There are times when you need a good, small movie to help you believe that Hollywood isn’t choking the life out of creativity and everything else we hold dear, like baby deers, affordable healthcare, original stories, women’s humanity and bodegas.
Hunter Gatherer is that small movie. Starring Andre Royo, George Sample III, Kellee Stewart and others, it’s a story that is as simple as it is wounding. It left me with plenty of thoughts.
So, after writing a review on it, I finagled my way into interviewing its director, Josh Locy.
You’ll find our exchange below. Enjoy.
What got you into filmmaking?
I have been interested in film since I was in college. I was thinking about becoming a pastor (I was raised very religious) but I was more challenged by the idea of making films. It seemed like an impossible goal that would teach me everything about life and creating things. That curiosity and desire to learn still excites and motivates me to this day.
You were an art director originally, working on Camp X-Ray, Prince Avalanche and Cold Weather. How’d you transition into the director’s chair?
I have been working in the art department for over 10 years. It has given an insight to every aspect of filmmaking — from choosing the right locations to lighting as well as all of the materials and processes that go into prepping and shooting the film. The one area that was brand new to me was post — editing, sound mixing, color correcting were all new experiences to me. Also my work in the art department has provided me with many relationships and friends and collaborators that helped make Hunter Gatherer a reality — from David Gordon Green who executive produced the film, to Tom Obed and Jake Kuykendall who were in the art department.
Considering this was your first feature directing, why this story? Versus any other?
This story came to me through a friend named Eddie who has since passed away (the film is dedicated to him) — he introduced me to the world of the film and as I worked on writing it, I fell in love with the characters and scenes that were emerging from this world. I wrote other things in the meantime, but I had developed a deep love for the characters and I couldn’t shake it.
How did you get the film to festivals? To Netflix? How was that experience?
We were very happy to be accepted into South By Southwest’s film festival in 2016. The process was pretty straight-forward. And it was a great experience. I think our film fit right in at SxSW. it was nerve-racking and traumatic to have people finally see the film, but it was unbelievably joyous to have so many crew people and family be there to support me and the film. It couldn’t have gone better! After the festival, we sold the movie to The Orchard and they negotiated the sale to Netflix.
Hunter Gatherer is very summery and warm, reminding me of some of the lighting in Arrival and Beasts of The Southern Wild. How’d you get those feelings of smoggy, hot days in South LA in your head to translate so seamlessly onscreen?
My DP, Jon Aguirresarobe, is from Spain and he was so excited to shoot in Los Angeles. I think his eyes were in wonder at all he saw. I think that his curiosity and presence is what comes through in the film. On the technical end, we would schedule our days so that when we were shooting outside when the light was best – being an ultra-low budget movie, this isn’t always possible, but we did our best by having interior scenes shoot in the middle of the day.
We shot on the Alexa – which is a great, versatile digital camera – but we wanted to dirty it up a bit, to take the digital edge off. So we used old lenses and a Black Pro-Mist filter to soften some things. Then in the color correction phase, with Alex Bickel at Color Collective, we used a Look Up Table they created to mimic a fuji stock from the 70’s that really warmed everything up quite a bit.
I’ve talked to white artists before about the responsibility of providing authentic visions of people of color on screen. Considering Hunter Gatherer’s content, this responsibility – and how it was taken on by you – seems like it was a central part of the process of making the film. In an interview from last year you and Andre Royo discussed the importance of trust on-set and with the story. Could you expound on how it played a major hand in creating the film?
I am grateful that film as a medium allowed me to explore a world that is not my own. I was raised in Central Virginia, in a community and environment that was, to say the least, overtly racist. (For example, I found out recently that the private high school I attended was actually founded during the Civil Rights Movement as a response to segregation — a “safe place” for white children). From this one-dimensional base, I knew that I needed to be intimately and creatively connected with people who are different than I am. Andre is such an incredibly talented actor and great, open person, that we were able to connect on a deep level from the beginning.
