March 19, 2018
Director David Franklin on the Challenges and Triumphs of Micro-Budget Filmmaking
Franklin discusses the five-year process of making his feature film directorial debut, As Far As The Eye Can See, out March 20 on VOD.
David Franklin has wanted to make a movie for a very long time. Since graduating from film school — the University of Texas at Austin — in 1995, he has had a successful career as an editor and producer. He worked at CBS’s 48 Hours for nearly a decade, taking home a News and Documentary Emmy Award in 2015 for producing and editing the episode “Perilous Journey.” But directing feature films had always been the dream — one that took a lot longer to become a reality than he originally anticipated.
“I’ve been trying to do this for twenty-three years,” Franklin tells me. “I wanted to make a movie, but I never found anything that I wanted to make a movie about before.”
As Far as the Eye Can See began as a conversation five years ago between Franklin and Paden Fallis, who wrote the film, when the two friends, both living and working in New York, found themselves between projects.
“I said, ‘let’s make a movie,’” Franklin recounts, “and he said, ‘okay, what’s it about?’” Franklin reminded Fallis of a script the latter had started working on a few years before about his grandfather’s life on a farm in northeast Texas but had ultimately shelved, unfinished. He had liked the evocative, northeast Texas setting, but had been unable to find a story in it. “It was a guy driving around on a tractor. And then he goes in the house. Nothing happens.”
But this time, Franklin had an idea for where it could go, which he pitched to Fallis: “What if it’s you — what if you’re living on a farm, but you still have all your hopes and your dreams and your aspirations — all that stuff that drove both of us to move to New York eventually, but, for some reason, you’re stuck on a farm?” Fallis liked the concept too and started working on a new draft.
This draft would lay the groundwork for As Far As The Eye Can See, which follows Jack Ridge (Jason London), a middle-aged former piano prodigy, now living alone on the overgrown remains of his family’s farm in northeast Texas, in the days leading up to his first public performance in years.
“I was like okay, so yes, this is the movie I’ve always wanted to make, let’s make it,” Franklin says. “This story really spoke to me. This is a story about somebody who is in their middle life, and their life is not what they thought it was going to be. I’m not living the life I thought I was going to be living when I was nineteen years old, you know? If you had asked me at nineteen, ‘what will you be doing when you’re 45?,’ it would not have have been this, because I would have thought I’d have made my first two, four, five, six movies by now. My life didn’t turn out that way. I haven’t made seven movies already. I’m not Steven Soderbergh; I didn’t win the Palme d’Or when I was 26. It sounds egotistical to have imagined yourself that way, but of course, at nineteen I was egotistical. I was a cocky kid. And Jack in the movie was a cocky kid. And then I also related to how far he had fallen from that. How he thought [his future] was going to be one thing and it turned out not to be, and he just didn’t know how to process it, he didn’t know what to do. I was definitely sort of floating around in my early forties, just like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing — what am I doing?’ I was working in television; I was making really good product. We were winning awards and making stuff that people really liked, with millions of people watching it every week. So it’s a little bit disingenuous to say I didn’t have anything going because that’s not true — so we exaggerated that for the movie — but I definitely related to that feeling of ‘this isn’t what I thought it was going to be.’”
While Franklin related to the film’s themes, Fallis’ connection to the film’s content was also uniquely personal. “A lot of [the film] is his story,” Franklin says of Fallis, a fifth-generation Texan. “I was the guiding person, the person who would ask, ‘what if we do this?’ and ‘what if we do that?’. He came up with all the characters — he knows the town, he knows the area. All the authenticity in the dialogue comes from his experience growing up and visiting his grandparents in rural Texas.”
Even with Fallis’ connection to the locations and communities depicted in the film, he and Franklin still did a large amount of research before the start of shooting. “We went down to Texas, travelled around and met farmers and just did a lot of homework to make sure that we didn’t screw it up, because I think there’s nothing worse than making a film that is of a place, and then you go to that place and show the film to the people and they go, ‘this is nothing like this place’,” Franklin explains. “I feel like you have an obligation as a storyteller if you pick a story that’s not your story. In this case, Paden’s working with his material, but I’m coming in from the outside, and I just don’t want to screw it up. I don’t want people to feel like I didn’t listen to them or I didn’t understand their world.”
