Writer/director Chad Hartigan’s second feature (after 2008’s “Luke and
Brie are on a First Date”) “This is Martin Bonner” received plenty of
attention at Sundance this year, where it won the Audience Award for
Best of NEXT.
Starring Paul Eenhoom and Richmond Arquette
(whose performances were praised), the film follows the titular
character (Eenhoom), a 50-something man who moves to Reno and takes a
job helping transition newly released prisoners back into the real
world. Arquette plays one such prisoner, who soon forms a tight bond
with Bonner. The drama is currently playing in limited release. Below, Hartigan shares a scene from the film.
SYNOPSIS: “This is Martin Bonner” is about a man in his late fifties that has to move to Reno, Nevada for a new job. He’s divorced and his kids are adults so he has to start over completely alone and the film looks at how someone that age might try and make new friends. Meanwhile, the job he moves there for is working for a non-profit that helps prisoners transition to life on the outside and so there’s another character named Travis, who’s in the program and just released who also doesn’t have any friends. The two men cross paths and start to form an unlikely support system for each other.
SEQUENCE: This particular scene comes early in the film as we are still getting to know Martin and observing how he spends his time in this new environment. My dad had a brief period where he was unemployed and one thing he did to make extra money was buying up little knick-knacks at auctions and reselling them on eBay, which I thought was a wonderful and specific piece of character so I wanted to incorporate it. The first fifteen minutes of the movie really hinge on the audience getting behind Martin Bonner as a character and a screen presence, and the way this sequence unfolds, slowly revealing this strange, habitual process, is a way that we tried to do that.
WHY: In the first draft of the script, Martin tells his daughter in the previous scene that he’s going to check out an auction and explains why, but my friend Josh Locy reminded me of the great, timeless piece of advice to “show, not tell.” That was on my mind anyway because I had recently been to a small film festival in Germany where I watched a few films without English subtitles and really took away a stark lesson in the value of visual storytelling. So I took the lines out and let the audience figure out what’s going on as it happens. In the end, I really like that this whole stretch of film plays out to just the auction ambience and Keegan DeWitt’s score, yet it really feels like a lot of information about Martin is being expressed.
SHOOTING IT: The auction was actually one of the more stressful sequences to film. A place called Anchor Auctions in Reno graciously let us film during a real auction and it was the last one before Thanksgiving, which turned out to be their busiest of the year. We got there early, set Paul in his seat and quickly rattled off a few shots of him raising his number before any actual bidding began. Then we just got as many different setups as we could once the auction began and it’s a credit to cinematographer, Sean McElwee, that it looks like we had two or three cameras in there. About an hour in, we asked the auctioneer to hold up our prop lamp and we thought he was going to warn everyone not to actually bid but he just went for it like it was part of the real thing and luckily nobody did bid except me and the gaffer that we had placed on the opposite end of the room. Ten seconds later, he was on to the next thing and I was maybe 50% sure we got what we needed to cut together. All told we were only there for about two hours, but the scene and the location both add an incalculable amount of production value to the film.
“California Split” was a big inspiration to me so this sequence is my tip of the hat to Mr. Altman.