A big thing for me was that I didn’t want Ashley Douglas to just be “Bubbles” (Andre’s character from The Wire), so I had to trust Andre that he was going to do the work necessary to ensure that wouldn’t happen. Andre had to trust me that I was going to make the best film I could make! He took time off of Empire (which at that time was the number one show on television) to come do our movie… that was a big gamble! I know that my trust in Andre was perfectly placed and I think he would say the same!
In the making of Hunter Gatherer, I was purposefully dealing with characters that I had seen depicted on film so often, (a poor black man just out of prison, a corner prostitute, etc). Often these characters are shown as being evil, violent or, in some way, not fully human. I felt a responsibility to re-define these characters, if only for myself. I had to focus on their humanity and not essentialize them by the color of their skin.
I had to make sure that the nuance of their specific perspective and uniqueness of their individuality was on display at all times. I felt like if I could do that well, then the rest could take care of itself. While my direct experiences don’t necessarily equip me to talk accurately about “life on the streets,” I felt like I could take my own experiences with love, rejection, and depression and work them out with the wonderful characters I’d met through the writing process and we could, in some small way, be united by the struggles of being human.
This topic is super-important to me and I’m down to unpack it further if you’d like — i’ve been reading two books recently that have further opened my mind “Racecraft” by the Fields sisters and “Slave Cinema” by Andre Seewood. I would recommend them to everyone!
How did you go about designing the respirator? One could argue it’s somewhat symbolic, as a stand-in for the ways in which poor folks of color often have to do for themselves when systems and others fail them. Was this your intention? What does it mean to you?
This is a wonderful reading of that piece. I’ve always thought of Jeremy as someone who is taken advantage of by the system – I mean that scene with Dr. Merton could have taken place in Tuskegee. He is someone who’s well-being is being directly threatened by the systems that are in place (note that Dr. Merton is one of the only white characters in the film, there’s a reason for that). And yeah, his grandfather taught him that when others let you down, you have to take matters into your own hands. As we find out, oftentimes that isn’t enough.
What’s your favorite scene in the film?
I love the scene where Ashley and Nat are saying good bye and they are walking away from each other and laughing and flirting from further and further distances. This is the high point of Ashley’s journey: he has his girl, he has a mission. We get to see him at his best. We get a glimpse into why anyone could ever love someone who up ‘till this point seems so unlovable. Also I’ve always thought of this film as starring children — like it’s a film that could be set in a middle school but we have moved it to a world of adults — and this is one of those moments when we see the character’s naiveté.
There have been quite a few New Americana films focusing – directly and indirectly – on poverty lately (Moonlight, Patti Cake$, American Honey). In Hunter Gatherer, it also plays a role but it’s pretty subtle. How did you strike that balance between illustrating it and not making it an overtly preachy point for the audience?
The system of capitalism promises us so much — that if we just work hard, we can become anything we want to be and we will be fulfilled when we get there. This is quite simply not true. Not only does it promise falsely, capitalism works tirelessly to impoverish and exploit those in our society who don’t have some sort of inherent advantage. It’s a violent killer and we take it for granted that it is the way things have to be.
Ashley is such an optimistic, active, industrious person – exactly the type of person usually championed by capitalists, but yet he is left in the dust. There’s a lot to unpack, but I felt that the symbolism and milieu of the film could carry the message way better if it was subtle – anyways, we’ve seen enough of “poverty porn” haven’t we? There seems to me to be something self-serving and privileged about films and photographs that show the desolation of poverty.
What are your next projects? How can folks best support you and your team?
What a kind question! I’m writing some stuff now – working on a dark drama about Judas Iscariot and a comedy about two boxers who fall in love with each other, but nothing is lined up yet. To track us and support, tell your friends to check out the movie and it’s best to follow us on twitter (@acouplefridges)!
Dap owns Timberland boots and is committed to loving black women, eating good food and diversifying media as he sees fit and while he can. He can be found yelling into the abyss and being snarky on the following: IG | Twitter