Austin, Texas Writer / Director Craig Whitney Talks About His Short Film “Harvest Home” and His Journey To the Cannes Film Festival.
ShortFilmTexas (SFT):Â What is the Harvest Home about?
Craig Whitney (CW): Harvest Home is about an elderly woman whose children are all grown-up, and whose husband has recently died. A cable repairman comes to her house to fix her television, and she sort of smothers him with attention, fixing him coffee and cake and showing him pictures of her grandkids in an attempt to stave off her loneliness.
SFT:Â I love how the story itself is a very common interaction but laced with a very complex emotional situation.
CW: Exactly. On a conceptual level, the film is about the dichotomy that arises between the woman, Mrs. Kern, and the repairman in their reactions to her situation. On the one hand, Mrs. Kernâ€™s situation is certainly tragic; she has spent most of her life as a wife and a mother, and to suddenly find herself deprived of the one role and without the consolation of the other is incredibly difficult to bear. But on the other, the repairmanâ€™s uneasy reaction in being confronted with this onslaught of attention is an understandable one. He probably sees dozens of people every day on the job, and to become emotionally invested in each one of them would just be impossible. Unfortunately, we all have a worst day of our lives at some point, and the fact that our deepest tragedies are commonplace in the larger scheme of things makes them seem sadly unexceptional and all-the-more poignant at the same time.
SFT:Â What was your inspiration for making the film? Was it based on a personal experience?
CW: I canâ€™t really say where the inspiration for the film came from other than the desire to make a short film which had a manageable scope and production size. However, once I settled on this subject, I became very interested in Jewish funerary customs, and decided to make Mrs. Kernâ€™s character Jewish. In Judaism there is a week long ritual after the death of a family member known as â€œsitting Shiva,â€ which, essentially, is designed to keep your thoughts from becoming preoccupied with worldly matters and focused on the person you have lost. Harvest Home contains a number of visual motifsâ€”such as covering up the mirrors in the home, or making a tear in an article of clothingâ€”which are part of the Shiva custom and which helped to guide a lot of the choices that we made in filming.
SFT:Â Tell me about a little bit about your cast and crew.
CW: Diana Hruska and Scott Bateâ€”the leads in the filmâ€”both delivered amazing performances. Due to scheduling conflicts, we were forced to replace the actor who was originally cast as the repairman just a few days before beginning rehearsals, and I was especially grateful to Scott for being able to enter the production on such short notice and fill the role.
My director of photography, Jameson West, did some incredible work not just in lighting the film but in helping me to decide on shots, as did my first AD, Melissa Dalley, who was so talented at what she did that I made sure that she was producing one of my next films. On a production like this, the producer ends up wearing a lot more hats then they would on a normal occasionâ€”hauling gear, planning meals, and even pulling focus on one occasionâ€”and Harvest Home would not have been made had our producer, Stephanie Huettner, not been willing to take on so many responsibilities.
SFT: What did you shoot on? The film has a very old fashioned look to it that works well.
CW: Jameson and I decided that given the subject matter of the film, we wanted a very soft, low-contrast 16mm stock, and Kodakâ€™s Vision 2 Expression 500T 7229 was a perfect fit. After doing a telecine transfer, the film was edited on Final Cut by James Chesnut, who did a remarkable job in establishing a pace for the film to compliment the look that Jameson and I had established.
SFT:Â You actually shot on film! Don’t see that so much these days.
CW: Right! The Kodak stock performed remarkably, and I was very pleased with the editing process on Final Cut. Given the additional cost involved in shooting on film, the biggest difficulty I had was in the additional time and cost that was involved in making the telecine transfer. Because of that, I am very seriously exploring the option of shooting one of my next projects on the Red One. I have been very impressed by that cameraâ€™s performance in Soderberghâ€™s recent pictures, The Girlfriend Experience and Che, and was very pleased with my experiences in working with the Red One on Terrence Malickâ€™s upcoming Tree of Life. Although it will probably not do much in the way of reducing costs, the visual quality and work flow reduction will go a long way in alleviating that expense.
SFT:Â You recently were invited to screen Harvest Home at Cannes! How incredible was that experience?
CW: It was a pretty incredible experience, to say the least. Stephanie and I were able to attend a screening in the LumiÃ¨re theater, where all of the competition films are shown, and I kept thinking during the film, â€œWow, this is where they booed Lâ€™Avventura!â€ This is a theater that can hold several thousand people: hearing that many people laugh at a film was a different sound than Iâ€™ve ever heard at a movie; I can only imagine what that amount of booing would be like.
SFT: Â Did you have a chance to attend other screenings?
CW: While a lot of our time in Cannes was spent hanging posters and passing out promotional postcards for the film, we were actually able to watch a lot of the short films that were also at Cannes from other filmmakers that we met. In addition to screening our film in the Short Film Corner, Harvest Home was also available to watch on computers that the festival has set up in the Digital Film Library.
We planned the trip so that we would arrive the day before the start of the festival, and we were there for about a week. Except for some trouble finding a power converter at Fnac, the trip passed pretty much without incident, and we somehow managed to even find the time to attend a couple of screenings, which I hadnâ€™t expected we would.
SFT:Â Well it sounds like all the planning and hard work was well worth it.
CW: Absolutely. A lot of work went into planning the trip and getting everything ready, so I was especially happy with the reception the film received at our screening and from the people we talked with who had watched it in the digital library.
SFT:Â So what are you working on now?
CW: Right now I am in the process of doing research for a film that I will be shooting in the fall called, The Garden and the Wilderness. The film will be about an aging gamekeeper at a private hunting ranch that has fallen on hard times due to neglect by its owners. Most of my research has centered on gathering source material to expand upon the thematic concerns of the film, as well as quite a few real estate guides to hunting ranches that are for sale to make the location scouting process a little less gasoline-intensive.
ShortFilmTexas: Last question. What do you like about making films in Texas?
Craig Whitney: I can only speak to making films in Austin, but one of the things that I love about this city is the sense of community among filmmakers here. Harvest Home is one of many films that would never have been made had there not been so many Austin filmmakers willing to contribute their services based solely on their faith in the film and the filmmaker. While there is no escaping the fact that film is a commercial endeavor, I have found that so many of the filmmakers here have a higher sense of purpose about film as an art, and I enjoy working among a group of professionals who treat what they do with the importance that, I think, it deserves.
WATCH THE TRAILER FOR “HARVEST HOME” BELOW
To contact Craig Whitney please visit Better Archangel Pictures.
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