By: Nicki Legge
Photo By: Brandon Sullivan
Most families have activities that they enjoy doing together, like family game night, Sunday dinner, or camping. Diane Dresback and her sons, Devon Dresback and Trenton Kennedy, spend their family time exercising their creativity and making award winning films together. Most recently, this extraordinary family took part in the Almost Famous Film Festival’s (A3F) 48 Hour Challenge where they took home Best Overall Film; Audience Favorite; the Brock H. Brown Best Script Award; Best Director; and their two main actors, Colleen Hartnett and Rafael Munguia, both took home awards for Outstanding Individual Performances. This year’s A3F 48 Hour Challenge produced a collection of some of the best 48 hour challenge films I have ever seen, and their film, Afterword really stood out as the most captivating and visually beautiful of all top 20 films. Jump Ship Productions had the pleasure of interviewing all three family members about their experiences working together on and off set and creating their film Afterword.
I find it impressive that there are three award winning filmmakers in one family; do you have any other family members that work within the film industry?
DIANE: The only person I met only a few years back is my uncle, James Marino, who lives in San Diego. He is always there with positive words of encouragement for us! I am hoping to actually have an opportunity to work with him on a project at some time in the future.
Do you all usually stick to the same roles when you work together (i.e., Diane as the Producer, Trenton as the writer, and Devon as the Director)? When you work separately, do you also stick to the same roles, or do you take on other responsibilities as well?
DIANE: Mostly when we’ve worked together on projects, yes we have stuck to the same roles. Although, I will say that we all venture across boundaries at times to get whatever needs to be done, done! That involves acting, shooting and editing.
On my own projects, I typically write, direct and also end up producing and editing, if needed. Having said that, I often seek input from both Devon and Trenton on my scripts as they really do give me very honest feedback…no fluffy stuff! Which is helpful.
What inspired each of you to venture into the wonderful world of filmmaking?
TRENT: I’m actually a video game designer by day. My girlfriend Deanna Nygren (3D Artist) and I just moved back to Phoenix to start a small independent game studio. We were in Austin, TX for several years working in the game industry (on games like Halo 4 and DC Universe Online). I’m primarily a designer, but I did do some writing on DCUO; hearing iconic characters like Batman (Kevin Conroy), Superman (Adam Baldwin), The Joker (Mark Hamill), and Lex Luthor (James Marsters) read lines I wrote was truly thrilling. (Luckily I had editors supporting me so it made it sound even better!). Games are my first love, but film has always been my mistress on the side. I’m grateful I can ride Devon and Diane’s coattails and help out.
DEVON: For me it began as an obsession with blowing things up around 14. My friends and I would get our own chemicals offline, mix them ourselves and film all the glorious destruction. I was quite the crazy little pyromaniac. From there it spawned into an interest in “special effects“. You know, fake videos of blowing up the dog, ripping my friends in half, normal kid stuff like that… But around 16, I really started getting interested in narrative film.
DIANE: Right out of college, I was co-owner of a production company, where we filmed corporate and personal events for about seven years before I returned to corporate work…. After being in love with creative writing as a kid, I had a writing professor my first semester of college that convinced me that I shouldn’t be doing any creative writing. So, I spent years in corporate America writing business documents, reports and training programs. About ten years ago, I had a personal situation occur that inspired me to write my first feature length screenplay. It was Trenton, who was still in high school at the time, who convinced me I could do it! And I did. Of course, it took a few years and I went through some terrible drafts…but, I finished it. Around that same time, and after 26 years in corporate America working mostly as a manager and senior executive in the travel and financial industries, in 2007, I returned to the production world only now with more of a focus on narrative filmmaking. And you are right, Nicki, it is wonderful!
“We were in Austin, TX for several years working in the game industry (on games like Halo 4 and DC Universe Online).”
One of the things that I find to be most important on set is chemistry between the crew members. Does it seem to be easier to work with each other because you already have that family chemistry, or are there different aspects that become more difficult on set?
TRENT: A producer is already like a mother in a lot of ways! It definitely helps to know exactly what to expect from team members. It makes it much easier to concentrate on your own role and trust the rest have it handled. I hadn’t worked with most of the rest of the team, but Devon and Diane had, so again it was just a matter of trusting their judgment. They pulled together an awesome crew and three great actors.
