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By Christopher Stipp

Archives? Right Here…And The Way Way Back Archives Are Here

I’m awesome. I wrote a book. It’s got little to do with movies. Download and read “Thank You, Goodnight” right HERE for free.

It’s tough to get a movie made.

If you don’t have A-List stars attached or a bankroll where you can make the film on your own terms there is a lot you have to look to others for in order to help a production go forward. In writer and director Jeff Nichols’ case the production needed to get to where it needed to go by sheer force of will. The will of the story that needed to be told, the will of those who had to believe in what was being shot, so many different behind-the-scenes hook or by crook moments that never made it in front of the lens. Glenda Pannell is an actress in Nichols’ latest, SHOTGUN STORIES, in which she stands on the sidelines watching two sets of half-brothers rage against one another following the death of the family’s patriarch. The film’s subject matter is a bit heady but the movie is one that has garnered attention from film festivals and ample praise from the likes of Variety and Roger Ebert.

Glenda has made a name for herself playing roles in productions like WALK THE LINE, playing a lead role in MEET THE LUCKY ONES and will next be seen in STREAKER. To say that speaking with an actress who has such an exuberance for a role like this was a pleasure would be a gross understatement. Glenda had a realistic sense of how this role fits into her overall resume and about what you’re willing to do when the story is as good as this. To see the film in the coming weeks check to see when it might be playing at a theater near you:

Laemmle’s Sunset 5: Los Angeles, CA 4/11
Northwest Film Forum: Seattle, WA 5/9
Starz Film Center: Denver, CO 5/16
Olympia Film Society Capitol Theater: Olympia, WA 5/24- 5/29

CHRISTOPHER STIPP: I’ll be honest, you have a one paragraph bio, I haven’t seen this film, I’m not going to ask you to take it from the top and ask you what the movie is about, so the only real recourse I have is to inquire what drew you to this story from a first time director?

GLENDA PANNELL: When I got the script I pretty much knew, the way the script read, the story had a real solid narrative.

Funny thing is I’m from Tennessee and we shot it in Little Rock, Arkansas and that’s where the director was from so I felt a kindred southern connection with Jeff. They are real people to me. Every single character in the film is people I have encountered or in my life and have certain characteristics of people that I knew. Knowing the people in my life and having the story told to me, it was such an easy read. I had no questions and just had a great visual of what the film would look like once it was made. I just knew it was going to be very special.

Shooting a film in the south is always so picturesque. It’s such beautiful country to shoot in. Late afternoon, early evening, it is so beautiful on these wonderful golden fields. It’s a wonderful environment.

CS: The trailer I saw for the film, there is nothing really quirky about the marketing – it feels just like a verite kind of film. It doesn’t seem to be anything else but a relationship kind of film. Would that be a close assessment?

PANNELL: Once you see the film, I think you’ll be able to support your thoughts on that. It is a story that is told visually in front of your eyes. You feel great empathy for everybody in the film.

There is a conflict going on between two sets of brothers. It really about the relationship of original set of brothers, Son, Boy and Kid. The lead, Mike Shannon who plays Son, is the first born to a set a parents. They had these children and they split up. The father goes off and starts a family with another lady and those children are raised in a more loving environment. And those children are named, which is a poignant part of the film, one of the children in that set of Boy’s is given his name; that’s a big thing in the South for a father to pass his name to a son. Even though there is conflict between these sets of brothers, because they are blood brothers but not raised in the same family, there’s a lot of unnecessary words exchanged and a lot of bad behavior that most people will look down upon but ….. they weren’t raised to love one another so that’s just how they handle things.

It’s difficult to tell the story but it’s a great narration.

CS: How do you factor in to this all? What part do you play?

PANNELL: I’m Annie Hayes and I’m married to Son Hayes in the film. I think she’s Son’s anchor. He wasn’t raised in a loving home. And definitely wasn’t raised with a loving maternal figure and certainly weren’t raised by his father, those boys were left to raise each other on their own to develop their own values and own survival skills. And I think by the time he got married, Annie came along and came from a home that was not broken, had a mother and a father. I think he’s trying to create different values and learn from her because they have a child together – he takes off trying to get his stuff together - she loves him and doesn’t want to let go - they need to stay together for the kids – but at the same time she doesn’t want to live that way. She wants him to progress and not “f” up.

CS: And do you think Jeff was able to distill everything? From when you read the script, to when you actually shoot it can be two different beasts. Obviously looking at the accolades the film has received already can say he has… but was there anything while he was producing or directing it where things on paper and trying to get it on screen that didn’t quite work?

PANNELL: I think pretty much everything he intended pretty much worked out. If it seemed like something wasn’t going to work, he was always in discussion with us. He was always asking us how do you feel and how we feel about our characters and welcomed opinions but we weren’t running around trying to run the set but very open and we felt very comfortable – at least I did, speaking for myself. If I didn’t quite understand something I would try to understand it with questions. It’s really like a novel – a great narrative piece of work – and you want to show that justice especially when the director is the writer.

CS: Is this really a southern film at heart? I know everyone can make generalizations that this is everyone’s kind of film but is this something unique just to the south?

PANNELL: I don’t think so. The characters are true to the south but pull back and you make a general observation – I don’t care what family you are from – they might put up this picturesque facade but everyone has a past – everybody has a history nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors. I don’t think it’s unique to the south, I think it’s more unique to our generation quite honestly.

CS: How so?

