I recently had the pleasure of speaking with writer/director Frederick Cipoletti to talk about his film “Desolate” coming to DVD and digital on July 12th. He was very outgoing and talked at length about the behind-the-scenes work and much more that went into crafting this gritty crime-drama. The energy in his tone was a constant and he provided a ton of insight. He conveyed passion about this project and after watching the film myself, I can say that creative spirit translates extremely well onscreen. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about this film and I hope you enjoy this interview. “Desolate” delivers far beyond what it set out to accomplish and is without question a title to put on your watch-list.
Anthony – Thank you so much for sitting down to talk with me about this film. I’ve had the chance to watch it a couple times in the last couple weeks and I think it’s a phenomenal movie.
Frederick – No way! Thanks man I really appreciate that.
Anthony – I love the genre and I’ve seen so many crime-dramas over the years and this one really has a blend of different themes within itself. It was extremely well made, and everything was subtle but that’s what makes it hit with impact and I’m excited to talk to you about it.
Frederick – Of course. I appreciate you giving me a call and taking a look at the film. And especially after reviewing so many movies I appreciate that.
Anthony – It’s my pleasure. So, let’s get started with the basics of this film. How did this story get inspired, and how did this project get off the ground?
Frederick – We basically started it kind of at random. With the drought that was going on at the time in California when my wife and I were driving up through Northern California. That’s where we filmed, and it was actually a big deal at the time. Now the drought with the added rains is getting better and helping out a little bit yet it’s still an issue. But at that time, in 2016, it was just really, really, dry and there was a lot of talk about it. And my wife and I were driving through these hills and they were all dried out and I was like this would make for a great relevant story. And if we could film in Northern California the backdrop would be perfect. There’s a lot of drought movies that take place in the desert and I wanted to try to do something a little different. And that’s how it came about, it was just that landscape and driving through, just thinking of that kind of eerie beauty you know. It’s a beautiful landscape but it’s a bad situation for some people so I just thought it would all be a good combination for a film.
Anthony – The drought is really what ignites everything in this story but in a subtle way. There’s just the right amount of story building around this drought itself and how it fuels the rest of the story-line is impressive. Because one of the things I loved about this movie was how it filled in pieces of the story that’s relevant, that you need. Then there’s other aspects that are left for mystery and they are the things you want left for the imagination. The drought is rarely mentioned but you can see how it has affected the people and changed the course of their lives. You co-wrote this alongside Jonathan Rosenthal so tell us a little bit about how the extra layers were added to this script.
Frederick – Once we had the idea of the film we were going to do; we just ran with it you know. And we threw out a bunch of ideas and this one really stuck with us. And we just knew we could do something with the characters. We love family thrillers, crime thrillers, and stories that deal with family angles. And we’re like, how could we build out and have a bunch of characters that would all have their own individual voice and how we could take it from there. I think once we had that we ran with it and from there did a lot of writing and development. We did a lot of trips of north to just get familiar with the locations and the families that lived there and all that kind of stuff and just built out the characters and continued writing from there. Then once we had the location, we knew we were going to try to do Northern California. We met with certain farmers that we were going to be working with as well as the specific locations. And we were able to develop the world a little bit more and it just grew from there.
Anthony – That’s something I loved about this movie. Shooting out on location just pulls you out there with the characters.
Frederick – Oh yeah.
Anthony – There is zero studio feel to this film, no embellished production design, or artificial sets. Everything is real and practical, and it just immerses the viewer into the story. But at the same time, it can be difficult shooting out on location when dealing with natural lighting. So, talk to us a little bit about the struggles of getting the right shots both during the night and day shots and what it was like with the natural time constraints?
Frederick – I’ll tell you in the beginning it was really difficult. Just because of trying to find locations. It’s so vast up there and trying to find those locations took time. They’re so remote so trying to get out to some of those locations were sometimes an hour apart. When we were filming every location was usually an hour away from out hotel which cuts into your time shooting you know.
Anthony – Absolutely.
Frederick – But it was important that we were authentic, and we were in the middle of those beautiful landscapes. I thought about the time we would miss out on shooting and just looking for all those locations in the beginning was probably the hardest. Just to get right spots because not everything was dry up there. So, there were some areas that would have the dry rolling hills then there would be a fresh crop of produce being grown a hundred yards away. So, we had to find locations that we could use to get those wide shots. Which was really important to me to open it up and make it believable.
