Frozen River - Courtney Hunt and Misty Upham Interviews
You're all going to get frostbite; and every morning we had
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Courtney Hunt: "It came from a true situation that goes on at the border. I was interested in it and I pursued research. I went and talked to people and learned how the smuggling takes place. I thought it was interesting that people drive across a frozen span of a mile, a river, to make 600 bucks. There will be more of that now."
Is there more of it now because of the financial crisis?
Courtney Hunt: "I don't know. I don't know."
And the cast is just fantastic and you made this for nothing, right?
Courtney Hunt: "Half a million."
Half a million? How did you do that?
Courtney Hunt: "Well, I just got really creative and I shaved out everything I didn't need of that script to tell the story and get it done. And we did three to four takes per shot, and we just got it done."
Did you expect people to latch onto it the way that they have, especially Melissa Leo's performance?
Courtney Hunt: "What I knew was that we had a great story and we told it well. By well I mean with the great acting, so I just turned it over to God."
I heard being on the set was a little miserable, a little cold, a little freezing. How difficult was it to be on a set like that and to have to direct actors?
Courtney Hunt: "You better have a good script, that's all I've got to say."
And that kept them alive during the cold times.
Courtney Hunt: "Yes. And we knew we were pursuing something bigger than ourselves which was the story of this woman and what she's doing. And it was bigger than us, so we bonded together in a really nice way about it. Everybody - everybody - on my set read the script and knew it and committed to the story because they wanted to. They brought their talents and shared them."
Has anyone involved in this kind of smuggling seen the film and reacted to it and let you know?
Courtney Hunt: "People don't usually identify themselves as smugglers. I don't think anybody's disputing the fact that this goes on."
It's amazing that the law enforcement, after seeing a film like this, cut off that ability.
Courtney Hunt: "Well, it's a big border and they really can't. But I'm sure they're doing their job to really surveil it and keep us safe."
How important is it to be represented at the Independent Spirit Awards?
Courtney Hunt: "Well, it's everything. I mean, that's what we're doing. The whole genesis of this film and the fact that I directed it and had nobody telling me what to do. I had no 'suits,' you know? And that's where this is celebrated. And there's a place for it in the world. I think actually there's a much bigger place than it gets, but this is good."
Do you think the state of the economy is going to be cutting back on independent filmmakers? There just won't be funding out there for independent films as much?
Courtney Hunt: "There isn't any funding for independent films. Nothing is going to change. What's going to change is that people get more creative, spend less money to do a better film. Maybe work harder on their scripts."
Wouldn't that be nice?
Courtney Hunt: "Yeah."
Misty Upham: "I know. Hopefully it's a different body, too. I've been trying to lose all the weight."
So tell me about working on that film because it looked like it was a very difficult film just to be on the set.
Misty Upham: "It was. We working in 30 below weather. We were shooting a scene on a highway and the sheriff actually came and shut us down. He said, 'You guys can't film because you're all going to get frostbite.' And every morning we had snotsicles and the Arizona tires of the trucks would deflate every morning because it was so cold. And we didn't have trailers; we didn't have heaters. The most luxury we had were those hand-warmers, those little pouches you shake up. So all of us took turns getting into the car that's in the movie to warm up. And it was like a little circus car – people get in, people get out. It was really hard."
Congratulations on your nomination. How important is it for a film like Frozen River to be represented here at the Independent Spirit Awards?
Misty Upham: "It's extremely important because our film represents the heart of independent filmmaking. No money and actors who've been in the business for over 20 years who are just there to work, and who don't need the glitz and the glamour. And I think that's what sums it up for me – independent filmmaking is all about the work."