Spotlight: An interview with Peter Falls ("Roadside")

Festigious' Best Picture (December 2019), Roadside, tells the story of a young woman who is confronted with a decision when she meets the brother of her deceased friend at his roadside memorial.

Our judging team praised the writer-director, Peter Falls, and his team: "In its short runtime, Peter Falls' narrative hits all the right emotional notes. This multi-talented filmmaker (who wrote, directed and also acted in the film) builds the mystery, the characters, the drama, the suspension, the emotion, and of course- the finale. Part of the reason the story works so well is Nick Nazmi's fantastic editing, particularly the seamless transitions between past and present (inter-cutting locations). Tessa Ferrer is such an amazing and genuine actress, her portrayal of Piper provides the character with an exciting personality (to fall in love with!), while Peter Falls' Eddy is wonderful and you instantly feel connected with his character as well. The chemistry between two is certainly noticeable. The entire trio, together with Mat Wright as the brother, did a great job! Cinematographer Ben Mullen also deserves a special shout out for his beautiful compositions."

We invited Peter to join us for an interview.

Peter, we're delighted to hear more about you and the team behind Roadside. Let's start with you. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, right by the city of angels, you were probably interested in films pretty early on! What were some of the films/tv shows that inspired you?

I loved stop-motion animation as a kid. I still do. Homemade special effects, squibs, blood, low budget tricks to elicit big oo's and aw's. Roadside is not that at all, I realize, but that's probably where it started. Friends of mine will make fun of me for this but early Spielberg made me go, oh that's what I want to do. Duel, Close Encounters. And then later on I'd discover more nuanced story telling in PTA, Punch Drunk, and Cassavetes and Baumbach. Opening Night is one of my favorite movies. Roadside's much more literal, a reality based narrative unfolding, but the voices of these greats is back there in my mind while grappling with character.

At Kenyon College, you actually majored in English... What drew you into acting?

I always put myself in my movies and I was making really shitty movies in college, god some real stinkers. People were always saying I could act and then someone said "Go take Ben Viccellio's class." So I did and fell in love with it and just remained active in the drama department. But story above all reigns supreme in my priories for this medium, so...English. Plus Kenyon's the literary epicenter of midwest liberal arts schools.

director Peter Falls, actor Tessa Ferrer, dp Ben Mullen, hmu Kadija Moulton

So... let's dive into the production of the Best Picture winner, Roadside. It's such a memorable story and the trio of actors (you included) did a fantastic job with the characters. What was the inspiration for it? Are any of the characters based on people you know in real life?

No not really. I've always been struck by roads as narrative backdrops. Obviously the metaphorical implication of their purpose but simply their pastoral quality. And death. Roads and death. They can lead out of a place or into a place but also kill you. I had a feature idea about someone falling in love with the widow of a victim in a hit-and-run and the big twist is they're the culprit. So sorta scaled that back into a short. The goal of Roadside was to tell a clear and impactful story that unfolded purposefully. I developed the script for a year with my father, Kevin Falls, who's a television writer. I'd write a draft, he'd gimme notes, rinse and repeat. And I think we achieved what we were intending. Grateful to him.

actor Tessa Ferrer, director Peter Falls, AD Delaney Buffett, producer Jayne Roberts

You were fortunate to work with Tessa Ferrer (who won Best Actress for her role as Piper), the chemistry between you was incredible. Was she involved in the project from the get-go? Hod how did you work with her to achieve such a nuanced performance?

I met Tessa through my sister, Caroline Falls, who met her on the set of a previous project she worked on. I courted Tessa as an actor-networking resource initially, figuring she was way out of Roadside's league--just wanted to make the connect. However, upon meeting her, I knew I wouldn't be happy with anyone else playing Piper. She responded positively to the material so we went from there. Even as a writer I find it extremely difficult to put into words Tessa's natural abilities as an actor. I mean, there is no achieving that nuanced performance. Tessa is already there and as a director it's really my job to stay out of her way. And acting opposite her made me better, to this day. Her generosity and patience and presence cannot be taught. I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart.

While we're on the subject since I don't think it comes up again in your interview q's, want to include Mat Wright in my praise. Could not ask for a better older brother. Mat's can swing from playful to sorrowful in a line. He's incredible. Also, as he knows, a SWEETHEART.

actor Tessa Ferrer, director Peter Falls, AD Delaney Buffett

You're a gifted actor yourself - from This Is Us to Roadside, you have a wide range. How do you normally prepare for a role, and how did you specifically prep for Eddy's character in Roadside?

Thank you, that's sweet. Um, hard to prepare for a role when you're going crazy with pre production. Eddy's a kid with problems, so I could already relate.

Let's talk about some technicalities. How many shooting days did you have? How did you secure the locations (the road, the bar, etc?), which camera did you use and how did you raise the budget for the film?

