Director Matthew Petock on set. Photo by Catherine Andre.
Our ongoing Indie Night series continues this evening with A Little Closer, the debut feature from director Matthew Petock. This monthly series celebrates the exciting and innovative work of a new wave of filmmakers whose shoe-string productions often rely on friends and favors and whose films are independent in the fullest sense of the word. In its first year, Indie Night is guest co-curated by award-winning producer Ted Hope.
A Little Closer is an intimate portrait of a single mom and her two sons living in rural Virginia that deals with love, class, hardship and teenage sexuality in a frank yet tender way. Martin Scorsese has called it "a hauntingly beautiful film and a remarkable debut." We asked director Matthew Petock to answer some questions about himself and his film by way of introduction:
Can you tell us a bit about your background as a filmmaker? How did you get started?
I've always loved movies, but it wasn't until NYU that I really drank the kool-aid. This whole new world opened up that I had no idea existed, and I really fell in love. A Little Closer is the first feature I wrote and directed, and I'm working on a couple other things now.
Making an independent film comes with a lot of freedom, but also its own set of obstacles and challenges. What do you see as the biggest advantages and disadvantages of how you made your film?
Obviously the biggest disadvantages are the lack of money and time. On this film we had twelve shoot days. Daniel Carbone shot the movie on a camera he co-owned with his brother. My crew slept on the floor, in sleeping bags (I'm in debt to them forever). I've also learned in the past year that it's even harder finishing a movie and getting it seen when you're broke.
But the advantages are countless. Imposing restrictions—budgetary, creative, otherwise—can really stretch one's thought process and cultivate unique decisions. Also it's extremely hard to ask people to work for free, but when your friends do because of a shared passion for independent film, it becomes a labor of love. Everyone's incredibly supportive, everyone wants it more, and there's a camaraderie and collaboration that's invaluable. I still feel guilty about it, but I had the best, hardest working crew with the best attitudes you can imagine. The biggest budgets in the world can't buy that.
When did you first have the idea for this project? Can you take us through a bit of the timeline between then and the film's completion?
More than anything I wanted to make a film for as little money as I possibly could. I had thought about exploring what sexuality and love mean to us at different stages in our lives, so I started writing a collection of pretty scattered scenes that eventually started to take shape. It's not exactly autobiographical but a lot of the characters and scenes are based on memories or experiences of mine.
We shot in August of 2009. It was hot. It was a really hard, real fun two weeks. I cut the movie with my friend Anthony's help, mostly in the kitchen of my basement apartment. We premiered at Rotterdam in January 2011, and in the U.S. at the Chicago International Film Festival in October.
The film's stars: Sayra Player, Parker Lutz and Eric Baskerville.
Can you tell us a bit about your work with the actors in A Little Closer? How did you find them? How did you approach working with the younger actors?
I love this group of actors. Their performances completely define the movie. I owe them a lot.
The adults in the film are basically professional, working actors that we cast through an audition process, and the kids were all from Virginia. We found them with the help of a casting director named Henry Jäderlund who's based in southern Virginia. He actually has a pretty vast network of super eager young actors.
I love working with young people. I love their honesty, often accidental. For me the goal was to allow the kids to feel free and at ease. Once I spent enough time with them individually and helped them understand the creative process and how they were a part of it, I think it showed them I really trusted them. And so I think they each came to trust me in return. They were each hilarious and so full of life, and they were complete pros when it came to the challenging stuff.
I take a lot of pride in each of these performances, but it's important to remember it was a collaboration. We all learned a lot and got very close.
Martin Scorsese has said some very flattering things about your film. Can you talk a little bit about working with him? Is there anything in particular you learned from the experience?
It was like going to a second film school. He's been an amazing supporter and teacher, and having his encouragement is a huge honor.
A Little Closer screens tonight at 8pm as part of our ongoing Indie Night series. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Petock as well as producer Zachary Shedd and cast members Sayra Player, Eric Baskerville, Chris Kies, and Natalie Racoosin, which will be moderated by guest co-curator Ted Hope.