Reichard, Kelly: Old Joy

In the summer of 2004 the presidential campaign was in full swing. The war in Iraq still seemed like a good idea to at least half of America, and the U.S. government attempts to squelch dissent included incidents as far reaching as arresting an Albany resident for refusing to take off his Peace on Earth T-Shirt while shopping in a mall.

I was driving cross-country with my dog Lucy, listening to Christian radio and clocking the My Mommy Chose Lies billboards on my speedometer, when I received a short story from my friend Jon Raymond called “Old Joy,” a minimalist story of friendship that captured all the feeling of loss and alienation that everyone in my world seemed to be grappling with. Mark and Kurts relationship was, among other things, a great metaphor for the self-satisfied, ineffectualness of the Left.

When I got back to New York, I showed the script to Pete Sillen, who jumped right in and agreed to shoot the film. Soon after, I went to hear Jon do a reading of “Old Joy” (his short story had just been published as a book with photographs by Justine Kurland) and all through the reading I kept picturing Will Oldham in the scenes. I sent Will the book and we spent the next couple of months deciding which character he should play. It’s hard to imagine now but he felt drawn equally to both roles. Will tried to hook me up with some of his very Kurt-like friends to play that part, but they were all either living in vans or didn’t have phones and were ultimately too Kurt-like to nail down.

That winter Pete and I visited Bagby Hot Springs in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and did a test shoot. On that trip I met Tanya Smith, who I cast as Mark’s wife. Then, finally, we found Daniel London, clearly Mark. And that was that, the movie was cast. In May, I moved out to Oregon to start setting up the film.

By June we had our crew of six. Daniel and Will met for the first time the day before shooting began. We shot for ten days in and around the Portland and Mount Hood areas of Oregon. With a fifty-page script there was room to expand, so if the spirit moved them, Daniel and Will were free to improvise. We used Pete’s little A-minama camera with 200-foot-loads and since most of the story takes place outside in the daylight we were able to avoid getting bogged down with a ton of equipment.

Our producer found a church retreat up in the mountains and we rented a couple of cabins. I kept imaging the making of Exile on Main Street, in the sense of a small group going off and holing up together in a beautiful setting, all focused on this one project. I think the intimate approach we took to making the film comes through in the film itself. The challenge with this kind of filmmaking is turning all the limitations into something that works in your favor, something that adds to the frailty of the story itself.