In the multi-faceted world of storytelling there are some characters who get short shrift when it comes to their share of screen time. Yet when a filmmaker does decide to shine the cinematic spotlight their way we’re often treated to engaging worlds of emotion which still feel fresh and surprising, precisely because of their underrepresentation. nautico’s short film Brady – about a wheelchair bound boy and his middle-aged mother and her unfulfilled hopes of making a romantic connection – is one such story which illustrates the rich narratives we as audiences get to enjoy when filmmakers step outside of narrative conventions. John Heeg of nautico joins us to discuss the inspiration behind Brady and how he and directing partner Chris Westlund took a subtle approach to the storytelling.
Choosing to tell a story about a mute child and his lovelorn mother is certainly unconventional, what inspired you to develop Brady?
Brady was inspired by my experiences volunteering with children with cerebral palsy at a local hospital in Columbus, Ohio. I was amazed at how they revealed themselves to me over time, their inner complexity, and also how expressive they were physically. A few of them were very limited in terms of verbal speech but would find surprising ways to communicate and share intricate emotions with me. I also am naturally drawn to stories about people who unexpectedly find themselves in hopeless love situations.
As a narrative, Brady could have easily tipped into melodrama or over sentimentality, yet the final film is a piece of subtle economy which is still full of emotion. How did you achieve that?
We knew what we wanted throughout writing and shooting. The subtle storytelling is a hallmark of Chris and I’s work and the main complaint that we usually get about our content is that we are too subtle and put too much faith in the audience. It’s been amazing to us that this piece is so well received. We love the atmospheric and moody films that most people find boring. For example, an influence on us has been the film Wendy & Lucy (2008), about a woman on the road en route to Alaska whose dog runs away. There is almost no dialogue in the film, but it felt so honest and real to me. I remember seeing it and realizing as I left the theater that I was the only one who liked it, everyone else was bored to tears.
As a filmmaking duo how do you split responsibilities throughout the production process?
Brady was shot almost two years ago. On set, Chris was shooting and I was directing and the roles were more divided because we used to play it a bit more traditionally than we do now. Now Chris talks to the actors and I pick up the camera whenever. We are capable of switching places at any times and do so as needed. Both of us are completely aware of what we want in every aspect of what is happening on set with the cameras, lighting, talent, production design, etc.
Chris and I met in film school in Ohio and teamed up because we had similar tastes and also got along very well as friends. It was such a great feeling meeting one another because before that I didn’t feel like anybody there understood what I was trying to do with my work or wanted to take risks.
Chance Armstrong who plays Brady has cerebral palsy in real life, how did you approach his direction on set?
Chance was really amazing and everyone on set was in awe of him and his patience. His mother was also on set the whole time, but I remember in the van when we shot the last scene of the film it was just Chance, Chris and I, our producer Jeff driving, and our gaffer Lucas who rigged the hostess tray mount. We didn’t give Chance too much direction because we wanted something really natural and so instead we were talking with him casually and then eventually we would tell him where his eyeline should be and then we just let the quiet naturally unfold. It was a really magic moment being there and that shot is by far my favorite in the film. It suggests an inner complexity to the character of “Brady” in a subtle way that is beautiful to me. I love how the character seems content but also reflective and slightly sad, which suggests an emotional maturity and rich soul.
What was your technical setup for the film?
Our technical setup was RED Epic with Angénieux Optimo lenses. We were supposed to get a less expensive package but through a series of strange events we somehow ended up with these gorgeous creamy lenses that we didn’t have to pay a rental on.
What will we see next from nautico?
There is a lot coming up for nautico! We have a new music video coming out later this summer that is heavily Malick-inspired and we are working on a feature script. Brady is great but it was also shot a long time ago. We feel we have improved a lot since then and are excited to show off some new stuff! So stay tuned!