Saturday sees the UK Première of Breakfast with Curtis, the latest film from writer/director Laura Colella. It’s a wonderful micro-budget film made in Laura’s house, and starring her friends and neighbours.
Five years after an incident that caused a seemingly irreparable rift with his neighbours, online bookseller and care-free bohemian Syd asks their 14-year-old son Curtis for help recording a video blog. What follows is a beautiful coming-of age film about one of those seminal summers where rifts are healed, old secrets emerge, and boys finally become men.
We spoke to Laura ahead of the festival.
Firstly, how did the idea for making Breakfast with Curtis come about?
Before making BREAKFAST WITH CURTIS, I had been struggling to get a larger-budgeted project off the ground. It was to be my third feature, and I thought it was normal to expect my films to keep growing in terms of the size of production. The trend in the industry was of course going in the opposite direction. After a few years, I was dying to just make a movie, and returned to my roots as a hands-on filmmaker who likes to write, direct, shoot, edit, etc. I looked around at the crazy characters and great locations in my immediate environment and decided to formulate a story based on them.
There are some very strong acting performances in this film, and I think viewers will be surprised to find that you cast your non-actor neighbours in leading roles. Did it work so well because the actors are playing versions of themselves or because of the writing/filming process you used? Or were you just very lucky to be living among some great undiscovered thespians?
I think all of those answers are true. I wrote for my actors, and we had shoots with tiny crews and minimal production that were relatively low-stress and comfortable for them. I did a lot of takes, and listened and worked for the performances that I knew were right and workable. A lot of the performances came together in the editing room, which I think is usually true with experienced actors as well. The reality is that many professional movie actors, at least in the United States, are not necessarily highly trained, so I don’t see a big division between actors and non-actors. Casting to type and innate qualities often brings invaluable richness if that person can be directed well.
One thing that struck me as I watched this film is that there isn’t a traditional antagonist, or even much conflict beyond the initial incident that leads to the rift between the neighbours. In fact, it’s one of the few films I’ve seen where I’d like to grab a drink with all of the characters. Is this something you consciously aimed for when writing the script?
Many people who’ve seen the film have said they’d like to come live with us or have a drink with us, and that feels great, because I was really trying to capture the spirit of fun around here. I do try to avoid formulaic conflict in my writing. Although we’re trained to expect it, I think more interesting and complex things happen when that expectation is not met. Purely plot-driven and predictable work doesn’t interest me. I think my stories are more theme-driven, and I like to incorporate humor and detail as much as possible.
There are a number of obvious restrictions with low-budget film-making. How do you turn those restrictions in opportunities? Is it simply a matter of taking advantage of serendipity? (such as being able to use Jonah’s real-life videos of Theo, or the wonderful blanket of snow that allows for some beautiful shots in the film)
Turning restrictions into opportunities is a great way to make micro-budget movies. We used a relatively inexpensive camera (a Canon 5D Mark II) that had certain limitations, for example, but you can make amazing images with it that look gorgeous even projected on a giant screen. Jonah and Theo’s videos were one of the initial inspirations for the project. There were so many examples of serendipitous good fortune throughout the making of it, ranging from the weather and the way things grew in the garden that year, to the generous participation of people who came on board to help us through post, such as my fantastic executive producer and post guru Mike Jackman.
What do you have planned for your next project? Would you like to work with your neighbours again at some point in the future?
I’d love to work with them again, and there have been a lot of jokes about sequels. I’m still hoping to get the larger-budgeted project I mentioned off the ground, and have another script I’m currently working on.
Finally, we’ll be recording a special edition of our podcast from the festival and celebrating Scottish films and film-making. We’re asking everyone we speak to for their three favourite films set in Scotland.
Wow, here’s the thing: I don’t watch a ton of movies, because I’m so busy with work, and mostly read when I have leisure time. But I’ll say TRAINSPOTTING, LOCAL HERO and GREGORY’S GIRL. I need to see more – please send recommendations!