Filmmaking is a difficult and complex art. It’s rarely as simple as pointing a camera at something and pressing record. It regularly requires long days, adept communication, and a healthy respect for Murphy’s Law. On top of all that, in today’s “on-to-the-next”, ephemeral media climate, it’s often thankless and (unfortunately) under-funded — if not unfunded.
Last week, Portland-based director Jeff Rutherford released his latest work, Bodybuilding in Sedro-Woolley, a 30 minute short influenced by Rutherford’s own upbringing in a macho-ist Midwest atmosphere. In it we are transported to Sedro-Woolley, Washington, to look on as protagonist Simon embraces the culture of “hard masculinity” and grapples with what it means to be a champion.
Below you can check out our interview with Rutherford about the making of the film, the misconception that “filmmaking is easy”, and his decision to do something unorthodox with the trailers for Bodybuilding. At the very bottom of this page, you can watch the film in full.
N&C: Tell us a bit about the process of making this film. How long did it take to conceive, shoot, and edit this thing?
Jeff Rutherford: From idea to final cut, it was about year. I usually let something like this bounce around in my head for a while, and then I hope to know the idea well enough by the time I sit down, that it sort of writes itself. (It never does.) But then we put a team together, selected Sedro-Woolley as our “small town”, and shot there for four days in early July. I owe a lot to a bunch of people in that town for helping us out — especially the Pedroza family for housing a bunch of low-budget dreamers.
This is a local film — was it difficult finding cast and crew in the community? How did you go about assembling the people who worked on it?
I’ve tended to stick with people over my few years of making short, little films. So the cast is mostly buddies, which makes it fun, and then we brought in Jeb Berrier to play Bud Hatchet — he was an obvious cast. But I already had a relationship with most of the cast and crew. I produced the movie with my brother, Logan — he’s a hero. Rajah Bose as the DP — he’s wildly talented and generous. Max Harnishfeger — a maestro that put my incoherent words into music. Matthew Pancoe — so grateful for his performance in this. Please watch the credits because all of those names are important.
Why did you decide not to go with a traditional trailer? Do you think people will understand the raw sneak previews?
I’ve spent a lot of time talking with friends about what we don’t like about trailers. And personally, I don’t watch them. I really don’t. I want the movie to feel as fresh as possible when I watch it. So, with this project, the choice was sort of two-fold: the film felt specific enough that we could do something a little different, but really, it was just because it felt more fun and it was raw — truly, the sneaks are sans color correction, bad sound, chitter-chatter. I don’t know, as I write that out I’m thinking maybe it was a mistake! But it feels right and more personal.
The marketing for your film isn’t traditional either. What was the reasoning behind this?
It largely comes from being a small team (a one person team that has a lot of friends and family to support him). From the time I was making little films with my cousins in my backyard to the plays in college to now, I’ve always liked making the stuff around the project, too – the posters, type choices, and so on. I think that inclination in me probably explains it. I want to harness the feeling of doing it just for fun, like I’m still a kid in my room making shit up — nothing more or less — not some grand, heroic, EPIC cinema you have to go see. It’s just a small film I think is genuinely very unique and interesting, so I might as well just continue to play with it.
Some people maybe not understand how difficult filmmaking can be. What were some of the more challenging or arduous days working on this film like?
It’s always more tiring than I remember, for sure. One day, we scheduled an 11 hour day and ending up shooting for about 16 hours. That can only be pulled off if you have a bunch of talented, kind, generous, and selfless souls that are in it for the “it” and nothing else. We had to shoot things all around town that day, and the cast and crew really showed up. There’s hardly words because I’m just really grateful. When you’re making a film, there’s an endless list of things to go wrong, and they usually do, but we do it because we’re chasing the moment when it transcends all of it and you make something that feels really, truly honest.
Where did the concept for Bodybuilding come from?
I grew up in Kansas. I grew up around a culture of macho-ism, sports mindedness, classic Midwest sort of stuff. I also wrestled and was encouraged, if not firmly nudged, into competitive weightlifting. Beautifully and luckily, I was able to shed that stuff when I came out to the Pacific Northwest six years ago, but those experiences are a major part of who I am. They shaped me and gave me some of my best stories, and I’m honestly thankful for them. So anyway, that’s where the idea came from: I had “escaped” that mindset in a sense, so I suddenly wondered what it would be like if a kid, one who lacked physical talent and opportunity, never got out of a sports-minded, hard masculinity, “me vs. you” mentality and was just waiting to pounce on his chance to prove he’s a champion.
What are your goals for the film?
I just want people to find themselves in Simon Kickham, just a little bit. He has an outlook that I think is worth envying. But if people don’t see that, I just hope they enjoy the film. That’s trite and generic, but it’s the most honest thing I have.
What message should your audience take away from this film?
Oh, man. I think I’d just be grateful for them to watch it, and then they can tell me their take-away!?