by Jason Whyte
THE FRONTIER - At SxSW 2014
“The Frontier is a film about fathers and sons and the joys and frustrations that come with that relationship.” Director Matt Rabinowitz on THE FRONTIER which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film Festival.
Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?
This is my second time; I was last at SXSW in 2009 shooting the band Infantree for a documentary I directed about them (“West of the World”). It was such a crazy atmosphere and so much fun so I’m so excited to go back.
What do you love the most about showing movies in Austin and Austin in general?
The crowds are informed and enthusiastic, you don’t see much of a “too cool for school” vibe and can actually just relax and enjoy things.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?
I’ve always loved film. My parents are both big film fans and that was just the way we bonded. From an incredibly early age I knew that I would work in film in some capacity, but it wasn’t until I was 11 years old that I knew I wanted to direct, or that films were even “directed”. It came to me on a crazy weekend when I discretely stole and watched “Seven” and “The Usual Suspects”, which my mom had rented from Blockbuster. Watching those two movies back to back in the middle of the night after everyone went to sleep sitting inches away from the screen so the volume could stay at the lowest possible setting made something click in me. “Oh, there’s more going on here”. It was a major “A-HA” moment. Since then it’s the only job I ever wanted to do, to try and move someone the way I was moved. So any present giving opportunity after that I would ask my parents for a video camera, and they finally relented a year or two later. So I started making silly movies with my friends and would try to convince my teachers at school that instead of writing a paper I could make a short film about whatever subject and a few of them actually let me.
After high school I PA’d around, picking up any job I could get to try and learn how “real” movies are made, I even got a few big acting gigs, eventually upgraded my camera and started shooting documentaries (“West of the World”) and shoestring budget music videos for friends’ bands (Infantree, Everest). Those videos got some attention and I made some super low budget TV commercials for those bands (which actually aired on TV!), which were signed to Neil Young’s record company Vapor Records. Then I started working for Neil, which was the coolest. Working for him taught me so much, mainly how to be flexible, if Neil wants a specific shot you aren’t getting an hour to light it and make sure all your camera settings are right, you’re shooting it now and it better look great. It taught me to get over myself, which I highly recommend to everyone. Eventually I proved myself enough that when I had a script I wanted to film no one looked at me like a crazy person.
How did this whole project come together from your perspective?
Like I said, I’ve wanted to direct films since I was 11 years old, and as satisfying as working on other people’s passion projects was, I needed to do something that was fully mine. So I got together with my friend Carlos Colunga and we came up with the idea for “The Frontier” over lunch one day. Not making the movie was never really an option for me so it was relatively easy; I just always knew that it’d happen. Once the script was finished I got Jeff DeCola involved, who’s produced everything I’ve ever done basically and together we went on the search for money. We touch on a lot of big themes in our film that aren’t represented often, people connected to it and agreed to finance it. From there we had to find a cast and crew. I called my old work friend Neil Young...I just like saying that...to see if he could recommend a DP, he pointed me to Adam CK Vollick and within five minutes we were like brothers, he’s an absolute genius and he couldn’t have made the film more beautiful if he tried. I grew up a few doors down from Max Gail and was good friends with his daughter India, and thought he could really do justice to the role of Sean. I met Coleman and Anastassia through Carlos and thought they’d round out the cast nicely. The rest of the crew fell into place after that and I have to say we got incredibly lucky, there wasn’t a single weak link in our crew, everyone gave 100% every day, which was humbling and insane.
What was the biggest challenge, or challenges, in making the film?
Inexperience and budget. We deliberately wrote the film to have the lowest possible budget, there are three characters and one major setting, so we tried to keep every expense as low as possible, and we found out some things you just can’t cut corners on. Ultimately we made it work, but there were a lot of hectic days trying to figure out how to make a scene work because we didn’t have something we needed, whether it was a piece of equipment or time itself. This is why my inexperience was a challenge. If I could do our first week over I would, I honestly had no idea what I was doing, I had never directed something on this scale, as low budget as it was, so it took me a few days to find my sea legs, but I can’t even begin to describe how amazing and patient our crew was, and by week three I felt like Spielberg. The great tragedy of filmmaking is you only really start getting comfortable a few days before wrap.
If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?
The punk aspects of low budget filmmaking are always my favourite, the do-it-yourself aspect. Knowing that you don’t have what you’re supposed to have to make something work and doing it anyway. One of our last days, Adam, our DP, came up with a scene idea that would have been completely unfeasible if Chad and Dasha, our G&E team wasn’t the best in the world. Within two hours they built this crazy looking wooden crane that hovered over the actors while they improvised the scene, it was incredible to watch and be a part of. Was it safe? Absolutely not. But no one got hurt, so it remains a great memory.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much coffee?
It’s like being on a runaway train; you don’t really have time to think about anything else. It’s all encompassing. The only things that went into my body over the course of the shoot were coffee, cigarettes, energy drinks and junk food. After my post wrap hibernation all I wanted was salad.
I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.
We shot on a Sony F3, because my good friend and sometime boss Ben Johnson said we could borrow it, which was the blessing of blessings, without that act of kindness, the film certainly wouldn’t be the same. Adam is amazing with digital photography, so it really worked well. Obviously we would have loved to shoot on 35mm, but that was just impossible for us. We always knew we’d be digital. As for looks, “Badlands” and “Sideways” were two of our big influences. We knew we were stuck in a confined space for 90% of the movie so we watched a lot of films with handheld photography as a way to keep the viewer on their toes visually.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW?
Audience response. SXSW has such a crazy energy so I’m really interested to see how that mixes with the film.
Alamo Drafthouse and Paramount theaters in Austin aside, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?
Living in LA, I’m biased towards LA theatres. The Vista on Sunset and Virgil is such a beautiful place and I’ve had so many great experiences there.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film?
If you aren’t into the movie, leave. Walking out is so much less rude than ruining everyone else’s experience.
There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?
Just do it. If you’re waiting for someone to tell you it’s your time, you’re going to wait forever. Fortune favours the bold.
And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?
I unfortunately haven’t had a lot of experience going to festivals to see films, usually I’m working on something parallel to the fest, but I was at Sundance a couple years ago and saw “Wristcutters: A Love Story” which was so dark in the funniest ways. I’m not sure if it got distribution or what happened with it, but I loved it. And that’s my number one from probably a grand total of four films I’ve seen at festivals.
This is one of the many films screening at the 2014 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 8-16. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jasonrcwhyte
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3637
originally posted: 03/04/14 07:02:20