Many Hollywood films, no matter where they're supposed to take place, are shot on a soundstage in Los Angeles. Screenwriter and director Kelvin Z. Phillips took the opposite approach by setting his film in LA, but shooting it right here in Austin.
Phillips and his wife, Carla Jackson, moved here five years ago from the West Coast, in part because they realized that Austin supports and nurtures creative work. “There's no way we could have made this film in New York or LA,” he says. “We were able to find a family of collaborators here. Everyone gave their best and was always looking for ways to make the film even better.” From the onscreen Texas talent to the local crew to the accessories begged, rented and purchased from Austin boutiques like Teddies for Betties and Charm School Vintage, Phillips' movie is truly a local product.
In A Swingin' Trio, “Homer Garçon (Johnny Walter) is an unpublished science fiction novelist living off the success of his wife, Trude Garçon-Moore (Timeca M. Seretti), a Hollywood producer. ‘Trapped’ in lavish surroundings and with rejection letters piling high, Homer has convinced himself of his wife’s infidelity.” He invites Bryce (LeMarc Johnson), his new personal trainer, over for a Valentine's Day dinner for reasons that become uncomfortably clear as the trio drink their way through the evening into the late hours of the night. A Swingin' Trio is smart, dark, sexy and unexpectedly funny.
Phillips is originally from the East Coast, and he readily acknowledges that he's been influenced by independent New York filmmakers of the nineties like Tom Noonan and Spike Lee. Of course, Austin has its own rich tradition of DIY film making, from Richard Linklater to Robert Rodriguez, which Phillips recognizes. “Austin has that indie spirit,” he says.
Like any great Austin enterprise, music is central to the production. A Swingin' Trio refers to the three characters in the film as well as an actual jazz combo, played by the much-acclaimed Jeff Lofton Trio. The group acts as a kind of Greek chorus, who's melodies and rhythms narrate the story as much as the dialogue. It also provides brief glimpses of a world outside of Homer and Trude's stifling apartment. In reality, their upscale flat is Phillips' and Jackson's own south Austin home. Jackson, who also produced the film, laughs when she discusses turning their home into a set.
“We had to buy a new couch. And painting was expensive!” The couple self-financed the film, with a budget of around $100,000, but it's a far cry from the typical hand-held, low budget look that marks many independent films. “We filmed on a Red [digital] camera, which has a 4K resolution,” says Phillips. “It's close to 35mm – I wanted lush, deep colors.” The result is a film that's beautifully shot and tightly edited, with a claustrophobic feel. Mindful of expense, Phillips shot the whole film over three weeks. “We hoarded our vacation days and shot around Christmas because we thought more people would be available.” Since the entire film takes place at night, they shot overnights and asked the crew of 25 to spread their parking out across their south Austin neighborhood so as not to disturb their neighbors.
The husband and wife team are excited to unveil the finished product at the Austin Film Festival. “This is the best thing that could happen,” they both agree. “A Swingin' Trio is a film rooted in character and story, and the AFF is specifically about character and story. This is the perfect world premiere.”
A Swingin' Trio plays as part of the Austin Film Festival on Friday, October 21st at 7:00 pm at the Rollins Theater in the Long Center, and Wednesday, October 26th at 6:00 pm at the Texas Spirit Theater at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. For more info, visit www.aswingintrio.com.