2013 Brooklyn Film Festival Filmmaker Profile: Jeremy O’Keefe (Writer/Director – ‘Somewhere Slow’)

Intimate, raw and funny, ‘SOMEWHERE SLOW‘ features a searing and complex portrait of Anna Thompson, a 40 year old skin care rep, coasting through an unfulfilled marriage and an estranged relationship with her family. When Anna gets mixed-up in a deadly convenience store robbery, she makes a split-second decision and walks out of her life and into the unknown. On her travels, she meets Travis, a teenage drifter on his own journey of self-discovery. Together they break into the New England summer home of Anna’s childhood. It is in this quiet house, far away from the world, that both Anna and Travis begin to shed their protective shells, and for the first time, embrace the simple human connection they’ve spent their lives avoiding. Sparse and provocative, this film shines light on how sometimes we must learn to break our own rules to find the life we’ve been yearning to live.

We caught up with ‘SOMEWHERE SLOW‘ Writer/Director Jeremy O’Keefe in anticipation of the film’s screenings at the 2013 Brooklyn Film Festival, June 7 & 9, 2013.

For More Information & TICKETS to ‘SOMEWHERE SLOW’ at the 2013 Brooklyn Film FestivalHERE

Describe the thought process behind naming the film “Somewhere Slow?”
That’s an interesting question, especially when it comes to marketing, as it’s dangerous to have the word “Slow” in the title of a movie.  The title came almost immediately to me, as it has to when I’m writing for me to trust that it’s a story I should embark on telling.  I was on an airplane traveling to see friends for a wedding, and I was kicking around the story of a woman who was unhappy in her life.   She was a woman who was not unhappy in her life because of anything in particular – nothing at least worth writing a movie about – but unhappy in the way we all get unhappy sometimes.    This type of unhappiness or paralysis is often even more dangerous than the unhappiness that comes from external events.  I thought to myself, this is a woman, who of her own accord is going nowhere fast.   So I thought that if I was going to take her on a journey she needed to learn to live, somewhere slow.  That idea then told me the rest of the story, told me where physically I needed to take her.

I read you wrote the first draft of the script in a week. That is a pretty explosive burst of inspiration. Why do you think this particular story came out of you with such urgency?
Yes, yes, yes.  It was a crazy burst of inspiration.  The type that can almost be crippling when I’ve sat down to write another story – because if it happened so “easily” when writing Somewhere Slow, and it isn’t happening on the new script, I become very insecure about my new content, dialogue, plot.   Somewhere Slow, however, came at a point in my life, when I had just been let go from a job, and I was in between relationships and I felt lost.  I felt a loss that I had felt before – one that could only be fixed by my own actions, by my own self-generation.  So I fueled Anna’s story with my own emotional stuckness – and used the writing of the script as a way to both honor my current feelings and also look for a way out of them.    Additionally, when I was living in New York, I had met someone who’s very presence and sense of adventure helped me look outside of myself – and thus, the Travis character was created to help Anna.

Somewhere Slow

The film’s locales really stand out. How did you decide where the story would take place? Did you have a specific desire to shoot in those areas – perhaps a personal attachment to Maine or New England?
Thank you.  I have a romance with New England.  Both because I’ve escaped to the Cape in my own adulthood and because as a child, every summer my family would go this tiny cottage on the coast of Rhode Island for two weeks.   When I began writing, I had no idea where the bus was going to take her.  The bus is heading to Maine, but she and Travis get off in Boston and then, like me, they head to this tiny cottage on the coast of Rhode Island.    I knew I wanted to shoot Somewhere Slow, and I knew I would be able to do it on the independent budget if I chose locales where we could shoot for cheap or shoot for free.  The cottage we use in the movie is the same cottage that my family owns.  Now when I go back there, its full of memories from both growing up and creating the film with everyone.

You have said that this is a film about breaking out of a very boxed-in existence. What specifically appealed to you about a protagonist with Anna’s problems (which include a troubled marriage and an eating disorder)? What made you decide to create a character who broke out of these particular circumstances?
I wanted to burden Anna with challenges that aren’t all that unique – that aren’t all that earth- shattering, world-ending.  Yes, they are difficult, but we, as people, are much stronger than we give ourselves credit for.   I wanted Anna’s challenges to relatable, but not to define her.  I didn’t want to make a movie ABOUT bulimia or ABOUT a troubled marriage, because I didn’t want people to think she is in her situation as a result of those challenges.   To me, the eating disorder and troubled marriage could have easily been replaced with a broken leg and pre-mature hair loss.   We all feel victimized at some point in our lives, and I set out to tell a story that is about empowering ourselves to take that risk, to make that change and to break free of the shackles we’ve put on ourselves.

