If like me you’ve ever had the displeasure of working a mindless job, where the empty monotony of your thankless task is only surpassed by the brutally languid progression of time, then Brendan Beachman’s Intersection – a satirical tale about the futility of greed – will definitely speak to you. Making its online premiere today on Directors Notes, Brendan joins us to discuss the existential nature of mundane work and how he created a surprise explosion in the desert whilst keeping ant casualties to a minimum.
To me Intersection seems to channel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot with a sprinkling of Gus Van Sant’s Gerry. How did the idea for this philosophical desert satire come into being?
The story and characters for Intersection actually originate from my own experience as a road construction worker during the summers of my high school and college years. There were many days in which I would be driven out to a remote county road and left to stand in the searing heat with nothing but a stop sign and my thoughts. It was a fairly existential situation. When I told my friend and screenwriter, Josh Krenz about this, he saw a story in it and wrote the first version of the film. I rewrote it to include the ‘gift from God’ twist and decided I had to shoot it. During preproduction, I worked for four years as an office PA for a reality TV company…which somehow felt even more existential than my human barricade summer job. Those 4 years did much to influence the dark comedy in the film. I definitely channeled Waiting for Godot, even going so far as to bring out that big dead tree so that I could better reference the play. I liked the idea of these 2 guys waiting for cars that never come, but unlike Beckett’s play “God” actually does come, and it’s the way the men react to the gift that sets off a dark tail spin.
Intersection’s 2010 Kickstater campaign was unsuccessful but you ultimately managed to fund the film in 2013. How did you finally raise the budget?
Intersection ended up costing around $36,000 after all was said and done. After the decidedly unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign, I stewed for about a year before deciding that I had to make this. It took years to save up. I did so by working Monday through Friday as an office PA, and then as a digital commercial director on the weekends. I shot a handful of commercials that won 1st place on a website called Tongal. Those winnings went a very long way to pay for the film. I still racked up a bit of credit card debt, but the commercials kept me from being destitute.
How did the additional development time and your self raised budget alter the story and your production goals?
Our plans fluctuated during development. We toyed with the idea of shooting on our own DSLRs to save money, but ultimately, we decided that if we’re going to shoot this, we’re going to go all out. We ended up making this a SAG project, which made things more expensive, but also gave us access to great talent. The story went through many different adaptations, but I don’t think the changes were for budgetary reasons. The only major thing I really had to cut that I had planned was an aerial shot in the intro scene. I wanted to shoot straight down on the struck from a drone while it was driving so that it could cut together with the ant shot. Luckily there was a cliff next to the road that my DP and I climbed at 4AM in order to get that high angle intro shot.
While location scouting you shot experimental short Goddamn Cats. What from that experience informed your approach when shooting Intersection?
That shoot helped us plan primarily for the last scene of Intersection. We wanted to see what that dry lake bed looked like at different times of the day. It also helped us prep mentally for a 7 day shoot in the desert. I found the main intersection location by using Google Earth. After wasting a lot of time and gas aimlessly driving through the Mojave, I decided to comb through the desert via satellite imagery. I stumbled upon a huge network of dirt roads with no buildings (something that is surprisingly hard to find). This ended up being California City – a place with an interesting history. By land size, it’s one of the top 5 biggest cities in California, but only 10,000 people actually live there. It was a perfect spot for our film.
What led you and DP Colin Arndt to the Arri Alexa?
I don’t get too wound up about the technical decisions, but the Alexa seemed to be the best camera for our budget. The locations are the fourth character in this film, so the cinematography was really important to me. I wanted a camera that could shoot beautifully and hold up in a tough environment and the Alexa did both. As far as lenses, we used Cooke super speeds. Looking back I would probably have used anamorphic lenses since we ended up cropping to 2:39 anyway. I’m still really happy with the way it ended up looking. We also decided we needed steadicam for a few shots…specifically the last scene. We only had an hour to shoot that, so we were glad that we had the steadicam op there to keep things moving quickly.
There’s a notable effects shot when the ‘gift from God’ arrives. How did you go about achieving that?
