GALO: As your film portrayed, everyone reacts to grief differently. What kind of research did you have to do to present the various spectrums and ways grief may manifest in an individual?

BR: Most of it came from the individuals I worked with on the film. A lot of people have some story and some relationship to it, and much of my cast and crew had some variation of something they could offer. I don’t know that I did any textbook research. I kind of wrote it from the heart and I wrote it with specific actors in mind and worked in some of what they were bringing, the gift they had to offer the story — Laura had her own circumstance which I don’t want to go into too far, but she was willing to marry her real life experience and her creative artistic experience because that’s who she is. She lost her husband in a very horrible way and she was willing to bring some of that to who she is as a human being, an artist. I think she had to know she was safe with me; that was the important thing.

Everyone had to know they were going to be honored by the portrayal. I felt like there was a place for a film that dealt with grief more honestly than I had seen it previously portrayed, and the reaction from people is that we got pretty close to it.

There are a lot of things people recognize, [like] that moment you’re consoling someone for your own loss. Everyone recognizes that moment, “Oh my god, he’s stuck and this woman is overwhelmed with her own grief,” or the moment where someone says something you may believe in or is in the spirit of the right thing, like when the priest says, “Maybe there’s a reason for everything.” That is absolutely the right thing possibly to say, but not in that moment. I hope that I got as much of that truth in the movie as I possibly could.

GALO: Guilt is also a strong force in play in your film. Dave has to deal with the truth of where he was the night of the accident — lying to his family and spending time with his graduate assistant. Would you say Dave is searching for absolution or redemption throughout the course of the film? Is the final scene of meeting the drunk driver’s family after his funeral as close to closure as he might get?

BR: I chose to end the movie there, and we had to find that through the editing process too. For me, that is the moment that ends the chapter of his life. It didn’t feel like closure. It feels like Dave is different now, in a way that whatever comes next for Dave is going to be different than what he’s been going through the moment his kids died. It was very important to me that we dealt with it as humanly as possible. Bad things happen to good people, bad things happen to all kinds of human beings. It just so happened that Dave’s circumstances are complicated by what he was doing and where he was that night. It would be a different movie if he wasn’t with his grad assistant that night.

So, for me, if you make an indie film, it should be about people that Hollywood would ignore. Sometimes they ignore ordinary. Sometimes they ignore complicated people. They like their answers a little more straightforward. You get the same things sometimes. When I shared the script in the early stages, I would get [asked], “How are people going to like Dave?” And I would say [that] they’re not going to like him because he’s human. There are a lot of complicated people in the world. A lot of people are having midlife crises or are not sure if this is all there is in life until a tragedy says, “maybe you should’ve appreciated what you had.” As a storyteller, I was interested in the most complicated human beings I could deal with, and I didn’t know whether people would like him or not like him. I just thought they would recognize him. That’s a human being I can recognize. I can experience something through his journey, through his grief.

GALO: One of the most harrowing scenes was the children’s funeral. What was that scene like to direct? How did you as a director prepare your cast for dealing with the heaviness of that scene? And how did you as an actor along with the rest of the cast get yourself into character for such a heavy moment?

BR: We each had to take a very personal journey toward it and it was an ongoing [process] — from even prior to being cast in the movie and prior to being attached. Once I met the actors I was working with and once I decided that was part of how I cast them, how they connected to the circumstances… An example of that would be the woman who plays my mother, Sophia, who had never been in a film. She’s a regional theatre actress who’s a very talented woman. She came into my open call and we talked about some of the circumstances, and we did an improv. I had to see if she could get to the moment where I needed her in the hospital, where you are actually just gut-wrenched at this woman’s experience the moment she realizes the perpetrator of this crime is lying next to the victim and her personal stakes of having lost grandchildren.

We did a quick improv, and I stopped her 30 seconds in because I could tell it had become so real and so personal to her, and I saw what I needed to know which was, “OK, we can get this moment in the scene in a way that honors any person who has been through this or has come close to it.” I think every single actor and performer that had to deal with a circumstance [like that], discovered we had some moments along the way where they and I found the truth of it. We knew we were right in the pocket of “we all believe this. This doesn’t seem like we’re acting anymore. This seems like the circumstances are unfolding.”

GALO: During really charged moments in the film — moments where Dave is faced with unbelievable adversity like seeing his children in the morgue, or deciding whether to go kill a man — the screen flashes black a few times, almost like one is watching a slideshow reel of the worst moments of someone’s life. Can you elaborate about that decision and what you intended for that to mean?

BR: I don’t know that I intended for it to have meaning. It felt right to me. It was something I experimented with. I was very open in the editing process to rediscovering the story and making sure I believed it again. I use it in two places very strategically. Those two places were connected for me in the storytelling.

I use it in the morgue where I feel like, visually, it served me. You feel like you’re just going black, the slate’s being wiped clean. I wanted to get as visceral with the storytelling as I could, so that the audience could have a visceral reaction. It was something very effective when I put it in there. I was like, “Gosh, there’s something about that visually that makes me understand this moment.” Like, as a human being, I’m just blacking out but not falling down. You are having your memory, your personality almost erased. Once I put it there, the other place it called to me and my wonderful editor, Jennifer Vecchiarello, who helped discover that sort of approach, was when Dave goes to the cooler to get a drink — whether it is an alcoholic beverage or not, we don’t know. But he opens it up and that sound, the trigger of the refrigeration — the moment in the morgue was building to it. Dave’s having that moment — those two moments for me are connected, emotionally and sort of energetically connected, so the next moment [after he opens the fridge] he’s just racing to that house [of the drunk driver]. It’s almost like an unplanned event, even though he’s been tracking that guy for the whole movie. He didn’t just make the choice, the choice just happened to him. It clicked; he had his breaking point.

Video Courtesy of: The Sublime and Beautiful.

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Featured image: Blake Robbins as David Conrad in “The Sublime and Beautiful.” Photo Courtesy of Sublime Pictures.