Filmmakers in Focus - Sequoia, Things People Do and We'll Never Have Paris

Written by Jim Kolmar | February 25, 2014

The three films in today's Filmmakers in Focus are essentially portraits of people trying to wrangle control of their own fates. These three very different films - a pensive meditation on the life of crime; a deceptively light tale of a young woman forced to confront the fragility of life; and a very human story of the ludicrous and frustrating vacillations of love and romance.

Meet the filmmakers behind Sequoia. Things People Do and We'll Never Have Paris below, and remember - the best way to experience everything on offer at SXSW is with a badge. Head here for yours, and see the rest of the Filmmakers in Focus here.

Andy Landen on Sequoia

Tell us a little about your film.

Sequoia tells the story of a young woman with advanced cancer who decides she wants to take control of her fate. So she travels to Sequoia National Park, a place of warm childhood memories, to document what she decides will be the last day of her life. On the way, she meets an interesting stranger on a spiritual journey of his own, who ends up getting drawn into her plans. All the while, her dysfunctional family tries to pull together to head out on a road trip to stop her.

It sounds very dramatic, and drama does exist, but there is an equally strong element of humor in the story. My intention was to keep an overall lightness to the film, because life really is a mixture of comedy and drama. At a really basic level Sequoia is about life, and not being able to change the cards you're dealt, but being able to change how you play them.

We shot Sequoia last November on a very low budget and tight schedule of 20 days. We were racing against the first snowfall, because as soon as it snows they close the park and our locations. Somehow we pulled it off. No joke, it literally began to snow the day after we left.

Why did you start making films?

Making my own films started almost by accident. When I was a kid my younger brother and I were really into skateboarding. So much so we used to shovel snow from our driveway, in the winter, just to skate. He started to become a lot better than I was, so rather than skating in his shadow, I started following him around on my board and filming him with a VHS-C camcorder. Then it just snowballed from there and I became obsessed, making videos for anything and everything. High school projects, music videos, skateboard videos, sketch videos, short films, you name it.

When my brother actually became a professional skateboarder (which I think I deserve a little credit for), I made my first documentary about his journey.

Have you been to SXSW before? Any tips?

I went to SXSW for the first time back in 2011. They were showing a web series I had made for Subway at the IFC Crossroads house, but I wasn't officially 'in' the festival. Needless to say I had the time of my life. It was pretty much everything I hoped it would be. And it made me really want to return one day with my own film ,'in' the festival.

Do I have festival tips? Hmmm...In the spirit of BuzzFeed Lists: My 5 Tips for SXSW:

  1. Attend as many screening and panels as you possibly can. For filmmakers it's the best kind of motivation you can get to make your own stuff, or to just finish something.

  2. This tip is a no brainer for anyone who's been, but definitely see a movie at an Alamo Drafthouse. You can order food and drinks during the movie. Plus they have a zero-tolerance policy for talking or texting during the film, which is awesome. It's by far the coolest, most unique movie watching experience. I can't wait until they open one in Los Angeles.

  3. Something that's truly underrated and doesn't get any attention at all is the barbecue. I don't know why people don't talk more about the barbecue. (in case there's any confusion, this is sarcasm. Barbecue is pretty much the only thing people talk about.)

  4. Make sure to see a shorts presentation. They're always such a great mixed bag.

  5. And lastly, pace yourself at night. It's a long week.

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

I'm Canadian, which means I can do cool things like steer a canoe and ice skate backwards. No big deal. I really wanted to be a professional hockey player in the NHL.

I met many of my collaborators from Sequoia at Graduate school at USC. The writer (Andrew Rothschild), the producers (Giles Andrew & Ashleigh Phillips), the cinematographer (Stephen Ringer), the editor (Franklin Peterson), as well as many of the other crew members.

I also make a lot of online comedy shorts. My most treasured (and biggest hit) was a parody of "Anyway You Want it" that I shot back in 2001 with a bunch of my high school friends and a pretty intense collection of wigs. We grew up in a small town, there wasn't much to do.

Saar Klein on Things People Do

Tell us a little about your film.

Things People Do is a story of a good man that gets into financial trouble and tries to figure his way out without telling his family. Instead, he falls into a life of crime that leads to a journey that challenges his core beliefs. During this journey he befriends a detective who becomes his confidant but also his greatest threat. Their relationship changes their fates in an unexpected way.

Why did you start making films?

I started making films at Vassar College. Although I did "crew" on a friend's film when I was about 12. (It was a crew of 2)

Have you been to SXSW before? What are you most looking forward to?

It's my first time at SXSW. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to observe a SXSW audience watching the film. The film-making process is so insular at times, that getting it out in front of different people to see how they react, how they interpret things, how they relate to the characters, is very exciting and important for me.

A film is not alive until presented to an audience.

I'm also looking forward to meeting other filmmakers, watching their films, and discussing their process with them and learning.

And it will be nice to return to Austin. I spent time in Austin working on a film some years ago and fell in love with the lake, the food, the bars, and the people. I'm excited to see my Austin friends.

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

I have a cat named Fernando that I met and rescued from a trailer park in the San Fernando Valley while I was urged by a director friend to perform a small part in one of his films.

When I arrived on the set the director handed me a Kimono to wear and a Samurai sword and told me to "improvise". The experience (acting) was very traumatic and scary. Every 5 years or so I forget how terrible I am at it and actually think to myself: "I bet I'd be great actor if i only had the opportunity". I am quickly reminded what a terrible actor I am and how terrifying it is to be in front of the camera without talent or skill.

But Fernanado the cat is doing well in his new home.

Jocelyn Towne & Simon Helberg on We'll Never Have Paris

Tell us a little about your film.

After being happily married for six years, we decided to celebrate by making a film about our break-up. As we began to share our experience with people, it quickly became clear that we weren't the only ones with a less than perfect proposal story; however, on a scale of one to epically disastrous, ours took the cake. Spanning from Brooklyn to Paris, from blonde women to virtuosic violin-playing French men, we managed to end up together. And for cathartic, or perhaps just masochistic reasons, we decided to direct this film together.

Why did you start making films?

This is our first time directing together. For us, in order to make a movie, it must be a story that we feel the need to tell. And film was the natural fit for this particular story.

Have you been to SXSW before? What are you most looking forward to?

We have never been to SXSW or Austin before, and we can't wait! After months of sitting in a tiny, dark editing room, we are thrilled to sit in a big, dark theater and watch our movie with an audience of more than three. Also, the BBQ.

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

Jocelyn will be 8 months pregnant when we premiere at the festival. Simon will not.

Jocelyn studied at the Alvin Ailey Dance School. Simon did not.

Jocelyn's favorite amusement park is Disneyland. Simon's is Knott's.