AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Don Simpson | December 29, 2010
Adam Reid’s Hello Lonesome ponders loneliness in a trilogy of inter-cut vignettes. The six characters are paired off almost haphazardly, as if purely by the godly hand of fate; they are brought together not by love or affection, but by the desperate desire for another human being to connect with. Once they find that person, they latch on for dear life…
One of my favorite films at the 2010 Austin Film Festival, Hello Lonesome does an excellent job of fleshing out its realistic and multifaceted characters. The cinematography and performances are kept emotionally organic and raw, always luring the audience in closer so that they might establish stronger connections with the characters. The characters all reveal some very unlikable qualities, but for the most part they find ways to earn the audience’s sympathy. And once Reid suspects that the audience has connected with his characters — he leads us directly to the oh so climatic conclusion.
Reid was unable to attend the 2010 Austin Film Festival, but I caught up with him afterwards via email for this discussion about the inception and structure of Hello Lonesome, playing “god” and juggling the roles of producer, director, writer and cinematographer. (Also check out our review of Hello Lonesome.)
DS: Where did the concept for Hello Lonesome come from?
AR: That’s a tough question to answer, mostly because Hello Lonesome is so hard to boil down to it’s concept. (Wait, did I even have a concept?!)
The simple answer I think was that I was quite lonely in my real life when I was writing Hello Lonesome, to the point where I was really working my way through that by writing the script. This was also in the wake of my sister Lisa passing away from breast cancer. All the characters in Hello Lonesome are living at a similar intersection of isolation and mortality, boy does it sound depressing put that way, which is why more than anything I wanted to find the humor in all that drama. I wanted a light touch in Hello Lonesome, despite the heavy stuff.
DS: Did the script always contain three separate stories? Or was there one story that came first? Were you always certain that you wanted to keep the stories separate rather than taking the more “traditional” route of having to intersect them at some point?
AR: From the very beginning I knew I was writing three stories that were linked in theme only. Some of my very favorite films feature cross cutting narratives featuring a menagerie of characters. I was very drawn to this structure. The best of these films work well to me because they are connected on a theme. The worst of these type of films often confuse a literal connection, which is usually a huge coincidence, for the thematic connection. This has become a cliche in independent film and I wanted to avoid that. I never tried connecting the stories, it would have been easy I think to make them all related or maybe thread the delivery man, Omar, through all the stories. I’m glad we didn’t do that.
The story that came first, and changed the least was about Bill the voice over guy. In my job as a writer and producer of TV promos I had worked with a lot of voice artists. If any of the characters could have sustained an entire film, I think that would be Bill. Early on in the development of the script I realized that this guy was sort of the center ring in our three ring circus. The other story that was pretty locked in when I started was the young couple since it was based on the true story of my sister. It was between the first two drafts that I was able to make this very personal plot line funny and fresh again, it had gotten so intense being based on real life. It took me a while to find that perspective where I wasn’t a slave to every reality of my sister’s struggle.
DS: How did you determine where to cut from one story to the next? Was that pre-determined (in the script) or did that come about during the editing process?
AR: A lot of both. The script had this merry-go-round structure to it from the beginning. Some of our scenes end and pick up exactly as written. At the same time, there was so much discovery in the edit as well — I have to give most of the credit to my editor Scott Rankin for making it all flow the way it does. Especially since I was the camera operator for Hello Lonesome, and an only mediocre one at that, Scott gets my eternal gratitude for making what I shot presentable.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, I always imagined I was passing an emotional baton from character to character in the story. The other image that always came to mind as I was writing was that of a braid. I had these three stories, and I was looking to just fold one over the other into a weave. We just go around and around that way. Hopefully that comes across and feels natural. I didn’t want the transitions to be jarring.
DS: It seems quite purposeful that you set each of the three stories in a different environment (Bill & Omar in the country; Eleanor & Gary in the suburbs; and Debby & Gordon in the city). What role do you think these three locations play in the overall narrative?
AR: Mostly, the three unique locations provided some much needed diversity in the backdrop. It also helped me illustrate how universal these common feelings are. By sustaining the tone and themes throughout the three plots, but otherwise finding the contrast with character and setting, my hope was that they would only make that connective tissue stronger and more clear for the audience.
DS: After the AFF 2010 screening, everyone I talked with specifically mentioned strong feelings about the way you dealt with Eleanor & Gary’s relationship…probably because their narrative brings up the most taboo of the subjects you deal with in Hello Lonesome. Did you feel any pressures in how to best develop their story (or “drawing the line” in their relationship where you did)?
AR: Their story was never about sexual chemistry, more about filling a mutual need for companionship. I worked with the actors to help us find that line. In the first draft, Gary was much older and not a young man at all. It was only in looking for the actor who would play Gary, reading actors with Lynn, that I realized she was too young at heart and needed a much younger “old soul” to play opposite her. I think James Urbaniak and Lynn Cohen make a fabulous couple and have real spark, in a non-sexual way of course. I know there are a couple parts where it gets uncomfortable because it looks like we’re going to get sexy, and those moments make me laugh so they stayed in the film.
DS: Something I note in my review of Hello Lonesome is that I feel as though you make it very apparent that as the filmmaker you are essentially playing “god” in the context of the narrative (for example, in the 3rd act you seem to be making it very clear to us that you could easily kill several of these characters). Am I just reading too much into this or was this something you were intending to convey to the audience?
AR: You’re really the only reviewer to mention that and I think it’s a cool observation. (Not cool that I’m playing god, per se, but cool that you noticed enough to ask me about it.)
Each story in Hello Lonesome is a parable, and I think that knowing wink you are describing is me making that clear for the audience in case there was any doubt. I wanted all of the characters to be very real and believable, and at the same time, this is a movie about how the smallest communication can change your life. In Bill’s case, that’s quite literal. He’s isolated himself and is now trapped in his own voice over booth. All of the stories have this persuasive karma guiding them. I may have pushed that harder than I needed to.
DS: I’m very curious about what you learned from your experiences with making Hello Lonesome in terms of juggling so many key roles (director, writer, producer, and cinematographer)? Would you do it again? Or would you want to hand off some of these roles to others?
AR:When I direct commercials, which is how I make a living, I have much larger crews and the budget to match. We can easily spend my feature budget several times over on a one day commercial shoot. This being my first film, achieved for very little investment, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the results. And in the summer of 2008 when we shot for 15 days, operating the camera myself made the film possible. In just the short time since then, the technology has advanced so much. If I were shooting with the same budget today, I would have worked with a cinematographer and multiple HD SLR cameras. It would be a prettier film I think, but in almost every other way the same.
I am a writer and director at heart. I can’t imagine doing one without the other. I enjoy both roles so much. Hello Lonesome was a personal project, an art film at it’s core, and it was never conceived to be a business. I am however excited to take on larger projects with help from filmmakers with more experience than me. That’s the next frontier.
For more information on Hello Lonesome go to: hellolonesome.com