Saturday, October 23, 2010

OPEN FIVE, new love-&-music mumblecore movie, streams free for awhile: Catch it. Q&A with filmmaker Kentucker Audley

One of the pleasures/
pains of blog reviewing is that, once word gets out about your site, you begin receiving out-of-the-blue invitations to "watch my movie, please!" And if you really love movies, it's difficult to automatically say no. Who knows if you'll be passing up the next big thing or simply an enjoyable film whose maker deserves to be encouraged to keep filming.  Sure, you can get a lemon or two not worth five minutes of your time. But, hey, you can get the same after plunking down 13 bucks to see the latest mainstream movie, too. So it was that TrustMovies came upon OPEN FIVE, the most recent (though it's the first he's seen) from Memphis-based filmmaker Kentucker Audley (a great name: like Maxine Audley, were her family from Kentucky instead of London).

The other problem about these unsolicited films, is that -- as good or bad they may be -- they often have, as yet, no distribution channel. I'm happy to say that, concerning the movie Mr Audley (shown at right) has made, it is both worth one's time and offers an immediate way to be seen. Even better, you can watch it free of charge by streaming it via the filmmaker's web site. Lasting just over an hour, Open Five is about love and music and is, I say this with as much trepidation as excitement, pretty much mumble-core. In my definition, anyway. Not only did m'core master Joe Swanberg shoot the film (more on this in the short interview with the filmmaker, further below) but the movie has, to my mind, one of the hallmarks of this johnny-come-lately genre: its characters appear to be drifting rather aimlessly toward... whatever. No one exhibits much energy toward any objective.

Emotional laissez-faire is the law of this land, particularly where relationships are concerned: Everyone seems hesitant to put any pressure on anyone else. After watching this movie and musing a bit on past mumblecore examples, the characters and particularly the actors who essay them, I had a thought: Can you imagine for a moment actresses like Bette Davis, Susan Hayward or Joan Crawford making a mumblecore movie? (Now there's a skit that might bring back Mad-TV.)  In fact, in Swanberg's most recent film, Alexander the Last, his use of the vital, high-energy performer Jess Weixler helped lift his movie from the some-times-morass that mumblecore can become. That's sounds like a slur, I know, but part of the problem with the m'core genre is that, without some variation in the pacing, events, dialog, action and energy-level, it can too easily put an audience to sleep. (There are wonderful exceptions: Aaron Katz's Quiet City is one such.)

This doesn't happen in Open Five, though at times the film comes a tad too close. Audley and his co-writer Jake Rabinbach (shown two photos above) tell the story of two guys, musicians named Jake and Kentucker (yes, this is "sort of/sort of not" autobiography) and the two young women from New York City who visit the guys in Memphis. The movie begins with a nice NYC-based necking-on-the-fire-escape scene (just above) between Jake and Lucy (the lovely Shannon Esper), after which Lucy and her friend Rose (the equally enchanting Genevieve Angelson, below) pay a visit down south. The women here are more open and immediate than the guys -- whether this is due to the filmmakers telling their own story and so keeping closer to the vest regarding the males, or to the women being the more gracious and appealing characters, I'm not sure. We also see and hear a lot more from Jake than we do Kentucker, perhaps because the director wanted to be more generous to his co-star/co-writer, who really is the main focus of the film.

In any case, the usual male-female dance of first getting closer then farther apart ensues, and along the way the ladies (and us viewers) get to see (and hear) some of Memphis -- its music, scenery, churches (below), fireworks and fairs --  in an easy-going, never-pushed manner (well, this is m'core, after all). Little is resolved by the end, unless I missed something. In Jake's speech to his band, he seems to contradict himself rather thoroughly regarding these musicians and their music -- in the same way the guys send out mixed signals to their girls (and to a lesser extent, as do the girls to their guys).  

Visually, the movie seems to me to be better filmed than some other in this genre that I've seen. It looked quite good in the streaming format I viewed, and a couple of  scenes -- the four-some's walk along the riverbank on some gorgeous green grass, as anothe couple plays with a dog, is lovely, and so is a long take of Ms.Esper sprawled across a couch (below -- but you really have to see this in the film itself to appreciate its voluptuous beauty).

As usual, after finishing a film, I had a bunch of questions at the ready. This time, having the filmmaker's email address, I was able to ask them.  Below is our conversation, with TrustMovies' questions appearing in boldface and Kentucker Audley's answers in standard type.

OK: Here we go…Your film was shot by Joe Swanberg! How’d he get involved in this?

Joe and I have been friends for a couple years. We hooked up after my first film Team Picture and he shot that film's epilogue, Ginger Sand. The collaboration went great, so I enlisted him again.

What’s the meaning of the film’s title? (A music industry term, maybe?)