DEVON: Chemistry is everything for me on set, and I choose my cast and crew very delicately. Patience is everything, because one bad attitude can bring down everyone’s moral. It’s actually surprisingly normal to work with family on set, because they understand the process and the time it takes. Also I think it’s because we usually share a similar vision, so there’s not too much conflict.
DIANE: I have come to understand how to work best with my boys. I know when I need to keep my mouth shut and go with what they are saying and when I need to put in my opinion, based on my experience. I believe all three of us recognize that we bring different strengths to the table. I don’t behave like a mom on set…although, I do sneak a hug once in a while when no one is looking just to encourage and acknowledge them. Ha!
Do you find that a lot of your conversations off set revolve around filmmaking or the film industry in general, or do you tend to keep the “shop talk:” separate from family time?
TRENT: I am immensely grateful to have such a creative significant other (Deanna Nygren). We can’t help but “talk shop” a lot, but we do try to keep a balance. It’s impossible not to share in each other’s excitement. The amazing art she creates is a huge inspiration for my ideas.
DIANE: Admittedly, conversations with Devon and Trenton often revolve around filmmaking and film projects. I like to say that our conversations are always creative. Recently, we started playing a board/roleplay game that Trenton is teaching us. There are a lot of similarities with filmmaking in character development and storytelling. My boyfriend, Rick has never been around filmmaking, so he enjoys hearing about it (thankfully!), but I try not to dominate our conversation…although I could talk for hours about indie filmmaking!
What made you decide to participate in the A3F 48 hour challenge this year?
DEVON: It’s always a great competition but I wasn’t originally planning on entering. However my brother had just moved back into town and my mom totally pulled the family card, saying we hadn’t worked on anything together as a family in a long time. I’m extremely glad she convinced us though.
DIANE: I love supporting Jae Staats and Jason Francois by participating in their A3F film challenges. Plus, it had been a couple of years since Devon, Trenton and I had done this particular challenge on the same team. The last A3F we did together was back in February 2011, when we surprised the audience by making two films that played off of each other….different perspectives. The idea, which was Devon’s, was really clever and lead to another insane weekend. Oh, did I say that I was half way through producing a feature film when we took the weekend off to make those two shorts in 48 hours? I think a little insanity runs through this family!
Where did you find your inspiration for “Afterword?”
TRENT: Having our actors and a main location lined up helped immensely when writing the script. Imagining what sort of characters they would be good at playing was important. The stories I love tend to have very gray characters. They’re clearly flawed, but there’s something about them that draws you in.
Afterword is centered on two imperfect characters looking back on their past relationship. My inspiration came primarily from the idea that with time comes perspective. It’s always easier to see what went wrong in hindsight. The real question (and one that Afterword leaves up to the viewer to answer) is, does that new perspective actually change anything?
Trent, did you work closely with Devon in terms of visuals while writing the script?
TRENT: Devon and I have many similar tastes. Writing with your actors in mind helps considerably; writing with your director in mind is equally helpful. I gave Devon an idea of how I pictured things, but the best part of working with him is seeing what he pictured when reading what I wrote.
Devon, one of the things that I found to be the most impressive was how rapidly the emotion in the film turned from happy to sad. Was it difficult to get your actors to flip that switch so quickly (especially under the pressure of a 48 hour time crunch)? What techniques did you use to help them change their mood?
DEVON: I’m glad you mentioned this. From the first talk of this idea, this specific dynamic is really what drew me in. I wanted these characters to be comfortable enough with each other to address the lower points in their past, but also the audience needed to feel just as comfortable, like they had lived through the moments with these characters. The climax had to carry weight, and we did as much as we could to ensure a connection between audience and these characters. Shooting the locations with their respective dialogue was a trip! The moods would rapidly swap and the actors were extremely versatile. I used a couple personal techniques, but also actually developed a few on accident. Colleen asked me about one, and if I had done it intentionally. I said no, but next time I will have. I felt the fluctuation of the dialogue and mood between the two characters came off surprisingly real and not as forced as I had feared. This was due largely in part to Rafael and Colleen, who are both incredibly adaptable actors. Also, 5 minutes is quite a short time to expect compassion from the audience, so our gimmick really allowed for us to cover a lot of emotional ground.
Rafael Munguia and Colleen Hartnett, both took home awards for
Outstanding Individual Performances.
