To be young
Former Chicoan Miles Montalbano gets some attention with his latest film
After his school years in Chico, Miles Montalbano went on to play bass in San Francisco band Sister Double Happiness and first ventured into filmmaking by doubling as director of the group’s “no-budget” music videos. He did a stint in film school and eventually dropped out, but has continued making short films, music videos and political documentary work. His first feature-length release was the Jonathan Richman concert film, Take Me to the Plaza.
The 41-year-old Montalbano (son of Pageant Theatre co-owner Roger Montalbano) has written and directed his latest indie feature film, Revolution Summer, which follows a group of 20-somethings trying to find themselves amidst the current political and social turmoil. The film premiered at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival and has since been shown at festivals in Montreal and Valencia, Spain.
For its San Francisco screenings, Revolution Summer won a warm reception from reviewers. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle praised it as “an ambitious and promising first feature about four young adults living in the Bay Area and reacting to an increasingly oppressive national climate in distinctly different ways.”
CN&R: How and where did you find your cast?
Miles Maltalbano: The main cast were all local [Bay Area] actors found through holding auditions. Mackenzie Firgens, whom I knew from the film Groove, was cast first and we cast the other roles around her. Many of the supporting roles however were friends who I thought would be good for one particular part or another.
Are there things you’d like to have included in the film, but weren’t able to get?
Even while we were shooting the film I was rethinking what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. The original script was much more linear as far as story goes. But during editing I found myself drawn more toward certain aspects of the film and away from others. So a lot of scenes that we shot and that I liked very much on their own were not working in my revised vision of what I wanted the film to be about. I also liked the confusion and ambiguity that the new direction of the film brought. It felt truthful.
Did Jonathan Richman write music for specific scenes? What was the working relationship on that?
When we first started talking about music for the film, I had an idea that I wanted the music to inform the film as much as the film informed the music. Jonathan would come to the set and watch some of the scenes being filmed and try and catch the vibe of what we were doing then would go into the studio and record. When we were done shooting I had all of this music that I was able to immediately start playing with during the editing. I loved it so much that my first cut of the film was almost wall to wall music, but we ultimately ended up using it a lot more sparingly to better effect.Nudity is prominent, and occasionally startling, in the film. Was it an integral part of your original concept? Did it present problems for the actors in the actual shooting?
The nudity was written into the script, but it was in there because it felt like that was truthful to what the scene was about. I wasn’t thinking of nudity for the sake of being titillating or exploitative. I also knew that it wasn’t crucial to the film and that if we had to we could work around it. I talked to the actors about it beforehand and if they felt uncomfortable with it that was fine. It wasn’t a prerequisite in casting. I appreciate the courage that the actors showed in those scenes and I think it made those scenes more powerful.
Did any aspects of filming music videos carry over into this project?
I really haven t done that much music video work. I made a couple of short music videos and did a full-length concert video for Jonathan Richman, but that’s about it. I am not really interested in them that much. But everything I have done has informed me on some level.
Is there a special symbiosis between musicians and moviemakers in your generation?
I don t know. A lot of what I see in mainstream films these days is just random wall-to-wall pop music that just seems put there to sell records or maybe give the film some sort of hip credibility, and doesn’t have much to do with the film itself. There are a lot of bands and musicians crossing over into doing soundtrack work also. Some of it’s good; some of it seems like a vanity thing.
You quote Rainer Werner Fassbinder in the press materials, but your actual practice seems like a cross between Jon-Luc Godard and Nick Cassavetes.
Godard and Cassavetes were probably in the forefront of filmmakers I was influenced by while doing this film, especially Godard’s Masculin, Féminin. Also, [Michelangelo] Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. But my influences are numerous and evolving and encompass many things beyond film.
Did seeing movies at the Pageant as a kid play any role in your education as a filmmaker?
Sure. I even worked there for a while I was in high school. The Pageant was showing the L.A. punk rock documentary The Decline of Western Civilization and I had the key to the theater. So one day some friends and I cut school and stole a case of beer off of a beer truck and went down to have a private matinee screening. Unfortunately, we ended up blowing out the theater’s speaker system. It was traced back to me as we had left behind an incriminating trail of beer bottles. I was fired that night.