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2014, 72m, drama, experimental
Ben Hardin (Robert Longstreet), a middle-aged scholar, returns home to care for his ill mother during his scheduled writing sabbatical. While home, faced with the remnants of a life he left behind, Ben's relationships with estranged friends and family -- his mother, his brother, his ex-lover, and his old friend -- are tested. As he grows increasingly alienated, he is forced to confront his looming responsibilities and choose whether to engage or detach.
Produced by: Brandon Colvin, Tony Oswald, Michael Sellers
Cast: Robert Longstreet, Rhoda Griffis, Kentucker Audley, Rebecca Koon, Thomas Jay Ryan
9 questions with Sabbatical director, Brandon Colvin at the half-way mark.
Tuesday, March 8th, 2016
1What was the initial seed that made you want to make Sabbatical? I saw a film by Robert Beavers named PITCHER OF COLORED LIGHT. It's a poetic, observational film about Beavers' elderly mother, living alone. It's a beautiful movie, and it got me thinking and reflecting about my own mother and my family, sort of extrapolating what our lives might be like if we made certain choices or took certain paths. I got fixated on this very negative, scary version of our future in which all of the tension and frustration in our family pushed us apart. This also happened during a time when I was struggling with my role in the family, how much responsibility I should shoulder for keeping things together and ameliorating conflicts. All of that uncertainty and fear started manifesting images. Gradually, the film started to blossom out of those emotionally charged images.
2Kentucker Audley (a filmmaker whose film Open Five is also on Fandependent) acts in your film. How do you two know each other and what was it like working together? I came to know Kentucker after submitting my first film, FRAMES to No Budge (the website he curates). He liked the film, and we subsequently became friends. When we were casting SABBATICAL, we knew we wanted Kentucker, since he's such a talented performer and seemed to really fit the role of Dylan. He was totally down to be a part of it, and working with him was a breeze. Maybe the most pleasantly surprising aspect of working with Kentucker is the way he can bring out the humor in a role. He's a really gifted physical comedian and his timing frequently made me chuckle behind the camera.
3You got wonderful performances with all of your actors. What was your process like working with them? Do you do a lot of rehearsals, do you improvise? What's your technique? We had zero rehearsal time, and there is zero improvisation in the film. I tend to write my scripts very precisely and stick to them rather tightly while shooting. I storyboard everything and know most of my cut points before we get on set. So, my process is not very exploratory. Instead, I work with the actors to get them on the right wavelength in terms of tone, energy, pacing, etc. That requires several takes, in lieu of rehearsal. Most of what's in the final film comes from the last take or next to last take we shot for each set-up. It usually took at least 6-7 takes to hone everything until it gelled, which was particularly challenging since the film has a lot of very long takes with no cuts, meaning the performances had to work for minutes on end. The actors themselves were absolutely amazing, in such control of their expressive faculties. I had several conversations with Robert about his character ahead of the shoot, but for the other performers, we only had brief conversations about their characters, usually me answering any questions they had.
4Aaron Granat, your cinematographer, did an excellent job. How do you two know each other and how did you two determine the look for Sabbatical? Aaron and I met in grad school at the University of Wisconsin. We immediately realized that we clicked in terms of our taste in movies and music. We worked together on my first film, FRAMES, which Aaron also produced. Aaron and I have a lot of similar reference points when it comes to films, which makes it easy for us to communicate. The fact that we had already worked together also meant that our communication on SABBATICAL was very smooth, with Aaron often intuiting what I wanted. We are both very interested into the formal qualities of cinema, especially the geometry and perceptual aspects of composition and cinematography. As for the look of SABBATICAL, the vast majority of the film's style came from my interests in abstraction, minimalism, and painterly aesthetics. I like strong, clean, planimetric compositions, combined with active off-screen space and relatively tight shot scales.
5What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? The film that awakened my serious interest in cinema was David Lynch's ERASERHEAD, which I saw when I was 13. After seeing that, my future was sealed.
6What scene in this film turned out better than you ever imagined it would? Hmm. Probably the shot when Ben is sitting on a bench outside, before he attempts to visit Sarah. It's a medium close-up on Robert, and when we were shooting, a spider was crawling on his shoulder. We had no idea the spider was even there until we started editing. Then, this spider took on this weird metaphorical significance, almost like foreshadowing of the sadness and disappointment Ben encounters when he visits Sarah and learns that she has been dishonest with him. It was an accident that sort of seamlessly integrated into the emotional dynamics of the movie, making that shot much more interesting than it would have been without the spider.
7Can you share a war story from the shoot? This shoot was exceedingly smooth, so it's hard to think of something particularly noteworthy. Probably the most stressful problem was that the hospital we shot in had this awful music being piped in through the speakers, and it took us forever to get it turned off. The hospital had to call in this special technician who was apparently the only person who knew how to stop the music. We had to wait almost an hour. Other than that, everything was mostly very chill.
8How heavily do you rely on a script? How much of this film was scripted? 100%. The film is totally scripted and designed. Occasionally, I would cut some lines on set before we shot a scene, and I think there are two shots that are in the script, that we shot, that didn't make the final cut. Other than that, what's on the screen is exactly what's on the page.
9What's next? I've got a new script called A DIM VALLEY that I plan to shoot in the summer of 2017. It's about a trio of biologists who encounter three possibly magical women in the woods. Sort of a Hayao Miyazaki meets David Lynch meets Aki Kaurismaki film -- a metaphysical comedy.
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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