A lot of filmmakers don’t get the luxury of having unlimited budgets, super professional equipment, and all the support the biggest producers and distributions can offer, but still, independent filmmaking has always been a huge part of the movie industry. We’re great fans of artists who create art that they want to make, rather than what a studio or a label tells them to make, so it is my great pleasure to introduce an outstanding new indie movie called CROWN AND ANCHOR, created by long-time friends, musical collaborators and actors, Michael Rowe (Arrow, Ninjak Vs The Valiant Universe) and former MUCH and MTV host Matt Wells, who just realized their lifelong dream of making a film in their hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland. We caught up with them and writer/director Andrew Rowe for an insightful interview that reveals a bunch of interesting details behind the production and thir amazing idea to score it entirely with punk and hardcore music! Scroll down to read the full thing.
CROWN AND ANCHOR follows James Downey, who is living a disciplined and straight edge lifestyle as a result of growing up with an abusive alcoholic father. His estranged cousin Danny is drowning his own trauma with drugs and booze. When their lives are forced to intersect once more, they each begin to unravel as the past returns with violent and tragic consequences. Featuring a blistering punk/hardcore soundtrack, Crown and Anchor is a slow-burn drama delivered with the intensity of a punch to the gut.
The film boasts an intense and carefully curated track-list made up of cult punk and hardcore bands, including: GORILLA BISCUITS, YOUTH OF TODAY, JOHNNY THUNDERS AND THE HEARTBREAKERS, PROJECT X, SIDE BY SIDE, X-RAY SPEX, ho99o9, and DYS.
Scoring the film with punk and hardcore music was important because the music itself reflects the differences in the two main characters. The film follows two estranged cousins whose lives are forced to intersect once more; James Downey is living a disciplined and straight edge lifestyle as a result of growing up with an abusive-alcoholic father, while his cousin Danny drowns his own trauma with drugs and alcohol. As he watches his cousin unravel, James’ past returns with violent and tragic consequences.
Producers of the highly anticipated indie film “CROWN AND ANCHOR” have partnered with international sales agent, CROGAN FILMWORKS to represent the film at international film markets and spearhead its worldwide distribution plan. The film will have its world premiere at the upcoming 2018 CINEQUEST FILM AND VR FESTIVAL, with worldwide rights available.
CROWN AND ANCHOR was written and directed by Andrew Rowe. The film’s cast is led by Rowe (James Downey) and Wells (Danny Power) and accompanied by a prolific ensemble cast with the likes of: Stephen McHattie (Mother!, A History Of Violence), Natalie Brown (The Strain), Robert Joy (CSI: NY, Land Of The Dead) as well as, Jonathan Watton (Map to the Stars), Andy Jones (Rare Birds), Ben Cotton (Mars), and Sofia Wells (Crimson Peak).
Hey Matt! Thanks so much for taking some time with IDIOTEQ! How are you? Can you tell us what got you into the movie making business, and give us brief overview of the group that launched this project? Did you pursue other script writing before this?
Thanks so much for taking the time and for your support! I’m really great right now and stoked for the world premiere of Crown and Anchor. Making movies has been a natural evolution from making music and my time in bands. For the better part of 10 years I made albums and toured the world alongside bands like Slayer, Damage Plan, and D.O.A with Michael Rowe who stars in and produced this film with me. We were self-managed and worked our asses off to make a go of it as an independent band. Some of the best times of my life. When the band ended we both really missed that energy as we pursued other projects eventually both finding our way to acting. Michael is best known for his work as ‘Deadshot’ on Arrow while I became a music and film journalist for Much Music and MTV. The process of making Crown and Anchor was essentially our way of getting the band back together and collaborating on a project with the same DIY spirit that connected us through music in the beginning. We also wanted to make a film in our hometown (St. John’s Newfoundland) which is a very inspiring part of the world and where Michael and I both started out careers. So we came up with a story together and wrote a script, our first, that was eventually re-written by our director (and Michael’s brother) Andrew Rowe.
How was the process of your independent filmmaking and how does it differ from one that’s typical primarily for bigger productions?
There are a few different ways that we could have financed this film. The overall decision we were faced with (one we had faced as musicians) was the more money we accepted from potential partners the more we’d be beholden to them. We didn’t want our film to be dictated by the dollars so we chose a path that would be more freeing creatively but much more difficult financially. Luckily we found a producer (Vince Buda – Brown Girl Begins) who understood our approach, believed in the project, and just happens to be one of the smartest producers I’ve ever met. So we took a smaller amount of investment, found a cast and crew who believed in the script as much as we did and were not afraid to punk rock the shit out of it with no trailers or big budget fat. The result is a film that was not forced into the formula of “bigger Hollywood productions” because we managed to retain creative control which is a rare place to be as first time filmmakers.
