Interview With Dr. Jerod Hollyfield on the Making of His Film “Goodfriends”

gf_posterDr. Jerod Hollyfield has been very busy promoting his film “Goodfriends” on the film festival circuit, and was recently interviewed at the Knoxville Film Festival by The Daily Times and Knoxville.com. You can also visit Dr. Hollyfield’s blog, The Noisy Philistine and be sure to like the “Goodfriends” facebook page to stay up-to-date on the film’s happenings. “Goodfriends” will screen on Tennessee Filmmakers on Tennessee PBS in late 2014.

Before we get to the interview, hear what Drs. Hale and Hovet, as well as Dr. Hollyfield’s screenwriting partner, Jonathan Sykes had to say:

 Dr. Hale on Dr. Hollyfield’s work ethic:

 “In a department with so many faculty members who are active teachers and scholars, Dr. Hollyfield is one of the busiest colleagues I know.  I’ve seen first-hand the care he puts into his classes, and the care he has put into Goodfriends doesn’t surprise me at all.  I look forward to the Bowling Green premier!”

- Dr. Rob Hale, Department Head of English

 Dr. Hovet on “Goodfriends”:

“’Goodfriends’ is a powerful narrative short that treats its subject with sensitivity and respect.  I especially admire the way that Dr. Hollyfield collaborated with the entire team behind the film to create a distinct vision.  It is a great model for our students.”

- Dr. Ted Hovet, Professor of English and Film

Jonathan Sykes on the extensive collaboration to bring “Goodfriends” to fruition:

 ”Writing is always something we do at our own pace, which allows us to settle into a natural way of working. We write until it feels forced, then watch movies or read screenplays for input. When it actually came time to start filming ‘Goodfriends,’ it wasn’t just our time anymore, and we had quite a lot less of it to play around with.”

 - Jonathan Sykes, Producer and Screenwriter

Dr. Hollyfield graciously set aside some time during this hectic part of the semester to answer some questions for the blog. Read our Q & A below:

Ann Reagan: What were some challenges you faced in writing/filming/casting “Goodfriends”?

Dr. Hollyfield and his lead actor, Trey Anderson

Dr. Hollyfield and his lead actor, Trey Anderson on the set of “Goodfriends”

Jerod Hollyfield: Apart from the logistical issues caused by a crew spanning seven states, the biggest challenge was finding actors that had the same disabilities as the characters in the film.  We knew that if we were going to tell this story, we needed to put authenticity at the forefront of the production.  Casting Trey as Billy was an easy choice because he’s a friend of mine from high school, but even then, I had to worry about reconciling our friendship with my role as director.  Directing can be hard because you have to push performers to a place you need them to go while, at the same time, making sure the actors discover that place themselves. I’m a fan of multiple takes, especially when dealing with non-professional actors.  They allow the intentional performance to break down until nothing is left but character and emotion.  This isn’t a time you can just pat your friend on the back and say good job.

Kara Jackson acted in "Goodfriends" as Del

Kara Jackson acted for the first time in “Goodfriends” as Del

Another very difficult aspect was transitioning Del from the page to the screen. We were so pleased with ourselves when we wrote the character as having Williams Syndrome. Then we realized we needed to find someone who wanted to act that also had a disorder found in only 1 of every 15,000 people. We came up empty locally after weeks of searching, so we contacted some disability nonprofits like the Williams Syndrome Association and the Williams Syndrome Family of Hope. Suddenly, we had people calling from all over the nation.  As soon as I began Kara’s audition, I knew she was our Del. Unfortunately, this also led to what I think is always the hardest issue emotionally that a filmmaker faces during any shoot: telling people that we didn’t choose them for a role, especially when they’ve put themselves out there and been vulnerable. “Goodfriends” was no different.

Postproduction was also hard because I had to break the film apart and delegate: our editor was cutting in Indiana while our VFX artist in Florida was adding a Goodfriends sign to the store exteriors we shot.  We had to wait to deliver this locked cut to the sound artists in Baton Rouge so that they could do the sound mix and add things like the background store noise and music. Then we had to color correct the film in Illinois and do a last pass at the titles. We had a 15-minute working cut ready by December 2012, but Jon and I fine tuned until the end of June.  At that point, it finally felt that we had the film we set out to make…all 10 minutes of it.

