Following the release of The Dragon Wall, I had a chance to exchanged a few words with Mark Freeman and Brandon St. Cyr, the film’s directors, about their filmmaking process, and what it takes to put together a fantasy film in Vermont.
Geek Mountain State: First off, thanks for having a chat with us – can you talk a little about your backgrounds?
Mark: Sure. I’m educated and trained as a wildlife biologist. I’ve studied grizzly bears, bobcats, and black bears. However, I’ve been writing since I was in high school. A few years ago my first book, The Kindling of GreenFyr, was published. Throughout my career and life it’s sort of been a balancing act between the right and left sides of my brain, and keeping a creative/scientific equilibrium in place.
Brandon: I grew up here in Vermont, but just recently moved back after spending almost 10 years in Atlanta, GA. Down there I had the opportunity to get involved in the local film scene, worked some small short films and ended up producing an independent feature film, CRYSTAL RIVER. My wife and I knew we wanted to raise our kids here in VT, so we packed up and moved back in 2009.
GMS: The Dragon Wall is a small fantasy film about four brothers; where did this story come from? Is there anything in particular that helped influence it?
Mark: The film is based on a short story inspired by my four nephews; I wrote it for and about them about a year and a half ago. However, we draw on all our favorite films and novels. For example, the Sage is an amalgam of all our favorite mentor characters from literature and film.
Brandon: As we were working through how to take Mark’s short story to film, I was reminded of an idea I had a few years ago. It was this idea of a kid who we follow doing regular kid things…but the way it would be shot and the soundtrack would be as if he were in this grand action/adventure movie. Basically, we wanted to bring the imaginations of our childhoods to this story.
GMS: The film has some real hints of fantastic elements to it, from the Sage who shows up to the roars in the forest, but at the same time, there’s some real indications that the children’s imagination is at play here. Why go that route?
Mark: Why not? I love a story or film that makes you think or wonder. Even when I wrote the short story I wanted to leave a lingering doubt in the minds of the readers. I think it makes for a better story if the audience begins to question if the boys are not or no longer fully in control of their adventure.
GMS: Logistics aside, why set the film in Vermont, when imagination can take you anywhere?
Mark: Well, the story is driven by four boys who discover their imagination in their own backyard while being led on an adventure by a composite projection of all their favorite film and literary characters. I couldn’t think of a better place to base the story than here in Vermont. I’ve been all across this continent in some very majestic locations, and there is no where more magical than our state.
Brandon: Growing up in rural Vermont (not far from where we shot), I’ve always known there was this beautiful landscape that hasn’t been showcased in films as much as it should. I knew we could get something here in Vermont, that would place this story in a very fantastical environment…and I think we got that.
GMS: How did the two of you come to meet and decide: let’s put a film together?
Mark: Johnson State College swim lessons for our daughters. Our kids actually started hanging out, and onto, each other during the lessons. We found ourselves on the benches and slowly started talking about what we did. I write, Brandon made movies. Brandon and his wife had us over their place for dinner one night and I pitched the idea of The Dragon Wall to him. Thought at the time I’d blown it, he didn’t seem that interested and I wondered if I’d pitched the idea of working together too soon. About a week later he emailed me and asked me to send him the story, saying he’d been thinking about it and was really curious. That was seven months and two days before we premiered at Spruce Peak.
The short story lent itself really well, in my opinion, to a short film. Small cast, local outdoor locations, no big effects, easily done on a small budget. I always liked the story, so it seemed like a good project to attempt together.
GMS: Did you face any particular challenges filming an independent film in Vermont?
Mark: No more than the usual issues independent filmmakers face, I don’t think. Time and budget constraints being the big ones, because of filming in Vermont in the fall, we did have to deal w/ the weather some, but it worked out for us in the end. What’s a little flooding amongst friends?
GMS: Tell us a little about the casting of the film – how did you get the four boys involved in the film?
Mark: We’re very much indebted to River Arts of Morrisville in regards to the casting. We held three open auditions, two of which at River Arts and the third at the Lanpher Memorial Library in Hyde Park. We met w/ RA before the auditions asking for their help in getting the word out about the open casting call, and because of their contacts in the theater and arts community, we were able to cast a very wide net in our search for local talent. Brandon and I also, independently, contacted all of the neighboring schools’ drama departments and clubs to further get the word out.
GMS: What steps would you recommend for an aspiring film maker in the state who wanted to accomplish the same goals?
Mark: Go shoot your movie! With today’s easily accessible technology there is no excuse not to go out and make your movie. Do it. Take it seriously, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a high quality independent film here in VT! In my opinion it’s all abut experience and exposure.
We also can’t fail to mention the help we got from community access media. All over the state there is access to production equipment for free through these community media outlets. Their mission is to provide services to the community for development of individual content and a way for people to have a voice whether in art, activism, whatever…they’re a great resource.
GMS: Are you planning on holding any further screenings of the film for the general public? What are your goals for it?
Mark: Our first and foremost goal all along as been to submit The Dragon Wall to film festivals, so we’ll be busy this year submitting, and hopefully screening, in as many festivals as possible. However, we’re always open to additional local screenings as well. We don’t currently have ay booked as of yet, but we have had some interest, so please keep tabs on the website and Facebook page.
GMS: What’s next? Another short film, feature length film?
Mark: We’ve got another short in pre-production w/ our associate producer and director of photography from The Dragon Wall, Christian Clark, as well as a few other projects – all of which are features – in earlier stages. Again, please follow the blog and website to stay up to date w/ our current projects!