Thursday, November 21, 2019

Film Spotlight: The Fare (interview with Brinna Kelly)

In the middle of nowhere, a charming woman Penny (Brinna Kelly) hails a taxi from a world-weary driver Harris (Gino Anthony Pesi). Though their initial encounter is only fleeting, their chemistry is suspiciously electric - almost as if they’ve met before. Soon, the duo come to an unsettling realization that they are trapped reliving the same moment over and over. The search for truth about what’s happened will undoubtedly change their lives forever.

Directed by D.C. Hamilton, The Fare immediately grabs your attention with its nostalgic atmosphere. A lone cab out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but two passengers, a mysterious radio show, and an electrical storm blocking their trip makes you feel like you’ve been transported into The Twilight Zone. There’s the natural sense, like with any sci-fi flick, that something else is brewing underneath the surface of what’s occurring on-screen. The use of special effects between the stretch of road Harris’s cab cruises over and over again as well as the black and white cinematography gives The Fare a production value of a much larger studio. Yet, as Penny and Harris’s relationship unfolds, the film also holds onto the intimate character experience of an indie, and lets the film unfold more than the initial sci-fi impression. Despite the seemingly simple premise, there’s a lot at play with the production between the characters and story, and Hamilton manages it with ease.

Similarly, some films falter when its cast can’t live up to the story, or the story engulfs the characters. But as a two-person show (three including the voice-over of Jason Stuart), it’s hard to believe how much the film relies and thrives on the deft performances of Brinna Kelly and Gino Anthony Pesi.

For Penny and Harris to work as individual characters reliving the same moment, as well as a partnership that evolves and flows with the story, their chemistry has to shine from the start. Even though the characters have been trapped together for an inordinate amount of time, their connection must be strong enough to sense that something else is going on between them – it’s not too fresh or too worn down to ruin the allusion of how long they’ve running into each other. They have a real interest in each other as well as a light-hearted banter and connection that makes you root for them. Both Kelly and Pesi exude that balance as their characters grapple with the routine of what they’ve experienced before as well as the startling discoveries that come along. It’d be difficult to believe that Kelly and Pesi don’t break out into the wider span of what Hollywood has to offer at some point, and hopefully The Fare will give them a bigger launching pad.

While this film works seamlessly together with the actors and production, The Fare’s greatest strength is its script. The direction and look of the film will grab your visual attention, and the performances will hook you emotionally, but the set-up of mystery and drama unfolds throughout Kelly’s plot with an impressive amount of pacing. The story rarely lags or feels overdone as the sci-fi element of a time loop gradually explores the loneliness of Harris’s lifestyle, the loss and yearning for connection, and contemplating the unknown. Kelly offers enough questions to keep you guessing about why and how the characters are trapped together, but doesn’t limit the characters’ own story. As the movie moves towards the ending, it’s surprisingly fitting how the film doesn’t throw in a twist just to be shocking as many sci-fi films manage to do. By all means, there is a twist - it’s not necessarily ground-breaking, but you also can’t say for sure you saw it coming. It fits well into the story that Kelly lays out, and depending on your guesses, should still leave you feeling satisfied.

Hamilton’s work on the production offers a visual appeal for longtime fans of The Twilight Zone, while Kelly’s script digs just as deep as Rod Serling’s character studies. Being forced to relive a moment or being trapped by the limitations of time has been done before throughout film and various genres – Memento, Groundhog’s Day, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and About Time, to name a few – yet none of them can quite compare to The Fare.

As always, I provide an honest critique for every film that I screen, and hope that you will check out the review and interview below. The Fare is currently available on YouTubeGoogle Play, and Amazon.

Rating for The Fare: ★★★

Interview with writer, producer, and actress Brinna Kelly

You spoke briefly about how the film was inspired by another project getting stuck in a ‘start and stop’ mode as well your love of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone growing up. How did you start the writing process from the experience you were having in your career and layering it into a movie?

Yes, there was another project we had been working on that seemed to be stuck in a repetitive cycle of starting and stopping. Eventually, I got tired of the cycle and shifted my focus to The Fare, and while the looping element of the script wasn't directly inspired by what we had been experiencing with the other film, I think it certainly influenced the way the cycle felt to the characters.

But the writing process for The Fare really started when D.C. Hamilton sent me an article about phantom taxi cab fares being reported near the Fukushima nuclear plant, with a note that said he thought it could make a cool horror movie. I read the article and saw an opportunity to do something that had the kind of economical, small-scale, big world sci-fi that I loved when I was little, like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek.

