The Sundance Film Festival USA's second outing in Houston was a Texas affair — with a little help from Louisiana.
Organizers of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah decided to spread the film wealth across the nation, choosing Houston and nine cities for a one-night screening of movies directly from the January festival.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints seemed the perfect choice for Houston since the impressionistic drama about an outlaw (Casey Affleck) who escapes from prison and sets out to reunite with his wife (Rooney Mara) and daughter he has never met is set in small-town Texas and comes from Dallas-based director David Lowery, who also wrote the movie, and Toby Halbrooks, who produced the movie with James M. Johnston.
Although the film is set in Texas, they filmed most of it in Shreveport, since Louisiana offers lucrative tax breaks to filmmakers who make movies there.
Lowery and Halbrooks were on hand at the Sundance Cinemas to participate in a question-and-answer session with the capacity audience, which I moderated.
The movie came together "amazingly fast," which doesn't always happen, Halbrooks explained.
Lowery had worked on the film at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, an immersive, five-day writers’ workshop, last winter while Halbrooks and Johnston completed a producing fellowship at Sundance.
"Then last February we went to Los Angeles and found the actors and financing. The challenges were which financiers to pick and who you work with. They responded," Halbrooks said.
They met with Mara on the day after she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. She instantly liked the script and agreed to be in the low-budget movie.
But there was one catch. Although set in Texas, most of the movie was made in Shreveport since Louisiana offers lucrative tax breaks to filmmakers.
"It was a challenge to try find a place that wasn't Texas, because were all disappointed about (not filming there). We scoured Louisiana because that was our option. Either that or Canada, which didn't seem very exciting to anybody," Lowery said.
"It's a weird title but it sticks in your head in a nice way. Rooney was the one who pointed out the fact that if you say it with a Southern accent they get it right away."
"If any legislators are l istening, we would love to make all of our movies in Texas entirely, but for the time being we were able to raise money by going to Louisiana," Halbrooks said.
To give the movie more of a Texas feel, they filmed in the tiny central Texas city of Meridian, as well as Austin and Dallas.
After his last movie, St. Nick, an impressionistic story of two young siblings who run away from home and try to survive on their own, Lowery set out to write a fast-moving action western. But once he started writing Ain't Them Bodies Saints, "it stopped being an action movie very quickly," he recalled.