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Here Build Your Homes
2012, 98m, drama, experimental
With their closest friends in tow, siblings Owen and Rosie organize one last outing to their family’s cabin in the California redwoods for the long Independence Day weekend. What’s intended to be a relaxing getaway soon turns heated as the close quarters bring long-simmering tensions amongst the group to their boiling point. Working off only detailed character breakdowns and daily objectives, the film was improvised entirely without the benefit of a script or outline. What results is an honest portrait of a generation's search for its identity, and the growing pains that accompany it.
Produced by: Josh Woolf, Aviv Russ, Puneet Layal
Cast: Patrick Carlyle, Heather Ann Davis, Emily Graham-Handley, Megan Lee Joy, Benjamin Parslow, Joey Snyder Kloos
10 questions with Here Build Your Homes director, Cameron Beyl at the half-way mark.
Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016
1Hi Cameron! Thanks for being a part of our 2016 Spring Festival. First, what was the initial seed that made you want to make Here Build Your Homes? It began with a road trip, actually. I was driving up to San Francisco with one of the film's producers, Puneet Layal, to visit an old friend there. I planned the route so we'd pass through the redwoods forests outside of Santa Cruz, as I had never seen that part of California. As we drove through the woods, we passed a little cabin perched up on a hill, where a young person about our age was standing out on the porch, wrapped in a blanket and holding a cup of coffee or whatever it was. I just remember being weirdly struck by the image, and found myself curious about what else was going on inside that cabin. As we continued driving, Puneet and I started speculating about that, and the conversation naturally morphed into throwing ideas around for a movie set in that world, and that would be entirely improvised. We were drawn to the idea because it offered a way to hammer out a quick feature... You shoot for a weekend, edit the footage you get quickly, and you're done and onto the next one. If only we knew how long it'd really take to make!
2I absolutely loved this movie and I could not believe you made this film without a script. Can you tell me a bit how you crafted this story without a script? We went into the shoot having absolutely zero idea what we would come away with. There was no script, of course, but we also didn't have a treatment or outline. What we ended up doing instead was casting the actors we wanted to work with, and then spent several months before the shoot working with them to craft their characters in extreme detail. It got to the point where they could tell you who their character dressed up as for Halloween when they were nine. When it came time to actually shoot, the only direction I provided was in the form of a notecard I'd give to the actors every morning, which listed goals for them to achieve by the end of the day. The goals were designed to conflict with other actors' goals, so that there'd be natural story development and drama. Beyond that, the actors made every single narrative decision based off their detailed backstory. They knew exactly how their character would act in any given situation.
3In the beginning of the film you also say there were no second takes. Can you explain to me why you chose to do that? In stage improv, there's a general rule that you say "yes" to anything that happens. I wanted to embrace that in the purest sense, so that the actors had to really think about their actions because there was no going back once they made that choice. The idea was that it would keep things feeling very naturalistic, and the actors would have to somewhat restrain their actions and reactions because there's real consequences. As a result, I think the drama comes off as very grounded and convincing because their reactions are genuine.
4Since there were no second takes, how many cameras did you have on set? Did you follow them around like a reality show or was it a bit more set up than that? We had two main cameras on our actors at all times, operated by the DP Patrick Scola and myself. There was also a third camera that our producer Aviv Russ used from time to time when the actors broke into smaller groups and we were stretched a little thin. Each actor was rigged up with a wireless mic that fed into a mobile mixing board operated by our sound recordists Jesse Rosenman and Valen Hernandez. With that setup, we could follow the actors wherever they wanted to go, especially because we optimized the shoot for taking advantage of natural light. We only had one light, which we tended to bust out for exterior night locations to give us a little boost. As we neared the end of the shoot, we started transitioning to something resembling traditional setups-- we knew we had certain beats we had to get in order to properly conclude the story. So basically, it started as this wide open, "anything goes" kind of shoot and gradually closed down as the choices characters made closed certain doors and limited the number of paths we could take.
