Short films don’t always get the respect they deserve. You can see Transformers anywhere, but it takes a dedicated fan to track down a short film he or she wants to see. Unless they are attached to the beginning of a Pixar movie, short films have a very limited theatrical exposure to the public. It’s a shame, really. There are some true cinematic gems in the secret world of short form moviemaking. One of those gems is The Pond, the tale of a young woman who struggles with the recent death of her husband. A deep and heartwarming film, this film achieves in 20 minutes what many films fail to do in two hours.
MovieMaker caught up with the film’s writer-director, Dan Hannon, to discuss the award-winning project.
Hugh Cunningham (MM): The New Hampshire setting for The Pond is breathtakingly serene. Was there a great search to find the perfect location to fit the script, or was the location the inspiration for the film?
Dan Hannon (DH): It is a gorgeous setting, isn’t it? There was in fact an inspirational location in New Hampshire for some of the story, but it’s not the pond in the film. It lacked some elements I envisioned as a part of this magical, primary set piece. Most importantly, I needed the apple trees to be within very close proximity to the water. With so many other orchards in the area, I figured there had to be such a place. Fortunately, it didn’t take long at all to find. I first looked up the addresses of all of the orchards in the southern part of the state, and then I looked each of them up using the satellite view on Google Maps to check for bodies of water. Jackpot! My producer, Francine DiChiara, and I rode out to meet with the owner of this one particular farm, and he was such a great guy. Once he read the script, he gave us the thumbs up. The location was more perfect than I ever imagined. Perhaps it really is what the film says it is!
MM: The actors in The Pond are all phenomenal, particularly Alicia Witt and David Morse. How did they come to be involved with the project?
DH: I am a huge admirer of their work, which is how I suppose it all started. I had also met Alicia several years ago at the New Hampshire Film Festival, and it was her beautiful persona and demeanor that came back to me when I thought of this character. I saw a side of her that hadn’t been captured on screen and I hoped she’d want to take a leap into this story. I asked a manager who handles my writing work to mention it to her own manager, and then I sent it in. Fortunately they, and Alicia, loved it! David came on board in a similar fashion, using an agent-to-agent connection to initially introduce the project. He, too, was into it, and quickly gave us a yes. I still find it amazing that it worked out the way it did, especially since I had pictured Alicia and David in these roles from the very beginning. They both loved the script, they both were available at the time I needed to shoot and they both were absolutely amazing to work with. You can’t ask for anything more. I hope to work with them again!
MM: The score is hauntingly beautiful. Was the end result what you initially imagined it would be?
DH: I have two words to say: Justin Durban. Justin is a phenomenal composer who I believe will have a career similar to the likes of John Williams. The score is something that was extremely important to me; I wanted it to accentuate the emotional and sometimes jarring ride the main character and the audience go on. I had known of Justin’s work for a few years and I thought of no one else to help me pull this off. He describes his style as “upliftingly dark,” and I think that also perfectly describes the genre of the final score. Just like you said, it’s quiet and haunting at times, and it’s epic and beautiful at other times. Once we began laying in all of the musical elements, the film and its impact truly came alive. It’s simply gorgeous and it still blows my mind. I love listening to it loud and in surround sound!
MM: You utilized lighting in your film in an interesting way, slowly making the film brighter as the film progresses. Did you find it difficult to make the lighting match the emotional arc of the story and characters?
DH: Two more words I have to say: Jendra Jarnagin. Jendra is an extremely gifted cinematographer who played a huge role in contemplating and capturing what you see on-screen with me. We spoke extensively leading up to the shoot, since the visual look of the movie was an enormous factor. The lighting was a piece of my overall desire to create a vivid, organic feel that almost bordered on the surreal at times. Since the story begins at night, in sadness, and ends during the day, at the start of an inspiring new chapter for Alicia’s character, the lighting naturally follows that progression. One unbelievable thing with lighting actually happened when we were shooting the scene in which Alicia’s character learns what the future holds. As the shot unfolded, some clouds parted and bathed Alicia in this warm, golden, late afternoon sunlight. She, me, Jendra and all of us on set were completely awestruck. It was the first take and the one you see in the film. We had an amazing crew, including the big man upstairs!
MM: Not to give anything away, but in your film you create a mysterious organization of people so intriguing that it is almost a shame to see it limited to this one film. Any plans on continuing their story?
DH: Absolutely! There is an enormous backstory I’d like to explore, not to mention everything that happens going forward. I feel the concept lends itself better to a television series than a feature film, so the plan is to develop it further and then start pitching it!
The Pond was officially recognized as a finalist in the Academy Awards-qualifying shorts competition at the USA Film Festival. It also recently received an Honorable Mention from the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival. It also won the Directorial Discovery Grand Prize Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival and the Best Dramatic Short Award at the New Hampshire Film Festival. The film will next screen at the HollyShorts Film Festival, taking place August 11-18 in Hollywood. For more information, visit http://www.thepondmovie.com.