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Exclusive: Directors Aron Gaudet, Gita Pullapilly talk 'Beneath The Harvest Sky'

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Today on May 10, 2014, Examiner.com is excited to share our exclusive interview with husband and wife directing duo Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly. Their film "Beneath The Harvest Sky" recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film is now available on cable VOD, and digital platforms. The film is a teen drama set during the fall potato harvest in a small northern Maine town. Actors Emory Cohen, Callan McAuliffe, Kymberli Bryant, and Zoe Levin give stellar performances.

What inspired the script?

Aron: We were actually living in New York City and just stumbled across these photos of a Northern Main potato harvest and they were really beautiful and I'm from Maine, so we were going to Maine for Thanksgiving in November 2010 and I said you know what let's just take a drive up to Northern Maine and see what it's like. Maybe it would be a setting for a film and we just kind of drove all over Northern Maine and came across this town right on the Canadian border, Van Buren, and just sort of fell in love with it as a setting for a movie and knew we wanted to try to find a setting to tell a coming of age story and it just seemed like the perfect type of place for the story we wanted to tell.

Gita: And our background is documentary and filmmaking and so for us it was one of the first things when you get to a location is really asking the first question the pops into our head, which was in that moment how do people in towns like this survive and from there, we started asking and interviewing everybody in the community from high school students teachers farmers the main drug enforcement agency customs and borders and we were shocked.

Aron: People were in jail for smuggling drugs or for abusing drugs.

Gita: We were really just shocked by the fact that there were so much illegal prescription drugs coming over the border, but also that in this French Acadian community this is their way of life for a long time.

Aron: Fifty years ago maybe it was smuggling butter and milk or something but now it's drugs and they don't really see the difference EXCEPT there's a longer jail sentence.

Speak about working with Emory Cohen?

Aron: We didn't meet Emory until we wrapped we only knew Casper. So for about a month in New York before he came to set he was Casper and then for three months in northern Maine we only knew Casper and he was amazing, it was sort of having written this character and then he's this living breathing person walking around. Casper twenty four seven was kind of.

Gita: Surreal and also at some times because he was Casper twenty four seven I would have to tell him Casper we wrote you we can erase you! (laughs)

Aron: And he would always just tell us Casper is just Emory turned up to eleven but then when we wrapped we realized Emory was this Jewish kid from New York. We were like wait a minute he's not just Emory times eleven.

Gita: I have to say I don't know if you know who our casting director is but Allison Jones she casts all these big Judd Apatow movies.

Aron: “Superbad,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up.”

Gita: So for her this was her first indie that she has ever cast, she usually does comedy, so we told her we trust you completely in the casting process and usually in the casting process you see 50 different people for these roles.

Aron: But we would always hear these stories when you're looking for those young kids, it's like "We saw a thousand kids before we found them" and the first person she sent us for Casper was Emory and we watched his tape and we were like "Man we really like him, but we can't cast the first person she sent we're gonna like look dopes.”

That's funny though because I mean I don't want to just assume anything but it’s a little of an HBO party two people from “The Wire,” one from “True Blood” is that all her, too?

Aron: Well her, but also we sit at home and watch those shows. (laughs)

Gita: But yea that scene with Delaney Williams and Aidan Gillen, anyone whose a "Wire" fan will love that scene.

How does it work as a husband as wife?

Aron: A lot of it was just making sure that we were both happy before we would ever move on and that we would talk things through each time and then give one unified message to the actors.

Gita: Yeah I think a lot of the actors are scared of two directors on set they just think it’s going to be really difficult and messy.

Aron: I think Aidan just came off another movie where he had worked with a married couple so at least he was open to it.

Gita: Before we were going into production we were not quite sure of what to expect, we were able to Skype with Aidan ... and I think one of the questions he asked us was what is your process going to be like? I think he was kind of curious to see if this was going to be like the experience he had before and it made us kind of think - what is our process going to be like. Our relationship and working with the actors on set was different from most sets because we told the actors you're going to do a scene and then you're going to just pause. We’re not going to give you a note right way. Aron and I look at two different monitors and we both see different things and feel different things and so you pause, we converse, if we both get it and feel like it’s right, you will know instantly know.

