us being relatively new to the feature world, Marshall acted very much as the father figure, guiding us during the few days he was there, offering us such amazing stories and guidance, all while brining in an incredible amount of depth to the character.
He came into the casting room having memorized the entire 15 page scene from start to finish. It was clear that he held a deep connection to the character, though I was incredulous that a man of his experience and stature wanted to be in this film, given how little I had to show for it. But he connected to the character. He and I would often talk on the phone for the 3-4 months leading up to production, dissecting the character, and I could just feel the excitement and anticipation he had for the role. He seemed to know better than any of us that we were going to be creating a very special moment in film and from take one, we knew that we were all part of a precious and unique moment.
There's a great scene with him that evokes Tolstoy's A Confession.
I was very excited that you picked up the reference, as after all festivals and reviews, you were the only one who mentioned it. I had studied philosophy in college and it was assigned for one of my classes. I had never read any Tolstoy up to that point, and was absolutely blown away by the essay. To read such an intelligent and talented author who was struggling with many of the issues we all face was the precise type of book you hope to read while studying philosophy. It mixed complex ideas within a very accessible and intimate narrative.
The first philosophy class I ever took was Intro to Existentialism, taught by Shane Wahl, which really planted the bug. It was exactly what I was hoping it'd be and completely changed my life. He actually had an assignment where we had to watch a film from a list he compiled and relate it to the ideas we were studying. Knowing that I wanted to try and find a way to converge philosophy and filmmaking, this was the greatest assignment I ever had in college. It allowed me to, from a more critical point of view, deconstruct how ideas presented in a film could take on grander meaning. I believe I wrote about Paths of Glory and Kierkegaard.
Any way, one of the first things you learn when studying philosophy is that the work is much more focused with training the student to deconstruct exceptionally difficult material, forcing them to understand complex arguments, than it is with talking about what these ideas can mean for the world (something which Marx would go on to criticize; influencing Frank's character). So it was my plan with Road to the Well to ensure that, if you took the time, you would discover that - as absurd as it gets - all of the information remains logical, operating within a much more cerebral environment that can explore these larger ideas.
I truly think that your film is beautifully shot. Tim Davis' cinematography is amazing and it incredibly helps to create a deep atmospherical sense.
Tim Davis and I have been best friends since we were sophomores in high school, having known each other since junior high. Tim had taken a cinema studies course junior year and I was watching Dawson's Creek and soon our lives began to revolve around film. We swore a drunken blood oath to move out to Los Angeles after college, stayed close all throughout those next five years, and then he led the way to LA and we were roommates until about a year ago. From early on I remembered how convenient it was that we both had the passion for film and with the perfect compliment - he wanted to shoot and I wanted to write/direct. I only tell this story because Tim and I have basically had a 12 year discussion on cinema, with the two of us sharing what we enjoyed and talking long into the night about certain movies, which really helped with designing the look of Road to the Well.
I think Tim shot one of the best looking indie films of the year. If there's one ubiquitous piece of praise it's that this is a beautiful movie, and it was designed in that exact way. Tim and I had been going to a bar over here in Los Angeles with a bag of Army Figures for about eighteen months or so leading up to production. We would meet every single night we could and discuss each and every shot and how we could execute this ambitious project. He designed this incredible look book, where after or during our discussions, he would pull up shots from films or paintings, and it really helped to shape each scene. We then made overheads and photo-boards by visiting as many locations as possible, working each and every shot down to the smallest detail. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, working with my best friend on trying to achieve this dream together, and doing everything we could to ensure it was as interesting as possible. He accomplished things that left me gaping.
I'm sure that I am not the first reviewer to identify the presence of the Coen brothers in your film.
Blood Simple had been an influence from the earliest of days, not just for its focus on murder, but also for how the Coens raised the money, in which they did whatever it took to finance their first movie, securing the funds from a bunch of Midwestern dentists. But just as Paul Thomas Anderson once declared that everyone’s influenced by Kubrick, I’d say the same for the Coen Brothers. Their impact on cinema is as strong as any of the greats - Hitchcock, Woody Allen, Spielberg, you name it. They brought such colorful characters to life that really only seemed to exist in literature until they came about (per the likes of Faulkner, Dickens, etc.). They’re so full of personality and richness and I think it was witnessing their ability to create such depth that I tried to do the same for our own. Of course, it's also their casting that sets them apart from all others, in which the look is often as important as the performance; something our casting directors Billy DaMota and Dea Vise really helped us to accomplish.
Was the writing process difficult? It suffered many changes? And what about directing it?
The writing process was difficult, mostly because you’re working against great limitations. First and foremost, the film needed to be cinematic, and Tim immediately understood, long before I did, what we needed to do in order to pull this off. We couldn’t cheap out on the equipment and sacrifice the quality, the way we might have been able to if we were making a found footage film (and I say this with The Blair Witch Project being one of my favorite films of all time). Rather than role with the traditional micro budget look, our goal was to produce a professional film across the board - with the photography, characters, and of course the writing. But the budget made this difficult, as you quickly realize the freedom money provides. Add being a first time filmmaker to the mix and you can only hope that what you write and planned for will work on the day, as you have no time to change anything.
So writing within these confines and with the little experience I had proved to be very challenging. It took about nine months to reach a presentable draft, wrought with endless self doubt and countless moments of seriously considering tossing the whole script and starting over. I knew that it wasn’t perfect, but in terms of what I could achieve at that point I think it was the best I could do.
This also goes for direction. Similar to screenwriting, Tim and I worked endless hours designing a visual story of the movie. But at the end of the day, given how little we had done comparably speaking, we simply planned it out the best we could, confident with some ideas and very much hoping with others.
The thing is that when you’re done with the movie and enter into post, you discover all of your mistakes. You see what worked and what didn’t. I’m far more aware of Road to the Well’s problems than anyone else, but to see what did work is as thrilling as it gets. But all it really does is make you want to make another film and see if maybe the next round you can get a bit closer to that image in your head.
I also want to say that it’s only because of the cast and crew that we accomplished all we did. They were able to ensure that production ran as smooth as possible, bringing the greatest level of craft and creativity to the set, and I will deeply appreciate what they did for the rest of my life.
What does it mean to you to have Road to the Well finished?
Having this film finished is very refreshing. This project has occupied the majority of my life for the last five years. I’m long past ready for it to be out there, shared with the world, and to take all I learned in order to try and make something better next time.