With a lo-fi production sensibility and low-key lack of deference to traditional narrative structure, Frank V. Ross returns to Rooftop Films on Friday, July 10th with the indie romance Bloomin Mud Shuffle. Like his 2013 Rooftop debut, Tiger Tail in Blue, Bloomin Mud Shuffle centers on the relationship between two lovers– of sorts– in the American Midwest. Such a synopsis might strike a discerning viewer as “mumblecore,” but such a genre tag is too on the nose for the insight that Ross has to offer on writing, directing, and depicting relationships.
Rooftop Films: You’ve once said that you “wanted to make a film about a couple not becoming a couple,” “to focus on the two people as pieces that didn’t fit, rather than two who screwed up.” How much does age difference matter in the relationship between Monica and Lonnie, as pieces that don’t fit?
Frank V. Ross: The post college vs. post thirty gap is the excuse in this case. A convenient one. If Monica and Lonnie loved each other, it’d be fun and exciting. But Monica doesn’t. She likes Lonnie, sure. Monica has to feel like her life is just beginning and Lonnie’s is adrift. Love makes you get onboard. That isn’t this movie. Monica needs to break the pattern of her world as much as Lonnie does. It’s easier to see with him cause it involves booze, and hers involves crock pots. They’re both are facing dead ends, there’s no age gap there.
As an actor, what do you look for in a director (if not yourself)? As a director, what do you look for in an actor?
Nothing’s set in stone, it would be a dick-move if I had some criteria an actor had to fit before they got in front of the camera. Someone you don’t mind spending a lot of down time with, I guess. I’ve heard it called the layover factor. But that’s still not right, cause then I probably wouldn’t cast myself. If you want to be involved with the kind of projects I have to offer, you’re cool in my book. As for what I look for in a director, I’ve only really acted in my own films and Joe Swanberg’s, so that means I look for a really handsome director. I’m really shallow like that.
Two moments in the film stand out as commentary on how technology affects social situations. The first is when Lonnie meets Sully’s wife, and the second is when Monica is at home with her family and says: “Same stories… over and over again.” As a filmmaker, to what extent are you interested in expressing tension and awkwardness through technology - in this case, smartphones?
I’m happy you see it that way. When we shot I was interested in people looking at their phones as behavior like scratching their head or sneezing. It’s a new posture and we’re imitating life here so it has to be in there. That’s why I’m glad you see it as commentary because to me it’s posture. As for the “same stories over and over…” That’s from, or inspired by, a funeral luncheon I attended. This girl was by a window, knees to her chest staring and tapping on her phone. There were lots of people there telling stories, laughing, making fun of each other and the young people weren’t taking part. I wanted to go over and tell her to play along, it’ll be fun. Make a memory. But you sound like such a curmudgeon, so that moment will have to do.
Can you talk about how you approach character development as a writer? What you learned about the characters in Bloomin Mud Shuffle while working with actors?
The character is an image in your head that gets flushed out in drafts. You start deleting and rewriting lines or movements that don’t seem to fit, like coloring outside the lines. I’m not plot driven, so motivations are always selfish or for situational survival. Actors get that when they read the script. You’re not supposed to fully understand until the movie is finished– that’s my practice. Think of it as trying to explain your self to a stranger. As soon as you go to bed that night you’ll think of something better to say.
This film is deeply rooted in the Midwest. Are you getting different reactions from Midwestern audiences than from coastal ones?
Setting is a very discounted element of story telling so I’m glad you call it deep rooted. I’d be guessing. As of right now, the film has only played publicly in the Midwest. Ask me after the screening on July 10th.
**Meet Frank Ross on the roof of the Old American Can Factory on Friday, 7/10, following the screening of Bloomin Mud Shuffle.**