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Cold Weather: The Cool Kind

Tribeca gets the inside scoop on director Aaron Katz’s entry into Indie Genre-Mashing.


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There’s a lot one can learn from all the buys that were made at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but one of the key takeaways is that missed opportunities from the previous year register hard the next. Winter’s Bone, the 2010 Grand Jury Prize winner, was purchased by tiny distributor Roadside Attractions. $8 million in box office and 4 Academy Award nominations later, the film may be serving as the model for the next wave of major indie films, and so plenty of distributors are now on the lookout for the next Winter’s Bone.

 

What exactly is Winter’s Bone, though? Ostensibly a thriller, the film revolves around a 17-year-old girl who has to find her father before the local sheriff forecloses on her family’s property. The film traffics in the dark tones and hushed menace of great old film noir, but it’s just as much an observant character study, a film about how a young woman deals with the harsh realities of taking care of her younger siblings and practically comatose mother while being terribly poor. The other main character in the picture is the setting itself: the Ozarks, where the film takes place, take on an almost anthropological fascination.

 

Winter's Bone: Jennifer Lawrence as Ree

 

In short, the film is one part detective story, one part character drama. It’s representative of something we’re seeing more and more in independent cinema these days: movies that are half genre-film, half slower-paced indie film. Catfish was a terribly thought-provoking commentary on the Internet that doubled as a Hitchcock-esque mystery. Tiny Furniture was half introspective coming-of-age story, half rom-com.

 

We now have a new entry into this genre of genres: Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather, which pairs the director’s quiet character observation (displayed in his two previous features, mumblecore entries Dance Party USA and Quiet City) with the detective-movie genre. Katz is able to use each genre to heighten and strengthen the tenets of the other, which becomes clearer and clearer as the film, which is about an adult brother and sister trying to solve a missing-woman mystery, progresses on. I spoke to Katz recently about this and more.

 


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Tribeca: The film plays so much with expectations, genre expectations. It sets itself up to be a character study, slowly paced, and then that allows the mystery to ultimately be all the more satisfying. Was that contrast running through your head?

 

Aaron Katz: Yeah. When we premiered the film at South by Southwest, we wanted to keep a lid on the fact that it was a mystery at all. We wanted people to be like, oh, I guess it’s some movie by the guys who made Quiet City, and have it be surprising.

 

I love the idea that a mystery would just come up in life. It’s unlikely, but if someone you knew did get involved in a mystery, someone who wasn’t a police officer or something, it would come up all of a sudden, and you wouldn’t know what to do. And it’d build more and more as you realized it was real. That’s what we were trying to do in the movie—if something that only happened in movies happened to people who were real people.

 


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Tribeca: The parameters of genre films are just so narrow, in terms of character and narrative. The detectives in mysteries are so often only there in order to exist within the confines of the mystery itself. Cold Weather has a really wide sense of what can happen in a mystery movie.

 

Aaron Katz: Yeah, we really wanted to emphasize the characters, we wanted to take detours, rather than focusing ultimately on the mystery.

Tribeca: I was reading the NY Times profile on you the other day, and you were saying that, in a way, the mystery genre allowed you to do a character study in more depth than a typical character study would have.

 

Aaron Katz: Right, I felt like the mystery was a good way to really get at who they were as people. That’s something I really like as an audience member, when that happens in movies—I think I mentioned in that article that I liked McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Let The Right One In. The reason is that those films work really well as genre films, but also, because these people are in these circumstances, you get to learn a lot about what their relationship is like.

 

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Tribeca: Now apparently, originally the entire film was going to be done in the style of the first act, and it was just going to be that sort of character study. When did that change?

 

Aaron Katz: I was about 30 pages into the script. I had started writing a few scripts that had petered out, and I was writing this one and felt okay about it, but it didn’t have a ton of momentum. One night I realized that I could introduce some mystery aspects, and instead of seeming weird, seeming like it wasn’t going to work, it made me feel excited about writing the script. Even before I got done with the first draft, I started thinking about: How are we going to make this? What is this movie going to be like? Getting at their characters and getting involved in the mystery was really exciting to me. It didn’t seem like a chore; the ideas just kept coming, and I had so many to write down. The first draft was really pretty messy, a ton of ideas in it.

 

Strands of an idea would start, then peter out. I just wanted to get everything down. Then Brendan [McFadden, one of the producers] and Ben [Stambler, another producer] and I spent time figuring out how the plot would really work, trying to make everything connect.

 

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Tribeca: Your first two features were made for significantly smaller budgets than what you had to work with on this film. What did the larger budget really, tangibly affect in terms of your process?

 

Aaron Katz: I would say that there were three big changes. One was—we were able to pay people. Our friends who worked on this film were pretty much the same people who worked on the previous two films, so that was a nice thing to be able to do, as people who are getting into their late 20s prefer not to spend three weeks doing something and actually losing out on money by not working on whatever their normal job is.

 

Two, we were able to get the equipment we wanted. We still had to be economical, but we were able to shoot on the RED, we got the lenses we wanted, it gave us a lot of flexibility, we were able to customize equipment to do exactly what we wanted to do.

 

And three, we were able to get some locations. In the past, if it wasn’t free, there was no way we could shoot it there. In this case, if someone wanted $500, you know, it was possible to do that. So it opened things up. We still did things that were both economical and, I think, good for the movie. We rented a house that we all stayed in—twelve people—in southeast Portland. Three people to a room. That was a matter of economy, but also really good.

 

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Put some thrill into the chill and catch Cold Weather at the IFC Center this Friday! Get tickets.

 

Not cool enough for you? Take part in the Cold Weather Scavenger Hunt!
This Saturday from 2-5pm, IFC Center will be partnering with Stray Boots Scavenger Hunts to present The Cold Weather Scavenger Hunt, which will give fans a chance to try their hand at some of the amateur sleuthing tactics employed by the film’s main characters. What's more, the Hunt will end with an Aaron Katz-hosted happy hour, where the director himself will announce the winners! Prizes include free tickets to see the film and other fun prizes. The event is free of charge for those who register in advance or $5 for people who show up day of.

 

Get more details and register for the Cold Weather Scavenger Hunt here.

Watch the trailer:

 

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