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Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #26: Civil War Drama ‘The Retrieval’ Director Chris Eska on the Intensive Search for the Perfect Main Actor

Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #26: Civil War Drama 'The Retrieval' Director Chris Eska on the Intensive Search for the Perfect Main Actor

Texan filmmaker Chris Eska brings his sophomore feature to SXSW after winning big at the Spirit Awards in 2007 for his debut, “August Evening.”

What it’s about: On the outskirts of the Civil War, a boy is sent north by a bounty hunter gang to retrieve a wanted man.

About the filmmaker: I grew up in a picturesque village
called Ottine, Texas (pop. 98). My UCLA grad school thesis “Doki-Doki”
was filmed on the streets and trains of Tokyo and premiered on the
national PBS series Independent Lens. Our first feature, “August
Evening”, won the $50,000 Target Filmmaker Award and was nominated for
two Independent Spirit Awards, where it took home the Cassavetes Award.

That’s my standard bio, but you might gain more insight as to what kind
of filmmaker I am from this: I’m very thorough. Very. My casting
assistants and I went to every middle school within 200 miles of Austin
and either held on-campus auditions or used the Freedom of Information
Act to look through yearbooks and send letters to the kids’ parents to
encourage them to come to our auditions. We saw hundreds if not
thousands of non-actor boys.
But to my chagrin, I found my perfect Will during an old-fashioned
run-of-the-mill audition in Los Angeles. Still, it was the first time
Ashton had been on film so it was still very exciting to guide him
through the process.

What else do you want audiences to know about your film? It’s less of a war film and more of an emotional suspense film. All my films originate from themes that are important in my life, and
then I search for the setting and characters that will most highlight
the emotions. My Japanese-language film [Doki-Doki] was about isolation
in Los Angeles, my Spanish-language film [August Evening] was about
changing families in Texas and Japan. With this film, I initially
considered setting the story on the contemporary Texas border or in
southern India in the 1970’s before realizing that this historical rural
American setting would best draw out the emotions.

What was your biggest challenge in developing this project? Aside from repeatedly trying to explain to Los Angeles actors
that shooting in February can sometimes actually be cold, I’d say the
massive scale relative to our budget was the hardest thing–period
clothing, visual effects, horses, firearms, and all exterior shooting in
the freezing cold in the middle of nowhere. Still, it’s important to
challenge yourself and push into new territory.

What would you like SXSW audiences to come away with after seeing your film? My main reason for making films is to make a connection with
the audience, move them, and hopefully encourage them to think about how
we live our lives. When I was writing the film, I was thinkging to
myself: “Have you fully evaluated your life to discover if you’re truly
doing what’s best for you and those you care about, or are you just
adhering to societal norms without proper consideration?”

Did any specific films inspire you?

Maybe not specific films, but I’m always influenced by Ozu, the Dardenne brothers, David Lean, Satyajit Ray, and others.

What camera did you shoot on?

A very persnickety RED ONE that liked to reboot every few minutes.

Did you crowdfund? 

No, we’re old school.

What did you edit on?

Adobe Premiere CS5 and CS6

What do you have in the works?

I’ve been working on a different kind of spy film because I
love the genre but feel we’re kind of drowning in run-of-the-mill spy
stuff right now. I’m also thinking about dusting off an old script
about exploring a mysterious underwater cave system.

Indiewire invited SXSW directors to tell us about their films,
including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re
doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on March 8 for the latest profiles.

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