Baltimore’s own, Matt Porterfield on the collaborative efforts of Putty Hill
When Matt Porterfield decided to “pull the plug” on Metal Gods, a scripted film set in Southeast Baltimore he had two choices.
“It was either wait a year or shoot another film,” Porterfield said.
He had the cast and crew from Metal Gods ready, so instead of recasting he decided to use them in his new project, Putty Hill , an unscripted story about people from a community in Baltimore dealing with the overdose of a young man.
“I guess at some point I identified all this time that had gone into casting this screenplay that I had written that I had discovered people that whether or not they fit the script, I really wanted to work with…so when I didn’t have the script anymore, I thought now I can just talk to people.”
Porterfield had the actors improvise their lines in what he described an “open construct.” Using both narrative and documentary elements, the film was shot with a camera package that Porterfield had been given as a grant through IFP and Panasonic for a three week rental. With just a 4-5 paged treatment in place, the film was shot over 12 days in August 09.
Actor Cody Ray, who is from Baltimore said that the set of Putty Hill was a great atmosphere, but he was initially shocked by the lack of script.
“Well, I read the script and memorized it and when he told me I didn’t need it I was like ‘HUH!?,’ but he just told me what he wanted to see and I tried my best to perform it for him and the crew,” Ray said.
Actress Sky Ferreira said that she thought it would be a challenge to switch roles, but was up for it.
Porterfield gave all of the actors a biography on a fictional character named Cory who overdoses in the film . Cory works as the narrative element in the film that ties everyone together.
The characters were interviewed by Porterfield throughout the film and it was up to each of the actors to decide how much of themselves they wanted to bring to their roles.
“If they wanted to they could answer my questions as truthfully as they liked. I would ask them questions knowing their lives and if they wanted to answer them based off their own experience, then I’d like that. If I asked questions about this kid Cory, we would usually talk through their relationship to him and their pre-history so they could answer those questions too. And it worked pretty seamlessly,” Porterfield said.
Despite the busy shooting schedule, things seemed to work out for the crew of Putty Hill, according to producer, Joyce Kim.
“Working without a script made production feel a lot more relaxed than it could have been. There wasn’t the pressure of trying to get lines or cues just right; instead it allowed us to be constantly amazed and pleasantly surprised by everything that was happening naturally and in the moment,” Kim said.
“It was all really magical, even down to the weather. We had such a tight shooting schedule that one rain date would have thrown us off significantly, yet on the days when it was meant to downpour mother nature held off until we were done shooting,” Joyce said.
Putty Hill was completed last summer and had its world premiere in Berlin at the Berlinale, in February. The film has since played at a private screening in New York as well as at SxSW, and is set to hit Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Paris, Atlanta and Boston in April—not to mention the Maryland Film festival in May (6-8).