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Sundance ’10 | “Welcome to the Rileys” Director Jake Scott’s Filmmaking Blood Runs in the Family

Sundance '10 | "Welcome to the Rileys" Director Jake Scott's Filmmaking Blood Runs in the Family

Son of director Ridley Scott and brother of up-and-coming director Jordan Scott (“Cracks”), Jake Scott has established himself as one of the most sought after music video and commercial directors around. His list of credits include videos for R.E.M., U2, The Cranberries, Tori Amos and Radiohead. “Welcome to the Rileys” marks his second feature film.

Trauma transforms us. Years after their teenage daughter’s death, Lois and Doug Riley, an upstanding Indiana couple, are frozen by estranging grief. She isolates herself in their immaculate suburban home. He philanders with a local waitress, anesthetizing pain with easy passion. When he loses his mistress to cancer, Doug, beset by further heartache, escapes to New Orleans on a business trip. Compelled by urgencies he doesn’t understand, he insinuates himself into the life of an underage hooker, becoming her platonic guardian. Meanwhile, Lois summons all of her remaining force to overcome agoraphobia and venture south to reclaim her marriage.

Exacting performances from three consummate actors (James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo, and Kristen Stewart) infuse this emotionally raw, gently humorous drama with penetrating humanity. Director Jake Scott’s uncompromising film refuses to flinch from difficult moments or tie neat bows around its characters. Instead, it reveals how taking risks and leaving our comfort zone can become a profound path to healing the human heart. [Synopsis courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival]

“Welcome to the Rileys”
U.S. Dramatic Competition
Director: Jake Scott
Screenwriter: Ken Hixon
Cast: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo
Executive Producers: Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Steve Zaillian, Ken Hixon
Producers: Michael Costigan, Giovanni Agnelli, Scott Bloom
Line Producer: Bergen Swanson
Cinematographer: Christopher Soos
Editor: Nicolas Gaster
110 minutes

Director Jake Scott on what inspired him to become a filmmaker and his Sundance film “Welcome to the Rileys”…

I’ve been a commercial and music video director since 1992. Upon seeing Herzog’s “Aguirre, Wrath of God” at 11 years old, I wanted to direct. I come from a filmmaking family so was fortunate to be exposed to great filmmakers at a young age. I came up through the art department and for some time worked as a designer before directing.

I read “Welcome to the Rileys” and felt immediately connected to Doug, the main character. This has much to do with being a father of four children, including two daughters. I was very interested in exploring the role of a father as a subject and what it must mean to suffer the loss of a child, which in this story is an only one.

“Welcome to the Rileys” director Jake Scott. Image courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.

I spent many hours in discussion with Ken Hixon, the writer, investigating our own feelings to do with fatherhood, loss, grief, marriage, infidelity, forgiveness; all major themes. That we were able to engage one another’s trust was crucial. For me, this film would prove to be new territory, character driven, something requiring emotionally authentic performances and restraint in the area I’ve often felt most comfortable in, which is visual.

The biggest challenge was really getting the film financed. The battle being finding partners who got the film and were willing to let us cast it the way we wanted. Many potential investors were wary of the story, often wanting assurances that the film would have humor or an angle. The other more tricky challenge was the cast. I felt strongly that the story deserved a truthful depiction of the characters lives and not something perhaps more commercially appealing. This proved difficult, particularly as Kristen had not yet appeared in “Twilight” when we cast her and Jim (Gandolfini) had only recently come off “The Sopranos”. I was appalled at the bizarre ‘currency’ of casting and what a certain actor ‘means,’ especially when we were a smaller project. To me, these were the right actors for the roles and that was that. I think I really lucked out when Melissa Leo agreed to do it. She was one of the first names I wrote down for Lois but again, too difficult to sell. “Frozen River” changed all that. Meanwhile we had a breakthrough in financing when I sat with Scott Bloom and Gio Agnelli from Argonaut. They bit and became real partners in the process. We ended up with a great cast and very supportive partners.

Scott on his film’s target audience…

Honestly I hope the film reaches any audience that watches it on a truthful human level. I don’t expect to please everyone but I do believe in the film so it’s always a buzz when people like it. I love the performances so I’d really like the audience to respond to them.

Scott on his inspirations…

Wim Wenders “Paris Texas”, Agnes Varda’s “Vagabonde”, Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats The Soul” and “The Jungle Book”.

…and what comes next…

I have a project in development about Peter Tosh (The Wailers) because Reggae is my other love. And one based on an article by Jonathan Green called “Murder at 19000 ft” about the murder of a young Tibetan Nun. And a lifelong desire to make a film about Dylan Thomas.

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

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