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Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | “The Off Hours” Director Megan Griffiths

Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | "The Off Hours" Director Megan Griffiths

In the languid world of the night shift at a highway diner in the Pacific Northwest, Francine’s small-town life consists of quickies in public restrooms and pouring coffee for truckers and townies. And the inertia isn’t limited to Francine; it extends to the diner owner, a short-order cook, a Serbian waitress, and Francine’s roommate. What they want is out of reach—or is it that they’ve lost track of wanting anything at all? When Oliver, a banker turned big-rig driver, becomes a diner regular, he sparks hope in Francine, introducing the possibility for change.

“The Off Hours” takes a precise sense of place and a moody atmosphere and impressively creates a complete environment. Writer/director Megan Griffiths draws complex characters, and she stays true to them, respecting their shortcomings and yearnings for connection. Amy Seimetz alluringly commands the film as Francine, a woman whose liberation from her mundane existence is long overdue. [Synopsis courtesy of the Sundance Institute].

“The Off Hours”
Director: Megan Griffiths
Screenwriter: Megan Griffiths
Cast: Amy Seimetz, Ross Partridge, Tony Doupe, Scoot McNairy, Lynn Shelton, Gergana Mellin
Executive Producer: Garr Godfrey, Ed Kim, Aron Michael Thompson, Chris Purkiss, Lincoln Uyeda
Producer: Lacey Leavitt, Mischa Jakupcak, Joy Saez
Composer: Joshua Morrison
Cinematographer: Benjamin Kasulke
Production Designer: Ben Blankenship
Costume Designer: Rebecca Luke

Responses courtesy of “The Off Hours” director Megan Griffis.

The film industry, via Ohio and Seattle…

I’ve always been a writer in one form or another for as long as I can remember.  At some point writing stories evolved into taking photos.  By the time I hit college, the two merged and the natural progression was telling stories with images.  There wasn’t a film production program where I attended undergrad so I studied everything that related to the field–film history, photography, video production–and once I graduated I applied to film school.  Once I started making narrative films, I knew that I had found my place.  I earned my MFA in film production from Ohio University School of Film and then somewhat randomly decided to move to Seattle.  I didn’t know if Seattle was a place I could work in film, but I knew I liked it there and thought it was worth a shot.  Ten years later, I’m still based there and have fallen deeply in love with the Seattle film community.  It’s difficult to imagine a better or more supportive place to make films.

Working the night shift…

I’ve held a lot of odd jobs over the years, and when I started writing the script for “The Off Hours” I was working the night shift at a film lab.  I worked alongside several people who had worked nights for years and years, and the culture of the night shift began to really interest me.  Working while most people sleep seemed to either attract or create a certain personality type.  There was a loneliness and isolation that I saw in these individuals that really intrigued me, and I started to invent characters who populated the night-shift world so that I could dig in a bit more and see what may lead people to this life, or why someone might just find themselves there unintentionally.  “The Off Hours” is the film that evolved from this curiosity.

Finding the right team of people…

I am first and foremost interested in character, so finding the right actors to portray the characters in my script was always my number one priority.  I spent about seven years living with the script for “The Off Hours” in my head, and during that period I’d see people in films and mentally place them in the world of my script.  When we eventually made the film the casting process was highly instinctual.  I never auditioned Amy Seimetz for the lead role–I just saw her in “Alexander the Last” and knew she’d be right.  It was similar for many other cast members and the key crew.  I’d worked with Ben Kasulke (the director of photography), Ben Blankenship (production designer), and Rebecca Luke (costume designer) in the past and knew they’d have the right sensibilities for the project.  In general, I wanted to bring together a team of people that were not only talented, but also pleasant and funny and smart.  The creative atmosphere that is fostered on a set where everyone feels valued and respected contributes directly back into good performances, from the cast and crew alike.

“The Off Hours” director Megan Griffiths.

The challenges of fundraising…

The single biggest hurdle in the making of the film was the fundraising process.  I have worked on many other films in a variety of capacities, as have all of my producers.  When we teamed up to make “The Off Hours,” we were determined to learn from the mistakes (and successes) of the films that we’d worked on in the past.  We developed our business plan and went about trying to raise money beginning in about 2007.  Our decision to make the film coincided with the collapse of the worldwide economy, and finding people who were willing to invest in independent film was near impossible.  We struggled for years to overcome this problem until eventually deciding to sidestep it altogether.  My good friend Lynn Shelton was a great supporter of the project from its inception, and my producers and I were very inspired by her choices on her film “Humpday.”  She is a very vocal advocate of the idea of taking your fate into your own hands and “greenlighting” your own projects, so to speak.  When we suggested the idea of moving ahead on our own terms, she couldn’t have been more supportive, even coming on board as a consulting producer and making critical introductions to cast.  If we were hadn’t reframed our approach to the project we’d still be banging our heads against the same brick wall and wouldn’t have a film at all, so I’m very grateful to both Lynn and the film’s three producers, who had to be incredibly resourceful in order to pull the production together under this new structure.

An eco-conscious shoot…

I don’t know if I have anecdotes, but one note of interest regarding our production was our focus on running a sustainable set.  Working on other films over the years and seeing the amount of waste created by the average film production, I really wanted to make it a priority to shoot “The Off Hours” in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.  We recycled both on set and in the production office, the crew used reusable coffee mugs and water bottles donated by a local company, we stocked the craft service table with local and organic foods, and we almost exclusively used second-hand furniture and clothing for set design, props and costumes, most of which we donated back to charity once the film wrapped.  “The Off Hours” is the first film to receive the SSFTag, which is the seal of approval from the Sustainable Style Foundation and honors our commitment to sustainability.  

A film audiences can relate to…

I believe “The Off Hours” touches on themes that people from all walks of life can relate to.  So many individuals struggle to find their passion in life, or have found themselves living a life they never intended.  I hope that audiences will see the film and take a moment to consider if they are living they life they want, or the life they have settled for.  Going even further, I’d hope that the film might serve as a reminder that it’s never too late to alter your circumstances and you don’t need an excuse to make a change that will make you happy.

Finding a balance for the film through watching others’ work…

I’m a huge fan of “All the Real Girls,” which was a visual and tonal inspiration for the movie, and “You Can Count on Me,” which strikes such an amazing balance between drama and comedy and features such beautiful writing and acting.

Upcoming projects…

I’ve just completed a feature script called SADIE that I’d like to direct next, and I have a few other personal projects in development as well.  

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the World Dramatic & Documentary Competitions and NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions.]

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