PANNELL: The world isn’t the easiest place to live in at the moment with the economy being what it is and it’s just tough times we are living in. When people go home it’s not always the 9 to 5′er going home with dinner on the table, everybody sits around, eats and watch television and goes to bed. I just think everybody needs comfort. Anybody that goes to see this film can relate.

CS: And the title SHOTGUN STORIES emphases the violence underneath it all.

PANNELL: I’m not saying that everybody is going to go out and grab a gun – you don’t settle a conflict that way.

CS: So where does Jeff come in on all of this? I don’t want to say autobiographical, because that would be pretty wild if it was, but where was he coming from when he wrote this story?

PANNELL: I’m not sure if there were certain people in his life that he was drawing from, I can’t speak for him on that, but I would assume that growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas he’s seen people – just for analysis doing some people watching those characters are all living around him. So I’m sure there are people that have come into his life that he’s based his characters on.

CS: During the shoot how long were you on set making this film?

PANNELL: You know what, I was commuting back and forth from Memphis. It seems like I was doing it for at least a month. I wasn’t shooting every day. At least a couple times a week I was called on set. I would be there a big chunk of the day and I was pretty much at the beginning and the end process of it. It was a joy. It was very exciting. In the two hour drive going over, I’d think about the character and how I was going to approach it. It was such a pleasure.

CS: Obviously it was different that any mainstream production and you’ve worked on bigger films than this. Really any sort of – anything you like more about independent films than the big sort of polished films that Hollywood churns out?

PANNELL: The thing I like about SHOTGUN STORIES is that is was a labor of love for Jeff. He kept us included throughout the entire process. He would just say, not much going on if that was the case but just want to keep you up to date. The thing I liked most about this film is that most of the people that worked on the film he went to school with. He went to school at the North Carolina School of the Arts which has a great filmmaking program and we didn’t have a big budget to work on but his family made dinner for us. Every day dinner would be in his parent’s home. Mr and Mrs. Nichols sitting around the dining room table hanging around with the crew. It was so great to actually sit down and talk to these people and pick their brains about all aspects of production, to ask the crew members “Why do you do that? And why is that necessary?” Just learning the mechanics of things – it was about every single person.

CS: Amazing; having dinner made for you every night.

PANNELL: It was wonderful. Chicken pot pie…..it was wonderful.

CS: It says you are currently in Los Angeles and I would imagine it’s nice to be able and go back to LA if you were to compare being on jobs, the difference between working on something like this and working on something with tons more money behind it…

PANNELL: I really consider myself lucky. This is not the last we are going to hear from Jeff Nichols by any stretch of the imagination. And Mike Shannon is definitely one of those underrated actors that is out there today. He’s such a brilliant guy. To be a part of this project at the beginning of Jeff’s career is something I am very proud of for the rest of my life. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to someday say, “Hey, I was in his very first film.”

CS: It’s won a few awards already.

PANNELL: Yes. It won the Seattle International Film Festival and won a narrative category in Austin, and nominated for the Spirit Award, and I think there was something in Europe we won….

CS: Obviously you did it first of all because it was such a good story but at the time you were making it did you think it was going to be something people were really going to pay attention to and take notice of?

PANNELL: I had a pretty good feeling because every character – I would pop on the set and just watch – and every character brought something very unique and invaluable to the film. Having wonderful characters he cast in this – everybody - I just had this great energy on the set – I just knew, don’t know why I knew, but knew that it was going to be something special. We could only dream at the time that it would go as far as it did and thankfully it did. I don’t know, I just had a great feeling after reading the script and it just kept going when we started filming.

CS: You mentioned that while you were on the set – learning and observing – when you are taking that in, how does that inform the role that you are currently playing? Is it on your shoulders to be in tune with everyone else in your cast?

PANNELL: On my shoulders? This is the biggest part I’ve had to date. I told someone earlier that you don’t have to have a million dollar set to bring professionalism to the set, and handle yourself in a professional manner and I think everyone did that. It worked like clockwork. Jeff was the perfect captain for the film. I hope that I did it justice in Jeff’s eyes. At the end of the day, you say, Oh I should have done it this way, or I should have done it differently. Hopefully I’ve learned from it.

CS: That’s interesting that you take a part like this – the conversation starting that it’s not going to pay a whole lot of money or it’s not going to pay any money at all, what’s the process for you when you get a script to look at it and go, “Is this something I really want to invest my time in doing?”

PANNELL: I try my very best and especially tried with Annie to immediately step in her shoes and people watch and be as observant of people as possible so I can say, “I think I get this.” I may not be correct but it’s enough to make a choice and come from someplace that you think will work.

CS: And as you go from job to job, is it an easy lure for an easy paycheck if something is not up to snuff but the money may be right – Is there a tug of war in your own mind?

PANNELL: Well, we’re getting a lot of auditions right now so hopefully I’ll get that choice.

(Laughs)

It was never about the money. It was about having…. Craft or money. It’s always going to be permanent. People will be able to go back and look at that so you just can’t look at a part with dollar signs rolling in your head. Everyone will know you didn’t put your heart into it and give it your all. You have to make it all or nothing. It’s not fair to anyone – cast mates, director.

CS: Parts that you are auditioning for now – can you be selective?

PANNELL: I can be selective of certain elements of things you don’t want to do. For instance, nudity. Sometimes violence. But you can’t make it about the money. It’s about building relationships and make it about the work. It should be about the work anyway. I’ve just never wanted to do anything else. I need to support myself and do this for a living.

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