Following years of producing various shorts, independent films and documentaries, Frank Hall Green decided to come around to the other sides of the creative process. He's made his feature writing and directorial debut with the coming-of-age drama-thriller Wildlike, and notice has been taken.
Starring Ella Purnell, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Geraghty and Ann Dowd, Wildlike centers on the unexpected bond shared between two strangers, Mackenzie (Purnell), a troubled, runaway teenager, and Bart (Greenwood), a solemn, widowed drifter, throughout the Alaskan interior wilderness. Since its Hamptons International Film Festival premiere last October, Green’s film has made its way into more than 150 other film festivals across the country and abroad, earning nothing short of widespread acclaim throughout its own journey. While its festival run comes near to a close, those who missed it at their nearest festival don't need to be secluded.
Having arrived in limited release and on VOD on Sept. 25, people across the country now get the opportunity, if they haven't already, to join the conversation. Keeping ours going here is Green himself. Granted an exclusive phone interview with the newbie filmmaker, we discuss his casting process for Purnell, Greenwood and Dowd, the long-winded festival journey, the look of the film, juggling producer and director roles at the same time and more. Check it out below.
This interview was conducted on Sept. 23.
TheCelebrityCafe.com: You have an exceptional young talent with Ella Purnell in the lead role. What was it like to find this bright young talent to carry your movie?
Frank Hall Green: [laughs] What was it like to find her… It was a moment where, when I saw her on screen, I knew she was who I wanted. I felt like she was Mackenzie, and that has happened with me before when casting roles. I was actually on a trip out here to L.A., and I was meeting with agents and seriously talented girls and so forth, and I just wasn’t finding at all what I was looking for. And I went to my hotel room and I turned on this movie called Never Let Me Go, where Ella plays a younger version of Keira Knightley, and I saw her on the TV for all of five minutes and I said, “That is her.” She is actually too beautiful, but I think something is telling me that this is her. I think she has a presence on screen. She’s quite quiet also in that film. But I think she can really capture what I was looking for — in terms of someone who can convey a character with little dialogue.
TCC: As you were writing it, did you have Bruce Greenwood in mind for the role, or was that someone you found through the process?
FHG: I found him through the process. I had a hard time identifying Bart with a particular actor while I was working on the script. Having grown up watching movies from the ‘80s, I had a Nick Nolte-type character in mind, like from the 48 Hours days. Maybe just slightly older. And then when we started casting, I was looking for an actor who had worked in independent film before, who had worked on art films before, and knew how to bring a more natural performance. I wanted to see that work actually on the screen — and then, of course, we wanted to get someone who’s a recognizable face and name, and also someone who would be good to work with — giving the circumstances of the shoot.
And Bruce, from a poll of people, rose to the top. Because, for one, he’s a fantastic actor, but two, I also really liked his past experience of films, starting with Atom Egoyan’s movies — Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter — and then moving back into independent recently with some work with Kelly Reichert and other directors. He was a good fit. And when I got on the phone, I discovered he’s also a very smart guy. We had a fantastic, thoughtful conversation about the character and the script, and I think we both immediately had a respect and attraction for working together.
TCC: Awesome. When I saw the movie, one thing that really attracted me was how tight the script was — even though you see this relationship develop. Was that something you kept in mind as you were filming, or was that something that came as you were editing it?
FHG: No, that was kept in mind from the beginning. I am a fan of subtly and restraint, particularly in film — especially these days. And so, when I wrote Wildlike, I was very careful to pace it out. I wanted there to be a lot of breathing moments, and not breathing moments also, and I think there’s an interesting, fine line where time and speed — slow speed — can convey an openness and a breath in film, but can also convey a great deal of depth. And so, this is a film where that works very well with the storyline.
So, the script is pretty much like you see it on screen. I mean, it has all those sort of pauses in the sparse dialogue and all that. There are a couple of scenes knocked out. Some lines removed. Not really too many lines added, but a few in ADR. It was pretty much like you see it.
