Michael Medeiros is both a talented multi-ranged actor, a brilliant writer and director, and a friend. I first met him through his wonderful darkly comic film Tiger Lily Road, (I almost got a chance to do a voice in the film. He needed someone who sounded weird, and I fill that bill.) Recently I watched a rough cut of his new film, 3 Minutes, and by the end, I was weeping. About family, community, courage, guns and what one brave woman will do for her damaged veteran husband--the film is truly important.
I am so thrilled that he and the others responsible for the film have agreed to talk with me about it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
First, the info you need to know:
3 MINUTES RT 12:41
3 MINUTES RT 12:41
Written & Directed by Michael Medeiros
Cinematographer Nils Kenaston
Produced by Ilvi Dulack; Mark Woods
Executive Producer Michael Gallis
Tommy - Adam Cole
Laurie - Inge Uys
The Kid - Jacob Leinbach
Maddy - Tiz McWilliams
Earl - Lee Spencer Osario
Festivals pay a lot of attention to Social Media presence. Every Facebook "like" helps.
Crowdfunding page - to help cover post prod expenses and festival entry fees which are higher than ever this year. We are entering a lot of them to try to give the film as wide an exposure as possible.
And now, the interview.
This film is so different from your excellently dark comic Tiger Lily Road, which I also loved. What was haunting you that led you to 3 MINUTES?
MM: Like many people, as so many incidents of gun violence of the last few years unfolded one after another, I developed a sort of aching wish, sincere but unfocused, that something could be done about the problem. So when producer, Mark Woods came to me and proposed that we make this film, I literally leapt at the idea. I wrote the script treatment really fast - I guess because I’d already been psychically onboard for a few years.
ID: I come from a long line of story tellers. That was always the thing for me as long as I can remember and still is. Our talk around the table. When my Dad calls and says " how are you whats up whats going on" he is fishing for the story. And I usually have one, that has been on the simmer for a while waiting for the moment. If it is an especially good one we will revisit and review it and chew on it for a while.
3 Minutes is the story of what’s happening in our towns and cities and communities . When I read the script it was an immediate "yes" for me. Its a powerful tale of great courage, a love for the ages and the loss of innocence.
MW: A lack of comfortable and true self awareness that defines much of our culture. The apparently magnetic pull of group think/speak that takes all the color out of our human processes leaving us with black/white. I want to be a part of something more fluid and personally/culturally challenging than just pulling a lever for A or B. I want a different (kind of) conversation.
I am wondering if your experience as an actor help you with the incredible nuances in the performances. Can you talk about this?
MM: Yes, absolutely. I learned from personal experience, many many times that the actor is the play or film. There is no other way for me to look at it. There is a lot that a director can add, even impose but the smart ones know that what communicates the story is the impulse that rides on the actors breath. The actor is doing it right now. And when you see a great actor going through an emotional change right before your eyes, the experience is transformative and magical. And directors had best be creating the space for that. I think my experience as an actor has also helped me to recognize what’s what’s working and what each actor can contribute. We had a great casting director, but truthfully, I was a little nervous about casting this in a smaller talent pool. I had originally spoken to Tom Pelphrey about it - he was so wonderful in Tiger Lily Road - but his career has skyrocketed and he wasn’t available. Then I watched the tapes sent in by Adam Cole and Inge Uys and I couldn’t wait to meet them and I knew I could make the film.
And to go back in time: I studied acting with one of the greats in the American theatre, Uta Hagen. She was very big on bringing your own subjective truth to the work. This wasn’t so much a moral imperative, as a practical one. Any talented actor can certainly flounce around the stage and pretend to be something, say angry, and probably convince a lot of people. But the real magic happens when the actor brings a truthful alignment of their own life experience into serving the character in the play or film. There that’s my soapbox.
What deeply impressed me was how every minute serves the story, every image is calibrated for force. Even the wife’s shirt and long hair, which made me immediately think of the 1960’s and all that hope, were on target. Was all of this mapped out beforehand or did you improvise?
MM: Ah well, the 60’s. I have a huge nostalgia for that period and because I experienced some of it as a young person, it kind of feels like home to me. Probably, unconsciously I calibrate a lot in relation to it. We did a costume parade on Laura, I knew I wanted blues for her, and the hard part was that Inge looked good in everything. But this one top was a little bit of a throwback and spoke very quietly. It seemed to say, “here is a person who is unprententious, who has natural beauty and values and who will always give you the simple truth.” And that’s Laurie. With her and with the actor who played Tommy - they’re both very attractive - but I wanted the audience feel their beauty and their potential as human beings. And we only had a couple of scenes with little dialogue to get us there. I had several great, mad, last minute sessions with costumer, Ruth Bryan working things out for all the characters. We also had Nils Kenaston who was the cinematographer on Tiger Lily Road so even though we did some things differently there was a certain approach that was definitely mapped out beforehand. For the emergency room scene we made a lot of choices on the spot because we’d never seen the location before the day of shooting. It became a controlled improvisation developed through slow rehearsals, gradually increasing the pace until we were ready to shoot. It was great fun especially because we had an enthusiastic group of background performers who essentially all became principals.
