I must admit I could not stop thinking about Sequoia movie after, their performances were so subtle and realistic.That movie just stayed with me.

Not only Aly Michalka gives the best performance from a juvenile actors I’ve seen this year, but one of the best of the past few. She’s a revelation.

The least I can do is to share the interview with the film’s two leads, Michalka and Dustin Milligan, as well as its outstanding director Andy Landen.

Check out the interview, courtesy of Indiewood/Hollywoodn’t.

How were you first introduced to this script?
Dustin Milligan: The writer had put something together I thought was unique to what the script could have been. There was a nice, strong voice there. I hit the pavement and auditioned for it.

Aly Michalka: It was a regular audition. At the time I was with a different agency and was drawn to it being low budget film where everyone was camping together. It brought out the beauty of the movie.

Dustin, what direction did you think the story could have gone?
DM: It deals with cancer in a way without all the trauma and hospitals involved. In that aspect it is not this blunt, in your face representation of the disease. It is a story about a girl who needs support and does not have her family with her.

sequoia-posterHad either of you been to Sequoia National Park before?
AM: No, I had never been up there.

DM: I am from Canada so I have certainly been out in the woods but where I am from is so far north the tress are very skinny and only grow so tall. Being able to see the tress this huge was a great experience. I would pull Aly aside constantly to take photos next to the trees to put our size in perspective.

AM: We definitely took a ton of tree photos!

Andy Landen: Living in Los Angeles, my wife and I do a lot of hiking. We have been to a lot of mountains and parks but never to Sequoia. I had been to some Redwood forests in Canada and have always felt a connection with nature. There is so much of it to offer in California, which is very nice. I was telling our writer, when you describe Sequoia all you can do is use cliches like “awe-inspiring”. You really cannot explain it until you see the size of these trees. They are older than the Roman Empire.

Logistically, how difficult is it to film in the park?
AL: We actually shot half in Sequoia National Park. The other half was shot in the greater Sequoia forest. Shooting there allowed us to get closer to the trees and really get in with them. The one problem was driving up. It was quite a way into the mountains.

What is the atmosphere like out there?
AM: It is peaceful.

DM: As dense and claustrophobic as it could be, the camping aspect of the shoot was mirroring the familial themes in the film. This atmosphere really helped us get over any lack of conveniences that may have otherwise been.

AM: It worked for a movie like this because it puts you in the same mind frame as the characters. We are traveling and going through a journey over the course of this one day. It keeps you grounded in the space.

DM: You are able to disconnect from the outside world. For example, there was no cell phone service and no distractions.

AM: I did not even read a book which is one of the oddest things for me to (not) do while filming.

DM: I had the mandolin to learn so I was doing that a lot.

So you had not played Mandolin before?
DM: No. I had played the guitar a little so thank god I had Aly there. A few other people in the crew were really musical but I was freaking out. Again, we had a lovely group of people working together.

Since you share so much screen time, how did you build your chemistry?
AM: We had already met each other through mutual friends. I had a supporting role in a movie Dustin’s girlfriend had starred in so I knew him through that. We met for drinks a bit before the film and a couple of weeks later we ended up shooting. Our first day shooting was the scene where Dustin drives my character in the car as she is passing out.

DM: A wildly dangerous sequence (laughs)! Never did we feel we were not taken care of though. Because it was such a small production everyone was very aware of safety issues. There was an entire camera rig right in front of me so…

AM: …It was probably more dangerous from the camera because it could have been sideswiped by a tree (laughs), it is only worth a few hundred thousand dollars!

Do you have a favorite scene?
AM: The scene where I am teaching Dustin to use the camera in slow motion. We shot a lot of that scene and did our own improvisation at the end. I loved that scene! We were on this beautiful lake.

DM: We were sitting on this giant stump. One thing I loved about a lot of the scenes is the level of improvisation between the two of us, which I think speaks to how lucky we were to not have to build too much chemistry beforehand. I also have to say that I do love my mandolin scene.

AM: That is one of my favorite scenes too!

Andy, what was your approach to the film’s Cinematography?
AL: I am obsessed with Norwegina filmmaker Joachim Trier who did the film ‘Reprise‘, so I wanted everything to be very natural in that way. We would find the location and explore the scene. I had a shot list but we would not sit there and decide things in absolute terms. Sometimes we would move around and cover everything in the same shot. We would let everything play out naturally without over thinking. We had so little time, I did not want to worry about missing anything I had but rather be open to the changes.

Why did you decide to use majority hand held camerawork?
AL: I usually shoot a lot of my own stuff in short form so I am drawn to hand held. Rather than planning everything ahead of time you can move around and find shots you may not have thought about. In the moment it feels better. You can play with a more lyrical feeling to the photography. I did not want anything to look too contrived. I have never tried to intellectualize filming too much.

There were also shots when you are zooming out of the landscape that have a certain nostalgic feel to them…
AL:…We had a giant zoom lens. It has that old 70s zoom aesthetic. That was exactly what we were going for!

What was the most difficult aspect of making this film? Was there anything you had anticipated being difficult but turned out to not be?
AL: Definitely shooting the car was difficult. After shooting in the park first we felt very confined in the car and it became something we really had to think about. The ending in the sunset all just happened though. If you looked at it logistically you would think it to be impossible, but because we left ourselves relaxed and loose we were able to get these beautiful, sincere moments.


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