A dark comedy which chronicles the final day in the life of self-proclaimed “artist and genius” K. Roth Binew, “The Living Wake” is currently screening in limited release. Directed by first-time filmmaker Sol Tryon, the film stars Mike O’Connell, Jesse Eisenberg, Jim Gaffigan and Ann Dowd, and has been receiving warm notices on the festival circuit – winning the Feature Film Award for Comedic Vision at the Austin Film Festival, the Heineken Red Star Award at CineVegas, and the Audience Award at the Woodstock Film Festival. indieWIRE discussed the film with Tryon via e-mail.
Please introduce yourself…
I grew up making short films but, coming from a small town in Maine, I never really thought it was possible to do it for a career. The moment I discovered it was possible was when I did a young filmmakers workshop and met people working in the field. It was in the summer after my first year of college and I immediately decided to change direction and enroll in a two year associate of arts degree program at The International Film and TV Workshops.
From that moment on, my life has been completely focused on making movies. The amazing combination of inspiration, collaboration and artistic expression that you can only get by making a film is absolutely intoxicating. While in school I was fortunate enough to work on a couple of independent features, gaining valuable experience and connections. When I finished school, I moved to NYC and began working in the Production Department on more indie features. I decided to continue my education while working in the field, wanting to learn as much as possible about every aspect of the industry so that when I got my shot at making my own films, I would have a wide ranging understanding of the entire process. I have worked as a Production Assistant, Assistant Director, Line Producer, Producer and now Director. The challenges that come with being an independent filmmaker are so great that I firmly believe you can’t become a filmmaker simply because it is something you want to do, it has to be something you must do. For me, I have no other choice.
My identity is so intertwined with my profession that there is no longer any separation. I live to make films and I make films to live.
What prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?
“The Living Wake” began as a one man theatrical show that Mike O’Connell had written. It was based on one of his comedic personalities and screamed for a larger stage. My good friend Peter Kline brought me the script along with some videos of Mike’s stand up performances. Peter and Mike wanted to discuss the idea of making it into a film and I immediately fell in love with the content, concept and Mike’s amazing performance abilities. We discussed how the film should come together and developed the universe it should unfold in.
From there, Peter and MIke wrote the first draft of the script and we were off. We continued to develop the script together and when we felt ready to give birth to the movie, we began looking for financing. Eventually, after a couple of close calls with larger companies who were interested in the project, we realized that in order to make the film the way we wanted to, without compromising our creative intentions, we were just going to have to go out and do it all ourselves. Peter, Mike and I raised $20,000 and dove in full force. We moved to Maine to begin scouting locations, booking local cast and crew, and continuing the search for more financing.
After a month we had found our locations, hired the majority of our crew, cast most of the supporting roles in the film and raised enough money to move forward into production. Once we had solid dates, everything started to materialize. By the time the cameras were rolling, we had created our own little zany community, where everyone seemed to strangely fit into the collective whole and creative ideas were forming organically. From there it was as if we let the film carry us, and it took on a life of it’s own, both enchanting and wildly original.
Elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
I believe that all comedy, however absurdist in nature, is rooted in some form of realism and truth. Like all great parables, however outrageous they may seem, there is a golden nugget of honesty and truth that is at the root of the story, and that truth was what was so striking about this story. I wanted this film to appeal to the intrinsic nature in all of us, while at the same time making us laugh really hard.
In order to do this, it was very important for me to capture a storybook like feel for “The Living Wake.” I knew this film needed to be beautiful and touching in order to accentuate and contrast the somewhat absurdist feel of the comedy. In order for the content to be not only hilarious, but transcend to something more weighty and universal in message, the visual landscape had to be both memorable and timeless. I visualized the characters in a picturesque rural environment that was both fairy tale and oddly familiar. Using that setting freed the actors to build on the comedic wit from the script without worrying about what was socially conventional or convincing when delivering their performance. As a result, they created a very dynamic performance by inhabiting this alternate world and in a sense gave us permission to believe in the unbelievable.
What were your biggest challenges in developing the project?
The largest challenge was convincing people to invest and believe in a film with a first time director, starring a relatively unknown actor and taking place in a world that must have been hard to imagine unless you were Mike, Peter or myself. We never wanted to shy away from the unique essence of the story and we managed to preserve our artistic integrity.
How do you think audiences will take to the film?
I think audiences will feel appreciated when watching this film. It’s a little morsel of goodness to feed what I believe to be a malnourished audience right now. I think audiences are starving for films that allow them to ponder, explore and enjoy a new world. We made this film with the utmost respect for our audiences ability to think and be entertained at the same time. It’s the kind of film where seeing it for a second or third time you will still find new things that you didn’t pick up on in previous viewings.
Are there any films that you consider inspirational to you as you made your film?
There were several films that were inspirational to me in making this film. There was the wildly witty Withnail and I; the paradoxically playful darkness of Harold and Maude; the amazing attention to detail in “The Royal Tannenbaums” (really in all Wes Anderson films) and the cinematic beauty of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
What are your future projects in the pipeline?
I enjoy all aspects of filmmaking and am excited to have opportunities to both produce and direct. I have helped build a company, Mangusta Productions, that works to help indie filmmakers get their movies financed, produced and distributed. Along with my partners Giancarlo Canavesio and Blake Ashman-Kipervaser we have produced two documentaries (“2012: Time For Change” and “Being In The World”) this past year that we are preparing to self-distribute. In addition, I am about to begin pre-production on my next film, “Kick The Can,” as director. The perfect follow up to “The Living Wake,” “Kick The Can” is a coming of age comedy where an escaped convict and a state trooper’s son speed through 1950s America on the back of a stolen Texas Red Rocket, risking everything for friendship, the love of a woman, and grape soda.