April 07, 2013 | posted in Filmmakers
After working as a writer and policy analyst—at one point in President Bill Clinton’s White House—Justin Schwarz got disillusioned with government and decided to go to film school.
Film, he found, is “a way of communication with a larger audience,” he says. It “has the ability to connect with people on an emotional and visceral level.”
His debut feature, “The Discoverers,” is a bittersweet comedy focusing on family dysfunction and rediscovery. He wrote the script and directed the film.
“Family can be your greatest source of strength and the origin of all our problems,” he says. And when it comes down to it, he reminds us, “You can’t divorce your family.”
He also liked history, so his film puts family and history together. The film follows the Birch family on a Lewis and Clark discovery. “The film is about a family on a journey, discovering themselves and each other along the way,” he says.
While writing the script, Schwarz found it a truly solitary part of the process. Then being on set with the cast and crew “was invigorating,” he says, noting that the creative filmmaking process “starts with one person and becomes 250 people.”
And part of the 250 is “an amazing ensemble cast,” he says. Veteran actor Griffin Dunne is Lewis Birch, the lead of the family and the film. He’s a sympathetic “every man.” And the film is his “ middle-age coming of age story.”
And Dunne embraces the right qualities for his character. “I didn’t want a ‘sad sack,’” says Schwarz. “I needed someone that had some vitriol.”
Then he cast Madeleine Martin (“Californication”) as Zoe, who was great to pair with Griffin. He built the rest of the cast from there. Then he put them in the Oregon woods.
“Having eight actors in the woods was a challenge,” he says.
Speaking of the woods, he found the perfect spot to shoot his final scenes while he was travelling with his wife, who just happens to be one of the film’s producers. They were following Lewis and Clark’s path in reverse and happened upon the woods in Oregon. “Finding this spot was fulfilling,” he says. Although, he also shares what wasn’t so great – sometimes nature can get in the way.
The crew was shooting in late fall, which happened to be breeding season for deer. “We were told not to go near the deer,” he says.
But he reminds us, that just as important as the cast is, so is location. “Nature is a very important character in the film,” he says.
By leaving the city, and going back to nature, the characters are stripped from the familiar, and able to see themselves and each other in a new light. “Getting lost together, they find themselves,” says Schwarz.
Schwarz hopes that the audience “will experience this journey with our characters,” he says. “And laugh and cry at the same time and be moved as they are taken on this journey, which is really about family.”
--Anne M. DiTeodoro
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