So, locations scouting was the hardest thing but then we centered in on a certain town that we liked that had resources. It had people that wanted to be involved to be background, maybe some people that could supply food, the hotel, and once we found that location we able to make friends and build relationships with people that actually owned farms, or numerous farms. We actually found one gentleman that owned a bunch of farms out there and he helped up out. He’d been living there his entire life; his whole family was out there. They farm, that’s what they do and what they know, and that is what our film was about. So, we made friends with him and he introduced us to a bunch of other people, and we used his locations as the primary backdrop, and it grew from there quickly once we had our central location.
Anthony – It gives you so much land to play with because another thing I enjoyed about this film was the use of aerial shots and the wide pans during some of the chase sequences. They were extremely well done. Talk to us about the choices of directing techniques. Did you always have it in your mind to use the sweeping aerial shots to capture the vastness of the landscape, or was it out of necessity?
Frederick – Sure, you know were kind of limited especially when being out in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes we would have to drive up these high mountains to get certain locations that dropped down into a valley. And when you have those situations on a small budget you have to drop a lot of equipment. You just don’t have the resources to get all that up there. So, we took another approach where the drone was something we could do. Then the aerial shots were something we could do. Where we could really do that anywhere if we could get the done in that location. So that was always something we threw out to cover the landscape and to open it up a bit. And we were fortunate to find some locations where it did have some vast rolling hills and it was on farmland to get those panning shots and stuff like that.
I really wanted to open it up but often I was like, how can we do this because a lot of times we would pan and like I said, there would be something we couldn’t use. Something would have a modern feel to it where if we panned too far it could take you out of the story. So that was really difficult as well to try and capture everything, but still keep it in that world. Because seeing a modern car in a shot would certainly take you out of things. So tailoring the shots to keep those elements out of the picture was difficult at times. But once we had the drone on board, we were able to take it out into the middle of nowhere to get the shots that were able to capture that world and I was really happy with that.
Anthony – It certainly worked in capturing that vastness and the ramifications of the drought effectively. Let’s talk about the performances that I feel were fantastic across the board. Tell us a little about the casting process. Were there certain people you had in mind from the beginning, or were most cast through their auditions?
Frederick – It all just came together. Our casting agent brought in some people from the beginning that he thought would be great in it. I met with Will (Brittain) first and we hit it off. He’s from Texas, so we hit it off right away. After the meeting I was like, I would like to do this and would love to have you on board and he agreed, and we just went from there. From there we started getting more recommendations and I was familiar with a lot of peoples work through the casting process. So we just met, and we all hit it off, we were on the same page and it came together. And everybody really was, they were awesome, so the group developed that way. I hadn’t met anyone going into it we all just met and we’re on board from reading the script and wanting to work together so it was really nice.
Anthony – I definitely think that translated well onscreen with the chemistry among the group. Everyone captured that family feeling and the brotherly bond realistically. Callan Mulvey’s character really pops into this movie with a ton of mystery around him. Was he intended to be that mysterious piece of the puzzle from the beginning?
Frederick – Yes, absolutely that was important to have someone who we could sell as this guy with a genuine heart. Which he does at the end of it. But also, as one you can buy as this tough guy and he just has that balance. He’s an amazing actor so he was able to bring that balance easily and he sold it just as it was written.
Anthony – This movie played at the Mammoth Film Festival, talk to us a little about that experience. Like you mentioned earlier with all the time spent working on this film and the time spent with the crew building relationships. How did it feel to have not only your direction awarded with the Achievement in Filmmaking, but essentially the entire crew being commended for their work as well with the film winning the Audience Award?
Frederick – Honestly going in we weren’t expecting really to win anything. It was more a time to get together with the cast and crew that you hadn’t seen in a while to hang out. We were all so grateful they accepted us. We were premiering there and to go Mammoth which I think is a great location for a festival was just the perfect backdrop. We were all there and having fun and we go to the awards ceremony more to enjoy the festivities and support. And to hear your name called it was honestly a shock. I was not expecting it at all, so it caught me off guard a little bit. And it feels good because people were so close to this project and you see it so much and to see other people watch it and to see them get it and enjoy it, you can’t put a price tag on that. So, I was really happy about that and it just lets you know we all did a good job. Everyone worked so hard on this and it paid off. So, it was a great experience, we loved it and were so grateful.