James Mottern's film Trucker (TFF 2008) will be released in select cities this Friday. A truly independent film, Trucker was shot in just 19 days, and stars Michelle Monaghan, Benjamin Bratt, Joey Lauren Adams, and Nathan Fillion.
Tribeca Film asked Mottern to give us his take on the state of independent film today.
James Mottern: Filmmaking the Hard Way
When you make an independent film, you wonder if anyone will go and see it. You wonder if anyone will like it. And people tell you why people will or won't go see it, and people tell you why people will or won't like it. They also tell you there is no money, no time, a bad economy, fewer distributors; they tell you how you should make your film so more people will go see it, or more people will like it; they tell you certain movies cannot be made anymore; they tell you the sky is falling. So many voices, so many words, ringing, ringing in the ears of filmmakers since the beginning of the making of films—voices consistently proven wrong when beauty trumps business, when original ways of seeing suddenly change the landscape of film, change the way we perceive the world, and literally change the world.
When John Cassavetes’ Shadows premiered in 1959, it ushered in an era of independent American film that has lasted 50 years—just a tiny film made by a group of actors who saw beauty in what they were doing at that moment in time. People who ignored the voices and without fanfare or greed created something honest and true.
In making, and now promoting, my film Trucker, I often think of Cassavetes fighting to get his film Faces distributed in the United States. He'd take it from city to city, four-walling it in the hopes of attracting a buyer, he and Gena Rowlands hanging posters, talking to people, always talking, promoting it one handshake at a time. And his vision—this new vision—was constantly rejected in America until the film screened at the New York Film Festival, where it was finally embraced and went on to become a seminal film of modern marriage—replicated in varying degrees in other movies like Ordinary People and Kramer vs. Kramer.
When you are making your own film you must find these stories and hear these tales, as it is a reminder that beauty is often hard fought and the truth does not come easy. It also makes you realize that there were far better filmmakers that had it a hell of a lot tougher than you! From Shadows to Mean Streets to Reservoir Dogs, those filmmakers—and their actors—who sought the truth in their own work are the ones whose visions made the business of movies the greatest American export of all time! Cassavetes, Scorsese, Tarantino, and many others have influenced generations—and I don't just mean generations of filmmakers.
I made my movie in 19 days outside Los Angeles for very little money. Making a film in such a short period of time is difficult, but there was not one moment that I thought it could not be done and done well. Some of the filmmakers I mentioned had made far more complicated films, in much less time and with less money. But what they all had in common was one thing: beauty. They looked to their actors and crews to help them make something outstanding, unapologetic, singular and honest, unmarred by the voices in their heads that were not their own. Something they believed in.
My film is loosely about things like freedom and the loss of it. About love and the loss of it—and what comes after. Redemption. It's funny in parts. The performances are very strong and the photography is exquisite, in my opinion. I'm sure it is imperfect. But what I am most proud of is that I told the truth in it, as much as I knew how. And I could do it rightfully and faithfully because of this long and proven track record in which to take comfort.
Maybe I'll change my mind about it all. After all, my film hasn't come out yet. But for now, I'll stick to my guns—and let the sky fall where it may.
James Mottern has written and directed award-winning documentaries for a variety of media outlets, including BBC and Discovery Networks. He is the former producer of the annual Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. He is the recipient of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Mottern has several projects in development with studios, including an original screenplay Boomerang, financed by Mandate Pictures and produced by Bona Fide Productions.
Trucker opens in select cities on Friday, October 9. In New York, James Mottern and Michelle Monaghan will be in attendance for a Q&A following the evening showings on Friday (10/9) and Saturday (10/10) at the Village East Cinema.
Watch the trailer: