Portland’s writer-director duo on Rusticator Pictures, and how to make a movie that captures Maine’s “Maine-ness.”
Nine years ago, Desi Van Til and Sean Mewshaw, the husband-and-wife duo behind Rusticator Pictures, sold all their stuff, hopped in a car, and drove from Los Angles, California to Portland, Maine to make what they thought would be a small indie film. After over seven years of production, they wound up with a fully fledged, critically acclaimed film featuring big movie stars, an expanded storyline, and a new place to call their creative home.
“In the course of living in Maine and putting the film together, we fell in love with being here,” says Van Til, writer of Tumbledown. “When we left LA, all of our friends would say, ‘You’re coming right back right? You’re gonna go make this movie then come back right?’ We didn’t know. We just sold our stuff, packed up our car, and left.”
Tumbledown, written by Van Til and directed by Mewshaw, is a romantic…comedy? Drama? It’s hard to tell when the trailer shows the main character, Hannah, played by Rebecca Hall, intensely grieving over the death of her iconic musician husband while the “brash New York writer” Andrew, played by Jason Sudeikis, blythely cracks jokes as an attempt to endear Hannah to him and win permission to write about her deceased husband. Either way, the film was released earlier this year to much critical acclaim, specifically about the picture’s thoughtful performances and precise sense of place, as pointed out by Shipra Harbola Gupta on Indiewire: “Lensed by Seamus Tierney, the film makes wonderful use of the stunning Maine scenery, and the influence of nature is felt in every frame.”
The story takes place in rural Maine, based on Farmington (where Van Til grew up). Originally, the couple wanted to shoot the whole film in Maine, but the financiers insisted upon shooting in a place with better financial incentives. The filmmakers often receive feedback about how well the film captures Maine’s “Maine-ness,” which is an ironic testament to their expert filmmaking, since most principal shooting was done in Concord, Massachusetts. (Note: The Indiewire reviewer cited above is feasibly correct with their compliment, since some scenes, particularly the opening sequence and some establishing shots, were done in Maine.)
Though the filmmakers were able to utilize the more deceptive aspects of their medium, they wouldn’t dream of offering audiences a disingenuous version of the place they love and call home. In fact, Van Til and Mewshaw feel that shooting outside of Maine made them acutely aware of the difference between the people and landscapes in front of them versus the people and landscapes at home. As Mewshaw explains, “There’s a very specific ethos to every tiny sliver of this region.”
Desi Van Til and Sean Mewshaw are artists living in Portland, Maine. Their new film Tumbledown is available for purchase or stream via these platforms. For more updates about the film, follow Tumbledown on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.