In Seattle director Taylor Guterson’s first feature film, the heartfelt comedy Old Goats, three men seek meaning and change in their golden years. These three vital, curious, and passionate elderly characters challenge stereotypes about life after age 60 or so. The three leading actors, Bob Burkholder, David VanderWal, and Britton Crosley, play versions of themselves in this tale based on Guterson’s original script, which grew from the actual personalities of the leads.
In the film, randy Bob writes his memoirs about his wilderness adventures, service in World War II, and numerous romantic liaisons between visits with his current paramour. Britt, a bachelor, lives on a squalid boat and tries to find a soulmate on the Internet after wimping out of a planned voyage across the Pacific. And the youngest of the trio, recently retired banker Dave, evades his domineering wife and joins in antics with Bob and Britt.
The low, low budget film (under $5,000) was an audience favorite and recognized as the Best of the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival. Reviewer Eric Kohn wrote, “Guterson has crafted an entirely solid, witty and poignant look at the impact of the aging process on three men in desperate search of self-improvement.” Kohn added, “Old Goats drifts from scene to scene with a gentle reverence for its leads.”
Filmmaker Guterson, age 30, is a native of the Seattle area, and the son of acclaimed novelist David Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars, The Other). He graduated from the University of Washington film program and worked as a producer on commercial videos and as a production assistant on feature films. His short film Good Morning won a SIFF award in 2003. He and his business partner, Jonathan Boyer, now run the Seattle-based Elliott Bay Productions, a company that makes commercial and educational films.
Guterson recently talked about his career and Old Goats from his home in the Seattle area.
Lindley: Did you want to make movies when you were a boy?
Guterson: I didn’t think I wanted to make movies until I was about 15 or 16. I had a VHS camcorder and played around with it a lot. My brother and friends would do a lot of bad action with guns and drugs and convertible cars. Obviously it was completely different than what I’m doing now, but I thought it was fun. I didn’t edit with a computer. It was VHS, so I had to edit as I went, and think ahead to the next scene as I shot.
Lindley: Do you remember the movies you liked as a child?
Guterson: The movies I liked were all action movies: Wesley Snipes and Van Damm movies, like Passenger 57. I liked The Karate Kid, and I used to take karate. And Die Hard, Under Siege. Now I watch those and they’re kind of funny, but I used to really be into those movies. When you’re younger, they seemed so real, but you watch them now and they seem so fake and bad.
Lindley: Your dad, of course, is a prominent novelist. Did you want to write?
Guterson: No, I never wanted to be a writer. I was never good at it. In fact, I am a horrible speller. I write screenplays, but they wouldn’t be typically associated with screenplays. They’re sort of crude notes with some dialog, but they don’t read like a screenplay. They’re directions to myself.
Lindley: Did shooting with your video camera as a teen draw you to your career?
Guterson: No. The thing that really got me interested was visiting the set of Snow Falling on Cedars when I was 15 or 16. That was a lot of fun for me. We visited three or four times. The director, Scott Hicks, and the producer, Kathleen Kennedy, were so nice to us. They let us hang out behind the camera and watch what was going on, which is very rare for filmmakers at that level.
I probably enjoyed it for the wrong reasons. I liked the spectacle of it all — it was so big and so cool — and I didn’t get into the art of it so much then. I wasn’t aware of the cinematography as much then, but the director of photography was Robert Richardson — one of the premiere directors of photography — and he was nominated for an Academy Award for that film.
We met Max von Sydow and he was so nice, as was everybody, which is counter to much of my experience on bigger productions.
Lindley: Did you go to film school after high school?
Guterson: I did go to Montana State, which had a film school of sorts, but I didn’t like that and quit fairly quickly. I ended up at the University of Washington and had a focus on cinema, but there was no training, nothing technical. You take classes on film and talk about it, but it wasn’t film school.
Lindley: Where did you get your practical film experience?
Guterson: That was all self-taught. I was first using consumer grade camcorders and then a Macintosh [computer] with free iMovie. I never had any training and just played around and learned it.
Lindley: What kind of projects did you work on before Old Goats?
Guterson: I started to make money at industrial-corporate-non-profit videos, mainly promotional marketing videos. And then I worked as a production assistant. And the last two years, I’ve been producing and directing commercial videos. I worked at Washington Mutual for two years at a studio there producing and directing corporate videos. I also tried to make movies on the side. I spent six months in New York as a production assistant. And I was a production assistant on another Scott Hicks movie, No Reservations, with Catherine Zeta Jones. I made the call sheet that gave direction at the end of each day for the next, but that direction is constantly in flux [and] you talk with each department head and try to put together something that can be relevant for the following day.
Lindley: Is Old Goats your first movie?
Guterson: It’s my first feature film. I did quite a few short films [such as] competition films where you make a film in 48 hours. My short films were seen in film festivals and competitions, [but] Old Goats is the first serious effort.
Lindley: Who are film directors you consider your influences?
Guterson: There are certain directors I really like, but don’t aspire to be like. Old Goats is an unusual film. The only director that influenced me directly, I’d say, was Alexander Payne [who directed] Sideways, About Schmidt, Election, Citizen Ruth. He’s the only director who had a direct influence on Old Goats, mostly because his films deal with ordinary people and they’re simple stories. And I like the way he shoots his films in a very simple, non-pretentious style. I think he pokes fun at film.
Lindley: How would you describe Old Goats for someone who hasn’t seen it?
Guterson: It’s a blend of fiction and reality, even though I don’t claim it’s based on a true story. That said, there’s a lot of real life in it, primarily with Bob Burkholder’s character. The three men in it don’t have character names on purpose, but use their real names. In many ways, it’s about them. It’s not about what their lives are really like, but it’s more about their personality and their character.
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