Running Time: 109 Minutes
Suggested Rating: R for Brief Strong Language and Sexual Situations
Year follows the lives of four adult sisters over the course of twelve months, from one New Year’s Eve to the following New Year’s Eve, and the life of their mother, for whom this is her last year.
Opening on New Years Eve, we are introduced to the women of the Stone family:
Ava Stone (Bonnie Bennett) – mid-fifties. The oldest of four daughters, Ava had been a successful singer in Europe earlier in her life, but is now something of a recluse, working on her house, which she shares in a loveless marriage with Brendan Carre (Blair Leatherwood), who had written a successful novel as a young man, but is now reduced to teaching writing at a local college. Ava has a strained relationship with her grown daughter, Lana (Kristen Heitman), who lives in San Francisco.
Sydney Stone (Christine Nicholson) – mid-forties, is the second oldest. Perpetually restless, she is never content with the same job or the same man for long. Currently living with Miles Sanders (Eric Wheeler), a public radio personality who is intrigued with Ava’s past life as a performer.
Vivian Stone (Carol Miranda) – late thirties. Her New Year’s Resolution is to get married, have a child and write a book in the coming year. What she lacks is any motivation to accomplish anything. She lives next door to Ava and shares her house with and cares for their mother Doris (Hazel Johnson), the family matriarch. Doris has led a dysfunctional life, which she has passed on to her daughters. She spends most of her days holed up in her room with her vodka as terminal illness slowly consumes her.
Gina Stone (Katherine Pappa) – thirties, the youngest, career-driven and a single mother to Chris (Savannah Swain), the youngest of a new generation of Stone women. However, as the corporation Gina has dedicated herself to faces reorganization, she faces the choice between her professional future and the commitment to her daughter.
Brendan’s writing classes are in the morning, leaving his afternoons to be spent with Joan (Cheantell Munn), which he writes about in a daily journal of his conquests. Joan is in a loveless marriage with John (David Harris), who works away in San Francisco several days a week.
It is on one of these days in San Francisco that John bumps into Lana, Ava’s daughter. When Ava was a young woman working in San Francisco, she had an intense love affair with an older married man, which produced her only daughter Lana. Now Lana mirrors her mother’s life becoming involved with John. Her own life soon begins to parallel her mother’s in more ways than she had expected.
Over the course of the next 365 days, each woman will be tested about the direction they choose to continue their lives and how they will handle saying goodbye to the past chapter.
Hazel has performed in over seventy productions on community and professional stagesm playing Daisy in Driving Miss Daisy, Fonsia in The Gin Game, and many Agatha Christie women. On screen, Hazel has appeared in the TV series, Raven, and several northern California independent films.
Bonnie has enjoyed a career in musical theater for almost three decades playing lead roles in Auntie Mame, Man of La Mancha (where she broke her leg on opening night then finished out a three month run) and at The Studio Theatre in Sacramento in Six Women With Brain Death for three years. She has appeared in national commercials for Suzuki, inPower for producer-director Michael Dryhurst, which her husband Mike Carroll photographed and edited. Year, in addition to being her first feature film, is her first experience at producing. Like her character Ava, she loves painting (walls) and yard work.
Carol is also a veteran of musical theater, appearing with Bonnie and Christine in Six Women With Brain Death and in a two year run of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. She also appeared in the short thriller Power and was not given the option of not appearing in Year. Writer-director Mike Carroll based much of the character of Vivian on Carol’s own neurosis and insomnia.
Christine is a founding member of Synergy Stage, for whom she has appeared in Fat Men in Skirts, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Private Lives, Closer, and most recently in the original musical Adventures in Shakespeareland; or, How Willy Ruined My Life. She is also a leading director of productions of Tartuffe and Top Girls for City Theatre and The Conduct of Life for UC Berkeley. Christine holds an MFA in Theatre from UCD and teaches Theatre at Sacramento City College and for the Actors Training Program at Solano College in Fairfield.
