Q & A with Filmmaker Aaron Roos and Writer Ron Fitzgerald about their film “Tower 49”

May 5, 2015

 “I think that filmmaker interaction is the best thing The Audience Awards offers up for filmmakers.” Aaron Roos

What inspired this story behind Tower 49? Was it a certain individual, or story that you heard?

Aaron: I’ve heard these old stories from forest service workers that talked about these tower employees who would spend anywhere from four to six months in these cabins in the summers and would end up going a little stir crazy.

There was a forest service tower around Sula, Montana that was known to have caused a few workers to come home a different person. These towers are a very rich part of the Montana history and you can still go and experience them. As much as the silence and solitude can make you go crazy, it’s something we don’t get enough of in today’s society. We shouldn’t forget that we can go out and experience these places. We can either sit and take it in or let it spawn a poem in our minds or we can make a film about it.

What made you choose to enter in the military aspect of the main character?

Aaron: We knew we wanted to set this in the past, and I’ve always been in love with the culture and the situation surrounding World War II. Bock comes back from the war and can’t handle civilization, so he got a job with the forest service and continues running away from himself.  Back then is wasn’t called PTSD, it was just something that most soldiers came back with. You go away, you’re helping your country, and then, it’s supposed to be o.k. when you come back and start stocking the shelves like you did before you left.

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Still of actor, Tyler Potter, from Tower 49.

My original concept was to have it follow the story of this guy– he gets off the plane and sees this woman and next thing we know he’s in this cabin. I was excited to show the growing madness and to show how he gets to the place where he starts to lose it.

Are the actors from Missoula, Montana?

Aaron: Yeah, Tyler Potter and Andrew Rizzo are from Missoula. Andrew was the AD and acted as the supply guy. I’ve known these guys for 15 years. We got our undergrad at the University of Montana, in the acting program together. That’s where we all met Ron Fitzgerald too.

Ron was invited to come and write for The Missoula Colony. I read for Ron the first time for a play called Dog Logic, and a couple whiskeys later we were good buddies.

Aaron, I know you live in Missoula, but Ron do you spend most of your time in Missoula or L.A.?

Ron: Well, as much as I’d like to devote more time to working in Missoula, it’s pretty much impossible given the lack of studios here in Montana. That’s not a slam against the Montana Film Office because they’re great people and they do a lot of important work. It’s just the fact that you’re not really going to outproduce Hollywood when it comes to Television. So mostly I’m working in Los Angeles. It’s an interesting place. I guess that’s what you could say about it. I would prefer to work here in Missoula but that’s just not possible at this time. Then again you never know. The world is shrinking. The means of production are spreading out. The Media Arts and Theatre programs here in Missoula are excellent. And Missoula is already home to some fantastic professional directors, actors and crew. That’s only going to make it easier for production to develop in non-LA locations. And  I think we need to  see new locations on the screen. Hopefully someday we will.

Did you shoot the film in a specific cabin?

Aaron: Yeah we shot a short film there about a year and a half ago called LOOP. I started writing Tower 49 earlier last year and threw it together for my thesis film for the Media Arts program, at The University of Montana. I started thinking how it would be easy to loose it in a 12×12 room for a summer and the story came out of that.

Where did you shoot the video?

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 4.23.32 PM

Photo of West Fork Butte Lookout, Montana courtesy of Glen S Boulier Photography.

West Fork Butte Lookout. It’s approximately 35 miles from Missoula on Highway 12 on the way to Lolo Hot Springs. You can rent it out. There are a whole series of them.

During pre-production I went to my girlfriend’s grandmother’s birthday in Seattle. After talking to her grandfather I learned that her great grandfather was a part of the original crews that built many of the towers in Montana and Idaho. He bought a mule train and was hired by the U.S. forest service, and he partnered up with a guy with the last name Johnson. They had gone off to war and Johnson became a pilot and decided he didn’t want to work on the mule trains, building fire towers and decided to fly people around for a living, and now we have the Johnson-Bell Field airport in Missoula. There is a good possibility that her great, great grandfather built the tower we used in Tower 49.

What do you want people to take away from Tower 49?

Aaron: I just love the back drop that we are offered by living here. People I’ve known for awhile have been like “Man it’s gorgeous where did you shoot it?”