The initial explosion is all digital, done by VFX artist Michael Matzur. When Colin and I were planning shots, we were very careful to make that shot cut to a wide quickly so that we didn’t have to rely too heavily on CG. We also blocked it to happen over Dwayne’s shoulder to obscure it more. In the following sequence when Chris is crawling through dust and debris, I’d say 75% of that was in-camera. We had the art department just offscreen with big buckets of dirt and sand, throwing it into the wind. That day of shooting was extremely windy, I think there were gusts up to 50mph. It was miserable. The fact that we didn’t have to do any ADR at all is a testament to my awesome location sound mixer Paul Losada. My makeup artist Trendee King added dust makeup to the guys, but by the end they were completely, naturally covered in dust.
How many ants had to die?
Surprisingly, none! They were all able to crawl out on their own, or we helped them out after cutting. Like everything in the desert, they are extremely tough little critters. The only ant death(s) that occurred were from possible accidental missteps from crew. There also may have been a death when a few ants started fighting each other. The rabbit was/is completely fine as well. I’ve had a few people confront me over that scene. He was never near an actual moving truck, so not to worry animal lovers.
Terry Serpico and Zach Sherman have a great back and forth rhythm with each each. How did you cast and then work with them to build that strange, and at times theological dynamic?
I put out a casting call for the role of Chris. I received a ton of submissions, but something about Zach immediately stuck out to me. He had a restless energy and an innocent quality that was perfect for the character. There were a couple other actors who actually had slightly stronger audition videos, but I’m glad I stuck with my gut because Zach was the perfect person to play Chris. I had my casting director reach out to Terry’s manager, not really expecting him to respond. Luckily, he was free and really loved the script. I flew him out from South Carolina a day before the shoot, so we didn’t have much time to rehearse. To help, I had them play it as if they had never worked together before. I told them that before this, they only communicated with each other via radio. This helped to motivate their flow of dialog. I had them pick gazes for their characters. Chris is constantly looking up and down and all around, and Dwayne is consistently staring straight ahead. I think Zach looked up to Terry as an actor, so there was a great natural rapport between the two. To add a weird little layer, I had the makeup designer add matching scars on each man’s arm. When they are in the truck, I told the driver to only address Dwayne. I liked the idea that maybe this is a purgatory situation where they are 2 sides of the same person, doomed to forever repeat history.
I liked the idea that maybe this is a purgatory situation where they are 2 sides of the same person, doomed to forever repeat history.
The film’s score is a delightfully unfussy, stripped back affair which feels very ‘desert’. What was your working process with composers Bob Keelaghan and Justin Marshall Elias?
Bob is a founding member of a band I’ve loved for quite some time called Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir. When I was in preproduction, I would listen to them in order to get into the right mindset. I was planning on referencing them when searching for music for the soundtrack. I decided one day that maybe I should just ask them if they’d do the soundtrack. Bob read the script and loved it and agreed to do an original score. That stripped down, dark folk/bluegrass sound is exactly what I was looking for and he did an amazing job. He lives in Alberta, so we would discuss sounds over the phone. He’d record at his home studio while watching the film and send to me. Justin is a talented composer with an especially keen ear for sound design. I knew I could use him to enhance certain dramatic moments. He really helped create a strange, foreboding atmosphere. If you watch with good speakers or headphones, you’ll hear just how much deep ends he added to the mix.
Was Intersection’s longer than average running time a concern, particularly as you’d always planned to bypass distributor interest in favour of an online release?
I never intended to make money off of this film. The most important thing for me is for people to see it and the best way to make that happen is to make it available online. I admit 19 minutes is a long time for the internet. I also felt that hesitation from programers when applying to film festivals. I just really think that that’s how long the story is and cutting simply for cutting sake would be detrimental to the story. Hopefully viewers will be intrigued enough after the first minute and will stick around to see what happens to these guys.
Now you’re out of the desert, where are you heading for your next film?
I have been writing a feature with another screenwriter partner for a while now. It’s in a very similar vein stylistically as Intersection, so I’m hoping to shoot it in the near future. I also have another dark comedy short that I want to shoot this year. This time it’s a 7 minute short that doesn’t take place in the desert. I’ve had my fill of the desert for the time being.