Keep In Touch (United States, 1 hour 45 minutes)
Directed by: Sam Kretchmar
Written by: Sam Kretchmar, Michael Covino
Cast: Ryan Patrick Bachand, Gabbi McPhee, Michael Covino, Reggie Watts, Jill Eikenberry, Peter Friedman, Sarah Nealis, Adam David Thompson, James Colby and Frank Harts.
After a major crisis, a man attempts to track down his “first love,” only to discover she was killed many years ago in a car accident. Stumbling upon her younger sister online, a musician who bares a striking resemblance, he obsesses and begins a relationship without disclosing his true identity. Keep in touch is the directorial debut of Sam Kretchmar who co-wrote, directed and shot the film. It’s a film about love, family and finding self worth.
Natalie: Sam, how was it directing your 1st feature while also DPing? What challenges or surprises did you encounter?
SK: It was definitely challenging. It's probably not a great idea to add things onto a director's workload, especially on a shoot day, but I did appreciate the additional creative control. I felt comfortable with my visual ideas for the movie, and since they were based on simplicity and minimalism it wasn't as much of a challenge as one might assume. I had a great crew... Tyler Isaacson operated, Baha Gurel assisted and Zach Kuperstein gaffed.
I asked everyone to remind me that concern for the "look," the "lighting" or the "aesthetic" should never take away from the story. I always preferred to sacrifice lighting and camera time in favor of time for the directing/rolling. Since there was no DP, that became one less argument/confrontation I had to have on set.
Probably not the best way to make a movie though... I don't think I'll do it again.
Also... I created very strict camera rules: No moving camera. One look/lighting style for daytime, one look/lighting style for nighttime. I worked these rules out in prep and tried not to break them. To be honest, the limitations were really the best thing for us. Tiny lighting package, crazy schedule, crazy weather... We had no choice but to strictly follow our simplistic style, and I thought it really lent itself to the story.
Natalie: What was the writing process like for you guys? How did you work together and how long did it take you to write, shoot and complete the film in post?
SK: It’s tough to answer this question without a long discussion. Mike had the bones of this story in his head for at least a year before I got involved as a writer. Our processes and styles are different, so it took more time and practice to understand that fighting was a good thing. We did complement one another well.
The writing dragged out for a few more months, at which point we had a first act on paper and a few scenes from later in the movie. We got some actors and friends together and shot a 20 minute "short film." This shoot was kind of cheating, because at that point we could see what was working and what wasn't, and we knew the whole time we wanted it to be a feature. We reworked the story and the characters around the strengths and weaknesses of our cast/crew. Somewhere in there we edited a trailer out of the short film and raised all of the money... which in turn gave us a hard deadline to get the rest of the script came together.
MC: We ended up having a short window of availability since our lead actor was in nursing school and could only shoot over winter break. So we knew that we had a one month window for shooting and basically worked backwards from that in writing and prepping the film. Having that deadline definitely forced us to flush out the film quickly. I think it took about two months of writing from when we knew we were moving forward into production until we had a shooting script.
Natalie: What gave you the idea for the script? I loved the idea of refusing to face love lost and losing more the longer we leave it unchecked and the consequences of mistakes that affect us all.
SK: It’s so nice to hear that you saw those things in the movie!
The plot of the story is based on real life events. Sadly, mike's childhood crush passed away and he didn't find out until much later in life. Interestingly, my childhood crush did some adult movies that found their way onto the internet... life is weird.
As far as the themes, we knew we wanted to make a movie about things that could happen to anyone, things that anyone can relate to. We knew that with an interesting plot and great music we would get the opportunity to play with themes that are usually cliche or uninteresting. I loved the challenge of making a self-help/self-improvement film.
MC: I think it was the first time I had properly gone down that road of looking someone up from my past online. I was feeling particularly nostalgic one night and started searching and I found out this girl I knew as a young kid had died years ago, similar to in the movie. I shared this story with Sam and immediately the wheels started turning. It wasn’t long until we had developed the character and a story around that. We loved the idea of this character that was trying to reconnect with feelings and experiences he had during a time when things were simpler.
Natalie: What is it about identity within a social media context that interests you?
SK: Another great question. Reggie Watts says this thing in the movie, "we all have a version of ourselves that we are projecting..." His character isn't talking about social media, but he might as well be. The internet and social media can serve as a way to define yourself and see how others define themselves. Maybe even more interesting is that it's a place where we build up ideas about one another, within our own prejudices and projections. And it's all within the privacy of your own home.... often in bed with a laptop. I think that's interesting.