Katherine is a tireless actor in the Sacramento and northern California theatre, often juggling rehearsing for one show while appearing in one or two others in the same week. How she ever found time to squeeze in a film role is a testament to her sacrafice for her art. Generous to a fault, she even volunteered her own apartment as the film location for Sydney and Miles’ apartment. (Of course, she was rehearsing for a play on those evenings.)
Kristen is the on-air personality for Radio Disney AM 1470 in Sacramento. She also appears in musical theater, having just finished her fifth extended run with Carol Miranda inI Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. She is appearing in the independent film Farewell Bender with Kip Pardue (Remember the Titans), Eddie Kaye Thomas (American Pie) and Kaylie Cuoco (8 Simple Rules) to be released in 2006.
Savannah had never met director Mike Carroll until the afternoon she met him to start filming her scenes. An outstanding student, and a natural actor, she has appeared in several television commercials. Year is her first effort as an actor in playing a character over an extended period of time.
Blair Leatherwood has over 30 years of experience on stage. He holds an MFA degree in Acting from Brandeis University. His previous film experience has put him before the cameras of Barry Shear, Neal Israel, Clint Eastwood and John Frankenheimer. The Yearexperience (truly that, a year no less!) was an education in itself. He feels very privileged to have worked with Mike Carroll and such a talented group of actors.
Eric got his start in musical theatre in Sacramento in the late 1970’s with such stars as Gordan McCrae, Howard Keel, Carol Lawrence, and Tom Posten. At nineteen in New York he appeared in the Off-Broadway shows The Pirates of Penzance, Babes in Toyland andThe Merry Widow. Returning to Sacramento to settle down, he remains active in theatre, radio, television, and film working alongside Sharon Stone, Peter O’Toole, Don Cheadle, and Ray Liotta and Will Smith in the upcoming The Pursuit of Happiness. He had the leading role in the 1999 feature My Sweet Suicide. Eric’s pursuit of happiness continues with Lisa, his wife of nineteen years, and his ten year old son, Christian.
Michael was a child prodigy, entering the British film industry as a camera assistant (clapper-loader) before he had a driver’s license. He has worked on such classic films as A Night To Remember, Pulp, Superman, The Naked Runner and as producer on Excalibur, The Emerald Forest and Hope And Glory, for which he was nominate for the Academy Award for Best Picture and won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture. Michael has been an enthusiastic supporter of digital filmmaking for it’s ease and economy, most recently writing, producing and directing Power, starring Bonnie Bennett and Carol Miranda, with Mike Carroll shooting and editing. For his scenes in Year, Michael not only acted but co-wrote, and enjoys a well-earned “additional dialogue” credit.
David Harris’ has appeared in productions at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre and the La Jolla Playhouse and has appeared on screen Penny Marshall’sRenaissance Man.
Cheantell has appeared in many stage productions in the Sacramento area, often alongside her best friend from college Katherine Pappa and under the direction of Christine Nicholson. She was also recommended her niece Savannah Swain for the part of “Chris”.Year is her first feature length film and the longest shooting schedule she’d experienced. Her first goal after filming was completed was to visit the hairdresser and change her hair style.
Lori found her path to the cast through the oldest “in” in the film industry – through someone she knows. In this case Bonnie Bennett, lead actor and co-producer of Year, and her mother. Lori is a veteran of several Off-Broadway shows and soap operas. She lives in New York City with her husband Doug and eight year-old son Sam.
KELLEY DUHAIN (Pamela)
Kelley DuHain, 22, is currently at University of Santa Barbara studying Dramatic Arts. She has a leading role in the independent film Pink Ponies directed by Jason Okamoto, to be released in 2006. She enjoys soccer and surfing. She has been cast in Mike Carroll’s next film Small World to begin filming in summer 2006.
TIM HERRERA (Tom)
Tim is an author, writer, newspaper columnist and former television news reporter and anchor. He is the author of three humor books on family and parenting and publishes an online column and newsletter (www.timherrera.com). Tim is often found speaking to library and school groups about writing and publishing. Sometimes, he’s even invited. He played the role of Tom in YEAR – his first acting role – because he owns more than one necktie.
