Not to sound like a broken record but… Some of the best entertainment out there is coming from amazing Indie projects, not to mention that some of the most important subject matter is being covered. Such is the case with “Return to Zero.” This is a film about something not often dealt with on screen and is being told by a most talented group of artists. The subject of stillbirth is one that hits close to home for many, including the multi-award-winning film and commercial director Sean Hanish who wrote and directed the movie.
“Return to Zero” stars Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), Paul Adelstein (Private Practice), Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2), Connie Nielsen (Gladiator), Kathy Baker (Edward Scissorhands), Andrea Anders (Better off Ted) and Sarah Jones (Vegas). Shot in Los Angeles in 19 days, this true labor of love addresses something that affects tens of thousands of families. The fact is, there are 26,000 stillbirths each year in the United States alone which is equal to the number of people killed in car accidents.
For those who have experienced such tragedy, it is about time we gave them a voice through art. As with all Indie projects, this story cannot be told without our help. From the moment I heard about the project, I knew I wanted to assist them in any way I could. I was delighted to have the chance to ask Sean Hanish a few questions and am proud to share it with you. I do hope that you will consider helping out by donating or sharing this article with your social media communities.
Q: Why choose to explore the subject of stillbirth? What does making this film mean to you?
A: I’d like to say that I chose this subject but the more honest answer is that it chose me. My wife and I lost our son very late in our first pregnancy in the summer of 2005 just weeks before his due date. At that time I never thought that having a stillborn child was even a possibility in this day and age because nobody ever talked about it. Going through the experience was harrowing for both of us because it was completely unknown and afterward we thought we were the only people on the planet who had ever gone through it.
Making this film is a real opportunity to break the silence that surrounds stillbirth. That’s the goal: helping people who have been through it (or unfortunately will go through it) and helping their family and friends understand what they’re going through. The ripple effects of losing a child is powerful and devastating not only to the couple but to their family, friends and community. Currently, there are on-line support groups and hundreds of thousands of parents who have lost children but our society doesn’t have a reference point regarding how to discuss this taboo topic. I believe this film can be the vehicle that can drive and provoke that conversation.
To me, making “Return to Zero” means being able to tell a story that has never been told on film before. There are scenes in this film that no one has ever seen before. There’s a real excitement in that as a filmmaker and as an audience member.
Q: Do you think it is easier to do a film like this by taking the Indie route and raising the funds yourself as opposed to pitching it to the bigwigs in Hollywood?
A: I don’t think there’s a choice. Studios don’t make dramas anymore.
Q: With actors like Minnie Driver, Paul Adelstein, Alfred Molina, Connie Nielsen, Kathy Baker, Andrea Anders, and Sarah Jones joining you for this film, do you think the big names are preferring Indie work over big studio productions?
A: No, I don’t think actors prefer getting paid a fraction of their normal salary, shooting a film in half the time you would normally have on a studio production, and bringing clothes from their closet to set for wardrobe. I do think actors are interested in good characters, challenging subject matter, and a story that’s never been told before. Again, this is all simply driven by the market. And the marketplace isn’t demanding that films of substance be made, at least not at the budget level that would fit a studio’s bottom line in this day and age.
Fortunately for us who love film, there are bold producers, writers, directors and actors who are taking on challenging material in the independent world. And just as fortunately there are incredible festivals that feature these films and give them a chance to be seen by larger audiences. In just the past two years alone we have had the pleasure of experiencing “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, “The Sessions”, “Another Earth”, “Take Shelter”, and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” just to name a tiny fraction of the great films that we wouldn’t have without independent film.
These are all labors of love. These are all impossible dreams willed into being by the artists who created them. After making “Return to Zero” I am in awe of each and every one of them.
Q: From behind the camera, what are some of the perks to Indie films?
A: Obviously, you get to call all of the shots! Literally and figuratively. There is no studio looking at dailies and cost reports. Every call is yours to make and yours alone. You have what you have and within those parameters you make the best film you can. There is real freedom in that.
Hopefully, you have people around you whose judgment you trust and who can tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it. A good friend of mine who is a writer/director put it this way: making an independent film is like having a stopwatch to one ear and a gun to the other. It’s exactly like that. But it’s really fun too! You’re still making a movie.
Q: Do you think moviemakers have been doing a good job of exploring tough topics and audiences are becoming more open to exploring harsh realities through art?
A: No. I don’t think most filmmakers concern themselves with exploring tough topics. There are the Michael Haneke’s and Benh Zeitlin’s of the world who are fighting the good fight but the reality is it takes extraordinary courage and quite a bit of chutzpah to go for it on topics like the inevitability of your body giving in to old age (“Amour”) and the harsh realities of poverty in the barrier islands off Louisiana (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”.) There aren’t many filmmakers today willing to die on that hill.
As regards “Return to Zero”, it definitely feels like we’re swimming upstream in a way. When I wrote it I thought, “I’m writing a film that no one will ever see.” There was a certain freedom in that. Oddly, it turns out it was the best-received script I had ever written and the amazing actors who became interested in the material speak to the rewards of that type of honest exploration.
But as for audiences being open to exploring harsh realities, I’m hopeful but not optimistic. We’re a society that fears looking at anything. Coffins returning from war. Drone strikes. Things that are hard to look at we often choose to look away from.
The responsibility of the artist is to look. And cinema is, at its very essence, about looking. Cinema allows us to become voyeurs into other people’s lives–it is built for this type of exploration. Is the audience? I’m hopeful that they are when honest, challenging material like “Return to Zero” presents itself.
Q: Where can people go to see more about the film and donate to your Kickstarter campaign?
A: The best place to find out more about the film is our Kickstarter page! It has a cool video that has interviews with the cast (Minnie Driver, Alfred Molina, et.al.), some sneak-preview footage from the film, plus it will give you a real sense of the mission of our “little film that could!” We’re right in the middle of our campaign to raise the finishing funds for the film and invite you to donate and spread the word! We have great rewards, too.
Q: Projects like this rely heavily on Social Media presence. Could projects like this have existed prior to Social Media?
A: They could have existed (and I’m sure they did) but they wouldn’t have a fraction of the awareness they can get now before they’re released. We have a robust Facebook community (with nearly 5,000 likes already!) where people can get daily updates, view pictures from the set and share their stories. It’s helped make our film, which has a strong issue component to it, a grassroots movement. I certainly think that Social Media is going to be one of the most important aspects to making “Return to Zero” a success.
The part I enjoy most about Social Media is the direct interaction with the audience. Previously, filmmakers could only get this after screenings, but now we can interact with people who are passionate about our projects before, during and after filming–not to mention after they actually see the film in theaters or at home!
Q: Speaking of Social Media, does the film have an online presence already?
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