The Fare starts out as a sci-fi flick in the sense of the setting. But as the story moves on, it incorporates other elements. Did that tonal shift occur early in the drafts or later?

I knew from the very beginning of the writing process what tonal direction I wanted to go, and what other elements I wanted to incorporate. I don't want to answer too much, because to do so delve heavily into spoiler territory, but yes, I knew the final twist from the very beginning.

One of the most impressive details is the combination of reasons for why the characters might be trapped – the electrical storm, the radio shows about aliens, the car accident, the cab signal. How did you approach building the setting in the script without making these smaller details feel rushed or forced?

As a screenwriter, you have only a few minutes to get the audience's attention, and if you don't get them quickly, they won't be with you at all for the rest of the movie. So those little details were a conscious effort to build out the world, and do so in an entertaining way that would quickly engage the audience, but also a mundane enough way that they wouldn't steal focus in-and-of themselves. Hopefully by the time you get to the end of the story, you realize that everything was there for a reason and it was all woven together into the larger story.

The primary setting is one long stretch of road – it feels earthly and realistic, but also a hellish landscape like you’re transplanted into a horror movie. How did you go about describing that in the script, especially the destinations between where Harris picks up Penny and where she leaves/disappears/etc.?

The script actually just called for a lonely desert road. I recall writing the word 'desolate' a lot. It was D.C. Hamilton's location scout, and direction, and Josh Harrison's cinematography that really made that environment come alive. They went out and found the perfect setting for what the script called for, that created a mood, and was production-friendly as well.

Without giving too much away, it’s not quite clear in the beginning how much Penny is involved with why they’re trapped in a time loop. As we get to know her more, she has her own interests and motivations for what’s going on. How did you develop her personality, especially her backstory?

Well, it's a writing preference of mine not to let the character's problems become the audience's problems, so in developing Penny's personality, I wanted her to be engaging above all. I wanted her to be entertaining and spirited, someone who a slightly rough-around-the-edges cabbie wouldn't mind driving with, and above all, I never wanted her to bring the audience down with her problems. So as the story goes and you learn more about her, I tried to keep her buoyant, and fundamentally optimistic. A romantic, in spite of everything she has seen.

A big portion of the film relies on Gino’s ability to make Harris believe as if he’s living or reliving the same / new experiences. Pesi really balances out Harris with desperation, fear, hope, and empathy. How did he get involved in the project and be cast as Harris?

D.C. Hamilton and I were putting feelers out to begin casting the project. We talked a little bit with a few other actors before Gino came on board. To this day, I'm not sure where or how Gino saw the script, but his manager reached out to us and said he loved the script and wanted to meet. So we went to meet with him and it was like it was always meant to be. He was so enthusiastic and so supportive, he completely got the script and what we were trying to do. He's an amazing actor who brings so much to the role and takes you on such an emotional journey. When you follow his character's journey from the beginning to the final scenes, it's incredible how far he's come and Gino is convincing every step of the way. And not a bad looking cabbie, either. We got extraordinarily lucky with Gino.

Because Penny and Harris are stuck in a time loop, they have to repeat some of the same encounters. Yet the performances have to make slight variations every time, so the plot moves forward. What was your and Pesi’s approach to portraying the same timeline differently, especially in the first act?

Many of the little differences were addressed in the script, and some of that comes naturally because when you film take after take, especially of scenes that are similar but different, there are organically going to be minor differences in what you're doing. That all just came together really perfectly and people who watch very closely seem to notice and enjoy the distinctions.

This is your second time teaming with D.C. Hamilton. As a producer, writer, and leading actress in the film, how do you balance wearing all of those different hats in serving the director but also your own vision for the movie? What was it like to work with him again?

D.C. and I have established a good working relationship because we have a lot of trust in each other. We are able to sync our visions for the film very thoroughly and it has allowed us to find a healthy balance when working. I enjoy working with him and we have other projects that we'd like to make, that we have the same vision for, so I hope we get to do it again.

And lastly, what’s next for you? Any projects you’re currently working on or looking to start?

What's next for me completely depends on how much people like, and how many people see, The Fare!
We’ve done as much as we can with The Fare and the work is going to have to speak for itself and for us now. Hopefully the film can find and connect with an audience and lead people to want to see something else from us. Next up, we have a horror-thriller with elements of fantasy and dark humor that we think audiences would really enjoy. It’s a wicked, fun ride and we can’t wait to make it. With some good fortune, hopefully The Fare can help create opportunities that will allow us to pursue that film. But that’s really up to the audience now and our hope is that The Fare will find them.

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