If it isn't, we’re going to try to fix it in our minds … and then come to you and share the note or share what we’re feeling and we'll all three sit there and try to trouble shoot it and that was probably the best decision we ever made because it gave the actors immense confidence in us where that when we say we got it they dropped it they felt like if two people signed off and said we got it, they were comfortable with it, so it’s not like this actor has this scene in his head later that he can't let go of .. but if we couldn't get it, we said let’s work on this a little bit more we were literally there to say we're open to work through this with you and when we did finally get to that point where they felt comfortable .

Aron: I also think, coming from documentary and going into this thing ... at the end of the day all we care about it is truth and honest moments and authenticity and then coming from documentary I think when we both said that felt honest, that felt truthful they had confidence that it did and I think we kind of had good bull---t meters coming from documentaries like the moment it didn't feel like were watching real life it’s like … okay... it’s not …

Gita: And Aron edited the movie too and I think because you do so much improv I think it’s so challenging for an editor now to then go into post and try to pull cohesively the story together and every time we'd see a scene, we kept saying does it feel real and does it feel authentic like those are our two mottos from script stage all the way to the end and there were amazing amazing scenes in the movie that we had to cut out because we just felt like it didn't lend to the authenticity of the final film at the end of the day and that was the brutal part of it but Aron had to at the end of the day be responsible for it since he was editing it.

Can you speak about the shooting style because I felt like the cameras were a little shaky sometimes and it felt like they were peering. Can you tell me about the vision you had for that?

Aron: It's funny because our documentary feature is almost entirely shot on tripods, now with this we have that sort of "documentary" feel.

Aron: But I think a lot of it talking with our cinematographer Steve, we talked about wanting to in each frame in each composition to have things in the foreground, make it a little dirty, so you did feel like you were sort of peering through stuff just almost witness to what was happening and I think that was just something we felt really lended to that sort of real whole world. Like we're dropping you into this world

Gita: Yeah you always see in the frame has something else in there ... because that's kind of how life is. It’s never ever very clean and also I think … so much of this film is the unsteadiness of life of these two teenage relationships, so it for us felt like it worked. You're not supposed to be comfortable in because they aren't comfortable in it.

Aron: I think the biggest thing is story for us coming from documentary we just wanted story and performance that would trump everything else and we always say another thing coming from documentary where you have a crew of two or three people and you're just trying to capture the best you can, it would always be like something can look like shit and if they can hear it it doesn't matter, but if you can't hear what’s happening and it looks amazing or if it looks amazing and there is no story it’s just like who cares and I think there is lot of those movies that we watch that's total style over substance and I can watch it and I'm like of yeah it’s nice to look at, but there’s nothing there after it’s empty. For us I would rather tell a good story that sticks with you for a little while after and whether or not you’re remembering the visuals, it’s just like “Oh it moved me in some kind of way.”

Gita: We were in Toronto and this one reporter told us it kind of haunted him after the first time he saw it, so he had to go back and watch it again because there was some stuff about it and he watched it again and he said, “Okay I now get the second theme that you were trying to tell in this story,” then he watched it again he said okay so it took me three viewings, but I finally got all the different stories that you were actually telling in the story because for us layered stories are important it’s not just about .. these are two kids, their best friends are having trouble and they’re going off into life. We get that. That story has been told a hundred times. We get that that's not our job. Our job is to tell a story you've never seen before and hasn't been told.

Can you speak about the potato farming?

Aron: I mean that was the first thing we researched when we went up there was potato farming and the process of growing potatoes and we met this farm family that became pivotal in making the movie like half of them are on our crew. We shot all of the harvest scenes on this one farm that really grows these blue potatoes and so the whole process of potato farming became really interesting to us and then from there we started learning about all the drug issues in northern Maine and that kind of like steered our research and it just kind of grew from there.

