The film uses the little moments to draw you into the story. We learn all about their lives through subtle little clues as there is very little dialogue and no exposition. The actresses do a great job of showing us what they are feeling without having to say anything. Ashley Shelton who plays Jade does such an amazing job. Without having to say a word you know what she is feeling. You feel her exhaustion, frustration, and struggle to remain independent. It’s not only in the interactions with her sister but even in the little mundane interactions with people she works with. Mallory Jack McGuire as Jasmine is no slouch either. We get to watch her find out something that shatters her world and it would have been easy show this as an over the top reaction. Instead we get to watch her just turn it inward and her face tells us everything we need to know. Of course these performances wouldn’t be the same without the direction or script by Carol Brandt. To be able to tell a story like this without getting into long expositions or over dramatic scenes shows she is a special filmmaker. She also balances the fantasy portion with reality perfectly letting the audience into Jasmine’s world as well as Jade’s world.
Another great element of the film is the cinematography of Logan Mitchell. While the actresses steal the show the cinematography is what puts you into their world. The fantasy parts of the movie are shot in black and white and were filmed in The Badlands. The location is beautiful and really helps set the fantasy apart from the real world.
The only negative observation I have about the film was the pacing. It seemed a bit slow but it really let us get to know these people in their daily lives. And the performance really keep you engaged as you can’t help feel for them.
This is such a great film and I hope it has big successes. I can’t wait to see what everyone has planned in the future. The more I think about the film the more I like it and it’s one that as you revisit I think you will find more to admire. Overall Grade A
The Film is playing at the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival
October 1st at 6 pm at the Oriental Theatre
October 5th at 1:30 pm at the Avalon Theater
October 8th at 8:15 pm at the Times Cinema
Tickets can be found at mkefilm.org
10 Questions With Carol Brandt
First I want to say congratulations on your first feature film. Very well done. What made you want to tell this story?
Thank you! Honestly, this film was sort of an amalgamation of small ideas I had been collecting for a few years in a notebook; jotting stuff down when it came to mind. As I wrote the script and threw the proverbial noodles against the wall, some story elements stuck, and some really had to go. For example, the story of Dear Coward used to center around train hoppers. That is obviously no longer the case. Boiling down the story to its core elements stripped away a lot of unnecessary baggage and strengthened the overall spine of the film, which is loneliness in relationships due to lack of communication.
Writing and directing your first feature film seems like a daunting task. How was the process of taking it from concept to page to screen?
I had had some previous experience working on feature films beforehand on the producing end, and had directed a long form piece in my undergrad years, so this was a pretty similar animal to tackle. In actuality this was the smoothest production I had the pleasure of working on. Our cast and crew were all on point throughout the shoot. Everyone cared about the film we were making, and this morale kept us on schedule (sometimes ahead of schedule) and working well together.
Where did the title “Dear Coward on the Moon” come from?
My main inspiration for this film stemmed from a title. I had heard a song called 'Dear Coward' from local Milwaukee musician Adam Joy, and the song sparked an idea, I wrote down the idea, and soon enough, the title formed in my mind, followed closely behind by a story. It took a long time to get the script to a workable state, but that was the main source of the inspiration for the title, which speaks to the cowardice in all of the characters in the film. Each person in the story has their own means of escapism. This played off that idea, using young Jasmine's imaginary lunar world as a centerpiece.
What was the hardest part about making the movie?
The hardest part of making any film is the editing process. That makes or breaks a film in the end. You can have amazing footage with great performances, but if it's poorly edited, the whole project can crumble. The pressure is immense. For some reason I love it though.
I enjoyed your previous film Fox in the Fan at last year’s Milwaukee Film Festival the two films have elements of fantasy in it. Is there something about the fantastical that draws you to it?
Generalizing a bit, I love metaphor. I love visuals that say one thing while containing the subtext of a character's feelings and inner journey. The fantastical is a place where not only anything can happen outside the realm of practicality (in general I tend to be an overly practical human) but can also contain some of the most stunning visuals you otherwise wouldn't experience in the 'real life' world of the film. For example, the moon scenes that we shot in the South Dakota Badlands. I'm so happy with those visuals and was so excited to shoot something on such a grand scale while making an otherwise very small film. It opens up the world that much more. Which, when you're creating films for such small budgets, you want to take every opportunity to do.
One of my favorite things about the film are the performances. How did you find the cast? And how did you get such great performances out of your younger cast?
My two adult leads (Ashley Shelton and Linds Edwards) I found through a casting call on IMDb Pro. They were the only auditions I got that made me forget I was hearing the lines from my own script. That's what I look for in an audition. Mallory McGuire, who plays the young girl Jasmine, had the perfect presence and attitude that reminded me of the character as soon as I met her. She also just so happened to be amazing at nailing her lines on the first take. It was astounding and I was impressed every single time we shot a scene with her. She had such a great knack for feeling the emotion in the scene and reacting to it. I got so unbelievably lucky in my casting of Mallory. She's the daughter of one of my former UWM Film teachers, so that was just pure fate.
You shot the film in rural Wisconsin. Was it important to you shoot in your home state? Was there ever a temptation to go outside the state?
I think Wisconsin is beautiful, and that beauty is very underrepresented in midwestern films. There are a few exceptions, but many movies rarely shoot in the rural areas of our state. I love the driftless region of Wisconsin (where we shot 90% of the film) I think it is one of the most beautiful and cozy areas of the country. We shot the moon scenes in the Badlands, and that was also an amazing experience. If given the chance, I would love to continue to shoot films outside the state in more foreign landscapes like that. It was a great adventure.
The cinematography looks great and the film has some amazing shots. What was your inspiration? How did the look of the two worlds come about? Do you have any favorite shots?
I love my cinematographer Logan Mitchell. He and I have been making projects together since college, and he has always been able to read my mind on set and usually when I first look at his frame when setting up the shot my usual reaction is 'yes that is exactly what I was thinking'. He's a very creative and economical DP, and I love his brain.
The look of the two worlds came about naturally. Initially I was inspired by a lot of Mike Brodie's photography, but as the story and characters progressed, I began thinking more about wide shots, and making the characters look small in the space (dealing with the theme of loneliness). So any time we were able to make the characters look small in a room we took that opportunity.
In terms of favorite shots, one of my favorite quotes about filmmaking is from Darren Aronofsky: "The film isn't complete until you've cut your favorite shot."
I have a lot of favorites that got to stay in the film though. The main one that comes to mind is the shot of Ashley's character Jade in the yard at night doing stress-pushups to the point of exhaustion. She collapses on the ground and all we see is her eye, her shoulder, and the grass beneath her face. That shot is so powerful to me.
What’s can we expect from you in the future? Any projects you are currently working on?
Right now I'm in post-production for a smaller feature I shot this May and June with a Chicago cast that I'm very excited about. It's called Pet Names.
The last question we like to ask all local filmmakers is how do you see the Milwaukee Film Scene?
I think the Milwaukee Film Scene is still becoming a scene. The festival has been instrumental in growing the community here and bringing it together. I'm very excited to see what will happen growth-wise in this city in the next few years. I love how supportive everyone is of each other, and I hope we never ever lose that. There is a danger of us reverting to the small town mentality and becoming petty and dramatic within our small Milwaukee bubble, but in the grand scheme of things, I'm very impressed with how this city has grown, and the work that is stemming from new graduates and filmmakers here. I'm excited for the future of Milwaukee film making.