‘New Territory’ dir. Alexander Newton

Three children experience a formative incident while at play in a forest.

Writer-Director: Alexander Newton
DOP: A. Clint Litton
Editor: Alexander Newton
Producer: Neena Litton & Amanda Bayard
Key Cast: Dylan Cleary, Emily Cofer, Adam Campbell

C8: The film is based on the short story by your father W. R. Newton. When did you read this story and why did you decide to adapt it?

AN: It had just gotten published in a short story collection, so my father had sent it around to my siblings and me. Around that time I was beginning work on a feature script that had similar themes, so I decided it would be a good idea to take a crack at adapting it.

C8: What are the challenges in adapting a short story for the screen?

AN: The biggest challenge is probably getting over the idea that you are just transcribing the story into a script. Having a short story means you have a solid blueprint, but you still have to make it your own and find your own rhythms.

C8: From start to finish how long did the scriptwriting process take you? 

AN: I’d say a couple of months. The nice thing about a short is you can go over it pretty quickly and it’s easy to get feedback from friends.

C8: Did you find it difficult to remain objective throughout the process as the short story was written by your father?

AN: Not really. I added a character, changed the time period, and reworked the ending among other things. We talked about it early on and I told him that I’d be changing a few things and he said go for it. There was a pretty simple central idea in there, this loss of innocence, so I think he knew that would remain intact.

C8: You directed and edited the film. Were there any scenes that you found difficult to cut or anything you didn’t include?

AN: Since I cut my own stuff, I’m always thinking about how it’s going to be assembled. And then once I’m in post, I know I have to let go of any precious feelings that might be lingering from the set experience and do what works for the film. I think in general when you’re doing small films or shorts you don’t have the luxury of having a bunch of deleted scenes or ideas. If something needs to be deleted, take it off the page beforehand. You don’t want to waste a lot of time and money, not to mention the cast and crew’s time, on stuff that you don’t need. That said, the editing for this one required a lot of finessing, which in some cases was easy and other cases proved difficult.

C8: How early was the decision made to have sparse dialogue?

AN: I’m not a big dialogue person in general, and there wasn’t much in the final script. There’s actually no dialogue in the final version, and that was because I realized in post that it didn’t need any. Anytime I can do a scene and get my point across without words, I’m happy. Great dialogue is an awesome thing, and I think hard to come by. A lot of my favorite films are more visually driven in terms of story, and that’s a place I’m trying to get to.

C8: They say ‘never work with children’. What was it like shooting a film where the whole cast is made up of children?

AN: We were very lucky. We had great kids with great parents, and had a fairly easy-going three day shoot.

C8: What advice would you give to emerging filmmakers who are thinking on working with children?

AN: You’re not just casting a kid, you’re casting a scenario that includes their parents and even siblings being around the set. It can be a lot of work for the production team, and that kind of thing needs to be taken into account. Try to find the ones who are actually kids, not the ones who are ‘acting’ like them.

C8: You had written and directed three short films prior to ‘New Territory’. How has your directorial style evolved over time?

AN: I’ve done over half a dozen at this point. I don’t know if I can fully answer that. I know that I’ve established an approach, and I know that I really enjoy the process. I’m aware of my weaknesses, and I’m working on those things to see if I can improve. A lot of directing is knowing what you want, and that’s derived from a strong emotional core that you find in whatever story you’re telling. You might not always be right, but at least you’ll be on track. I feel like every time I make something, I should learn a little more about anticipating what will work for my approach. I’ve learned a lot, but I’m still green.

C8: You attended Savannah College Of Art and Design’s MFA Film programme. How important was this to forging your own identity as a filmmaker?

AN: It was huge. SCAD gave me an amazing bubble in which to experiment. Most of the collaborators I have now are a result of my experience there. It’s very cool these days to say that film school is irrelevant, and if you already have the connections and crew members it probably is, but SCAD gave me so many opportunities to test-run what it takes to make a film with amazingly talented peers, and that’s hard to stumble upon by yourself.

C8: Do you think that emerging filmmakers need a strong online presence to be successful?

AN: Not necessarily. You could not have a Twitter account or Facebook page and your film could get into Sundance. I know established filmmakers who don’t engage online and are still known for making great work. It all depends on your personality. I’d say the biggest thing is not to force it. Be yourself.

C8: What do you think makes for a good collaboration?

AN: Honesty and trust, and a drink at the end of the day’s work.

C8: What’s next for Alexander Newton?

AN: I have two features I’m going to make, one about a rural upbringing that’s a draft, and another that’s an anthropologist character study that’s in treatment form. They’re kind of in a race to see which one get’s funding first. I’m pulling for one or the other, depending on the day.

You can find out more about Alexander Newton here.