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Red Right Return
2015, 79m, drama
Ian and Cullen, brothers who have been estranged largely from Ian's problems with addiction, travel to their family beach house to reconnect before Cullen is to be married. When Cullen asks Ian to be his best man, Ian invites down old friends to give his brother a real bachelor party, inviting substances that put their relationship to test.
Produced by: Max Heller, Bridget Kane, Laura Klein, George Manatos
Cast: Cris Lankenau, Leo Fitzpatrick, Alexandra Clayton, Marc Cerio
10 questions with Red Right Return director, George Manatos at the half-way mark.
Wednesday, April 13th, 2016
1Hi George! Thanks for allowing us to use your film as the opening film of our 2016 Spring festival! Could you firs tell me, what was the initial seed that made you want to make this film? Thank you! We're excited to be in such great company.
The initial seed for this film was the location. As a first-timer, I had promised myself to keep things simple and write for two main characters, one main location (my grandmother's house). I knew I had to write about something that was second nature to me, and having grown up with three older brothers, a sibling story was a no-brainer.
From there, I suppose I followed my gut as a viewer, having been been greatly moved by more intimate family dramas. Placing a character amongst family is always interesting, as family can really cut to the essence of one's self. Lying or posing isn't so easy around people who've seen you learn to navigate the world.
2This film deals with addiction and brotherhood in such an honest and truthful way. What made you want to dive into a story about addiction? I feel that every human has a relationship with addiction, in some form, though not everyone is willing to really look dependency in the eye.
I find it unfortunate that many films dealing with addiction aren't made with the nuance or patience the filmmakers might have for their own personal struggles. I had consistent fears of falling into that trap. I came to find this meant making some creative decisions that went in the face of some more typical cinematic grooves, but I was fine with that. I was also extremely lucky to have a few friends who were generous with their experiences, so that I wasn't building a character using facts from a book.
As for brotherhood, my three older brothers are central figures in my life. Being aware that I was discussing something that wasn't directly personal (addiction), I encased it within a framework I knew better than just about any.
In addition, sibling relationships have always been so cinematic to me. So much unspoken communication. Tension that can be shattered on a dime, with the right smile.
3What was the writing process like for this film? All of the dialogue seems so natural. Was everything on screen scripted or did you leave room for improvisation? There was a full script, a lot of which I was lucky enough to write on location. While I was proud of the work I put into it, I was most excited for the actors to ingest it in and spit it out as a living, breathing thing - using their own words and experiences. They added to it in ways I never could have imagined. Cris Lankenau especially put his own stamp on many scenes. With one in particular, I gave him general guidelines and he went off and wrote all of the dialogue.
For a few scenes, we left things extra loose - with room to find it in improvisation and rehearsal. Like the 'prank call' scene. That was an actual prank call. One of maybe 10 that we filmed. I always find that improv breathes special life into a film. I greatly value seeing people react in real time, with their own unique mannerisms.
4Leo Fitzpatrick is such an incredible actor and has been in so many significant films. What was it like working together and why did you want him for the part? Working with Leo was great. On a set made up mostly of friends (or those who quickly became friends), he was a great reminder to be balanced and economic. He has an intensity that he brings to his work.
With his career of playing characters who are more often than not finding their way, I was excited to cast him as a man who had not only found his way, but was eager to guide his younger brother toward his own.
I hoped some of who Leo is as a person- a New York City artist and actor- would shine through in that reformed skater kind of way. I know as a director, that can be seen as kind of a cheat, but I can't help but want to see who a person is, not just who they are as an actor. I'm kind of obsessed with little editorial gems like footage of actors AFTER a director has called 'cut'.
5Your lead actor Cris Lankenau, is someone you've worked with before. What is it about Cris that made you want to work with him again? I've been a fan of Cris since the first few minutes of Quiet City, which I saw maybe in '07 or '08. I was immediately hooked. He has such an innate like-ability and a way of existing on screen that is both interesting and authentic.
I was insanely lucky to have Cris be a part of Red Right Return from the very beginning, as we were kind of transitioning from the short we made together. He was a big creative support and a large part of the identify of the film. I'd throw things at him and see what stuck at just about every stage. He was so generous with his time and energy.
6You've made a number of short films but Red Right Return is your first feature. At what moment did you know you were ready to make a feature? With Red Right Return, I hoped to dive in. Not to wait for permission to make a movie or be bogged down with paralysis by analysis. I wanted to learn from doing, and I really did. Making a movie can an intimidating endeavor. I guess I felt like I needed to get out there and take a calculated chance or else I might never do it.
I was also lucky enough to have a few veteran, extremely talented guiding forces behind the scenes who gave me the confidence to keep moving forward at the early stages.
7I'm not usually a big fan of slow motion in films but I thought the way you used it was so wonderful. What prompted that decision, what cameras did you use, and did you shoot any scenes with more than one camera? Thank you. The slow motion (eventually shot on RED Epic) had been in the script since the early drafts. I knew these moments of emotional shift within the brothers had to be expressed in a way that fit the film's muted tenor. I felt that isolating certain physical moments for the viewer- the brothers' body language, spacial relation, facial expressions- was important. Things one might notice when patiently gazing at a family photo.
Thanks to the suggestion of our DP, Chris Mosson, we shot the majority of the film on these great Swedish cameras: Ikonoskop A-Cam Dii. They produce thousands of digital still images instead of compressed video, which helped give us more of an organic image.
We shot with two cameras for maybe seventy percent of the movie. We tried to create an immersive experience where the viewer feels like they're watching these tense, awkward sibling moments from the hallway or adjacent room. That meant long lenses, and mostly stationary frames, relying on performance to lead the way. Two cameras allowed us to play a little more on set, as well as in the edit. It also allowed us to be faster on our feet, as a production, which is key on a 15-day shoot.
8What's the scene that you are most proud of? Having seen this film so many (read: too many) times, I'd say my favorite scene is with Ian and Matt in the kitchen, finishing up their game of 'Misery' at the end of the night. As a scene, it ended up having a shape most different from that of the script, being built more by Cris (Ian) and Marc's (Matt) quips and jabs at one another. It was shot toward the end of the production and I feel that helped so much of their on-screen relation. Watching them take the script in different directions was some of the most fun I had on set.
Also, there's always been an excitement for me, to the end of a night. Especially in a setting like that, it's when things get weird and walls come down.
9What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? This is a tough one. I didn't really find my way toward off-the-beaten-path, non-studio films until my early-to-mid 20's, which is later than most. But when I did, it was an explosion. I ate up everything I could get my hands on for several years (likely to the detriment of my social life). Some of the more indelible films of that first stage of awakening were films like Malick's 'Badlands', Truffaut's 'Jules and Jim', and Cassavetes' 'Faces'. These films just got at something inside me and wouldn't let go. They re-wrote my understanding of what a film could be. Each were intent on breaking the rules, but retained a heavily humanistic viewpoint, which ultimately extends to the viewer.
I hope these original sources of inspiration aren't immediately evident, but rather vaguely make sense after viewing the movie.
10What's next? Well, let's just say I'm in awe of people who regularly make films while juggling day jobs. Raising money, shooting, cutting, and following through with a feature film has been an educational marathon and I'm excited to make another.
I have a feature script or two on the back burner, but in the meantime, I'm planing to shoot a few short film scripts in the next year or so. They each carry a distinct challenge, formally, which is exciting and hopefully will keep me growing.
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. The film is about the evolution of a couple's relationship, and was shot in three different countries over the course of a decade.
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