Thursday, March 17, 2016

Scott R. Thompson on "His Neighbor Phil"

What was your filmmaking background before making His Neighbor Phil?
SCOTT: My first love is screenwriting and there's no better school for screenwriters than to see your work in a theater full of people.   So I've been writing/producing/directing films for seventeen years, more than sixty features and about a dozen shorts, mostly in small communities around the upper midwest in order to give people anywhere a chance to participate in filmmaking without having to drop everything and pack up and move to a film school.  

We've discovered some wonderfully talented people and the communities who have worked with us have had a great time.  But in terms of my writing, it has been 70+ opportunities to write a screenplay and see it play out on a screen with an audience.   As a result, my writing has improved all along the way.

Where did the idea come from and what was the process for writing the script?

SCOTT: The idea for His Neighbor Phil came from my own experience with some people who have had dementia or Alzheimers, including my grandmother.   Music is a key factor in the film and I have witnessed firsthand the transforming power of music for many victims of dementia.    

I wanted to tell a story which focused more on the caretakers of those with Alzheimers than on the disease itself.   Caretakers suffer equally with their loved ones and their story needs to be told too.   Music has helped many of these caretakers keep their loved ones more "present" with them, if only for a little while longer.   It really touched me. 

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your distribution plan for recouping your costs?

SCOTT: We are working on several ideas on how to market the film, exploring the best options between television, digital, and home video, and even some limited theatrical.    

The film was sponsored by several Alzheimers support groups and senior care companies, so they're already using the film in a limited way in the daily work they do with caretakers and families. 

What was your process for casting the film?

SCOTT: I like to write for actors I know, so I included some familiar faces from our other films, like Daniel Roebuck, Ellen Dolan, Sally Kellerman, Ashlee Hewitt, etc.    

But the mission of our work has always been to also give anyone from the area in which we're shooting a chance to participate, even if they've never had experience before.    

So we're very proud that some of the key actors in the film were acting for the first time ever and did a wonderful job.  A young actress near where we filmed the movie named Kristi Knudson, who had never acted in her life, ended up with one of the most demanding roles and absolutely did a stunning job.  

So we had a wonderful mix of local and professional actors. 

What type of camera did you use and what did you love (and hate) about it?

SCOTT: Our Director of Photography used the Canon C300 and I love the workflow out of that camera.  

The visual quality is perfect for our projects and its ease of use allows us to shoot quickly, which is crucial for small budget films. 

How did you find and produce the music for the movie?

SCOTT: Much of the music was provided by local musicians, which fit into the context of our story.  They often have played at the very theater which is featured in the film, so that's why we used them.  

The soundtrack score was written by several artists, from Bill Holmes who did the majority of it, to some other local musicians again including Logan Langley and Brian Banse. 

How much did the story change in the editing process and why did you make the changes you did?

SCOTT: The story didn't really change because we had a small, tight cast and premise.  

But in the editing process, we were able to tighten the story and navigate the heavy emotions within the film more smoothly so that it never felt like we were manipulating those emotions or our audience. 

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

SCOTT: The smartest thing was partnering with the community of Zumbrota, Minnesota to produce the film with us.   They not only provided the majority of the funding for the film, but they were integral in every aspect of the process behind the scenes, from catering to housing to locations to drivers to crew members and even to acting and musicians.  

The dumbest thing we did during production was not allowing enough time for the crew and cast to rest.  It was an emotional storyline and it would have been nice to have had some time to back off the ridiculous schedule and just appreciate what we were doing and how it could impact real families and their loved ones.    

And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?

SCOTT: I'll approach this question as a writer.  

Sometimes writers fall into the trap of trying too hard to make their characters "complex" or "multi-layered" and they force their characters into situations which may be intellectually intriguing but which have no emotional connection to the heart of their audience.  

In all of my scripts, but especially this one, I just wanted to show what life is like for people who live with Alzheimers every day. I didn't have to make it more complex or add additional layers to these characters because the audience related to them so deeply and provided their own complexity and their own layers.  They saw themselves in the caretakers and the neighbors and the friends.  Once we connected to their hearts, their own life experiences provided all the complexity they needed.    

It's a great lesson for any screenwriter.  

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