Tribeca 2015: 'Frozen River' DP Makes Directorial Debut With Olivia Wilde-Luke Wilson Drama

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
Reed Morano

Reed Morano says 'Meadowland,' about parents coping with the disappearance of a child, is "not a procedural. It's really about their mental deterioration."

A version of this story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Although she'd studied directing at New York University, Reed Morano, 37, went on to stake out a busy career as a cinematographer on such films as Frozen River and The Skeleton Twins. "It seemed to me a very natural way to go. I was very into visuals. I wasn't ready to direct right out of the gate. I always felt at some point I would direct, but that it would take a while," she says of the career path she took.

After finding success as a cinematographer, she admits, "I felt safe in my bubble as a DP; I knew what I was doing." But then producer Matt Tauber, whom she'd met on 2013's Autumn Blood, told her she should be directing — "He thought I had a good way with the crew and actors," she recalled — and he sent her Chris Rossi's script for Meadowland. She thought, "'This one has some scenes I can connect to emotionally.' I knew it was something I could believe in through and through and want to be with for years."

As it turned out, the film, bowing April 17 at the Tribeca Film Festival, came together a lot more quickly than that. After shooting the first season of HBO's Looking, Morano took some time off. Collaborating with Rossi, she worked to introduce elements that "made the movie feel more like me. It was a cool experience, and Chris made it very easy." After about a year of development, and with Olivia Wilde attached to star, the financing came together last April and filming began in August.

Asked to describe the film, which also stars Luke Wilson, Morano admits, "It had all these red flags for investors: dark subject matter, a female lead, a first-time director. It was helpful that Olivia loved the script and came on board. But if you say what it's about in the most basic terms, it sounds like a movie that you don't really want to go see. Basically, a husband and a wife are on a road trip, and their son disappears at a gas station. The movie picks up a year later, and they are still in this weird purgatory. They have no idea if their son is dead or alive. It's not a procedural. It's really about their mental deterioration. What happens when something bad happens to you and you don't have an answer? Each person reacts completely differently."

As for making the transition from DP to director, Morano says the main question she asked herself was, "I know how to talk to actors as a DP, but do I know how to talk to actors to get them to do what I want as a director? It was a big leap, and I took it very seriously."

She also decided to handle DP duties on the movie as well. A number of cinematographer friends offered to help, but she didn't want to chose among them. Plus, the initial schedule called for just 19 shooting days. By shooting it herself, she saved an additional salary and picked up a couple more days on the schedule.

"My biggest concern was the actors," Morano says. "I wanted them to be OK with it. And they were all really cool with it. And that was good, because I felt it made me closer to them. I was always right next to them on the set with the camera. But I did decide to keep the cinematography minimalist — and that was easy to do because what I really wanted to do was make sure the story was right."