From its opening moments, its clear that something isn't right in Amy Seimetz's "Sun Don't Shine." Despite the palpable Florida heat, Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and her boyfriend Leo (Kentucker Audley) are fighting near their car during what we will soon learn is a road trip. Only, this isn't a "let's listen to my radio station" kind of fight. It's an exhausting and physical brawl, the cause of which isn't revealed until minutes later. It's the initial hook that Seimetz uses to draw the audience into her tense directorial debut, and the ramifications of which are, in many ways, the catalyst for all that comes next, with Crystal continually searching for stability in her relationship with Leo while he continually attempts to clean up the details Crystal is refusing to deal with. To discuss the elephant in the room between the two would be a disservice to the film, but suffice to say "Sun Don't Shine" isn't a road comedy.
Seimetz uses refreshing restraint for a directorial debut, introducing information and backstory slowly, while giving more weight to the performances of Sheil and Audley, both of whom successfully juggle some subtle complexities. When we saw "Sun Don't Shine" at South By Southwest, our review called it a "dreamy, watercolor wisp of a film, a sort of hazy, scattered approach to the traditional murder mystery," that praised Audley's "impressive" performance. But it's Sheil who steals the film, flirting between childlike innocence and the reality of her dark secret. "What they're doing is really complicated, which is straddling a line between high-intensity, pulp performance and making it seem like it's very natural… specifically Kate," said Seimetz during a phone interview, revealing that she wrote the film specifically for her two actors.
The Trouble With Mumblecore
One part character study and one part noir-thriller, the AFI guide said the movie "challenges the notion of a 'mumblecore' film." It's a tag that seemed unusual for a thriller, and one "Sun Don't Shine" can't seem to shake. "I wanted to trick the audience into thinking that they're watching a realism movie, which I obviously did because they keep describing it as 'mumblecore,' " said Seimetz during a phone interview.
Of course, Seimetz is no stranger to the "mumblecore" subgenre, having appeared in Joe Swanberg's "Alexander the Last" and Lena Dunham's "Tiny Furniture," and isn't totally against the term, even if she's not sure what it means anymore. "It depends on who's saying it and sometimes it's a condescending term," said Seimetz. "But, like any review, you kinda have to let it roll off your back. It's always strange for me, because it started in experimental films and I've been doing it for years, in acting and creating my own experimental films for quite a long time and then I met Joe, and didn't know anything about 'mumblecore' – and this is in 2008 or something and they had already established the term – and I found the way he worked to be really interesting. And I'm proud to be a part of that kind of filmmaking. They're all hard-working, and they're all exploring the medium, they're exploring new technology and they're all doing it in such a way that they're making it their own. So, for me, the term itself is totally silly. It's like 'dadaism' – it's a playful term for people who are playing with the medium. It's just mumbo-jumbo. It's a term that's making fun of itself, but suddenly takes off and now it's in textbooks. I don't even know what the definition is anymore."
Using 16mm vs. HD
Another way "Sun Don't Shine" separates itself from "mumblecore" is its use of 16mm film, beautifully shot by Jay Keitel ("Analog Days"). With only 17-18 days available to shoot, the use of film took up most of the film's small budget ("At par if not above the average family income for a year," said Seimetz), and the use of 16mm was a crucial one. "I wanted the film to feel like an American Classic, a new Americana… And I don't think we could have executed this on digital. Film will always feel timeless. Digital progresses so fast that films made 5 years ago seem like time capsules for technological advances in cameras, but I feel like film will always feel classic."
It also helped the actors keep their focus. "When the camera starts rolling, you can hear the film going through, so it feels really important, so it give the performances and the mood of the shooting a seriousness and a feeling like, 'OK, now we're really making a movie.' It makes everyone kind of perform at their top game, not just the actors but the crew. I don't know, maybe because they can kind of hear money rolling through the camera?"
The Noir Influence and Shooting a Movie While Hanging On to a Car
It doesn't hurt there are noir elements in "Sun Don't Shine," with Crystal being the dangerous woman you don't fall in love with, while Leo is the troubled everyman trying to make things right despite being over his head. "I wrote it as a genre movie, but obviously as an experimental turn on it, like a blending of genres. I like noir and the development of noir into the French thrillers that came after and the American 1990s thrillers that were kind of aping that style. I definitely used archetypes like the femme fatale and the man that gets pulled under, but it's a hodge-podge of different influences."
Seimetz said the noir elements of the story was also a way to "trick people into watching a character study," with Keitel's camera work focusing almost solely on the faces of the main characters, even while hanging on to the side of the car while it was in motion ("I made him wear my bike helmet," Seimetz laughingly admitted). Avoiding most opportunities for an establishing shot in exchange for staying with the characters, Seimetz says she came up with the conceit for how she and Keitel would shoot the the movie after observing an exchange in a convenience store.
"I live in Florida and people are crazy here," explained Seimetz. "And I say that lovingly. And I was at the convenience store down the street from my house and there was this couple talking in hushed tones but very, very heated in the corner of the convenience store. And I found myself taking a really long to pick out what I wanted, but I was really fascinated with what was going on and I wanted to know what they had done. It was something illegal that they had done – you don't talk like that unless you've done something or you're on drugs or you've done some kind of illegal activity. And so I was like trying to get closer and closer to them and I got caught by them when I got closer and they hushed and I thought, 'Ok, maybe I don't want to know what you're doing.' And I hurried up and bought my shit and I called Jay immediately and I was like, 'what's more interesting: observing criminals from afar and be very cold and just witness them kind of like animals in the wilderness or is it much more interesting to get in there with them and watch them intimately and be with them intimately?' "
Distribution Models are Changin'
Currently, "Sun Don't Shine" is without distribution, perhaps due to Seimetz's increasingly busy acting schedule. Having just finished work on Ti West's secret horror flick "The Sacrament," Seimetz will next have to move to L.A. to work on Christopher Guest's HBO series "Family Tree." Having been nominated at the 2012 Gotham Independent Film Awards for "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You," it seems only a matter of time before someone picks up the movie, though Seimetz says she is sifting through distribution offers and trying to sort out what will work best for her film or rather what will be the best way to sell her film.
"I think the same way that the model of independent film financing has changed so much and why we see more and more micro-budget stuff, that no one really cares as much as the filmmaker and I think the distribution model is falling into that category too," said Seimetz. "Which is to say that, even when you sell your movie, the people that are distributing your movie are trying to take on a bulk of movies as opposed to focusing on yours specifically. They're not taking on one at a time, they're taking on ten at a time and spending very little money on all ten movies. So, if you want your movie out there, it used to be that you went with the highest bidder, but it was a model that couldn't sustain itself anyway. And I think that things, just like the music industry, is rapidly changing, which I think scares the studios. I think if Peter Jackson can release a movie on his own with millions of dollars and compete with the heavy-hitters that pretty much was an indication that everything is shifting."
We hope it shifts towards releasing "Sun Don't Shine" sometime soon. Until then, check out the teaser trailer below.