ROBIN WILLIAMS (Deedee)
[bio to follow]
RICHARD YORK (German Translator)
[bio to follow]
MIKE CARROLL (writer-director-cinematographer-editor)
Mike is an award-winning documentary and news cameraman with over twenty-five years experience shooting for television. For the past several years he has been turning his creative efforts towards independent filmmaking, first with the documentary Dog Soldiers,about professional dog walkers in New York City, which won Best Documentary at the Seattle Underground Film Festival and has been on pay-per-view in New York for three years. Mike has teamed as cinematographer-editor with Michael Dryhurst on several short films, which Mike has termed, “my boot camp in proper British filmmaking.”
Year is not only his first feature film, but his first time working from his own script and directing actors.
Mike hopes to make a biopic about maverick film legend Russ Meyer, the producer-director-writer-cameraman-editor of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! who was a friend and mentor to Mike for over twenty years.
His latest film Nightbeats, starring his wife and co-producer Bonnie Bennett, and her daughter Lori Foxworth, is currently playing in the film festival circuit.
A YEAR of Total Filmmaking
Frank Capra worked by the motto, “One man, one film.” He felt the best films were those that were not made by committee but by one person following their own focused idea or vision. The filmmakers I’ve always most admired have been the “hyphenates” – Stanley Kubrick, Claude Lelouch, Russ Meyer, David Lean, Haskell Wexler, John Cassavetes, Robert Rodriquez, Steven Soderbergh – producer-director- writer-cinematographer-editors. Those not satisfied to be “Directors” too often seen in baseball cap, dark sunglasses, nursing a coffee huddled in front of a monitor and away from the set, but “Total Filmmakers” who shoulder as many jobs as they can to make sure their films conform as closely as possible to their own concepts of cinema and storytelling.
In setting out to make Year my goal was not only to prove ( to myself as much as to anybody else) that I could make a full-length feature film, but to make a film that adhered to my own cinematic values, both in story and style.
When I watch a movie it’s always in the hope of making a discovery; to see a film that opens up something about the world and the human condition that I didn’t know or hadn’t seen before. Such recent films are The Constant Gardener and Capote, or Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland and In This World.
I wanted to make a film that I wanted to see.
Year was paid for out of my own pocket, using real locations for sets, scenes involving actors shot entirely hand-held and almost always with only existing lighting. Actors were told to keep their performances as natural as possible. Dialogue was kept as close as possible to the way people might actually talk. The most common direction going into a scene would be, “Okay, let’s just roll one off. Just let it go and let’s see what happens. And make me believe it.”
My wife Bonnie Bennett is an actor and hates auditions. Actors are generally not told much about the roles they are auditioning for and even less of what the director is looking for. Then the readings are very brief and the actor is quickly ushered out to make way for the next in line. The whole audition process leaves an actor with a sense of confusion and humiliation and usually wondering why they bothered in the first place. So in starting this film I decided I wasn’t going to do that.
As Bonnie has been an actor here in Sacramento for over a dozen years and knew most of the best actors around, I turned to her for casting. She started calling people she knew, e-mailed them the script and invited them over to the house. I’d play a scene or two from Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland so they could see the kind of naturalistic acting and hand-held, available light filming style I wanted to have. I also assured them that I knew they were all working actors either in rehearsal or appearing in shows; that this project was going to take anywhere from eight months to a year to complete, and that I would work around their schedules.
Christine Nicholson, who agreed to play “Sydney”, is also one of the better theater directors in town and recommended several people with whom she’d worked. On her word alone we e-mailed scripts and invited them over.
For the part of the little girl, “Chris”, one of Christine’s recommendations, actor Cheantell Munn, volunteered her neice, who had done some plays and appeared in some local TV commercials. Chaentell e-mailed a snapshot of Savannah Swain and I said fine. “Chris” was a very simply written low-key part, so how hard could it be. In fact, I never met Swain until the first time I filmed with her, which was just a simple little moment of her playing soccer with Katherine Pappa, playing “Gina”, her mother in the film.
