Indie Film: <I>The Long Dumb Road</I>
Issue: September 1, 2018

Indie Film: The Long Dumb Road

In The Long Dumb Road, two guys serendipitously meet at a time when they both find themselves at personal crossroads. Together, they decide to embark on a road trip across the American Southwest. The film was directed by Hannah Fidell, who co-wrote it with Carson Mell. It stars Taissa Farmiga, Ron Livingston and Jason Mantzoukas.

Here, Fidell is joined by colorist Alastor Arnold, who discuss their work on the road-trip comedy, which opens in theaters in November 9th.
Tell us a about The Long Dumb Road? 

Fidell: The Long Dumb Road follows Nat (Tony Revolori) and Richard (Jason Mantzoukas), who serendipitously meet at a time when they both find themselves at personal crossroads. The two embark on an unplanned road trip together across the American Southwest where they visit ex-girlfriends, meet new girlfriends, and find themselves left in the middle of nowhere by the person they would last expect to do that to them.”

Director Fidell, on-set

What was the inspiration behind the script?

Fidell: “It’s loosely inspired by a friend of mine back when he was in his early 20s, who picked up a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker was semi-homeless and possibly dangerous. My friend, in hindsight when he told me the story, recognized that he did this probably more for the tale than anything else. He had felt sheltered and coddled his whole life and this was his first taste of danger and being free. He realized pretty quickly that he had made a mistake by agreeing to drive this guy, but he still felt obligated to do so — at least a while longer than he probably should have. As a woman, I would never pick up a hitchhiker. So, it was fun to jump into a world that felt very foreign to me, and explore the meaning of friendship and getting out of one’s comfort zone.”

What was the overall look you envisioned for the story? 

Fidell: “We wanted to make a broad comedy that didn’t look like a broad comedy. Our main reference points were Training Day and No Country for Old Men.”

FotoKem colorist Arnold

Arnold: “The look was definitely not indicative of your typical comedy! Given the production schedule, we really started dialing in the look during the initial days of the DI, where we had the time and proper environment to focus on it. Hannah and (cinematographer) Andrew (Droz Palermo) provided a number of reference images, and we created a look development process to fit their creative goals. We really finessed the tonal range and color bias (in Resolve) in a way that feels ‘filmic’ and not too primary in its palette.”

What camera format did you and director of photography Andrew Droz Palermo choose to accomplish this and why was it the right choice for your vision? 

Fidell: “We had two Alexa Minis and used Panavision high-speed anamorphics. The Alexa Minis were great because it gave us a lot of mobility when shooting in tight spaces. The anamorphics were old, so they gave us this really great vintage feel.” 
Can you share some insight into your editing and VFX process?

Fidell: “I’ve known (editor) Zach Clark for a few years and love his vision as both a filmmaker in his own right and as an editor. I liked that another writer/director would be cutting the film — someone who understood story and character arcs as much as I do. We began editing while we were shooting and actually had a hiatus for about three months during the shoot because of an actor’s availability, which sounds like a nightmare, but it was actually a blessing. That time off gave us the ability to have a pretty well-honed fine cut of what we had previously shot by the time we came back. We were able to do pickups that we might not have been able to get otherwise. Josh Johnson created and supervised our VFX. Andrew had worked with him before on both A Ghost Story and his own film One & Two. Josh is a wizard! He did a lot of clean up but also created a swarming flock of birds, which is probably my favorite shot of the whole film.”
You choose FotoKem for post services?

Fidell: “FotoKem’s work speaks for itself. There isn’t anyone better in my humble opinion.”

Arnold: “At FotoKem, we’ve created a process and room called The Lodge for creative services that help us work flexibly with some amazing independent filmmakers. The goal is to create partnerships from production through editorial and post, while helping filmmakers focus their budgets where they can be most impactful – the creative process.”
Is there a particular scene that was challenging to shoot or came together well in the edit?

Fidell: “The car scenes were particularly challenging. We were constantly asking ourselves, ‘How do we make these scenes dynamic and interesting, and not just two talking heads?’ We shot in the winter in Albuquerque, NM, so the days were short and light changed quickly. We were constantly racing against the clock. 

“There is one scene in particular that drove us crazy once we got to the color correction. We were shooting from inside the car, sort of a traditional two shot with singles coverage, and because the guys had such great chemistry, we just let the camera keep rolling with each take being maybe five to 10 minutes long. We were losing light fast and knew that we'd have to massage that scene once we got to FotoKem. As usual, Al worked his magic and it’s nearly impossible to tell what was going on.”

Arnold: “This was one of the more difficult sequences I've had to work on in a long time! The issue wasn't only the long takes, but that they were running the process trailer up and down the same stretch of road as the sun was setting. Not only was the exposure changing between shots, the sky in the background was constantly different. By setting a hero shot with Hannah and Andrew, I was able to carefully finesse the sequence, combining roto, keys, secondaries and dynamics to keep the flow between the cuts. It's one of my favorite sequences of the film, and the hard work really paid off. It's both hilarious and beautiful, which a testament to the talents of both Hannah and Andrew.”

When did you start filming and when did you finish the DI? 

Fidell: “We started filming in January 2017 and we finished our DI just in time for Sundance 2018. The movie will be available on demand and in theaters November 9th.”