Rods & Cones

Sometimes creative projects crop up out of nowhere. Steven Soderbergh recently said his action movie Haywire came about because he was fired off Moneyball, and suddenly found himself with nothing to do. Well, I wasn’t fired off anything (as a matter of fact, I seem to have a pretty cool project coming up this summer), but a wintertime creative endeavor did indeed spring out of nowhere for me.

It’s a feature film called Rods & Cones, after the mechanism of the eye, and is a collaboration with one of North Carolina’s best (and busiest) actors, Rebecca Morris. I’ve been wanting to work with Rebecca for eons (she had a supporting part in a short film I directed a couple years ago) but this is our first chance to work together as a creative team. The movie’s about a recently-divorced woman who reconnects with her very odd brother in wild, woolly Western North Carolina. She learns he’s embroiled in some significant and nasty trouble, and in the process of helping him she discovers a bit about herself, as well. It’s a bit like Nancy Drew crossed with Terrence Malick.

The fun thing for me is that the crew is very minimal: I’m the co-writer, the camera op, DP and director. Production designer extraordinaire Shane Meador, among others, will be there as well. So much time on a film set is spent explaining ideas to people — and sometime re-explaining — that it felt good to set out to do much of this stuff myself. In my day job running Harrow Beauty Motion Pictures, I’ve gotten very good at being what we call a ‘one man band,’ and so Rods & Cones is an experiment to see how fast we can move when there’s no team to whom I need to explain. Much like the brilliant French New Wave filmmaker Eric Rohmer, who in his later films eventually pared down from a full crew to just a camera and an audio guy, we’ll just … get to work.

When you take this sort of pared-back approach to filmmaking, certain rules apply: rather than create a space, you look for a location that really is what you’re looking for. In this manner, locations rise to the level of production design — rivers, cabins, train bridges, horse farms and small towns that seem to exist outside of time. The story should be modern-day, however, so there are no costumes or period cars. And the drama is better served when it’s less about external issues, and more about personal discovery.

In other words, if you’re smart about the way you approach storytelling, anything is possible. Working with a crew of 60 is a collaborative thrill, but it can also be painfully slow. A small film can be a nice little chamber piece that is as good at what it does as Django Unchained is as what it does.

So wish us luck on this admittedly modest but very noble endeavor. For myself, I can’t wait to get started.