Interview: Laura Colella (Writer/Director – ‘Breakfast with Curtis’)

Syd, an eccentric bookseller with delusions of grandeur fueled by red wine, caused a rift five years ago between the freewheeling bohemian residents of his house and the family next door. Now over the course of a balmy summer, he tries to draft the boy next door to make videos for his online book business. Introverted young Curtis is reluctant at first, but soon gets drawn in by Syd’s creative fervor. Their unlikely bond dissolves bad blood between their households, replacing old grudges and repressed secrets with new camaraderie and fresh possibility. The transformative power of forgiveness, ping pong and afternoon cocktails sparks Curtis’s first seminal summer and a season of change for all.

We spoke with the ‘Breakfast with Curtis‘ Writer/Director/Editor/Producer/Cinematographer Laura Colella about the films use of non-professional (and highly personal) acting choices, its DIY aesthetic, as well as production specifics and more prior to the film’s New York City release at IFC Center on December 4, 2013.

Find More Information & Tickets to ‘Breakfast with Curtis’ at IFC CenterHERE

As I understand, you made this film with people who are very close to you. How long had you been planning on a project like this?
Not long at all, in fact.  I came up with the idea in June of 2010.  I sat everyone down, proposed the idea and they jumped on board as if they had been waiting for me to ask.  It all felt right immediately.  After that I brainstormed with some people and talked about some ideas on what the movie could be about, as well as the characters.  In July of that year I went off and wrote the film and we started shooting in August. From conception to beginning production it was probably just over a month.

Breakfast with CurtisWhere was the film shot?
Providence, Rhode Island.

From a technical perspective, what kind of a setup were you using?
We used a Canon 5D Mark 2 with the on board zoom lens.  I also used a 50mm f/1.4 which helped in low light situations.  The 5D was a camera I could buy, which ended up being the main production cost.  I felt like I wanted a camera I could have over a long period of time as I knew I was going to shoot in the fall and winter, so I wanted that consistency.  I also wanted something very portable and easy to use.  Since I have a film background I have dealt with 5D’s and they have always felt good.  They feel like a Bolex to me.  In terms of the themes we were capturing, the camera felt like it matched beautifully with the film’s colors.  I knew I had to be very specific about how the movement was going to be as I did not want to do handheld, so we did some moving shots using a jib arm and glidecam.

How did you find balancing all your roles on the set?  Was their any role you found yourself focusing on more than others?
It is very holistic in a way because I wrote the script and it was followed quite specifically.  I am the kind of person who envisions things ahead of time and tries to work toward that vision, so that has to do with directing the actors the way I want to direct them.  It also has to do with getting the takes I need since I am an editor too so I know how to look at shots from that perspective.  Then, of course, I am looking through the camera too, so I want it to look a certain way.  All those things wrapped into one are mixed up into the shooting process for me.

As a director, how did you approach the (mostly non-professional) actors?
It was fun.  It was a very relaxed shooting environment for the most part.  Everyone took it quite seriously.  The crew was so small that the actors did not feel much pressure.  I like to do a lot of takes so I can have options in the editing room.  I think since they were non professional actors it was important because a lot of the rhythms of the scenes come together in editing.

Breakfast with CurtisI am not sure why I caught this, but since you were working with friends, was there a reason you did not include their real names as character names?
This is definitely a fiction project so it never occurred to me to have people’s real name. Something that is funny is that I used a lot of “S” names like  Sadie, Sylvie and Simon.  I gave everyone these names and when I noticed I wondered if it would be a problem; but it was not because the names are hardly even mention.

Jonah Parker (Curtis) performance stood out to me and I was quite surprised he was also a non-professional actor. Before I read the film’s notes I was going to ask how you had  found him through the audition process.  Can you speak to his performance?
He is my next door neighbor.  Everyone who lives in the purple house in the film actually lives in that house in real life.  Everyone who lives in the pink house next door actually lives there too.  Curtis and Young Curtis (Gideon Parker) are brothers and the sons of the couple who play Curtis’ parents.

I knew Jonas had done some school plays and was a smart, talented kid.  I had a feeling he would be great!  He is also the person who does the most acting in the film as he is the most different from his character.  I have worked with professional and non-professional actors and certainly each has its challenges and benefits but I would not say that working with non-actors is any more difficult from working with professionals.

Breakfast with CurtisNow that the film is complete and ready for release, what is your strategy in getting it out to the widest audience possible?
That is a good question!  I am lucky to be working with BOND Strategy and Influence in helping get the word out on the film. The film is not out yet, but we are trying to get some information on it out right now.  Everything is really a big surprise.  The film has received an amazing response at festivals as audiences have been incredibly enthusiastic about it.  That has been encouraging so my hope is it will be like that on a larger scale.

Finally, we spoke about the comfortable dynamic on set and how the development process worked smoothly; if there was something, what was the most difficult part of getting this film made?
Music Licensing!  Changing and replacing music I could not get the rights to was very difficult.  In the end though, I believe the music we do have  works very well with our original ideas.

– Interview conducted, editing and transcribed (via phone) by Steve Rickinson

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