Tag Archives: Micro-budget film-making

GFF13: Breakfast with Curtis

Breakfast with Curtis tableI have a confession to make. When I read that Breakfast with Curtis was a micro-budget indie film about some quirky characters, and filmed in the writer/director’s house with her friends and neighbours playing the main roles; well, let’s just say I was apprehensive about spending ninety minutes in their company. I’ve turned off too many wilfully quirky films with larger budgets and recognisable actors over the years to have held out much hope of this film being any good.

And sometimes the most wonderful feeling in the world is being proven utterly wrong.

The film opens on the type of incident most children will have experienced, when 9-year-old Curtis (Jonah Parker) is verbally abused and threatened by his neighbour Syd (Theo Green) for throwing stones at his cat. It’s a situation that immediately tapped into one of my childhood fears; that of scary grown-up neighbours who seemed like an entirely different species. Every childhood friend of mine knew a garden where they dare not kick their ball, for fear of incurring the wrathful neighbour. As adults we’re conditioned to fear the wild and uncontrollable youth, but like a spider trapped in a bath, they are probably more afraid of you than you are of them.

Five years later, and with a neighbourly cold war with its roots in ‘the incident’ showing signs of thawing, Syd (the rather bohemian online bookseller who threatened to crush young Curtis’ skull) asks Curtis to help him film some video blogs for his business. Curtis is unsure, but his home-schooling mother persuades him to take on a project that will help build his self-confidence, as well as bridges between the two households.

Our interview with director Laura Colella gives a fascinating insight into how the film came about, and the process used to make it. Syd’s housemates are friends and neighbours in real life, and many of the film’s sweetest and most genuine moments are simply cinematic portrayals of these ‘real lives’. Right down to the video blogs that Curtis shoots and edits to Syd’s great pride and delight, which are genuine videos Jonah filmed with Theo. These connections provide the creative spark for the film, and help it to avoid layering characters with increasingly bizarre affectations and foibles purely to raise a laugh. The inhabitants of Colella’s world remain grounded in reality, and it is a rare film that is happy to simply invite us to share in the lives of some wonderful people.

Breakfast with Curtis will not appeal to everyone, even those without the prejudices that I admit to having about ‘this type of film’. Colella herself admits that “plot-driven and predictable work doesn’t interest me”, and viewers who want ‘something to happen’ may walk away disappointed. However, anyone who wants to see a heart-warming tale of a boy’s first seminal summer, and simply likes to spend time in the company of funny and interesting people, will love it.

Breakfast with Curtis is showing at Glasgow Film Festival on Saturday 16th February at 5.20pm, and Tuesday 19th February at 7pm. Tickets are available here

GFF13: Interview with Laura Colella (Breakfast with Curtis)

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.

Breakfast with Curtis tableFive 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!

Breakfast with Curtis is showing at Glasgow Film Festival on Saturday 16th February at 5.20pm, and Tuesday 19th February at 7pm. Tickets are available HERE, and our review is now online