Collin Buchanan: A Short Interview with the Director of COTTON COUNTY BOYS

We recently had the opportunity to sit down for a brief interview with Collin Buchanan, a graduate student who is finishing up his short film Cotton County Boys. The movie follows a group of brothers who must win an America’s Funniest Home Videos type contest in order to save their mother’s house. While not yet a household name, Buchanan already has loyal fans eagerly awaiting his film’s release. GlasgowtotheMovies was able to catch up with the director in order to snag this exclusive interview…

Glasgow to the Movies:  Why did you think making this movie was a good idea, man?

Collin Buchanan: Hahaha. I don’t really know exactly. I’m not the kind of person who comes up with ideas that I’m excited by very often. Or maybe I shouldn’t say “excited by”, but rather, ideas that I can imagine what they would be like if done to completion. I think maybe I’m too prone to just coming up with tones and individual elements I like, as in “a scene like this with this certain dialogue or piece of music or something would be great in a movie” but with no bigger context or anything. For a student film with a specific time limitation that has to go through a committee of three other people, I thought this seemed like a fun story to tell and hopefully in some ways unique enough to set it apart from other student films. I wanted to find a happy medium between embracing cliched stuff and trying to be unique at the same time.

GTTM: Tell us a little bit about how the idea for Cotton County Boys came to be.

CB: I was at the Ozark Foothills Film Festival here in Arkansas with Levi Agee who was there representing a short film he directed called What Happened To My Brother that I wrote the score for. For some reason during downtime we ended up just sitting around the motel room watching “America’s Funniest Home Videos” with his little brother John and I remember thinking what a weird and funny show it was. I mean, I had watched it a lot when I was younger, but it’s one of those shows that you kind of end up taking for granted how strange and funny it can actually be because it’s literally always on TV. It’s a family show, but I noticed that it also kind of veers in some weird directions like the segment called “The Naughty Files” and something else called “Critter Titters”. I think it appealed to me because I was interested in the fact that it’s probably the lowest possible level of humor. You don’t have to think about anything that happens in that show. Ever. It’s all physical humor. This is what people watch to kind of unwind at the end of the day. Other people getting hit in the balls. The southern aspect of it came into play because there’s a lot of really nice natural production value in Arkansas that you don’t have to pay for so that’s why a lot of the film takes place outside. And there were some interesting characters that I wanted to have enter into the story. I always wondered if someone like John Fugelsang who hosted AFV back in the early 2000’s actually enjoyed his job or if he thought that it was below him, so the host character in Cotton County Boys is sort of inspired by that as well. It’s a family movie. Something like “The Waltons” meets “Jackass” meets some schmaltzy family films.

GTTM:  What was it that drew you to film as a career?

CB: Filmmaking, in a traditional theatrical setting at least, is amazing in that you can hold an audience’s attention captive for a given period of time. If you’re the writer or the director or some other kind of above-the-line personnel like that, you are in a unique position to share your personal taste and/or worldview with them while they’re sitting there in the dark waiting to be entertained or informed or both. It’s cool. The experience of watching your work with an audience is pretty amazing and the buzz that you get from that is like nothing else. But even before it gets to that point I just love the trial-and-error aspect of it. When you work and work and work and then finally make a breakthrough on a project or you finally figure out how to make a scene work, that’s a great feeling too. If you go to the right places and put yourself out there, you can get paid enough to make a living working in that creative environment too, which is really exciting.

GTTM:  How did you manage to balance your time between the film production, your responsibilities as a student teacher, and your side-job as a radio DJ?

CB: It’s really difficult. You just have to give up a lot of free time, weekends, etc. I’m at the film lab on campus about 75% of my time on an average week. I’m hardly at home anymore except to sleep.

GTTM:  How has your college experience help shaped you as a director?

CB: Film school is a really nurturing environment, which is both good and bad. Good for obvious reasons – access to equipment and editing software almost all the time. However, I could see it being bad if you manage to get spoiled in that environment and are not prepared for working in a setting outside of that comfortable bubble. In film school, your teachers and peers are more than happy to help you with your work. In the “real world”, not so much. You have to pay out tons of money for everything. This is actually the best part about film school. The classes aren’t really where you gain the most valuable experience. It’s everything you do outside of the classroom with the people you meet in school that counts.

GTTM:  How many people, ultimately, worked on Cotton County Boys?

