Children Without Parents is a work of autobiographical fiction, where the filmmaker Casey Puccini explores his relationship with his brazen siblings in the days right after their father’s suicide. The orphaned adults soon enter into a match of emotional destruction, targeting each other’s insecurities, and channeling the worst of their posthumous father’s personality. Puccini plays himself in this heartfelt pre-enactment, revealing the destructive underbelly of family dynamics.
Produced by: Casey Puccini, Jessica Brown
Cast: Bryn Packard, Sasha Gioppo, Kevin Stangler and Casey Puccini
10 questions with Children Without Parents director, Casey Puccini at the half-way mark.
Sunday, February 7th, 2016
1This movie made me laugh out loud so many times. It really is hilarious. What was the initial seed that made you want to make this film? The initial seed came from my family. My family has a dynamic that seemed normal to me until I was older and out in the world. I started to notice that stories I would share with others about my family were always received with laughter, engagement, and a little bit of a "what the fuck?" There was something about not only the content of the stories, but the way I told them that really kept people's attention. That was the first reason I thought to tell a story about my family; the way we tell stories.
The other aspect was more psychological. I was thinking about how we come to be as people, and how we are basically shaped by our families and surroundings. I noticed that there were a lot of films that dealt with familial death with messages about becoming whole and your own person once the head of the family is no more. Children Without Parents grew out of the curiosity of what would happen if losing our father and wondering if it would actually push us towards a bizarre dependence and make us more like him instead of less like ourselves.
2Everyone does such a great job acting. How do you know Bryn Packard, Sasha Gioppo and Kevin Stangler and what was it like working together? I had known Bryn for a few years before the project started. He had always reminded me of my brother Matt, so very early on in the process I knew that he needed to play that part. Through Bryn I met Kevin, who blew me away in the audition. Specifically, Kevin took every moment he could to tease Bryn, and encouraged me to join along until we reached the appropriate level of sibling jackassery that the film needed. Again, I knew he was absolutely perfect for the part. Sasha, as well. She has the same laid back, yet no bullshit personality that my sister Tanya has, and was easy to work with.
Working with the actors was very much like interacting with my family. The majority of the time would be great fun and super generative. Then there were those moments that, whether or not anyone showed it, we all just couldn't be around each other for a bit. The kind of feeling where you still love someone to death, but are thinking "I can't fucking engage with you for x amount of time." Once I started to get those sensations, I knew that the relationship we all had was much deeper than merely acting together and that what we were doing was, in fact, real.
3How much of this stuff was scripted? The dialogue seems so spontaneous. A script was written initially; but once we started rehearsals it was seen as more of a blue-print (as all scripts should be). The four of us rehearsed over 3 months before we started shooting, which was supremely important for us in order to gain that familiarity with one another. During that time, I would share stories and even videos of my family, so Sasha, Bryn and Kevin could not only know their characters better, but see the dynamic of my family. Then we would take what was written and turn it in to something that was right for the character to say. Sometimes I would throw something new into the scene during rehearsal and see how they would react. The actors were so incredible at keeping things progressing, not just in a way that worked for the scene, but in a way that was truly honest to the character.
4This film seems like it was a ton of fun to make. How did you maintain a straight face? Who made you break character the most? The shooting of the film was incredibly. It was extremely difficult for me not to break. Not so much for the others, because they're trained professionals. But, since I was the director it was okay (or seemingly okay) for me to ruin takes. It was actually fairly even between the three of them making me laugh, mostly with things that were more random than funny. In particular, during the ash scene Bryn would say something ridiculous, and Sasha would respond in the most perfect way that I'd just start cackling. It's good that I wasn't in that scene. I think I actually had to sit in a different room during takes so I wouldn't ruin them.
5This is your first feature film. How did you know you were ready to tackle a feature? At first I didn't. When I was originally thinking about the film, I didn't have a length in mind. Once I started assembling the ideas and structuring the movie, it became more clear that the length needed to be long enough for the audience to watch the characters change. If it were a short, the whole thing would have been rushed. I wanted there to be time to experience and understand all of us initially, and then watch how the duration of time we spent together affected us.
