Levi Agee’s Screengems LRFF edition: An interview with Jason Miller, co-director of Blood Brothers

May 15, 2013

Monkley note: Thanks to Tanner Smith for this video clip.

By Levi Agee
BDA Special Master

Blood Brothers, shot in both Arkansas and Chicago, will have its premiere at the Little Rock Film Festival on May 17 at 4pm at 4 p.m. today at the Argenta Community Theater, and in North Little Rock; it will screen again on Sunday May 19 at 5 p.m. Sunday at The Rep Arkansas Repertory Theatre downtown. in Little Rock. Jason Miller, who co-wrote and co-directed the film with Seth Savoy, chatted with me online about the film and his expectations for LRFF screenings.

Q. First of all tell me about your project, Blood Brothers. How did the idea come about?

A. Blood Brothers really began as a means for Seth and I to stay in touch. We had become good friends while working on films at UCA [the University of Central Arkansas at Conway], then he was accepted into Columbia College Chicago, cq which was great for him but would be a challenge for us as friends. We talked about ways of staying in touch — Skype, Facebook, that sort of thing — but those things didn’t really did do it for us because what we really love doing together is making movies. So we decided to do that. And that was really where started we started — with the idea of making a movie that would take place partly in Arkansas (which I would direct) and partly in Chicago (which Seth would direct). No idea for a story or anything like that, just the idea to make a movie in this way.

From there, we started thinking of what kind of story we wanted it to be. We both agreed we wanted to make a crime thriller, so we started thinking in that direction. The idea for the ending came first. Without spoiling it, I had an idea that would bring two characters together over a long distance in a manner that would shock and surprise an audience. We wrote backwards from there, figuring out the specifics of what got these characters to that end.

Q. This project is interesting because it sort of has two units, filming in Arkansas and Chicago? How did that go?

A. Filming in two parts was actually pretty simple. Seth and I are really good at being in tune to each other, and we spent countless hours on Skype, hammering out the details of every aspect of the story and characters, making sure we were both on the same page. We would also trade shot lists and storyboards to ensure that our stylistic approach was similar, and would keep each other up to date on every decision from cast to location to set and costume design, making sure everything meshed well.

We had separate crews, but one cinematographer. His name was Brandon Riley and he is based out of Chicago. He had responded to an ad Seth put on Craigslist. He loved the script and agreed to shoot both sides of the film on the RED Epic [digital camera], and he gave us an awesome deal on it. I met him for the first time when I picked him up at the airport, so it was a little bit of a leap of faith that it was going to work out, but it did. He did an amazing job.

The most complicated aspect of making a movie in this way was in post. Trading footage … and making sure we were both working with the same material was a bit of a logistical challenge. Most of the post work (color and sound) took place in Chicago, and we worked on it right up to the last minute. Seth had to overnight me the hard drive with the final color-corrected 4k master. It came at the very last minute. I am actually exporting the cut for Little Rock as I write this, and the screening is just a few days away. But we got it.

Q. Some of your behind the scenes photos show a house burning — that looked intense. How’d you guys pull it off the production of a house burning down?

A. The fire was interesting. It was not actually in the script. The script began with my character, Travis, standing at the site of a burned-down meth lab. It was only ever meant to be a little exposition to the back story — that he and his brother were former meth cooks and that there had been an accident. I never intended to actually flashback to that fire. But while we are location scouting for a burned down house, Chealsie Summers, our Chicago producer, passes the word along to her stepdad, and he says he actually has an old house on his property that he wanted to burn down, so he offered to let us film it. To be honest, I didn’t want to do this at first. The logistics of seemed insane to me, but Seth was insistent and I finally caved. And it was a good thing too. I wasn’t wrong — it was a logistical nightmare and it put us behind on our shoot, but it was worth it. It looks incredible … And it really adds to the story, not just as a flashback, but ultimately as symbolism for what our respective characters are going through and their connection.

Shooting it was intense. There was no volunteer fire department, no pyrotechnical guys — there were just two good ol’ country gentlemen with a can of diesel and a lighter. It lit up much faster than we expected. I was still working out blocking with my actors and Brandon when next thing we know the thing is engulfed. So we grabbed the shots as fast as we could. The heat was so intense that we ended up on the other side of the road within about five minutes.

Q. What are your expectations for showing at the film festival?

A. We are really looking forward to screening at Little Rock. This will be the first time it has screened to anyone not directly involved in making it. Mostly we just hope people are entertained. That’s the kind of movie we wanted to make.

For more information about the film Blood Brothers or other films playing at the Little Rock Film Festival visit littlerockfilmfestival.orgcq PM where you can purchase badges and get a map of the venues.

Levi Agee is a filmmaker and programmer for the Little Rock Film Festival. Write him at levifilm@gmail.com.

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