It was nine degrees in Harpswell, Maine when Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy needed to shoot one of the most crucial scenes of their debut feature, “Blow the Man Down.” The co-directors were initially thrilled by the prospect of snow, given how it would look onscreen, reflecting the ice that runs through the veins of seemingly everyone in their fictional town of Eastern Cove, but they feared asking the actors to do any amount of takes in the bitter cold was going to be too torturous.
“So we put it to the women, “Are you down to do this?” recalls Krudy, of the scene in which a trio of neighbors (June Squibb, Marceline Hugot and Annette O’Toole) would confront one of the town’s biggest businesswomen (Margo Martindale). “And they were all like, ‘Hell yeah.’” So we did it.”
Krudy and Savage Cole shouldn’t have been surprised, having written “Blow the Man Down” in the first place as a paean to all the women in their own lives they’ve seen use the limited expectations others have had of them to their advantage, and it’s somewhat fitting that the film lends itself to a relatively benign premise – two sisters (Morgan Saylor and Sophie Lowe) find that their small town is full of secrets following the death of their mother. However, less than five minutes into “Blow the Man Down,” after you’ve become acquainted with Krudy and Savage Cole’s whipsmart repartee and the utter confidence they have in the slightly heightened reality they’re creating, for which they enlist singing fishermen to perform jaunty sea chanties while the rest of town is engaged in criminal enterprise, you begin to wonder if this isn’t just the best film playing at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it recently premiered, but if it’s actually the best film ever.
As refreshing as the sea air that swirls around Easter Cove, Krudy and Savage Cole’s fiendishly clever thriller gradually reveals itself to be a nuanced multigenerational story of women holding up a community thought to rely on the seafaring men who dock there. That’s just one twist among many as the passing of Mary Margaret leaves Saylor’s Maribeth and Lowe’s Priscilla not only without a mother, but soon without a home since bills weren’t paid in the matriarch’s last months, and they aren’t alone in their desperation as Gayle, Doreen and Suze see an opportunity to end a lucrative yet illicit underground operation that she ran with Enid (Martindale). With the long secretive practices threatening to burst into the public eye, especially with a newbie officer (Will Brittain) unaware he shouldn’t be doing more than giving the occasional parking ticket, suddenly it isn’t only the fish who find themselves squirming on the hook.
“Blow the Man Down” has the wind at its back with sharp performances across the board and delightful stylistic flourishes left and right, from cinematographer Todd Banhazl’s crafty camerawork to Brian McOmber and Jordan Dykstra’s pugnacious score, and having braved not one but two Nor’easters during production, Krudy and Savage Cole show temerity and killer instincts on par with anyone you see on screen. It was our great fortune to get to speak to the duo while in New York for the festival.
How did the two of you begin to collaborate?
Danielle Krudy: We met years ago [when] Bridget was a DP on a music video in Coney Island and I was her camera assistant. And we went to Wesleyan together, but we were different years so it was a like a reconnection in New York.
Bridget Savage Cole: And [the shoot] was really scrappy. For the camera nerds out there, it was on a HBX 200. This is pre-Alexa days. Nobody doing what I was doing should ever call themselves a DP. [laughs]
Danielle Krudy: And as camera assistant, I think that meant carrying your tripod.
Bridget Savage Cole: But basically we were little scrappy little camera dorks who were always shooting each other’s things, so we were doing a lot of DIY stuff for a couple years before we started writing together.
Danielle Krudy: It was like, “Okay, we want to write this feature – what are the things we like?” It was almost this vision board. So it’s like, “We love our moms! We’re both Catholic!
Bridget Savage Cole: We both have sisters! We’re both obsessed with ocean.
Danielle Krudy: And then that was like the seed that unwound.
Do you actually have roots in Maine?
Bridget Savage Cole: I’m from this town right next to Gloucester in Massachusetts and I used to work in seafood restaurants growing up and then I moved to Bar Harbour, Maine for a year after college, so I lived there too. And it’s like Massachusetts, but it really has its own set of rules.
Danielle Krudy: I’m from Ohio, but my mom was born in Maine, and we would spend summers in this little place called Groton Long Point and [it was startling] being from middle America, and then being with these relatives who were so staunchly East coast. Maine was New England turned up to a ten, and we felt like we had a lot of creative leeway to create an imaginary space there.
Bridget Savage Cole: It’s remote enough that people really do what they want, but it has this amazing small town energy. This is what we talked a lot about with the world-building, where it should be this kind of town where everybody knows your business. It just reminded me of growing up in a small town too. We wanted to take those things that seem so benign like “Oh, I saw that your Dad’s car was barked on the street, is he not working anymore?” – those weird little things that people notice and actually show the power of that. That there’s this social glue that is holding it together. You shouldn’t underestimate it.
In the context of a thriller, you’re able to reimagine all these staples of the culture for nefarious purposes. Like there’s a great chase through stacks of lobster traps.
Danielle Krudy: We had written that for a houseboat originally.
Bridget Savage Cole: Then we just found the world’s coolest location that was just a little shack. The location really inspired that as a real set-piece.
Danielle Krudy: And then we were like ” We gotta build out a little maze!” The whole movie is about the New England veil of quaintness…
Bridget Savage Cole: …But peek under the curtain. Lobstering, and fishing in general, is a very crazy industry. It’s really boom or bust – a lot like film, where people make up a ton of cash, they make cash young, and there’s almost always drug problems. I don’t want to speak too much the issues about a fishing town, but when I was living in Maine, I met a lot of ex-heroin addicts and people with other issues, so you just realize that it’s not always easy [during] these long, dark winters in New England. It definitely has both the dark and the light.
