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FREETOWN: Interview with Director Garrett Batty

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Interview with Garrett Batty 

 By Tinsel & Tine Blog Contributor - Terri Heard

Every so often, I lose myself in the fantasy of making my own films. Somewhere in the fantasy-land that frequently floods my head, I see myself sitting in the director’s chair, calling out “Cut” or “Print” and then flash forwarding to whatever awards ceremony will have me as the awed audience applauds. Yep. Easy peasy. …Hear that? Somewhere God – however you define God (or don’t) – is laughing. Hysterically. And why wouldn’t He? First of all I haven’t set foot inside of a church in years, so is it really that He’s going to answer my prayer to make that little dream come true? He’s probably up there snickering about how I need to save my prayers for situations where I could REALLY use some help – like making my rent.
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Second, He’s also laughing because making a film is like taking a leap of faith. Anything you need – your financing, your distribution, your location, your actors – could all vanish in a puff of smoke. You have to have serious faith that everything you need – or a reasonable facsimile thereof – will be there when you need it...

All of which makes independent filmmaker Garrett Batty’s completion of “Freetown” such an accomplishment. “Freetown,” which is playing nationwide, dramatizes the riveting true story of six Mormon missionaries whose faith underwent the ultimate test when they became trapped in Liberia during the 1989 civil war. The rugged aspects of the story set against the lush, West African backdrop echoes the dramatic tension of 12 Years A Slave.

Although the film doesn’t shy away from the issue of religious faith, it doesn’t oversell it either. He’s created a film that’s both inspirational and grounded in unflinching reality. And it isn’t hard to see it appealing to people all faiths or none.

Faith is a subject that resonates with Batty, a graduate of Brigham Young University who grew up in a spiritual household reading letters from missionaries who, like those in the film, shared his Mormon faith. Director in Philadelphia - Batty, who will be at the AMC Theater in Neshaminy Mall on Tuesday April 14, promoting the film, which was shot entirely in West Africa during the middle of the Ebola outbreak – an undertaking that clearly took more than a little faith. “We were very fortunate,” Batty said who added he’d heard more about Ebola here in the states than in West Africa. “There were different places to film certainly that we considered in Sierra Leone. Because of Ebola we determined that the best place to shoot was in Ghana where there were no confirmed cases of Ebola. So we were fortunate. Our crew was healthy. We didn’t experience any health concerns.”
He was even able to premiere the film in Ghana, screening it at various villages where the movie had been shot. ”We put up a 12 foot screen and a sound system. All the villagers gathered around and had what is their first cinematic experience be a movie that they were in,” he explained.

Terri Heard: That’s amazing!
Garrett Batty: [laughs] It was amazing. It was powerful because it was this unifying moment. Here’s a story that not necessarily they went through and yet something that they related to and may have saw themselves in literally and figuratively.

TH: As a person who is not rugged or athletic in any way at all, it always fascinates me when anyone shoots in environments that can be any kind of challenge in terms of geography or physicality. In the very first scene the guy is driving trying to get out of the mud, he’s stuck in the mud. For me, that would cause a meltdown. You’re an experienced filmmaker but do you ever take a look at a landscape and think “Oh boy, getting this shot is going to be a journey”?

GB: There are certainly easier ways of making a living! We wanted to shoot a baptism scene and we’d found this beautiful location with this waterfall that comes down and it was ideal. And immediately once we’d climbed up there I realize I’m going to have to get in this water to direct the scene if I’m going to ask my actors to get in I have to go in. So, here I am in the middle of Africa and the rest of the crew are standing around and waiting to see are we committed? What are we going to do? So I take off my shoes and jump in the water. There was a same scenario with another one where we’ve got this story where there’s 7 people in this vehicle and we’ve got multiple days of shooting in a tiny car with 7 actors and again I wouldn’t want to ask my actors to do anything that I’m not willing to do as well. So I said okay what are you going to do where are you going to be. And the only way I could direct was from the trunk of the car.

TH: Wow! THAT’S commitment.
GB: It was worth it.

TH: What did you personally get from this whole process of filming? As I said you’ve gone to these extremes of environment and you really had to show that kind of courage, that kind of leadership. Do you see yourself each, does each project kind of bring you another stage in your journey how does each project change you as a filmmaker?

GB: I think each project for me has been a refining process. I’ve been working on Freetown for the past 18 months and if I sit and look back and you know I’ve been working in addition to a film I’ve got friends and family in a completely different part of the world that I’ve never been to. It’s very rewarding.

TH: Would you work there again? Could you see yourself going back there to produce or direct any other films there or anywhere else on the continent?

GB: Certainly. I would look forward to that. Wherever the story takes me I’d be happy to go.

Terri Heard has been a writer and editor for TV Guide, for whom she’s interviewed Chris Rock, Chaka Khan, Christina Aguilera and more. Based in Philadelphia, she’s currently working on her first novel, "Dirty Lens". READ Terri's Tinsel & Tine reviews on: Beyond the Lights and The Wedding Ringer

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?
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