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South By Southwest 2011 Interview - "Natural Selection" director Robbie Pickering

Natural Selection - At SxSW Film
by Jason Whyte

"Hey there readers -- you like awesome shit, right? And why shouldn't you? Awesome shit is what makes America great. Speaking of awesome shit, you should come down to SxSW and check out my movie Natural Selection. It's about a barren Christian housewife from Texas who discovers that her dying husband of 25 years has an illegitimate son named Raymond somewhere in Florida. She sets out on a strange journey to find him, believing that it might bring her husband back from the brink. Raymond turns out to be a less than savory character (to put it mildly), and the two travelers develop an odd but close relationship on the road. I don't want to spoil the ending for everybody, but let's just say that all the characters might be dead." Director Robbie Pickering on "Natural Selection" which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film.

Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the festival screenings?

I played a lot of festivals with my student films a while back, and my commercial spots played at the AICP show in New York at the MoMA, but this will be my first time at SxSW. I'll definitely be at the screenings, along with my crippling anxiety.

Could you give me a little look into your background, and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

I grew up in Jersey Village, Texas and I wanted to be an actor as a kid. I guess because I thought that the actors made the movies. Then, at around 11 or 12, I got hooked on all of those films that Coppola made after "One From the Heart" - like "Peggy Sue Got Married", "Tucker", "The Cotton Club", "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish". One day, a teacher told me that they were all made by the same guy and that he was called a 'director.' From that point on, I knew I wanted to direct, and by extension I learned how to write, which has been incredibly rewarding in itself. I went to NYU, where I learned from a few amazing professors, and started making short films, which led to commercial and screenwriting work after school, and eventually to this film.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!

Unemployed! That's what everyone where I'm from, especially my Dad, thought being a writer/director was. And they were kinda right.

How did this whole project come together?

I wrote it about six years ago; it was a script about my mother and the emotions I was going through in the wake of my stepfather's death. So it was very personal to me. Once I hooked up with my producers, it took us a few years pounding the pavement to raise the amount of money we thought necessary to shoot the film and give it the breadth, scale and look that I had in my head. I got my lead actor through pure kismet. I contacted Rachael via Facebook after she had initially turned down the part due to a pilot commitment. It all worked out.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?

All of it is a challenge if the movie is any good.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

I was referred to my cinematographer, Steve Calitri, through my director friend Ron. Steve had shot some commercial and internet spots, but never a feature. I chose him over more experienced DP's because I loved his work and because I really enjoyed the actor's performances in all of his stuff. I know that's a strange criteria by which to evaluate a DP, but I really rely on my cinematographer to be a second set of eyes on set when it comes to performances. I knew that on a frantic shoot, I would inevitably get exhausted and my judgement would be impaired. Steve not only made the film look great, but he also helped me keep check on the performances in those moments of fatigue.

As for the look of the film, everything was storyboarded well in advance with plenty of room to improvise on set. We also shot with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio with older glass to give it the feel of a 1970's comedy.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?

There's a laundry list of filmmakers I was inspired by for this film, and even more that I am inspired by in general. But my biggest inspirations were my peers, dedicated and inventive up-and-coming directors like Joshua Leonard, Eric Escobar, Silas Howard, Jason Woliner and Ron Morales.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

I think I'll just keep writing and directing stories about characters I find interesting. It doesn't really matter if it's a gigantic studio film or a small indie. I'm 5' 6". I stopped giving a crap about size a long time ago.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?

I think I would want to run a political campaign. I read the Huffington Post a lot.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Very important, especially because now a lot of movies live and die on the blogosphere. It's even more vital to build the buzz when the movie is not a high profile project. One of the only ways you can legitimately do that is if the critics and the festival audiences love your film.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

There has to be a screening room in the Vatican, right?

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

"Hey! I saw that Vince Vaughn movie and it blows! Come see my movie with Rachael Harris! It blows less!"

What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie?

Bludgeon them with one of those old cell phones Michael Douglas had in "Wall Street". Seriously. I carry one around with me at all times.

What do you love the most about this business of making movies?

Working with artists whom I admire.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

Write a really good script that you believe in and find a way to shoot it. Don't let anyone tell you that they know better than you.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

"Nashville". Because I want to make babies with '70s Barbara Harris.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2011 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 11-19. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte

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originally posted: 03/10/11 17:04:51
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