What inspired you come up with the idea for the film?
FLOYD: The film was inspired by a desire to tell our story, growing into adulthood having been immersed in war from an early age. One of my first memories was of watching a news report on Vietnam and being afraid that a war was starting, only to be told that, no this was another one that was ending. As I grew older I learned that a state of war was the norm and that it was necessary to create an enemy if one did not exist. Fear of the other is a primal instinct and it is easily cultivated and made to grow via propaganda fed to the population via the govt and funneled through the media. In the time that the film is set, 24 hour cable news was a relatively recent development and CNN was in need of more content, the war served that purpose. This was the beginning of a ramp up to what we’re experiencing now – nonstop “breaking news” and color coded terror alert statuses so from that standpoint I felt that our experiences were shared by others of our generation and telling this story would especially resonate with them. In addition, the first gulf war was the beginning of overt govt control of media and promotion of “true” fake news, only stories that supported the govt narrative would be reported on. Embedded reporters were shown only what was approved and vetted by military officials. Orwellian euphemisms for weapons of war such as smart bombs made it seem that we were more thoughtful than our enemies and that killing people was now more sanitary than in the past. Daily briefings with jovial military leaders, eager to share video of targets being destroyed often with the silhouettes of Iraqi soldiers falling to the ground, killed by shrapnel or bullets. These scenes were celebrated with laughter and chest swelling pride at the power and efficiency of our military. Cable news helped promote a nonstop advertisement that defined patriotism and conditioned the public to accept the just war that we were waging in defense of a smaller, helpless nation, this time Kuwait. This was an echo of Vietnam where our govt officials repeated the line that we were coming to the defense of a smaller country, the exception being that that war was being waged to stop communism. The gulf war was about control of oil, not for a noble purpose, again just as was the case in Vietnam. This rationale was also used for the Korean war, and many of the earlier wars of the 20th century and stretching back further into the past to the very beginning of our country. We feel that telling this story is a counter narrative to the official line that we’re fed and told to believe. Many of the tactics used to condition the public for the 91 gulf war were used 12 years later to justify the invasion of Iraq. Our actions have directly or indirectly led to the deaths of millions of people in the middle east but show a few shots of our flag, some tanks, infrared film of bullets and missiles destroying our dangerous enemies and most everyone falls in line. Those who don’t are marginalized. Some fight back, we like to think that we are among that group.
Why did you want to tell this story?
PEDONE: We had such a great group of friends, and I think that looking back 1990 was a really pivotal time in our lives; we were in our early 20’s. We were dropping a lot of acid, and our band had a practice space at the airport that served as our hide out. We were realizing we had talents that could possibly be an escape from the dead end lives that we saw careers to be. The war was coming and we were in college at the time. Our professors were telling us they were going to reinstate the draft, and it was frightening to see and hear everyone’s willingness to go to war, but when asked why we should go to war, they echoed the propaganda they heard on TV as if it was a high school football game. There were trading cards for Desert Storm. The war was finding its way into every facet of media. CNN was broadcasting 24 hours a day about the war, and listening to our parents echo the words of George Bush Sr. and talk about the New World Order was just bizarre. Everyone was joining the army or working at the plant, and we didn’t want any part of it. We wanted out of Victoria. So for me it felt like a great thing to revisit creatively, on this 27th year that we have been fighting in the Middle East. It was a chance to examine the narrative and develop it alongside with the foresight of today’s current political climate.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
PEDONE: They are us. It is not a stretch to get into these guy’s heads.
FLOYD: The characters are amalgamations of us and our friends from that time period.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
PEDONE: Lots changed. It was much more about the war at first, and there were lots of sound scape ideas with the newscasts. As we begin to develop the characters more, and bring in story editors, the film started to take more shape, and the voices became more defined.
It was difficult weeding out the personal embellishments, and inside jokes that we had in the film (lots of them still there) but you have to figure out what moves the story, and what doesn’t. We went back and forth on how deep to get into the home lives of the boys, and how much to show about them that justified their behavior…not sure if we succeeded on that. I wish someone would green light 10 episodes.
The music was always a big deal. If it didn’t look like these guys were playing, and that they were for real we felt like we would have to take that out—for there to be no band. When we got in touch with Zander from the Circle Jerks and secured the demo music he had recorded with the rest of the rhythm section of the band, that element really solidified. I had heard the songs were out there, and nothing was going on with them, and that there would be no new Jerks record. It was a long shot, but one of the best decisions we made.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during production?