The Montana landscape offers filmmakers so much in the way of gorgeous views natural beauty.  The best part is, we get to capture it and show the rest of the world what this state has to offer.  I feel very lucky to live where I do.

Ron:  I don’t think you can physically experience a place like Missoula, or a place like Montana, and not have it affect your work.

Aaron, what is your writing approach with Ron? 

Aaron: I was having some trouble with the arc of the story.  I had a pretty good idea about what I wanted to happen in the story but was feeling lost in the million possible ways it could have gone.  Ron and I laid them all out and chipped away until we got the bare bones of the thing.  He is someone I look up to and he’s just incredible. Some of my favorite lines of all time come from his plays and his years on Weeds.

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Photo of Ron Fitzgerald, courtesy of Anne Medley and The Missoula Independent.

I’ve known Ron for going on 12 years and he helped me out a lot. I’d send him what I had and we bounced it back and forth until we felt like we had a good outline and then I went in and started writing the dialogue, and the monologue for the phone.

Ron, you write for television shows, plays and films. What are your favorite projects to work on?

Ron: I still enjoy writing for the theater, but nowadays I get the most out of writing for television. I think there’s an immediacy to the work that you don’t find in feature film. What first drew me to theater was that you could take a story that was driving you a little crazy in an OCD kinda way and just go off on it and try to throw it up on stage. That’s not really true anymore in larger venues. Productions take way too long to get together, plays are way over-developed, and you just can’t find that brain to action translation that you’re looking for when inspiration strikes. These days, I find the collaborative aspects and urgency that were so appealing to me in theater are very much present in television. You’re working with actors, directors, other writers, crew and so on to birth some insane beast and loose it upon the world. It gets intense, but the work flows from creative spark to the screen very quickly.

What are you working on right now Aaron?

Aaron: I have another short called Heart Pine, that we shot up at the Moon-Randolph Homestead in Missoula. The story is  about a guy who has taken over the family business. They buy old barns and tear them down and salvage the wood. He shows up at a farm to buy a beautiful barn and ends up running into someone from his past.

When I first got to school, one of our first assignments was to find five cool locations to shoot a scene that you can ride your bike to. I had been in and out of Missoula for the last 15 years and then I put that together and had this other idea of what else is around. Heart Pine came out of visiting the Moon-Randolph Homestead and Tower 49 came from visiting the tower.

What currently serves as your greatest inspiration?

Aaron: Collaboration is what gets me going. Yeah we went to the cabin for three days, but we got to hang out together. If you can do both of those, you’re winning already. My friends are my strongest inspiration for sure.

Do you have any advise for aspiring filmmakers?

Aaron: Do it man. I don’t know if I call myself a filmmaker or whatever, but my weakest link is talking too much. Just do it. It’s not ever going to be perfect, but you’re not going to get into it if you don’t just start. I’m the kind of guy that can put things on the back burner and watch Netflix for five hours, but my friends are like,  let’s grab the cameras and go out and shoot something. Find that group of people that can bust your balls, save some money and go do it.

Ron, Do you have a favorite moment in making Tower 49?

Ron: I think my favorite moments are the little details Roos and Tyler worked up throughout. Non-verbal cues aren’t easy to create in a way that both serves a purpose and feels organic. When Tyler is playing with the knife in the last scene, when he unwraps his mail, the way he handles the record, the way he cuts the pictures out of the catalog… he’s always in motion. Not large ridiculous motion, but very specific, very small, very detailed choices that give a subtle and extremely effective propulsion to the character. I think a lot of Roos’ camera work is outstanding. I think the exterior shots of the tower are why you shoot in Montana. I also think he sets up the interior of the tower very well, really giving us a sense of being confined in a very isolated, very lonely place, which is an important part of the piece. And how about that set dec? F***ing awesome.

Is there anything else you would like our audiences to know about Tower 49 or you as a filmmaker?

Aaron: I’m just excited. It’s a fun process and being a part of The Audience Awards has been very cool.

To be able to talk to a filmmaker in Vermont,  see their film and contact them immediately, is incredible.  I think that the filmmaker interaction is the best thing The Audience Awards offers up to filmmakers.

Tower 49 is competing in The Audience Awards Dramatic Short Film Competition. Vote for it here.

The Audience Awards is film’s social network connecting audiences to films, filmmakers, film schools and film festivals. The Audience Awards hosts short film competitions where the audience chooses the best films.

 

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