Name: Sam Walsh
Why did you want to tell this story?
Desi: When I started writing I didn't know what I was writing necessarily. I was working for production company and I was starting to get hungry to do something creative myself. I started writing these scenes between Hannah and Andrew without really knowing much. I really only knew who he was and who she was. I just started writing these scenes that were very long and talky and I think it was a direct result of having seen Before Sunset. Sean and I were falling in love at that point and it was a very romantic time for us to see those Linklater films. I was really inspired by how authentic they felt. Being from rural Maine and now living in LA made me go through my own quality of life questions like where do I want to live and what kind of place do I want to raise our (then imaginary) children. I had experienced a loss in my own life and I was projecting that fear of losing somebody onto the script.
You've been developing the idea for about 10 years now, how did that feel? Did it ever feel like it wasn't going to happen?
Desi: The script didn't take that long to write. The long part was getting it together. By the time we left LA to go to Maine, which was 7 years before we shot it, the script was done. I knew Sean was going to direct it, and he had been giving me notes. I had redrafted it a couple of times and eventually we got to the point where it was done. Sean had kind of a Tom Cruise moment and jumped on the couch and was like 'Quit your job, we're moving to Maine to make this movie'. Most of the time we spent waiting for people to read, financiers to sign on, and we had another actress for 3 years. We had almost a whole cast but we needed everything to be ready before we could go after financing. You waste a lot of time when you are a first time filmmaker.
Do you think that was the main constraint, that you had never made a feature before?
Sean: The problem as a first time filmmaker is that they [producers, actors] are looking for prestige. You want to jump on a team with somebody you can trust that maybe you feel cool for working with, and that's the last thing you feel working with a first time director. It could be terrible because this person could not know what they are doing, and it's such a different thing no matter how many short films they have made or whatever else. Like once they get into the editing room are they going to just destroy my performance? We got lucky that we had access to actors so that whenever they did pick up the script, I feel like Desi's screenplay was unique enough, and had this great voice that they got interested enough to at least sit down with me and then in a room I was able to, you know, massage them into it.
Was it the same when trying to get a musician?
Desi: We went after lots of big names for all those years we were going after actors, we were always thinking if we got a really wonderful musician, maybe the actors would get excited about that. We learned that it's an even bigger ask to ask a musician to write an album for you than it is to ask an actor to come and act so that was one of the last things that fell into place. We were already shooting and still looking for somebody. It ended up that Damien got to watch early cuts of the movie and the inspiration cycle worked that way. There are so many musicians who are great, but I feel like we were lucky that we went with Jurado because the music that he made was in the wheelhouse we wanted. He can do wonderful things with very simple melodies, the poetry in the lyrics is very abstract, it didn't feel too contemporary or commercial. It never sounds like he is trying to sell himself to you.
Sean Mewshaw and Desi Van Til on making their debut feature Tumbledown
What was the most rewarding thing about making Tumbledown?
Desi: I will never forget that feeling of our first read through, when we had introduced Jason and Rebecca to each other, and to hear these words that had been a part of me for seven or eight years. To feel like it wasn't just a two-dimensional print on a page that we had read back and forth to each other a million times. They (the actors) were so intuitive, the delivery on stuff was often exactly how I imagine it, and if not, it was a more interesting way.
Sean: It was very much locked into our brains at that point but it was really cool to hear the way the actors hit those readings and the lines were read. That was satisfying, but even more so to discover things through them. The other really satisfying thing for me was at the other end of the process, was mixing it in surround sound in a huge theatre in Vancouver where we edited it and to hear it become cinema. I had been watching it for months on people's screens but to hear the music come alive, and it really become a movie. It was incredibly moving to me. That was just such a great feeling. And when it finally premiered at Tribeca, in a room full of 900 people, and to have people laughing. To feel like the movie was connecting to people, and meaning something to them.
Do you have anything new in the works?
Sean: Some people in Hollywood that have seen the film have come to us with other projects, but we still feel that the next film we are going to make is going to be generated by us. We are not going to direct the next Star Wars, although I think Desi would be a great writer for the next Star Wars (laughs).
Desi: I'm writing a script that Sean has been giving me notes on and we're hoping that that will go out to cast in the next few months. It's another female driven film that is a father-daughter story. We are trying to make our own stuff, and make it as good as we can. Every once in a while I will really fall in love with a fantastic book and think that I really want to adapt it. Somebody doing the hustle in LA is probably going to get to it first but we will see.
Sean: I think the next one will be really telling whether we can actually get another film made without waiting another 8 years. If we can get another film made in the next year, then there is some hope for us in a continuing career. And if not, I'm a great carpenter, and Desi is a wonderful chef.Desi: Sean will build me a restaurant.