PEDONE: This is easy. Bianca, our DP and Producer, and had been attached to shoot since as early as 2013, arrived to set with a lump in her breast, and on our 8th or 9th day of shooting she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. She had to leave the production to start treatment and we had to decide to continue. Bianca had done test shoots with us, and had spent a lot of time with the script and had a huge impact on the visual tone of the film, IT WAS TOUGH.
Moviemaker Magazine did a nice spread on the story:
Where there any risks that you faced during production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
PEDONE: We didn’t have all our money when we started principal photography. We had enough to get started, but we had decided that the film needed to be shot in the winter, and we were not ready to wait another 12 months. We continued to seek funds while we were shooting. We were incredibly lucky to make it through. I would NEVER advise anyone to do this.
Another factor was the literal danger of shooting all the vandalism stuff. We were working incredibly long hours, and the crew was working for such little money. That’s the thing on these films, by week three everyone is exhausted, and as the director/producer I have to keep pushing on everyone and asking for more. Its maddening and can be toxic, but the crew were champs. The crew are always the unsung heroes in these situations.
What influenced the visual style of the film?
PEDONE: In the very beginning Stephen and I talked about how we could portray the LSD scenes, and how we could weave these war images into what the boys would be hallucinating while they were vandalizing the houses, and how we would accomplish this practically with limited funds. The last thing you want is that to be stupid looking. I had been working with a really cool filmmaker and artist from Victoria named Avlo who had been shooting some short luchadore horror films. He was doing lots of cool stuff with projectors. He is really brilliant. I had done a photo shoot with him projecting some of his images onto walls to promote some of the stuff we had been shooting together. I knew after that, that this was going to be how we would handle some of the LSD stuff. When I met Bianca in Park City in 2013 I told her about the film, showed her the script, and she asked to lens the film. She started molding the look for the film as early as drafts in 2014. She wanted the film to have lots of black, lots of negative space. We did a test shoot in July of 2015 and used smoke machines, filled walls with sand, and flour and tested out the projector ideas. We loved what were getting so ask time got near to shoot we really started to hone that look.
BIANCA BUTTI PRODUCER/DP: The visual style of An American in Texas is influenced by the feeling of being young and feeling trapped inside the world their own parents live in, suffer, and die under. Anthony and I translated this into night and darkness, where the freedom of the teenage angst gets to run free and be wild. This is a dark story reinforced by much of the story being written for night settings and I lit it in a way that used black blacks and the amber glow of the suburban sodium vapor street lights of the late 80’s, early 90’s, to help tell that story. The night itself becomes a character as the boys get to commune with and often times, disappear into the blackness. In opposition to that, the story also takes place during in the day– the bright, sterile, blinding light of the very society and oppression the boys are trying to rebel against. It is a world of adults and systems of oppression, which seems frustratingly obvious to the boys themselves and unacknowledged by everyone around them. Bombarded by symbols of the tyranny, the American flag, the oil refinery, the new of the Iraq war, even their own homes become the places that are trying to suffocate them out of existence. We peppered these symbols into as many frames as possible. We used subtle camera moves and slow moving wide shots to acknowledge the story that is the world that slowly crashes in on the boy’s lives.
What risks did you take to tell your story?
PEDONE: None that weren’t necessary. Working with a very little money, makes things more stressful. The crew is under paid, actors are working for scale, days are long, so you risk everything. Also when you are shooting in the community that you live in, and this community is not only hosting, but its citizens are funding this endeavor; when the smoke settles you better be able to stand behind your convictions, and the choices you made. As a producer, co-writer and first time director I was often confronted by my own ego over the vision. Hopefully you can maintain friendships, and forge life long connections to the people who shared in the creative process. You have a responsibility to make your film, but also to be inclusive and recognize the communal aspect of making art. Beyond the script are those that made the film, you have to honor the beauty in all those minds synched up on a mission, and try to be sensitive to all of that while still completing a project.
So I repeat no unnecessary risks were taken. This had to get done, and we risked a lot, but it got done.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screen writing or film producing?
FLOYD: Collaboration is key, don’t be resistant to feedback solicited or offered from other filmmakers. Don’t get married to things that you feel cannot be cut, objectiveness is important, however do not ignore your gut feelings about your story’s soul. Editing is part of writing but listening to your heart is also just as important.
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