Filmed on the smallest of budgets and with a cast and crew playing heightened versions of themselves, For Now is the tale of four friends travelling across America when one of their number, Connor (Connor Barlow) is up for a dance audition in San Francisco. The rest of the party is made up of filmmaker Kane (Kane Senes), patience-testing Katherine (Katherine Du Bois) and Connor’s sister, Hannah (Hannah Barlow).
Semi-autobiographical and improvised from the start, we called it ‘a handcrafted film possessed of easy charm’ when we saw it during its festival run.
Two years later, the film is getting a general release through OzFlix and we were keen to sit down with the film’s directors, Kane Senes and Hannah Barlow to talk about improvising, having to play yourself, and Mark Duplass.
You’ve both said you were inspired by Mark Duplass’s keynote speech at SXSW, what was it that he said that lit a fire in your belly?
Kane: We’d just come back from a road trip through California with Hannah’s family – the one For Now is inspired by – and we were obsessed with the Duplass brothers, Joe Swanberg, Lynn Shelton and Richard Linklater at the time: a style of low budget, personal filmmaking about the little things in life that has been labelled as ‘mumblecore’ in the States.
Meanwhile, I was reading a book on the late, great John Cassavetes, the godfather of American independent cinema, whose deeply personal, improvisational films gave birth to this entire style of filmmaking in the first place.
We got tickets to an evening honouring the Duplass Brothers, where Mark reiterated his SXSW speech, “The Cavalry Isn’t Coming”, i.e. don’t wait for anyone to discover you, go and do it yourself – which resonated with both of us because we were both creatively frustrated for different reasons.
All aspiring creatives should watch that speech, it is a powerful call to arms for those seeking self-empowerment but don’t know where to start. Hannah wrote down the idea of For Now during that speech, pitched it to (co-writer/producer/actor) Katherine and I over ramen later that evening and we signed on the proverbial dotted line to make the film, immediately.
The film is 100% improvised. For someone who has never done any kind of improvisation, how would you describe setting up a scene to them?
Hannah: Following Joe Swanberg’s lead – he’ll have his actors show up to his set without any prep – we worked off of a 20-page ‘scriptment’. So, the plan was that as we set up shot for a scene, we’d remind ourselves – because we were also the actors – what story arc/trajectory we needed to achieve by the end of the take and then we’d just go for it.
Because we were travelling while we were filming and we had a schedule totaling only 7 days, we really only had enough time for one or two takes. It was a gamble, we’re not professional improv actors – Kane and Connor aren’t actors at all – but because we were playing “ourselves” and were blurring the fiction and reality line, we aimed for performances that felt as real as possible. Our experiment created the tone of our film.
How easy was it to get the rest of the cast on board? Particularly considering the raw relationship between ‘Hannah’ and ‘Connor’ in For Now.
Kane: Katherine was a writer and producer along with Hannah and I from the start. Connor agreed to do the film as a favour to Hannah – giving up his only week of holidays to do so – and we sent our treatment to him as soon as it was done, which was only a month or so before shooting. He landed in LA on day one of the shoot, and we actually filmed us picking up from the airport (which is in the film) after telling him to “just go along with it and don’t look into the camera”. It was such a relief that he’s a fantastic actor. Hannah and Connor are very comfortable with who they are, so it didn’t surprise me at all that they were able to reiterate their relationship for the camera with ease.
You appear to play heightened versions of yourselves. So, how much of your own life experiences influenced the character you play? And moreover, is it hard to distance yourself and not say, ‘I wouldn’t say or do this in real life’?
Hannah: It’s difficult to answer this question without giving away the hooks of the film. We were definitely turning up the dial on aspects of all of our personalities and real-life scenarios, for dramatic and comedic purposes, but what’s underneath the surface is raw self-expression. For example, I’d never force my brother to audition for a ballet company in a country he’s not interested in living in just because I was homesick. But I did ask him to come to LA to shoot a film about it… During his one break that year, bless him!
The separation anxiety that ‘Hannah’ is struggling with in For Now is awkwardly real and is something I continue to experience three years later, but not as intensely. Connor’s still a professional ballet dancer in Europe, we only speak once a year because of his hectic touring schedule, and it’s been that way since he left home at 16 to pursue the dream he’s now living. I’m so proud of him!
In the past, when we’d reunite, we’d unhealthily/naturally revert to our childhood dynamic which is what For Now is exploring. Today, when I miss my brother, I remind myself that he’s safe, healthy, happy and smashing life and that’s all I need. Our childhood is over and making this film helped me to grieve and get over it. When I watch For Now today, I don’t cringe because it is an honest expression of what it is to be in your early twenties, grappling with huge feelings of doubt, insecurity and fear of abandonment. It’s a time capsule.
Staying on the theme of influence, what I’m fascinated by is how the director and actor work together in a project like this. Obviously, you both had a particular vision, so how do you, and the rest of the cast, decide what direction to take in any one scene?
Hannah: We followed Cassavetes’ lead; this is something we were all crafting as an ensemble. Kane and I would brief the cast and crew on what we were about to shoot. We told our director of photography (Anton Du Preez) which characters were the focus of the scene but then gave him the freedom to move between the actors and follow the action as he saw it because he has such a great eye and we trusted his vision. He was improvising just as much as we were.
Because it was improvised, as actor-directors we could steer the scene wherever we wanted, which meant Kane and I could direct from the inside. It was an exhilarating way to work. As our editor, Kane knew before we started shooting that the editing style was going to heavily rely on jump-cuts. So, it didn’t really matter if the scene meandered and the aesthetic allowed for imperfection; we sought a near-documentary, raw style. It was liberating for everyone (except for our sound guy).
The film was shot in 7 days. Were there moments when you were back on the road that you wanted to turn around and reshoot a scene? Or were you all very much about staying in the moment?
Kane: We were so run and gun that we didn’t have time to think about reshooting. It was one or two takes, and then we’d have to move on, which is a blessing because the energy of the film comes from the immediacy of the experiment. We also didn’t have any time to review rushes so we could have returned to LA with a pile of garbage, but we knew we were getting good stuff – it just felt right – so we just kept on moving. Through the course of editing, Hannah and I realised that we needed some extra scenes and to re-work our opening a little, so we had the team reunite 6 months after the initial shoot when Connor’s schedule allowed him to return to Los Angeles. I’m now a big believer in the power of re-shoots and will budget for them from the get-go on future projects.
In another interview Hannah did, she talked about how a lack of opportunities within the industry means that young filmmakers need to ‘make noise’ to be heard. Do you think this is something that will improve whether in Australia or abroad?
Kane: We don’t know if ‘the industry’ and lack of opportunities will improve, but that won’t stop us from trying. Everyone needs to push their respective ship up their own hill. It may slide back and crush you, but you’ll never sail off into your sunset if you don’t work for it. We’ve stopped worrying about what may or may not happen. Don’t rely on ‘the industry’, ‘the market’ or in Australia’s case, the government to choose you for funding. As Shia LaBeouf says, ‘Just do it.’
Do you think you’ll return to this kind of filmmaking in future projects, or is there something else out there you’re keen to try?
Kane: We’re working on our next film together right now, and it’s a totally different kettle of fish. We’ve joked about making a follow up to For Now in a decade, Richard Linklater style, but we need time to pass to forget the grueling amount of work we’ve undertaken to push For Now out into the world. Like a film version of ‘pregnancy brain’. That being said, one of the most exciting outcomes of For Now, is that we co-founded our company Dog Park Pictures and we’re continuing to build as a writing/directing duo. Watch this space!
Main Photo by Metaxia Coustas