Two Men in a Barn
Written by Ann Jackman | Posted by: Anonymous
The Marx Brothers in a version of "Waiting for Godot"? Samuel Beckett given a writing credit for "Duck Soup"? While neither of these scenarios ever happened, a combination of these two seemingly disparate cultural icons can be felt in the new film, "The Barn," the first feature written by actors/screenwriters Jake Broder and Adam Long, who credit both Beckett and the Marx Brothers as major stylistic influences.
Broder, a theatre and film actor, was first drawn to writing out of a sense of "silliness." After growing up in Portland, Maine and graduating from Tufts University, where he studied drama, Broder attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He landed roles in theatre, TV, and film, most recently in the Kevin Spacey film, "Beyond the Sea." But it was his involvement in the Reduced Shakespeare Company that brought him into contact with kindred spirit and fellow American, Adam Long. The two soon became writing partners.
He and Long wrote several short films that Broder describes as "fun and whimsical, but with a sting in their tail." Broder had been interested in writing from an early age, writing a film with his brother when he was 11 and some plays while in college. As an actor, however, Broder recognizes the two disciplines are quite distinct. "It’s hard to argue with the writer," the actor side of him jokes. "Writing is a very different process than acting. They happen at different times, and the discipline is to keep them separate. When writing, you imagine everything. Having ideas is the fun bit. Hammering them out is the hard bit. It can sometimes feel more like manual labor than creative." But Broder and Long discovered they had formed a nice writing partnership, and when their shorts actually got made and met with some success, they decided to try a feature.
However, it can be quite a sea change to move from shorts to a feature-length screenplay, one filled with a different set of challenges that Broder and Long considered as they began to write "The Barn."
"A feature is a whole different proposition," says Broder. "For one thing, it took us longer to write. And we had to justify why people should spend 80 to 90 minutes paying attention. We needed to make sure it was worthwhile."
"We tried to create the smallest story we possibly could. Two people in a single location, set completely within a barn." And coincidentally (or not), this is strikingly similar to the situation the two writers found themselves in, as they met bi-weekly in a room underneath the Criterion Theater in London for two years writing the screenplay. Shot in 2002 and finished in 2004, "The Barn" tells the story of two brothers on the run from East End gangsters, who find themselves injured and locked in a barn from which they cannot escape. Confined to a single space, the two men are forced to confront both the realities and surrealities of their surroundings and their own perceptions. There’s humor, darkness, and elements of the theater of the absurd.
"The film grew out of a lifelong appreciation of the Marx Brothers and Samuel Beckett," says Broder, "and deals with themes of religion, spirituality, and thinking about death, but through the filter of comedy. It’s a very simple story that unfolds. And that’s the fun of it, taking horrific things and putting them under an absurdist microscope. I call it a screwball tragedy, though Adam probably wouldn’t agree. Maybe I’ve discovered a new genre."
Beyond the writing and acting stages, both Broder and Long were involved in all phases of the production, from initial fundraising to subsequent promotion. Completely privately fund, "The Barn" cost only £30,000 (about $54,000 by today’s exchange rate) to make, but according to Broder, "It wasn’t expensive in terms of money. But in terms of man-hours, it was incredible. We were fortunate to have lots of people with fantastic expertise who put in a remarkable effort and helped make it happen." A core group of six to seven were involved from beginning to end, each with extensive backgrounds in the film industry, which helped the production gain access to top facilities, equipment, and talent.
As a writer who is also one of the co-stars in the film, Broder had an even more involved presence in the production. "Obviously, during filming, you will have insights into the script, but filmmaking is also a collaboration. Ultimately, the director keeps everything together." "The Barn" was directed by Ruaridh Webster, who also directed Broder and Long’s short films.
Since completion in 2004, "The Barn" has been making the festival circuit around Europe, winning two awards, including the Best Small Indie Feature at Raindance 2004. It is set to screen at the Maine International Film Festival on July 15th and 16th, which Broder plans to attend. Broder hopes the screening will garner the film the same attention it’s received overseas. "It’s gotten a good European response and we’re hoping for a U.S. presence. We hope that the distribution will happen by getting the film out there. It’s not a huge film, but it’s a good art house release. We think it could be an interesting, weird, culty film that people can reference as to what you can do with not a lot of money."
Maine International Film Festival programmer, Beth Eisen says they chose the film because of its "beautiful, Buddhist, haunting meaning of life" quality. "I can be very jaded, because of my job as a programmer and distributor," says Eisen, "so when I put the tape in I figured it would only take me ten minutes to watch it, because I fully expected I wouldn’t like it. And I was just mesmerized. Everywhere I expected it to go, I went, ‘Oh, he’s not going to do that!’ It takes you to places you don’t expect. And by the end of the film, it deeply touched me and I actually cried."
Currently, Broder is writing a screenplay based on the true story of Dizzy Gillespie’s run for President of the United States in 1964, and he will be appearing off-Broadway in November in "The Lord Buckley Show," about the famous beat performer. In the meantime, he is busy promoting "The Barn," eager for it gain an audience in his native country. Asked what he hopes audiences will get out of it, Broder only offers that, "The film speaks for itself. It’s kind of like a Chinese box that you keep opening. Discovering what it is is the fun of it."
'The Barn' will screen at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville, Maine on July 15th and 16th. For more information, visit the festival’s website at www.MIFF.org.