With the story in place, their concerns became more logistical. “It became just a kind of challenge to see, like, can we do it? Can we make this movie? Is that possible? And the answer, apparently, is yes.”
Once they got to the production stage, Franklin strategized spending in whatever ways he could. The grip and electric department were just three people — “two of whom were interns” — and the film didn’t have a script supervisor. “That was just one whole department that didn’t exist on our movie.” The costuming budget was $500 for 19 speaking parts, and they shot the whole film in 20 days, with no pickup shots.
However, there were some concessions that Franklin was not willing to make. “We didn’t work weekends, and we didn’t work twelve-hour days. I’m really conscious of safety,” Franklin says. “Crew safety is more important than any movie. We were in pretty remote locations, so I didn’t want people driving home after a thirteen-hour day. I mean, I know how exhausted I am after a twelve, thirteen-hour day, and I didn’t want to be the one who was putting people in that situation, so we worked as hard as we could, but we also worked really smart.” As Far as the Eye Can See was filmed in the summer of 2015, just a few months after camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed in an on-set accident that also injured several other crew members, inspiring Franklin to be even more vigilant when it came to crew safety.
Originally, Franklin planned to do just about everything for the film, from directing to editing to sound mixing, himself. But once he had put together a rough cut, he and Fallis were so happy with the product that they thought it worth at least trying to raise enough funds to hire specialists, so that their finished project could be the best possible version of itself. They turned to Kickstarter and managed to raise over $17,000, all of which then went directly towards color correction and sound mixing. As Far As The Eye Can See went on to screen at multiple film festivals, including the Lone Star Film Festival, where it was named “Best Texas Film,” and the Hill Country Film Festival, where Jason London was awarded “Best Actor.”
When asked if one particular part of the filmmaking process was especially difficult, Franklin laughs. “Honestly, no, they were all difficult. There hasn’t been a stage that’s been easy. Making a film is really difficult, it’s really hard to do. I don’t think I quite appreciated [before] how hard it is. It really is a complicated process. There are so many little individual steps that have to go into the making of a film, and any one of them can derail the film. If you cast a film poorly, then you’re toast. If you don’t have a decent cinematographer, then your movie just won’t feel like a movie, and it won’t communicate with an audience. If your production designer drops the ball, then maybe people won’t believe what they’re looking at. I mean, to me, everything is about trying to get the audience into a story about characters that they care about.”
There is one thing, though, that Franklin claims have been especially easy, and that is the experience of screening the film to audiences, on the festival circuit and then later as part of an 11-city theatrical tour. “One of the beautiful things about seeing the movie with an audience is that you can tell that they like it because they laugh. They have these involuntary reactions. You hear people gasp, you hear people laugh, you hear it get dead silent when it’s supposed to get dead silent,” he says, also mentioning that he enjoyed being able to talk with audience members after screenings. He recounts one particular encounter with an audience member after a screening at a college in Illinois that’s stuck with him. “There was a line of people who wanted to talk after the movie, and I was so excited because it’s like wow, these kids are, you know, twenty years old, nineteen years old, and they really want to talk about this movie. One kid said he doesn’t go to see independent films. He says, ‘I just go see the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I thought this was really intoxicating,’ and I was like, intoxicating? Wow, okay, I’ll take it. I mean that’s not a word that I was expecting to come out of your mouth, but I’ll take it.”
In spite of all the difficulties, Franklin says making As Far As The Eye Can See has been one of the greatest experiences of his life. “I have never been as happy in my life as I was trying to make this movie. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and it was also one of the very best things I have ever done.” While it might have taken him longer to make his debut as a feature filmmaker than he originally anticipated, now that he has gotten started, he never wants to stop. “Talk about something setting its hooks in you, right? It got its hooks in me, and now all I want to do is make another one.”
As Far As The Eye Can See, written by Paden Fallis and directed by David Franklin, will be released March 20 through Video-on-Demand, distributed by Gravitas Ventures.
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