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indieWIRE’s Bigger Project of the Day: John Slattery & Zach Gilford Form an Awkward “Family Tree”

indieWIRE's Bigger Project of the Day: John Slattery & Zach Gilford Form an Awkward "Family Tree"

Each week, indieWIRE usually gathers up four or five projects in progress to feature in a single column. Now it’s going to be a daily feature, so there will be a singular spotlight on one project each day. Most Fridays, the daily project will give attention to a bigger film in production that has financing.

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“Family Tree”

Writer/Director: Brian Savelson
Producers: Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani
Production Design: Russell Barnes
Cast: John Slattery, Zach Gilford, Jena Malone, Gabrielle Union

In “Family Tree,” the first feature from writer-director Brian Savelson, an estranged father (“Mad Men”‘s John Slattery) and son (“Friday Night Light”‘s Zach Gilford) duo mistakenly end up at the same vacation country home. Over the awkward weekend getaway, the two end up meeting each other’s girlfriends (played by “Bring It On”‘s Gabrielle Union and “Donnie Darko” love interest Jena Malone).

“I’d written a few other scripts that were well-received that were larger stories,” Savelson told indieWIRE. “Producers would say they would cost $5 or 6 million, and they were nervous.  Instead of spending that for my first feature, I gave myself some parameters to keep it small — the cast small, the location small — and I wrote ‘Family Tree.'”

“I recognized it would be a long process to get a feature off the ground, and I was committed to do it no matter how long it would take.

“Just under two years ago, I met my producer, Anish.  It feels like an eternity, but it takes years to get to production, and then production is just a blur.  You’re planning for something and you only have days to do it,” Savelson added.

Savelson just got back from a stint in the Hudson Valley, where he was shooting for 18 days spread out over the month. With the help of the Hudson Valley Film Commission, Laurent Rejto and Meira Blaustein at the Woodstock Film Festival, Savelson assembled a crew and group of actors. Included in the team was a rockstar intern that Savelson insisted get an indieWIRE shout out: Zev Vel, who Savelson said was the hardest working person on set.

As for casting four well-respected leads in his first feature, Savelson said, “I was very particular about who I wanted to play these roles.  The whole film is these four characters.  There’s only one scene where there’s other characters, so they had to be just right.  They’re just pitch perfect for the parts and also fantastic performers.  For some of them, my means to reaching them was less traditional and informal. For others, there was a more traditional casting route – through casting directors and all that. 

“Before anything, it was thinking about who would really bring these parts to life with a depth that could sustain the whole movie.  There’s not that many actors that can do that.  Luckily, the character and the actor have become indistinguishable for each one of them.”

And as for the awkward, semi-scandalous nature of the story, Savelson commented, “People have joked that it’s autobiographical just to bug me. It’s not autobiographical.”

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