‘American Fork’ brings stars to Slamdance
Slamdance hit it big when they landed Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kathleen Quinlan, William Baldwin and Bruce McGill in its film "American Fork."
Producer Jeremy Coon, a former BYU student who also produced "Napoleon Dynamite" however, expected nothing less.
"When you do one or two films, each film gets easier to make. It kicks open the door," Coon said. "If you pull the "Napoleon Dynamite" card and it has a really strong script, really good actors get excited like this."
"American Fork" will have its world premier Saturday, Jan. 20 at 8:30 p.m. in the main screening room at Treasure Mountain Inn. It will show again Jan. 24 at 3:30 p.m.
The script didn’t merely appeal to actors however. Two years after the idea was conceived, an investor provided the funds to film the movie solely on the quality of the screenplay.
The actors didn’t join the team because of the fame and money they might attain at Slamdance, Coon said.
"They did it because they like the project," he said. "I watched Mary Lynn (Chloe) in the ’24’ premier and some of those actors don’t have to work. To do a film like "American Fork," they do if for artistic reasons. They won’t make any money."
The actors made it easy on first-time director Chris Bowman.
"They did a good job of putting me at ease," Bowman said.
Bowman’s only previous directing experience was at BYU where he made a few short films. Recently, he has been writing for Disney cartoons. He wasn’t sure beforehand of how seasoned actors would treat him.
"I was bracing myself with dealing with diva attitudes and playing politics between the actors but they were very gracious," Bowman said. "I prepared for them brushing me off or challenging me."
Bowman said the actors all came to work even though they had never heard of him or seen his work.
"Working with the actors was the most pleasurable experience, the most fun of the film," Bowman said.
The actors were a pleasant part of what was a largely "tough production," Bowman said.
"I had a knot in my stomach every day of the shoot," Bowman said, "but that was a combination of all the concerns."
No concern loomed larger than what would happen a week before wrapping up the shoot.
"It was the most harrowing thing for me," Bowman said.
His wife was home in Los Angeles expecting their second child, a son. The due date was set for well after Bowman would wrap up the film.
"It didn’t go to plan," Bowman said.
While shooting the climax of the film, Bowman received a call that his wife was having light contractions. They hoped the contractions were early and the birth wouldn’t happen yet. They were wrong.
"I got a call at two or three in the morning," Bowman said. "They were wheeling her in and 20 minutes later the kid had come. Mercifully, the labor was really short."
Bowman’s next phone call was to a photographer to get shots of the baby: his wife insisted that he stay and finish filming.
"On the schedule and the budget, for me to disappear for a day or two, it didn’t make sense," Bowman said.
Bowman admits he didn’t film the last week with the same conviction, as he battled to keep his focus on "American Fork."
"My head was sort of toggling back and forth a bit," Bowman said. "The night it happened, everything came crashing down, I felt like I shouldn’t be there on the set."
Obviously, the movie finished and Bowman enjoyed his first opportunity to make a feature-length film.
"I think that I like to have some degree of control of how the thing comes out," Bowman said as he compared his work to writing for animated TV.
"I enjoy writing and it’s the most fundamental part of story telling," Bowman continued. "I continue to write things that I won’t direct but directing gives you the satisfaction of how they should look, move and interact. Staging the whole thing, I have even more fun with it."
The screenplay was written by Hubbel Palmer who also went to BYU with Coon and Bowman. Palmer plays Tracy Orbison, the protagonist in the film.
"He’s a real indelible guy," Bowman said. "He’s tall and large and his name you don’t soon forget. I wasn’t even acquainted with him as a writer."
Palmer cold-called Bowman and asked him to read a script. Palmer wanted Bowman to direct it based on the shorts he’d seen Bowman produce.
"I read it with low expectations but it was really good," Bowman said. "It was laugh-out-loud funny and sort of uncomfortable at times and darker than I expected and I wanted to be a part of it."
The story follows a heavy-set grocery clerk (Orbison) who is striving to make his mark in the world. He has a series of trials and triumphs. He becomes enamored with Baldwin’s character (Truman Hope) the king of Community Theater who acted in a couple episodes of "Jag" and is pompous about his craft.
Orbison signs up for an acting class taught by Hope and thinks he has found his calling in life. Orbison’s acting life, though, doesn’t pan out.
"He gets his heart broken along the way, but learns to respect himself and embrace who he is, not chase greater fame and fortune," Bowman said.
"American Fork" will have its world premier Saturday, Jan. 20 at 8:30 p.m. in the main screening room at Treasure Mountain Inn. It will show again Jan. 24 at 3:30 p.m. at the same location. For more information, go to http://www.slamdance.com.
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The Park Record’s top stories list this past weekend included pieces on the area’s historic drought, vandalism of a beloved local work of art and more.