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indieWIRE INTERVIEW: Cam Archer, Director of “Wild Tigers I Have Known”

indieWIRE INTERVIEW: Cam Archer, Director of "Wild Tigers I Have Known"

Director Cam Archer‘s “Wild Tigers I Have Known” is a coming-of-age story of a 13 year-old boy who learns to cope with his newfound sexuality his unrequited love for the cool kid in school. His past work include shorts “American Fame Pt. 2: Forgetting Jonathan Brandis” “Godly Boyish” and “Bobbycrush.” In his chat with indieWIRE, Archer talks about the surprises during filming that pleases him most, his coffee habit, and his likeness to Patti Smith and Josh Hartnett. IFC First Take opens the teen drama in limited release Wednesday, February 28.

Please introduce yourself…

I’m a 25 year-old male, I’m prone to depression and I live in Santa Cruz, California. I probably drink too much coffee. I enjoy bad weather. I’m also very tall, some say unusually tall–6’4” I believe. I grew up in a nice house with my parents and my two brothers. My parents are still married and I still talk to my brothers. Oh, I’m an Aries, if that’s helpful–I was born on April Fool’s Day.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?

I’ve always liked still photography. I think my interest in film really did comes from my fascination with, and love for, the still image. Film has become the perfect medium for me because it allows me to connect all of these different, unique images and make them into one, occasionally solid, thing. It becomes a living thing, really.

Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?

I’d love to write something for someone else. I think it would be great to act in something too. It would be such a new experience. Then again, I would probably be terrible, unless it was ‘background.’
I always joke with my filmmaker friends that they should cast me…one day the jokes will have to end.

Please talk about how the initial idea for “Wild Tigers I Have Known” came about…

It happened quickly. I based the film off of my short, “Bobbycrush” and I based that film off of another project I had been working on, but never really told anyone about. So it was kind of a combination of the two, really. I wrote the script in five days, but the end result was nothing to brag about. The script was accepted into the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab, which proved to be the most rewarding experience I’ve had with this project.

Really, there was no one source where everything in the film came from. For example, there’s a scene where the boys take a photograph of themselves with baseball bats. I took that photo with a friend as a kid. Does that mean everything in the film is from my own life? Hardly. I just wanted to make a film about being a lonely, daydreamer kid, and how a long-spent lonely childhood can lead to something of an identity crisis, or lack of identity. I think I achieved that fairly well.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film as well as your overall goals for the

We rented a house, turned each room into a set and started shooting here in Santa Cruz, California. My favorite moments that made it into the film were probably the least planned, and definitely not the product of any sort of goal. With this film, and most of the other projects I’ve done, I wait for the actors, or non-actors, to do something I could’ve never written. So I wait to be surprised. There’s a naturalness to Malcolm that comes off in a really great way, and it was clear to me that many of these times didn’t need to be messed up by some silly lyric I had taken and turned into dialogue.

There were times when we had 18 people on set and then there were times when it was just the actors, Aaron Platt (my cinematographer), Stephanie Volkmar (who’s been doing costumes and styling for my films for years) and myself. I think it’s important to keep things intimate. And there really is a difference between intimate and hurting. I hate the idea of making a film in front of an audience, and I’ve been on sets where it feels like that.

My goals? I’m not really sure. I don’t know if I create clear goals when I’m making art. Scenes, or ideas for scenes either work, or they don’t. Sure, you hope they work, but you must accept the things that don’t work, otherwise you’re not learning. A child of two educators, I seem to pride myself on the learning bit.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution?

The film was in my control, always. I made a conscious decision to have it that way. I also didn’t really know how to have it any other way. I’m starting to understand the importance of producers, thanks to Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy, who came onto the film just after I had completed my terror of a first cut. Distribution was difficult, but not more than any other stage in making the film. IFC Films responded pretty early, which I thought was great, and at the same time, a little hard to believe. They’ve always known that this film is not for everyone, yet they’ve stuck by it. I’m quite fond of them, naturally.

How did the financing and/or casting for the film come together?

Julia Kim and I cast the film. She had just finished working on Larry Clark‘s “Wassup Rockers,” and I emailed her to see if Larry had left behind a binder full of kids — And in fact he had!

