I recently reviewed a great little independent movie called This is Martin Bonner. It was a really charming film, shot with next to no budget but one that I really enjoyed. I was obviously not in the minority because it went on to win the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. The writer and director of the film, Chad Hartigan,
Q. For the uninitiated, what is “This is Martin Bonner” about?
A. It’s about a man in his late fifties having to move to Reno for a new job and the unlikely friendship he strikes up with an ex-con.
Q. It seems like a very ‘personal’ film, is it purely fictitious or are there elements of your own experiences in there at all?
A. It’s based on my dad’s circumstance. He had to move to a small town to work for a similar program to the one in the film and I got the idea thinking about how someone his age would go about trying to make new friends. And then there’s lots of little elements of myself and my family throughout all the characters.
Q. Despite, on the surface, being completely different people, Martin and Travis are actually pretty similar. They are both new in town, lonely with grown up kids. Was that the intent behind those characters?
A. Yeah, the idea was to show how these two completely different people could feasibly find solace and comfort in spending time with each other so similar circumstances helped accomplish that.
Q. Religion is a big part of the film. Martin used to work for the church, Travis’ key worker is a highly religious man. Travis himself toys with the idea. Is religion a part of your own life?
A. No, but it was growing up. My parents were missionaries and I have a great respect for the way that they raised me, in that environment, and feel like it’s a huge factor to who I became as a person so I wanted to try and show a neutral respect to those beliefs that I felt was largely absent from American cinema.
Q. As an aspiring screenwriter, I have read all the books, and most of them tell you to stick to the laws of screenwriting. This usually involves putting conflict in ‘here’ and ‘there’. In Martin Bonner, there doesn’t seem to be much conflict between the characters, apart from the restaurant scene. Even then it is quickly forgotten. Was that a hard sell to potential backers?
A. Sure but this movie never had a chance with investors for many reasons. We made it with no outside help, on our own credit cards and for a total of $42,000. I hate screenwriting books, and most screenplays for that matter, so I’m happy to not follow them. I believe that if the characters and circumstances are interesting and believable from scene to scene, audiences will be invested.
Q. Martin Bonner could well be the nicest man on Earth I think. Is he harbouring any dark secrets? It is apparent his son is avoiding him, for instance.
A. Yeah, his son not speaking to him is definitely a result of something from before the movie started but I doubt it’s that egregious. To me, Martin is a genuinely good man.
Q. The movie was screened, and won an award, at Sundance. How was that experience? Has it helped get the word out about the film?
A. Incredible. Given our budget I stated above and our lack of connections, I always thought Sundance was never gonna happen, so just to get in is a huge honor and accomplishment. Then to not get lost in the shuffle there, but be embraced by the audiences was even more of a dream. You really can’t measure the kind of boost in exposure that happening has for a movie.
Q. How was it working with seasoned performers such as Paul Eenhoorn and Richmond Arquette?
A. Fantastic. We had no rehearsals so I really had to trust them and they made it easy. No matter the conditions or obstacles, when the cameras rolled, they nailed it.
Q. Was the character of Martin Bonner written as being Australian, or was that because of the casting of Paul?
A. He was written as being Irish, but I was open to other nationalities. I wanted him to be foreign because I felt that it was a nice character touch to subtly allude to the fact that he’s already uprooted his life once before and now he’s having to do it again. I was just very grateful that the name could pass for Australian as well as Irish because I was already attached to the title by that point.
Q. What have you got planned next? Are there any other projects you are working on?
A. I’m working on a new coming-of-age film set in Germany so have been splitting my time between LA and Berlin for the last few months. It’s looking like we might shoot early next year.
Q. Lastly, if you were told you had to pick three movies, and could watch only those three for eternity, what would they be?
A. Paper Moon, Two for the Road and Meet Joe Black