MC: Yea, what was fascinating to us was this idea that people are almost too accessible now. We can learn so much about a person and build things up in our heads without ever meeting them. And for a character who has gone through something traumatic and is looking for something emotionally grounding to cling onto, we thought that going down a rabbit hole of searching for someone online is exactly what that person would do.
Natalie: Colin’s and Jessie’s relationship is based on deceit, that is until Jessie realizes who Colin is, however, Colin is so likable and relatable, were you worried at any stage an audience might not like Colin’s character?
SK: At the beginning of the movie we're not sure if he's a psychopath, just a creep or a regular guy. I think audiences are used to knowing exactly how to feel about a character, and our film is definitely aware of that tendency. The filmmaking imitates the character a bit... we sort of waited to give some important information until after the first few encounters. It's fun to see how different people project different things onto our character, especially in the first 20 minutes... and that fits with themes in the movie.
MC: There were also cuts of the film where we had way more stalking. And Sam made the call, rightfully so, to tone that down. It was always a tricky balance with how creepy he would be, because the character is objectively creepy and stalkerish in his actions. But because we understand that his intentions come from a pure and cathartic place, I think we get a little more leeway.
Natalie: The landscape (between Connecticut and NYC) and isolation played a huge part in Colin’s journey and working at the nursery was such a beautiful way to reflect the moments of his stagnation and growth. Cutting down the dead growth and fertilizing the land so that something new can grown made me connect with Colin’s grief and love - what gave you the idea to explore it in this way?
SK: You totally get it. Which is nice.
We picked the nursery both because of those themes, and because Mike's family owns that nursery.
MC: Yea, when writing and structuring the movie we really wanted to make the process easier on ourselves. I’m not sure if we did that, but the intention was to write locations that we had access to. We always intended to produce the film ourselves so that inevitably informed the structure of things. My uncle has a nursery outside the city so it became the obvious choice for Colin’s new occupation and the setting for where he rebuilds his life.
Natalie: The music was beautiful and captivating - how did Gabbi McPhee become involved?
SK: Gabbi hasn't really made much music or done much acting. We had been looking for an actress for this role for a while. One day my facebook told me that a bunch of my friends liked a video posted by this person Gabbi McPhee.... I watched the video and immediately knew she would work. It turned out we had a whole bunch of mutual friends and Mike had actually already suggested her to me... but I don't listen to Mike, I listen to Facebook.
MC: Sam and I were both hooked by her. I had seen her perform in LA when she was 17 or 18 and remembered being dumbstruck by her vocals. The biggest challenge with Gabbi was convincing her to do the movie. I don’t know that she felt immediately comfortable acting and carrying a film for that matter. But Sam emailed and texted her constantly and eventually she was on a plane to New York.
Natalie: What’s your favorite scene / moment in the film?
SK: Tough call... right now if i have to pick one it's the scene with Reggie in the bathroom. I love seeing the camera shake when I'm laughing. It also means the movie is almost over…
MC: I love the scene where Tina Cardozzi and my character Brad meet. I think that was something that clicked on the page for us and when we wrote it, we said, “okay this works.” It’s what both of those characters want and maybe don’t realize that they need. Scenes like that are what make writing and structuring a script fun. It’s the little joys when you allow a B storyline to pay off in a gratifying way.
Natalie: What have been challenges or surprises in distribution or film festival submissions?
SK: It's a roller coaster. Constant surprises, constant challenges.
MC: We’ve definitely learned a lot. I think one of the biggest take aways is that when you have someone who really champions your film, that is important and it’s important to value that. The system is set up where you have four or five film festivals that can act as platforms for a decent sale. That’s if your film plays extremely well and even then it’s not a sure thing. So you build your strategy around going to one of these 5 festivals. Then when you don’t premiere at one of these festivals you inevitably feel like you failed, especially when you've turned down some amazing festivals in the process of waiting for an answer.
But then the film gets out in the world and you start to see audiences really responding to it, and it starts to win a ton of festivals and you see a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s sort of like applying to colleges over and over again.
Natalie: Describe filmmaking in 3 words.
MC: I get two words now? Okay. Worth it
Natalie: What are you working on next?
SK: Mike and I have produced a few movies over the last year. Those should hopefully be done and out soon. We're both writing other projects.
MC: Yea, we have two films in post at the moment that we produced. One called Kicks and another called Hunter Gatherer. Both projects were brilliant scripts with incredibly exciting first time directors. I think they’re both going to be pretty good. Other than that I’m writing a break up movie.
***Natalie is narrative curator and Sam Kretchmar is the director and writer of KEEP IN TOUCH and Mike Covino is the writer and plays the role of Brad Glennon.