HollyShorts Alumni Filmmaker J.T. Mollner has been shaped and molded by his cinema-drenched family, love for European filmmaking, and experience in the acting world to create Flowers in December. Mollner gives the viewer the nitty-gritty in his film, yes film, in his short about the rough side to losing a loved one and explores the question: Can there be love after love?
Synopsis: Hannah, a hard living “bad girl” in her mid 50’s, gave up on life years ago when she lost her one true love to uncontrollable circumstances. Now, meandering through her days on auto-pilot, she lives a gritty, yet stable life in a West Texas trailer park with her new husband and 22-year-old daughter, Holly. Even though, on the surface, it seems as though she’s picked up the pieces, a deep obsession with her lost love still consumes her, and she will stop at nothing to reunite with him, even if it means the destruction of her new family, madness, or worse.
How did the Red Carpet Crowd Funding Kickoff Party go?
The event was great. We had a packed house (even had to turn a few folks away unfortunately), raised a decent amount of money to get the campaign started, but most importantly, increased awareness for the project, and the team.
Tell me about ‘Flowers in December’
The feeling of the film is derivative of the “blue-collar dramas” of the 70’s - movies like Five Easy Pieces and Tender Mercies. I plan on presenting an unrelenting, brutally honest, and inherently “dirty" realism rarely seen in films these days.
Shooting on grainy Super 16mm film stock is going to help with that. Yes, you heard me right. I still shoot on film. People think I’m crazy, but to achieve the look I’m going for, there’s really no better way to get it. Also, the smell and sound of film on set raises the bar - the entire cast and crew comes with their A-Game, because they know there’s very little room for error. It enhances work ethic, and those involved take it seriously. Making a picture, even a short, is serious business. Film helps me relay that to the people around me.
What films of yours have screened at HollyShorts?
I played at Hollyshorts two years. One year my film Henry John and the Little Bug was in and the next we had Sugartown and The Red Room. Henry John and Sugartown won a few awards, and now I’ve become a member of the festival jury. I’ve attended the festival five years in a row. It’s hands down the best short film fest I’ve ever attended.
What drew you to the story of 'Flowers in December’?
I wanted to write something intensely romantic. Something that captured the insanity and obsession that we sometimes mistake for "love”. I wanted to do this without sentimentality and the typical love story clichés. It’s really a film about the nature of relationships - partnership out of necessity vs. partnership born from raw attraction, excitement. I also thought it would be interesting to make a mature love story - about two Romeo and Juliet types (or perhaps in this case, Bonnie and Clyde types), and how they’d be if we checked in on them in their 50’s. We’ve seen these archetypes before in films like Drugstore Cowboy, True Romance, and Badlands, but we’ve never seen them at this age. We use these characters ask questions about loyalty, selfishness, extremes. The main character makes choices that some will consider selfish and some will consider noble - I’d like to get that debate started. I don’t necessarily want to be a part of it, but I’d like to get people talking.
How did you get in contact with Dee Wallace and why Dee for the role?
The first feature film that I sold but never got made… it actually got to the casting phase. This was back in 2008. We cast Dee in the film, and even when it fell apart, we stayed very close. Dee’s a dear friend, and I ended up using her very talented daughter, Gabrielle Stone, as the lead in my film “Henry John and the Little bug. I’ve never worked with Dee, but her daughter is the hardest working actress I’ve ever seen. And she’s got such a great presence on the screen. There’s a lot of talent in that family, but on top of that they are just amazing people. We’ve stayed close over the years, and I’ve been itching to take Dee (America’s mom) and dirty her up, show audiences another side of her. Here is this actress with such incredible range that only gets cast as one recurring archetype. I saw this as an opportunity to challenge her a little. When I pitched it to her, she responded well. We’d like to do a feature in the same vein, and if we can make a kick ass short it will increase our chances of that happening.
How did you get started in the film business?
I’ve been a writer since childhood, a cinephile since as young as I can remember. I didn’t get my film education in a classroom; I got it watching the great directors. My Aunt, Deanna Mollner, was Gazzarri dancer in Hollywood in the 70’s - when independent, European style filmmaking was really exploding in the states. She was living with Jack Nicholson back then, and he turned her on to all the great directors. When I was old enough, she began to educate me. We watched the early films of Polanski, Bergman, Fellini, Truffaut… all the great "outlaw filmmakers”. My older brother went to film school and my dad was a working actor when I was young, so they were really into film as well. They got me into Kubrick, Scorsese, Peckinpah, and Altman - all the Americans who were kind of emulating the Europeans and creating a new brand of Hollywood Cinema. I was lucky to have this stuff pushed on me from a young age. I moved out to Hollywood 10 years ago and made a living as an actor for a few years, but I wasn’t satisfied. I hated auditioning, and once on set, I was almost always frustrated watching the Director do what I believed I could have done better. I optioned a screenplay to a major studio that ended up going bankrupt (the film never got made). I made a little money on that and got to thinking about directing. I decided to direct a short. I raised some money and shot on 35mm film. It’s called The Red Room. Looking back on it, there are so many flaws. I was learning as I went… faking it with a full crew. I’m proud of achieving the exact feel and look that I wanted, but I learned a lot of lessons. For better or for worse, that experience changed my life. I caught the bug. I knew that I had found my true passion. Directing is everything to me. I write, but I write so I can direct. Everything is about directing. I’ve spent the 6 years since that first film making a living directing commercials and music videos, and doing some writing for hire on occasion. The goal is to be directing feature films full-time.
Who is your inspiration?
Polanski. It really begins and ends with him. There are a number of directors who inspire me, but if I hadn’t seen Polanski’s Cul-De-Sac, I doubt I’d be a filmmaker. My passion for Cinema grew from a seed planted by Polanski, so I owe that man a lot. Hopefully I can tell him in person one day. Also, my family inspired me. If my parents, brother, and Aunt hadn’t turned me on the greats, if they hadn’t taught me to look at film as art, I wouldn’t have been interested in making movies.
Who did you make this short for?
Film buffs. The curse and blessing of making short is that, even if you get distribution, you don’t have to be concerned with pleasing a broad audience. People who seek out shorts tend to be Cinema Junkies. They have a level of sophistication that allows for a little more creative freedom. I’m still looking to make an accessible film… I think the story is perfect for the short form and it has a nice, very clear, ironic ending. I’d like it to play major festivals all around the world. But my point is, for the 12 minutes it plays; it’s not going to be easy to watch. I want to reach people who will respect the honesty of the film. People who will embrace the non-airbrushed, kind of grimy approach, and follow me into the dark places….
What is your next project/film?
I’m fairly certain this will be the last short film, at least for a long while. My Producing partner, Chris Ivan Cevic, and I are in the casting phase of pre production on our first feature, shooting this summer in New Mexico. It’s called Outlaws and Angels. It’s a Western, but one that's meant to turn the genre upside down. Rosanne Korenberg (Half Nelson,Hard Candy) is our lead Producer on it, so based on her earlier work, it can kind of give you an idea of the feeling the film is going to have. It's definitely going to be provocative. As long as we get the right actor attached, we will be going into pre production almost immediately after production on Flowers in December. This short is going to be a bit of a tune up for me before the feature.