Bonnie and I never held auditions or readings with any of the actors. We knew the actors had several years, if not decades, of stage experience and they wouldn’t still be performing if they couldn’t act, so I felt that if they trusted me to make my first film with them, I could trust them to give me their talent and free time.
While most of the theatre actors had never worked in a film before, the few who had were not impressed by the outcome of their local work and preferred not to discuss it. I made them a promise. I gave them my word that I would never make them look bad and that this would be one film that, when all was said and done, they would be proud to show to other people as an example of their work.
PICTURES, MUSIC & CLOUDS
Dialogue is the least interesting part of cinema.
Over the past number of years American films have been relying more and more heavily on dialogue to communicate and explain movie stories rather than using the moving images that make up the movie and allowing audiences to absorb the story more viscerally.
That’s why, for me, the 1970’s films of director-editor Hal Ashby – Harold and Maude, The Landlord, Coming Home and The Last Detail – have always stood out as masterworks of storytelling with pictures and music. When planning Year, I wanted to convey significant sections of the story with combinations of music and imagery and avoid as much dialogue and exposition as possible.
To apply this to my first dramatic film, I started shooting clouds. As the timeframe of Yearspans one full year, I needed visual devices to convey passages of time and seasons. To that end I had planned to use beautiful time-lapse sequences.
During the year that I was writing the script, I tested filming large dynamic landscapes of farmland, hillsides, and city skylines. I shot anything that looked interesting – that had dynamic cloud patterns to help fill out the top portion of the frame – and let these shots roll for twenty minutes to an hour. Then I’d load them into my eMac and speed them up ten to twenty times so that they’d be only twenty seconds or a minute long.
What I discovered was that the locales looked too specific to one place, whereas the moving and re-shaping clouds at the top of the frame were beautiful and amazingly hypnotic.
At that moment I stopped worrying about driving around and looking for interesting locations to shoot. I narrowed the time-lapse sequences to only using interesting cloudscapes, which I shot almost exclusively from my backyard.
Filming the most interesting clouds rapidly became an obsession and my daily routine for almost all of 2004 and the first half of 2005 became something like this:
I’d wake up before dawn, look out the window and if there were any clouds, I’d roll out of bed, set up my Panasonic DVX 100A on the back patio, angle it up at an intriguing part of the sky, lock it down, start the tape rolling and go back to bed. Several times a day I’d go out the back window and if there was any decent sky, I’d drag out the DVX 100A and start rolling.
Often a month would go by without shooting a frame. Summertime in Sacramento is most commonly a blistering empty sky devoid of anything for 360 degrees for weeks at a time. Then a weather front would roll in from the Coast and I’d roll six hours of tape in a day.
For the music soundtrack, I originally planned on reaching out to local bands and musicians as well as selecting classical music in the public domain and finding local musicians to perform them. In my heart of hearts I really wanted to have a new-age electronic score – but what, where and how?
Then Tom Duhain, a good friend and co-worker, who is also plugged into the alternative music scene, introduced me to the website of a new independent label called Spotted Peccary and played a sample track from the site by an artist named Erik Wollo. It was moody, evocative, dynamic and cerebral all at the same time. It was emotions streaming through the subconscious. It was mind music. Tom’s very first suggestion was exactly the sound I was looking for. I ordered Erik Wollo’s CD of Wind Journey that very night.
By October 2003 I had a first full-draft of the script and gave it to my wife Bonnie, who would be co-producing and starring in the film. She didn’t like it. She felt the story was cold and the characters uninvolving. Listening to Erik’s music, I began a radical re-write. I’d listen to the CD of Wind Journey as I drove and was electrified. On this one disk was every range of emotion I was looking for. Yet it was also frustrating because I knew that I couldn’t use it.
Around this time, Thanksgiving, 2003, I had twenty or thirty hours of good footage of clouds, which I had time-lapsed down to about 45 minutes and put this on a tape with the music of Erik Wollo’s Wind Journey. I’d put this tape in and let it play on the TV as background when people would be over during the Holidays. The result was amazing. One by one, people’s heads would turn and they’d be drawn to screen and become entranced by the patterns of clouds shifting to the haunting, emotive music.
