By Heather DiPietro
Sean Robinson isn’t new to the film festival circuit with his shorts screening in over 40 international film festivals. THE PURITANS, which he wrote, directed and edited, has won 3 awards, Best Original Concept (Northwest Short Film Festival), Best International Short (Carmarthen Bay Film Festival), and the Grand Prix Award (International Short Film Festival). This Thursday the film will add another festival to its long list of screenings at the 7th annual Manhattan Film Festival. We caught up with the award winning director and editor about the making of THE PURITANS and what the future holds next for him.
Q: Most films that depict a soldier returning home, build the conflict around their PTSD and how it prevents them from reconnecting with their family, but in THE PURITANS we have quite a twist with Noble’s family being in the psychological dilemma. Noble must then try to understand their bizarre rejection to living in the modern world. Why did you construct the story like this?
It worked well thematically to structure the story like this because the Sutton Family’s return to the past is the central conflict, not Noble’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The PTSD only heightens the audience’s illusion between fantasy and reality, but the film is more of a warning to avoid the dangers in religious extremism and, as production & costume designer Ryan Stevenson said to me, the film is about ”fear.”
Q: What inspired the story?
I grew up in an ultra-conservative environment, where people chose not to be “conformed to this world,” in dress or lifestyle. So, I thought to myself, “how far could this go on a dramatic, narrative level?”
Q: A lot of filmmakers use crowd-funding to make their film, explain why you chose Kickstarter and what made your campaign for THE PURITANS successful? Was it story, cast, social media marketing?
All of the above. The lead, Eileen Kearney, who plays the high-necked Matriarch “Joy Sutton”, Ryan Stevenson, who is largely responsible for creating the milieu of the film, and producer/executive producer Paul Warner (director of FALL TIME starring Mickey Rourke, Stephen Baldwin, & David Arquette), really amped up our Kickstarter video with their dynamic & sophisticated interviews.
The Puritans is a very international film, so much of the support funding came from abroad. Our other producers Martina Rojas Chaigneau & Valerio Moretti are from Italy, Laki Latinka Igrutinovic from Serbia, the sound artist Jose C. Gorritti from Peru, and DP Esteban Robles from Mexico. The film has won 3 awards from Canada, UK, and Ukraine, received 22 Official Selections and screened in 11 countries.
Q: Tell us a memorable on-set story.
When we were searching for locations, a friend & real estate broker from Asbury Park, NJ, Chris McCarthy, turned us on to this beautiful Victorian, Shingle style home built in 1891. The owners, Arthur Pavliska & Mike Azzolini graciously allowed us to film there for a week, which created a perfect platform for the story. Despite the film’s title, I did not want to give it a timestamp, but rather, wanted to examine the Sutton’s motivation for returning to this bygone era.
Q: What did you learn during this production that you will apply to your next film?
I’d avoid budgeting errors by having a better line-item budget and working with producers to find those realistic numbers.
Q: You mentioned in an interview with the Advocate that Paul Warner, Jerry Meadors & VP Boyle, were your mentors, how critical is finding a mentor the key to doing well in this industry?
It is a gamble of good luck, nepotism, and hard work, but having the right connection is everything.
Q: What advice would you give to students or young filmmakers that are trying balance between working in the business and still having the passion to make their own films?
Find a job that allows you to work with-in the realm of your field. I work part-time at the New York Film Academy, which has opened up a wealth of resources and opportunities for me as a director/editor. Be willing to take a risk and spend your own money on a great story. Don’t cut corners with casting. Keep auditioning until you find the right fit. Actors are %80 of your film.
Q: You’ve had a lot of success making shorts, are you ready to tackle a feature?
Q: Any upcoming projects you would like to mention?
NAKED, a musical short film I directed, was just nominated Best Comedy at Snake Alley Film Festival and is screening at Long Island International Film Expo on July 21st, 2013 alongside THE PURITANS.
Additionally, RECLAIMING EDEN (2012 finalist in the Harvardwood Writers’ Competition) is a feature script I co-wrote with Paul Warner. I would love to see this made in the next year. It’s a black comedy about 3 modern day heroes–A New York hippy, an Amish boy, and a Harley-riding ex-nun, who cross paths in NYC and build a surrogate family together, all the while defying conventions and fighting the rise of the moral police along the way.
THE PURITANS screens Friday, June 28th, 5:30PM at Hunter College, 695 Park Avenue.