First of all, I’d like to thank you for agreeing to this interview. What do you think Virginia Minnesota’s impact has been?
Gauging from the audience responses so far, the impact seems to be very positive, especially as it relates to its central theme… this enduring power that comes from a child’s sense of wonder and unconditional belief. For example, there was this man in the audience at one screening who told us he has worked in the foster care system for years, and these characters and their reactions rang true for him– and he felt that the film has an important message that needs to be heard.
The animated introduction to the film is stunning, was this introduction something you intended to feature in the film from the very beginning or did it come about later in production?
I had it in the back of my mind, but had not committed to it fully. I wanted to see how the story could stand without it first. After reviewing the first cut, we felt that it stood just fine, but I couldn’t shake that it was missing that little something. The animation was a way for me to really commit to the overall vibe of the story – to bring it home, in a way. The child’s perspective is very important in this film, and the animation helped to magnify that. I had another version where there was a lot more animation – including throughout the credits, but we had to be careful with our very limited budget.
The concept of story telling and stories are very important to this film, were you concerned about making sure the scenes which focussed on the story telling element felt organic to the cast and the viewer?
I feel like the animated intro really helped ease the audience into this story about story-telling. They know they’re about to watch something a little different (I hope). I wasn’t worried about the cast not feeling like it was organic – they knew where the story was going. As far as the audience goes, I thought there might be a couple of moments that might catch the them off guard, but I knew if that happened though, that feeling wouldn’t last long. Everything wraps up in a very specific way, which makes sense of some of the more “out there” moments in the film. It was fun to go down those side roads, knowing that they’ll all connect the audience back to the main highway.
Were you ever concerned about avoiding the clichés that sometimes come with road trip movies?
The film is fairly self-aware that it is becoming a road trip movie. I’ve always imagined that Virginia – who is largely an absent character – has her hand on this journey that Addison and Lyle are on. So the oddities that they stumble upon, and the strange ways they get there, are all orchestrated in a sense. Addison and Lyle become main characters in this “legend” of Virginia’s. But again, Addison and Lyle are aware when a potential cliché is rounding the corner. Addison follows Lyle out of the car to console her, but says “I only followed you out here because I’ve seen people do it in movies.” Lyle is presented with a lot of backstory from a stranger, then mumbles to herself, “Exposition…” It was fun to play with those moments – to let the audience know that we’re ok with our main characters being aware of where they are. With road-trip movies, there are some familiar elements that people have come to expect, I suppose, but I think it’s about presenting them in as unique a way as possible. Either way, it was fun to have characters who almost realized they were being manipulated for the flow of the story. As they wander off into the woods, lost, Lyle says she forgot her phone in the car. So, Addison comes back with, “That’s convenient for the plot.” This is Virginia’s telling of the story – she’s already foreseen it in a way – and Addison and Lyle, deep down, know they are just a part of that.
How would you compare the film to your other work?
I had set out to do a thriller as my first feature film, but a couple of plot twists led me to Virginia Minnesota instead. It is character-driven with some magical realism, so it actually ended up feeling like a natural progression – given the short films I had done. God and Vodka and Grape – two shorts I directed – both dealt with loss, but had that touch of fantasy weaved into them. For me, fantasy often serves as a vehicle to restore hope. So, I was in some familiar territory with Virginia Minnesota, but I was also able to explore a lot of new elements.
What was the casting process for the film like?
We had thousands of submissions for Addison and Lyle. Rachel Hendrix, who plays Lyle – we all immediately knew she was perfect for the role. We had some amazing auditions, but she just seemed to fully understand the character and her nuances. Addison was a little harder to find. Again, we had a lot of great people to consider, but after seeing Aurora Perrineau’s work and speaking with her a couple of times about the role, I knew she had something really special to bring to the role. All of our fantastic supporting cast – when you know, you know. Susan Walters was one exception, as I had been wanting to work with her again for a long time, so I specifically wrote the role of Addison’s mother for her.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
I want people to feel lighter, more hopeful. I hope they feel like they went on a touching, funny and unusual journey with these characters. Maybe they’ll even get back in touch with some of that child-like belief the film explores.
How do you think the film reflects culture and its reaction to stories?
There is so much power in passing these stories on to the next generations, even when we, as adults, may have stopped believing in so many of them. The world is just a more interesting place with Loch Ness Monsters and UFO’s. These stories provide more than just escapism from reality – they give us curiosity and wonder. People crave that. I know I do. But I’ve always been more of a Mulder than a Scully.
How do you feel about the accolades the film has received?
Well, it’s an honour. And a surprise. Nobody was thinking about accolades when we were shooting this film – we just wanted to tell a unique story. But I’m really happy people seem to be responding to it.
What future projects have you got planned?
I want to do that thriller I mentioned! I’ve been wanting to do that one for the better part of the decade. We’ll see. Whatever my next film is, it’s going to have a lot fewer locations! And perhaps it’ll take place somewhere warmer…
With thanks to Daniel Stine.