CB: In the production stage, most days we had a pretty small crew. Maybe four or five people, some days even less than that. We lost some crew after the first week because there were like four other shoots going on in the Little Rock area at the same time, including this massive short film called Pillow that had like a $60,000 budget. We couldn’t pay anybody so we were just banking on the generosity of fellow filmmakers who wanted to come out and help. We were really fortunate. It’s been a fairly small operation from the beginning. Towards the end of production there was a day where I had to double as the boom operator, which would never happen on a bigger film. We were doing some serious micro-budget stuff. Post-production has also been mostly limited to myself, Levi Agee, and the DP Jonathan Childs who will be doing color correction next week.

GTTM:  As a follow-up, how many total hours went into its production?

CB: It’s hard to say exactly, but many, many, many hours. The actual shoot was around two weeks I think. Post-production has been pretty continuous since we wrapped up principal photography in August. Every spare minute.

GTTM:  As this is a student film, how many of your directorial choices had to be made based on the requirements of the program versus your own creative decisions?

CB: The biggest challenge was getting the film down to a length close to 30 minutes for UCA’s graduate thesis requirements. The script was around 41 pages and the newest cut of the film is almost 32 minutes. That was really big concern, but that pressure ended up really helping me because cutting the film down actually made it play a lot smoother. It’s always hard to cut things out when you’re the writer or director and you’re super attached to them. Sometimes you almost need someone else to come in and say “that’s dragging” or “you don’t need this part”. But, you also have to make sure that it’s not being totally taken away from you either. Also, especially when doing a comedy, what you think is funny is definitely not always universal.

GTTM:  What were the limitations you had to deal with in the film’s creation?

CB: In the production process, it was just getting everything organized. It may not be readily apparent in the film, but this was a fairly complex shoot for a student film. Casting was really scary at first as one of the actors we were considering got cast in a play in Chicago and he couldn’t do our schedule. Securing locations wasn’t as hard as it could have been, but it’s never completely without a headache either. Luckily, until very recently we haven’t had any serious issues with the technology, which is great, although we did lose some footage that somehow got deleted off of one of the hard drives. We’ve since recovered it which is great, but that was definitely a terrifying ordeal.

GTTM:  If you had been free of time restraints, what changes would you have made to the finished work?

CB: I actually think that the time restraints ended up probably helping me in the long run, although there were a few fun things that we wanted to try to put in that got cut. One of my favorite nights towards the end of the shoot we were filming this sort of “interrogation” type scene with Terrell and Lynnsee and Levi and I let them improv a bunch of the dialogue just to see where it would go. They were coming up with some of the funniest stuff and in the first cut of the film, the scene was way too long but really funny in a kind of irreverent and non-professional way. I wanted to keep a bunch of it in there, but it was by far the longest straight dialogue scene in the film and it had to go.

GTTM:  The teaser trailer features music by the indie rock band Sleigh Bells. How important is music to your filmwork, and how does it factor into the whole?

CB: Music is definitely the beginning of a lot of my ideas. I’m always listening to music and trying to search out new stuff. This film was actually really inspired by some of the dive-bar rock culture in Little Rock. There’s a number of noisy, nasty Southern rock and punk rock bands around and I was listening to a lot of that stuff when putting this film together.

GTTM:  Which directors have influenced you in your work?

CB: So so many. I think on this one there was a definite influence by some of the Arkansas-centric people who have made it big like David Gordon Green and Jeff Nichols. Also, I thought a lot about Christopher Guest. His improv-driven films continue to stick with me.

GTTM:  Once the film has been completed, do you have any plans for it? Will you take it on the festival circuit?

CB: I would love to try to get it into some festivals. As soon as we get the final cut done, I want to start looking into that.

GTTM:  With Cotton County Boys nearing completion, what lessons did you learn from the production that you can take with you into your future work?

CB: I think the biggest lesson and one that I hope to retain is that sometimes people need some distance from their own work to realize what’s best for it. That’s a hard thing to acknowledge sometimes, but it’s true.

GTTM:  Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

CB: I’m planning on doing another short that I think we’re shooting in April or early May. This really small thing around six pages I’m writing with Jonathan the DP who worked on Cotton County Boys. We haven’t even written it yet. We’re still just talking about it right now, but it sounds like it will be fun to make.

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