Local filmmaker Taylor Guterson shot his debut feature film, 2011’s “Old Goats,” for all of $5,000. He used three good friends of his — Bob Burkholder, Britton Crosley and David VanderWal — to depict the challenges and rewards of growing older.
Three years later, Guterson and his three leads are back with “Burkholder,” shot for $12,000 and opening at SIFF on Aug. 8. But the Issaquah filmmaker stresses that the second film is not a sequel.
“The main difference,” he explained, “is that in ‘Old Goats,’ the characters are more or less playing themselves, whereas in ‘Burkholder,’ there was more acting encouraged. That was thematically and narrative-wise the No. 1 difference.”
Burkholder lived to age 90, but did not live to see the film’s premiere. He did view a rough cut of the film shortly before his death. According to the director, still speaking of his steadfast friend in the present tense, Burkholder had a very positive reaction: “He’s not one to color things; he’ll tell you what he thinks.”
In the new film, Guterson focuses on Crosley’s and Burkholder’s characters.
The action starts with Burkholder, a longtime housemate of Crosley’s. The two men work through some fictionalized ups-and-downs as their friendship and their roommate status hit rocky patches. They even seek out a marriage counselor, although they must explain that they are not married and are not lovers; they just can’t get out of each other’s hair or reaffirm their friendship.
A little help from friends
As with his first film, Guterson got some help from Madison Park’s David Skinner, of ShadowCatcher Entertainment. The company was not involved in the actual production of either film — Guterson raised the money himself — but it’s involved in distribution, helping get both films into film festivals and, in the case of “Old Goats,” become available through Netflix.
Skinner recalls being confused by his early viewings of “Old Goats,” not sure if it was anything more than “a long home movie.” But he’s come to appreciate Guterson’s uniqueness and deliberateness, describing Guterson as a “very intentional filmmaker” who’s guided by his budget limitations but has an intuitive knack for character, story and setting.
Capitol Hill’s Tom Gorai, a producer for ShadowCatcher, remembers the company’s first reaction to “Burkholder”: “Wow, he did it again: the same ensemble cast, their strength, their weaknesses, their naturalism.”
Guterson, according to Gorai, shows some resemblances to earlier filmmakers, notably Mike Leigh and Robert Altman, two directors fond of ensemble casts and stories involving friends and larger social groups, rather than focusing on one main character. But he remains distinct in the specific way he approaches ensemble work.
The director “allows them the freedom to do what they do and then cuts [edits] a very tight, intentional, finished film,” Gorai said. “But when you watch it, it seems loose — that’s what so interesting and brilliant about it.”
Skinner’s and Gorai’s goal is to give “Burkholder” the wider attention they got for “Old Goats.”
A familial influence
Meanwhile, Guterson is working on a third film — this one with people closer to his age in the cast, although he’s not revealing too many details yet.
As to whether his father, novelist David Guterson (“Snow Falling on Cedars,” “The Other”) influenced his work in any way, Taylor Guterson allows that he doesn’t share what he’s working on with his father.
But he feels indebted to him in at least one way: His father taught him to “to avoid cliche, avoid developing characters or a plotline that you roll your eyes at — stay away from that. Try and create something that at least feels authentic.”
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