And, on a practical level, since the film is intended to be isolated completely within the house and shot with a grab-and-go sensibility, it seemed economically feasible. It made sense to just to try and shoot as much as possible and cut it to what fit the film best.
6What was the most difficult aspect of the shoot and how did you solve it? I think the most difficult aspect was making sure I didn't burn everybody out. I think its common with early filmmakers to just want to go and go, take after take, shooting over schedule and pushing it until everyone breaks. I've certainly worked crew on films where you constantly going 3+ hours over wrap time. And, because of inexperience, the filmmakers believe that's just the way it is. And, of course, that's the easiest way to get people to never work with you again. When you're working at this level you have to respect everyone who's working with you and know that they trust you not to use them.
Being aware of that I tried my hardest to be as flexible with my cast and crew as possible. I was incredibly aware of the energy and intelligence that everyone was contributing to my work, and the last thing I wanted was to lose their respect or trust. So, much of my job during the film was finding the flexibility to make things work within the constraints we had, and knowing when it was more worthwhile to let some things go in order to preserve the relationship. Everyone I worked with on Children Without Parents returned to work on my new film, so I think it was successful.
7What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? Initially, it was the James Bond film series. When I first saw them when I 9-10 years old, there was nothing I wanted to be more than James Bond. But, as a career goal, I didn't want to be in a situation where people were shooting at me for a living, so I thought about being an actor. Then I realized the downside to that was that actors have to say and do things that other people come up with. So, after that, I decided I wanted to be one of the other people, which I quickly learned were called directors. But, soon after that I found out that directors needed millions and millions of dollars to make movies, and I was convinced that no one would ever give me money to make a movie.
It became even slightly tangible was when I was 13 and first saw Eraserhead. I was so in awe of it, and more in awe that it was made on, like, $20,000. That was really the first time I thought that making a movie was something I could do. I would seek out any independent/art/experimental cinema I could find, and they all weirdly meld themselves into the work I make now.
8You act as well as direct in this film. What's your advice to filmmakers who are about to do the same thing? Watch the take. Of course film sets are always rushed and you don't want to take the time, but watch the take. The most difficult aspect of acting and directing is being able to be present in the way you need to be and also have a more total sense of the scene that you would get from observing behind the camera. Shooting rehearsals is always extremely helpful, too -- anything you can do to master the scene beforehand, so you can only be an actor once the camera is rolling.
I noticed early on in the production of Children Without Parents that I looked at everybody all the time My eyes are always darting around as a director, trying to see what each actor is doing in the scene, then I have to check myself as Casey the character and steady my head. In the film you can see that I;m always looking from one of the characters to another- which fits my character being the one who observes more than engages.
9The scene with the ashes was the hardest I've laughed in a movie in a long time . What is it about comedies that attracts you to it? Do you want to continue to make comedies or are you interested in other genre's as well? I'm glad you found that funny! Some people seem genuinely disturbed, which I find funny. What attracts me to comedies, or comedy in general, is that it can be much harder to pull off than drama, but if you do it's so incredibly rewarding. It's much more of an immediate and spontaneous reaction than other feelings, and if you can manipulate that out of someone, it's the highest praise.
I think everything I make will have some sense of comedy in it. Whether it's dark or dry or just not successful, I try to make things that are funny to me on some level. That might just be my personality more than an artistic choice. If I were to make a horror movie or something in a more clearly defined genre, I'd still want it to have the same sort of tone that is in Children Without Parents.
10What's next? I'm currently finishing up post-production on my next feature, titled I Don't Care. In it I play an intention-less filmmaker, named Casey Puccini, who feels justified in sabotaging his own production when he interprets his main actor's (Sasha Gioppo) busying schedule as a lack of dedication.
It's a 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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