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Meet the 2011 SXSW Filmmakers | “Natural Selection” Director Robbie Pickering

Meet the 2011 SXSW Filmmakers | "Natural Selection" Director Robbie Pickering

Linda White, a barren Christian housewife, leads a sheltered existence in suburban Texas. Her world is turned upside-down when she discovers that her dying husband, Abe, has a 23-year old illegitimate son named Raymond living in Florida. Somewhere on the edge of guilt and loneliness, Linda grants Abe’s final wish and sets off on a quixotic journey to find Raymond and bring him back before her husband passes away. Along the way, Linda’s wonderfully bizarre relationship with Raymond will teach her more about herself than she ever imagined possible and force her to come to terms with her troubled past. [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the SXSW Narrative, Documentary and Emerging Visions sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 SXSW Film Conference and Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE 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.]

“Natural Selection”
Narrative Competition
Director: Robbie Pickering
Producer: Brion Hambel, Paul Jensen
Cast: Rachael Harris, Matt O’Leary, Jon Gries, John Diehl
Screenwriter: Robbie Pickering
Cinematographer: Steven Capitano Calitri
Editor: Michelle Tesoro
Sound: Sean McCormick
Music: iZLER

Responses courtesy of “Natural Selection” director Robbie Pickering.

An early dictator…

As a kid, I remember making fake “James Bond” movies on a camcorder with my sister and a few friends. I’d always do multiple takes and it would inevitably devolve into me being a real asshole and telling everyone they weren’t doing it right. Then I would end up doing all the parts myself and giving my sister rigorous instructions on how to use the camera. I was probably seven or eight at the time. Since then, I’ve calmed down a little bit. I also learned how to write, which was important.  And I don’t act anymore, which is best for everyone.

Channeling real-life grief into film…

I always wanted to do a film about my mother, who is a fairly religious housewife in Jersey Village, Texas. I’ve rarely seen a person like her portrayed onscreen in anything besides a totally satirical light, and I wanted to do her character justice. The problem for me was coming up with an emotional window into her story. Then, late one night I got a call from my mom telling me that her husband (my stepfather) had stage four terminal kidney cancer. I was immediately overtaken by the knowledge that, for the first time in her life, my mother would soon be alone. I channeled all of that anxiety and worry into an odd story about a woman who is faced with the prospect of loneliness and death for the first time and goes to great lengths to escape that reality. It was a kind of therapy for me. Of course, nobody would ever know that the whole thing is about my stepfather’s death by watching the film. Tonally, the picture is accurate in its depiction of the strange feeling of grief that accompanies any death – the death of a relationship, the death of a loved one – and the sense of rebirth that often follows.

Working with a shoestring budget…

From the beginning, I didn’t want to make another mumblecore movie. Even though I had a shoestring budget and no time to shoot the thing, I still wanted the film to look like the movies I grew up with. So I spent a lot of time with the script and storyboarding the entire film on my own and with my DP. But I knew that we did all of the prep work just so that everyone could get on the same page prior to production. By the time we got to set, the storyboards were often thrown out, and the actors improvised a great deal. But because everyone’s vision of the film was fairly unified, we were able to be more economical and get higher quality work done in a shorter amount of time while maintaining the “happy accident” factor that so often makes an indie film come alive in a way that a studio picture can’t.

The perils of R.V.’s…

The first day our lead actress came on set, we had these R.V.’s on loan from the town we shot in to serve as “trailers.”  Our lead actress stepped into her R.V. and immediately her foot went straight through the floorboard. Luckily, she wasn’t hurt. The next R.V. we brought for her had toilets that, shall we say, didn’t function. Still, she was a trooper and always bought the entire crew ice cream on Fridays. 

Future aspirations…

I’m always writing something new. I would actually love to do something with even less of a budget on an even more abbreviated time schedule. I know that sounds crazy to most people, but it sounds fun to me.

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