story by Rhonda Crone, special to The City Wire
Growing up in a Winslow household whose father built and remodeled homes doesn’t seem like the subject of a compelling film but don’t tell that to Ryan Schwartzman. He completed filming the, “Gordon Family Tree,” in the Northwest Arkansas area last week fulfilling a five-year dream.
“That’s a profession that people don’t brag about, that doesn’t get the respect it deserves, and I wanted to tell a story about it,” he said.
Not only did he lift experiences from his father but Schwartzman also works as a handy-man in Los Angeles for high-profile clients like talk-show host Ellen Degeneres and Ryan Seacrest.
He conceived of the story many years ago while living in Los Angeles with his wife, Jennica, and often thought about telling the story.
Last year, he and Jennica attended the Offshoot Film Festival by Seedling Film Association in Fayetteville, for a short film they starred in entitled, “Bed Heads: Dim Bulbs.” Directed by Jennica’s brother, Mark Hampson, that short won best director for Hampson, who is now directing the Schwartzman’s screenplay.
“We were amazed and blown away by the talent (at the festival),” Ryan said.
And when they met Seedling founders Cassie Self (who portrays Free’s sister Charlotte)and Jason Suel (who portrays Tommy), it hit them: “The Gordon Family Tree,” could be told and they could write and produce it as an independent film in Northwest Arkansas.
Ryan said his film is a “road trip movie.” It’s a story of a 30-year-old architect working for “the man” who realizes he isn’t living true to himself. He builds a tree house for his boss’ kids and discovers he loves the honest work; using his hands. He quits his high-brow office job, loads up and travels across America, aimlessly. Ryan’s character stumbles upon good people who give him work doing odd jobs, and ends up building more treehouses. Fitting to his name, Free frees himself, realizing his own American dream.
The couple said filming in the Ozarks was inspiring and the community welcomed the experience.
“There’s so much incredibly positive community support and spirit; we are overwhelmed and blessed,” said Jennica.
They said there was a fantastic pool of talented local actors who auditioned for most of the parts, including Mark Landon Smith (Jason) and Jules Taylor (Mags) of Arts Live Theatre in Fayetteville. Two of the parts were taken by bigger-named Hollywood actors, Corbin Bernson, who plays Free’s boss, and Richard Karn, who plays Perry, the character inspired by Ryan’s dad.
The audience may recognize the actors and the landscape as well.
“We wanted to create a safe place for films to come here, and to help change the perception of the South, to make it a positive one.” Jennica said.
The movie crew hopes to complete edits by early next year and a possible special premiere in the area.