Transforming the Texas Hill Country into a Mediterranean Oasis with ‘Satellite of Love’

By  · Published on October 29th, 2012

Eric Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse (1967) serves as a purposeful point of reference for writer-director Will James Moore’s Satellite of Love ‐ not only does Moore cast the lead actor of La Collectionneuse (Patrick Bauchau) as an eccentric friend, but Moore even mimics the tranquil Mediterranean atmosphere of La Collectionneuse by setting Satellite of Love in the vineyards of the Texas Hill Country. Satellite of Love maintains the visually vibrancy of the French New Wave, particularly with its impeccably crafted mise-en-scène. Satellite of Love is absolutely gorgeous, from the oh-so-beautiful cast to Steve Acevedo’s masterful cinematography. Rohmer would probably be very proud that he inspired Moore’s film.

Moore and I have been in correspondence ever since the film’s world premiere at the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival; but it was not until the 2012 Austin Film Festival that I finally had a chance to sit down with him and Jonathan Case (co-writer and music supervisor) to talk about Satellite of Love and making films in Central Texas.

What attracted you to Eric Rohmer, specifically his film La Collectionneuse (1967), as an influence on this film?

Will James Moore: I went to Jonathan [Case] with the idea for a film that I wanted to make. This was about ten years after Jonathan, Mike Lutz and I had lived together in Santa Monica. I was reflecting on where each of us were in our lives. I was married and had a kid in Austin, while Jonathan was touring the world playing music, and Mike was married and living in Santa Monica as a costumer. So, I was thinking about the different paths you can take in life; the idea was to make a film about friendships and how the choices we make in life affect us long-term. I brought this idea to Jonathan and I told him that I wanted to keep it very simple. I wanted to keep it mostly at one location. The other two films that I had directed [Wesley Cash (2004), Cowboy Smoke (2008)] were very big ‐ well, big in terms of being low budget but having a lot of action. So, Jonathan said that I had to see La Collectionneuse. I couldn’t find it anywhere, but I eventually found it on YouTube and watched it in five minute increments. That gave us the idea to base the film at a vineyard and create the love triangle. That’s where the similarities of the scripts end.

Jonathan Case: We just used La Collectionneuse as a reference point in terms of vibe and trying to tell a story as simply as possible.

Satellite of Love deals with a lot of the existential issues that people tend to deal with during their post-collegiate years. How does this film reflect your personal realities?

WM: We really turned the mirror on ourselves and used that as source material. I am definitely Blake and Jonathan is definitely Samuel and there was never any attempt to hide that. That was our goal, to dig into the experiences that we’ve had and the choices we’ve made, and try to understand them. It was a discovery mission as much of a process for writing the script.

JC: I had some real difficulty going from what we had written to seeing what we were filming. There were just so many necessary compromises that we had to make and that troubled me greatly. I thought we were going to lose the essence of the screenplay. Then, Shannon [Lucio] had seen an early cut of the film and said something like “it feels honest and it feels human.” The actors brought so much real truth to the film, and even though a lot of the scenes were slashed and burned, it still has the humanity and honesty that was in the spirit of our original conversation. It does feel autobiographical for both of us. I think of it as Will and I having a conversation on film.

Visually, Satellite of Love conveys a certain European aesthetic ‐ you essentially transform the Hill Country of Central Texas into a Mediterranean oasis.

WM: My favorite director is Terrence Malick. All of his films are very meditative, very visual and visceral. You feel because of the images, rather than the action of the film. Steve Acevedo is an amazing Director of Photography and Director, and when we work together we are able to talk in short form on set. He knows exactly what I want. We spent a lot of time on locations. We weren’t going to use a space only because it was available to us, we are going to find the best locations we possibly could. We had such a short schedule, and we were shooting eight to ten pages per day, with multiple locations.

How did you approach shooting this film in Central Texas, especially with bringing professional actors in from outside the area?

WM: Very carefully. Zach [Knighton] had a window of time; Nathan [Phillips] had a pilot that he was shooting in Nashville that was getting pushed back. We didn’t have the film fully cast until a week before we started shooting. We had all of the locations and the crew, but it was difficult to do much more planning than that. We had tons and tons of notes, and we knew what we wanted to do. Once we finally got the okay from Nathan, we knew we had to do it right away and get it done. Then Nathan’s manager called four days into shooting ‐ they needed him for the pilot ten days sooner then they had initially told us. We were in second position, so we couldn’t do anything about that. So we had to cut a bunch of scenes and run around and shoot what we could as quickly as we could. These guys were troopers because it was over 100 degrees every single day.

One of the biggest hurdles for Central Texas filmmakers is financing their films and Satellite of Love at least looks like it was shot with a decent budget.

WM: That depends on your idea of what a big or small budget is. We really didn’t have any money. One thing I feel really confident in is being about to make something that will look and sound good. I think I have a really good idea of what will give us production value and what will not. That was really important to this project in particular because we wanted it to look really beautiful. We wanted people to respond to the images that they were seeing on screen. Our budget was under $100,000 and we shot in 13 days. Luckily the film is mostly dialogue, which allowed us to do a lot more than if we were shooting action. In a perfect world, our schedule would not have been dictated by the actors’ availability; but it was, because of budgetary restraints. You are trying to balance everything out, and when you can’t pay people a lot of money you are at the mercy of their schedules. That is what happened in this situation.

What are the advantages of living and making films in Austin?

WM: Something I love about Austin is that the other filmmakers are so supportive. Filmmakers in Austin are not negative. They want you to succeed. So there’s that great support network. I’ve been here for a while ‐ I went to school here and this is where I’ve been making films. I feel like I have a really strong network of people who I work with here. I love Austin. Its a great city and I love making films here.

Austin Movie Events This Week

10/29 ‐ Alamo Ritz ‐ Music Mondays presents Phantom of the Paradise. (More info)

10/29 ‐ Paramount Theatre ‐ Pub Run from the Paramount to Takoba for a complimentary pint of locally-brewed beer from Twisted X Brewing Co., then back to the Paramount for more beer and a screening of Juan of the Dead. (More info)

10/29–10/31 ‐ Blue Starlite at AFS ‐ The Blue Starlite’s Halloween series continues with screenings of Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead (double feature); Beetlejuice; Monster Squad/Frankenstein (double feature); and Halloween. (More info)

10/30 ‐ Alamo South Lamar ‐ AFS’ Essential Cinema Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not To Be. (More info)

10/30–10/31 ‐ Paramount Theatre ‐ Halloween Film Fest double feature of Poltergeist and Alien. (More info)

10/30–10/31 ‐ Stateside at the Paramount ‐ Halloween Film Fest double feature of The Omen and The Fly. (More info)

10/31 ‐ AFS Screening Room ‐ AFS’ Avant Cinema presents a rare screening of Downtown 81. (More info)

11/3–11/4 ‐ Alamo South Lamar ‐ Two screenings of Pip Chodorov’s personal window into the history of experimental cinema, Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film. (More info)

11/3–11/4 ‐ Alamo South Lamar ‐ Two screenings of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s documentary, Detropia, which won the Editing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. (More info)