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Chris Brown’s excellent feature film The Other Kids has its East Coast Premiere at the 2016 New Jersey International Film Festival on Sunday, June 5!


By Al Nigrin

originally published: 05/24/2016

Chris Brown’s excellent feature film The Other Kids has its East Coast Premiere at the 2016  New Jersey International Film Festival on Sunday, June 5!

Chris Brown’s excellent feature film The Other Kids has its East Coast Premiere at the 2016  New Jersey International Film Festival on Sunday, June 5!

Here is an interview I did with The Other Kids Director Chris Brown:

Nigrin: The Other Kids follows six teenagers as they struggle through their final days of high school in the small, gold rush town of Sonora, CA. This unique and moving film is a hybrid mix of documentary and fiction, and emerged via a collaboration between the filmmaker and the teenagers who crafted and improvised the various stories.  Your fascinating film really feels like a documentary but obviously isn’t.  Please elaborate on how you came to make this film as a feature film.

Brown: The Other Kids grew out of a strong desire to see a movie about the high school experience as I actually remember it, rather than how that experience has been distorted and romanticized in hundreds of high school movies. Having made both fiction films and documentaries, I wanted to figure out a way to make a narrative film that had the rhythm and feel of a documentary.



 
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To be honest, I think that my approach to The Other Kids grew out of my restlessness with the current state of narrative films. Seriously, for the last few years, narratives have been boring me to death! They all seem so predictable and derivative, you know? And I think that the overall calcification of the form is a result not only of a general cowardice regarding subject matter, but a basic lack of imagination when it comes to the filmmaking process itself.

At some point, film production became standardized and industrialized (much like the process of making hamburgers or cars or something) and now everyone just accepts this method as a given. It's kind of crazy when you think about it. We've been making movies the same way for the last hundred years! What other art-making process has seen less evolution? If we want the film medium to have any vitality and relevancy to our actual lives, I think that we need to re-examine this process -- rethink it, take it apart, ask ourselves if it really works anymore.

Every serious art form undergoes periodic upheavals during which fundamental assumptions about process and approach are questioned. As an artist, once you learn the fundamentals of your craft, you need to find your own way forward. Picasso wasn't trying to copy Rembrandt's technique or approach. Miles Davis wasn't trying to mimic Bach or Louis Armstrong. Each of these artists ultimately had to find his own method, his own approach. For some reason, as filmmakers, we don't seem to question some of these basic assumptions; we just accept the process as gospel. The question is, can you really tell a new story using old methods?

I mean, take a look at the classical filmmaking process. Traditionally, when you make a film, you have an idea that you're excited about, then you write a script that illustrates and dramatizes that idea, then you find actors who approximate the characters you had in mind when you wrote the script, then you film those actors as they re-enact the situations described in the script that illustrates the idea you once had. For me, with every generational step in this assembly line, something inevitably gets lost; the heavy and unwieldy filmmaking process itself somehow seems to extinguish that initial spark.

What if we could eliminate all those intermediate steps? What if, instead of writing with a pen and paper and then translating that paper idea to actors and film, what if we could write directly with the camera while each moment was still burning and alive? What if we found courageous and captivating actors who could bring themselves fully to the project using raw, biographical materials from their own lives? What if we gave those actors the freedom to construct their characters and decide their characters' fates? What if we set up real situations and were able to capture these moments in all their raw, messy spontaneity? This is what we set out to do.

A filmmaker I admire a lot told me that he thought The Other Kids was "revolutionary." I think he may be overstating the case, but I do believe that this film is something new, something audiences haven't seen before, something that pulsates with some of the crazy unpredictability of real life.

Nigrin:  The six 17-year-olds are terrific leads in your film. How were they selected to play the primary roles? How much input did they have? 



 
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Brown: Well, first off, thank you. I think that they're all terrific too! [laughs] And the thing you need to know is that none of these kids are professional actors! They're all real teens, real high-schoolers, ages 16-18. I held a massive series of auditions throughout the county where we shot the film (near Yosemite National Park in Northern California), canvassed all the schools there, sat in on a zillion film, drama and art classes - spent literally months in search of the perfect cast. What was I looking for? Well, they needed to be great actors, definitely. But beyond that, I was looking for a group of passionate, intelligent kids who had real fire in their bellies, people who had stories to tell and who were excited by the idea of using film as a way of examining aspects of their own lives. I should add that I was also looking for people I could relate to, kids that I really liked.