There’s at least one shot where you capture that so wonderfully visually when the sisters are fighting in the stairwell of their house.
Danielle Krudy: With the banister!
Bridget Savage Cole: Aww, I love that shot.
Danielle Krudy: We had the shittiest little doorway dolly. That was another location where we knew how we wanted to cover the fight in broad strokes, but then you’re in this tiny, little New England house and [thinking] “Okay, [we have a] tiny dolly…Oh wait, we can use this” and lean into the [situation] rather than work against it.
Bridget Savage Cole: We almost didn’t shoot in that location because it was so small, but then we ended up loving the fact that the sisters talking to each other from different rooms felt more familiar and homey than having them in the room facing each other. We really liked this idea of [being divided and] you shout out, and you don’t talk, you don’t stop in rooms, I really loved that about it.
Was it difficult to crack the multi-generational element of it, giving each of those generations their due?
Danielle Krudy: Originally, it was more weighted towards the sisters in the earliest draft, and then finding out that these other characters were as rich, we shaped it into this ensemble and then in the edit, [there was] another kind of rebalancing, just to make sure that the arcs worked. But it was never static.
Bridget Savage Cole: And the way we see women was really important to us, older women [especially]. That’s actually one of the thrusts of why we made this film is that we love these underestimated women. They feel like people you’ve seen in the backgrounds of other movies who bring the pie in the scene, and we just wanted to say ” No, look closely at that lady.” One, she heard everything you said. Two, she actually is going to manipulate you into doing what she wants later. So it just felt like those were the women that we know. They’re our aunts and our grandmothers. We just see older women as so powerful and we just wanted this movie to really celebrate that.
Danielle Krudy: This is a little bit of a deeper cut, and credit goes to [our cinematographer] Todd Banhazl – he talks about that scene in “Manchester by the Sea” where the guys are in the basement and Michelle Williams comes in and tells them to leave. They’re like, “Yes, wifey” and make jokes and our movie is the flip scenario of that, and Todd [said], “You always see it from this male P.O.V.”
Bridget Savage Cole: Yeah, we’re so used to seeing [women are cast as] the nag and the voice of reason, so our female characters are quite naughty and two-faced, but also will surprise you by how loyal they are. It’s a very different world.
Which you establish quickly in another way – how does the idea of starting the film off with a fantastical sea chanty come into play?
Bridget Savage Cole: The [sea chanties] really have been a part of it from the beginning. It was one of the reasons we fell in love with the concept [because] we saw these fisherman as the spiritual core of the film. It’s a contemporary tale, but we wanted it to feel timeless and also [slightly] ancient. We pulled so many references from paintings – this feeling of a woman by the sea that could be any woman of any generation, and inviting that feeling of when you feel connected to your past generations.
And David Coffin, our shanty singer, is the shanty expert in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He’s amazing, and he really brought this sadness to the shanties and a soulfulness while still so much masculinity. And even though this movie’s about a lot of women, masculinity is still a part of the conversation in the film and what that means to these industries and these balances and these poles.
Since you mention paintings, did that contribute to the idea of texture that’s in the film’s presentation?
Bridget Savage Cole: We talked a lot about trying to bring out the grit of the story.
Danielle Krudy: We wanted it to feel salty. We always used the word salty when were trying to describe this movie in terms of what the tone was, and translating that to the look, Todd Banhazl, our cinematographer, really took that to heart and put in a lot of effort into figuring out our texture in the film. He used special 16mm lenses and did some tricking out [of the camera] to make sure that it had that feeling. Natural light too was very important.
Bridget Savage Cole: But the texture was really a collaboration across all departments too. Todd really invested in those relationships with Jasmine Ballou Jones, our production designer, and Brooke [Bennett], our costume designer, and go get lunch with them and talk about everything. There was conversations a lot of communication between all of us about the big picture and adding to the overall look of what you could do through the camera and what you would have to do in the mise-en-scene.
I knew this film was for real when I saw the food – that looked like homemade in the region and not just some catering for the day.
Danielle Krudy: I’d love to record this and have our editor listen to it because that shot was in and out [of the film at various times].
Bridget Savage Cole: Oh yeah, people wanted to cut it. But I love that shot so much.
Danielle Krudy: It smelled so bad. But our prop master, Bridget Rafferty, who was the secret weapon of the film, nailed the food. The whole team – the art department was so solid and just fucking took Maine on. Just thinking about this, I can’t believe…
Bridget Savage Cole: Oh my God, people did so much!
What’s it like to get to the finish line?
Danielle Krudy: I had a little out of body moment during this conversation, looking over at [Bridget] like, “That’s my homie, we made a movie.”
Bridget Savage Cole: And somebody’s watched it! It is crazy. We wrote the first draft eight years ago.
Danielle Krudy: And I couldn’t be more honored to sit next to Bridget.
Bridget Savage Cole: Likewise. It’s like we did do something, and we can’t say it was easy.
Danielle Krudy: But we fought. You’ve got to. Even the edit. You have keep fighting because you get tired and you get fatigued, even when that passion runs so deep, you’re beat down and you’re depleted and it’s not like you can take a vacation. So it’s a fight, but you do it with your heart and you put it all out there.
Bridget Savage Cole: Yeah, it really came from a place of love because it’s us making a movie we really thought we would want to watch. We just wanted to see this movie.
“Blow the Man Down” will screen at the Tribeca Film Festival on May 1st at 8:45 pm at the Village East Cinemas, May 4th at 8:30 pm at the Regal Cinemas Battery Park and May 5th at 6:30 pm at the SVA Theater 2.