Film : Natural Selection

I didn’t expect to feel such great kinship with Linda. At the start of “Natural Selection,” she’s mousey. She seems weak. She wears mom jeans, and isn’t even a mom. Played with great skill by Rachael Harris, Linda is a barren, Christian housewife from Texas. Her conservatism runs so deep, she questions the morality of having sex with her own husband.

Her very sheltered world is rocked by the discovery that her husband has secretly visited a sperm bank for years, enjoying some porn along the way. A mid-donation stroke lets the cat out of the bag, and Linda sets out to find the one known offspring of her husband’s secret endeavors.

Linda discovers that Raymond (Matt O’Leary) is like no son she could have imagined. Their journey is unexpected, even inspiring, and laced with plenty of humorous moments for good measure. One strength of this film lies in Linda’s choices, which neither pander to stereotypes, nor follow a predictable path.

Another strength – its supporting elements, from the make-up (Matt O’Leary’s face is cut up for most of the film), to the music, to the sets, all balance the bizarre with a very real, grounded feeling quite masterfully. It would be easy to assume that Linda and Raymond’s last hotel was some grubby $29 a night motel the crew used as-is. In reality, it was created handily and on the cheap by production designer Michael Bricker. The music features a SXSW award-winning score and well-curated soundtrack, chosen by Justin Gage of Aquarium Drunkard fame. I got a chance to chat with Michael and Justin about their work on the film.

[image title=”michael-bricker” size=”full” id=”22304″ align=”left” style=”padding:10px;” linkto=”full” ]Production Designer, Michael Bricker

MOKB: How did you get involved in the film?
Michael Bricker : Someone who knew someone. I was living in Austin at the time, and was recommended for the project by a friend.

MOKB : You had an incredibly small budget to work with. How did you pull it off?

Michael Bricker : Lots of thrift shopping, renting and searching. What we couldn’t find or afford, we built from scratch. We wanted the snowglobe to look a certain way, and couldn’t find one, so we made it. Smithville was such a generous and accommodating town, so several key items were borrowed. Additionally, we shot several different scenes in one or two locations. All 4 hospital/clinic scenes were shot at the same hospital. For the first two motel rooms, we simply rotated the camera 90 degrees and flipped the headboard.

MOKB : What’s the one detail or scene you were most proud of?
Michael Bricker : We did a lot for the final motel room. We started with this abandoned motel that needed a lot of work. It fit with the story however, so we took it from empty white shell and completed the drywall, added wallpaper, painted and aged the walls, then added the set dressing – a mixture of bought, borrowed, found and rented items. This location is a turning point in the story, and since we were able to design the room from scratch, we were able to the story and significance through the design. I also think Linda’s bedroom is particularly good.

MOKB: Did you have to change anything about the movie to accommodate the budget?
Michael Bricker : Not really. We all worked to deliver the story and script as director Robbie Pickering had envisioned. Part of the challenge and creativity of working in independent film is the budgetary constraints. If we couldn’t afford something, we simply worked around it, always coming back to the story to make sure we were making the right call.

MOKB : What’s next for you?
Michael Bricker : I’m always looking for the next project. There are a few good ones brewing, and I’m hoping production will start later this year or early next year. That, plus continuing to expand the work I’m doing with People for Urban Progress.

[image title=”justin-gage” size=”full” id=”22305″ align=”left” style=”padding:10px;” linkto=”” ]Music supervisor, Justin Gage

MOKB : How did you make the leap from music to film?
Justin Gage : I’d known the filmmaker, Robbie Pickering, for some time here in Los Angeles and we had talked off and on about working on something together. The project turned out to be Natural Selection, a screenplay I had read of Robbie’s a couple of years before and loved.

MOKB : Part of your job is to match a moment to the music. What was your best match?
Justin Gage : I found the scope of the Futurebirds material used throughout the film to be a really nice fit tonally with the atmosphere of the overall picture. I’m a great fan of both Richard Swift’s “Would You” and Karen Dalton’s “Something On Your Mind,” so it was great seeing those come to life in the context of the film.

MOKB : Was there a song or artist you really wanted to include, but couldn’t fit in?
Justin Gage : There were a number of songs and artists I considered, but for one reason or another did not make the final cut. Perhaps they’ll pop up in the special features…

MOKB : How did the score shape your choices?
Justin Gage : Throughout the process Robbie and I were working with various temporary scores prior to the entry of the original compositions. We had discussed what he was looking for and, just as importantly, what he was not, so I had a pretty good idea of the kinds of stuff to bring to the table.

MOKB : What’s next for you? Film or music?
Justin Gage : Both. In terms of music supervision, I’m keeping an eye out for the right project. It’s a natural fit, and scratches a certain creative itch.

MOKB : And then I asked both Michael and Justin the questions everyone’s got to be asking – What’s your reaction to the Oscar buzz bestowed on the film by The Guardian?
MB : We’re all excited, and really believe we’ve got something that everyone will love. Rachael and Matt’s performances are so moving and rich that it’s hard not to enjoy this film. Now it’s about waiting, and watching the momentum build.
JG : Yeah, that is obviously super cool.

The verdict:
Put this film in your must-see bucket. Having picked up awards at SXSW, Little Rock Film Festival and Indianapolis International Film Festival, this surprising film is writer and director Robbie Pickering’s first feature debut. Expect big things to come from him.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Australia for the Melbourne International Film Festival catch “Natural Selection” Tuesday, Aug 2nd @ 4:00PM, ACMI 2 in Melbourne, AU. If you’re in other cities, hold tight. Since it was picked up by The Cinema Guild, a theatrical release is expected this fall.

View the trailer:

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