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VIFF 2015 Interview: MY GOOD MAN'S GONE director Nick Citton

by Jason Whyte

"Joni and Wes Carver have spent years locking horns over the events that defined them, as kids. But when their absentee father's death brings them to a small town in rural Arkansas, the two siblings begin to understand the strength, sacrifice and sweet, sweet freedom of a blank slate." Director Nick Citton on MY GOOD MAN'S GONE which is screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

I understand you are from Vancouver, so I am therefore assuming I'm going to be seeing you at the festival?

I grew up in Vancouver, so I have been a huge fan of the festival, since as long as I could remember. I wrote a feature, THAT BURNING FEELING that premiered at VIFF in 2013. I am looking forward to being in Vancouver for the Festival.

Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got to this point in your career.

I grew up in Vancouver, and did my undergraduate work in film at Simon Fraser University. After that, I moved to New York to do my MFA in Columbia University's Film Program. These years were an incredible time of writing, shooting shorts, more writing, partying, watching more films per day than I ever thought imaginable, and even more writing. It was a rigorous program with a deep bench of talent, and I really loved it. Up until then, most of my experience had been in the comedy world, specifically a television series I co-created for the CBC, called THIS SPACE FOR RENT. In my time at Columbia, I learned to take chances with my writing and directing that have paid off. I moved to LA for a while, after school, where I worked on several different projects, in both film and TV. I developed a strong bond with the organization, Film Independent, when I took my feature script HEY, HEY JOHNNY, through their Writing, Producing and Directing Programs. Subsequently, I was FOX Studios Writing Fellow, where I was mentored by a wide range of FOX and FX Studios creatives. Around this time, I started shadowing directors on different TV series, including HBO's NEWSROOM. I attended the Canadian Film Centre's Comedy program, where I developed my feature script THAT BURNING FEELING. The film was directed by Jason James, and starring John Cho, Tyler Labine, and Paolo Costanzo. It hit theatres in 2014, just as I wrapped production on my own first feature MY GOOD MAN'S GONE. Since then I have written and directed a handful of short films including the MPPIA award-winning THE FUTURE PERFECT starring Zachary Quinto, and THE INCIDENT, which was commissioned by Vanity Fair and Lincoln Automobiles. Currently, I am developing two new sitcoms along with Jason James, LADY BUSINESS for CTV and SLEEPING AROUND for W Channel. I'm balancing that with pre-production on my next feature, the semi-autobiographical HEY, HEY JOHNNY.

So how did MY GOOD MAN'S GONE come together from your perspective?

This movie came together on a wing and a prayer. Seriously. Plus the goodwill of friends and family and some incredible luck, but mostly the sweat and shoe leather of my awesome cast and crew.

My first trip to Story, Arkansas was strictly research. I had decided I wanted to make a contained, character-driven film that tested the waters of working with non-actors. I was hell-bent on getting away from my stomping grounds of Los Angeles/Vancouver/New York. My connection with Arkansas came from one of my collaborators, Cheryl Nichols, who would go on to play one of the lead roles, Joni Carver, as well as one of our other lead actors, Robert Baker, who grew up there. Cheryl's father, Terry, was once the sheriff of Story. He took me down there, introduced me around, and became a liaison of sorts, throughout the process. I wasn't entirely sure what I would find in Arkansas, but I knew I was hungry for something different from my world. And that was Story, a population of 89. No cell phone service, no wireless internet, and no alcohol. It's a dry county. Every rational instinct would lead somebody to say that it was the least practical place to make a film. But I loved the people, I loved Lake Ouachita and, to be completely honest, I loved the light, there. It was almost impossible to take a bad photo in natural light! I went back to LA, and began writing a script based on reading of the town. I wanted the process to be different from other projects I had been on; it would be loose, dirty and have both naturalistic and abstract moments. I wanted to follow every impulse, and say YES to everything that entered our creative process. My team was made within a week. I mean, there was never really any doubt just who I would want along with me, on this crazy trip: Cheryl and Robert would be there. My roommates Rick Dacey (Wes) and Leslie Murphy (Shannon), are two of the funniest actors I know. Deanna Mustard (Twyla) and Julia Pledl (Lizzie), are great friends of mine, who were hungry for a project and agreed to come on double-duty as actors and producers. Deanna's three year-old son, Miles, even plays a major part in the movie! Ultimately everybody wore a producer hat, because that's just how projects of this size get made. I was also incredibly grateful to have the talented eye and all-around emotional support of one of the best cinematographers I've worked with, Stewart Yost. He was really my go-to through every step of this project. I'm grateful for everybody; there's no way this film could have happened without any one of the pieces in place (not to mention my incredible Vancouver-based producers and post-production saviors, Todd Giroux, Jamie Alain, and Carey Dickson). I had two incredible EP's from the start, Allison Burnett (THE AGE OF ADALINE) and Oualid Mouaness (Rize) who just believed in the project. The actor, John Cho finagled a sponsorship from Canon, who supplied the camera gear. And we were off!

