I recently got the chance to talk to director Chad Hartigan about his new film, ‘This Is Martin Bonner’. Here, Chad talks about how the idea for the film came about in the first place and what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set…
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
‘This Is Martin Bonner’ is about a man in his late fifties that has to move to Reno, Nevada for a job with a non-profit that helps prisoners transition to life on the outside. He’s divorced and his kids are grown so he is forced to try to build a new life on his own. Meanwhile, a member of the program, Travis Holloway, is just being released from prison and also trying to start a new life and the two men slowly become an unlikely support system for each other.
You both wrote the screenplay and directed the film – how did the idea come about in the first place?
The idea is based on my Dad, who really did have to move to a small town in his fifties when he got a similar kind of job. I found myself wondering how he was going to spend his time and if he was going to try to make new friends. I couldn’t really think of any films that dealt with that struggle from the point of view of a middle-aged man so I was motivated to try to portray that honestly. The more I would talk with my Dad about the work he was doing, the more it started to make sense to incorporate a character in the program so that’s mainly how it came about.
How hard was it to put the film into production? What tricks as a director did you try to throw in?
I spent a solid year just sitting around and waiting for ideas to hit me on how to raise $200,000 until I reached a point where I was so tired of inaction that I quit my day job and moved to Reno where I didn’t know anyone and had nothing to do but concentrate on putting the film together. Two months later we were shooting, and for an amount far less than I ever thought would be possible when we were just thinking about the film in hypothetical terms. As for director “tricks”, I’m not really sure I have many. I honestly think the secret key to being a successful director is to fill the cast and crew with people who are more experienced and more talented than you are, and then focus on keeping them excited to be there.
What’s the reception been like to the film so far?
It’s been tremendous. Premiering at Sundance was a dream come true and the audiences there are so savvy and film-literate that you really can’t help but want to impress them and I felt like every one of our screenings was great. And at festivals all over the country, people come up to me and say how much they enjoyed the characters and the fact that the film has a “nice” outlook to it. That’s been the biggest surprise actually. That people are responding so much to the optimism of the film and the characters. I guess that there just aren’t that many films that try to exist in a world of realism, but also end up being uplifting.
The film stars Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Sam Buchanan, Robert Longstreet and Demetrius Grosse – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
As I said before, it’s really important to me to make the set a great place to be at all times. Since our crew was so small – (about 8 people) and we were all staying in the same 2-bedroom apartment, there was no option but to develop a sense of camaraderie and I’m proud that we maintained it throughout the entire shoot. We really did consider ourselves a kind of family. With the actors, I tried to include them in that feeling as well, even though they were coming into it at different points in the schedule. Each one is a total professional and nailed their parts with literally no rehearsal, so the only real issue was trying to get everyone to find the same groove. Sometimes Paul would be rolling and Richmond would be in a funk and vice versa so it can get frustrating, but you just try to keep people invested and be patient.
Let’s talk a bit about you Chad. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
I was really into theatre in high school and I always fancied myself as an actor. Specifically a film actor though, because I had always loved movies and was never really drawn to the idea of Broadway or the stage. So when it came time to pick a college to pursue, I decided to go to film school as a backdoor way into film acting. It was while I was there that I really fell in love with the process of making the movies and started to switch focus. It was a very transformative time for me, as I was being exposed to a lot of classic films and new experiences and developing my own tastes.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
It’s tough. I feel like you have to make a choice pretty early on – you can be interesting or you can be paid and so far I’ve been trying to be interesting. The success of ‘This Is Martin Bonner’ has allowed me to travel the world and meet a lot of great people, but I’ve never had less money in my life so I may have to compromise in order to make some money pretty soon. Right now, I’m worlds away from Hollywood and what they produce there so I wouldn’t know how to advise someone into that world. If you’re interested in making a film on your own, independently, I would suggest two things –
1. Make the story simple and the characters complex.
2. Spend as little money as humanly possible.
What films have influenced you as a director? Any favourites?
I’m influenced by films all the time. ‘This Is Martin Bonner’ was inspired by Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’ in innumerable ways. Roy Andersson’s films were a huge inspiration. ‘Tuesday After Christmas’ and ‘The Band’s Visit’ helped me shape the visual design. I watched ‘California Split’ again right before we started shooting and that’s a big favourite of mine.
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
I’m a little OCD with my iPod and right now it only has albums released in 2013 on it. I try to keep up with music as much as I can and I actually get inspired by songs much more than movies. The idea of finding the images to match the feeling that music gives me is extremely motivating. But some of the acts that released albums this year that I’m really into are Har Mar Superstar, Ex Cops, Youth Lagoon, Surfer Blood, Rhye and especially Wild Cub.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
I don’t know. I’m not very religious but I’m fascinated by the historicity of Jesus so he’d have to be one. Although his presence could tend to overwhelm the dinner. Let’s throw Woody Allen in there because he’s a film-making hero and to be honest, his interactions with Jesus would be a glorious thing to behold. He’s also been the exact same amount of bald for forty years and I’m dying to know his secret. We’ll round it out with George Best, because I doubt there was ever a dull dinner party with him in attendance.
Which film was your favourite of 2012 and why?
My favourite film of last year was Joachim Trier’s ‘Oslo, August 31st’. It did a lot of exciting things with cinematography and music and sound design even though it was rooted in realism. I think that’s a difficult thing to pull off.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
So far 2013 has been all about supporting ‘This Is Martin Bonner’ at film festivals. It’s been an absolute dream to share the film with people all over the world and really makes all the hard work worthwhile. I’ve also just finished a script for a new project that takes place in Germany so I’m hoping to get some producers there interested in working on it with me so it can happen sooner rather than later. Somewhere in there, I also need to worry about getting an income.
Thanks for the interview!