“11 Minute Mile” | Interview with Andrew Wood
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Does the elasticity of time during traumatic events make a few short minutes feel like an eternity? Or does everything become a blur, coupling with heightened difficulties in recollecting the enormity of an awful situation? When faced with such challenging events, what part of the real self emerges? In Andrew Wood’s harrowingly claustrophobic 11-Minute Mile, the terrible events of the 2013 Marathon bombings occur through the eyes of a native Bostonian. Not on New England ground mind you, but rather in that frustrating focal point of American anxiety: the airport.
Made at USC School of Cinematic Arts, 11-Minute Mile not only arrives to our third season of Film School Shorts, but will also screen at the SF Independent Film Festival (SF Indiefest) in the Shorts 4: Based on a True Story showcase at the Roxie Theatre. We caught up with Andrew over email to chat about his film.
Tell us about 11 Minute Mile. What made you decide to tackle the Boston Marathon bombings?
It’s a really good question and I don’t have a good answer. At the time I had never lived so far from home and wasn’t a fan of LA. I missed my family, friends, and being in Boston. I would think about them all the time, how much I had depended on them. I lived in Charlestown when the bombing happened, but was sent to New Jersey early that morning for work. One of my best friends did promotions for the Boston Bruins and was working the finish line. He’s the best person I know.
Boston is geographically smaller than people think, culturally enormous (see Brady, Belichick, the Revolutionary War) but small as a city. So many calls were going into such a small area that the lines got crossed. When I tried to reach my friends I got connected to random numbers, some guy in North Dakota, someone speaking Spanish. Nobody knew what was going on. It’s the worst few hours of your life because you’re truly helpless, all you can do is sit and think the worst. There’s fear, but also guilt. The city has given you everything, made you who you are through all the good times, but by some stroke of dumb-luck, you’re not there for the worst time. You’re not there to earn the right to call the greatest city on earth home anymore. And you’re not there with the people you care about.
You always see movies where characters make these 180-degree changes and I just don’t think it’s true. People don’t change, not overnight, even when they have every reason in the world to. I had every reason in the world, and I didn’t change. I wish I could say I became a better person, but I can’t. If anything I’m worse. I’m a little less patient than I was. A little less forgiving. Less trusting. I still take my family and friends for granted, and without them I’d be nowhere. Maybe making the film was an attempt at a second chance at that, to make the changes I failed to when I should have. But I don’t know.
How many days did you shoot?
We shot four days total, two consecutive weekends.
Filming in an airport: this is something I think of lot of film students would actually really like to know more about. What was it like? Can you walk us through the process of scouting, the bureaucracy, the actual shoot?
I had an incredible producer in Kelly Austin Davis, who probably climbed a mountain of paperwork to get us permission to shoot in both Bob Hope [Airport] and LAX. She would be able to give you a better answer than me, there’s a lot of insurance involved. We were extremely lucky with the people we dealt with. Carlyle Kidd at LAX was great, and David Freedman at Bob Hope happened to go to the same high school as me, so he did everything he could for us. Allen Schmitt was in charge of security there too: he even let us shoot Kelly’s film in his home a month later. They’re incredible guys.
But airports are airports; it’s not a negotiation, what they say goes and you’re there at their discretion. You have to be respectful. We had to pay for security attendants at both airports to accompany us at all times, and because of that cost, we only had four-hour days, not four hours to shoot, four hours total from when the doors opened to when they closed. We had to prepare everything down to the minute, which is tough for both the actors and our DP, Adam Linzey. I asked a lot of them.
It’s a touchy subject. Was there anything about 11 Minute Mile that you doubted while making it?
I doubted all of it. Myself especially: that I don’t know what I’m doing. That I’m not qualified. That I’d fail both the city and my friends. I still doubt it, now more than ever. Nobody asked me to make the film. And to be honest, if the film wasn’t about what it’s about then I doubt very much it would be on your program on its own merits, and I would even be answering these questions. My greatest fear now is that in choosing to make a film about my experience during the Marathon Bombings, no matter how sincere it may be, in a way I stand to gain from it. It wasn’t my intention but that worry is always in the back of my head.
