Sean Ackerman talks about his film The Diary of Preston Plummer

April 20, 2012

If you’ve seen this morning’s MovieStyle section in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette you probably understand why this conversation with Diary of Preston Plummer writer-director Sean Ackerman didn’t make it into the newspaper. We had eight film reviews. And finite space.

Still I wished we could have given this little film a little more space. So thank you Internets!

Q. First off, are there any autobiographical elements in the story? Or how did this story come about?

A. When I was 22 I inherited a terrible piece of land. I know that sounds like a real “first world problem”, but let me explain… it was a piece of desert in Arizona that was just several hundred yards outside of the largest practice bombing range in the United States. Nobody in the family wanted it, because all it means is that you have to pay $20 of taxes on it each year and will never be able to sell it. My great uncle originally got it in a real estate scam in the 1970s. Anyway, I started thinking about other strange things you could inherit, and I thought it might be funny to write a story about a young man who inherited a condo in a retirement complex. I liked the idea of this young guy with his whole life ahead of him hanging out with old people near death. So, really, this movie sort of started as a dark coming-of-age comedy.

That story combined with some real people and places I experienced on Amelia Island (where the film was shot), and then I really had some life-changing events that made me less interested in comedy, and more interested in theme-driven, philosophically based stories… and the script morphed over the years into in a love story with a philosophical under-pining.

Q.The notes on your website indicate it took a few years to get this made? Why so long?

A. Well, when I first left film school I optioned the script to a large studio in L.A. but we had the dreaded “creative differences” and I put the script on the shelf for a long time. In the meantime, I made another movie – a super low-budget film with no professional actors – which got into SXSW and got a good review in Variety. That opened the door to more opportunities in the industry, however, at that time I also started medical school.

This is sort of an aside, but I’m a doctor and most of my life is spent practicing medicine. I find medicine extremely fulfilling and it’s the focus of my working life, but there is a part of me that can never leave film. However, in order to practice medicine properly, I can only take off time for film every five-ten years, so I had to wait for the right moment in my medical training to take a year off to make the movie. When that time came along, I took Preston Plummer off the shelf, still was drawn to it, and pushed forward with it.

Q. Can you talk about the casting? Especially Robert Loggia (who’s terrific, btw).

A. We started with Preston. And when I met Trevor Morgan, I was pretty much immediately sold. He had exactly what I was looking for in Preston – intelligence, a blue-collar feel, he was a gifted actor – but he also was just so funny. The character is pretty serious, and I think Trevor gives him a looseness, a sense of humor that adds depth.

After Trevor, we cast Rumer as Kate. The thing about Rumer is – so many people have these expectations about who she is because of how intensely the media monitors her – the truth is simply that she is a wonderful, humble, giving person. I mean, she made the cast and crew dinner sometimes. She swam in shark-infested waters for the film. She is a dedicated performer who cares about her craft and the people around her.

As far as Robert Loggia… that was actually Trevor’s suggestion. Trevor is a bit of film geek and can talk film history with you for hours. Anyway, he came up with the idea, we offered Bob the part, and he went for it. Man, I was so happy. I think Loggia’s performance in Lost Highway is one of the most underrated performances in recent film history. That part is scary, exciting, real, tragic, and very funny all at once. I was so honored to have him on board.

Erin Dilly and Chris Cousins came on board last. Erin is a Tony nominee. If you’ve seen Chris in Breaking Bad you know he’s amazing. We were very lucky to have them.

Overall we were amazingly lucky to have them all. We had a tiny budget and it’s surreal that these actors believed in this movie enough to come on board to such a small project.

Q. Finally, what do you wish I’d asked you — and what’s your answer?

A. I think the thing I’m most proud of on this movie, and the thing I always try to talk about, is how a group people came together to make a film that’s pretty big in scope and did it for so little. Our budget was $125,000. That’s a lot of money in general, but for a movie, it’s nothing. I mean, when you shoot on location, $125K usually won’t even cover the housing and food of your cast and crew. People worked for little or nothing on this movie. We didn’t have a lot of resources. We had to be super creative just in terms of filmmaking. We have underwater scenes, gun shots to the head, locations in three different states, nighttime ocean scenes, super long tracking shots, an Oscar-nominated actor, a Tony-nominated actor, and the rights to our digital distribution were picked up by Warner Bros. You don’t get to make such a big movie for so little unless everybody on it really comes together, so I’m just proud of the team for making a truly independent film and so thankful for all the support everybody gave us, especially the people of Amelia Island. I mean, whether or not you like the movie, I think it’s hard not to appreciate how much we sincerely gave to the process. I hope it comes through in the final product.

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