These kids weren't just actors giving life to some predetermined idea I had, they were full collaborators in this process. If the film works at all, it is because of the kids themselves and everything they brought to it.

Nigrin: How long did it take you to make The Other Kids and were there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you can rely to our readers?

Brown: It took us 92 days over 18 months to shoot the film and another year-plus for me to edit it. It was epic. We shot an enormous, insane amount of footage and I probably could have made eleven different films out of the material. It was heartbreaking what we couldn't fit into the film! Whole story lines had to be dropped and some characters had to be cut to the bone. It was rough, but absolutely necessary. I work by day as an editor, so I'm used to killing darlings, but this process was a real bloodbath.

Memorable stories? Oh man, our whole filmmaking process was so incredibly emotional, intense -- sometimes tough, sometimes hilarious. A lot of the hilarity was simply due to the unknown, uncharted nature of the process itself. Although I would set up each scene and situation, I tried my best never to "direct" -- which drove the cast totally insane, but also forced them to find their own solutions to the problems their characters were facing; no matter how dicey it got, the kids had to draw upon their own experience and intuition for guidance. And their choices were always more brilliantly real, funny, heartbreaking and powerful than anything I could have planned. That was the point. Having been an over-controlling type of director in the past, I wanted to throw all of that away and just trust the process, trust the intelligence of the performers.

Making this film was an ongoing process of discovery. It was like an archeological expedition; we never knew what we were going to find. And along the way we tried our best to convert every potential disaster into an opportunity. Herbie Hancock tells a story about playing a concert one night when one of the keys on the house piano went totally dead - clunk. Nothing. Instead of throwing a fit or stopping the performance or trying to avoid that key altogether, he did the very opposite; he incorporated that "clunk" into his solo, made that percussive "clunk" an integral part of the composition. That was how we made this film.

I remember one afternoon when we were shooting this simple walk-and-talk scene on the town's main street. While we were setting up the camera, the two actors, Abby & Natasha spotted this funny-looking mannequin in a bridal store window and started making mean cracks about it. This poor mannequin was kind of cross-eyed, had only one hand, bad teeth. And Abby and Natasha were just totally cracking me up. So I scrapped my plan and shot this new moment right as it was happening, which led us to shoot an additional scene inside the bridal store itself which eventually became one of the key scenes in the film. This kind of thing happened throughout the shoot.


I call it "surfing the chaos." In filmmaking, as much as we try to pre-plan and strategize and rethink every contingency, every shooting day is ultimately unpredictable. Every day that you shoot, you are confronted by problems and breakdowns and potential nightmares you could never have foreseen. An actor gets sick, it rains, a location falls through, a costume gets wrecked, the camera malfunctions, whatever. When this happens, you can either throw a tantrum and try to force your original approach onto the situation, or you can look at this problem as an opportunity and go with it; you can either let that oncoming wave plow you under and drown you, or you can surf it. We surfed it. I think there might be a lesson there somewhere.

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Two excellent shorts will be screened before The Other Kids. Here is more info on this screening:

What Martha Said? – Susan Skoog (Montclair, New Jersey)  After seeing on Facebook that her child wasn’t invited to a birthday party, PTA president Martha decides to stir up trouble in the real world. 2016; 11 min.



 
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Wifey Redux Robert McKeon (Venice, California) In this dark comedy, based on a story by acclaimed Irish author Kevin Barry, a man becomes obsessed with chasing away his teenage daughter's new boyfriend 2016; 22 min.

The Other Kids – Chris Brown (San Francisco, California)  The Other Kids follows six teenagers as they struggle through their final days of high school in the small, gold rush town of Sonora, CA. This unique and moving film is a hybrid mix of documentary and fiction, and emerged via a collaboration between the filmmaker and the teenagers who crafted and improvised the various stories.  Impending graduation and adulthood brings each of these 17-year-olds to the edge of an emotional precipice. When safety nets prove illusory, it’s up to each of them to find a way to save themselves – and each other. 2016; 95 min. With an introduction and Q+A session with Director Chris Brown!

Sunday, June 5, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.


Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University


71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey


$12=General; $10=Students+Seniors; $9=Rutgers Film Co-op Friends


Information: (848) 932-8482;
www.njfilmfest.com

Jimmy John’s of New Brunswick and Capitol Corn & Confections will be providing free food prior to all New Jersey International Film Festival  Screenings!




Albert Gabriel Nigrin is an award-winning experimental media artist whose work has been screened on all five continents. He is also a Cinema Studies Lecturer at Rutgers University, and the Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc.

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