Long Branch is the first short film Canadian writing and directing duo Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart made together. The short film had such a specific and entertaining premise that I had to get in touch with the filmmakers and request an interview. They agreed, I emailed my questions…et voila, here we are!
I have to begin by saying that you really have to watch this film before heading into the question-and-answer portion of this post. Beautifully shot, amazingly well acted, and with enough tension between the two main characters to justify (and satisfy the needs of) a feature length film. This is what all the screenwriting gurus are always going on about.
Warning: This film might be mildly NSFW (Not Safe For Work) so check it out when you can watch it with a certain degree of privacy.
This is the film:
Dane and Linsey answered my questions together, so now that you have watched the film, this is the interview:
How did you come up with the idea for the film?
We first met at the Canadian Film Centre when we were both in their screenwriting program. Since neither of us were rich, we’d both moved in with some kind people so we could afford to live through the six month intensive program and not go totally broke. Linsey was living in a doorless den in downtown Toronto, and Dane was living in the suburbs near Long Branch station with, you guessed it, his uncle. So we ended up spending A LOT of time together on public transit getting to and from school and getting to know one another. Then as friends tend to do, good friends, we ended up kissing on the mouth one cold night near the end of the program. Needless to say it was magical. Not wanting the night to end, Dane asked Linsey if she wanted to come back to his place. But….she said no. Because he lived at Long Branch, which was really far away.
Thankfully that wasn’t the end of us and Linsey eventually made the long trek out to Long Branch. Some time later we thought about how funny it might be if someone had to take hours of public transportation to get to their one night stand. And that is the long winded answer of how we came up with the idea of the film.
Was the writing process long and painful (say yes, so I can feel better about my own struggles)?
Ha. Writing is often long and painful but for some reason this wasn’t. We broke the story on a long bus ride and then maybe a week later we had a first draft. It went through a couple drafts after that but the structure stayed the same. The challenge, as it always is, was getting the right tone and keeping it grounded. We wanted it to be charming without being too cutesy. It’s fun to overwrite for characters but then you gotta think how that changes the tone of the piece. We wanted this to feel like it could happen to a regular person. A person that was braver than us.
Alex House and Jenny Raven totally nailed their parts; how did you find them?
Aren’t they great?!! We got really lucky with them. They’re both professional actors in Toronto and we knew Alex because Dane had worked with him on a little project at the CFC. He was charming, funny and could play awkward really well so we asked him to audition. Thankfully he did. Our casting director, Sara Kay, brought Jenny in to audition and she was hands down the best. She could play bitchy, sexy and sweet which was a tall order to fill. And let’s face it, they’re not horrible to look at.
When was this film made?
We shot in February of 2011.
How long did it take from idea to final cut?
How many days did you shoot for?
Three cold days nights.
The film looks great, what did you shoot it on?
We shot it on the RED ONE and the fantastic DOP Daniel Grant really knows how to make things pretty.
Is it tough/expensive to shoot on Canadian streets?
It’s tough if you don’t know what you’re doing. Thankfully our lovely producers Mike MacMillan and Jordan Gross do. They sweet talked a hot deal with the Toronto Transit Commission and were able to pull permits with the city for our 13 locations. At the end of the day, it all comes down to preparation. They really helped steer our days so they were smooth and manageable.
What was your favorite part about making this film?
It was our first time directing together so the whole thing was overwhelming and insane but there was this one magical night when were at Long Branch station and it started to snow. Like really beautiful flakes were falling from the sky. It was surreal. Then we looked around and saw the cast and crew who were all there, working for pennies, to bring some idea we had about a one night stand to life. That became even more surreal. So in a nutshell, the fact that the film was made and that everyone froze their asses off to make it come true is probably our favorite part. That and when it was over.
Can I ask how much it cost to get this whole film ‘in the can’?
Our budget was five thousand dollars but it ended up being two or three or four thousand more. We’re not very good at math.
When the film was done, was there a plan for rolling it out? Can you share that plan?
Our plan was to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, get rave reviews, a distribution deal, a billion dollar cheque then retire. But they rejected us.
Thankfully the rest of Canada gave us a good festival run and the film aired on CBC who had helped finance the film. Honestly we got A LOT of rejections from festivals around the world. As many filmmakers know, those rejections piling up don’t make you feel pretty. We knew we didn’t create a “festival piece” but we hoped it would play at one cool international film festival. It didn’t. So we crossed our fingers that it would find it’s audience online because we just really wanted people to see it. Now we love the internet.
Did Long Branch open doors for you? If yes, in what way? If no (are these people blind) why not?
You’re a kind man and we’re extremely grateful that it’s just starting to open doors. The doors might have snake pits behind them but it’s cool to have people knocking. We put it online in November and submitted it to Short Of The Week for consideration and the amazing guys over there (Evan Kander and James McNally) were sweet enough to select it. That same day it went live, the awesome people at Vimeo made it their Staff Pick. A little while after we started getting emails from really legitimate people in LA and then it miraculously showed up on the Viewfinder List. It’s all super weird. It just goes to show that half the battle with a film is finding your audience and if you don’t have a marketing budget, it’s mostly luck and hoping the right people see, and share it.
What were the biggest lessons you learnt from making/releasing Long Branch. With 20/20 hindsight is there anything about the film you would have done differently?
Oh, you’re good. Tough question. You know, yeah, we think we put too much pressure on ourselves (and on our Visa) to get into the really top festivals. When you don’t get in it’s disappointing and you think less of your film and yourself for that matter. If this is your first film, be proud you got through it. Seriously. That’s not the Canadian in us trying to be earnest and shit, there’s just something to be said for getting that first project off the ground. In terms of the film, sure there are some technical things we’d love to change but we’ll never tell. Oh, and it would’ve been great if we didn’t smash a crew truck in the last hour of shooting – but hey, what are you going to do?
I saw that you are prepping to shoot a feature film, can you tell us a little about it?
Yeah. The film is called I PUT A HIT ON YOU. It’s a lo-fi rom-com thriller about a woman who accidentally puts a hit on her boyfriend after he rejects her marriage proposal. After realizing what she’s done she runs over to her his apartment in hopes of saving his life. It’s essentially two regular people locked in his apartment trying to figure out how to handle this situation and ultimately deal with their relationship problems. It was written with a very low budget in mind.
The aunt from The Vampire Diaries is in it, isn’t she? Who else?
Yep. Sara Canning stars as the woman. She’s awesome. And Aaron Ashmore (Smallville) stars as the dude. He’s equally awesome.
When do you shoot? Is there a plan for the feature?
Believe it or not we shot it in November over 12 days. We’re editing right now and planning to submit to festivals, acquire distribution, get a billion dollar cheque and retire. 😉 When that fails we’ll put it on the internet because if there’s anything we learned in the past year, it’s that the internet can actually be pretty nice. Who knew?
[ All pictures courtesy the filmmakers ]