Last fall, word emerged that David Gordon Green was putting his executive producer stamp on “Land Ho!,” the new feature film from directors Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz. The pair have been making waves on the indie film scene over the past few years, with their most recent efforts “Pilgrim Song” and “Cold Weather” (respectively), drawing them particular praise and attention. Well, “Land Ho!” finds the directors joining forces and soon they’ll be hitting the Sundance Film Festival to unspool their collaboration.
This film is a roadtrip set in Iceland, and executive producer David Gordon Green’s “Prince Avalanche” is a remake of an Icelandic film. Was this a happy coincidence? What is the allure of Iceland cinematically and narratively?
Martha Stephens: It was a total coincidence. Iceland had been on my radar for several years and I was actually about to take a trip there when I was struck with the idea for the film. It wasn’t until a month later that we discovered the connection with David’s film. Iceland is so completely of another world; the landscape is haunting and moody, the countryside has a sense of mystery and magic. It’s visually stunning, so naturally we were drawn there for aesthetic reasons. Our movie is also very much about opposites, so we decided it would be humorous to place this bumbling pair and their juvenile jokes against an ethereal Icelandic backdrop.
Aaron Katz: The other appealing thing about Iceland was the idea that once these two guys get to such an isolated place they’re stuck with each other. We think of them as a real odd couple and it made so much sense to put them in an environment that completely cut them off from other people.
What are some of your favorite road trip films and how did they influence the movie? Were there any genre clichés you wanted to avoid?
MS: Throughout production we discussed “Planes, Trains And Automobiles, “Tommy Boy,” and “The Trip” quite frequently. We wanted “Land Ho!” to have a fun, breezy tone like both “Planes, Trains And Automobiles” and “Tommy Boy,” but also decided to take a more naturalistic approach like “The Trip.” By meshing ideas derived from more conventional Hollywood road trip films with our own sensibilities, I think we successfully avoided genre clichés.
AK: It also helped that Paul and Earl Lynn brought so much of their unique personalities to their roles. There are plenty of road trip conventions in the movie, but the characters have their own approach to each situation and that’s where a lot of the humor comes from.
Were there any specific challenges or surprises you found filming in Iceland?
MS: Both Aaron and I had grown accustomed to making movies on our own turf, so to speak: Aaron in Portland/New York, myself in various spots of Appalachia. Directing in a foreign country was a challenge in itself because we lacked a sort of home field advantage. We were however very fortunate that Icelanders tended to be open and welcoming of our production. There was something beneficially straightforward about being a pair of outsiders filming a movie about a pair of outsiders. Since the story is told through the eyes of non-natives, perhaps it came across as more honest.
AK: Before we arrived to shoot the movie I had never been to Iceland so, for me, everything was a new experience. Martha had visited a few months previous to scout and we had done extensive scouting remotely, but seeing all of these otherworldly places for the first time when scouting in person was inspiring. It informed every part of the process. Everything was all a result of where we were and keeping our eyes open for the unexpected.