There was a time when being a moviemaker meant first having to be a hotshot Hollywood player. At the annual Newport International Film Festival, which wrapped up on June 7, two East Greenwich-raised filmmakers, Paul and Alex Cannon, continue today's tradition of needing only talent and sweat, not big bucks, to get a film seen. Natural Causes, took only 10 days to film — though sometimes 20-hour days — and less than $50,000.
Out of their respective film schools — Boston University and Bard College — for a few years, it was about time for the brothers to make their debut. The screenplay they came up with is about a young couple going through a serious relationship while knowing that, since they are young, it's probably just for practice. The story emerged naturally.
"It was a personal project — a labor of love, if you will," Paul said, speaking between screenings at the festival (Alex was in Japan on unrelated business). "We are young twentysomethings. We had all just gotten out of relationships, at the exact same time, which is kind of strange. It seems like everyone we knew was either getting dumped or starting serious relationships."
The Cannons, along with Alex's film school friend Michael Lerman, not only wrote but also directed it together. Originally, they conceived it as a three-scene short, but after going home and each of them writing one of the scenes, they had 70 pages in three days. So a feature it was.
"We wrote it in a month and a half and shot it in 10 days, plus a day of pickups, so we learned how to be a really good cohesive team together," Cannon said.
Collaborative writing can be difficult, even with two people. But a directing triumvirate? Doesn't that invite conflict?
"No," he said. "If anything, it was the only way we could have made this film, because we shot so quickly. We work really well together. Occasionally there were arguments, but usually the arguments came from the right places."
The method was even practical. "One person would be directing the actors at a location, okay? Another would be setting up a shot with the DP. The third person might be at the next location with the equipment, setting up."
Yet as a tale of young love, weren't they fighting a been-there, seen-that response? "It's difficult, I think, to tell a story that hasn't been told, no matter what it is," Cannon said. "I also think it's difficult to tell any story and make anyone care about fictional people. But if you can do that well, that's a real accomplishment."
Natural Causes premiered last year at the SXSW Film Festival, and has been screened at several other prominent festivals. You'll be able to see it on Hulu.com before long. If you like it and want to watch it again, in a better "print," the filmmakers hope you'll then buy the DVD.