Get Low: 1930s Folk Tale Comes to the 21st Century

Get Low Get Low Get Low Get Low Get Low

Aaron Schneider’s “Get Low” stars Richard Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray. The film is being released on July 30 by Sony Pictures Classics.

Both producer Dean Zanuck and director Aaron Schneider agreed that production could only take place on location in the historic reaches of the American South. 

Shooting in 1920s Georgia

For the most part, the film was shot in Georgia. There, the filmmakers were able to hunt up a very special collection of locations that have changed little since the Great Depression, including the small town of Crawfordville (population 572); the Gaither Plantation, a historic (and allegedly haunted) 1800s cotton plantation, in Covington; a beautiful old church near Sparta; and Pickett’s Mill Battlefield, a Civil War site and State Park near Dallas, Georgia. 

To carry out his vision, Schneider recruited an artistic team headed by Oscar-nominated production designer Geoffrey Kirkland whose diverse work has included forays into both the past and future in films such as The Right Stuff, Children of Men and Bugsy Malone. Says Kirkland: “We started in Atlanta and set off, driving and driving, in search of 1930’s America.” 

Kirkland and Schneider worked closely with rising cinematographer David Boyd –who also worked on Schneider’s Oscar-winning short, Two Soldiers, and has shot for two of television’s most acclaimed series, Friday Night Lights and Deadwood – to forge a look for the film that honors both the wildness of Felix’s soul and the lure of civilized contact that calls him back. 

Also joining the design team was twice Academy Award-nominated costume designer Julie Weiss, whose films range from Frida and American Beauty to Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys and the comedy Blades of Glory. Weiss says it was more than the costuming challenges that drew her to the project. “When I first read Get Low I knew how important it was to be a part of this film. It was a chance to work with Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray – and a chance to have everyday discussions about our observations on life and how one might approach his or her own eulogy. The experience was all about simple laughter drawn from the memories of shared pain,” she concludes. 

Funeral Part

All of the film’s design ideas and emotions would converge at the crux of the story: the creation of Felix’s famous funeral party. To spark a festive atmosphere, the production recruited the Grammy-nominated, Nashville-based band, the Steeldrivers, to play their rootsy, Bluegrass soul on camera (the real Felix “Bush” hired the Friendly Eight Octet of Chattanooga to play the funeral.) The Steeldrivers were even joined by music lover Bill Murray on his mandolin between takes, further setting the mood. 

To inspire locals to come out as extras for the large funeral crowd scenes, the film’s actors took a page right out of the script – going on local radio to invite citizens of Georgia to appear in the film in exchange for free food, raffled prizes and a chance to meet the Academy Award-winning cast. In the end, over 600 people showed up at 5am on a crisp March morning to bring Felix “Bush’s” service to life. 

Undeniable Devotion

Although there were any number of potential snafus –one day the set was threatened by tornadoes; another day it was snowing – cast and crew’s unabated passion for the project kept spirits high. To a person, everyone involved in Get Low cites the movie as a deep bonding experience filled with the very things Felix “Bush” comes, at the last possible moment in his life, to desire: the simple power of kindness, conversation and communion. 

Bill Murray says: “Being an independent movie, everyone was truly committed to this thing. We were thrown together very intimately for a short time, but it was the gypsy mentality where everyone pulls together and takes care of each other for the time that you have. That happened on this movie – and it’s what I like best about the movie business.” 

That level of devotion and artistry made it all worth it for Dean Zanuck, after eight years of trying to bring Get Low to the screen. He concludes: “All you ever hope for is to deliver a satisfying movie-going experience for the audience. Between an engaging story based on a real legend, a rich, complex screenplay and an incredible cast, I think we’ve made a wonderful film.”