On her 30th birthday, Helen’s usual bus to work detours across town, taking her back to her youth, to a place she can’t move on from.
Interview with Director Lauren Hoekstra
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
James Franco teaches at a number of universities. Among them is UCLA’s MFA program in film. He’s been a professor there for a number of years. I attended his first class, where I got the chance to make 'City Bus'. His classes are called 'Adaptation and Collaboration’. Shorts are adapted from a source book, in our case, Robert Boswell's 'Insensitive Bastards'. 'Collaboration’ refers to the fact that 8 directors collaborate with the same number of producers and screenwriters, all picked from their respective programs.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
There’s a number of reasons, but the most obvious is that it transports you. I find a lot of shorts, especially student-level shorts, aren’t able to get you to suspend disbelief. In 'City Bus', I think we managed to avoid the things that usually get in the way of that. In particular, the acting is superb, especially from the main protagonist Ahna O’Reilly, whom we’ve seen in secondary roles in movies such as 'The Help', 'Steve Jobs', 'Fruitvale Station'.
It’s also interesting to watch if you like films where the director's hand can be clearly seen. The short story we adapted was hard to translate to the screen because most of the juice of the story was happening inside the protagonist's head. I found that, more than any other short I’d directed, I had to use all the tools available to me to convey her inner life and turmoil.
Lastly, I’d say watch it if you want to see how to use limitations creatively. James Franco’s production company, Elysium Bandini Studios, gave us $15K. This was extremely generous of James, but still, the budget was small for our needs. Most of the film takes place on a bus. Renting it and rigging a generator to it ate a significant part of the budget. And aside from the budgetary restrictions, shooting on a behemoth moving through LA was a challenge that taxed everyone involved, from myself, to my DP Ivan Rodrigues, and our first AD Doug Turner.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Helen, the protagonist, made a horrible mistake when she turned 16 and her subsequent regret trapped her in a state of immobility. She couldn’t forget the past and refused to live in the present – preferring instead a surreal escapism in an imaginary world. The film explores this regret and focuses on the moment in her life when she is finally able to move on.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
Interestingly, in the original script, we had VO, but after the first cut, we realized we could do without it.
I’d say tone is the element that most changed through the various phases. I felt that if we didn't fight the material, then, to a certain degree, Helen would end up a sad and lonely cat lady. I didn’t want the audience to pity her, but rather see her reclusiveness as a point of fascination and strength. So undoubtedly the eventual result was quite a shift back and forth.
Similarly, I wanted the tone to be darker. Initially it tended toward a sweet feel good story, but there were some dark images and events in Helen’s life, so I chose to bring those out over the latter.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The feedback has been positive. I think a lot of people appreciate some of the more obvious strengths of the film, such as the acting and the cinematography and others have caught onto some of the more complex things going on.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Mostly I’m happy with the feedback. However, the one sticking point for me is how people perceive Henry, the love interest in the film. Nearly everyone feels he’s too creepy.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I’d love the exposure and to provide a deeper reading of the film for those who are interested.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We’ve had a good festival run and a few offers to distribute on television and online avenues. I think more press would take it to the next level.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I feel humbled by how far the film has already gone in terms of its reception. Screening at some important LA festivals and other niche ones throughout America has been rewarding. I think the scope of a short is always somewhat limited. With distribution, it would be interesting to widen the pool of viewers from festival goers and filmmakers to the general public.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
I’d love any question that asks why I chose to depict time and flashbacks the way I did.
Would you like to add anything else?
I’m attaching a director’s statement and some production notes for your interest.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I’ve shifted into directing commercials. I’d like to grow more in this field.
The producer, Gerren Crochet, works in development and packaging at Gersch.
The AD (and my husband) Doug Turner, firsts indie features in the $4M - $6M range, a lot of which have been directed by James Franco himself.
Ivan Rodrigues, the DP, moved back to his home country, Brazil, and currently works in commercials.
Interview: December 2016
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
On her 30th birthday, Helen’s usual bus to work detours across town, taking her back to her youth, to a place she can’t move on from.
CITY BUS – BIOS
LAUREN HOEKSTRA – Director
Lauren is currently winding up an interactive first-person video, 'His-Her', starring celebrity photographer Tyler Shields ('Final Girl'). This high-octane fashion shoot - filmed on the hood of a moving car in the Mojave Desert - lets the viewer switch between Tyler and his model's perspective.
At the same time, Lauren is developing 'Dacoit', a Sundance Lab finalist project, and 'Moon', a film for James Franco’s production company, starring Rashida Jones. This is her second collaboration with James Franco. Previously she directed 'City Bus' for his Boswell anthology, 'Heyday Of The Insensitive Bastards'. 'City Bus' recently won the Best Narrative Short award at the Los Angeles International Underground film festival while 'Heyday' appeared on Indiewire's wish list for Sundance.
Other work highlights include her credit as Second Unit Director on Catherine Hardwicke's feature film 'Plush' and being shortlisted as a director for Lionsgates' 'Twilight' web series.
