Backlot: My Most Indie Moment

Sebastian Mylnarski/Roadside Attractions
“Winter's Bone” earned three Gotham nominations, including one for best feature.

Seven Gotham Award nominees reveal how they’ve struggled on a shoestring during their careers in advance of the Nov. 29 ceremony

Lisa Cholodenko — The Kids Are All Right, best feature nominee
“My most indie moment was the day I was told that I had $3.5 million to make The Kids Are All Right, which broke down to 23 shooting days. Distraught, I called my manager and my best friend. I asked them if the prospect was insane. How could I know if I’d be squandering five years of hard work on an impossible filmmaking task? They both agreed about the insanity but told me that I didn’t have a choice — there was no turning back. I had to take what I had, and I had to make it work.”

Ally Sheedy — Life During Wartime, best ensemble performance cast nominee
“I did this movie called I’ll Take You There [1999], directed by Adrienne Shelly. They didn’t have enough money to get the camera mounts they needed, so they had to attach a camera to the car with gaffer’s tape. It was shooting over the driver’s shoulder, and he would turn to me, and I could see the camera just to the left of his ear, wobbling around, shaking up and down, and fraying. I was trying to focus on him, but the road was in the country with all these potholes and rocks. It was really funny.”

Martin Scorsese — Public Speaking, best documentary nominee
“We could only shoot Public Speaking at night at the Waverly Inn because we couldn’t afford to close the restaurant down. We’d start setting up our cameras and lighting the room around midnight. Then Fran [Lebowitz, the film’s subject] would arrive, and we’d shoot all night and wrap in the morning. We knew we had no control, even though our producer, Graydon Carter, was one of the restaurant’s owners. For one of our shots, Fran had to climb up two rickety metal ladders to get inside the Grand Central Station clock tower. Our walkie-talkies didn’t work, so I was using a cell phone to direct her. I would tell the PA to tell her to stick her head out faster, but I didn’t know there was a steel beam in her way.”

Debra Granik — Winter’s Bone, best feature nominee
“We were shooting on a subzero New York state winter night [for 2004’s Down to the Bone] — all night. We kept the camera batteries under our shirts, beneath layers of sweaters, to keep them functioning. We had to do the same for snakes, which had to be transported through heavy snow from the van to the chilly motel room where we were filming. Snakes can’t handle cold, so we had to share our body heat until they could get them safely to the set. With Winter’s Bone, everything was cushy: We had bathrooms!”

John Ortiz — Jack Goes  Boating, breakthrough actor nominee
“Lying on the street with a pork chop on my face [for 1998’s Side Streets]. Dusk was rapidly approaching, and every time the camera was set and I hit my increasingly small windowpane-of-a-sunlit-mark, I would instantly be in shadows again. Finally, we realized we needed to haul ass and outrace the sun. So the director, camera operator, me and my pork chop walked for about three blocks, found a spot, rolled the camera for about 45 seconds — and finally, a momentary splash of sun washed over us and we got the shot, pork chop and all.”

Garret Dillahunt — Winter’s Bone, best ensemble performance cast nominee
“We had two days to shoot a short film [2000’s By Courier] in upstate New York at a donated location. All exteriors. We got there, set to go — and it began dumping rain. The first day of shooting had to be scrapped. Everyone was sleeping in the same farmhouse on floors or couches. The two-person cast and the director went up to the attic, and we rewrote the bulk of the piece to accommodate the rain. The next day we shot the whole thing, and the short ended up being nominated for an Oscar. Necessity breeds creativity in microbudget situations.”

Matt Reeves — Let Me In, best feature nominee
“There’s a big sequence where we had to film Richard Jenkins in the back of a car. To shoot inside, we had to cut the roof off the car and put him in the back. It was freezing already, and then it started snowing. So now we have this Academy Award-nominated actor lying in the back of a car in the most uncomfortable position of all time, and it’s snowing on him. He said, ‘Hell of a scene we’re shooting here, Matt.’ It turned out fantastic.”