SXSW FILM 2012
By Don Simpson | March 21, 2012
Writer-director Amy Seimetz is being purposefully secretive about her narrative debut, Sun Don’t Shine, which certainly is one of those films that should be viewed with little to no information about the plot. Two young lovers, Crystal (Kate Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley), are covered in sweat and grime as they drive across Florida in a car with no air conditioning during a brutally hot and humid summer.
Going into Sun Don’t Shine, I assumed that I would love it (and I did!) because Sheil (Green, Silver Bullets) and Audley (Bad Fever) gave some of the best performances of 2011 — at least in the world of micro-budget cinema. With Sun Don’t Shine, Sheil and Audley up the ante by giving career-defining performances. (Audley does not consider himself to be an actor, but I think Bad Fever and Sun Don’t Shine certainly prove otherwise.)
Smells Like Screen Spirit met up with Amy Seimetz, Kate Sheil and Kentucker Audley the day after their SXSW premiere to discuss the brutal and intense world that they create with Sun Don’t Shine. (Check out our SXSW 2012 review of Sun Don’t Shine.)
Don Simpson: Can you talk about the significance of the environment as well as the influence that it has on the characters in Sun Don’t Shine?
Amy Seimetz: The heat and humidity in the middle of the summer in Florida play a huge factor in their behavior and the feeling of this road trip. The feeling of the story is that of a pressure cooker. They are in this car with no A/C and its just brutal. The DP (Jay Keitel) and I did what a lot of people never want to do, and that is to shoot at high noon every day, with direct sunlight and just make it look as brutal as possible. Of course then we had beautiful shots of the sunsets as well, but we wanted the harshest looking time of day in Florida to be captured on film. You just don’t see that, usually filmmakers go for the more flattering. If Kate [Sheil] and Kentucker [Audley] were not sweaty enough we would spray them down with water. I have never seen a crime movie that explored people under such pressure.
I grew up in Florida, so this is the setting of a lot of my dreams and deep seated memories because my childhood was there. And this is a recurring nightmare I have had. There are also these crazy crimes that happen in Florida. Florida is crazy and I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t agree. Even the Florida Film Commission loves that Florida is a seedy location — send people who want to make crime movies here. People are either escaping to Florida or escaping from Florida. That is what Florida is, in a nutshell. That is part of the storyline with these characters and why the film had to be set there.
DS: What is the nightmare?
AS: I can’t tell you because that’s the story.
DS: Can you say which character you were in the nightmare?
AS: I was actually Kentucker’s character. Kentucker and I have been wanting to work together on something, because I worked with him on Open Five. So on G-Chat we were discussing what we could do. We were thinking about co-directing or both acting in something. We kept throwing around ideas and I told him about this nightmare that I was having really frequently. He said, that’s way better and I said I was definitely not going to be in this movie because I can’t do what Kate Sheil does. The next day I asked Kate — all of this was happening on G-Chat — to be in the movie. It all happened really fast because I was having a really rough year. And with a film like this, you work off of momentum. If you can get a really fun idea and get everyone on board, it is best just go at it as fast as possible because once you get the momentum it is pretty easy to get people to invest money in your movie. I say that, but I think I was just lucky. I was really lucky with that aspect. We had such a great group of people who had all worked together. It just happened really smoothly and really fast. Also I picked some of the most talented people in independent film to be on set, so…
DS: At one point did the narrative structure come into play?
AS: That was how the dream was.
DS: How about the voiceover, was that always written as voiceover? And how did you decide what dialogue would be done as voiceover versus spoken on screen?
AS: It was all scripted and pre-planned. And you can tell, their performances are really pointed and spot-on. It feels really scripted in the voiceover parts. Those were things that were fun with such a small crew. I could just say, we are not going to shoot this with synched dialogue, we are going to shoot this scene coupled with these images. Then we would drive around…
Kate Sheil: It was always planned. We got together and recorded the voiceover then Amy would get an idea to do more, and she would write it.
