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Anthony's interview with Cowboys and Indians Magazine

Watching Westerns  “The Timber” on Netflix – Cowboys and Indians Magazine(1).png

Now available for streaming by Netflix subscribers: The Timber, director Anthony O’Brien’s brutally violent yet beautifully photographed drama set in the snowy wilds of Northwest Canada, circa 1898, during the Yukon Gold Rush.

James Ransone (Treme) and Josh Peck (The Mindy Project) star as Wyatt and Samuel, brothers driven by harsh circumstances to desperate measures. In order to raise money to avoid foreclosure, they set out in the frozen wilderness to collect the reward for a fearsome fugitive — who just happens to be their father. It’s a dirty job, in a place where life is cheap, rough and often foreshortened. “He’s a murderer, Samuel,” Wyatt reminds his brother. But Samuel, mindful of where they are and what goes on there, responds: “Well, who ain’t?”

Wyatt and Samuel cross paths with dangerous characters and witness various forms of savagery — everything from prospectors driven to cannibalism to an isolated mining site where dozens have been enslaved to dig for gold — as they search for the father who abandoned them years earlier. The longer they search, they more they learn about things they never wanted to contemplate. “I used to think it was gold that turned men bad,” Wyatt says. “Now I think they was that way to begin with.”

And the worst of those men might be their long-lost father.

When we interviewed Anthony O’Brien two years ago shortly before his film’s theatrical release, the filmmaker freely acknowledged he was influenced by several westerns — including Jeremiah Johnson and Unforgiven — while filming The Timber on frigid locations in Romania (which credibly doubled for the Yukon). Here are some other highlights from our conversation.

Cowboys & Indians: So how does one go about filming in the Wild West of Romania?
Anthony O’Brien: Well, “Not easily” would be the first answer to that. The journey to there and the journey while we were there were both pretty extraordinary. Once we were there, the average shooting temperature was about minus-36. We spent about 15 days up at a hostel called the Hotel Pestera — and in Romanian, Pestera means cave. It did not have electricity, it was run on ethane and butane, and did not have the modern comforts for my actors, either. Television, internet — all of these things my actors were without while they were shooting this. Which I think made it a pretty fabulously authentic experience for them — being able to remove themselves from their modern Los Angeles lives, and really dive into what we were doing out there, which was shooting a film by ourselves in the wilderness.

C&I: Just how wild was that wilderness?
O’Brien: [Laughs.] The whole cast and crew were hundreds of miles into the Carpathian Mountains, between Ukraine and Romania. We’re just out there on our own. No star wagons. No fancy trucks. No trucks at all, just snowmobiles carrying gear up trails, us just climbing mountaintops and carrying what we can on our shoulders and back, and actors with the heating pads for their hands. That's about all the comfort they got. No fresh fruit bowls. No fancy cuisine for anybody. It was a very exciting experience.

It actually snowed eight feet in the first six days we were shooting. I experienced an avalanche with my director of photography, Phil Parmet, on our first day. And at 4 o’clock in the morning, as we were driving to the location, we saw the ambulance that was supposed to be on set. It was in the ditch on its side. As were coming to the set, we saw our camera van was stuck in the middle of a river that we thought was frozen, but apparently not. We had to rip the seat belts out of our vehicles. And then the park rangers in the Carpathian Mountains connected about 5 Nissan Pathfinders to the camera van using those seat belts as the tow ropes, and pulled the camera van out. All of that happened just on our first day.

C&I: And on top of everything else — you were working with horses.
O’Brien: We had these really, really talented stunt horse teams. And let me tell you: The horses were treated the best out of everybody. They had heated wagons. They were all the same stunt horses that were used on Hatfields & McCoys, Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton’s project.

C&I: What was there about this particular time and setting — 1898, during the Yukon Gold Rush — that sparked your imagination as a storyteller?
O’Brien: I have to say the first thing that drew me to it was actually a movie that doesn't take place in this time period in particular, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The snow sequences in that film — there was something so new to me about seeing those costumes, seeing those larger than life furs, this heavy snow mixed with this very, very highly emotional filmmaking. It was sort of reminiscent of something like my favorite western, Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

Also, I’m from the Northwest. I’m from Seattle. And Seattle’s history, being what it is, begins with people selling jeans and pickaxes to those that went up for the gold rush. Add to that: My writing partner, Colin Ossiander, is an Alaska native who still lives up there in Chugiak. We decided to do some exploration, some historical research about the Gold Rush era. And I came up with this book called Magnificence and Misery. It was written by a Philadelphia reporter, who’s one of the few people that actually went to the Klondike to do some actual reporting. His stories were just unbelievable. And I was inspired by that. Every sequence in the film, as fantastical as it seems, is based in reality, is based in something that people were doing. Even the cannibals in caves, who set road traps to catch people, to gut them, to take all their gear. All these things were happening, and there are accounts of it. There’s actual historical evidence of this, all in the University of Washington library.

Click here to read the full interview

Future of Filmmaking Expo

Anthony joined Matthew Lillard for a panel discussion on directing for the 2012 Future of Filmmaking Expo in Seattle, WA.