Over multiple trips, the lines between cast and crew and townspeople all seemed to blur. Everybody in the town shows up in the film, in one way or another. As the years passed, the movie grew and changed, and I changed with it. Stories shifted, and we had re-shoots. And new collaborators came onboard; exceptionally gifted musicians like Sasami Ashworth, Bethany Toews, Andrew Stack (Wye Oak), Justin Asher, Jake Troth, Kathleen Munroe and a Vancouver favorite of mine, Jody Glenham.

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you? How much coffee?

I drink A LOT of coffee. More than I should. I drank a lot during the shoot and barely slept. I ate a lot of pie and just kind of floated around in a "production" haze. When I returned home, after the initial six week shoot, I looked like an early-era Manson family member. Just a weird, tired vagrant. You're like a zombie on these kinds of shoots; and if you're not, well, you're most likely failing. We probably would have been drinking more in our little cabins, if it wasn't a dry county. Maybe those archaic laws kind of saved me? Not sure. I hate red bull and soda but I AM a sucker for pie and coffee.

Looking back on making the film, what would you say was your biggest challenge?

Our budget was most certainly my biggest challenge. I have so many talented people involved with this film, that deserved more resources. It is so difficult to look people in the eye, and ask them to donate their time and talents for something that is as risky as a feature film. But somehow, some way, we found our people. I take great pride in that. Still, I would have loved to have paid them more, or at all. On the upside, we had the time to make something we really love and very few people in this business can say that.

And at what point did you know you HAD something with the picture?

I knew I had something when we shot a night scene at the Blue Bell Diner, in the town. I didn't fully know what I wanted from the decidedly under-written scene, but it was meant to be a simple, short moment, where Wes (played by Rick Dacey) gets a taste of the town's social life, such as it is. We had put up one flyer asking for any local musicians to come out, and POSSIBLY be background for the scene, but what we ended up, with was a sprawling bluegrass band that took over the night. A little impromptu concert on what I think was day three of shooting. We ended up shooting hours of footage as the entire town showed up and filled the tiny diner. It was alive and loud and fun in a way that we never could have staged or planned for. THAT was when I knew this film would be different. Every day was going to be a game of chance, for sure, but the possibilities for weird magic, made it all kind of thrilling.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film and your work with cinematographer Stewart Yost?

A lot of our shooting decisions came out of our limitations both in resources, and really our location. We were hours away from Little Rock, which was the only city with any rental houses, so that wasn't too much of an option. We shot largely in natural light. We had a small lighting kit I borrowed from the friend, for the shoot. We got free cameras from Canon, and shot on a 5D, 7D and a 1D. A shoot this modest might sound impossible to some, but I had my good friend, and award-winning DP, Stewart Yost behind the camera, and I felt totally supported. Stewart and I work very well together and have a shorthand that makes even the rockiest setups possible. He and I have very similar tastes and we both love rigorous shot lists that can then be thrown out the window, when you get something like an unexpected free police cruiser for a day.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at VIFF?

Since I'm from Vancouver, and currently live here, I am excited to be able to screen my film for all my friends and family!

Where is this movie going to show next? Any theatrical release?

We are still securing our American Festival release but we will know soon; there are some great options.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

Not sure I have an answer for that. Wet willy maybe?

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews. If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

When I was at the CFC, I was in a program that Ivan Reitman and Eugene Levy were running. They talked about how when they were starting out, they just ran at opportunities and made movies with 'the kids in their neigbourhood." These "kids" were Andrea Martin and Martin Short and Gilda Radner, and all the incredible talents that came up with them. I really took that to heart. It's a huge privilege to make work with your peers; to even HAVE peers that are this talented and driven. I felt like I was at Summer Camp with these guys, and that made every challenge manageable. I say all aspiring filmmakers should make "movies with the kids on their street." And, by extension, once you're in it, and you're trying to make your days, and you feel stretched in a million directions, I still believe it's important to stay open to everything. Take chances. Always take chances.

And finally, stick with it. This film took everything out of me, and it required more endurance than I could have imagined, but it's done. And it's worth it.

What is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

There have been so many, but one that stands out is Joachim Trier's REPRISE, which I saw at the New York Film Society's "New Directors/New Films" which is one of my favorite festivals. REPRISE was just everything I wanted in a movie, at the time. And I still watch it all the time, and get that same stirring feeling each go-round. There are fresh, exciting voices everywhere, and when one of them rings true to your own experience, it's absolutely inspiring.

Be sure to follow the journey of MY GOOD MAN'S GONE at and on Twitter at @mygoodmansgone and the Facebook page!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from Septembe 24th to October 9th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 09/22/15 10:16:53
last updated: 09/23/15 16:39:03
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