Q&A WITH RYLAND MCINTYRE
How were you inspired to make and tell this original story?
This story was inspired by Jeffrey A. Wolin's portrait series, Then and Now. Wolin originally photographed residents in the late 80s and early 90s who were living in a community, Pigeon Hill in Bloomington, Indiana—much like the neighborhood where the film is set—and then returned 20 years later to photograph them again. The cyclical and, at times, inescapable poverty depicted in this series struck me in a way that I did not expect. I spent so much of my life so close to this neighborhood, but I was living under starkly different circumstances that I was unaware of until much later in life. In leaving the Midwest, moving to New York and beginning work in the film industry, I gained a new perspective on the juxtaposition between communities like Pigeon Hill and the one I grew up in. I realized how suburban areas and small towns can be just as divided in class structure as anywhere else It's just more subtle and much more difficult to see. And honestly, I find this observation — disturbing.
Describe the film’s setting.
While the short was inspired by a series of photos shot in a Section 8 housing community that I had access to due to the close proximity of where I grew up, and I wanted to shoot there originally, logistically, that just didn’t make sense.
To tell this particular story, it wasn't that important for us to have that degree of verisimilitude as the setting translates as "Anywhere, USA." There are endless communities like the one depicted in this film. We ultimately shot this in a neighborhood in South Louisville called Pleasure Ridge Park, but I didn't choose the title because I wanted to say that this film is about that specific place—It is about that place only in the sense that it embodies every other quasi-rural, quasi-urban community where people experience the same struggles as our protagonist, CJ Harrod.
I have always thought of CJ as someone with a huge heart—someone that tries really, really hard, but is just ill-equipped for the world around him. I have an aversion towards the use of the word ill-equipped because its implication can feel so inherently condescending, but I think that CJ’s, and unfortunately, a great deal of others’ experiences in the United States, are often best described by it.
CJ just wants to make a living, but he has no means, no options. He has very little education and does not have a qualitative skillset to earn well-paid work—on top of that, he lives in place where you really need a personal vehicle just to participate in the workforce, let alone distinguish oneself in the competitive landscape and locate even half-decent opportunities.
While this socio-ecological position is something I was inspired to push to the forefront, CJ’s character is extremely significant from a more human perspective. His path is everyone’s. At his core, he is someone who is trying to find their way through life, provide for themselves and their family, and hopefully also, find meaning and happiness ultimately.
How is the musical composition and supervision integral to telling this story?
The score with this film was incredibly challenging. When we began in pre-production, I had an extensive playlist of songs that I wanted to use. I also really wanted to use a lot of music in a way that you wouldn't expect it to be used. When it came time to edit, I found that playing with silence was far more interesting than constant composition. Film is a visual medium, and I think people forget that. They want their film to be as "real" as possible, and that means never playing with the conventions of what we think of as cinéma vérité. But, a moving image without sound can be just as powerful, if not more so, than an image with it. I'm also very attracted to the notion of a rabbit hole here. I wanted viewers to go down a rabbit hole and fall into something unexpected—and silence can be a really effective way to create that experience for the audience.
We ultimately featured scoreless scenes while incorporating a broad mix of classical, hard-core, trap, and a highlighting song from legendary indie rock band, Songs: Ohia.
Talk about casting/fit for the roles:
We cast everything with a very talented regional casting director based of Louisville, Kentucky named Kathy Campbell. Her agency is the one that discovered and originally managed Jennifer Lawrence prior to her move to Hollywood. We began with casting in New York City, and while we saw a few great performances, nothing really felt like the right fit. I don’t believe that you can't understand something if you're not from there, but it did seem that there were a lot of people who just didn't quite grasp what we were going for. Casting locally in Louisville, we had the opposite experience. It was there that we found our lead actor, Daniel, and that couldn't have been a more fortuitous situation. Daniel not only understood the role, but actually fit the character description on the page it to a T. He was also classically trained and had just turned down a tenure position at a major university drama department. He really came out of nowhere and working with him was every first director's dream. He's incredibly talented.