Walking an Unknown Path: Filmmaker Patrick Brooks Talks ‘The Boy Scout’
We all are afraid of something in this world, whether that may be losing a loved one, sleeping in the dark, or getting lost in the wilderness. It is the latter that Chicago-based filmmaker Patrick Brooks embraces in his short film The Boy Scout, which was officially selected at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and was awarded the title of Best Short Film at the 2013 Bend Film Festival. At the start of the 14-minute drama, we are introduced to Grant (Steve Coombs) and Leah (Makinna Ridgway), a young couple that is traveling by car through forests and mountains during an impromptu trip in the wintertime. Needless to say, their excursion quickly transforms into something straight out of a horror movie, where the lead characters end up stuck and lost in the wild with little to no food and no cell phone service as a snowstorm looms in the air. As the cold and darkness settle in, the car becomes their only source of shelter. Grant, ever the optimist with a Boy Scout-type demeanor, tries to keep the mood light and hopeful, reassuring Leah that someone will find them any day now. However, by the sixth day, Leah is no longer convinced and the couple battles with the question of whether they should stay by the car or trek into the unknown in hopes of finding their way to safety. This eventually leads to a fight between the twosome and decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. Essentially, according to Brooks, the film is a comprehensive look at “what happens when two people are placed in an impossible situation and how their actions/decisions reveal their [true] character.”
Brooks, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, is an accomplished cinematographer, whose work has appeared at an array of film festivals, including the Palm Springs ShortFest and Slamdance. Despite being busy creating a feature and touring national film festivals, the UCLA School of Theater graduate spoke with GALO about the concept of the film and its title, the decisions of his characters, and how he envisions the future of short films in the digital era.
GALO: Most films, whether shorts or features, have a tendency of slowly bringing the viewer into the story by way of providing a contextual experience, which then leads up to the climax moment. Your film begins differently. Right from the start we find ourselves in the epicenter of the story, with the two main characters faced with a life or death decision. Why did you decide to go with this storytelling approach?
Patrick Brooks: My interest in telling this story was to see what happens when two people are placed in an impossible situation and how their actions/decisions reveal their character, not necessarily how their character informs their decisions. In writing the script, I experimented with following them at the beginning on their drive from the city into the mountains, their confusion and getting lost, etc. To me, it felt like a detour from the real conflict. In short films, you only have the attention of your audience for a brief amount of time, so I wanted to enter the story as late as possible and present the viewer with what I consider the most compelling aspect of these two people’s circumstance.
GALO: I thought it interesting that while they are fighting on day six, the camera pans to a different scene, one of Grant piling branches in the snow as he desperately tries to make a fire. What made you choose to use a voiceover rather than showcasing the fight as it was happening? Was this method used to amplify the significance of their argument and what it was foreshadowing?
PB: Up until that point in the film, every scene takes place with the two of them together. Grant needed some space apart from her in order to put his plan in action, but also to think over a prior conversation. This moment away gives the audience a chance to connect with Grant and also witness a flash of self-doubt, something that he’s unwilling to show Leah.
GALO: You’ve said in the press notes that you “have never been stuck in a snowstorm with your girlfriend,” but that you were lost in the wilderness before as well as in a relationship, and that “it’s hard to know how to move forward without making a fatal mistake.” Were these the only inspirations for the film and the theme of feeling helpless and a bit adrift?
PB: Those are probably the main sources of inspiration, at least on a thematic level. On a more practical level, I wanted to shoot a film in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, particularly in the exact old growth forest where the film is set. The trees in that area are gigantic, densely packed and almost threatening, so I wrote a story in which someone would be trapped by them, where the forest itself is an obstacle to survival.
GALO: In the film, Grant is convinced that people will come looking for them. Is his naïve thinking a coping mechanism?
PB: Any outdoor expert would agree with Grant: when you’re lost, or in a bad situation, you stay wherever you have shelter. Eventually, someone will come looking for you, so he’s not wrong in his thinking. However, it’s my belief that rational thought isn’t necessarily the best guiding principle in life.
GALO: Why did you choose to name the film The Boy Scout? When one thinks of a boy scout, images of a young man come to mind that excels in his service to others and has distinct survival skills that can be adapted to the wilderness.
PB: Boy scouts are taught the “right way” to do something and I think there’s a stereotype of scouts as optimistic, morally-guided young people. In many respects, Grant shares a similar mentality: as long as they stay positive, stick to a tried and true plan, they’ll end up just fine. There are no gray areas, no room for uncertainty/negativity. It’s this mentality that is challenged in the film. Of course, the film’s title also helps to suggest that he has some survival skills and a basis for his plan to wait it out.
GALO: At the end of the film, we can assume what happens to Grant, but we are still left wondering what happened to Leah. I know you probably want the viewer to make up their mind on this one, but if you were in the shoes of the spectator, what do you think happens to her? Do you think she reached safety?
PB: I suppose part of me believes that she also reaches safety, but I never really answered that question for myself while writing the film. More importantly, Grant’s not going to find her again, their time together is over. I hope that by my not revealing her fate, we’re placed in the same position as Grant, standing in the middle of a snowy mountain road.
GALO: On a slightly different note, the world of film is going through many diverse changes due to streaming services and digital platforms. Filmmakers are now able to reach a wider audience more quickly and directly. How do you envision the future of shorts within the scope of the film industry, and do you feel that there are now more opportunities for people to watch shorts, such as via Vimeo or other online programs?
PB: Of course, there are an increasing number of venues for watching shorts online, and it’s fantastic that all of these outlets are available to filmmakers. The problem with online viewing is that audiences are confronted with a vast amount of information and relatively few ways to synthesize it. We’ve all endlessly scrolled through a Netflix streaming queue, trying to decide what to watch. What’s fantastic about brick and mortar film festivals is that programmers curate the program and assemble viewing experiences that are often balanced and compelling. Someone in the audience may have gone to see one short in a block because it sounded interesting, but then had a profound connection with a completely different film. I feel that that experience may be less common online.
GALO: So, what’s next for you — do you plan to screen the film at more festivals, or do you have new projects already in mind? If so, can you tell us a bit more about those?
PB: The film has been showing at festivals across the country for the past year, and I hope that we’ll be able to bring it to new audiences in the future. At the moment, I’m developing a feature film, which also takes place in the mountains (no snow this time). It’s a suspense/thriller set in the High Sierra backcountry, featuring locales that aren’t typically seen in narrative cinema, and shot with small digital cameras that don’t require a huge amount of power or lighting.
Video courtesy of Tribeca Film.