I Spy: Espionage Tonight DWF20 Filmmaker Profile

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I spy…a lot of laughs and action in Rob Bralver’s Espionage Tonight, a wild, zany, dark, funny film that casts a spy thriller as a reality series. Bralver started out as an editor, transitioned to a writer/director and he’s now directed more films than he’s edited, but his sense of story is honed in the editing room, taut and well-paced.
“I always wanted to make a spy movie. My career prior to this film was in documentaries, and I became very familiar with the crafting of narratives and the business of entertainment. I noticed a lot of similarities between that world and the D.C. world of politics and espionage, which I’m equally fascinated by. There’s a lot of overlap between the two in terms of tradecraft. Sleight of hand, disguise, misdirection, PR, all kinds of tools where the only difference is the final product – entertainment or news. This movie was my way of exploring those parallels in hopefully a new and fun way, as we now live in a time where all the barriers and distinctions are gone. Facts, stories, recreations, policies – it’s a free for all, no matter your political orientation. While maybe that’s concerning in terms of possible real world repercussions, it’s also ripe for comedy,” Bralver says.
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Bralver’s previous work includes Cure For Pain: The Mark Sandman Story. “It’s a story about ambition, family, and loss. I learned a lot on that one, lessons that I expect served me well on everything going forward in work or life. There were very similar themes in Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton and Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia,” he relates. “It was not by design, but these very different stories and different people were all in their own way about outsider figures dealing with extreme loss and finding ways to overcome, and building new families and works to value to sort of reformat and re-strengthen their lives. Espionage Tonight was a departure from that kind of story on the surface, but I think at it’s core it’s the same thing on a different scale. The whole national landscape kind of needs to dust off the past and get a clean slate.”
That may sound heavy, but the film itself is pure fun. “Don’t worry too much about the details. Sit back and enjoy being lost for the ride. It’s meant as an impression of our new reality, where distinctions and exposition really don’t matter, lots of things never get resolved or never mattered to begin with, and the only resolution is probably getting on a boat and sailing away. I also hadn’t seen a movie like Airplane or Hot Shots in a while, and wanted us to have a new one. Don’t take it too seriously…but then think about it a week later.”
Put it this way – the lively, scathing, funny film is a lot more Survivor than Survivor could ever dream of being.
– Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke
 
 

 

Let’s Go to the Movies Again

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Dances with Films offered an incredibly strong slate of films Thursday through Sunday, the closing weekend of the festival. And our only regret is that the fest is over. Time to hang up our dancing shoes until next year.

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Thursday’s Espionage Tonight was a brilliantly structured dark comedy in which a reality TV show about spies is created to win back the faith of the American public. Audiences go undercover on missions around the globe. Real spy and reality tour guide “Swamp Fox” is alternately deadly and hilarious.

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Director Rob Gordon Bralver says the choice to create a reality style was done to save money, but budget doesn’t show on screen.  “We had tons of locations thanks to producer Amy Child, who made little miracles happen. Music is just me listening to iTunes so I could find what fits, and keep the film in its wierd comedy pocket,” he relates.  Lead actor Joe Hursley says for him, the filmmaking process and the point of the movie itself is “Trust your inner psychopath.”

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The festival’s Grand Jury Winner, One Less God was a harrowing take on the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack on a tourist hotel. Deeply involving, moving, and packed with suspense, the large cast and humanitarian soul of the movie painted a picture of pain, beauty, and love.  Thoroughly engrossing.

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Writer/director/producer Lliam Worthington says “We knew people killed in the attacks, we just wanted to understand what was going on, the loss and the pain, and the people. I wanted to see the people. We have to continue to see people as a global society.” Worthington used some of the actual cell phone communication transcripts between handlers and operatives word for word during dialog for the terrorists; the 63-day shoot which took place off and on for a year never lacks in verisimilitude.

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The strong ensemble cast and sweeping, lush cinematography of Tater Tot & Patton add to a compelling tale of a millennial who escapes her own life at her uncle’s South Dakota ranch, forcing him from his placid, if liquor-drenched, existence. A well-balanced drama that pulses with life.

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Jimmy the Saint is a fresh, Los Angeles-based take on the Russian mob, true love, gambling addiction, and a street scene as authentic and involving as the film’s throbbing, vibrant heart. It’s a film that’s both violent and feel-good, a difficult feat to pull off – but it absolutely does.

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Director Branden Morgan shot “really cheap” in just 13 days, averaging 9 script pages each day. The thriller deals with “identity and liberation. Everyone wants that.” The pitch-perfect cast says the fact that Morgan began his career as an actor paid off. “He constantly guided me through,” lead Zach Hursh attests. And guidance was key, through strong physical action, and the learning of Russian dialog by lead actors.  What’s next for Morgan? “My partner and I sold another weird adult drama to Sony Crackle.”

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Jimmy the Saint above, The Scent of Rain & Lightning below

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The Scent of Rain & Lightning is packed with stunning images in a strongly performed if convoluted story of murder, lust, and revenge set in a fresh Oklahoma setting. Based on a novel, director Blake Robbins deftly visualizes images in an adaptation made by Casey Twente and, Jeff Robinson. Tweetner’s wife heard about the book while listening to NPR and tracked down the author. “I tried to treat visuals like a complicated jigsaw puzzle,” Robbins relates. The film was shot in 21 days and took full and visually stunning advantage of its location. “The 39% tax break rebate from Oklahoma is what made us move the setting of the book from Kansas,” Robbins says. Co-produced with co-star Maggie Grace, the film is moody and noir.

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All I Want is an ensemble piece. A group of friends attend an anniversary party for two of their own, only to find out the couple is quasi-celebrating a divorce. The comedy-drama gives plenty of space to a large cast, exploring relationships with pleasant abandon. Writer/director/producer West Lang says he and star/co-writer Melissa Center wanted to feature a community of great actors. Center notes “We are all buddies in real life, we’re part of a lab of like-minded actors who are all about the craft.”

Until next year – Dances with Films has turned down the music.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke