Let’s say you want to make a movie and you didn’t go to NYU film school. You don’t have a trust fund. You’re not a video-store clerk who can recite all the trivia on IMDb. You don’t have Hollywood family connections. And, though your heart is set on getting into SIFF, your feature idea doesn’t include violence, sex, snark, or whining hipsters. So you should just stop right there, right, because you haven’t got a chance?
Each year, SIFF sets aside an undetermined number of slots in its massive schedule for locals. (This year’s Northwest Connections sidebar lists 11 titles.) Is there a quota? Is it a matter of pity or pandering? I have no idea. But it’s always fascinating to see which Seattle-area filmmakers make the cut. Not because their works are masterpieces, not because SIFF programmers—let alone film critics—are so discerning. Rather, because an untutored love for film shines through their efforts—the enthusiasm, the persistence, the determination to make their movie so far from Hollywood with such remote chances of ever getting a theatrical release. The festival is the goal, and since SIFF is the largest film festival in the U.S., it’s a worthy one.
To get noticed, Seattle directors have made movies about sex with horses (Zoo, SIFF ’07) or non-gay homosexual stunt sex (Humpday, SIFF ’09), but what about that ultimate taboo—ordinary polite white suburbanites who keep their pants on?
Those characters have stories, too—like the teenagers at Mountlake Terrace High School nervously preparing for the prom in Senior Prom, a mockumentary improvised and performed by students at that same school, directed by 17-year-old Nicholas Terry. Or the two women nervously preparing to go back to their central Washington high school for a 10-year class reunion in Perfect 10, written and directed by husband-and-wife filmmakers Kris and Lindy Boustedt. There are no horses or hipsters in sight. The results may not be career-making Spielbergian cinema, but there’s a pleasingly positive spirit to both endeavors. They’re not aiming to shock, not aiming for Hollywood, not trying to be trendy. These first-timers just have simple stories to tell.
“I’ve never been to SIFF,” says Nicholas Terry in a cupcake shop on Capitol Hill. (His father, joining us for coffee, says they’ve never even been to Capitol Hill before.) The shy, slim Shoreline teenager has just emerged from a SIFF meet-and-greet at Boom Noodle, and one’s first impulse is to force some cupcakes on the kid. He’s so young! So skinny! So polite and soft-spoken—where is the Tarantino-sized ego? Eat, son, eat! Terry is like a decaffeinated, non-obnoxious version of Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club: reddish hair, gangly, pimply, eyes darting regularly to the floor. But he’s clearly smart, observant, taking it all in—waiting for the cool kids to slip and reveal themselves.
Terry’s first film got him into a festival to which he’s never even bought a ticket, but it was movies that inspired him. Specifically, those of Christopher Guest—Terry is upfront about his love for the mockumentary auteur of Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind. And he also has the background, performing with his school drama department (currently in The Diary of Anne Frank) and in an award-winning school improv team that comprises his cast.
“I got the idea [about senior prom], and they were all on board immediately,” he explains. A few juniors had already been to prom with older dates when the project began last August. And a few actors graduated last year. But the acute pressure of prom is universally understood.
Terry’s comedy follows 10 teens planning the prom and procuring dates. Terry is sometimes heard behind the camera, but mainly Senior Prom lets its foolish protagonists speak for themselves. There’s overbearing Brittany, like Tracy Flick in Election, determined to impose her theme on the party, which gradually slides from barnyard to outer space. (“Proms are supposed to be perfect!” she insists.) Happy couple Shelly and Shawn make everyone sick with their lovey-dovey devotion. Nerdy loner Zach is crushing on outspoken Lynsey, who despises prom mania. With his dimwit wingman Kyle, delusional Miles believes every girl in school is waiting to be his date, waiting to give him the secret “look.”
Everyone is bound to be disappointed in some fashion, yet the comedown is gentle and observational. You could call it Guffman-lite. F-bombs are bleeped out, there’s no sexting, and no one is horribly humiliated. Cell phones ring at inconvenient times and Facebook pages are updated in the sad middle of the night. Prom becomes more and less important than its epic buildup. “We can never go back,” says one kid ruefully. “We’ll miss it.”
Terry’s own prom lies ahead (yes, he has a date lined up), and Senior Prom actually began at school. “You have to create a senior project to graduate,” he explains. Since he’d previously learned to shoot, edit, and compose a score while assisting his father on a short film, he already had “all the equipment that my dad bought for his film”—chiefly, a mini-DV camera he packed with him daily to shoot after classes. For a final cut of 80 minutes, he edited down the footage on a home computer. Total budget for the project: about $300.
Next, says Terry, “I’d like to make more shorts.” Long-term, “I’d definitely like to go to a film school.” (One that offers scholarships, his dad quickly interjects.) Instead of NYU or USC, he’s more likely to attend community college this fall.
VIP pass dangling around his neck, Terry says, “I definitely want to see as many films as possible at SIFF.” (And if you should meet him in line, buy that kid a cupcake.)
One of those films may be Perfect 10, whose directors recently spoke to Terry and his Mountlake Terrace classmates about filmmaking. Lindy Boustedt is frank about the true-life origins of their movie. In 2008, “My 10th high-school reunion was coming up,” she says over tea at the Capitol Hill Caffé Vita. “I had recently lost about 70 pounds.” Thinking back to her teen years in Cheney, a small town outside Spokane, she recalls, “I had a guy tell me he’d date me if I was skinnier.”
Now happily married to Woodinville-raised Kris, whom she met at Eastern Washington University, Lindy wanted to make a film about the average-bodied women (and men) with a little extra at the waistline—those “looking to reclaim something they had in high school and don’t have now, and that’s a little sad.”
When you’re 28 looking back at 18, the distance can seen vast. A few years’ growth can make a huge difference. It’s a topic addressed in her touchstone film, Lindy explains, the Irish Circle of Friends (1995), in which a then-zaftig Minnie Driver tries to land the handsome hunk who seems out of her league (Chris O’Donnell). “Circle of Friends changed my life,” she says. Driver’s character “didn’t lose weight to gain happiness or the boy; she stayed true to who she was.”
In the autobiographically inspired Perfect 10, married Mara (Karie Gonia) and her loudmouth sidekick Libby (Morgan Elizabeth) drive a rented Mustang convertible back to their hick town to settle old scores. There, too, is Mara’s high-school crush—considerably hotter than her schlubby husband, and the kind of guy who makes you take off your wedding ring for a night. After enough drinks, Mara declares, “I’m gonna go fuck up my marriage.” (See also SIFF’s The Freebie for a similar exploration of marital trust, what Kris calls the “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” syndrome.)
With a heavier heroine struggling for self-acceptance, Perfect 10 lacks the sting of, say, Neil LaBute’s play Fat Pig, which takes a more confrontational approach to plus-size sexuality. It’s closer to romance-novel territory than your usual indie, more affirmative than cynical—not unlike the wholesome kids in Senior Prom. Here’s a case of nice gals trying to shed their niceness.
But Perfect 10 is autobiographical only to a point. Lindy and Kris are still married, and their “microbudget indie,” shot in 14 days, still represents a significant undertaking for a young couple. “We could have bought a house, but we made a film instead,” says Lindy. “We have no shame in renting. We can take bigger risks because we don’t have to pay back our investors.” (Kris estimates they borrowed only 20 percent of the budget, financing the rest themselves.)
Unlike those of Senior Prom, their cast and crew were paid, raising the budget to six figures. And unlike Nicholas Terry, the Boustedts have had prior experience at SIFF, with a short film in the 2007 festival; and since 2005 their small company has created the animated roster of sponsors that is projected before SIFF screenings. Kris also majored in film at EWU and now teaches the subject at Shoreline Community College. So they’re newbies, but not exactly rookies. “We were very realistic,” says Lindy. “You just gotta make it available in as many places as possible” (i.e., IndieFlix, Amazon, Hulu, and selling copies at SIFF). “We’re looking at the festival run as the theatrical run.”