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SXSW ’10 | David Mitchell’s Feature Debut Cuts Close to Home

SXSW '10 | David Mitchell's Feature Debut Cuts Close to Home

For his first feature film “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” director David Robert Mitchell, set himself the task of making a teen film close to his heart by setting the film in his home state of Michigan. Mitchell strived for realism by shooting the entire film in Michigan, and cast a group of unknown actors from the area.

Set against the backdrop of mile roads, neighborhood blocks, abandoned factories and lakes which make up Metro-Detroit, this story follows four young people as they search for love and adventure on the last night of summer. Maggie, Rob, Claudia and Scott cross paths as they explore the suburban wonderland chasing first kisses, elusive crushes, popularity and parties. They are looking for the iconic teenage experience, but instead they discover the quiet moments that will later become the part of their youth that they look back on with nostalgia. [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]

Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening in the Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition and Emerging Visions sections at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

“The Myth of the American Sleepover”
Narrative Competition
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Screenwriter: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, Brett Jacobsen
Producer: Adele Romanski
Associate Producer: Justin Barber
Cinematographer: James Laxton
Editor: Julio Perez IV
93 Minutes

Director David Robert Mitchell on what prompted him to become a filmmaker and helm his feature debut, “The Myth of the American Sleepover.”

I became interested in filmmaking as a kid when my dad and uncle built an animation table in my basement. They animated dinosaur models and clay figures on super 8 film. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, and I wanted to make movies too. When I wrote “The Myth of the American Sleepover” I was interested in playing with the conventions of the clichéd teen experience. I wanted to both embrace and put a twist on those expectations. I tried to make a gentle and quiet film that entertains. We planned to cast primarily new actors from Michigan. We wanted to find real kids with screen presence that could lend the film a naturalism and honesty. Also, I wanted to show real Michigan neighborhoods. Growing up in Michigan, I was always frustrated that so-called “Michigan films” rarely filmed there. I wanted this to be regional and truthful. It was always my intention for the film to have a strong visual look. Instead of shooting in a documentary style, I wanted to place our cast of unknowns in a highly polished film world. I thought it’d be fun to see that happen. The combination doesn’t occur much. We’re really proud of our cast. For most of them, it’s the first movie they’ve ever been in. Many of them had never acted before. A lot of people thought we were crazy to plan a film that way, but we did what we wanted. I’m glad we did.

Mitchell on some of the challenges he faced directing his first feature…

Casting was tough. For about a year, we traveled back and forth from Los Angeles to Detroit where we held large open auditions. Every role had to be perfect and we were relying on mostly inexperienced high school and college kids to carry the film. In the end, I think they bring a charming naturalism to the movie, but it was a scary risk in pre-production. The film has a ton of locations and we spent about two months scouting and securing them. It was a really difficult task and my producer and I both breathed a sigh of relief when we finished.

What Mitchell hopes SXSW audiences will take away from the picture…

The film offers a nostalgic glimpse of our youth. It’s about quiet awkward moments and strained first kisses. I think audiences will see themselves in one or more of the large ensemble cast. I hope that it reminds people of the brighter parts of their youth.

and on his inspirations…

I was definitely inspired by the films of Truffaut. As a teenager, I watched a lot of foreign films on the late night CBC channel that reached into Metro Detroit and I saw a lot of interesting French cinema. I loved the fact that European films didn’t adhere to the pacing or plotlines of Hollywood movies. They seemed really cool to me then, and they still are.

What’s next for Mitchell…

I have a bunch of feature projects planned with my producer Adele Romanski. We want to keep making quality films that we care about. Hopefully people enjoy what we’re doing.

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