GERREN CROCHET - Producer
Gerren grew up in Boulder, Colorado and started his first business at the age of 10. He went on to Stanford University where he was a two-sport standout: a Wide Receiver and team leader in football, and nationally ranked hurdler and sprinter on the Track & Field team. After a brief stint in the NFL, Gerren went to work in capital markets and trading, investment banking, management consulting, and intellectual property business strategy, which provided a strong analytic foundation. Gerren produced an NYC crime thriller called Red Butterfly which premiered at St. Louis International Film Festival 2014, and during production was able to temporarily shut down Times Square. Gerren Produced the campus horror film U.Z.L.A. Gerren received an MFA from the UCLA Producers Program, during which time he was awarded the Andrew J. Kuehn, Jr. Marketing Fellowship and produced a film with James Franco. Since coming to Hollywood, Gerren has worked with companies such as Bona Fide Productions (Little Miss Sunshine, Election, Cold Mountain), Captivate Entertainment (The Bourne Identity franchise), Participant Media (Lincoln, An Inconvenient Truth, The Help). Gerren is being advised by Scott Stuber, Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger, Joe Cohen, Barbara Boyle, and Teri Schwartz.
AHNA O’REILLY - Lead
Ahna O'Reilly was born on February 17, 1985. She is an American actress best known for her supporting role as Elizabeth Leefolt in the 2011 award-winning drama film The Help. The film received positive reviews and was a box office success. It also won several ensemble awards including Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Acting Ensemble. O'Reilly's also co-starred in Fruitvale Station, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and in the 2013 film Jobs, alongside Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad, about the life of technology pioneer Steve Jobs.
TYLER NEITZEL – Supporting
Tyler Neitzel is an American actor. He played the role of Young King Leonidas in the Warner Brothers blockbuster film 300. He appears in the 2 hour special (2010) of Brothers & Sisters (ABC) episode: 'Time After Time' as Young Aaron. Recent feature films include Reconciliation, Freeway Killer and Signal Lost.
IVAN RODRIGUES - Cinematographer
Three years after receiving his BA from Brazil’s top college, Ivan, had crewed on numerous commercials and TV shows and shot over a dozen short films. In 2010, he was admitted to both AFI and UCLA’s cinematography programs which he recently graduated from. Since 2010 he shot numerous projects like a feature film for Director Chris Schwanitz, a TV pilot with Rod Holcomb, a web-series and recently a short film produced by James Franco and RBP, for which he was nominated by UCLA for the ASC Student Heritage Award. Ivan is currently in pre production on his third feature film, The Wild Ones, written and directed by celebrity photographer Tyler Shields.
DOUG TURNER – First Assistant Director
Doug grew up on Catalina Island, California. He started working in reality TV (Great Pretenders on Fox Family Channel) and later transitioned to commercials and feature films. Over the course of his 15 years of experience he's worked with a wide array of talented producers, directors and actors. Some of the most recent collaborations include James Franco, Taylor Lautner, Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Kimmel, Judy Greer, Natasha Lyonne, Aubrey Plaza, David Mamet and Smokey Robinson.
Ahna O’Reilly, Adam Harrington.
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):
Elysium Bandini Studios
Made in association with:
Where will it screen in the next month?
Finished its festival round.
CITY BUS – DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT
In Robert Boswell’s short story, City Bus, Helen fabricates a secret world that is peopled by powerful gods, who control her life and relieve her of responsibility for her decisions. Her fantasy world is both a shelter from painful human interaction, and an escape from her mundane day-to-day existence. Her fantasy unfolds every day on her way to work, when the regular stops and landmarks of her routine bus trip trigger her inventions.
The challenge of the City Bus adaptation was to bring Helen's curious inner existence to life without relying on voice-over. To do this, we used locations and settings that would convey her state of mind, and combined these with a fluid treatment of time that would blur the subtle dividing line between her sense of what was real and what was imagined.
Much of Helen's escapist isolation was self-inflicted punishment for a mistake she made as a young girl. An image by Gregg Segal of an old crafstmans’ home in Lincoln Heights, from his collection Nightscapes, inspired us to shift our scouting from the Valley to East Los Angeles. The once grand, but now rundown homes in this small-town environment fit the bill perfectly. The lack of tree-lined streets gave the neighborhood the uniform grey color palette we needed for the backdrop of Helen’s monotonous daily bus route.
Against this monochrome landscape, we injected a magical realism element that hinted at the fantastical world where gods controlled Helen's destiny, the bus and its driver were minor deities, and the weatherman was her secret lover, doubling up as a medium between the real world and the Gods. To do this (on a tight budget) we chose a faded gold visual tone, illuminated with god-like light streaming through windows and a hazy, ethereal interior. The sense of mystery and otherness was heightened with unsettling music that lent a physical presence to the gods that manipulated Helen's bleak reality.
Time, or rather the perception of time, was another means by which we could break with reality, without breaking the budget. Helen's regret for a mistake made in her past was the controlling element that stopped her from living life, trapping her in the past. From this, we developed the idea of visually merging past and present, real and imagined, rejecting film conventions of emphasizing flashbacks with sound effects or other devices. Instead we allowed the present to flow into the past without any clear demarcation. This stylistic choice highlighted the vividness and omnipresence of Helen's memories, and how they had taken over her life to the extent that they immobilized her.