What were the biggest challenges while working on this title?
The biggest challenge was the financial constraints. We shot this film in 15 days which is NOT easy. We had to find creative ways to work around the fact that we didn’t have the big Hollywood budget which at the time felt like A LOT of pressure but in retrospect added a vibe to the movie that could only have come from the blood and sweat of a true DIY ethic.
What appeals to you about this theme and particular story and what in your opinion makes it work so well on the screen?
The first version of this script I wrote focused on the generational cycle of abuse and violence. I am fascinated in the way different people cope in similar situations. When Andrew Rowe came on board and re-wrote the script he very much connected with that theme and the characters but managed to tell it in a much more impactful way. Furthermore he is a writer who likes the idea of writing stories about unlikable characters because much like real life, people are not always at their best. A traditional 90 minute film will focus on the redemption of a character whereas Andrew chose to stay in the dirt and keep our story focused on the worst of times. Which I believe is very relatable. We all can relate with feeling at our lowest. This film focuses on character development inspired by our favorite dramas from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s where we take the time to understand the characters in order to understand their choices; for better or worse.
Can you tell them a bit about the storyline, the characters and what they represent?
CROWN AND ANCHOR follows James Downey (Michael Rowe), who is living a disciplined and straight edge lifestyle as a result of growing up with an abusive alcoholic father. His estranged cousin Danny (Matt Wells) is drowning his own trauma with drugs and booze. When their lives are forced to intersect once more, they each begin to unravel as the past returns with violent and tragic consequences. The film is a raw look at the effects of childhood trauma through the eyes of the two estranged cousins; Danny surrounded by the family that James has tried to escape. As they are forced back into each other’s lives the family plays a big part of understanding the past which includes their uncle Doug Power, James’ father Gus, and James’ old girlfriend and Danny’s current wife, Jessica Power.
What can you tell us about the cast and how they fit in your vision of the movie?
This is truly an ensemble cast in every sense of the word. Every actor brought something so powerful to their characters that the story literally jumps off the page and punches you in the gut. This is a film where character development is key and without a cast who could deliver, we would not have been able to make the film we made. As a member of the cast I felt incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many great actors and every day on set with them was like going to school. Obviously acting alongside my best friend Michael Rowe was the reason we set this whole film in motion and I loved every moment of it (even though we only share one VERY INTENSE scene). The rest of the ensemble is rounded out by Natalie Brown (The Strain), Stephen McHattie (Mother!, A History of Violence), Robert Joy (The Hills Have Eyes), Andy Jones (Rare Birds), Ben Cotton (Mars), Jonathan Watton (Maps to the Stars) and my real life daughter Sofia Wells (Crimson Peak, Shadow Hunters) plays my movie daughter. I don’t want to single anyone out but I will say that Robert Joy, who is a legendary actor from our hometown (St. John’s Newfoundland), and whose career has been an inspiration to Michael and myself, brought something special to his role as Doug Power. But like I said, the entire cast is incredible and we feel like we won the casting lottery.
Did you have any real characters in mind when writing the script?
My original script was loosely inspired by some real characters from my family. The story is obviously fictional and was eventually expanded on and reimagined by Andrew but the idea of a family dealing with the effects of alcoholism and violence very much came from something that was very personal to me. The film itself is dedicated to my late Grandmother.
Obviously, we couldn’t miss this well-thought connection between the soundtrack and the story. How did this idea come about?
(Writer/director Andrew Rowe) Before I started writing the script I was trying to figure out exactly who the two main characters were. I loved the idea of them being opposites and two halves of the same person simultaneously. I knew I was dealing with a story about generational abuse within a family, and that James’ father was an alcoholic. One day it hit me that James would have been straight edge as a teen and that lifestyle would have continued on even if he wasn’t still in the hardcore scene. It would be one of many ways he attempted to be the opposite of his father. This one idea unlocked so much about the characters. I suddenly knew everything about them and their relationship, the whole movie flashed in front of me. Punk music became a way to join the two cousins but also make them opposite. The songs would reflect them as characters: James’ music would be aggressive, alienating, straight-edge, judgmental, and Danny’s music would be more fun, more loose, less aggressive, easier to relate to for the audience.
Tell us more about your connection with the hardcore punk scene.
