‘LOOMS’ dir. Funk Brothers

Through rhythms of loyalty, legacy, and mortality, LOOMS centers around the internal tribulations of one lonely, aging farmer as he faces the most difficult decision of his life: To let go or remain rooted.

Directors: Funk Brothers
Writers: Funk Brothers & Burke Scurfield
Producer: Logan Adermatt
Executive Producer: Liz Lodge
DOP: Chayse Irvin
Key Cast: Timothy V. Murphy

C8: Where did the idea for ‘LOOMS’ come from?

TF: Growing up as kids, we used to visit the family farm every summer. Some of our fondest memories as kids involved riding tractors, pulling weeds from fields and fishing with sticks and worms. As we got older, life commitments started to get in the way and eventually we stopped going back. Since then, there’s always been apart of us that wanted to reconnect with our roots. We initially started talking about shooting a visual exploration of farming life – a poetic essence piece, so to speak. It would give us an opportunity to return to the farm and pay homage to our heritage.

But as discussions continued, bearing in mind our Uncle is likely the last in line to steward our family’s land, we became curious about expanding the scope of the piece. The more we researched and interviewed with farmers, the more we became aware that our family’s story was apart of a growing trend; not only in America but also around the world. Farmers are growing older and younger generations are not eager to inherit the role. It’s a tough thankless job. Ultimately, we felt it was important to tell a narrative about this vanishing breed– the independent farmer.

C8: How do you write as a trio? Do you each take a different draft?

TF: After we’ve ‘duked out’ a general structure together, we then freely experiment with scenes, dialogue, and specific action. We bring our drafts to the round table, bury our egos and honor what resonates with the collective.  Having three of us creates diplomacy in the sense that we can always use a majority vote to decide what feels best for the story.

C8: You worked with Burke Scurfield on the script. How did writing ‘LOOMS’ differ from previous projects?

TF: Working with Burke was tremendous. He is a gifted young writer out of NYU and someone who we really trusted to balance our perspectives. Besides being instrumental in developing the script, he raised our awareness of certain screenwriting disciplines. This helped us venture beyond more mainstream narrative structure to explore ways of using tone to communicate themes.

Since most of the farmers we know let their actions speak for themselves, we found our writing was directed more towards action, and how to effectively use the language of the camera.

C8: Talk us through the process of a directing trio. Do you ever find it to be too many cooks in the kitchen?

TF: Well, it wasn’t until after the tin foil ran out on our homemade brain-merging device that we really had to embrace each other’s differences. Fortunately, those differences have become our greatest strength. We’ve grown up and grown into our roles together and so the level in which we communicate is quite well-refined.

On set, we’re harmonious because we’re meticulous in pre-production. That’s where we get all of our negotiating out of the way so once we get to the point of calling “action,” we’re all on the same page. There’s a lot of communicating that happens without us having to say anything to one another.

When working with our actors, we’ll pick a point-person to handle the direction based on a particular scene. We’ll then ‘huddle’ when needed to discuss adjustments and new ideas. We’re flexible and receptive to experimentation because you don’t know exactly how a scene will evolve until the camera rolls. We always want to give ourselves room to explore and capture those precious unscripted moments.  At the end of the day, we’re all there to push the vision and support each other’s efforts.

C8: Where did you shoot the film? How important was it to shoot on location?

TF: We shot the film in Osage, Iowa.  The story was very personal to us so shooting anywhere other than our family’s farmstead didn’t feel like an option. This farm and its legacy were very much their own character in our story.

C8: The long take at the start of the film is incredibly unnerving. Why did you choose this as the introduction for the main protagonist?

TF: You set the bar for expectations in opening scenes, and we really wanted the audience to get a feel for the pacing and rhythm. We appreciate long takes as long as new questions are arising or information is being gathered throughout the shot. For us, the harsh winter conditions, the farmstead, and the resoluteness of the farmer were all important elements to introduce from the get-go. It felt like the right way to immerse our audience in the world while establishing the tone.