At USC, we make these films in only our second semester. They’re not thesis films. The camera we use isn’t even close to industry standard. They’re not supposed to be put on TV. They’re supposed to be an exercise. The goal of the course is to teach us collaboration, not come out with good finished products. The last person whose project from that class that did anything was Ryan Coogler, who went on to direct Fruitvale Station. But we’re very competitive at USC so we ignore all that and try anyway. I hope this doesn’t come off as ungrateful, but I didn’t imagine the film would make its way onto your program. But it did. Hopefully some good can come of it, that people see it and maybe donate to the any of the One Fund charities and the people still in need. Or once USC contractually honors its SAG agreement, that any money the film makes goes directly to the actual victims of the bombing. It’s not enough, not nearly.
The film rides hard on your actors’ shoulders, and he is VERY good. How did you cast Trey Holland?
Yeah he’s incredible. I’m surprised he’s not very famous already, or that we could even get someone like him in a student film. Any day now he’ll probably blow up. We just put out a Breakdown, an online casting notice, and at the time I think he was just finishing an episode of FutureStates for PBS and was free to come in and audition. We had almost thirty actors read for it, and there were a lot of really good ones, but he was our guy.
Tell us about working with Trey Holland and, in general, how you work with actors to get great performances?
I like cinematography more than directing. Cameras are simple, they have buttons. Actors don’t. There’s verbs involved, I don’t know. It’s intimidating. Trey was awesome though; he has way more experience as an actor and as a filmmaker in his own right than I do as a director. But he was extremely patient with me and all the unforgivable mistakes I probably made in directing actors. I want to work with him on everything, because in addition to being very talented he’s also just a really good guy. All of the actors were great to work with, and very patient with me, from Elizabeth Lamboy-Wilson to Gregg and Deane [Sullivan]. Right now my approach to get good performances is to cast really talented people and try not to screw it up too much with my terrible directing. That’s what I got.
Sean is, well, kind of a douchebag. He’s actually pretty unlikable. But man, does his presence linger well after the film is over. What were you trying to accomplish with this character type?
Yeah, I got that comment a lot in the script stage. Personally, I never thought he was that bad. But I’m from Massachusetts and love Barstool because it reminds me of home, what some would call being a douche we might call banter. What it comes down to is that nobody wants to watch bad things happen to good people, or to anyone for that matter. Take an a**hole and tear him apart piece by piece until only his virtue remains, or put a decent man in circumstances where he can find his demons. It’s more difficult, but those character types are more interesting. People are complex. It’s what makes Breaking Bad so great. It’s essentially those two character arcs crisscrossing with Jesse and Walt respectively. But I haven’t finished season five so I could be wrong.
Why is it so hard for so many straight men to communicate their feelings to other men?
That’s kind of a loaded question there. I can only speak for myself, but it’s not really that hard, we just don’t assume other guys actually care. It’s like when someone tries to tell you about the crazy dream they had last night, you just stop listening. Immediately. It’s not that interesting and it probably doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things.
Writing: what’s your approach? Got any rituals or tips?
I’m not really a good writer. I’ve never sold anything. But in what limited experience I have it’s more about rewriting than nailing it right off the bat. The first draft is always terrible, at least for me. You just have to keep plugging away it until it’s not as terrible. It’s not so much writing good dialogue, it’s just refusing to leave bad dialogue in the final draft.
How much of the screenplay changed once you cast?
Very little. I think we only finished casting a week or two before our first shoot day. Trey added some improvised lines but I couldn’t tell you which ones. In general, we just tried to cut it down as much as possible because of the time limit at USC.
How much changed as soon as you started editing?
For USC, the film had to be five and a half minutes plus credits. There was a sequence where Sean is reaching random people when he tries to call his friend that ended up just visually overlapping his Mom’s call in the final cut.
Hardest part of the production? How about the surprisingly easiest?
