After losing his wife to cancer, a father deals with his grief by revisiting their life together through his writing. Bend in the Road is a short drama film. We spoke to PJ Germain, Sabrina Cooper and Jonathan J. Williams about the making of the short film which was shot on red and had its premiere in various festivals. Sabrina is the producer and co-writer of the project. Jonathan is the other producer of the film. PJ has directed the film. It was our pleasure to interview three of them for Toronto Film Magazine.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
Sabrina (Producer): After owning dance studios for 12 years I actually when back to school to get my degree in film production. While I was attending Full Sail University I was asked to scripty a feature called Captain Finn. It was shot on 35mm and I had a blast.
Jonathan (Producer): I have always wanted to work in the entertainment industry; however, because my parents would not allow me to have a camera at a young age I didn't make my first films until High School. The first major film project I worked on was 2010's remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
PJ (Director): I actually started making films as a young child with a large heavy VHS Camcorder, making stop motion films with my toy cars and action figures. From a young age, I aspired to make films and went onto to an undergraduate film program after high school. The first film project I worked on as a legitimate member of the crew was for a senior thesis project when I was a freshman in college. It was my first experience being on set with 16mm film, film cameras, lights and professionally recognizable actors.
What genre of filmmaking are you looking to work on and why?
Sabrina (Producer): I own a small production company now, called Black Castle Productions. We produce everything from drama to horror, to gay web series. When I opened BCP I did not want to stick to one genre because, as a person, I’m not just interested in one genre and in today’s film world you can not stick yourself in a box. My goal is to produce excellent stories, no matter what the genre is.
Jonathan (Producer): I have always had a deep love of horror, and making those films is such a fun process. From locations to sets, to makeup, they are always a lot of fun regardless.
PJ (Director) : My genre preference to work in is Suspense/Horror/Sci-Fi. I gravitated towards these types of films as a young kid and they inspired me to tell those types of stories. However as I got older I found an appreciation of all types of Dramas. So my personal goal has always been to "genre bend" the projects I work on. Have elements of different genres working together to tell a story effectively.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
Sabrina (Producer): Funding. Right now we rely on some amazing and generous donors that see the quality of work we create. We would love to find a larger company to finance multiple projects that we have in the pipeline.
Jonathan (Producer): For me, the most challenging aspect has been to find like-minded, driven creatives with whom you work well. Even at our level, there are a lot of egos and a lot of inexperience sometimes in the same person. Not to mention there are many people who dream of working in entertainment, but are unaware of the hard work and drive that it takes to push a project to its completion.
PJ (Director): Getting people to believe in your vision to put together projects with limited resources is the biggest hurdle I think most independent filmmakers deal with on a day to day basis. It's easy when you have money to throw at people and ideas but for most of us, that's not possible. So being clear, succinct and prepared is key. It forces creativity and honestly some of the best films ever made have been because the filmmaker had to be more creative with their approach. Too often than not, a filmmaker who's moved from independent to studio loses that creativity because money becomes the way to solve problems.
How challenging is it to fund indie films?
Sabrina (Producer): It’s crazy hard and most projects that get funding only use it for production and forget that they must edit the film and then of course release it. That’s why most indie films never see the light of day. It’s really a shame that the USA doesn’t have financing programs like most European countries do.
Jonathan (Producer): It is incredibly difficult. We at Black Castle have just been pushing to make content no matter if we have $0 or $20,0000, and on an indie level, $20K is still not much. There is an assumption that as producers we just magically come with money. Sabrina and I have been lucky with some of our more recent projects to be approached by people who already have some form of funding, but even then these funds are raised either by the creator's own personal savings or through immense crowdfunding efforts. Because of this, we are scratching a lot of backs and also pulling in a lot of favors from supporters who believe in our efforts and for whom we do our best to pay back those favors however we can.
PJ (Director): It's one of the biggest challenges. More often than not, filmmakers will go out of pocket for their smaller projects but as the budgets get bigger and the ideas get larger, it's just not possible. As an independent filmmaker you end up reaching out to who you know privately, whether its friends or family and if you're lucky you have the backing of someone willing to see your vision through. This is all not without preparation. Any filmmaker seeking someone elses money to make their film needs to do due diligence in preparation and creating a business plan, financial structure, distribution plan, etc. You're not only selling the project but you're selling yourself as person who can run a small business to bring in a return
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
Sabrina (Producer): As a producer, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the reason why I got into the film industry and I hope one day I will get the opportunity to produce something to that scale.
Jonathan (Producer): It feels cliche to say Steven Spielberg, but his films made me want to be a filmmaker at five years old. Not to mention he has maintained a level of storytelling and artistry where his voice continues to remain fresh and inspire generations of filmmakers.
John Carpenter has also been a recent favorite of mine. HALLOWEEN has been one of my favorite horror films but recently, as an indie producer, I've been inspired by his own indie spirit in creating his films at a low-budget level, many of which have become massive hits and are considered classics to this day.
Guillermo Del Toro is another favorite of mine. Just because of his taste and creativity. The tone and artistry of his films captivate me. In a way, he feels like a combination of the previous two filmmakers I mentioned, but I enjoy the way he builds worlds that completely immerse the audience into realms of mystery, magic, and horrors.
