We all love movies. Some of us even still like books. We consume and share stories everyday; and, while many of us may have written a short story in school, few of us have ever attempted to take the story and turn it into a feature length film.
Recently, Daniel House had the opportunity to help stage the “Lou Home” for the upcoming movie Pretty Broken. This was my first exposure to the art of filmmaking. I was struck by the process of transforming the written word into a visual and auditory presentation. We weren’t hired to stage any home. No, we were there to essentially craft a character. The home was the backdrop of the main family.
Although little of our creation is heavily featured, it adds depth to the characters as they appear on screen and represents them when they are not. For instance, Montgomery Lou (Peter Holden) is a central character in Pretty Broken, but he is actually only seen on camera for a few minutes, and is never seen in the home. However, he is certainly not absent from the house. After meeting with the director and producer and reading the script, we learned he is a professor in geology and has spent much of his life in the field.
We quickly realized that we needed to represent how well traveled and read he is. Diving into our inventory, we found a tapestry from Egypt which we used to form the backdrop in the dining room. The book cases were full of travel books and National Geographic collections. The room of Montgomery’s son, Monty (Preston Bailey), had travel posters, a model airplane, and posters exclaiming the importance of reading. Of course, the individual pieces will go mostly unseen by the average viewer and that’s fine; that’s good, in fact. The important thing is that nothing will appear out of place. The home will blend in like a good extra.
About a year after our work on the movie, we decided to sit down with its director, Brett Eichenberger, and producer, Jill Remensnyder, to ask them about the process of designing a movie in more detail. A portion of that interview has been transcribed here.
Daniel House: Let’s start with defining your roles
Brett: Jill’s role as producer is to make sure that the film gets made. She does everything in her power to get the movie made. I, as the director, do everything in my power to tell the story. I push for my vision, and I stick to my vision of the film and how I feel like the story needs to be told.
Jill: I supplied the blueprint and he tries to find the most dramatic moments that are going to be the most effective. It’s about taking it in a different direction.
DH: Give us some background on how you think about designing your movie.
Jill: The feel to me was kind of like the Royal Tenenbaums, that Wes Anderson “family”. The way I originally saw it was very dry, kind of tongue and cheek, snarky if anything.
Brett: I was looking for a John Hughes balance. He did a great job, in my opinion, of showing the silliness and the funniness of the humor of life versus the pain of life. I was hoping to hit those emotional tones too, where people who were watching this we’re going, “you know what, that could totally be my mom.”
Jill: In a project like this, I also try to write within what I know we’re capable of doing. Once Brett really goes through and determines the tone, that helps us decide what direction the design is going to go in. For example the house they lived in is in a suburban neighborhood. It’s a house that doesn’t really stand out from the others. But he’s a college professor, she’s a stay at home Mom. We couldn’t have them living in a mansion. Like Brett said, the movie should be relatable.
DH: How do you see props and scenery playing a role in storytelling?
Brett: When we are dealing with a family here, we see some of the stuff that’s on the walls. We see some of the items that you guys (Daniel House) helped provide. It really feeds into the story. That’s part of my job as director, instead of the Mom going, “Gosh you remember all the places that we went with your father… That’s gonna take up 10 minutes of screen time. It’s called exposition. It’s bad writing, it’s bad storytelling, its an ametuer thing to do. So as the audience sits there and watches the film regardless of whether they’re looking at faces the entire time they are absorbing what’s in the background, they see the nic nacs, bills on the table, a tapestry from London. So we immediately make that decision in a split second, “oh, these were world travelers” It tells us a lot about who these people are.
DH: Before we go, tell us a bit about how people are you going to be able to watch Pretty Broken.
Jill: Prior to the start of filming; the year before we started the conversation with distributors. For this film we’re specifically taking the festival approach. We expect the film to be out in 2018. It will start playing festivals sometime in early 2018. Then most likely it will be on Netflix and Hulu.
Brett: Ideally, what would really be nice is for us to pick up a couple of Laurel’s from film festivals, and get some attention. Get positive reviews and distributors will find us. Festivals are the best way to go for us in this type of situation.
DH: What is the first opportunity to see pretty broken?
Jill: We have submitted to Sundance so far. That would be in January. If all goes according to plan, April will be our big month. There are six or seven festivals going on in April.
DH: Any final comments?
Brett: We think it’s important to tell how the film was made, we’re very proud of the fact that it looks like it cost more than it really did. We feel like the people that made the decision to join us as far as our cast, added a tremendous value with their talent. We were very lucky and fortunate.
And we at Daniel House were fortunate to be apart of the making of this film too. It helped us realize that we are always designing for characters. We push harder to make sure that the spaces we create are, as Brett said, a perfect “exposition” of the people who will occupy them. Thank you, Jill and Brett for allowing us to participate in the formation of your story and best wishes at the upcoming festivals.