Open five is something incomplete, the time when there's four slashes on a chalkboard before you diagonal slash over them to close it up. If you're in open five, you're in a state of lingering, something needs to give. When it does, you can slash (close the five) and then you can start worrying about the next set of five. You might say: "I'm kinda caught up in this open five," meaning this girl I thought was gonna come to Memphis and be with me seems to have changed her tune. We made up an elaborate open five system.

Would you call your film mumblecore? If so, why; if not, why not?

Why not? I've always been on the mumblecore fringe. There's no deciding committee for it, so history will have to work that out. But I certainly am proud to be associated with the bulk of what's considered mumblecore. For me, it's an exciting set of films, of course not exciting in the way you normally use exciting.

Very funny (and true).  M’core or not, it’s definitely DIY. What did it cost to reach the level it has.

Very little. Our entire budget was raised through an online fundraiser, around $15,000.

In terms of marketing, what does it (did it) cost you to get it onto vimeo. (Audley used this means to reach us critics and film bloggers early. Now, the film can be seen by anyone via his website) On my laptop, it looked very good, even when blown up to full screen.

Our marketing budget was $100. $60 for the Plus Vimeo account and $40 for posters and flyers for the Memphis screening. (That put us in the hole $100 bucks because we had no money left from production.) And, yeah, I think it looks absolutely fine on Vimeo. The point for me has never been the picture quality or production value. And I think there's almost an expectation that watching content online will be low-quality. In that way, by focusing on the online release we even the playing field a little because we could never compete with the industry standard of the way a film looks and sounds in a theatre. And if we have a decent image quality online, most everyone will think that's great compared to the quality of most YouTube videos.

Your characters all seem to be drifting rather aimlessly (I find this a hallmark of mumblecore, actually, which is why I would peg OPEN FIVE as an example of m’core). Is this how you see these characters?

I guess we are focusing primarly on our driftiness. But I don't think its the complete picture. For instance we also show how serious Jake is about his music. Of course the aimlessness doesn't necessary apply to our real life. Jake and I are both very determined and motivated and we're playing ourselves.

Was your script written -- or just outlined and then mostly improvised?

We wrote a full script, well, recited it into our MacBooks. Then I listened back to it, and transcibed it and showed it the actors and crew once then forgot about it. Nothing from the final film was scripted.

I pegged the movie as running 64 minutes. Is this the right length? If so, it’s sort of hits somewhere between a long short and a very short full-length. Was this intentional, or did you simply say everything you felt the movie needed to say by the end of those 64 minutes?

It's 66 total counting credits. All my films are around 60 minutes. Joe Swanberg's wife dubbed films of this length "future length" because we believe films will become shorter and shorter. Our catch phrase for this is: Movies: too long. The film contains only small scale content so I think it should be shorter than films with big movie things happening.

So far as themes are concerned, the movie seems to me to be about commitment -- or the lack of it. The girls want t it, the guys don’t. This is rather typical of the characters’ ages (and genders), I think – and also maybe because those involved in the music industry. But there also seems to be a lack of commitment to music, too – at least on the past of Jake. Care to comment on this?

These are deep issues. I don't think I could answer for Jake or the women as far as if they desire commitment. I don't think commitment even comes up for my character because I just met this women and she's only in town for the weekend. That's a ready-made situation where commitment doesn't need to enter the frame. But I know Jake is completely committed to his music. Maybe you'd have to see more to fully trust that, but there's a larger technique at work in these films -- which is to not show enough.

What you say is interesting, Kentucker, since you (and Jake) did write/speak the original script, but probably you were not going into the girls’ characters deeply at that point, and so you just sort of let the actresses take it from there. And, too, I might be reading more into this than is even there. Yet the women’s initial reluctance to give over to each of you, and the little back and-forth “dance” as I call it, might be, of course, about the women not wanting to seem “too loose” but also, I suspect, from thier sense of “Who is this other person and what is the possibility of something more coming out of this?” I believe that women, more often than men, tend to proceed from this standpoint, if only because I believe that many women are programmed genetically to be “family planners” from the get-go. Hmmm… You’re right: These are deep issues. But the fact that we’re talking about them means the movie struck some chords… And when you say “the larger technique at work in these films is to not show enough,” I trust you mean to not show too much.

And finally, was that his/your own music that was used in the film, and was that’s Jake’s voice? If so, he has a good one!

Yeah, Jake is a musician. The band in the film is his real band, Jump Back Jake, and he plays guitar for Francis and the Lights. His life has always been music; films are a new thing for him.


That's it. Except to say, watch this film, if you have the time.  It's free (for awhile, at least), and I've seen a number of mumblecore movies that I paid for that were not as accomplished as Open Five. No less than The New Yorker's Richard Brody is on record (on his blog) as touting this little film, so take a look.

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