Thursday, March 27, 2014

Interview: Jon Lindstrom's Passion for Mystery

Jon Lindstrom — best known to his fans as Dr. Kevin Collins on “General Hospital,” and who’s also been on “NCIS,” “Drop Dead Diva” and “Blue Bloods” — has been playing hooky. Not only did he wed longtime love Cady McClain in a hush-hush courthouse ceremony this past Valentine’s Day, but he also co-wrote, directed, co-produced and co-stars in “How We Got Away With It” — an indie mystery/thriller that has been taking the film-festival circuit by storm in recent months. Available now via your cable provider’s VOD (video on demand), distribution opens wider on May 13 to cover the digital markets, like iTunes, and will have select showings in L.A. beginning May 16. I spoke with Jon recently, and he told me all about the movie … well, as much as he could without giving away anything important.

Celebrity Extra: Tell me about “How We Got Away With It.”

Jon Lindstrom: It’s a mystery thriller about a young man and his friends who react very violently to an unexpected tragedy during their annual weekend reunion. They are all coming into their early 30s, with a sense that some are getting a little dissatisfied, thinking that maybe these kinds of reunions are for people younger than them. You have a sense that they are about to blow apart anyway, or at least just away from each other. And then this terrible thing happens and other things start to come up. You find out that the tragedy is a result of something else.

CE: I know how hard it is to get a film put together, financed and distributed. How did you make this happen?

JL: I met the guy who ended up playing the lead role, McCaleb Burnett, at a wedding of mutual friends of ours in Las Vegas, of all places. And we were both living in Los Angeles at the time. He knew that I had written a movie that had been made a couple of years earlier called “The Hard Easy.” That was made with Bruce Dern and Vera Farmiga and Peter Weller. It was a wonderful cast. So, I guess he just kind of presumed that I knew what I was doing. I don’t — really, nobody does. But I had a fairly good idea of what makes a good movie.

He came to me with a screenplay that he and the fellow that plays the other lead, Jeff Barry, had written together. I liked it, but I felt that there was a better opportunity for a more highly structured kind of mystery noir, which is really a reflection of my own sensibility. It gave us a chance to talk about subjects that were important to all of us, such as what secrets can do to people. So, I got involved, and McCaleb and I did a rewrite. I’m a big fan of the European crime films from the ’60s and ’70s, and I felt we had a good opportunity to play with that creatively.

CE: Because of time and budget constraints of producing your own feature film, I’ll bet your background in daytime helped in that regard, since you’re used to knowing what you want and working quickly to get it.

JL: It did. There’s no way that my time in daytime couldn’t inform my work discipline. I’m really thankful for it now. I did do some directing in daytime. I certainly learned how to move fast as an actor in daytime. One of the reasons why that helps you, at least as an actor, is you develop a pretty strong sense of when you’ve got what you’re looking for. You know when to say: “OK, that’s great. Let’s reset at the top and do another take,” or “We’ve got it. Let’s move on.” I surprised myself in that I have a pretty finely tuned sense of that now.

The other thing I was able to draw from was that I direct short films. I’ve made several of them, and I’ve done a lot of my friends’ acting demo reels and things. Filmmaking has been in my life for some time. With a short film, you usually do it out of your own pocket, and you’ve got maybe one day to shoot it. I’ve been able to draw upon that as well, which helps a lot. I wouldn’t recommend anybody going into this untested. Practice. Do something before you go out and do it.

CE: The setting for this movie is really gorgeous. You filmed in Rochester, N.Y., correct? Tell me about the shoot.

JL: Yes, we filmed in Rochester. Jeff Barry (one of the stars of the film) is from Rochester; we got a lot of free things from his family. His father is a restaurateur, so that is how we were able to get two restaurant locations and feed the crew at cost. Jeff’s grandfather also owns a cabin outside of town. Since the film is a reunion where everybody stays in a big house, I was able to put all the actors into this cabin, and they could stay there for the three weeks or so that we were on location. They all got to know each other and learn how to play that way, and get on each other’s nerves and all those things that happen.

In the case of the two leading men, who kind of operate separately from the rest of the ensemble, I had them sleep in the big house that we shot in. They were always kind of separated from the main group. I think it worked very well.

CE: What was it like switching hats from director to actor when it was time to film your scenes?

JL: Stepping into an acting role really wasn’t that difficult. All we needed was a work flow, and Jeff Barry is a filmmaker. He has made a lot of shorts and is very passionate about it. He had written the original draft of the script in about three days. He’s great to work with, as all of them were. All I had to do was set up the shots that I wanted to get in the scene that I was in, and then I would step in front of the camera. Jeff would watch the monitor, give me a little direction until he felt we had it, and then I’d step behind the monitor, look at the playback and say: “Yep. We got it. Let’s move on.” It was a nice collaboration. A lot of the look of the film itself — because it really does look beautiful — is a credit to our young director of photography, Michael Belcher.

CE: It really is a gorgeous movie.

JL: Color correction has a lot to do with it. You shoot on high definition, and you can do a lot with that later on. I recommend trying to get it looking as good as possible when you actually shoot it, and that is thanks to Michael. It does look great. It looks like a much more expensive movie than it actually is.

CE: Was there a moment or a scene during the shoot when you thought, “Wow — we’re making something really special here,” or was the whole shoot one big special moment for you?

JL: The whole shoot was really special for me, just being as it was the first time I was doing a feature-length film. There was one night, though — there’s an entire sequence, it comes probably about two-thirds of the way through the film, where there are some characters doing something at a pier at night. Fortunately it was very calm that night. The lake was like glass, and we were in the water, and it’s August, so the water still gets cold after a while. There’s essentially no dialogue in it, and the sequence runs for about 10 minutes.

That’s a challenge to visually have it make sense, because you don’t have the support of dialogue to be expository. This was the moment where we all knew that the movie was going to work, because everyone knew exactly why they were doing what they were doing, and the reason why it had to be cold like that. That’s one of the rare things that comes along, when so many things have to go right to make a decent movie. That was the moment I knew this might actually work after all.

CE: Your wife, Cady, is an associate producer on the film. Do you have plans to continue finding projects where you can work together?

JL: She really was there for me every step of the way. She was my sounding board all the way through it. Technically, an associate producer is someone who does production work on behalf of the production company, and that’s technically what she did. She definitely deserves the credit. She was with me every step of the way.

In fact, I wasn’t even going to be in this movie. I had another actor attached, and unfortunately he had to drop out, and I said: “Aw, man. Now I’ve got to go find another guy to play the detective.” She said: “No you don’t. You’re going to play that part.” I said: “Oh my God, you’re right. I can do that — and I won’t drop out.” It’s one of my favorite characters that I ever played. We’re thinking of doing a Web series based on that character.

As for us working together again, we would always love to be able to work together, and we do on a daily basis. With my encouragement, I’m proud to say that Cady made a couple of short films on her own. I think she’s a terrific director and has a great eye. We collaborate on our various projects every day, day in and day out. But yeah, we would love the opportunity to work together again.

CE: Do you have another feature film in your sights yet?

JL: I’m going to direct a feature called “The Invisible Fifth.” It’s a teen thriller by way of genre, but it also has to do with secrets and lies. It’s very dark with a lot of mystery.

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