Thursday, June 29, 2017

Eric Pauls on "To the Mountain"

What was your filmmaking background before making To the Mountain?
ERIC: Before To the Mountain, I had made several narrative and documentary shorts but my main focus was on writing. When I finished film school it seemed like all my classmates headed into the corporate video world but I really just wanted to tell stories so I focused on writing a feature a year and that's lead to most of my opportunities. 

Where did the idea come from and what was the process for getting the script ready to shoot?

ERIC: The initial idea was very vague. I live 45 minutes from the Rocky Mountains, one of the most beautiful places in the world, so I thought it would just be smart to set a movie there.

I had heard of people scattering the ashes of loved ones in the mountains and I used that idea as a launching point. The idea grew from there to include almost a dozen different stories overlapping on a single day in the mountains.  

However, the shooting script had to be cut down to something far more manageable when it came time to shoot. We had a budget of ten thousand dollars to make the movie so I just started cutting characters and stories. At the time I felt disappointed to have to say goodbye to some of those characters but in the end we were left with a tighter script and a strong through line.

I feel like I've seen so many projects overextending themselves because of the complexity of the story and I felt the greatest gift I could give myself as a director was time to focus on the nuances that these others projects were forced to overlook. 

What was your casting process and did you change the script to match your final cast?

ERIC: Like I said, we had no money, so name actors were out of the question, even union actors were out. We put out a call to local casting agents and we saw a surprising amount of decent people but honestly, we just lucked out and found that one perfect person for every part except for our two leads, the father and son characters.

For the son character, I needed a strong, silent type, who basically spends the whole film acting with nothing but his eyes. In pre-production, I was hanging out with my friend Dan who was working as a Lamp-Op on the Revenant at the time.

As he put his coat on to head out, I suddenly realized he was perfect for the role and I offered him the part right there. It took a couple weeks, and a camera test before I convinced him he was right for it. Now that the film is done I can't imagine anyone else playing that part.

For the Father character, I had to make a change. Peter was the last to audition and up to that point, I was convinced I wasn't going to find anyone. When he walked into the room he looked the part but when he started to speak he had a British accent. I stopped him and asked if he could do an American accent. He said he wasn't able to but he still wanted to read. I was out of options so I said sure.

Needless to say, he blew us away and the character became an ex-pat from England, which informed not only his character but the entire story in a great way.

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

ERIC: We shot on a Sony fs700 with the Atomos Ninja recorder. My DOP, Michael Janke, did an amazing job with the limitations I put on him. Of course, we wanted to shoot on a Red or something but my producer Paige Boudreau and I decided we rather spend the money elsewhere. It took Michael the first day to adjust to the idea but he soon embraced the limitations thrust upon him and ended up making a uniquely beautiful film.

We worked off of the theory that sound, performances, and story, have to be good, the picture has to be inventive. 

What was the hardest part of doing a movie with so much exterior work?

ERIC: Weather!  I thought, shooting in the middle of the summer would mean warm sunny days but shooting in the mountains meant a different system coming through every hour. We would do half a scene in nice weather, then turn the camera and it would start to rain. Eventually, we had to keep shooting if we wanted to make our days.

There are scenes in the movie where it is raining in half of the shots, fortunately, you can't tell unless I point them out to you. 

Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, why did you make the changes?

ERIC: Not really, we cut the script down so much before shooting that all that was left were the essential scenes. We also did a rough cut between shoot days, so we could get a sense of how it was coming together. I will do that every time now, it really informed the shoot, and kept us focused on exactly what we needed to get. 

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

ERIC: Dumbest thing I did was commit to making a feature film for ten thousand dollars.

The smartest thing I did was ignore the people who said it couldn't be done for that amount of money and shot it anyway.

I could have made a lot of compromises and waited a long time for more financing to make this movie and it still may not have happened. I'm so proud of this movie and the work everyone did on it.

The fact that we had a functioning feature film at the end of production was a huge achievement and everything that has happened since has been icing on the cake. 


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