The Independent Spirit Awards are shining a spotlight on North Texas. Nominations for the Oscars of the indie film world were announced this week, and movies with local ties are all over the ballot. Dallas Buyer’s Club bagged acting nominations for Matthew McConaughey and Jaret Leto, and directors and producers from Dallas and Fort Worth were also chosen. Also noteworthy is how two local filmmakers share a nomination for working on a movie that introduced them to one another.
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Director Shane Carruth shot his film Upstream Color in and around Dallas. Scenes were captured on DART trains and along downtown Dallas streets. The Richardson native knew he had a treasure trove of arresting images. He just wasn’t sure what to do with them.
“I was struggling to get the editing done every day, in conjunction with production and stuff, and I was falling further and further behind,” he said.
That’s partly because Carruth’s vision for Upstream Color was unconventional to say the least. On the surface, it’s about a man and woman struggling to sort out their lives after a thief takes control of their minds through a parasite. Carruth’s characters say things like: “I have to apologize. I was born with a disfigurement where my head is made of the same material as the sun.”
But lying beneath the sci-fi setup is an exploration of how our pasts inform our futures.
At his wits end, Carruth called a fellow North Texas filmmaker – Dallas’ David Lowery – to ask for help. The two had only briefly met, but Carruth had heard good things about Lowery’s deft editing touch. It turned out Lowery was busy editing a film by first time director Amy Seimetz, who just happened to also be the lead actress in Upstream Color. The film world can be a pretty small place at times.
“So I asked him to please take a look at what we had and take a stab at it,” Carruth said.
For Lowery, the idea was equal parts intriguing and intimidating.
“I knew how demanding he was and how exacting he was and just how smart he was, and I was worried that I wouldn’t actually be able to make something that he was happy with,” he said. “And so I told him, ‘The minute that this stops being productive, tell me, and I will happily walk away’.”
But when Lowery got his hands on the footage, he says Carruth’s vision for the film was clear. All that needed to be done was stitch it together.
“As an editor, you look at the footage that has been culled together by the production team and you think, ‘OK, why did they shoot this, and what was the intent,” Lowery said. “You just start putting it together, and it all made sense to me in a very pragmatic sort of way, and he was speaking my language in terms of what I want to see in terms of cinematic storytelling.”
The result is an engrossing movie-watching experiences – the kind where you can’t wait to talk to someone else who’s seen it so you can both take a crack at putting it all together.
That’s certainly how members of the indie film community felt. Carruth and Lowery learned this week that they’ve been nominated in the best editing category for this year’s Independent Spirit Awards. Carruth is also nominated for directing Upstream Color, and Lowery earned another nod for writing a movie called Pit Stop, which was produced by a team that includes Fort Worth’s James Johnston and Dallas’ Eric Steele.
The nominations cap off a particularly fruitful year for collaboration among local filmmakers and prove that Hollywood has an eye on the North Texas scene.
The Independent Spirit Awards will be handed out in March. But even if Lowery and Carruth don’t hear their names called, it’s clear that they’ve each found a potential collaborator for their blossoming film careers.
“I think he’s a genius. I don’t use that term lightly,” Lowery says of Carruth. “He makes the movies he wants to make, makes them the way he wants to make them, and his films are 100 percent unique.”
Carruth says consider the feelings mutual.
“I guess I just didn’t know how good he was until I saw how good he was. He’s just amazing. He saved my life, and it was truly collaborative, which is sort of stunning,” he said.