A scene from Cam Archer’s “Wild Tigers I Have Known,” which IFC First Take will open in limited runs Wednesday. Image courtesy of IFC First Take.

Julia remembered Malcolm Stumpf, who plays Logan in the film, from an audition some years back. Malcolm had only done one movie, “The Next Best Thing,” where he played Madonna‘s son. I met with Malcolm and his mother and I liked both of them immediately. I think he was the first kid I met with, face to face–how fortunate, right?

Patrick White, who plays Rodeo, was the little brother of a friend of mine. I met with him once and knew he was right for the part. He seemed so genuine. realized very early on that Patrick is the kind of kid who would’ve never talked to me if we were the same age. How perfect, I thought.

We financed the film through individual investors. My good friend Djuna Bel raised a lot of the money. She’s raised money for me in the past as well. She was, and still is, a saint for what she accomplished! There would be no ‘Wild Tigers’ without her. Other money came from friends and friends of friends. Scott Rudin helped too.

What are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you??

Music is my biggest influence. I was listening to a lot of The Jacobites and various ’60s girl group stuff when I was writing the film. None of it ended up in the film, which is, I guess, not much of a surprise since the film was always changing.

Critics compare “Wild Tigers” to “Tarnation” fairly often, which I think is a bit odd. I really do love “Tarnation,” but it was never a major influence on “Wild Tigers.” Jonathan and I made such different works of art. Are our films unique, or somewhat unclassifiable? Sure. I made “Bobbycrush,” and similar shorts, both in style and theme, long before I ever saw “Tarnation.” If you look back at my early short films, it’s clear that “Wild Tigers” is simply an extension of those works. I told Jonathan about the comparison and I think we both just laughed it off. People love comparing new things to something they’ve already seen before. Why can’t something be new?

Again, still photographers, the still image, continue to influence my work. Work by people like Robert Frank, Nan Goldin, Sally Mann and other artists I was exposed to at school [influence me]. Everything I’ve done over the last four years comes initially from my love of stillness, or the still image.

What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker?

“Hard Action” comes to mind, but only because I like the way it sounds. I’m not even sure if it’s a real genre, but a friend of mine did once mention it. In all honesty, the next few films I have in mind are subtle, depressing, performance-driven works. So…more of the same for me, really.

What is your next project?

Pull” is my next project, which is about a woman who suffers from a hair pulling disorder called trichotillomania. Sissy Spacek is attached to play the lead in the film, which I could not be more thrilled about. I’m really ready to make this film. I hope it surprises people and, again, I hope I surprise myself while making it. We would like to shoot the film later this year.

What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?

No permits, no money and poor craft services (if any). It can also be a state of mind, I guess. There’s no one way to define it.

I saw copies of “Men in Black 2” for sale at a 99-cent store in Los Angeles recently and it really was a wonderful thing to see. Damn. That’s independent. There was such a spirit, a real energy to that wall of shrink-wrapped Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. I thought to myself, things are changing…

What are some of your all-time favorite films, and why? What are
some of your recent favorite films?

It changes all the time. I’m pretty obsessed with Woody Allen‘s, “Another Woman.” I watched it seven times last year and I’m not sure why, exactly. It probably has a lot to do with Gena Rowlands, who I think gives a flawless performance in the film. I also love that it’s about a woman who comes to the realization that very few people like her. It’s just…such a revealing, beautiful film. The film I’m writing now, which I hope to do after “Pull,” is very much inspired by that film.

3 Women” will always be on my list. I loved “Weapons” at Sundance this year–it is not to be missed! I also love Kevin Everson‘s films, “Cinnamon” must be released! I seek out artist’s that inspire and shock me at the same time. It’s so wonderful to watch an artist grow, or try something new. “Inland Empire” blew my mind, just like I thought it would. “Paranoid Park,” Gus Van Sant‘s new film, is such a tremendous work of art! I can’t wait for that film to be released to the world.

What are your interests outside of film?

Coffee, tea, reading, riding my bike and listening to music. I’m not so secretly middle-aged, I guess. Oh, I’m very into Fleetwood Mac. That takes up a lot of my time.

What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?

Do not obey anything.

Will you please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of?

I was in Idaho at a film festival earlier this year and I got told that I look like Patti Smith. Another time, at Sundance, I got told I look like Josh Hartnett. It’s the best of both worlds, right?

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