“To say we couldn’t have done this without Door County is really an understatement.”
UPDATED 02/02/2016: June Falling Down is an official Wisconsin Film Festival selection.
Rebecca Weaver has come home. Well, temporarily. The Neenah transplant is staying in California for the time being, but June Falling Down marks a homecoming of sorts for the director — and her return is not without help. Together with her partner Chris Irwin, Weaver raised over $8,000 in an Indiegogo campaign last May to finance her first feature film, in which a young woman (Weaver, in the lead role) comes home for the wedding of a friend she might be in love with and on the anniversary of her father’s death.
Weaver isn’t shy about the film’s personal connections. Her own father passed away in 2009, and she and Irwin moved their production back to Wisconsin for principal photography, enlisting the help of friends, family, and a stable of local film talent. Before June Falling Down‘s premiere on Sat, Sept 19 in front of a private audience in Door County, Weaver and Irwin are raising additional funds for, among other things, sound mixing and producing a Digital Cinema Package for the festival circuit.
Weaver reached out to me via email to discuss her new project. As a fan of Cam Companion, her and Irwin’s double bluff on relationships and honesty in the digital age, I was happy to chat with her over email about coming back to Wisconsin and crowdfunding etiquette.
You don’t hear about many artists who head out west and then come back, for however short a period of time. I imagine “coming home” played a part in your inspiration?
Rebecca: Absolutely! I live in LA currently, but Wisconsin is where I grew up and it’s what I long for every day. In the beginning of the movie when June arrives, she tells her brother, “I will always think that this is the way the world’s supposed to look.” And that’s exactly how I feel. Farmland, wide sky, old barns. That’s home. I always knew I’d make a movie in Door County.
And yeah, this movie is about as personal as it gets. My dad passed away about six and a half years ago from cancer, and June Falling Down is very much about the grieving process and trying to climb out of the terrible memories of a loved one’s sickness. I mean, you don’t get more emotionally charged than that. Losing my dad is the tragedy of my life, and I wanted to make a movie that dealt with grief in a way that’s closer to how I experienced it. It’s not romantic in glowing light and perfect lines. It’s very messy and the things that you talk about or don’t talk about before someone dies come back to haunt you.
On that note, if you’ll believe me, this is overall a lighter movie with a lot of humor. Our title character, June, may or may not still be in love with her best friend who is getting married. And there are lots of quirky Wisconsin characters. I also made it a point that every time anything sad happens, we immediately bring in some humor, so I think we’re riding a fine line in this movie where funny and sad can exist in the same moment – as often happens in life.
Did you pull from anyone in the Door County area to help?
Rebecca: Oh my gosh, almost everyone who helped make this movie is from Door County or has a connection in some way. All of our actors live there or are summer residents (with the exception of a few excellent Milwaukee actors and California actors for our San Francisco scenes). Same with our crew. We filmed at local bars, restaurants, the hardware store, the town hall, a bakery where I used to waitress. We had local musicians perform at the wedding reception scene and a bunch of locals came out to dance and have cake. To say we couldn’t have done this without Door County is really an understatement.
You shot Winter Guest in Bailey’s Harbor, which is also in Door County. Do you see any kind of connection between that short and this feature?
Rebecca: Winter Guest, our first short film, was a complete experiment. We had no idea what we were doing, so we learned as we went along (Googling the 180 degree rule and so forth). We rented a camera and microphone and we followed a script that I had written with roles for both of us (Chris, my partner, is also a talented actor as well as producer, assistant director, our score composer, and beyond). The whole thing cost about $600, and it was baptism by fire into filmmaking. But it was an amazing experience and we came away from it ready to go further into filmmaking and, for some insane reason, we decided to do a feature.
I guess the main connection I see between these two films is our utter foolishness to just dive in and get going making films. Thematically there are similarities. Cancer has been a running theme for a while, but also there’s a quiet subtle humor amidst tragedy that I’m drawn to. You can see that developing in Winter Guest.
What challenges did you not expect to run into with your first feature?
Rebecca: Definitely a million challenges I didn’t expect. I think one of the biggest things I didn’t quite have a grasp on was what a marathon making a feature really is. I wrote the movie and I’m our producer, so I scheduled the cast, I figured out food with my mom (who was our craft services!), I made props and chose costumes. I also play the lead role in the movie, so I was directing at the same time as acting. And in post-production, I’m the editor. I realize as I say this that these are not typical challenges for most directors with their first feature. We were just so tiny that I had to do these roles.
But even if I was just the director, it’s still so different from making a short. Making a feature requires its own form of stamina, with health (I got really sick at the beginning and at the end of the film), with managing the endless details that come up, and with just keeping motivated despite the daily struggles. And when you wake up, your body might hurt, your head may be reeling with the challenges of the day, but, you know, grab some coffee and get your shot list and your cast and crew, because you’re going to battle together.
I noticed that for both your teaser on this film and in a trailer for Winter Guest, you use a lot of folksy, guitar-based songwriting. Are those musical choices just a coincidence?
Rebecca: That’s just music that I personally love and that reminds me of home, and really just reminds me of who I am in general. And of course Door County itself is known for its outstanding folk music scene, so it’s really authentic to our setting. Chris, my partner in crime, is an amazing musician and he’s writing the score for June. We’re also so lucky to be featuring primarily Door County musicians throughout the movie on our soundtrack: Katie Dahl, Lakeside Fire, and Eric Lewis. And I’ve always loved the warmth that acoustic, guitar-based music brings to film.
Covering local filmmakers means writing about a lot of crowdfunding campaigns but you seem especially vigilant on providing updates to your donors with little video diaries and the like.
Rebecca: Oh yes. Well, that’s the world we live in now, right? And it does not come naturally to me, trust me. It’s a stretch for such an introverted person to share so much, let alone to ask for money to help make a movie. But I’ve actually started to have fun with it, writing blogs, sharing behind the scenes photos and blooper videos. It’s kind of an art form unto itself. I share a lot of our difficulties as well as our fun bits. I just don’t see a reason to hide the struggles of making art. I love following blogs where people share their processes, the bad in with the good. And making movies is hard, but the great thing is at the end of it all you have (if all goes well, and it did for us, thank goodness), a beautiful movie made and a wonderful community that’s gathered around you.