Have you ever had a person come into your life that impacted it in such a way, you felt like they could be your brother, sister, mother or father? I once had a friend that felt like a second cousin, but this is not my story.
Atalanta is Erik Horn’s first film. Amanda Verhagen produced it. It is the story of two females that essentially raised each other in foster care. Their strength is remarkable and is discussed throughout the film with the underlying message, you don’t have to be blood related to be considered family.
Although I’ve not seen this film, I do feel familiar with this story. Having met Amanda Verhagen at a coffee shop to discuss it and through a phone call from Erik Horn. The theme itself though, is also something that I can relate to. My mom was a foster parent and she cared for many young kids that had nobody else to do it for them.
When I asked how Amanda became the producer of this film she told me that she had worked with Erik on The Devout, which she had produced a couple of years ago. Erik had worked in the camera team and they hadn’t really spoken since the production ended. The film went onto earn seven Leo awards and best picture last year. When Erik came knocking, Amanda opened the door. In the film business, you tend to adopt each other like family would. Considering this was Erik’s first script, they met and she read it. She loved the family dynamic of the film as well as the strong female characters being portrayed. It had been written with a modest budget in mind and had amazing potential.
Together they gathered friends they knew in the industry and started calling on favors. Once such good friend of Amanda’s was Tina Marie McCulloch of Tina Marie Casting. Tina Marie put a call out and began casting for two young strong female roles and one motherly one. The entire nine minute film takes place in a quaint little restaurant with one wide master shot and a slow zoom ending in a tight shot of the two girls. Since Erik had written and directed it, I had to ask.
“What was the idea behind the one wide master shot with the slow zoom?”
“Coming from the technical end of working in film, I really like the idea of using the camera as a character. As we gradually push in we feel like we’re learning more about the girls. I’m also a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson and his use of steady-cam and long dolly shots, especially in the film Inherent Vice. When I was writing it, I pictured shooting it that way. When we actually tried it at the restaurant, it was much harder to pull off. It was added pressure on the actors to do it in one take, to the focus puller, camera operator and the rest of the crew. The actors embraced the challenge and pulled off an amazing performance.”
Amanda tells me it’s not easy to have the opportunity to direct your first film without having to multi-task on other levels. She wanted to provide Erik with the opportunity of concentrating on only the directing, without distraction. She took care of the volunteer agreement forms, appearance releases, deal memos and the location agreement.
“How difficult was it to find a restaurant willing to let you shoot inside for the day?”
“I called a location manager I had known with my request and was told about a nice little place in Mount Pleasant that was closed on Saturdays. I contacted the owner and told him we needed to film at the restaurant on a Saturday and there’d be paperwork for him to sign for a small amount of money. I then hung up the phone before he could say no. Luckily it worked out. We showed up and were finished shooting in a few hours.”
On shooting day, Amanda also has the task of facilitating the crews needs so everyone can do their job and creating a great vibe to keep attitudes and atmosphere positive. It’s difficult to turn out a great product without it.
Aside from legalities and location, Amanda also called on a few friends to work on the post-production.
The film was financed entirely by Amanda and Erik. It was shot on RED Epic with Red lenses, lent by a very dear DP friend of Erik’s, Brendan Uegama. It has been accepted into the Telefilm Not Short on Talent showcase and short film corner at The Marche Du Film in the Cannes Film Festival and will screen on May 22.
The film stars Claire Cohen as Aimie, Angela Palmer as Amy and the Waitress. Angela has been nominated for a Leo for her performance on the film. Dave Chick created the music composition.
One more thing worth mentioning to new filmmakers from Amanda Verhagen, ‘budget out the cost of festival submissions and strategize for the ones you wish to enter. Are you entering for exposure, for business or for competition, because it can cost thousands.’