DCFF ’12: Louisvillians Nab Best Feature Alongside Sci-fi Legend

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“A story is just a mind working through a problem. You’re always in there somewhere.”– Scooter Downey

Sean Elliot beat out co-star Lance Henriksen among others for Best Actor.

Only six years removed from cutting their cinematic teeth on spoof trailers of films like ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Gladiator’ for their high school morning newscast, Louisville-natives Scooter Downey and Sean Elliot (ahem, let me rephrase that… newly award-winning Director Scooter Downey and Best Actor Sean Elliot) have realized a lifelong dream. A five-year labor of love not only seen to fruition but done with such apparent success, and on their own terms, Derby City Film Festival director Kristofer Rommel said of the pair’s debut feature, “‘It’s in the Blood’ is scary good. It’s just icing on the cake that these guys are from Kentucky.” Racking up huge honors at the 4th annual festival, with both Best Feature Film and Sean Elliot for Best Actor (as well as a Lifetime Achievement award for legendary co-star Lance Henriksen), Downey and Elliot have come a long way. And yet it’s all the more sweet that the two were able to first come home to be crowned kings.

‘It’s in the Blood’ sees an estranged father (Lance Henriksen) and son (Sean Elliot) set out into the wilderness on an apparent attempt at reconciliation. But when a jaw-grinding accident leaves his father unquestionably immobile, it’s up to the son to find them both a way home. Described by Downey and Elliot (who co-wrote the script) as a “Physche-Saga”, what becomes horrifyingly clear, to both the characters and the audience, is that there is much more at hand than an already-gruesome hiking malady. As the sins of the past become increasingly realized upon the present in sanity-questioning, soul-scraping ways, the most pertinent question might not be whether or not the two men will or even can get out of the woods, but whether or not they ought to. Whether or not they deserve to.

With an Elliot-penned script entitled ‘Wilderness’ as the starting point, what would eventually come to be known as ‘It’s in the Blood’ went through as many as ten subsequent drafts tackled collaboratively and ultimately shares surprisingly little in common with that original narrative. Additional rewrites continued into production itself as needed, and Downey admits that with so many layers, that he was continually, “searching for what this film was ultimately about.” He further noted that as that same contemplative philosophy began spilling over into filming itself, that he found himself wanting to, “shoot as much as I could possibly get.” Speaking of the production as a whole, Downey likened his twenty-one day shoot to, “trying to hold on to a runaway train,” but asserted that thanks in no small part to an excellent crew (numbering around fifty in total), that it was actually one of the tightest-run sets he had ever experienced.

It would be easy to deem the eventual success of this duo to have been all but inevitable, with their adolescent filmmaking roots and now this much-lauded initial effort, but according to Downey and Elliot that was far from the case. The two revealed that long before a sweaty-browed month spent secluded in a Colorado cabin, pushing through draft after draft of their script, that there was an extended period of time where they hardly communicated. “We both enrolled together at the University of Miami after graduating from Ballard High School in 2004,” Elliot explained, “but I just wasn’t getting the kind of experience I thought I needed there.” At the end of their freshmen year he decided to take the immense risk of pursuing a theatre education in New York while Downey stayed behind to continue his study of film. Fast-forward a couple of years and Elliot (who had ultimately been accepted to a NYC acting conservatory) had moved to Austin in search of work amidst the burgeoning film scene there while Downey, now preparing to graduate from Miami, had worked as a Production Assistant on at least one film but was less than satisfied with the experience. “Then came this realization,” said Downey, which he echoed at a Director’s panel on Saturday of the festival, “that if you want to direct you have to direct.”

“And suddenly there was this 2:00am phone call between Sean and me… this ‘let’s swing for the fences’ kind of thing. That set everything in motion.”

Sci-fi legend turned independent film star Lance Henriksen received a Lifetime Achievement award.

Sharing the screen alongside Elliot for ‘It’s in the Blood’ is the always-imposing veteran actor Lance Henriksen. The now-legendary figure is perhaps best know for his role as Bishop from the ‘Alien’ films, but also appeared in latter-day-classics like ‘The Right Stuff’ and has been filling out an impressive list of independent credits over the past decade. When asked of the process of bringing Henriksen into the project Downey and Elliot said that the actor had an immediate response to the material but only signed on after some extended creative discussions. “Lance definitely auditioned us and not the other way around,” laughed Downey, and explained of the actor’s initial inhibition that, “this was the kind of script that required everyone involved to lay it on the line and he needed to know we were going to be able to fully commit to the journey.” Obviously pleased with the award-winning final product, Henriksen had nothing but praise for Downey and Elliot at a the post-awards symposium on Saturday night, saying specifically of his on-screen counterpart’s performance, “Sean ripped his heart out through his mouth and left it there for everyone to see.”

Already receiving initial nibbles from potential distributors, the incredibly strong showing of ‘It’s in the Blood’ at the 4th annual Derby City Film Festival (combined with previous favorable debuts) bodes well for building continued buzz as its festival run continues. Elliot and Downey are now eagerly pursuing multiple opportunities under their ‘Monomyth Films’ production label and hope to have as many as six projects in the works by year’s end, including a political satire about Occupy Wall Street.

Lance Henriksen, in addition to countless forthcoming roles, is currently promoting his autobiography Not Bad for a Human– The Life and Films of Lance Henriksen.

Some DCFF ’12 coverage from LouisvilleKY.com that you may have missed:

Ride the Slipstream with Alex Gaynor’s ‘Wid Winner’ 
New Albany’s Tom Whitus Carves out Kid Niche with ‘Sam Steele’
Serafini Braves New Roads with ‘Johnny’s Gone’
Danville Filmmakers get Strange with ‘Bizarnival’
‘Below Zero’ Filmmakers Signe Olynyk and Bob Schultz
‘On Our Radar’ Festival Preview Part 2
‘On Our Radar’ Festival Preview Part 1
Scifi Legend now a Lifetime Achiever
Derby City Film Festival Returns, with More Talent than Ever

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Chris Ritter <<<< twitter.com/CT_Smash <<<< ctsmash@gmail.com