TCC: Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this is the very first screenplay of yours that you have produced?
FHG: Yes, this is my first — my debut as both a writer and a director of a feature.
TCC: What was that transition like? I know you made some short films before this, but to get in the director’s chair for this process, what was that like?
FHG: Yeah, other than the graduate school program at NYU, I cut my teeth in two ways. One, repeatedly making shorts — which really began in college, and then continued in earnest when I was in the graduate film program. And then the other way was being a producer: a line producer, a production manager, all those different roles. First for lots and lots of short films, then for slightly bigger and bigger independent movies. So when I came around to making Wildlike, I had experience in both areas. And it was especially hard to pull away from the producing side of it. But I feel like I’m a lifelong student of film, and I’m a slow learner. So it was very important for me to take all the things I learned along the way and try to compile them into Wildlike. It was sort of a risk. [laughs] Especially since we were going out for this far and ambitious thing.
TCC: What was it like juggling the producer and director hats as you were making this movie?
FHG: It was hard, and my other producers —Julie Christeas, Schuyler Weiss and Joe Stephans — were very good at trying to take the reigns from me and letting me become the director. You know, I was driving the ship when the project got going, and then I brought them on and they joined, and we were all partners working in tandem. Working out the casting, working even on the fundraising and putting together the logistics. And when we got to Alaska, they pushed me increasingly to focus on the script and my storyboards and my shot lists and, you know, my ideas and research and rehearsals and all that. And I would occasionally, in the evenings, put together producing to-do lists and fire those off to them. It puts my worries down into an e-mail.
But they were great, and they kept me from what was going on behind-the-scenes in production. Like, it there was a problem, I didn’t really know about it. So my experience was really working with the DP and AD on the film — on logistics and what character things we could accomplish. But I was able to be removed from producing. But now I’m back into it. After things came to an end, I got to fool around for a bit, but now we’re coming back together and pushing the movie forward for its release.
TCC: When you go into another film, would you consider producing and directing simultaneously again? Or would you consider just doing one or the other?
FHG: No, I feel like I’m fairly determined to continue to do all three. I would prefer to write and source my own material. I definitely want to continue to be involved from a producing standpoint. I think, just based on my experiences now — and I’m doing some producing outside my directing work now too — I think it would be very, very difficult for me not to play a crucial role in the producing of one of my own films. I think it’s just a smart thing to do. If you’re an independent film director, or a small film director, you kind of have to do that. Nobody cares about the project the way you do. So I like it. It's great.
A funny thing I was thinking the other day was, when I was writing Wildlike — the very first draft — I actually made a budget for the film before I finished.
TCC: Yeah, I can tell you not many writers do that. [laughs]
FHG: Exactly. [laughs] But yeah, that doesn’t come by accident. I feel very lucky to be involved in all those roles.
TCC: Awesome. To talk about the shoot itself, this is a very beautiful looking movie.
FHG: Thank you.
TCC: How did you get in contact with your cinematographer, and, at the same time, how did you go about capturing all the different landscape shots?
FHG: Sure, sure. Yeah, that was an extremely important process for me. I think visually. I start all my stories visually. I like to see Alaska dripping in the backdrop. The location, the setting and the look of the film are extremely important to me. And in truth, it’s really is the origin of most of my projects. I was a photography major as an undergraduate, and when I was in the graduate film program, I was also a DP assistant in the cinematography department. I came into it having a very good idea of what I wanted Wildlike to look like. So I began searching for DPs who one, had the experience and had done work with what I wanted to emulate with Wildlike, and then someone who was really up for the Alaska adventure, and who was driven on our level of independent film and had experience with that — and also someone who was within the industry as an up-and-coming cinematographer.
