“BEST SUMMER EVER is an original musical with a fully integrated cast and crew of disabled talent, redefining the movie musical for a new generation. The film is a call to action to promote inclusivity of disabled actors and crew in the film industry.” Filmmakers Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli on BEST SUMMER EVER which screens at the 2020 edition of SxSW Film.
Editor’s Note: While SxSW was officially cancelled on March 6th, 2020, the below interview was one of many that already took place prior to the festival. To respect the creators, all already performed interviews are presented in their unedited entirety below. All of the below works WILL make their way out into the world in one way or another, and we will update this article with updated information when we have it. — JW
Welcome to SxSW! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?
Laura Smitelli: Yes it is! SXSW feels like the perfect place to premiere our film and we couldn’t be more excited to be here!
So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on before?
Michael Parks Randa: I came up directing music videos, shorts, and commercial/branded work. I grew up in an activist family who has championed disability causes for 40-plus years, so casting disabled talent in my work has always been a priority for me. Bringing my love for directing music videos and commitment to disability inclusion in the industry made BEST SUMMER EVER a dream of a project to direct.
How did this project come together?
LS: This film was created through a community of people with and without disabilities called Zeno Mountain Farm, who have made about a dozen short films together. The films started out pretty guerrilla-style and low budget, but as the production value of our films grew so did the ambition. We had dreamt of making a feature musical for a long time to promote inclusivity in the industry and are really proud of what we’ve made.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
LS: As challenging as making this film was, there was always this underlying energy to push us forward knowing the importance of having a film like ours succeed. This was experimental filmmaking through and through, and there really was no frame work for what we were creating. That was really exciting for us.
What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?
LS: This was our first time co-directing, and that presented some unique challenges for us. When we were approached to co-direct this, we had never even met, but were both members of the Zeno community who shared a common love for it and their mission. So we quickly had to learn each other’s directing styles while writing the film together and really just getting to know one another on a human level. As far as co-directing goes, that’s pretty abnormal and we knew that going into it. The most rewarding moment for us was while shooting the finale. It was an overnight shoot and everyone was really exhausted. Simply put, the scene wasn’t working at all. We looked at one another and knew we had to rework the creative on the spot. We both had the same epiphany at the same moment and ran in an entirely new direction together that ended up being one of the most profound moments in the film. As challenging as co-directing was for us, it was moments like that where we really felt like we had accomplished something together.
I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.
LS: We filmed on an Arri Amirra with Cooke S4i lenses. Our DP Chris Westlund brought such a refined eye and technical understanding to really elevate our film.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?
LS: We’ve been working on this film for over three years, so just the opportunity to finally sit in an audience with people will be so exciting for us.
After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?
LS: After SXSW we head straight to Martha’s Vineyard, Vail, and the Reelabilites Film Festival in NYC to continue the fun!
If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?
LS: Our film would never have happened without the love and support from the Bristol + Lincoln, Vermont community where we filmed the entirety of our musical. They were really wonderful to us. We hope to screen it this summer outside one evening with a big blowup screen in downtown Bristol as a thank you to the community who made our dream a reality.
What would you say to someone who was being disruptive, like talking and texting, through a movie even if it was one of your own shows?
LS: We would follow them home and sing all of our songs from the movie outside of their bedroom window late into the night until they finally agreed to come back and watch it more diligently.
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?
LS: Surround yourself with other like minded creatives and go out and tell important stories together!
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?
MR: I was at Raindance in London a few years back and really was blown away by the documentary Off The Rails, which is the story of Darius McCollum, a man with Asperger’s syndrome whose love of transit has landed him in jail over 30 times for impersonating New York City bus drivers and subway conductors and driving their routes. It’s a heartbreaking yet really uplifting story.
For more information on this film and to follow its progress into the festival world, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film!