R.W. Perkins is a writer, filmmaker, videopoet, and digital marketing director living and working in Loveland, CO. Perkins’ second feature film, Small Town Remedies, premiered at the Horsetooth Int’l Film festival on Sept 10th, 2020, where it took home the festival’s Feature Film Audience Choice and Horsetooth Awards. Over the years, Perkins has written and directed films and videopoems that have been featured all over the world. You can find some of his written and digital works in The Atticus Review, Moving Poems, The Denver Egotist, The Connotation Press, and The Huffington Post Denver. He is also the founder of the Juteback Poetry Film Festival. I recently sat down (virtually) with R.W. to talk about his creative process and the making of Small Town Remedies, which will be screening at the Reel Recovery Film Festival from November 6 – 12.
1) What inspired you to tell this story? What do you think is at the heart of what Small Town Remedies is trying to say or mean?
Small Town Remedies is about a family struggling with substance abuse. The inspiration comes from my life—all of it in the past, some events more recent than others. I think I said it best in an interview I did earlier this year with the Loveland Reporter-Herald, article by Kalene McCort: “Writing Small Town Remedies was extremely personal to me. While I’ve never struggled with addiction myself, I’ve lived with it most of my life. My father battled with substance abuse, and I have many memories of that as a child. Later, as an adult, I faced addiction again in my personal life. So I understand the subject and the genre well. I also knew that addiction as a narrative has been well covered, but the story I wanted to tell didn’t focus solely on the addict but the entire family. While the subject was important to me personally, what drove me to write the movie was that I felt I had a unique take on a very familiar subject.”
2) You wrote the script and directed the film. Can you talk a bit about how your being both writer and director influenced the creative process?
I was fully aware that I’d be producing this film while I was writing it, so in a way I was already directing during the screenwriting process. I had most of our locations picked as I was penning my slug lines, and in many cases I knew how I was going to shoot the scenes.
I was also fairly sure we’d be producing on a tight budget, so I tried to keep that in mind while writing. I had no idea that our budget would be so lean that we’d need to shoot the entire film in eight days. All that early planning that began with the crafting of the screenplay paid off in the end.
3) What did writing and making this film teach you about screenwriting and filmmaking?
Filmmaking is incredibly personal, and you need a fantastic team to get the job done. This is not a lesson I learned while making this film, but it certainly reinforced the notion. From writing the script to building your team, casting the film, raising money, getting the word out, it’s all personal.
Andrea Dratch (lead actress and executive producer), Andy Carrasco (cinematographer and executive producer) and I went in 100% on the idea of making Small Town Remedies. When you go all-in on a movie, your families go along for the ride. The late-night editing, the extra hour on set that turns into three, the lost moments at the dinner table when your head is in the clouds. As I said, very personal. Making an indie feature requires enormous dedication from everyone who walks onto your set, and their families. I appreciate all their efforts.
4) Serendipity: sometimes things just come together in a wonderfully unexpected way. Were there any moments during filming when something unexpected emerged that brought something wonderful to a scene?
I’d have to choose the final scene of the movie. The script I had written was unchanged for about a year. Then, a few days before we started shooting, I felt our ending lacked clarity and finality, so I wrote a new scene. The new scene was very emotional, and I knew, or thought, it would be difficult for the actors because we’d have only a two-hour slot to shoot this poignant scene. In the end, Andrea, who plays Lita Wilson in the film, and Sally Knudsen (Carlee Young) were total pros. They were emotionally ready, from action to cut. The three of us joked about my worrying during lunch later that day.
So, serendipity, as you say. If I had not taken a last look at the script before we started shooting, we would not have the ending we were always intended to have.
5) Direction: Can you talk a bit about your style as a director? The way you like to approach shooting scenes. The way you work with actors.
Sure. My sets are very intimate. I like to connect with everyone on the project and make them feel at home, as far as possible in the frantically paced environment of an indie film set. Generally, that connection is out of respect for the creative process. Just as I have a process as a writer and director, so does everyone else have a process on set. The difference is that for everyone else’s methods to work, I (as the director) must be very clear about what it is that I want, without interfering with the cast’s and crew’s processes.
As for blocking our scenes and working with the actors: In advance, I like to give the actors an idea of what I’m looking for; in general terms. I felt that our talent was so strong that I wanted them to have some freedom to invent, to delve into their own experiences… to help create their characters. The pace was so quick that we were rehearsing during takes. I remember on many occasions talking with Andy (D.P.) about adjusting camera angles while I was simultaneously giving notes and working with the actors. The process was so fast, but I love how organic the work felt while we were in the moment.
6) The takeaway. OK, the audience has watched the film. They’re sitting in the afterglow. What do you hope is going through their heads?
I want our story to make audiences feel something, understand something new about themselves or someone they know or love. This story is about addiction and its associated struggles. I know there are so many families dealing with this very issue right now, especially in this time of COVID. I made this film because it is very personal to me. I hope the people that watch it can find something unique to them.
7) What’s next for you and Juteback?
Well, our award-winning Colorado indie, Small Town Remedies, is set to screen at the REEL Recovery Virtual Film Festival, and people can see it from November 6–12.
Beyond that, I’ll be forming a new production company with my STR partners, Andrea Dratch and Andy Carrasco. We’ll be rolling out the details on our new venture Film Locale very soon. At Film Locale our short-term goal is to produce some narrative short films. Long-term, we’ll focus on another narrative feature, along with a documentary film on sex trafficking in small-town America. Personally, I plan to resurrect the Juteback Poetry Film Festival as soon as this crazy world allows, as well as continue my main gig in commercial production. I imagine the coming months and years will be busy, but I look forward to the toils.