Cut Bank director Matt Shakman has something in common with 35 mm film fanatics Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. For his movie debut the director insisted on shooting on film rather than digital.
“I’m an analogue kind of guy,” he says. “To do this movie, which is about a town that feels trapped in a distant era, it felt right to shoot it on film. We had to find a way to deal with the financial impact of it, but I found a solution to that. I gave up my salary in order to do it.
“I’ll only get a chance to make a first movie once and to make it on film feels special. I may never get a chance to do it again.”
Set in the hamlet of Cut Bank Montana, the action begins when auto mechanic Dwayne (Liam Hemsworth) accidentally videotapes the murder of the local postman (Bruce Dern). He reports the crime to the local sheriff (John Malkovich), hoping for reward money, but there are complications in the form of the suspicious father of his girlfriend (Billy Bob Thornton), a postal inspector (Oliver Platt) and a reclusive man (Michael Stuhlbarg) violently obsessed with getting his mail.
The script appeared on Hollywood’s 2009 black list of the best unproduced films and has been in Shakman’s hands for five years.
In the beginning he simply loved the twisty-turny story. “Then,” he says, “I [became] like a dog chasing a rabbit at the track. You get these tantalizing elements that start to make everything feel more real.
“When someone like John Malkovich signs on it is so helpful for so many reasons. One, the pleasure, personally, of getting to work with one of my heroes. Two, he certainly helps tell other actors that this is a party worth coming to and the third thing is just the business reality of having a person in the film who can help you with financing.”
Shakman says he knows after the film’s theatrical run “a lot of people will see Cut Bank on their iPads,” and while he prefers the communal experience of watching movies with an audience, he knows times are changing. “They’ll also watch Breaking Bad [on their tablets], so the line has blurred very much between the two kinds of content. It’s all just become stories and where you choose to find them and how you want them delivered.”