Anthony Interview with Seattle Times

Monday, April 23, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m. This article has been corrected: The festival is screening 222 films, not 22 as originally reported.

See Hollywood's next discoveries today at NFFTY film festival

By Sandi Halimuddin
Seattle Times staff reporter

"These are the best young directors in the world; they are going to win Oscars," said Jesse Harris, describing participants in the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), a Seattle-based film festival he founded six years ago.

It's a bold statement. But then it's a bold endeavor — one of the largest youth film festivals in the world, boasting of 700 applicants aged 22 and younger, from more than 20 countries.

Harris, 26, was never one to think small. While still a 17-year-old Ballard High School student in Seattle, Harris' first feature film, "Living Life," was picked up by a distributor. After relocating to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film, he was approached by many young directors seeking professional advice.

In response, Harris founded NFFTY, a space for youth to exhibit their work to a large audience. Other major film festivals, such as Sundance, do not have a category for young filmmakers, noted Harris.

From April 26-29 at various venues in Seattle, NFFTY will showcase 222 short films in genres such as animation, comedy and documentary, among others.

On opening night, six short films will screen at Cinerama, followed by an all-ages gala at the Seattle Aquarium. Throughout the weekend, films will be grouped into programs with titles such as "Action Sports" and "NW Scene," which features films from local filmmakers.

Harris' eyes lit up when he described NFFTY's selection of films, all of which he feels personally invested in. Two of his personal favorites will premiere on opening night: "Da Capo," a visually mesmerizing break-dance film from Germany, and "Shuffleboard Kings," a comedy about a widower who joins a local senior shuffleboard team in search of friendship.

The Centerpiece Gala on April 28 will highlight NFFTY's finest films of the year, such as "It Ain't Over," a narrative documentary that tells the story of a man living with Lou Gehrig's disease.

Although each movie is fresh and original, Harris remarked on several thematic similarities, such as love, discovery and coming of age.

"NFFTY filmmakers are the voice of this generation; these films are stories of young people today," said Harris.

New to the festival lineup this year is "The Future of Film Expo," a series of workshops, panels and networking opportunities with industry veterans. This access to industry experts is an invaluable opportunity for aspiring professionals.

The networking aspect of the festival allowed Anthony O'Brien, a 2009 NFFTY jury award recipient, a unique opportunity to develop close relationships with professionals in the field. For one and a half years, mentors provided feedback on O'Brien's scripts and ideas while also inviting him to social gatherings with other industry insiders.

"You're not going to get a million-dollar deal or an agent [at NFFTY], but you can enter a community that is OK with you not being an adult, and this is not always the case," said O'Brien, who spent three years developing his second feature film, "The Timber," before securing a multimillion-dollar deal this year. The film, a Western starring actors James Ransone and Josh Peck, is currently in postproduction in Hollywood. Brett Smith, whose short film "Jane in the Factory" won a 2010 NFFTY jury award, explained that winning at this film festival is not a golden ticket pass into Hollywood.

"In this industry, it doesn't matter how many things you win; it's important to keep creating," said Smith, who wrote and directed a micro budget feature set in Seattle following the film festival.

Instead, what separates amateurs from professionals is the understanding that "[filmmaking] has little to do with passion and more to do with money management, people management, politics and sales," said O'Brien.

O'Brien hopes to illuminate the realities of filmmaking this year at NFFTY, where he will speak as a panelist.

By encouraging NFFTY alumni engagement in the annual festivities, Harris hopes to keep building a strong filmmaking community, even for those beyond the age of 22. Many NFFTY alumni are friends, and some use a Facebook group to keep in touch about film-related activities.

"We're all youth and about to jump into a career, so everyone is in the same boat," said Smith of NFFTY's genuine and supportive environment.

It is the sense of close camaraderie and collaboration that sets NFFTY apart from other film festivals.

"I put NFFTY above every other experience because it was like a community instead of a competition," said Smith.

Sandi Halimuddin: 206-464-3765 or

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

Ask the Expert

Anthony talks about the balance between acting and directing at NFFTY's 2012 Future of Film Expo.


Anthony talks to Variety about young filmmakers

“Every big festival wants to have a youth section to seem like they’re supporting young filmmakers, but they separate it out so much from the rest of the festival,” says 23-year-old Jesse Harris, who persuaded his parents to let him skip college and spend the money it would have cost making his feature debut, “Living Life.”

In 2007, he co-founded the Natl. Film Festival for Talented Youth for work created by helmers 22 and under. This year, the event screened 113 films for more than 4,000 people over the course of three days, dividing entries (nearly all shorts) by category, rather than by age.

According to Harris, the best youth-produced work tends to be in shorts, but every now and then, a strong feature comes along. This year, his fest screened “Perfect Sport,” written, directed and starring Anthony O’Brien, who was 22 at the time.

“When you see a lot of the films that get into these other (mainstream) festivals, the quality is all over the place,” says O’Brien, who was impressed by the quality of the other films he saw at the fest. “I found that the most talent was coming from a very young group of kids between the ages of 10 and 13. There were times watching their short films when I thought, ‘These kids are really far ahead. I mean, this is better than a lot of the stuff I saw in film school.’”


Read the rest at Variety here