In Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather, Doug (Cris Lankenau) is a former forensic science student and detective story enthusiast who moves in with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) in Portland, gets a job at an ice factory, and becomes friends with his coworker, Carlos, (Raúl Castillo) after lending him a Sherlock Holmes novel. When Doug’s ex-girlfriend goes missing, Doug, Gail and Carlos set out to find her—but are unaware of the dangers they face in doing so.
When Cold Weather debuted at South by Southwest in March 2010 it was praised by critics and audiences alike, and was picked up by IFC Films shortly thereafter. The film reaches theaters this Friday, February 4th. Katz, who directed indie successes Dance Party USA and Quiet City, as well as directing, writing and editing Cold Weather, answered MovieMaker’s questions on Cold Weather, his experience as an indie moviemaker, and what he’ll be working on next.
To find out more about Cold Weather visit coldweatherthemovie.com/.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): Cold Weather seems like a mix of Hardy Boys books–Doug’s a Sherlock Holmes fan who wants to be a detective, and then a mystery falls into his lap–and a story involving real (and possibly violent) consequences. How did you balance Doug’s excitement to be solving a mystery with the suspense of whether Doug will find his missing friend?
Aaron Katz (AK): I’ve never read the Hardy Boys, but when I was a kid I read a series of books by Walter R. Brooks about barnyard animals that get involved in adventures and often solve crimes. A little of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew spirit probably came from that.
Finding the right balance between the different elements in the movie was our biggest challenge. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the right scope for the mystery. After the first draft of the script we tried pushing the mystery a little further than we should have. We had the idea of the mystery involving a vast lumber industry conspiracy, but that idea probably only lasted an hour or two before we realized that it was too big and too dangerous. What we settled on was a mystery that did have the potential for real, possibly violent, consequences, but perpetrators who were real small fry criminals.
MM: You grew up reading detective stories, which became an influence on Cold Weather. Who were some independent directors whom you admired when you became interested in making film in the first place?
AK: When I was young my family didn’t have a VCR and I never went to the movies. When we finally got a VCR in the late ‘80s the first things I watched were things my dad loved, like movies by the Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera is still my favorite movie) and Buster Keaton. After that, around the time I started middle school, I would go down to the library and rent anything they had that seemed like it was important. I had this 1993 edition of that Leonard Maltin movie guide with the reference pages in the back. When I saw a movie I liked I’d look up the director and actors and see what else they had made. If I really wanted to see something and the library didn’t have it I’d get my parents to take me to Movie Madness, which was and still is the best movie rental store in Portland. They had anything I wanted and they also had everything organized by genre and, within that, by director, which I thought was great. I watched a lot of Kurosawa and a lot of film noir and I decided around then that I’d really like to make movies.
MM: You’ve proven with your previous films Dance Party, USA and Quiet City that you can direct low-budget indie films that critics and audiences enjoy. Did your successful track record change your experience in getting Cold Weather made?
AK: We wouldn’t have been able to find money for this movie if we hadn’t made movies completely on our own. Also, having made movies completely on our own, without anyone to answer to besides ourselves, bought us a lot of trust. Our investor was at one point pushing some bad ideas about the nature of the mystery on us, but I have to say, to his credit, there was never a point where anyone said, “You have to do this or else.” When it came down to it what we wanted to do is what happened.
MM: The North Carolina School of the Arts has been popping up a lot lately as the place where quite a few indie moviemakers studied. You went there, as did others involved with Cold Weather, and then there are other alumni like Jody Hill and David Gordon Green. What is it about the school that it’s started to produce all these successful indie moviemakers?
AK: One thing that everyone who’s come out of NCSA and made movies has is common is that they’re making movies with their friends, which I think has a lot to do with the success. I think there are three really good things about the school. First is that it’s located in Winston-Salem, NC, which is a fairly small town. Being relatively isolated and sharing more or less the same experiences with your classmates brings people together and builds a sense of community.
Second is that you’re forced to work on other people’s movies. If you’re in the directing program you’ll direct your film one week and then be expected to be script supervisor or 2nd AD or something on another person’s film the next week. As a result, you work closely with everyone and really get to know who you might want to work with after school.
Third is that the school pays for the movies that get made and everyone has access to the exact same budget and resources. There’s not one person making a five minute movie on 35mm for $100,000 and someone else shooting a movie for free on mini DV. I think the even playing field just reinforces the good things about the first two points I mentioned. It builds a sense of all being in the same boat and reminds you that one of the best resources are the talents of other people.
MM: What’s the next project you’ll be working on?
AK: I’m working on a few. I’ve got a cat burglar/gentlewoman rogue movie set in the ‘20s, a werewolf buddy cop movie and one about a guy who gets his ex-girlfriend involved in a treasure hunt. We’ll see what happens.