‘Beneath The Harvest Sky‘ tells the story of Casper (Emory Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe)— two best friends that are fiercely loyal to one another, as they come of age in a small farming town in Maine. During harvest break, Casper is drawn into smuggling drugs across the Canadian border with his outlaw father, Clayton (Aidan Gillen). Meanwhile, Dominic works his final potato harvest, hoping to earn the money he needs to buy a car and take them away towards a better future. But with Casper’s life unraveling before their eyes, their friendship and loyalty are put to the test as they are forced to mature and make very adult decisions that will forever alter the course of their lives.
‘Beneath The Harvest Sky‘ screens as part of the Viewpoints Selections at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, April 24, Saturday, April 26 & Sunday, April 27, 2014 in New York City. We sat down with the films Co-Directors (amongst many other responsibilities) Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly who spoke about several aspects of the films production, comparing documentary to narrative filmmaking, the origins of what would ultimately become ‘Beneath The Harvest Sky‘ and much more.
‘Beneath The Harvest Sky’ is NOW AVAILABLE on iTunes & Other VOD Platforms. Find All Streaming Information – HERE
Find More Information & Tickets to ‘Beneath The Harvest Sky’ at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival – HERE
What was the first aspect of what would ultimately become ‘Beneath The Harvest Sky’ that came to you?
Gita Pullapilly: That is a great question!
Aron Gaudet: We stumbled across some photos of a potato harvest in Northern Maine and thought it was a beautiful backdrop. We went up there trying to see what life was like. Even though I had grown up in Maine it was still about 4 hours South so I had never really explored up that way.
For the film, this location and setting came first. Coming from the world of documentaries, the entire stories came from the research of that area. We built the story around this real world research.
GP: We spent about 1.5 years researching and understanding the area through the writing process. We spoke with everyone from high school students, US Drug Enforcement Agents and Customs Agents to Farmers, Teachers and Inmates. We spoke with all kinds of people who had been arrested for selling prescription drugs to see what their backstories were. Coming from documentary, it was really important to keep the story real and authentic.
Was the prescription drug aspect of the story something that developed while researching the setting or was it something you knew about the region going into it?
GP: We did not have a clue until we got up there and started researching. We were literally thinking how we would set a movie up there because it was so stunning.
AG: What I knew about kids growing up in Northern Maine was when they turned 18 they would want to get the hell out of there. There is not a lot of opportunities. For us, we thought a coming of age story during this potato harvest would present the characters at a real crossroads in their lives. Do they stay or go? Then when we went up there and saw all the issues with prescription drugs, talked with the DEA and the figures affected by dealing or using drugs, it all became a huge part of the story. At the time Maine was the #1 State in the country for people being treated for prescription drug abuse, which we did not know going in.
In reading your bio, I see you are alums of POV | American Documentary. Coming from documentary and being a POV alum, how did it help get this (a fiction film) completed?
GP: It was huge!
AG: Especialy in finishing it. In post production we were not necessarily into the narrative industry but we had a lot of friends in the documentary industry. When we had a rough cut we took it to documentary filmmakers.
GP: We actually did a rough cut screening at POV.
AG: We had different documentary filmmakers and editors who came and watched the film. The feedback was critical in shaping its final form. Some of the notes we were given ended up completely reworking the first 30 minutes of the movie.
GP: Documentary films really shine when honing the story in post production. Taking a narrative with actors was no different for us.
How do you compare developing a documentary narrative with the narrative of a fiction film?
AG: I edited the film so there were many similarities in how we shot it. We did a lot of improvisations and had a lot of material that we could shape in the editing process.
GP: That is why we look for actors like Aidan Gillan or Timm Sharp or Emory Cohen because they are such great improvisational actors. We were not precious to the words on the script. If they felt other ways were a better and more organic approach to the scene we were willing to go there. We wanted to explore. One of the things we kept saying was how we wanted to buy time for our actors. Just like in a documentary, you have plenty of time for your subjects.
How do you balance Directorial responsibilities?
AG: At times we would split up but for the most part we worked together. We would each watch the monitors for every take, talk things through and come up with a single note we could give the actors…if there was one. We never wanted the set to be a mixed message, where they would hear from us separately.
GP: We always had 2 different monitors on set. Aron would look at his and I would look at mine. I think this was very helpful. It was also a different process for the actors. Usually actors are used to instantaneous feedback. We told them from the start, no matter good or bad, just take a pause, we would confer and if we liked what we saw you would know right away. If not we would need time to process exactly what we are feeling. When we did give them a note they trusted it. When we told them we got what we needed, they trusted that too.
AP: There were 2 sets of eyes saying what worked so it gave extra reinforcement.
I found the cinematography striking, from a technical perspective and also in presenting and maintaining a distinct sense of place. I usually do not ask but what camera did you use on this film?
AG: We used the Arri Alexa. The entire movie is hand held and we wanted each frame and each competition be “dirty”. We wanted things in the foreground so it felt like we were shooting through them, making it feel like the viewer is a fly on the wall. Sometimes we would not know what would happen since we would go off script so often and let it go. We knew the basic beats we wanted but how we got there was different every time. Also, the places were so authentic they would really lend that atmosphere to the film in a natural way. There would not need to be too much production design. We would joke with the farmers who would say their places were being set designed for 70 years.
GP: Having Aron edit the film was probably the most valuable aspect of the entire process. When you have all that improvisation, to then hone in and see what scenes actually push the story forward is a skill. Out of all of Aron’s skills he is a pretty kick ass editor!
Another aspect of the film which was very stroking was the diverse, yet soulful and authentic original score from Dustin Hamman. I had read you had originally met Dustin at True/False Festival a few years ago, which is another good time and a great place for documentary films. Describe your collaboration with Dustin on the film’s score?
AG: I think this was the first year Dustin was not at True/False in many years. As you know they have musical performances interjected with the film screenings. In 2009 we were there and saw him play. We were instantly taken with him. For 4 years we wondered how to involve him in a film.
GP: He is actually in ‘Beaneath The Harvest Sky‘, performing the gravel pit party.
AG: Every piece of music in the film is Dustin.
GP: Even the rap song.
AG: He was with us in production the entire time. We set him up at this abandoned church rectory and he set all his instruments up there. At the end of the day he would go and create music having soaked in the atmosphere of the production.
GP: Dustin is such a soulful artist. When you see him perform live he moves you and you feel so much out of his music.
AG: There is a lot of emotion in him.
About The Filmmakers
Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly were both recently selected as one of Variety’s “10 Directors To Watch” for 2013. In 2009, Aron wrote and directed, while Gita produced, the Emmy-nominated documentary feature, The Way We Get By, which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival and won the Special Jury Award on its way to winning 18 festival awards around the world.