Among the fare screening at this week’s Austin Film Festival, is the Austin-shot Satellite Of Love. Bringing to mind the Lou Reed song of the same name, this film about friendship and love stars Zachary Knighton (Happy Endings), Shannon Lucio (The OC), Nathan Phillips (Chernobyl Diaries) and Janina Gavankar (True Blood).
Written by UT alums Will James Moore and Jonathan Case, Satellite Of Love follows Blake (Knighton) and Catherine (Lucio), newlyweds spending a week at a country vineyard with Blake's best friend, Samuel (Phillips), who dated Catherine in the past and still carries a torch for her. Along for the ride is Samuel's latest dalliance, Michelle (Gavankar).
A rumination on the effects of decisions, Satellite Of Love asks whether it's best to trade carefree rootlessness for responsibility, while questioning if monogamy is really possible, at least between three friends with varying romantic triangulations. As the movie unfolds and the differences between Blake and Samuel become clear — one, a restaurant-owning work-a-holic chef, the other a free-spirited world-traveling composer-slash-troubadour — Catherine asks herself whether she made the right decision in marrying Blake.
Satellite Of Love is gorgeously shot with ample Hill Country scenery, and you’ll recognize some regular Austin haunts, including Hole in the Wall and Justine’s Brasserie.
CulureMap got an exclusive interview with Moore — who also directed the film — Case, Knighton and Lucio this weekend to talk about the movie, relationships and why women don't settle down with pirates.
CultureMap: Tell me where the story idea for SOL came from.
Will James Moore: Jonathan and I were looking for something to work on together. In 2010, I was visiting him and Mike Lutz and his wife, Jill. We had lived together in Santa Monica in 1999 and I just started thinking about how different our lives had grown. It was all based around the choices, decisions and responsibilities that we had all accepted in life — or didn't accept. I got married, had a kid, a mortgage. Jonathan's traveling the world making music.
That was interesting to me. So I got in touch with Jonathan and said, "I want to explore this a little bit further with you, and I think it would be a good script to work on." It'd been three or four years since we'd worked on anything together. [The film] deals with friendship, so I thought, what better person to work on it with than Jonathan?
CM: This film is really about having to make adult decisions: When should I settle down and be stable? Should I stay free? What are the consequences if I do?
Jonathan Case: That was our original dialogue. We had that conversation on the page, is how I see it.
WJM: You basically have these two ideas: one is living a life that’s based around security and making sure that every decision you make is one that helps you keep that security. Or, everything is based around being a free spirit and not letting anything hold you down. It was those two ideals that we wanted to dig into, and Catherine, who’s in the center, is having to decide. She’s torn between the two.
Zachary Knighton: But wouldn’t you choose security over a pirate? [Laughter] Did you see Samuel? He looks like a pirate!
WJM: I joked the movie should be called Satellite Of Beards, because both Nathan and Zach kept their beards when we were shooting.
JC: Samuel’s character gets lampooned, but it's an existential question that he continues to ask himself — and sometimes some pirateness manifests itself in that — but he's working it out.
Shannon Lucio: I don’t really see it as Catherine choosing stability, though.
CM: Owning a restaurant isn't necessarily a stable life.
SL: Not at all! She’s choosing a future and genuine love — a love that kind of got lost, which so often happens. I feel like you get into these relationships that are wonderful and you're in the honeymoon stage and they're magical. But then you stop seeing each other after a while and then you see only the things you hate about each other. It can all fall apart if you don't reunite with what this person means to you, why you liked them in the first place, why you've chosen to build a life with them.
I think in the end that's why she chooses the way she does. It's not because she wants security and her 401(k). It's because [what they have] is pretty special. She doesn't want to just toss that away.
ZK: That last scene — we were all trying to figure out what the moment was going to be. It was on the page, but there was an ongoing dialogue between all of us, like, "How are we going to end this?"
WJM: Zach had this great idea — in the original version, the ending didn't provide much closure as the one we have now. It also didn't have as much of an arc for Blake. And now we have that moment where he sees that he's losing his wife and breaks down. That came from Zach saying, "Look, we've gotta do this." And once we had that, he just went out and crushed it.
ZK: That had been the lingering question for me over the course of the movie and it's nice when that comes in at the end.
SL: Yeah, especially that it's in a way that's not black and white. There's an ambiguity to it. And the audience is left with, "Well, what's going to happen to these people in the future?" And it's like where you're left in every relationship — it's never just going to stay the same. It’s always going to evolve and change.
ZK: We know what's going to happen to Samuel — he’s going to go off to sail the high seas. [Laughter.]
CM: Tell me about Janina [Gavankar]'s role as Michelle. She's the variable that you don't really know what's going to happen with her and Samuel. You look at Michelle through the movie and think she's amazing. Why isn't Samuel obsessed with her?
WJM: Her whole character is supposed to be this goddess that he brings along. She allows the audience to gauge how strongly Samuel feels for Catherine.
JC: [Michelle] is a very viable option. He's a composer, so obviously he has a love of music, and she's a wealthy DJ that's worldly and can do what she wants. She has the freedom to indulge. It seems like she’d be his dream girl. That speaks to the depth of his character, too.
Because his heart wants love, too, but he blew it or he missed the boat with Catherine. And Janina’s character represents another option for him that's very attractive, but his heart remains with Catherine.
CM: You set it in Austin and shot it here. What appealed to you about a Texas shoot?
WJM: I live in Austin now and I have a strong network here. We knew we wanted to set it at a vineyard, and having access to so many vineyards here appealed to us. We just kept scouting locations and finding all these amazing locations. It was just a no-brainer at that point.
SL: I grew up in Texas and I've worked here a lot. It's a totally different vibe than LA. The biggest difference is that in LA everything is driven by commerce. Whereas here, if you're pursuing filmmaking, you're in the project and in Texas because you're in love with it. Passion is driving you. So, the filming environment is a little bit more magical. You feel privileged to be a part of it.
CM: Zach, I really love Happy Endings. The first episode of the season airs on Tuesday — what can viewers look forward to this season?
ZK: Dave and Alex are back together at the beginning of the season, which is really fun because Elisha and I haven’t really worked together in that way. It’s so much fun. The job is just constant laughter. It’s a joke factory.
And I’m really grateful that the show gives me opportunities to do movies like Satellite Of Love. It’s nice to have that steady gig that lets me go do a passion project in Texas. Before, I’d be bartending and then go do a passion project.
Satellite Of Love screens again at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at the Long Center's Rollins Theater. Will James Moore and Jonathan Case will be in attendance.