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An Interview with Dustin Nowlin, the Director of "Incidental"

Please introduce yourself first.

Hello to all. My name is Dustin Nowlin, Writer/Director of the short film Incidental.

When did you become interested in cinema?

As far back as I can recall, I’ve always had an interest in cinema. I have a very active imagination. When I was child I would put on news broadcasts from inside of a cardboard box cut and dressed up like a T.V. set. By fifth grade I was apart of group of selected students to head up a new class centered around the televised production of the Morning News Announcements. I participated in similar iterations of the course throughout the remainder of my academic attendance.

Director Dustin Nowlin

And which one of your works is Incidental?

Incidental is the third short film I’ve directed. It follows Aea, which I feel is more of my first because it was produced outside of Art college.

Tell us about casting three actors in your film. How did you find them, how did the rehearsal process go, and what did you see in each of them that you thought fit for the role?

We held a casting call for the film, the entire process of selecting the best actors took about two months. We knew early on from the moment we met with Annie Unk, that we wanted her to be our Alex. Her name kept coming up and with her background in theater it was clear she was the one to carry the role. The same follows for Joyce Johnson, probably one of the most critical casting decisions we made. Most of the casting was actually spent finding the right Kathy. But Joyce, being the regal actress she is, was so gracious and accommodating with our humble little production that it was no doubt in our minds that we found our Kathy. T.J. May was probably the one exception, he’d starred in a friends short film and we were happy to be able to work around his busy music and acting schedule to have him fill the role of Danny. In the end we rehearsed as much as we could, about 3-4 weeks and went in guns blazing!

The film has a frenetic beginning and then we are thrown into a tense environment where a young girl and a boy are supposed to force the woman they have apparently kidnapped to speak. How much are you interested in crime movies and what works have influenced you the most?

With my last film Aea, I simply wanted make a beautiful film. And although the story itself can be considered dark in some ways. I think of it as a balance. With Incidental I wanted the total opposite. A dark, and downright ugly film with fast paced dialogue and action. Whereas Aea had hardly any dialogue at all with deliberate and poignant action. Incidental was born of necessity, the producers and I saw that this story was the best to tell due to its rich dialogue, pacing and dynamic of youth versus wisdom. The criminal aspect is more of a byproduct of the characters themselves. Breaking the rules to get whatever it is they want.

Your film often takes place indoors in a motel, and an anxious atmosphere overshadows everything. Such a film needs double decoupage and acting. How did you cope with this challenge?

With the exception of Joyce Johnson, and Richard Phillis most of the actors in Incidental are still very fresh actors. As a director my goal was to achieve a sense of anxiety for the audience. I went about this by having Annie and T.J. understand the plight of their characters being abused and neglected in rehearsal. But on set much of the dialogue was altered or improvised in order to keep that same sense of unsureness that two teenagers raised on television and toxic culture would only have.

Although the film has a tragic ending, there is a maddening tone throughout. How much of this parody was in the script from the beginning, and how much was staged?

I’m a big fan of allegory. You can find it in much of my works. In Incidental the story stems from the revenge of Alex and Danny but beneath the surface a role reversal of every character is taking place. The children become the parent, the parents display their immaturity and out of necessity unlikely heroes and villains are forged.

What role have film festivals around the world played in the visibility of your work? How did the audience view the work?

Incidental is on a track unlike any other film I’ve had the pleasure to be apart of. People around the world are taking to it. Whether its because of its relatable storyline, haunting score, fast-paced action, outlandish characters or hard ending. Audiences around the globe are recognizing the value of this film and raising it as one of the best short films this year. Its really humbling to see. When we started we just wanted to make a film that would excite our friends and filmmakers alike. So its is quite amazing to see the reach its garnered via the festival circuit. Including its big win at Roma Short Film Festival for Best Director. A huge honor indeed. One, I hope will help the film that we all worked so hard on, continue to gain an audience over time.

How do you come up with your ideas? How did you come up with the idea of this film and how long did the process of developing and writing the script take?

Summer of 2019 I was wrapping up post production on my last film Aea. And my team and I were eager to start another project. I wanted to produce something a bit less ambitious this time around but with heavy dialogue. I believe as a writer, dialogue is one of my strongest suits. So I wrote down 10 scenarios based in one location. From there we selected the one we found the most interesting. That story turned out to be Incidental. Once I have the story and the players defined, I believe it is the characters that end up writing themselves into the action. Writing the initial screenplay took a couple of weeks but a-lot of the best lines developed on the set.

Budget in short film is one of the serious problems of filmmakers. What do you think the topic and idea of the work should be so that it can be made at the lowest cost?

In my experience, filmmakers should focus more on character. Stories are the result of characters living their lives. Stories, in essence are just the means in how we tell what happened to the characters. The topic of story can be anything, but to be cost effective one should consider staging the production in one location and focusing less on stories and more on authentic characters who drive the story. This is what interests me most and hopefully audiences alike.

The characterization of your film is so believable that the audience connects with them from the very first scenes. Please talk a little bit about the backgrounds of this characterization.

Everywhere I travel I met only people I love. People, humanity is quite fascinating, is it not? The best films, I’Vitelloni, The 400 Blows, Last Tango in Paris, or even Dr. Strangelove don’t judge their characters. Meaning, they allow the characters to be fully themselves and let the chips fall where they may. Conflict is inherent in all people, so selecting the characters themselves isn't as important as that character’s inner conflict. Audiences can relate to Alex and Danny because we’ve all been teenagers before, unsure ourselves, searching for meaning, trying to right a wrong.

If possible, tell us about the work you are currently working on or are planning to do in the near future.

Currently I’ve been circulating my feature screenplay. Its about a swimmer and his journey to reach Olympic gold. I feel strongly about this project in that I believe it has the power to change the world! In its own little way, hahaha. I also have another feature story, more inline with Incidental but this project ratchets all the fun up to whole new level!


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