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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 05.08.18] thriller drama

I was recently blown away by writer/director Zack Wilcox's impressive directorial debut Hunting Lands (review) which tells the story of a man who is trying to disconnect from society only to find himself drawn back into it, and dealing with one of society's scummiest individuals.

Wilcox's movie is bold and risky and he tells his story with minimal dialogue to maximum effectiveness with the help of actor Marshall Cook and cinematographer Edwin Stevens.

I recently had a chance to pose some questions to Wilcox about the project, and we started with some insight into the origins of the movie and if it was always intended as such a visual film.

Look for Hunting Lands playing a festival near you.

How long have you been sitting with the story and was it always envisioned as a sparsely verbal project?

I originally put together the treatment for Hunting Lands about ten years ago. It was always meant to be a film that would be very sparse. The limited dialogue was a necessity for a tale about a character that has successfully removed himself from society. It's a surprisingly hard concept to pitch considering the limits to the dialogue.

Did you have any fears going in about taking the largely silent approach and whether it would work?

I think that there's always a concern about whether or not any screenplay will work the way it's read after you've committed it to film. The fear of making art that won't be well received is always something that's going to be at the back of your mind. This is my first film as a director and I knew that going out on a limb was a risk that could very well be worth the reward. Fortunately, it has been.

Marshall Cook carries so much for the movie and I can't help but feel that it wouldn't work without him. How did you find him?

Marshall's performance is so important to the film. His time alone and interactions with the four characters he speaks to in the film are so much more important when we are working with such limited dialogue. I have known Marshall for years and have worked for him as a gaffer and director of photography on feature films and commercials. Although, originally, I had gone out to a mutual friend for the role. It was that mutual friend who passed the script along to Marshall and got his interest in the project. Both of them are fantastic actors, but in the end Marshall really filled the role.

You have a long-running relationship with Edwin Stevens. How did your previous work together affect how you approached the look of the movie and what were some of your reference points for shooting the car scenes? I was really impressed by how energized those scenes feel even.

My relationship with Edwin started through our friend Micheal Hamilton who put us together on projects. I make a living in the lighting department and have a love for lighting. Edwin as a cinematographer has built his eye for shots on documentaries and short films where you get to make brave decisions. When we went into making this film we knew that it was in our best interest to find the most beautiful angles and shoot for location. I would block to the natural light, while attempting to maintain a good amount of depth of field. After that it was up to Edwin to offer up all the rack focus shots and variations to standard coverage. Edwin was able to wrangle the camera for handheld throughout the driving shots, and the lens choices and framing give life to the second act as it is mostly confined to the cab of a pickup truck.

Shooting in the snow couldn't have been easy. Was the movie always envisioned as a winter story or was it more of a result of production scheduling?

I actually enjoy the snow. You layer up and keep moving. But the look of the snow covered landscape can really help tell a story of isolation. We knew that the film was going to either be set in fall or winter. Hunting season can either be late fall or early winter weather, so the time of the year is set by the story itself. For us the winter was a better choice for the look of the film and for the overcast skies that made our exterior work easier to light.

If you had more time and money, is there anything you'd do differently?

I really do think that the constraints on the time and budget available to a filmmaker can sometimes be a strength of the film. If I had more money I would probably have thrown more equipment and camera movement via steadicam. But I do worry that having that little bit extra may well have taken some of the charm from the film in the end. Although, a week or two more of prep in the location before the shoot with talent is something I wouldn't pass up.

The final scene is haunting. Did you always envision it as it turned out or did you have a different ending in mind?

The abrupt ending of the film was actually the first story point that came to me. Getting to that point was the journey in fleshing out the rest of the film. There's something special to me about resolution that gives you the information that you've been waiting for but doesn't hold your hand as the story gets neatly wrapped up. The viewer can decide what happens after the credits role.

Hunting Lands is currently playing the festival circuit.

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