It’s mid-morning on Memorial Day, and Maria Breaux is calling from El Paso. Deep in the heart of production on Mother Country, she’s got half an hour to chat while her crew packs up the caravan– two cars and a van – for the trip to Albuquerque. “We drove from San Francisco to Austin in three days,” including a stop in Los Angeles to pick up a Canon SLR HD camera and other equipment, “and the plan is to head back on smaller roads and shoot the movie along the way. We have all of our interiors worked out, and we have pre-arranged locations, and most of the exteriors as well.” Mother Country is an existential road movie (according to its lead, Thomas Galasso) but it’s not a loosey-goosey, make-it-up-as-you-go affair.
“We started shooting on May 23 and haven’t had a day off yet,” Breaux relates. “We scheduled them, but they haven’t happened yet. The stressful thing is, since we know we have to leave on certain days, getting all the shots we need. [So] we’ve had a lot of late nights.”
Breaux’s screenplay centers on a young African American who commits a crime in East Austin and, shaken by its unintended consequences, sets off on foot for L.A. to see a white former teacher (Cindy Pickett) who lives with her sister (Thea Gill of Queer As Folk). “There are many movies where a lot of bad things happen to black people and at the end they get out of the situation,” Breaux explains. “In this case, what if he got out of it in the first act? How would we see his life changing, and how would we see him self-actualizing and self-realizing? Where does he end up?”
My initial inclination that Galasso’s character’s arc is a downward spiral turns out to be off the mark. “It’s definitely not a Mickey Rourke film,” Breaux says with a laugh. “It starts out pretty serious and becomes a lighter piece.”
Those familiar with Breaux’s work are in for another surprise. Every one of her films, beginning with the 2001 feature I’d Rather Be Gone and all the way up to the 2009 short Lucha (winner of the Audience Award at the San Francisco InternationalLGBT Film Festival) has had gay themes. Mother Country takes off in a different direction, even if Breaux’s fascination with freedom and difference remains front and center.
“There are no gay people in the film, although the crew is mostly gay,” Breaux says. “I do consider this a gay film, not because of the content but because of the process, the players involved and the communities that I hope to reach. We filmed the crime scene, and we had this ragtag [queer and mixed-race] crew in an African American neighborhood of East Austin, and we all co-existed. The bridge building that we’re doing, even on a small level, is I believe bringing people together who would not normally hang out.”
Breaux and her crew of seven, plus Galasso, are working with local actors along the route. Scheduled to reach L.A. this Friday, they’ll shoot all of next week with Pickett, Gill and other Southland talent. Meanwhile, the Austin hip-hop artist Nov 27 is writing music for the early scenes and S.F.-based Marlon Hauser (of Siddhartha) is composing a mood-based, acoustic score for the rest of the picture.
Sounding fresh after some 10 days on the road, Breaux concedes the experience is not unlike touring with a band. “We have a lot of late nights,” she says. “Some people go out to bars afterward. I’ve been trying to go to bed early, if 2 a.m. is early, and I’ve been getting about four hours of sleep every night. Everyone else is averaging maybe six or seven.”
Breaux doesn’t drink coffee, a serious disadvantage on a compressed shoot, but she trained (in a manner of speaking) by sleeping about four hours a night for the last six months. The filmmaker, who studied creative writing at Stanford and earned her master’s in playwriting at San Francisco State, aims to finish Mother Country by the end of the year.