C8: At what stage did Timothy Murphy come on board to play the Farmer and how did you work with him to develop the character?

TF: Tim got back to us almost immediately after reading the script. Actually, he said it only took him the first few pages to decide on the role, which was surprising to us because we didn’t have any dialogue written on those pages. He fully connected with the character and the story, which was heavily influenced by his own upbringing on a farm in Ireland.

We all agreed “less is more” and the performance was going to lie in the subtleties. Being the artist that he is, he came early to meet our uncle and get a feel for the farm. We’re sure as he first got out of the car in Osage he questioned what he signed up for (-30 below) but he never complained once. Instead, he continued to give us more than we could have ever asked for.

C8: What was the biggest obstacle you encountered while filming and how did you overcome it?

TF: Without a question – temperature! Everyone on set would agree it was one of the coldest shoots they’ve been a part of.  I mean it was really cold. Your pee would freeze before it ever hit the ground. The film camera’s motor was constantly seizing and nearly sabotaged some very crucial scenes scheduled during “magic hours”. But hats off to our 1stAC, David Edsall, for staying cool (no pun) under pressure and developing a rig of hand-warmers he used to cocoon the camera and film mag. In the end, we never missed a shot due to the cold.

C8: What did you shoot on and what was the reasoning behind this choice?

TF: 35mm film. Our DOP Chayse Irvin is shooting more film projects than anyone we know right now. He is gifted with the medium and we think it’s important you don’t force the hand of your DOP. If possible, you want to accommodate them and allow them to use the tools they feel best suits the project.

The texture, grain structure, and general aesthetic of film are rough, raw, imperfect, and even nostalgic. We welcomed the imperfections; they fit the world we wanted to portray. The discipline of shooting on film, an expensive finite resource, forced us to be very precise. Too often, and when we first started shooting, there is a reliance on the ability to shoot endlessly, and to hope something magical happens. With film, that luxury doesn’t exist and you have to really bring everything together before trying to capture something. You can’t rely on volume of footage to cover a scene, instead you need to exercise more control and imagine how each shot speaks to the context of the story.

C8: How did you fund the film? Did you receive any financial support from film organisations?

TF: LOOMS funding came through private donations and grants. Our crew was small  (12 people), the locations were free, and favors were definitely called in. We’re grateful for all the incredible support we received along the way.

Shooting on film would have never been possible without the generous support of Panavision’s New Filmmakers Program. We can’t say enough about Panavision and their commitment to helping young filmmakers.

C8: ‘LOOMS’ was recently listed as a Vimeo Staff Pick. How important was this to the success of the film?

TF: Incredibly important. Vimeo is the premier online video sharing community for young filmmakers. Our video more than quadrupled in views just a few hours after receiving a Staff Pick. Exposure is always critical to success, so having them put it up front-and-center really helped us reach a wide audience. The coolest part was definitely receiving the many touching comments from other Vimeo users, especially those from farming backgrounds. If it wasn’t for the Staff Pick, the film never would have given us the opportunity to connect like that.

C8: Is online distribution the best way for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work?

TF: Whether or not it’s the best way, we can’t say for sure but it’s clearly the trend. There really isn’t a more efficient or immediate way to reach a global audience.

C8: What is the essence of a good collaboration?

TF: Mutual respect. It isn’t always easy articulating ideas and emotions. If you respect your collaborator and their artistic sensibilities, you must learn to trust them. And when you have faith in them, they’ll feel empowered. We get the most out of our collaborations this way. You never want someone to feel like an instrument – they should feel apart of bringing a story to life.

C8: What is on the horizon for the Funk Brothers? Do you have any aspirations to go solo?

No aspirations to go solo. We’re better as a team. Currently, we’re working on a feature that will take us to the Philippines in 2015… Cock-fighting and sex tourism… you know, another lighthearted comedy!