Young alums share insight into world of independent films
By Allison Thomasseau
September 22, 2011
In films such as The Pleasure of Being Robbed and Yeah, Get on My Shoulders, New York filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie zero in on the human condition. The brothers are drawn to stories about ordinary lives, often focusing on family dynamics.
Josh Safdie (COM’07) and Benny Safdie (COM’08) will discuss their careers as independent filmmakers, screen their latest feature, Daddy Longlegs, and answer students’ questions tomorrow, September 23, at 7 p.m. in the College of Communication. The event kicks off this year’s BU Cinematheque series, a COM program that explores the work of accomplished filmmakers.
The evening will give students the opportunity “to see graduates who are making a difference in the world of film,” says Jason Hellerman (COM’12), who helped coordinate the event.
Originally titled Go Get Some Rosemary when it was screened as an official selection at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Daddy Longlegs is the story of a somewhat irresponsible divorced father who is able to spend only a few weeks a year with his two young sons, played by real-life brothers Sage and Frey Ranaldo. The father is determined to make what little time he has with his boys as meaningful as possible.
The Safdie brothers say the film is based loosely on their own childhood, but doesn’t portray actual events. Instead, it reflects how they felt growing up, says Josh Safdie. “We weren’t interested in making a sentimental junk story from the perspective of the child, but we wanted to show the middle ground of the brutalness of adulthood and the loving nature of childhood.”
They acknowledge that the father in the film is modeled after their own dad and that they wanted to portray a man who deeply loves his children, but is incapable of being a reliable parent. “We capture this conflict of feeling and this dueling perspective,” Josh says. “We ask, how do we love, how do we forgive, and how can we forgive these eternal things?”
As young filmmakers with a very limited budget—“cheap by Hollywood standards, but massive by our standards,” says Josh—the brothers shot the movie in just 40 days, often handling the filming and sound recording themselves. “We had a very small production, and that was important,” says Benny.
They began shooting without a completed script. They first wrote a 44-page prose story, with specific dialogue written for only a select number of scenes.
“People tend to obsess over the script,” says Benny. “We tried to keep the text alive and the story alive. We would build the dialogue in rehearsal and then shoot.”
The Safdies credit their father—who took home movies throughout their childhood—with inspiring them to pursue careers as filmmakers. They decided to make Daddy Longlegs after watching some 300 of those movies.
Daddy Longlegs has deep BU connections. The film was produced by Red Bucket Films, a production company the Safdies founded with classmates Brett Jutkiewicz (COM’06), Sam Lisenco (COM’06), Zachary Treitz (COM’07), and high school friend Alex Kalman.
“What’s special about Josh and Benny is that they’re classic, dyed-in-the-wool filmmakers,” says Paul Schneider, a COM associate professor and chair of the film and television department. “They had a very distinctive style when they were undergraduates, which is unusual. One of the things I admire about them is that they’ve stuck with that. They march to a different drummer, and that’s not easy to do.”
Schneider expects that students will have much to learn from the Safdies. “Because they’re recent graduates, students will be anxious to know how they made the transition from undergraduate film students to independent filmmakers, how they are able to secure funding for their films, and how they’re able to support themselves as filmmakers,” he says.
Josh and Benny say they are in the early stages of preparing their next feature film. Asked if they ever disagree while working together, Josh says, “We fight constantly, but we love each other enough to fight. You really understand what you stand for when you’re in an argument.”