Last month, our cover story featured the news that the independent crime drama “Road to Nowhere” was headed to the Venice Film Festival to screen in competition. The film was shot entirely in North Carolina over two months in 2009 and was produced by Steven Gaydos, Executive Editor of Variety, and directed by Monte Hellman (“Two-Lane Blacktop“), who received a special prize from the jury in Venice this year for his overall body of work. Shortly after returning from Italy, we caught up with Gaydos to find out how the trip went and to learn more about the film.
CPJ: As the creator of “Road to Nowhere,” how did the film come about? And where did the spark for the idea come from?
SG: The story really came from two places: my love for film noir, especially 1950s crime thrillers and my appreciation for the films of Monte Hellman. This led to a true hybrid (or mongrel!) because I remembered European films like “Stavisky” and “Last Year at Marienbad” that Monte and I admired. So “Road to Nowhere” became something very much like its director: an American film with something of a European bent.
CPJ: Once the script was completed, did you know immediately that you wanted to produce it yourself? Or was it a decision you came to after a while?
SG: I never wanted to produce, it came about by pure necessity. American cinema is very conservative and constricted today, especially if for filmmakers who have ambitions to make anything other than strictly commercial fare or politically correct social dramas and documentaries. So we find ourselves marching and filmmaking to our own drummer!
CPJ: What is special about this film and story? What do you like about it? And what do you hope audiences take from it?
SG: I hope audiences find the search for truth in art and romance as dangerous and perplexing a journey as we intended. I hope our love for cinema and ambition to challenge our audiences with a film they’ve never seen results in a movie experience that is enjoyed and remembered. I hope everyone sees it twice because our experience is that it takes two viewings to actually embrace the mysteries and feelings that are quite intricately woven together.
CPJ: Related to the production, how long did it take for all the elements to come together to be able to make the film happen? Was this a rapid process… or did it take many years?
SG: When actress Shannyn Sossamon said “yes” we knew we were in business. The film came together quite quickly.
CPJ: Where did the funding for the film come from? And what sort of budget did you work with?
SG: The film costs under $5 million and is all private money. This is the ultimate independent film because we made it outside of every cinema, including the currently impoverished and constipated system I call the American Independent Film Theocracy of Corruption and Hypocrisy.
CPJ: What camera did you use for the shoot… and where did you film?
SG: We shot with the Canon mark 2 five d, a small consumer still camera with video capability. We are the first American film of importance to use this and we were called by the New York Times “as important to the history of independent cinema as ‘Avatar’ is to blockbusters’” because of this technical breakthrough.
CPJ: Why did you choose to film in NC? And how was your experience?
SG: The story was written for Fontana Lake and the real Road to Nowhere. That’s where the story in our film was always centered. The experience was phenomenal. Beautiful locations, great support, fantastic people. I want to make another film in the western corner of North Carolina and I want to return just for the pure pleasure of spending time there.
CPJ: What was it like to work with Monte Hellman?
SG: People keep comparing our film to the work of David Lynch. He’s a great director but his style is the complete opposite of Monte Hellman. This is really more like Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” but with a European pacing and complexity… [Monte] is both a master filmmaker and a unique presence in American cinema. He’s a true independent, not a poseur, and his vision and spirit have never been dented by the mediocre managers of the film business pursestrings. As Monte says, “In the film business you either get freedom or money.” He has chosen freedom for 50 years and backed up that choice with a brilliant set of filmmaking skills that have never been as finely tuned and on display as they are in our film. He challenged himself to take even greater risks than he ever has and the result is one of the richest and deepest of his illustrious career. It’s handcrafted art made in the Smoky Mountains and unlike any film you’ve ever seen. It’s a movie made Nowhere, about Nowhere, for people who are ready to go Nowhere. Not everyone is, but for those who are, we have the perfect film for them!
CPJ: And finally, how did audiences respond to the film in Venice?
SG: The response from Venice has been amazing. There are a number of critics who have called the film a masterpiece and then there are writers like Italian novelist Umberto Casadeis who are simply overwhelmed by the film and continue to write about their experience of seeing it. But most important is the Golden Lion, as this is the highest honor from the oldest – and many would argue the most prestigious – film festival in the world.