So we looked at a lot of people. We really did. And Hillary Spera was the person that fit everything in a perfect way. She’s a delightful person. She’s really warm. She’s easy to work with. She has a great deal of enthusiasm. She has a great deal of talent, obviously. She had experience in the northwest. She had shot things that, I felt, were in the same manner that I wanted to accomplish in. And she wanted to collaborate. She was a real collaborator. So we sat down and I showed her all the storyboards I had. She improved upon them, and we did a lot of scouting together. We took pictures. We took videos. We did all sorts of stuff. It was a great collaboration. And then she really took over and — other than me suggesting compositions, or her saying, “Hey, what we wanted to do isn’t going to work. Let me come up with something else” — she really took it and ran with it.
We decided that we wanted to share the craft and the openness of the vast landscapes, but then we also wanted Mackenzie to be compressed and show that she was, indeed, trapped. Despite being in these open spaces. We also wanted to be with her, the audience to arrive at that journey with Mackenzie, very close to her. So we shot on film, which we obviously thought was fantastic, and we wanted to give it a very natural look. We wanted the story to be as believable as possible. I think Hillary did a fantastic job.
TCC: I definitely agree. And with Ann Dowd, how did she come into the picture?
FHG; Yeah, Ann Dowd came through an audition, which was shocking for me. Because she’s Ann Dowd, she doesn’t have to come down for an audition for anything! We had a great casting director, Stephanie Holbrook, and Stephanie brought her in for an audition for that character, and Ann nailed the audition. I didn’t even actually….I knew Ann’s face, but I wasn’t fully aware of her entire career or her versatility. She came in, and she landed it. And then I asked her to do another audition in a completely different way, and she nailed that also. She was, literally from the moment she auditioned, who I thought “that’s it, we’ve got her.” She’s a really, really warm person, and she’s extremely versatile. It’s kind of amazing. I wish we had more of her in the movie. Yeah, I wish we got to work with her more.
TCC: At the moment, are you currently working on any other projects as a writer or director?
FHG: Yeah, I get that question a lot of late. I have a film production company with my partner, Tom Heller, so we’ll be developing some books and projects and things from a producing standpoint. From a writing and directing standpoint, I am working on a few things for number two. I have a few things, and I can’t quite put my finger on what next, but I think it will be, you know, it’ll probably be ambitious in location and setting. It’ll probably be a little more serious in nature. Perhaps on a social issue, like Wildlike does, but I’m going to try to bring the poignancy that people have enjoyed with Wildlike for another subject, and other characters in another place in the world.
TCC: You really ran the gamut with the festival circuit, I noticed. What was it like to bounce between all these different places? At the same time, what’s it like to finally see the movie come out to a wider audience?
FHG: Well, I like to think that it’s really paying off. I don’t think we had the same approach that everyone else necessarily had. You know, we didn’t launch the movie at Sundance or Toronto — which, at one point, we thought we were going to. And then, instead, it’s turned into this grassroots effort of putting the movie out there, constantly have it screen throughout the festivals and being invited and invited to more and more of so. And the awards really piled up and, along the way, a lot of wonderful, fantastic reviews also were gathered. So that put us in the position of interest for distributors and the like.
Now, I think it’s coming out on 20 screens on Friday in the U.S. and Canada, and there’s a lot of momentum. There are a lot of people who saw the movie, who are big fans and supporters, and we gotten in contact with them throughout the festivals and outside the festivals. So I feel we’ve determined this network from around the country who are supporting the movie, and I’m very, very grateful for that.
I mean, I don’t think if we’ve gone through one big festival and then got picked by a distributor, a smallest specialty distributor, I don’t think we’ve would’ve had that same response. That same momentum, fanbase and network. Not to mention, I’ve meet so many fantastic people along the way, and have got to see a lot of people enjoy Wildlike — which is something I’m not going to be able to do when it comes out on Friday. I don’t get to see the audience enjoy it, or get to come into their house when they watch it online and so forth.
TCC: And where are you right now with Boy21?
FHG: A-ha, Boy21. I can’t disclose too much on where we are with Boy21. But I can say we have a script. Things are happening. It’s going, and I think it's going to be a great film. We’re excited about it.
More details on Wildlike can be found at its website.