After surveying the singles scene of Los Angeles with his sweet directorial debut “Luke and Brie Are on a First Date” (available on Netflix Instant and DVD as we speak), Chad Hartigan is moving into a little heavier territory in Reno.
“It would be pretty hard to be less heavy than a couple of hipsters on a date,” says Hartigan, who is currently prepping for a fall shoot on his sophomore feature “This is Martin Bonner,” which is currently raising funds on Kickstarter before an August 14th deadline. “This one all began with that question, ‘How is my dad going to make new friends at 58?’”
Inspired by his own father’s move to a new town in Virginia for work, Hartigan intends to explore that question with the story of a church volunteer in Nevada (Paul Eenhoorn) who helps the recently paroled ease back into civilian life and forges a bond with a younger ex-con (Richmond Arquette) as both men seek to reconnect with their estranged children.
“Reading Chad’s script for the first time, I immediately appreciated the level of empathy it showed for the character who’s just gotten out of prison and his struggle to re-acclimate,” said Cherie Saulter, the director of this year’s festival hit “No Matter What” and producer of “Medicine for Melancholy,” and associate producer of “Myth of the American Sleepover” and whose own personal experience of having parents that work in the correctional system inspired her to come aboard the project as a producer. “It’s a touching portrait of characters not often depicted in mainstream films that are just trying to connect with other people in the world.”
In the case of “Martin Bonner,” there really should be an emphasis placed on Hartigan’s worldly perspective, since at one time all the filmmaker knew of the U.S. was his mother’s relatives in Reno as he would spend summers rotating family visits between there and Ireland while growing up in Cyprus.
“Until I was about 13, I thought all of America was exactly like Reno,” said Hartigan. “[It’s] such a bizarre notion now, but I still feel a slight tinge of magic and purity when I’m there.”
No doubt that’s why the writer/director’s been looking towards the films of the surrealist Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson (“the way he picks a static frame and then manages to fill every corner of them with activity”), as well as more surprisingly, Steven Spielberg (“‘Jaws’ is a masterpiece when it comes to blocking and camera movement”), for inspiration to make “This is Martin Bonner” as visually rich as its story. To help him, the film has brought together veterans of both Hartigan and Saulter’s previous productions including “Luke and Brie” cinematographer Sean McElwee and composer Keegan DeWitt (who scored Aaron Katz’s “Cold Weather” in the interim) and “Sleepover” editor Julio Perez.
But in spite of all the familiarity with both the film’s location and his crew, it’s the unknown that’s most exciting for Hartigan, who’s looking forward to working with a group of actors he didn’t know personally first on a shoot that’ll be longer than the mere five days he had on “Luke and Brie.” Of course, the fate of the project is also up in the air, but true to the gambling history of the town the film’s set in, Hartigan believes he’ll prevail against the odds on Kickstarter.
“We’ve been hitting the pavement and we’re keeping the budget extremely low, but Kickstarter provides a nice way to get some help, promote the project and engage a potential support group from the very beginning of the process all at once,” said Hartigan. “And it beats playing the slots.”