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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

By Indiewire | Indiewire March 5, 2013 at 9:11AM

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

"The Retrieval"
SXSW "The Retrieval"

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 festival.

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


This article is related to: SXSW, Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers






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