P.S. from Caroline: Can I buy that shirt? #notkidding
What surprised you in making this film?
ID: When I realized that actors were driving 5-7 hours to be extras. That blew me away. Then that wonderful letter that actor wrote to me. He was the tall guy who was shot in the beginning. He did don't know what the film was about when he took the gig. When he arrived on the set we selected him to be featured. And shot. Apparently the same thing happened in his town a year or two ago. the whole experience for him working on our set resonated in a deep and powerful way and he was honored to be in the film.
MM: One thing that surprised me was the support we got from so many people who I could reasonably have expected to oppose us. You can’t make a film about gun violence without the help of some pretty conscientious people who know a lot about guns. It also surprised me that in working with some of them, I began to have a better understanding of their point of view. Of course, Mark Woods, our local producer was simply a genius at making connections to people and finding the way to make them feel comfortable about what we were doing and pursuing them and not giving up and finding out who they were and what they needed. I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed the visceral experience of working on set with guns and SFX. I can understand why so many films want to use them. They have a big impact and can change the atmosphere so quickly. Unfortunately, their constant use devalues the effect a great deal.
MW: Making the film surprised me. While I have produced nearly 150 fully mounted Equity stage productions (directed many of them too), they all happened in a contained and reasonably safe, controlled environment...a theatre. Making a film is like running for your life barefoot, partially blinded and with your ass on fire. And I want to do it again. That's surprising.
The universal level-headedness, patience, stunning work ethic, inventiveness and kindness of absolutely everyone working on this film surprised me.
So many locations in a handful of days, interacting with retail and service communities without so much as a cross look from any of them, speaks volumes about the fabulous character that defines most people if you just show honest respect. More of a reassurance than a surprise, really.
A number of people, helping to make this story, challenged our wisdom in questioning such a (growing) popular notion that everyone would be a lot safer if we all carried weapons. I am surprised at the immediate consideration given to the prospect that our real power lies in our ability to make informed and inspired personal choices.
In this terrible political climate, it’s really brave to release a film like this. Do you anticipate any trouble?
MM: One never knows but I don’t think so. While we were filming in July we were assisted by many responsible gun advocates - because I think they honestly felt the production was not aimed at misrepresenting them, or repressing them. The owner of the pawn/gun store where we filmed one scene was incredibly generous. Here’s a man who makes his livelihood selling guns and he opened his business at 5 AM for us to film a scene. And there was the guy who took me to the shooting range so I could get some experience with the weapons we’d be using in the film. What these and so many other interactions tell me is that there are many many people who are willing to have a conversation about this but they don’t want to be belittled or scorned or invalidated.
MW: Frankly, I don't see the point of anticipating it because making that choice will only weaken me. Furthermore, all we are asking and are likely to be asking in future projects is for our fellow travelers to participate in more conversations, too be curious and to experience the thrill of looking at ourselves and each other through a different lens
What’s obsessing you now and why?
ID: My hope is for the film to reach a wide audience, that will revisit and review it for a while and that it will play a part in the conversation for change.
MM: Yes, launching the film - getting it out to as wide an audience as possible - and at this stage that means festivals, getting the film into the right hands and making the right connections so that programmers will take a serious look at it. We went way out on a limb to make this project happen. It’s a bigger production than 99% of short films usually are. And to say that it’s straining our resources is putting it mildly. But we didn’t make the film to make money. We made it (as we keep saying in various ways) to try to stimulate a conversation. So the only real purpose in all of this is to get it out into the world and say, “let’s talk about it.” And to do that we’re looking for any kind of help along the way that people are willing to give us, whether it’s money, or a facebook like, or sharing the indiegogo page we’re about to launch, or connecting to someone who can open a door for us, it’s all helpful and good.
MW: Right now, we are completing the work necessary to share the film with as many people as possible There is still a lot of discovery in that process. That said, the real passion is about the conversation we hope to inspire.
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
MM: You might have asked: “What makes you want to make films?” Well, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it feels too hard. Some days you have to kick yourself in the ass a little. But with any artistic venture it’s such an enticing thing to create an alternate universe (I know you must feel this). But then there’s that old writer’s irony that says: “I don’t so much like the act of writing, but I love to have written.” I feel mostly the opposite. There are so many parts to the process of filmmaking and I’ve come to realize that I love them all. I love imagining the script. I love shooting. I love the solitary world of editing where you re-invent the film (and deal with all of your shooting mistakes). I love foley work because sound becomes music. Making a film uses and challenges all of my skills, every part of my existence up to and through the act of making it. And what you ultimately have to share is beyond description. It is the thing itself. And if you’ve done your job well, people don’t just understand what you mean, they experience what you mean.