(*homocinematically inclined)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Reel Thoughts Interview: Embracing Sedona

After years of being embraced by the community of Sedona, Arizona, director Tommy Stovall and his partner of fifteen years, Marc Sterling, figured it was about time to return the favor. Originally from Dallas, the couple fell in love with the Red Rocks, and they are raising their son Trevor in the arty community. After finishing his first film, 2005’s popular thriller Hate Crime, Stovall and Sterling began thinking about what their next film would be. Taking a cue from the colorful and sometimes crazy people they’ve met or heard about, Stovall decided that there was no place like home to set his new picture.

Sedona (the motion picture) is having its world premiere this weekend at the Sedona Film Festival, and according to Patrick Schweiss, the Festival’s executive director, it is the single most talked-about movie in town. The film tells the intersecting stories of different people who all converge on Sedona for different reasons. Frances Fisher (Titanic) plays a driven woman who finds herself trapped in town after a car accident, or rather a car/airplane accident. She reluctantly begins meeting people while she waits, including Beth Grant (Sordid Lives) as a cosmic spiritual type and Christopher Atkins (The Blue Lagoon) as a friendly coffee shop owner. Seth Peterson, who was so good as the lead in Hate Crime, plays a gay dad who is too consumed by work to pay attention to his family. An outing to Sedona changes his priorities when one of his children wanders away, played by Stovall and Sterling’s son, Trevor. Comedienne Lin Shaye (There’s Something About Mary), Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure) and Robert Shields (half of the mime team Shields & Yarnell) also round out the cast.

I spoke with Stovall, who was busy putting finishing touches on the film prior to its premiere. Stovall originally thought that a Northern Exposure-type television show based in Sedona would have a lot of potential, but a film seemed more manageable. “I started thinking, what would happen if this woman got stuck in Sedona and couldn’t get out,” he explained. “I wanted to do something totally different from Hate Crime. This is more of a comedy drama. As far as gay characters, there is a family with two kids and they happen to be a gay couple. With Hate Crime, homophobia and the couple’s sexual orientation was a big part of the film, but in this movie, the gay issue isn’t even mentioned; they just happen to be gay. As a filmmaker, that’s been one of my goals.”

“Lin Shay (who was also in Hate Crime) is great in this, too,” Stovall explained, adding that her character is based on a Sedona figure called Crazy Mary, but that Shay came up with calling herself Claire de Loon. “It’s an interesting story about how I got Beth Grant. I looked her up on Facebook and sent her a message. I sent her the synopsis, and a couple of days later, she said she’d do it. She’s actually how we got Frances Fisher. The two of them are friends and they’d been working on their own project together. Chris (Atkins) plays sort of a love interest for Frances’ character. He really surprised me, because he hasn’t done many comedies, but he’s really funny. Even between takes he had everyone cracking up.”

Asked whether or not the subplot of Trevor Stovall’s character getting lost came from personal parental fears or experience, Stovall said that fortunately, that wasn’t the case. “Luckily with Trevor, he’s never been one to wander away. I wrote the character for him because he’s been wanting to get involved in movies; when we made Hate Crime (in which Trevor appeared), he didn’t want to do it at all. The character is this kid in a fantasy world out on the trail and he gets lost, but he doesn’t really know that he’s lost. Really, that storyline is about a father who realizes what’s important in life. He’s been worried all the time and stressed out because he feels responsible for taking care of his family and making money.”

The experience of filming in Sedona couldn’t have been better, Stovall explained. “For a long time, we’ve been wanting to get the film industry going up here. It’s been hard because of the economy, but we’re hoping that this is the start of things to come. In fact, we’re hoping to turn the film into a TV series eventually. In Sedona, everybody has their story” He hopes that the film will bring the town more tourism dollars, since it has been hit hard by the recession.

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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