5All of your actors did an incredible job (Patrick Carlyle, Heather Ann Davis, Emily Graham-Handley, Megan Lee Joy, Benjamin Parslow, Joey Snyder Kloos). How did you find such talented actors and what was it like working with them? They're definitely all amazing, and I'm so lucky I was able to work with them on this film. I had known all of them previously, and they came from different social circles. I had worked with most of them before in some capacity, so there was already a familiar rapport and trust there. My existing relationship with them helped immensely during the shoot, because I trusted them to execute the concept in a way that didn't go off the rails, and they trusted me to guide them in a similar manner. They were also really great about constructively challenging me-- if they had legitimate concerns about the way the shoot was going, they knew they could come to me without the risk of reproach or hurting my ego or whatever. It actually led to some very frank and heartfelt conversations that tightened up the operation in the best possible way. This film is as much theirs as it is mine. The story belongs to them because they were the ones who actually told it.
6The music to your film is also very beautiful. How did you find all your music and how hard was it to get permission to use their work? The music was a two-pronged effort led by our music supervisor Jackie Shuman and our composer Jeremy Bullock. It started with Jackie, who got involved very early on in preproduction. I wanted any source tracks that appeared in the film to be actually played on set by the characters... Which meant that we needed a playlist of cleared tracks before a single frame was shot. I've worked with Jackie before on my previous feature, and she has this absolutely killer ear for great new music. I gave her total freedom to find a mix of songs she personally liked and what she felt these characters would actually listen to, and she set about clearing the rights in relatively short order. I found Jeremy through his Wild Cub bandmate Keegan DeWitt, who is a great composer in his own right. Jeremy was looking to get into film scoring, so we worked together to create a bed of musical textures and themes that would complement and support the action. I think Jeremy absolutely nailed the feeling we were going for, which was kind've of a nostalgic, introspective character. I think it also helped that he was fairly new to that world, because he brought a lot of fresh ideas to the table.
7I loved the scene where we Owen and Dustin are judging Micah and Charlotte's relationship while they are in the bedroom. It such a beautiful scene. What's the scene you're most proud of in this film? I also really love how that scene turned out! I think the counter-commentary adds a whole new dimension, and keeps it from feeling gratuitous or salacious. I think the scene that I'm most proud of is the confrontation between Owen and Dustin about his offer to buy the house. Patrick and Joey did such a great job of balancing their tense dynamic with the realities of the scene, and giving it the kind of dialogue that most writers would kill for. We had chills shooting that scene... We knew right away it was going to be a standout moment that really brings the film's central conflict into clear focus.
8This really is a bold new form of making a feature film. Do you anticipate always going the route of unscripted, one take films? I could see myself making one or two more films in this manner, but I don't think it's an approach that I would adopt for every project. It was a huge experiment, and served as a way for me to throw myself out of my comfort zone and see what the limits of my abilities were. My primary attitude as a filmmaker is that structure should be informed by story, and not the other way around. The nature of this particular film's story demanded that we shoot the way we did.
9What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? I can't actually recall a particular film that made me want to be become a filmmaker. I wanted to be an actor myself when I was a kid, and my love for filmmaking just grew naturally from making little movies with my friends as an excuse to act. I can however identify some films I saw later that serve as personal flashpoints in regards to my development and values as a director... "Boogie Nights" was a watershed experience , as was "Heat". Also... "Sunset Boulevard", "There Will Be Blood", "The Graduate", "The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford"... I could go on for a while. David Gordon Green's "George Washington" and the film's of Terrence Malick were a particularly big influence for "Here Build Your Homes".
10What's next? It's been almost six years since we shot "Here Build Your Homes", so I'm really itching to get another feature going. I'm in the advanced writing stages of a few ideas, so I guess it's just a matter of what gets the necessary momentum first. Most of them are elevated genre pieces.... Psychological thrillers or crime dramas. "Here Build Your Homes" cost 5k to make, and these would require considerably higher budgets. So if there's any potential investors out there reading this, let's talk!
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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