Principal photography of Year began in March 2004 and both the shooting and editing was very intense by mid-summer. By this time I had been exploring the music of many Sacramento area musicians and, while it was very good, there was nothing that matched the depth and power of Wind Journey.
One afternoon I was mentioning my dead-ends to Tom Duhain, who had pointed me towards Wind Journey in the first place, and he suggested that I try giving Spotted Peccary a call, tell them what I was doing and ask if I could use the CD for my soundtrack.
It sounded stupefyingly simple. And unlikely. But I did. And they said “yes”.
Howard Givens, the president of Spotted Peccary Music, was involved in the film world himself and was well aware of the odds that beginning filmmakers are up against. He was very supportive and gave me permission to use Wind Journey as the soundtrack for Year. The phone call had exceeded all my expectations. I had my dream music.
The remainder of 2004 was dominated with emailing actors for their availability and getting whomever I could together for two or three hours on evenings and weekend afternoons, which was when they weren’t rehearsing or appearing in plays.
While those brief filming sessions might sound like a chaotic filming method – shooting frantically to get a lot done in a limited amount of time – on the contrary, they were amazingly relaxed. I had several factors working in my favor:
First, the actors all worked with each other on stage and were comfortable. Also, being theatrically trained, they came prepared, knew their lines and their characters and, being used to rehearsing and performing the same show over and over, they were incredibly at ease doing our little scenes over and over.
Added to that, the few actors who had film experience were used to working with sizeable crews who could crowd a set and be distracting. On almost all of the shooting of Year, I was the crew. I was the person who wired them with radio mics. I worked with them on the direction and I ran the camera. And as I was shooting without a tripod or dolly and with little or no augmented lighting, the clutter of equipment was at a minimum. It was much more similar to documentary shooting. On a handful of days I did have the valuable assistance of Dominick Bernal as a sound boom operator. But, even then, the crew was just the two of us.
Shooting in a naturalistic style with experienced actors who were friends made for a warm and productive working environment. There was almost no downtime. On the rare occasion where shooting ran longer than expected, rather than keep people late, I’d call it a day and we’d pick up from there the next time.
One night I was shooting with David Harris and Kristen Heitman and had scheduled an arrival time of 6:30 with shooting by seven, and wrapping no later than 9:30. We started shooting outside in David’s van in front of a neighbor’s house after dark. Then I strung some low-wattage dashboard lights in his van and filmed a few scenes of him driving on the freeway. When we finished and headed back to the house he looked at the clock in the dashboard and said, “My God, it’s 9:15. You said we’d be finished by 9:30. You’ve got it down to the minute!”
At the end of February, 2005, with three scenes still to be shot, I ran a loose assembly of the whole film for Bonnie and Michael Dryhurst, who had won the Golden Globe for producing Hope and Glory and had critiqued the Year script in its early stages, as well as played the small but pivotal role of “Morris”, “Ava’s” former manager. Michael’s always said that he enjoys the editing of a film more than anything – “because, Mike, that’s where the movie is made.”
Two hours and thirty-three minutes later the film faded out, the lights came on with a collective sigh and notes began to be compared. But it was Michael’s view that, while the film was overlong and still rough, there was a good film there. Then he added, “Mike, where did you find your actors? There’s not a single weak performance in the whole film!”
Monday, March 7, 2005 – I still needed one simple four second shot of an AMTRAK train pulling into a station for the scene when Ava (Bonnie Bennett) drops Lana (Kristen Heitman) off at the train station – a scene shot on the very first day of shooting back in the early part of 2004 when the trees were still leafless and could pass for New Years Day. I’d planned on going back to the station a few days later to pick up the shot of the train pulling in, but by then the leaves were already bursting out on the trees. I was resigned to having to wait until November or December to pick the shot up.
But the trees were not bare enough to match until January, when it was either raining or too overcast to match on the days when I was free to go out and film.
Finally, on that Monday in March of 2005 the light was good and I spent the afternoon at the downtown AMTRAK station waiting for a train to pull in. Eventually, after about three hours a train reversed out of the station. But I had it in the camera. I could reverse the shot in the computer and lay in the sound of a different train arriving.