We did three days, a location a day. My very talented and hardworking producers, Jayne Roberts and Chloe Corner, absolutely crushed securing locations. Permits are apparently a hoop-jumping nightmare to secure and they did it in like a day. The road is up in Piru, CA, west of Santa Clarita, in Ventura County. It's this amazing little township with a generous and industry-aware population. Lotta people shoot up there so it's expensive. CA Highway Patrol officers had to come in and shut down the road because it was a long weekend or something and there's this big recreational lake at the top of this mountain in Piru and people were speeding and drinking. Delaney Buffett my AD on the walkies with the cops saved lives that day. Ugh, magical place, great day. The bar is Little Bar at Wilshire and La Brea secured through a fellow VO actor Angelo Vacco, special thanks to him. And Roadside was partly self-financed but i'm gonna keep the other financiers on the DL but thanks to them all.

DP Ben Mullen

How does it feel to wear the director's hat while acting at the same time?

It feels great. But it's hard. To think spatially and then be in that space as well as clocking other performances. Cassavetes had to block those scenes in the play in Opening Night, block the PLAYS!, figure out coverage, camera placement, keep his eye on Gena Rowlands...I mean, huh? You know what you need is a good DP. When we did the apartment scene Ben Mullen, my DP, my boy, pulled me aside when we felt like I wasn't getting there. He graciously and considerately asked me if he could give me direction. I lit up. I needed it. The scene was engrossing and I was having trouble wearing all my hats and he saw this and he assisted me. So if you're gonna do it get a good DP.

sound James Wasserman, gaffer Ryan Oppedisano, key grip Matt Planer, actor Mat Wright, actor Tessa Ferrer

The editing of the film is fantastic (specifically, the present-past-present intercuts). What was your favorite part of the post-production process?

Nichola Nazmi, one of my closest friends and creative partners. We started a production company last year so we could incorporate a movie we made after Roadside that we co-directed. Keep an eye out for Got Your Tongue. I took the hard drives with all the raw footage of Roadside, flew out to New York where Nick is based and we sat down and edited a rough cut in a week. Locked it a week after that and then I took it back to LA for color. Only with Nick can I go insane and cram like that and enjoy it.

Were there any unexpected challenges during the shoot?

No, actually, mostly expected. No fires. If there were I don't remember and Jayne and Chloe put them out without my knowledge.

Do you have any tips for creating a good atmosphere on set?

This is a good question. If you're the writer and director it's your vision but you will not see your vision realized without your team. So treating everyone with the utmost gratitude and respect--I mean, these people you have to realize you're indebted to. And even if you feel like nothing's working you have to remain positive because people will feel trapped otherwise. Set can be a hellish place and morale is essential. Roadside never got hellish though, astounding people.

gaffer Ryan Oppedisano, producer Chloe Corner, key grip Matt Planer

Having worked on a big variety of content, is there a medium that you feel more comfortable with? What kind of projects would you like to be involved in?

Indies, movies, features. I don't want to do TV. I love TV, TV is my background I grew up around it but I want to make movies. And maybe theater again one day. And I don't want to stop acting. If you're reading this and you're an independent filmmaker, contact me, I'll be in your movie. Maybe, haha.

What projects are you currently working on?

In post with Got Your Tongue with Nick that we directed, produced, developed, he shot and I acted in. Insane, too many jobs. Currently in NY editing it. Developing something down the line with my sister, Caroline Falls, the most talented writer of the family, sorry dad. After that my old writing partner Yusef Taylor and I got something on the burner.

Is there anything you wish to add or anyone you wish to thank?

Yes. I want to thank my mother, Julie Falls, because she hasn't been mentioned but her support is unparalleled in my life. And I want to thank the rest of the team: Eloise Ayala production design and Charlotte Hass who stepped in as art depo, they were amazingly detail oriented and made everything pop. Riley Keeton and Adrienne Durazo (1st and 2nd ACs), James Wasserman (sound), Steve Bone NY based mixer, Jeremy Sawyer (color), Ryan Oppedisano (gaffer), Matt Palner (key grip), Greg Arch (steadicam), Devyn Grassia (script), Kadija Moulton (hmu), Vern Hass (PA), special thanks to Dustin Waldman who helped cut a sequence, talented filmmaker. Also Grant Hyun who held my hand through the prepro process, he's the GOAT, hell of a filmmaker, close friend.

And then finally, singling out music--Ethan Primason my (not literal) brother scored this beautifully and will score more of my work. Ryan Mach my also (non literal) brother had an original song at the bar. And then Olivia Kaplan, the limitlessly talented musician GAVE ME HER HIT!! "Barely Above." Can you believe it? Check her out on spotify and our music video "Comfort Food" that we were both in.

Where can our readers follow more of your work?

Eh, I'm bad at self promotion but I guess my website peterfalls.com is a good way to contact me, see some of my material and sure, Insta, @pmfalls. Hey, Festigious, thanks so much for the recognition, very grateful. I wish you the best.

Roadside - Trailer

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