Do you remember those endless Summers as a kid when the days stretched out seemingly forever and you found yourself free from parental supervision, to explore the places and emotions deemed beyond your years? In his latest film New Territory Brooklyn filmmaker Alexander Newton beautifully evokes those old memories as we follow the silent trio of kids at the centre of his tale who find themselves shaped by the events which play out deep within a forest. Newton tells us how he created a story which could take place anytime, anywhere but still manages to tap into the experiences of everyone, everywhere.
This project was a sort of test for a feature I’m writing. It’s not really a sample, more of an experiment than anything else, warts and all. I’ve been working on the idea of suburban/rural youth playing in the woods, where kids are experiencing things their parents never hear about. The modern equivalent of vision quests. I used a 2-3 page short story that my father wrote as a starting point and changed it up a bit. His was set in post-WWII Texas, whereas I moved mine up to a more recent era in Pennsylvania, though really it could be set anywhere at any time which I think is one of the attractive universal elements.
We shot the film in three days on the Red One Camera with Lomo anamorphic lenses. At the beginning of each day I gave one of the three actors a small camera to document everything from their perspective.
It was made super low-budget with help from close friends and family. I’m originally from the area where we filmed as was a friend of mine on the production, so it helped to be close by for pulling favors and that sort of thing. We lucked out with the weather; if one of those days got wiped out by rain or something, I’m not sure what we would have done, with kids and school and everything.
I had the good fortune of working with friends that I’ve made several films with, so there’s a sort of short-hand that comes with that. Clint Litton is an amazing cinematographer. He has his own style, which is more fluid than mine. I tend to be a bit more rigid, so I think it creates an interesting balance.
You kind of realize in moments like that why it’s good to try and make small films.
During the three days there were all kinds of crazy last-minute situations, some of which I’ve conveniently forgotten about, and some I probably never heard about from the producers. Neena Litton and Amanda Bayard really kept us afloat and kept us happy. It was crazy and stressful for everyone; lugging equipment through the woods, trying to get everything covered before we ran out of daylight, etc. But there were also amazing things like a nighttime cookout with music and good friends, and you kind of realize in moments like that why it’s good to try and make small films.
While we were shooting we were changing lots of things on the fly. Like the killing scene – for the longest time that was going to be with a pocket knife, which you briefly see at the beginning, but the night before shooting I changed it to a rock, and I think it turned out much better than it would have been. The last day of shooting Clint and I arrived a half-hour early to the location to look over the shots and we spent a very long 10 minutes just staring at the task ahead, wondering how we were going to do it all. Again it was small, but when you’re dealing with a lot of rough terrain and kids, things can slow down real fast. We pulled it off, just barely.
By the time you reach post, even on a very small project like this, things change and what you have on your hands is ultimately your best effort, and not necessarily what you had in your head when you started. Sometimes that’s exciting and sometimes it’s disappointing; it can depend on the scene or the moment. I was really happy with some of the more spontaneous stuff we got from the kids. In certain instances they didn’t know we were filming and it provided a lot of life that you can’t put on paper beforehand. On the other hand there are a lot of shots or editorial decisions that are more telegraphed than I’d like them to be, but overall it kind of worked for a silent piece where you’re relying on expressions and gestures to tell the story.
I used the score from the 1970s Spanish film The Spirit Of The Beehive as a temp while cutting the film, as that film’s been a huge influence on me and I just can’t get it out of my head. The version I posted on Vimeo has that temp score which helped me find certain rhythms and provided something for Frank Napoli the composer to bounce off of when he created his score. I also used an Ennio Morricone cue near the end, simply because it seemed to come closest to evoking a mixture of innocence and doom. Frank did a great job of interpreting the temps while making something of his own. We’ve been working together for a while so we have that process down. I’ll be posting the version with Frank’s music eventually.
I like the idea that a project can be a fluid, imperfect experience online.
I like the idea that a project can be a fluid, imperfect experience online, that it doesn’t have to be one polished piece of work, but rather an admittance that I’m figuring this out as I go, and I’m not 100% finished with this idea. As far as I’m concerned, this short is a small piece of a bigger puzzle that I’m still working on.