At first glance, David Lowery’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” doesn’t seem to have much in common with Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color.” Lowery’s fable-like “Saints” follows a Texas outlaw trying to reunite with his wife and daughter; Carruth’s mind-bending “Upstream” tracks a couple whose brains are being controlled by a scientist.
But the films are the result of a loosely affiliated group of like-minded individuals — and their backstory is proof of the old adage that it takes a village to raise an independent film.
Lowery, who clearly enjoys the cooperative process more than most (“I always try to find collaborators that I want to hang out with after work,” he says) eventually wound up co-editing “Upstream Color” after a meeting he and Sundance veteran Carruth (“Primer”) had in Dallas, where they both worked at the time, and where Carruth let it be known that he was looking for help with his film. The meeting had been set up by Carruth’s producer Casey Gooden and Lowery’s producer Toby Halbrooks.
It was through Lowery’s team that Carruth discovered his eventual lead actress Amy Seimetz. And when Carruth began shooting his film, he called on Lowery, who was prepping “Saints,” to help him with the editing.
“He saved my life,” Carruth says. “I tried to edit a few hours every night, but I was losing sleep and I was slipping further behind. We share the same work aesthetic. David is completely fine to edit at 4 a.m., because he’s consumed with passion to do it. And I’m the same way.”
Lowery remembers editing “Upstream” on his laptop at the same time as casting “Saints.” Though Carruth’s cerebral, fragmented vision might seem a far cry from his collaborator’s elegaic southern dirge, Lowery says working on “Upstream” inspired some of his own creative decisions.
“I love the way ‘Upstream’ is so forward moving,” he says. “After working on it, I added more material to the first 15 minutes of ‘Saints,’ and sped it up to create this accelerated prologue. (“Upstream”) gave me a great deal of confidence to explore that.”
Lowery and his associates — producers Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy and cinematographer Bradford Young — are examples of the small world in which indie films often exist.
Van Hoy became familiar with Lowery’s work while on the 2011 SXSW film festival shorts jury, which awarded the top prize to Lowery’s “Pioneer.” In July, at Sundance’s Feature Film Creative Producing Lab, Van Hoy and Knudsen got more integrally involved with the director, eventually signing on to “Saints” with their Parts & Labor shingle as producers, along with James M. Johnston and Halbrooks.
Parts & Labor was working on another film at the time, Andrew Dosunmu’s “Mother of George,” an impressionistic pic that observes a Brooklyn-based African newlywed’s struggles to get pregnant. Dosunmu, who also works as a commercial photographer, was guarded about his choice of producers, and Parts & Labor, which was quickly becoming a prolific backer of art films, proved to be a good fit. “They allow me to be an artist,” Dosunmu says.
Young, who was cinematographer on “Mother of George,” wound up working on “Saints” as well. At the recent Sundance, he won the lensing prize for his work on both films, which each sold during the festival, to Oscilloscope and IFC, respectively. (Carruth is self-distribbing “Upstream Color,” via his Erbp shingle.)
Carruth, a one-man-band of a filmmaker who had been toiling away mostly alone in Dallas for years before meeting Lowery and his team, is now sold on the idea of collaboration. “It feels a bit stupid that I didn’t know them before,” says the filmmaker, who has since moved to New York to be part of a larger film community. “And how much better it would have been if I had.”