From the first moment the script hit my hand until my end of days, my life has changed because of The Living Wake. Through forged friendships and a raw creative force, this little movie has truly taken on a spirit unto itself.
Mike O’Connell birthed the concept, Peter Kline harnessed and translated it to the page and I visualized a world where K. Roth Binew is king. I envisioned the storybook-like feel, taking place in a beautifully isolated environment. A world that could feel like its own universe yet at the same time strangely familiar. For me, that place was my home state of Maine. The vibrant fall foliage matched with the rustic architecture of the area fit my vision perfectly. I wanted the film to be funny and sad, but also strikingly beautiful. Shaping the dramatic and emotional elements of the story to enhance the comedic wit of the script was of utmost importance to me. K. Roth Binew is such an overwhelming personality that I felt that the audience needed to feel sympathy for him even if they disliked him.
Much of that sympathy captured through the nuanced portrayal of Mills Joquin by Jesse Eisenberg. Working with Jesse was an awesome experience. His impeccable comedic timing and emotional sensibilities combined with Mike’s hysterically heroic portrayal of K. Roth Binew enabled this bizarre little world to come to life. Having these two supremely talented actors forming the nucleus for this strange universe was a wonderful gift. While their two energies were very different, their essence and spirit was the same and because of their integrity and willingness to believe in the absurd they created something magical together.
The odd little world we created in the film has bled into the reality of our everyday lives. The demarcations of art and life have blurred into one collective experience. Everyone has become the colorful characters in our story, like we were the film and The Living Wake was the film within the film. I suppose this symbiotic relationship is what makes the art of film making a true privilege. I only hope that every subsequent project can dust my life with as much enchantment.
How it Happened
Peter Kline had been telling me of his stand up comedian friend, Mike O’Connell, for quite some time when he first handed me the script for The Living Wake. At that time it was a script for a twenty minute long one-man show. I was blown away by the originality of the character and the overall concept of the piece and immediately discussed the idea of making it into a film. Peter and Mike had already been thinking along those lines and a partnership was instantly formed. Creatively, the three of us made a perfect team, each with different skills to enrich the world of The Living Wake. I speak of the “world” of The Living Wake because we intended to create a world that was similar, but very different from your average reality.
We decided to make a short film based on some of the characters from the feature and use that to help us finance the film. The Reeducation of Mills Joquin gave us more than a tool to use for financing; it gave us an opportunity to work together, fine-tune many of the creative directions and get a feel for what it would be like to make the feature.
Armed with seed money of $20,000, our script and our short, we went to Maine to make The Living Wake by any means necessary. Within a month we had secured most of our cast, crew and locations, as well as an additional $100,000 of financing. The final missing piece was the casting of Mills Joquin. This is when Jesse Eisenberg was dropped in our laps by two lovely angels floating over our heads. We actually sent him the script, but he responded with such quick determination that it felt like angels had escorted him to us. And with that, we were off and running…
As production began, it was immediately apparent that the movie gods were on our side. First, there was the rain that toyed with us by falling on all of our off days, keeping us on edge at all times. Amazingly, it would always clear up exactly when it had to in order to continue shooting. Then, just when we were heading into our exterior night shoots, with the entire cast on hand, the temperature
dropped twenty degrees. I found myself standing in a field with thirty freezing actors—who had to go back to New York in the morning —and a frozen camera. Feeling a bit like the Pied Piper, I grabbed a Super 8 camera and tried to keep the show rolling. Yet again at the last possible moment when the world seemed to be crashing in, a mystical spark was generated and our camera began to work. The biggest challenge of all was having minimal rehearsal time with the supporting cast. They would arrive on set the night before they were scheduled to shoot and rehearse at the end of our day’s work. Since we were making a very distinct film, ensuring that the cast could identify with and see themselves in this universe was essential. In every case our actors embraced the opportunity and our rehearsal sessions were one of the most creative environments of which I’ve ever been a part. Each of the many challenges we faced built a strong foundation for dealing with the next. Fortunately, our entire cast and crew were open to wherever these adversities lead us.
Once we had the film in the can, we had to do more fundraising in order to finish it. We had been able to raise $350,000 during production, which was in line with our best-case scenario. We had set a sliding budget for our film, with the high end being $500,000. Luckily, we were able to reach each financing benchmark at precisely the most necessary moment to allow us to continue making the film the way we had hoped. Using the footage we had shot and the growing excitement for the film, we were quickly able to raise the remainder of the completion budget to make that “best-case” scenario come to fruition.
This short break couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. I had just enough “downtime” to get married and actually give the proper energy to that production. Numerous members of the cast and crew from The Living Wake made the journey down to Mexico to support my union with Rebecca Comerford (who plays the Gypsy Psychic in the film). It was a magical time for all of us as the energy and love from the shoot carried over into the full expression of true love in life. There were actually numerous romantic relationships formed and developed out of the production of The Living Wake, only adding to its lore…
Our fantastic festival run began by winning the Red Star Award at the Cinevegas Film Festival for innovation, originality and vision in filmmaking. We followed that up with the Audience Award at Woodstock, the Creative Vision Award at the Austin Film Festival and an official selection with multiple sold out screenings at the Hollywood Arc Light during the AFI Fest.
Despite our festival success and incredible reception from audiences and press alike, finding a distribution deal was hard. There were several close calls, but in the end, the bottom had fallen out on the independent film industry and traditional distribution companies basically wanted it for free. With everything we had put into this film already, we couldn’t swallow just giving it away to someone and hope they do a good job with it. So, after much deliberation and research, we decided to take matters into our own hands and release it ourselves.
Sticking with what has become the theme of this production, life has chosen to imitate art once again. As I prepared to birth my first film to the world, Rebecca gave birth to our first child. The creation of life puts everything into perspective, but also allows me to see the achievements we have all made creatively. From that first moment I read the script until today it is remarkable to see the transformation I have gone through. I went from a very single aspiring filmmaker to a married professional with a child.
Now, as we are set to release the film, I can’t help but be filled with an immense amount of pride. I am not only proud of the film, but also of the entire journey that went along with it. The relationships formed and the experiences gained turned the process of making a film into a way of life. My hope is that as many people as possible are fortunate enough to be touched by the force that is THE LIVING WAKE.
- Sol Tryon (director / producer)