by Helen Grant
We’ll be varying up our coverage of this year’s deadCENTER by looking at different genres and exploring shorts as well as feature length films. To that end, Branch Line is short film that skirts the line between science fiction and the paranormal. I’d also had a chance to speak with producer Austin Hines and writer/director Jimmy Samis on deadCENTER’s opening night. Turns out they’re from Fort Worth, TX and this is the first time they’ve entered the festival.
Run time: 36min and screens with “Through Space and Time Shorts”
Playing at 2:30 on Saturday at Harkins theater
Non-pass holders: $10 per ticket.
Producer: Austin Hines
Writers/Directors: Jimmy Samis & Joey Parr
Stars: Charles Baker, Bill Cobbs, Arianne Martin, Richard Olsen
OKC.NET: Tell me about the development of the story.
Jimmy: Joey Parr and I started with the idea of a time travel story that involves death. We brainstormed interesting elements to include and agreed on some of the overall concepts. Then we wrote separate screenplays, came back together and combined the best elements from both. From that magical 3rd (combination) script, Branch Line was born.
Austin: These guys contacted me, asking me to critique a new “short” they had just written. I happened to be on vacation at the time, so here I am sitting on the beach reading this trippy script about time travel, suicide, a mysterious train conductor and love. It was unexpected and awesome. I responded, mostly, with all the ways we wouldn’t be able to afford it. The script was too ambitious and not at all easy from a production stand point. A few things were modified for subsequent drafts, but for the most part that original screenplay stayed the same. We just decided we were going to pull it off.
OKC.NET: Tell me about the development of this movie from storyboard to actually pulling it off, was a lot harder than originally envisioned?
Austin: It was exactly just as hard as envisioned. We knew it would be tough but we brought on key personnel that were up for the challenge. Ben Mcburnett, director of photography, and Jonathan Huggins, production designer, were two guys form the beginning that really took ownership and helped see this thing through. But actually, locations and actors were an incredible blessing. The locations I spoke with were very helpful and generous, we got exactly what we needed. And the actors we wanted all loved the script, so were more than happy be a part.
OKC.NET: Did you know who would play these roles once you set about making this movie?
Jimmy: Richard Olsen, who plays Olden, Perry’s mentor, is a fabulous actor that is famous around Dallas/Ft. Worth, we knew he would be involved. Charles Baker plays our lead character, an astrophysicist named Perry. Joey was friends with Charles on Facebook and knew he lived in Ft. Worth (where we shot). Charles plays Skinny Pete on Breaking Bad, so he was getting lots of offers at the time and was about to move to L.A. But he’s a very nice guy, so he agreed to at least read the script. He loved it and committed immediately.
Arianne Martin, like Richard, is local to Dallas and widely sought after. Joey wanted her from the beginning to play Madison, Perry’s wife. Austin had actually just worked with her in a local Channel 8 Weather commercial and when we came together to discuss our top picks, she was on the top of all our lists. She also loved the script, and wanted to work with Charles. It was perfect. Now Bill Cobbs was a stretch. We really needed a huge icon to play the Conductor. It’s an important role. We knew a Script Supervisor that worked with Bill on a previous film. He’s so famous and recognizable, it was a long shot. But he read the script, loved it, and since my cell number was on the title page, he just called me up one day. It was magical.
OKC.NET: Tell me about the thought process that went into casting.
Austin: “Let’s go after the best people that we know would be perfect, and not waste time with auditions.” That’s actually what Joey said to me.
OKC.NET: How did you two finance this?
Austin: Myself, Jimmy and Joey are all from Ft. Worth. We set up meetings with lots of people and asked for support. Most of them said yes.
OKC.NET: Once your done screening this film at festivals, what are your plans, if any, to make it available? For instance will it go up on YouTube or Vimeo, will you sell download codes, or look into distribution platforms like NetFlix?
Austin: We’re evaluating our options. But it’s been said a lot, especially by me, that Branch Line could easily be a feature. So, depending on how many people agree with that sentiment, that may be the direction we go.
OKC.NET: Who inspires you most to tell stories and make movies?
Austin: Well, really the person that has most inspired me would have to be Sylvester Stallone. Sure, you probably chuckled when you read that, but learning about what he went through to make the original Rocky…his work ethic and all the obstacles he overcame. He was literally broke and homeless, chasing after his dream and refused to give up. And you probably didn’t know that one of the first things he did when he got his first paycheck was go find and buy back his dog that got rid of a few weeks earlier because he couldn’t afford to take care of him. Does that win you over a little bit?
OKC.NET: I knew this about Sylvester Stallone, actually. Except the part about the dog. Having volunteered at the Animal Resource Center, where lost pets are being sheltered after the May tornadoes until their owners can claim them, for several days this week, in between hanging out with deadCENTER peeps and watching films, knowing Stallone went back for his dog is heartening. It almost makes up for some of his more terrible films, although I do hold a special place in my heart for Demolition Man.
Alright, is there anything I haven’t asked about the film or your experience screening it that you feel readers and potential viewers should know?
Jimmy: Expect to be confused. Not the whole time, but it’s a beautiful and complex story. We’ve seen that general audiences don’t initially know what they’re in for and a few minutes in start getting worried that they missed something. So, let it happen, and know that it will all come together nicely in the end.