Photos By: Brandon Sullivan
Obviously there were some parts of the dialogue that had to be said in certain locations, like talking about stir-fry in the kitchen; however other pieces of dialogue weren’t necessarily location specific. During the shoot, did you already have an idea of when you wanted to transition from one location to another, or was that decided in post-production?
DEVON: This was a huge concern of mine from the get go. Even though I loved the idea, I had an inkling that we might be shooting ourselves in the foot. One missed line of dialogue with 6 very scattered locations could cause some serious issues. Luckily my brother really nailed down every piece of dialogue and every location. It was a terrifying script to flip through though, because it was written exactly how it played. So returning to a location later in the film meant that the dialogue would be scattered throughout the script, and jump from page to page…even when it was just a couple words.
The dialogue seemed to flow so seamlessly from location to location, did you have to do a lot of ADR work to ensure that the sound would be consistent throughout all of the locations?
DEVON: Surprisingly, no. We only had to ADR two lines I believe. But at one point we were battling a juke box, and in between every song we would have about 10 seconds for Colleen to get her line. It was about as indy as you can get.
Trent, story is such an important part of filmmaking, and without the proper structure within a script, a story can fall apart very quickly. Have you attended any classes on writing or received any formal training?
TRENT: Not beyond a couple classes in college. I credit any useful techniques I’ve picked up to my joy of reading. Afterword uses a lot of repetition which gives it almost a poetic feel. I wanted the characters’ change in perspective to be evident. I love how much meaning comes through in how a line is spoken. Saying the same line but with a different emotion changes the meaning drastically. That’s difficult to do in written text, but it’s something we take for granted in speech because it comes naturally.
What was your favorite part about this challenge?
On the Set of “Afterword”
TRENT: Even though nobody was getting paid, our cast and crew were truly professionals. It was not an easy shoot but I didn’t hear one complaint the entire time.
DEVON: The screening. There’s always just so much energy, and nerves flying around in that theater. Almost on cue every time, the film before ours will begin to play and that feeling will set in. Excitement, terror, nausea, what if we missed the boom in one of our shots (which we definitely did). It’s this strange barrage of sensations that really is irreplaceable.cast and crew were truly professionals. It was not an easy shoot but I didn’t hear one complaint the entire time.
DIANE: Gosh, it’s hard to say, I love the whole process as well as the screening. But, if you let me pick two, I would say the first one is when we finally wrapped. It was a satisfying feeling knowing (hoping) we captured everything. Plus, everybody was so exhausted, it felt good to congratulate and thank them all after such a long day and night that was nonstop. The second part was seeing the rough cut of the film. This time we were fortunate to have very talented Jerrod Saba as our editor and TJ Bucco had designed some wonderful music. Watching that first cut gave me chills because at that point, I knew we had a good little film.
What was your least favorite part?
TRENT: The drunks at the bar location. Someone should probably tell that story…
DEVON: Drunk bar patrons. Seriously, telling them “quiet on the set” was like taking the binkies away from a room full of toddlers. It didn’t help that they were there for the most emotional scene in the movie. I’m not terribly confrontational, but there was a moment where one of the guys yelled some really off color things in the middle of one of our takes, and I was about to go full David O’Russell. I felt awful for putting my actors through that especially in a scene where they were both exposing everything they had as actors. But despite the drunkard’s efforts, Rafael and Colleen were both exceedingly professional, and both went on to win awards for their acting.
DIANE: Well, it would seem that I should say, dealing with the drunks. However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say although it was a tough section of the shoot, as the producer, I felt extremely happy that I was able to hold together all the pieces – the bar patrons who were drunk but were also customers of the location we were shooting in, the bartender who was concerned about her customers, the unrepeatable comments being made to me by a completely inebriated man while I was trying to coerce him to stay quiet for 30 seconds, an irritated writer who didn’t like what that guy was saying to his mother and an upset director because it was extremely challenging for his actors. It was one of the more difficult situations that I have experienced as a producer/crew member, but the bottom-line is that we got the shots we needed, didn’t get kicked out of the location, didn’t have any fights breakout and Devon got the performances he needed to make that scene work. I chalk that up as a success! I like challenges. I kind of thrive on them, actually.
My least favorite part of the shoot? Trying to hold those darn bounce boards still in the wind at the first outside location.