Jessalyn Gilsig’s Anna and Graham Patrick Martin’s Travis have a very interesting relationship. What about these two characters makes them so drawn to each other?
They do have a very interesting relationship.  When I’m not writing or directing, I teach acting and go to therapy.  I love therapy.  I love trying to figure out and identify why we do things, why we react, what we’re hiding from.  I’m figuring out that before society and “nurture” fucks  (messes) us up, we are all basically working from the same base, the same organs, tissue and emotional capability – before we build up these protective walls around us.  And I think, we all secretly wish we didn’t have to build these walls, and wish that we could just be children playing pretend with our GI Joes and Barbies in the creek.  I know I do. So when Anna and Travis collide they are both, whether they know it or not,  seeking this innocence, this sense of play, this freedom – and it’s that desire to be authentic, before rules, before wrongs,  that draws them to one another.

Somewhere Slow

I read you saying that Jessalyn Gilsig approached the role of Anna with a total lack of vanity, but it was not just her; you certainly picked actors who were willing to give humble performances. Gilsig, Graham Patrick Martin, David Costabile – none of their characters are bad people. But to use a word that feels appropriate to the film, they are all very blemished, whether physically or emotionally (or both). In the initial creative stages, were you ever nervous that you would not be able to find actors who would dive into the roles like this cast did? And how did you think audiences would react to characters like this?
Look, I could not be happier or feel more fortunate to have found these actors who were willing to trust me, trust the script and trust the process.  I spoke a lot to my actors and designers about going for something real.  The one fortunate thing about making an independent movie on the small budget we did was that we were allowed to take risks – risks that allowed us to not worry about “how the film was going to test in market research” – so that gave us the opportunity to look at these people as real. As real as our audiences are. As you, as me.  Doing this gives us the chance to really connect to an audience, to say, I’m not just going to show you some car crashes and sex scenes, but I’m going to try my hardest to represent you.  Real people often aren’t like the ones in the movies and TV.  We’re a little fatter, our hair is messed up, we think about how we’re going to make rent, and how we’re going to live every second of every day with whomever we partner up with.  Travis, as the 18 year teenage runaway, could have easily been styled and portrayed as that sexy guy everyone wants to have a fling with.    But the story is not about exciting a bunch of housewives to go out and sleep with a teenager.  He needed to come from a real place.  Rather than wearing designer jeans and trendy boots, Tasha Goldthwait, our costume designer, was like “His family doesn’t have much money, he probably got his jeans at Walmart.”  And she was absolutely right.    And to finally answer your question, I wasn’t worried about finding actors to take these types of roles on.  More often than not, the real artists are looking to only play types of roles like these.    Audiences have been embracing these characters.  The relationship an audience makes with a character is lot more valuable when it’s “I’ve been there” rather than “I wish I was there”.  I can’t tell you the casts of Bravo’s reality series are gonna totally relate, but the rest of the world will.

There are a lot of complex emotions in this movie. A lot of pain, and also hope. Without giving away too much, how do you hope audiences will react to the film emotionally?
I can tell you how audiences throughout our festival run thus far are reacting – and they’re getting it.   I had a woman approach me after one of our screenings at Cinequest.  She was very quiet.  She wrapped her hand around my wrist, leaned in and said, “She had the strength to do something I’ve never been able to do.”   For me, that sums it up.

Jessalyn always talks about this story in such a lovely way – that it isn’t about a total transformation of a character, but it’s a small step in a direction that the audiences know she must take.  I say the movie is the moment before the rest of Anna’s life.  Is it always easy to watch? No, there is an undercurrent of discomfort, not because Anna is doing all sorts of treacherous things, but because we watch Jessalyn, as Anna, feel every moment, good and bad.  From the moment, Jessalyn first read the script aloud at a reading we did in Los Angeles before we began production, I was blown away to see how much she valued and respected and loved the importance of Anna’s journey — because it’s the most common challenge we come across, daily, yearly, in our lifetimes – that decision to stop all the bullshit and just be yourself.

– Interview Conducted by David Teich

Somewhere Slow

About Jeremy O’Keefe
A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and BADA, Jeremy O’Keefe’s other works include the feature WRESTLING (2008) and the shorts CLOSURE (2008) and FINALE (2013). SOMEWHERE SLOW was an Official Selection at Cinequest, Omaha Film Festival, Vail Film Festival and the Monadnock International Film Festival. Additionally, Jeremy directed a music video for Marriage Equality for musician Brendan James “Nothin’ But Love”. Jeremy lives in Los Angeles.

Facebook: /somewhereslowmovie
Twitter: @somewhereslow

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