Filmmaking | Interviews

Labor of Love

1 Apr , 2004  

Written by Margaret Tranggono | Posted by:

Filmmaker Keith Brown discusses the inspiration, production, and lessons learned from his film, 'Tough All Over.'

Like many prominent filmmakers, it all started with the first Super 8 camera. For as long as he could remember, Keith Brown, writer and director of "Tough All Over," has always loved movies. After having stolen his parents’ Super 8 camera to shoot his own home movies, his parents finally succumbed to buying him his own video camera, which prompted him to use it for every school project, including a music video to Debbie Gibson’s "Out of the Blue" starring his sister and her friend.

Brown attended the University of Rhode Island without the slightest inkling of what he wanted to study. Until one semester, he decided to take a filmmaking class in the Art Department, which allowed him to hone in on his Super 8 and video skills. Unfortunately, his professor, Marjorie Keller, who was a well-known experimental filmmaker at the time, went on sabbatical and passed away while on her leave of absence. There weren’t any other filmmaking classes, so Brown went for the next best thing, took some art courses, and graduated with a B.A. in Art. Shortly after, Brown decided that he wanted to teach filmmaking, so he applied to Boston University for a MFA. And the rest is history.

The Inspiration

Brown didn’t like the writing process, and found it difficult to put ideas down on paper. When he started in Boston University, he thought he would get someone else to write the script, and he would just direct it. But after taking a class that required him to write his own script, he realized that everyone had a story to tell. If you’ve lived, you have a story.

So during a time when all his friends were buying houses, getting married, and having kids, Brown decided to scrap money together from grants, family, and friends to produce "a movie with good music in it." He thought of John Cafferty, who gained fame in the early 80’s with his soundtrack to "Eddie and the Cruisers." He figured that if he did a film set in the 80’s, there might have been a better chance that Cafferty would let him use his music. In the process, Brown rediscovered his second album "Tough All Over," and listened to the song countless times, transporting him back to his youth. He sat down and started writing a film about a boy who was petrified of going to his first school dance because he didn’t know how to dance.

"It was like someone opened up my brain and this all just came out. I surprised myself.," Brown said.

The Story

When asked how much of the story is based on his personal experience, Brown replies that a lot of it has to do with his own life.

"When you’re that young, you remember every feeling you ever had especially when it comes to girls. Plus, you’re so naive about things. These feelings still live on throughout our lives, and I think that’s where the film transcends being a period piece about kids. The film is really about all of us," Brown said.

Similar to the character in the movie, Nathan, Brown also fell in love in sixth grade, or at least that’s what he thought it was. "Actually, that’s one of the reasons that I placed the movie posters in Nathan’s room. To show that the myth of romantic love was all around him," Brown said. He worked hard to capture the feelings on film, like how a girl looked at a boy a certain way, and how the boy would interpret it to her having a crush on him even though she was just itching her chin. And about Brown’s crush from sixth grade. Where is she now? "I’m still good friends with her, but she is married with three kids now."

Brown believes that life today is tougher for kids. Back when he was a kid, he didn’t worry about drugs or being harmed in school, but now, especially post-Columbine, kids are probably more tensed. "Just imagine if Nathan not only had to worry about going to the dance, but also had to worry about getting shot at the dance," Brown says. "I feel sorry for kids these days. It must suck. I don’t think that school is as fun a place than it used to be."

The Filming

As a big planner, Brown had the best time planning for the film. He made all the initial contacts since he wanted to shoot in the town he grew up in, and at the middle school he attended. The film was in pre-production for about a year, and was shot in 10 days. It was draining, but the cast and crew gave it their all. "They really believed in me and my project," he said. "That meant so much to me."

Concerning the toughest thing about filming the project, he says the weather. "We shot in the summer and it was very hot, and the schools here don’t have air-conditioning so it was a little uncomfortable. I felt bad for the actors who were wearing sweaters and jeans and they had to dance! They were real good sports about the whole thing."

The Lessons

When asked what lessons he learned from the project, Brown replied, "Learning that I can really pull something off that is this big in scale. I had a lot of doubts, working with kids, costuming, making the film an accurate representation of the 80’s- it was a lot of work."

His work was appreciated, however, as the whole crew was supported by the people of North Kingstown, RI. "I got a lot of free food from local restaurants. Everyone was really interested in what I was doing and they respected me for doing it which was cool."

The Future Projects

Brown shot a documentary, "One Day Sale," which he is currently editing. He’s also working on other films that his B.U. classmates have directed, one of which is Zak Lee’s "Shortness of Breath."

In addition, he is working with the KidsEye film camp through the Rhode Island Film Festival to put together a directing camp for kids, and is in the process of rewriting a script to be shot in the Narragansett area.

The Advice

When asked what words of wisdom he has to aspiring filmmakers, he replies, "I think you just need to do it and sometimes we think too much about our obstacles in making a film. But if you really love your story, you’ll get it made."