AS: It is easier to condense time using a series of images and voiceover dialogue.
KS: [To Amy] I think you were very aware of the road trip aspect of the film, and what would be too much time to spend with these two characters in the car. What would be too many stops along the road…
AS: You don’t want to stick them in the car for too long. In road trip movies you would be surprised how much time the characters are not in their vehicle. The voiceover works like a vacation montage, and it was the most efficient way to show that they were having conversations in the car and not just talking about the really bad thing that they are doing. The imagery that you are seeing could be any movie — like National Lampoon’s Florida Vacation or something. It is also advantageous to work with people whom you also think are great writers; and with Kate and Kentucker, I haven’t ever heard an idea of theirs that wasn’t great. We left a lot of room for improvisation. Like in the playground scene I really wanted them to talk about childhood stories — there is something really sad about hearing childhood stories from people who are definitely going to get incarcerated. I just gave them some ideas and they improvised.
DS: Did Kate and Kentucker know more about the story and their characters than what is revealed to the audience?
AS: Do you think so, Kentucker?
Kentucker Audley: Me not having any training in acting and me not ever working in backstory before, it is difficult for me to construct an entire backstory. So my character’s backstory was very limited to me. I was working primarily from just trying to interact in the moment; trying to be both caring and sensitive and volatile and capable of unhinging. We did talk at some length about the backstory, I don’t know how much of that was really incorporating itself into my performance. Kate has a background in acting, so it might be different for her.
KS: Yeah, we were given more background information than what is revealed in the movie. In the beginning we did a few improvisations, like our first date. There was a lot of background work that just sort of informs the movie, but isn’t actually used in the context of the movie. But, yeah, Amy and I talked about it a lot.
AS: When I was writing it, I would send them emails with chunks of prose; pretty messy prose versions of ideas for scenes. It wasn’t necessarily linear, but they knew as the movie was developing — they were involved in the process. So we could have dialogue about their characters. Kentucker is not an angry person, and he would read some of the scenes that were really brutal and he would say that he didn’t think he could get that angry. I would just tell him, don’t worry there is a way we can do it. You just have to trust me. There are ways to find anger that isn’t just screaming, screaming, screaming.
DS: Crystal (Kate Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley) have such prominent personality traits — Crystal just gushes emotions and is unhunged, while Leo is so cool, calm and collected — did Kate and Kentucker influence the defining of each their character’s traits?
AS: We talked a lot about the characters in Two-Lane Blacktop — the strong male, silent type of 1970s films. Really masculine characters. With Kate we just wanted to go with something that was so confrontational and so explosive, because we are entering the story after this woman has already lost it. It is not like we are gradually seeing her get beaten down in life, it is just a given. She has had a really hard life and she just can’t take it any more. That’s where we jump into the story. For both of them, it was important to find childlike behaviors in their characters. When you go through something very traumatic, you revert to being a kid. You get irrational and you fight for survival; you throw tantrums, you get jealous, you get possessive. It is the fear of being abandoned.
KS: [To Amy] I think that you did plan a lot of it to begin with, but I think that our personalities did sort of creep in.
KA: I think we played to our strengths. Kate does not necessarily run around like a wild beast, but she has incredible capacity to do that — as an actress, she has the capacity to be wild and fierce and…just a terrible presence. My strength is probably being stoic.
AS: And so charming. He is so charming.
DS: Yes. Kentucker reminded me a lot of the Martin Sheen character in Badlands. He is so charming, and calm; he can talk his way out of anything, but he is just so —
AS: — crazy. He is crazy for being so rational and collected. That might be crazier than having a nervous breakdown. And Kentucker just has a wonderful way with words; it is scripted, but a lot of the really funny or charming lines are things that Kentucker would throw out in the middle of a scene. They are such keepers. So legendary — like “Get up off my pants!” He is just so quotable. I got a lot of gems in this movie because of him.