We did a 60-foot dolly shot to open the movie. It came out great, but getting the track to Bob Hope from USC was a nightmare.
What was surprisingly the easiest is how Adam, Kelly and myself worked together as a crew, because we hadn’t before. When you only have four-hour shoots, you don’t really have time to argue about things on set, but it went pretty smoothly those first two weekends all things considered. Adam is British, so I might have threatened to reenact the Boston Tea Party a couple times on set, but he’s a great DP and an even better friend.
Can you tell us about your budget and how you raised funds?
Everyone at USC has the same budget cap at a thousand and uses the same camera to keep things on a level playing field. We received donations for craft services and the airports basically donated the time at the rate we were given. We still had to pay for security, which took the bulk of our budget. The money comes out of pocket, not from tuition, and I don’t think we’re allowed to raise anything other than to accept donations.
Switching gears, when did you first know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
I was actually more into comic books and cartoons growing up than movies. When the first big Marvel movies came out like Spiderman and X-Men, you see how film, unlike any other medium, can really bring those worlds to life. That’s why I moved more towards movies than art.
Did you have any jobs either prior to filmmaking or while at school?
I used to work for BodyArmor doing sales/marketing. It’s a drink company started by the same guy who sold Vitamin Water to Coke for billions of dollars. It’s not what I want to do with my life but it was fun. My bosses were great; they even let me film Gronk for a promotion. I got to haggle with convenience store owners all day too, it was a blast.
Are there any filmmakers that you look up to?
I’ve gotten really into Richard Linklater recently because I’ve been experimenting with rotoscoping. I like Alfonso Cuarón, but so does every film student. Zach Snyder is great, and he’s a little younger but I think Josh Trank is going to be special. I got to be honest, film snobs won’t like it but I love Michael Bay. I love him. The guy’s style has influenced modern film more than anyone in the past two decades. He’s a national treasure.
Talk to us about your USC experience. Were you considering any other schools?
I was between USC and AFI for Directing. AFI is more of a conservatory approach where you have to know exactly what you want to be going into the program, no flip-flopping. USC doesn’t make you declare a concentration. I was between directing and cinematography, so I went with USC where I could figure it out more on my own time.
What were your key takeaways from USC that made you a better, more rounded filmmaker?
Actually the class the film was made for was good for becoming more well rounded, stressful but good. Basically you’re put in a group of three and spend way too much time together over the course of the semester. One person directs, the other is the DP and the other produces, and then you rotate so you make three films in three different roles. The takeaway is that you have to learn to collaborate, to trust that you’re not the smartest person in the room or the best at everything, and anything you make will be better because of that.
Who were your favorite professors and why? How did they influence the film?
I had a writing professor Irving Belateche who was an advisor for the film. He swears more than I do. He’s great. Irving’s always harping on us that audiences don’t respond to clever dialogue or complex plots, they respond to emotion and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. As a WASP from what might be the birthplace of the American WASP in Cape Cod, I don’t do well with emotion. But it’s necessary.
Nina Sadowsky is another of my favorite professors. We didn’t like each other that much to start and butted heads all the time for this class. But I grew to really respect her because I couldn’t sneak anything past her: she’s tough. Bullsh*t-meter was off the charts. She genuinely cares about students and film which is rare, and now I ask her advice on anything and everything.
What is your advice to prospective film students picking a school?
Thin slice it when you visit and go with your gut. Film is subjective, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in the Hollywood Reporter’s rankings. I don’t believe USC is necessarily better than AFI, or AFI is better than NYU, or vise versa. It’s about what you feel is best for you.
My background is in fine arts, so I’ve been trying to streamline a process of interpolated rotoscoping, kind of like A Scanner Darkly. So far it takes twenty hours of drawing to animate a single frame, so at that pace I should be done in like forty years.
Any final words for our fans?
Please visit OneFundBoston.org and support the victims of the Marathon Bombing. Thank you so much.
Andrew Wood is a Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker originally from Massachusetts. He is enrolled in the School of Cinematic Arts Production program at the University of Southern California.