AR: I love that the film stars people with disabilities but, as you told The Daily Times, it’s not a “disability movie.” Was it more difficult to write these characters without defining them by their disabilities than a “regular Joe?”

gf_billy_at_counter

Dr. Hollyfield says the supporting cast “give this film a tension between insider/outsider perspectives on disability.”

JH: The hard part was writing the supporting characters in a way that demonstrated their ambivalence about dealing with Billy. There had to be a balance. If the characters are too mean, they come off as these overwrought caricatures. Jon and I refer to these characters–thanks to comedian Bill Burr–as the “get out of the pool” guy; the one character in most of these “social problem” movies whose only purpose is to stand in the way of the lead character’s dreams.  At the same time, a character who is too nice just kills the conflict of the film or comes across as some sort of savior.  Our goal with the supporting characters was to hone in on the problems of niceness, how at times, it’s really just a surface way to deal with a person who does not fit into our perfect narratives.  Disability studies scholars make the claim that when an “able” person sees someone with a disability, it creates an anxiety that leads one to being overly nice or offering often unwanted assistance as a way to reach social equilibrium. That’s the track we took.  None of our characters are bad people, they are just people who interact with Billy on a day-to-day basis.  We wrote Billy and Del around these characters because, if we tried to write the disabled, we’d be doing the same things of which our characters are guilty.  Jon and I could never know what it’s like to have these disorders and that’s where the actors we chose come in. They give this film a tension between insider/outsider perspectives on disability. They fill out and transform the characters in ways we could never have.

AR: How can people see “Goodfriends” locally? Are there plans to have a viewing on campus or somewhere in Bowling Green?

JH: When a film is on the festival circuit, you have to be very careful when you show it in any given place because most fests function through exclusivity. Premiere status is important at all levels from world to regional to state to city. For example, if we screened our film one night for students at a campus in Portland, Maine, it counts as a public screening in the same town as the (fictional) Portland Annual Festival of International Films. That festival would probably have a rule that the film would be disqualified because it had already screened locally.  The general rule to follow is to let the film run its course on the festival circuit and screen it freely after you finish in a particular region.  When we complete the film’s festival run next year, I’ll be excited to show it on campus if people are interested.

AR: Are you already in the process of making “Goodfriends” into a full-length feature? If not, when do you plan to?

JH: We are in the process of writing the feature version now. However, a lot of our time is currently spent submitting the film and following up with contacts at the places it is screening and could be screening. But as soon as we finish writing it, we hope to start seeking financers and getting things off the ground.  The great thing about being on the festival circuit is that it’s a perfect place to network and find good people to move what is always a longshot toward fruition.

AR: What advice do you have for Film students? Any trade secrets you’d like to share?

Dr. Hollyfield and his writing partner, Jonathan Sykes on the set of "Goodfriends"

Dr. Hollyfield and his writing partner, Jonathan Sykes on the set of “Goodfriends”

JH: The most important skill in filmmaking is saying, “I don’t know.” Someone is always more experienced or better, and if you approach making films in a healthy way, you should be open to remaining, in part, a student of everyone around you.  Being a good director is all about knowing the exact moment to give up control, about making sure everyone is motivated to use talents you don’t have and guiding those talents toward what the film is trying to achieve. If I approached the movie with the goal of making sure every word adhered to what Jon and I had on the page, it wouldn’t have had the ability to breathe and we probably wouldn’t be talking about it.

The second most important thing is being well versed in business. Even though they seem edgy, film festivals and indie film companies are businesses, and I think film students should see the process in those terms. Most of our time these days is not sitting around being filmmakers. It’s conducting targeted marketing. It’s writing press releases. It’s keeping up with expenses on Excel so we can file a tax return for our company. It’s all the things the 20-year-old know-it-all version of myself got into film to avoid. But I love doing all of that now weirdly enough. It feels like a natural extension of the writing process in a lot of ways. If I can’t articulate the value of our film to the people who could screen it instead of the 1500-3000 other shorts that get submitted to a festival every year, then I have probably been failing all along as a writer, producer, and director.

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