There are people who make films. And then there are filmmakers. There’s a difference and yes, you can feel a little insecure when you’re starting out in such a creative and competitive career, Taylor Guterson explains.
“For years, you make films that you just watch on your computer and you put up on YouTube. Or they get into community film festivals that’ll take anything.”
He did this for about 10 years.
And then, at age 27, his 2011 film Old Goats snagged “Best of the Fest” awards at SIFF, the Palm Springs Film Festival and the Sun Valley Festival. It got picked up by ShadowCatcher Entertainment, which got it into theaters. It got picked up for national DVD release. And the sweet and funny story about three old men living out their twilight years (based loosely on the actual lives of the film's Bainbridge Island-based actors) put Guterson on the filmmaking map. (Read Crosscut's 2013 article about Old Goats here.)
Immediately, Guterson began hatching plans for feature film number two. That film, Burkholder, is bringing all of Guterson's Old Goats actors back to the screen at SIFF this spring.
The subject is once again the lives of silver-haired men and their live-life-to-the-fullest adventures. Bob Burkholder (“Bob” in Old Goats) plays Teddy, a man who refuses to accept the fact that he is physically and mentally deteriorating. Britt Crosley plays his exasperated landlord-friend-reluctant adventure sharer. (Teddy decides he’s going to go on a 'vision-quest' geared for younger folks – those in their 50s and 60s). The third Old Goats actor, a younger retiree named David VanderWal, also returns as the vision-quest leader.
Though Guterson was in a hurry to get started on Burkholder, the new film isn't a sequel. The men play new fictional characters in Burkholder.
One of his prime motivations for moving so fast: The opportunity to work with Burkholder again before he passed away.
Burkholder died in September. He was 90 years old.
“He only saw the movie once and it was a rough cut,” Guterson says about his new film, which is named after the actor.
“I think he knew he wasn’t doing well and he wanted the opportunity to see it. His family has since seen it and they like it.”
“It’s not that I woke up one day and said, ‘I want to make a film about old people,’” says Guterson, who is now 33. “But older people have the ability to be themselves with a camera, lights and a microphone around them. Most of the time younger people, when they’re making movies, cast people their own age and those people are very self-conscious when it comes to acting.”
That, Guterson says, is one of the problems he sees with low-budget movies: Terrible acting.
He also appreciates a certain amount of improv, which occurred in both films with these first-time actors.
Guterson had met his Old Goats cast members in real life over the years on Bainbridge Island.
“I mowed the lawn for his wife,” he says about Crosley. “He’d come out and start BSing me and it was something — the way he spoke, his personality, his mannerisms that were unique and different. That’s what I wanted to capture.”
Old Goats was made for about $5,000. The budget for Burkholder was double that, an estimated $12,000. “This time we had an original score (by Joshua Myers) and I paid for the expenses for Bob and Britt.” Expenses such as ferry fees.
If the second film has a similar look and feel, it’s because Guterson’s approach hasn’t changed. Namely, he relies on what locations are available to him for little to no money and who has approached him to volunteer and help him with his project.
It's only once those things are factored in that he then figures out his script.
“People have this idea of a movie being this spectacle behind the scenes. A large crew, a bunch of cables and equipment.” But most of the time on the Burkholder set it was just Guterson and a single camera.
Because he knew he could shoot for free in the forest around his parents’ Bainbridge home, his movie includes the woods as one location. And because his brother runs a brewery in Gig Harbor, the movie also has a brewery scene.
The character Teddy’s room – yellow walls, a yellow phone, a frilly lamp shade – was actually shot in Burkholder’s real-life room. “There’s no set design, no art props. Everything in there was there.”
Guterson says he’s got tips for how to make low-budget films that are good and he’s happy to share the advice with any other young local filmmaker. (One tip: Be reliable and professional. If you tell people the shoot starts at 8 a.m., make sure you start on time).
He’s now wrapping up his third feature film: A story about the people who make viral videos. This time around, his cast is in their 20s and 30s.
Crosscut's arts coverage is made possible through the generous support of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.