Directors Benjamin and Alex Brewer may be unfamiliar names in the cinema world, but that is not going to last long. They won an MTV VMA for a music video they directed with Skrillex, but The Trust- the first feature for the brothers from Massachusetts, is a strong debut with a cast and crew of stars that proves something about these guys is special. Earlier this year at SXSW, AMovieGuy.com caught up with the two to talk about having lunch with Nicolas Cage, shooting with DP Sean Porter, and showing a side of Las Vegas we don't typically see.
AMG.COM: For a first time feature, how did you guys collaborate on THE TRUST?
Benjamin Brewer: We've done a lot of music videos together, working together on those projects for the past five years. I think this feature's different because we worked on the script locked in a room, and the way a duo really works is the planning. Discussing how you are going to shoot it and sticking to that plan. Ideally you want to be on set and have an actor ask either of you the same question and get the same answer. I highly recommend it. If you can have someone working with the actors and the other at the monitor.
Alex Brewer: You have to plan. We have to get on the same page, and have that required discipline to work out what you are going to do is extremely helpful.
Benjamin Brewer: We're not from L.A., but when we have meetings and meet all kinds of people, it can be something that messes with your head. I feel if you were on your own you would worry that it would start to change you because it is such an unusual industry we are in.
AMG.COM: When the two of you heard that Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood would be the leads in your film, what was your emotional reactions to hearing that?
Alex Brewer: Obviously we couldn't believe it. We heard Nic liked the script and was interested, it was extremely exciting. We met with him over lunch and really hit it off. He is a real cinephile, he loves to talk about movies. He had insights on our script and when we left that meeting we felt we had an incredible opportunity to work with Nicolas Cage, so let's really try to make the most of it and give him a character worthy of his talent.
Benjamin Brewer: We gave him a good environment to do what he does. Alex and I bared witness to one of the most talented actors with an incredible process. Shooting the movie was a joy because we thought so hard about both Nicolas and Elijah (Wood) doing what they do. They approached it with a confidence because we were thinking about their styles of preparation and performance.
AMG.COM: You guys showed the bright side, but also a working man's Las Vegas, can you talk about how you used the city as a background?
Alex Brewer: That's the challenge, is that people who don't live in Las Vegas have a specific idea of the things you go there to do, but we wanted our world to be relatable. No matter what city you live in, we wanted characters you can identify with. That was a challenge for us to overcome, to paint this new picture of Las Vegas as a place where people live and go to work. With normal lives and dreams, not just the people who come from out of town to gamble and go to restaurants.
Benjamin Brewer: It's a city that has a huge issue with poverty, it has the trifecta of drug addiction, alcoholism, and gambling addiction. A high suicide rate...so there is an adults playground, but it is a complicated, sad place, where a lot of great people live. Our crew was all local, incredible people, who are great at what they do, who grew up in Las Vegas. We spent 3 months there, and I think it's incredible that anyone can grow up in that area. It's unlike any other city in this country, it's an incredible place to talk about in a movie.
AMG.COM: You worked with Sean Porter on cinematography here, and he has a great style in films such as Green Room and Kumiko the Treasure hunter, did you guys map out how you would shoot the movie?
Benjamin Brewer: His style completely holds to the story, he has a directors mind, and never makes choices that reflect a cinematographer trying to make a shot look a certain way for no reason. He is resistant to trying to turn the lighting of a space into something that isn't there. His style is old school, all with a meter, treats the Alexa like film, and we shot it on his old set of Pancro lenses. He's the real deal. That's the guy you should bring to Vegas, to capture what Vegas is through his eyes. It feels like someones version of a genre, so we wanted to bring in a DP who wasn't going to make it look like Oceans Eleven.
AMG.COM: You guys were able to get a wild performance from Nicolas Cage, what was it like working with him, and do you guys give him notes or is it just okay, you got it?
Benjamin Brewer: We watch so many films and we have so much respect for different forms of performance, I think the public is less forgiving, wanting a more narrow scope of material. I think people like us we dig all kinds of flavors. On set I think we would try to protect ourselves with getting takes that were a bit less creative, but those aren't in the movie. We went with the stuff that was funny and cool. I think he's playing a great character. I like the idea that you can walk out of the movie and not describe Nicolas Cage, but his character Jim Stone. People are fixated on Nicolas Cage, but I think he disappears on screen.
Alex Brewer: We didn't want to hold him back. We wanted to have a collaborative atmosphere and feel everyone can be creative. We trusted him, he knows his character inside and out, and spends a lot of time crafting it. Out of context, it might seem random, but it all ties together as a part of his complicated process. We wanted to honor that, respect it, and channel it appropriately.
AMG.COM: There is an interesting arc to Elijah Wood's character, an almost Faustian “deal with the devil”. Was that a performance you were trying to draw out of Elijah?
Alex Brewer: He starts out as someone who doesn’t care about life, so that arc is learning to care about himself and the consequences of his action. Nic's character is there to test him and wake him up. We always wanted that shift of the guy who acts like he's too cool, and suddenly is worried. Learning the things that he does care about. Early on with their character dynamic we were actually inspired by The African Queen. You have Katherine Hepburn's character who's lived her life a certain way, and suddenly she is in her element and realizes she can thrive in this condition. And Bogart's character thinks he knows the land, hard and jaded. He learns from her example that he can do more to realize his potential. Of course their teamwork went a lot better than in our film...
AMG.COM: How did it feel to have your film at SXSW?
Alex Brewer: It's been phenomenal. A great experience.
Benjamin Brewer: I don't think I ever want to watch the movie again because the presentation of it was pristine. The crowd reacted to everything we wanted them to react to. It was the experience of a lifetime and the festival itself has been tremendous.
You can also watch the full interview with Alex & Benjamin Brewer below:
Directors of The Trust- Benjamin (L) & Alex Brewer