Gita: Everybody is harvesting something up there to make a living in a way, but the process of harvesting potatoes is really fascinating, we didn't know that there’s this flower that's attached to the potato and all this stuff that's happening with it and to us that process was really interesting, but also the rocks and the potatoes .. these rocks that are endless..

Aron: Every time they harvest every year with the potatoes comes all these rocks and half of the process is just separating the rocks from the potatoes, and then the rocks get thrown into a pile and the potatoes get shipped out of town. There’s just so much interesting stuff to the process of growing potatoes.

Gita: And there’s this scene where Callan and Emory are talking and in the school it’s a K-12 school … the kids were saying by the time you're in first grade the teachers in the school already know if you're going to succeed or you're not because they know you're family they know where your family comes from and they've already judged you.

Aron: There’s an important part I think in those small towns where you go to school there and for your entire school, if you're considered bad you don't get to start over when you go the next school. We met this kid and we were talking with him and he said “When I was in tenth grade and I was really acting out as this bad kid and when I started eleventh grade I made this choice in myself that I wanted to be better and the school year started and I tried to be better and nobody would give me a chance all the teachers were like ‘Oh he's just a bad kid,’ so he said well what was the point, so he ended up still being a bad kid, but he didn't want to be but you don't get the chance like ‘I'm going to go to high school and reinvent myself.’

Gita: And when we heard that story I was kind of crushed by it because it’s like yeah why is it so hard to give someone a chance to succeed in life - in anything. Our first narrative film do you know how many people told us, do not make a narrative film and I was like “Why is it so hard, where is this anger shutting us down coming from?” and when I heard that I just felt like yeah that's so much in Casper's character and he's not getting that chance and I think it’s also something that we just wanted to explore and kind of discuss and have audiences discuss and feel something.

Can you speak about the score?

Gita: He’s a phenomenal artist named Dustin Hamman.

Aron: This is the first that he's scored, but we met him on the documentary film festival circuit he was playing at a festival in 2009 and ... he's in the movie he's the one playing at the gravel pit party

Gita: He has a great look and he does an amazing thing where it sounds like a trumpet, but it’s actually just him coming from his mouth and he just makes these amazing sounds, he's a very emotional singer too.

Aron; But, also something that’s a little different is he was up with us during the entire production, so he was kind of soaking it all in and working on music and he was in the movie and ... there’s no hotels up there so we housed our entire cast and crew in this catholic retreat center - this dormitory style building with Jesus Paraphernalia everywhere … But across the street was this old abandoned church rectory, so we just set him up … there was no running water or anything, he had to come across the street to use the bathroom or take a shower, but he comes in there and he's like a struggling musician so we bring him into this huge building ... But, we bring him into this old run down rectory and he's like this is all mine?! and he's just set up music in every room he loved it he would still be up there if they would let him/

I wanted to know the most challenging scene to write and the most challenging scene to shoot.

Aron: The most challenging scene to shoot was the Moose Safri because we really had to go find a moose. (laughs)

Gita: Yeah and it’s something that happens up there and we wrote it in the script and we heard about it.

Aron: We wrote it in the script because we were like that sounds crazy, cool but we'll probably never be able to capture it for the film.

Gita: So we basically threw Emory and Sarah Sutherland and Callan in the back of the truck each night like okay "Go find the moose," but there were so many scenes that were challenging.

Aron (to Gita): What’s your favorite scene?

Gita: I love Sarah Sutherland on the railroad tracks and that wasn't even a script. It was supposed to be scripted totally differently and we had ten minutes and we might've lost this scene if we didn't do it and Aron and I were like Sarah … just find a moment in this scene for us.. the sun was setting and it was just so beautiful in the monitor I started crying because I was so touched by what she was giving … it was so touching to me.

Aron: My favorite scene was probably the fight in the gravel pit because that was something where we were going for authenticity.

On May 22, 2014 Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly will be participating in a Q&A at the Stonington Opera House in Maine.

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