PJ (Director): Alfred Hitchcock has been one of my biggest influences as a young impressionable filmmaker. He's a master of suspense and interpersonal relationships. Without Hitchcock we wouldn't have the techniques that are commonplace in Suspense and Horror. Peter Jackson is probably my biggest influence because his body of work from the earliest to latest exhibits a grand sense of exuberance when it comes to filmmaking. He is a product of cinema and it shows in his staging, camera placement and storytelling. Choosing the very last one is a bit hard as I have had many influences, but I think Steven Spielberg and not only his directing but producing work has been immensely influential on who I am a storyteller and what stories I gravitate towards. Spielberg is a product of the French Wave and he brings that introspective to the relationships in his films. He also tells admittedly B Movie stories with an A-List point of view, and popularized that kind of cinematic dynamic. To add one more to the list and this will be controversial but as stated in the essay included on the Criterion release of his film The Rock, Michael Bay is a master of movement. And from specifically a filmmaking craft point of view, his use of camera and staging is second to none. He may be a storyteller for a certain kind of audience, he understands camera movement in way that most people couldn't before the advent of previz and animated storyboards. Its how his mind works and that is admirable.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
Sabrina (Producer): At the moment we are in post production on a gay comedy web series called OPEN TO IT. We are also in development for a horror short called THE EYE, a thriller feature called End Times. We are also in pre-production on a docu-series called Native America. We also have a script titled NU NA DA UL STUN YI – WHERE THEY CRIED that is making the festival rounds. It’s a true story of a 14 year old that was forced to call the Trail of Tears.
Jonathan (Producer): Currently, we have two projects in post-production, one is a short film called PORCELAIN and the other is an LGBTQ+ Comedy Series entitled OPEN TO IT.
When it comes to Producing short-form content we've discovered that these projects really find us and decide for themselves when they get made. We have a lot of irons in the fire, but depending on things like funding, locations, etc...each one reveals when it's ready to be made.
PJ (Director): I have a few projects in development and working towards my feature directorial debut in the new year.
What was the inspiration behind your latest film project?
Sabrina (Producer): As I stated earlier, I use to own dance studios. One of my teachers had an aggressive brain cancer that left her husband a widower and single dad. He wrote an incredible blog and I asked if I could take one of his blogs and turn it into a short. Which is exactly what I did.
Jonathan (Producer): A BEND IN THE ROAD is a true story inspired by a close friend of Sabrina's who entrusted us with telling his story. It was a beautiful and moving story that was ripe to be adapted into a short.
PJ (Director): My latest project is based on a true story, so though it's not personal to me, I was able to approach it from a personal level about love gained and love lost. I knew that because of the specificity of the story, I had to create a universal experience that the audience could identify with.
How did you find the cast and the crew of the film?
Sabrina (Producer): PJ, our director, and Jonathan my producing partner all went to the American Film Institute together. At school we never had a chance to work together, so after school, that’s exactly what we did. This was our second project together and will definitely will not be our last! As for the cast, I’m always surrounded by crazy talented friends which lead me to ask Breeanna Judy to play Jaime. My husband, Alex Goransson plays James.
Jonathan (Producer): Sabrina and I have been working in Entertainment for over 10 years, along the way we've gathered a wonderful community of actors, crew members, and other talented creators that we have been able to utilize for our projects.
PJ (Director): The crew of the film consists of collaborators that I frequently work with. I find that very important when it comes to filmmaking. You need to work with people that you trust and that turns something that can and will be hard into something that doesn't feel like working. As for the cast, because we shot it during lock down in Los Angeles, the producing team and I wanted to keep it small and intimate, so we reached out to people we knew personally that could portray the characters instead of casting a wide net.
What is the distribution plan of the film and did the film receive any screenings or was it featured in festivals?
Sabrina (Producer): Bend in the Road has does amazing in the festivals! We have won, Best Produced, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Actor multiple times. At the moment we are talking to a few distributors for this film.
Jonathan (Producer): As of right now, A BEND IN THE ROAD is making its way around the festival circuit. We have been approached by some distributors and are currently discussing our options.
PJ (Director): Right now the film is on the festival circuit and has been screening all over the world at this point. We have a long road ahead with festivals so my hope is that we can lock in a distribution deal for it before the end so everyone has access to it!
Why do you make films and what kind of impact would your work have on the world?
Sabrina (Producer): My goal has always been to produce original content with great stories. As someone who is one of the few Native American women producers, I’m hoping that my projects that are Native driven opens the worlds eyes to show not only that we are still here but we have some incredible stories to tell as well.
Jonathan (Producer): I make films because I want to inspire, challenge, and move people. There is so much insanity happening in the world right now that I think what we need more than anything is a reminder of our shared experiences, our shared dreams, and our shared emotions. I think film can do that better than any other medium.
PJ (Director): Filmmaking to me has always been about confronting myself, my issues, my fears, my wants and needs. I make films, first and foremost for myself. If I like what I've done, than I'd hope that someone else will also like it. My goal in becoming a filmmaker has always been to inspire other young kids to make films and tell stories, just as the filmmakers of my childhood did for me.