When I got home and was logging the tape into the rack with the other tapes amassed over the lengthy shooting, I pulled out Tape One from the first day of filming, labeled March 7, 2004. It had been exactly one year to the day from filming Bonnie and Kristen at the train station to the day I got the establishing shot of the train pulling in.
The following Sunday, March 13, 2005, principal photography of Year was completed. 372 days after rolling on the first scenes with actors. 53 weeks. One week longer than the story that was being told. All on-camera scenes – the ones we started out to film and the ones that were added along the way – involving actors and locations were completed. The final filming took place in Katherine Pappa’s apartment, used for scenes with Christine Nicholson (Sydney) and Eric Wheeler (Miles). We started shooting around noon and wrapped just an hour and a half later, filming four scenes in 69 shots on Tape #136. The very last scene was a simple shower scene to be cross-cut with a scene shot with Christine back in August.
“Great,” Christine said, “we finally get some nudity in this movie.”
Great, yes – except the person in the shower was Eric Wheeler.
It was a year and a half of intense work putting this film together, especially as it was in addition to my full-time job as a TV news cameraman. A year of living with a calendar close by my side to juggle scheduling and availability of actors. A year of constantly revising and reworking the script. A year of spending every available moment, hour and day in front of the computer editing, editing and editing.
But the end result truly made it worth the effort. After a lifetime of watching movies, thinking about filmmaking and styles, writing scripts, pondering how I would have shot or directed something differently if I’d had the chance, I was able to sit back and watch an entire feature-length film, from the opening credit to the final fade out, that I was responsible for. A film made according to my own cinematic principles.
MORE PRODUCTION NOTES
The writing of Year began in 2002.
Shooting draft was incredibly ambitious with over 400 scenes, both large and small.
Casting began in March 2004. Photography began a week later and was filmed exclusively on weekends and evenings, depending on actors’ availability.
Photography was complete in April 2005 – one year and one month later.
Editing began on the evening of first day’s shooting and continued into June 2005.
The film was shot in Anamorphic 16:9 with a Panasonic DVX-100A in 24p.
70 hours of footage with actors was shot. Another 70 hours of skies, clouds and skylines. A total of 140 one-hour mini-DV cassette tapes were used.
Edited on an Apple EMAC using Final Cut Pro 4.
Four external firewire hard drives were daisy-chained to library over 5,000 different elements – shots, takes, time lapses, sound effects, etc. – using over 1.2 TB of storage space.
BUDGET – COSTS & EXPENSES
Panasonic DVX 100A camcorder $3,500
Panasonc 16:9 Anamorphic Lens $800
Image 2000 Shoulder Support for camera $350
Sony 9” monitor 4:3/16:9 NTSC/PAL [refurbished] $400
C-Stand with wheels for monitor $350
K-TEK Shock mount for Sennheiser shotgun mic $130
Wilcox audio boom pole $229
Oktava mic $110
Suspension mount for Oktava $40
Musician mic stand $40
[microphones were borrowed: two Lektrosoncs wireless mics, one Sennheiser ME80 shotgun mic, one Sennheiser 416 shotgun mic.]
Bogen tripod with head $130
140 Panasonic Mini-DV 60 minute tapes @ $6 each $840
RAM upgrade to 1 Gig $130
External firewire hard drives
Lacie 250 $279
Lacie 250 $279
Lacie 250 $279
Lacie 500 $479
Apple iBook laptop $1,000
Opening New Years party scene
Food, drink, etc. $350
Blackout fabric for windows [to shoot night for day] $80
Cardboard to block out windows $30
3 day trips to San Francisco
gas, food, tolls, misc $250
1 day trip to Nevada – gas, food, map $100
hospital bed rental $130
Rental of house for filming $300
Rental of apartment for filming $200
Apartment utilities $300
Misc over course of 13 months shooting – food, batteries, etc. $1,000
Posters, postcards $500
Film festival entry fees through end of 2006 $1,000
TOTAL PRODUCTION COST $7,656