Diane, working under such an intense deadline can kill any production, but your film looked like it was shot over a couple of weeks rather than a couple of days. What are some of your tips and tricks for keeping your production organized and on schedule without losing any of the quality?
DIANE: As soon as we settled on an idea and I found Trenton had written a great script, I no longer stayed involved with the creative side but switched immediately to figuring out how we could make this crazy production work within the time constraints before us. I am an organizer…always have been even in my corporate days and now in my film work. I took the time to figure out very thoroughly and quickly the best order for locations, all the wardrobe changes our actors needed, the props and the set design pieces that we had to haul around in my car for this film. You have to stay focused on the task at hand and just push through things. I rarely sit down for a break…I just keep going (3 hours sleep out of 60 from Friday morning to Sunday night). And, like any good indie producer, I keep the production moving forward.
Trent, when writing for a challenge like the A3F 48 hour, does it seem to hinder your creativity to be given the line of dialogue, prop, and theme, or do you find that it helps jump start the creative process?
TRENT: I find it’s very difficult to start a creative endeavor without some constraints. Luckily life tends to give you an endless supply. Not identifying or working within your constraints is why many projects fail. The line of dialogue, prop, and theme are very minor constraints when you compare it to the 48 hour time frame. But I guess that’s half the fun!
Devon, are there any things that you wish you could have done differently if you had more time, or were you able to get exactly what you wanted from the script in the time that you had?
DEVON: Yes. Everything. Always. Haha, but I was definitely satisfied with how it turned out. Most of the things resulted from a lack of time, like always. But everyone worked excruciatingly hard, and I couldn’t have dreamt of a better cast or crew.
What steps did you take prior to the kickoff to prepare for this challenge?
TRENT: We tried to have some story ideas ready, but they all got scrapped fairly quickly. I was actually glad about that. One of the best parts of this competition is the all night script writing. Light from the sunrise making you squint as you try desperately to polish off the script before your cast and crew start showing up… I wouldn’t have it any other way.
DIANE: I had nailed down the bar location and we had the three actors.
I was rather impressed with the number of locations and how seamlessly they flowed together during the film. Aside from the bar, did you have any other locations in mind before the kickoff, or did you find them all within the 48 hours?
DIANE: I was pushing for one or two cool locations at the most, but that just didn’t work within the creative process. So, early Saturday morning we were deciding on the other locations…a total of six in twenty hours of shooting. Killer, but everyone wanted to make this work and make it look great. Our DP, Charles Cartwright did a good job dealing with all the locations and their varied lighting and sound situations.
Diane, I can only imagine how proud you must be of your amazing children and all of their accomplishments; if I were in your shoes, I’m sure I could never get enough of working together as a family. As a producer, do you often steer toward projects that you can involve them in, or is it more of an added perk when you find projects that you can work on together?
DIANE: I convinced them both to do this film project. I love working with them but many times it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes, Devon and I compete against each other in these challenges (it’s a friendly competition). In fact, for the 2011 A3F 72 Hour Musical challenge, we both wrote and directed our own films. His team took first place for Secret Agents and my team took third place for WISH Inc., amongst other awards. That was another fun night for us.
How many projects have you done together (either all three or just two of you)?
DIANE: This was interesting to actually go back and count how many films we had done together. This was the final count: All three of us – 8. And, for just Devon and myself – 4 more.
Do you have any future projects in the pipeline, either together or separately?
DEVON: We’re currently developing and writing a web series that we hope to kickstart in the summer. It’ll be the biggest project we’ve worked on together to date.
DIANE: Together, we want to do a web series later this year. For me individually, I have a feature film script I hope to find funding for, and I currently am working on a short film that someone has entrusted me to write and direct. Last year, I worked with Bret Kalmbach and several others shooting a teaser for a potential future film that we are in the final stages of finishing up and will post online soon. I also have some other client projects underway.
What do you think sets your team apart from other teams that participated in the 48 hour challenge?
DIANE: I always have the ultimate respect for any team that participates in these challenges. It is not easy and it takes a hard working team to stay with it and get it done. I don’t know that we are set apart from other teams. Everything just gels when everyone on the team works towards the same goal…without egos or complaints, all focused at trying to make the best film possible within the time constraints at hand.
On the Set of “Afterword”