(Writer/director Andrew Rowe) I was introduced to hardcore music in my late teens through my best friend at the time and I instantly fell in love with it. I never drank as a teen and the whole straight edge angle clicked pretty hard with me. I became straight edge and played in a straight edge hardcore band called Youth Diversion for a while. We released a few demos, toured a little. I left the straight edge scene in my mid-twenties but my love of punk and hardcore music has stayed to this day.
Alright, getting back to the score, tell us about the process of getting all the permission to use certain tracks in the movie. Was it a struggle?
IT WAS A HUGE STRUGGLE! The smaller budget we decided upon made trying to clear the music an almost impossible task. A film like this has all hands on deck and everyone doing multiple jobs and in addition to producing and acting….I was tasked with clearing the music. It was not easy. What helped immensely was a friendship with Walter Schreifels that myself and Michael had formed about 15 years ago. We were (and still are) MASSIVE Quicksand fans and got to collaborate and do some touring with Walter. We have remained friends and it was his support and then the support of Revelation Records that started the ball rolling for us. Once we had legendary bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today signed on it really helped us to start conversations with other bands.
What did you look for when selecting a band or a particular song for this soundtrack?
(Writer/director Andrew Rowe) Like I said earlier the song choices had to reflect the characters. So for James I was looking for stuff that could punch the audience in the face and make them feel that James was cold and unapproachable, and he felt superior to his family for never touching drugs or alcohol. So I chose songs like “Straight Edge Revenge” by Project X and “Living a Lie” by Side By Side amongst others. With Danny I wanted looser, more relatable punk music, stuff like “Start Today” by Gorilla Biscuits. Within Danny’s story he deals drugs for a guy named Charlie and for some reason I only wanted punk music sang by females to play when Charlie was on screen. I don’t know why exactly but it had to be that way, it was non-negotiable. But the sound of the music still had to be in line with Danny so I went with “Die Matrosen” by Liliput/Kleenex and “Germ Free Adolescents” by X-Ray Spex.
Do you have any favourite film scores?
(Writer/director Andrew Rowe) Ones that come to mind right away are Risky Business, The Decline of Western Civilization, Trainspotting, Boogie Nights, Drive, Bronson, Suspiria, Pulp Fiction, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I’m probably leaving like 50 great ones that I love out, but that’s what came to mind!
You are getting ready to make your world premiere at The Cinequest Film and VR Festival in San Jose. Tell us a bit about this event and how did you decide to unveil the film there.
The Film Festival hustle has been the biggest learning curve for us. Some festivals only want films with big stars in them, some festivals insist on having your premiere, and some festivals only want certain sized budget or a built in audience to ensure bums in seats. For us, we had to balance holding out for some festivals we thought were the best fit for us while being offered to premiere at others. It was pretty stressful but ultimately we chose Cinequest because of its reputation for supporting independent films and filmmakers and the size of the festival which ensures us 4 screenings and great opportunities to let people know about the movie.
The distribution opportunities are certainly different from the methods available decades ago. How do you go about spreading the film and making it visible as much as possible?
Things are changing literally by the minute. The good news is – there really hasn’t been a better time for independent film and filmmakers. Self-distribution is possible and is viable. Our goal was to trim the fat and make a great film at a budget that we could reasonably pay back to our investors. Not make money, just pay it back and make a great film. There are a lot of ways to get eyeballs on your film but that doesn’t necessarily translate into to dollars. Making the film we did and busting our ass to make it work on a smaller budget is the model we believe as first time filmmakers will allow us to make another one. We have a sales agent. We know our audience. We made a great film. We just need people like you to help us spread the word. So THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sure Matt! Thank YOU so much for your time and lots of insightful details. What’s next for you, in terms of future filmmaking projects or career in general?
Thank YOU! Our creative team (Michael, Andrew, Myself, and Vince) have a couple projects that we have developed and are shopping but in terms of Crown and Anchor we are just getting ready to unleash it as a film and then the plan is to expand it into a TV series.
Thanks so much and once again, cheers for your time. The last words are yours.
I have been inspired by the DIY (Do it Yourself) spirit of punk and hardcore since I first started to explore the history of bands like Minor Threat and Black Flag. I have taken that mentality into everything I do and the times I barley had enough money to get to the next town or to get our van fixed on tour is what gave me the fire to know I was doing something for the right reasons. That is exactly how we made this film but it’s the support that comes from people like you that keeps the dream of creating alive when the van breaks down. So thanks for listening and for the support.