Film noir is one of the most important and iconic genres in cinema history, however it is one we rarely see these days. The 1940s and 1950s were arguably the most popular decades for these films and their impact has been felt in Hollywood ever since.
We recently sat down with Iowa based filmmaker Beau Batterson to discuss his experiences as a screenwriter, and the release of the film he wrote and produced, The Last Minute Till Midnight (2020), a throwback to classic film noir with a unique sci-fi twist, filmed entirely on green screen.
FF: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What first got you involved in filmmaking?
BB: I’ve always had an interest in film, I’ve always kind of wanted to do it. I’ve never really known anything else I wanted to do, so I went down to film school in Florida for a little while, and just kind of got involved doing various freelance projects, kind of here in Iowa in the Midwest, where there’s not a ton of film stuff going on. But, yeah, I just did whatever I could. I’ve really done everything from weddings, to music videos, to short films, to feature films, broadcast news, I’ve done a funeral before, I’ve done pretty much everything and like, every aspect of it from either writing, or directing, or editing, or sound department or camera department. Like I’ve pretty much just done everything. Yeah, so there’s not a lot I haven’t at least tried.
Angela Billman as Babs Kane
FF: That’s great. Sounds like you got a lot of experience under your belt! Was there anything in particular which inspired you to start making film?
BB: I can typically remember being like a four year old kid, getting Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) on VHS, and, after the credits, there was like a behind-the-scenes making of, where they showed how you could prop, you know, how they how they would have props floating around the set, and then animate in the cartoons later. And like, that was my first moment of like, ‘Oh, people make movies. They don’t just exist, it’s something people can do’. And like, ever since then, it was like, this is me. This is what I have to do. And Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) is a noir, similar to our film. So I mean, there are noir roots like my whole life.
FF: How would you describe The Last Minute Till Midnight? (2020)
BB: So, I would describe it as strange. It’s unexpected. We try to have a lot of unexpected twists. It’s a genre bender, genre breaker, I’ve heard it described. It’s just, it’s something that has changed its themes over the course of post production. So we’ve been in post production, or wrapped up post production relatively recently, but we shot it four years ago. And if it would have came out like right away in the political climate here in America, but had come out in 2016, or maybe certain things that happened in our country at the time if it had come out then it wouldn’t be quite as impactful as it is now. Because there’s a lot of things and political unrest and people, you know, people we don’t trust in power. That makes it more relevant now than it would have been. It’s strange and bizarre that that’s kind of happened, but, yeah.
So, it’s got themes of like, the slippery slope to fascism, when people with good intentions have power and how things can go too far. There’s, you know, the media’s relationship with governments. You know, there’s a political figure with alleged ties to foreign influences. So there’s just a lot going on in the film. And it’s definitely a noir in the sense that it’s… black and white, it has shadows, like, that’s kind of your basic noir stuff, but the theme of who can you trust and not everybody’s good etc. Like, everybody is a little bit bad in this movie; oppressing outside forces that will come down, mysteries that start small but get big and very big.
It’s a little convoluted, that’s kind of the norm for old film noirs – like it’s a little strange and you just kind of have to go with it. So yeah, it’s a lot more dense. And it hits harder now than it would have four years ago.
Jessica Denney as Meg Mahoney
FF: Film noir is a genre we don’t really see much of these days. Apart from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), what else inspired you to write a film noir?
I took a class on it when I was at college, like a film noir appreciation class; just the style of writing in it. We talked about characters who are morally ambiguous, but like, I just love that hard boiled stylised dialogue. Dialogue is something that always jumps out at me and I really get attracted to, so just something where it lives in this universe where people talk differently.
Obviously, it’s not like people walk around in the 1950s with this, you know, hard boiled dialogue but in the universe of these movies, you know, they did. It’s a weird type of – in a way like Shakespeare – nobody talked like that, like a Shakespearean play. But you just go with it in this world, you know? I think that’s the thing I love with a film noir. It’s almost like a different language, you know?
I think the other thing is, like, trying to find a story that resonates with you, that you will hope will resonate with other people, and making sure that it’s a story that only you can tell, and sometimes, you know, you could think of a good story, and then it’s like, well, am I really the person who should be telling that story?
FF: What sort of things do you find the most challenging when you’re writing a screenplay?
BB: So, I produced The Last Minute Till Midnight (2020) as well, and I never really wanted to be a producer, but it’s something I’ve had to do in order to get my things made. So there’s always this producer voice in the back of my head when I’m writing. I’ll come up with a great idea, and then it’ll be like, ‘You know, that sounds expensive. Like, I don’t know if that’s realistic’. I’m like ‘shh we’ll get to that later. It’s future Beau’s problem.’
So yeah, that’s a challenge when writing and then it’s just like…you want to make something that is resonant and important and you don’t want things just to ‘happen’ in your story; you want there to be a reason for everything, and you want things to be set up properly. If something happens, in Act Three, it’s got to have a setup in Act One.
I think the other thing is: trying to find a story that resonates with you, that you hope will resonate with other people, and making sure that it’s a story that only you can tell. Sometimes you could think of a good story, and then it’s, like, well, am I really the person who should be telling that story? You know, there’s also that factor of it.
FF: Yeah, definitely. That’s a great answer. Now, going from challenges you faced to something more positive, what’s your best experience so far as a filmmaker?
BB: Wow, best experience as a filmmaker. I do love positive feedback from people who will tell me like, ‘Oh, I love your film. This speaks to me’. Somebody on Facebook said: ‘This whole movie is eye candy’ – which is something good. It’s something you want to hear. Knowing you’ve made something that speaks to people and makes them think more about their own circumstances and helps them in some way is always good.
Then there’s also the filmmaking process of being able to be with other creative people who inspire you and push you to be better in your own work. So I love working with other kinds of filmmakers and creative people who are better at things that I’m not good at! Like, I love watching my director of photography’s work because I cannot make beautiful pictures with light. They’re fantastic!
The director of the film, Adam Morton… I collaborated with him numerous times and I used to want to do more directing until I saw him directing – he’s much better than I am at directing! I will write the words, and he can direct it, we’ll make a better movie that way. The actors that I’ve worked with are also people that I not only just enjoy being with them as like friends, but I think they’re fantastically talented. I just love being able to watch people like that work.
Just don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to try weird things, because weird things tend to stick.
FF: So what’s next for you? Are there any upcoming projects we should know about after Last Minute Till Midnight (2020)?
BB: We’re in a weird time in the world, so I don’t think I have anything specifically. I always have several scripts in various forms – whether it’s just like notes on my phone, or something that’s actually written; I’ve probably got three scripts sitting around on my desktop somewhere just waiting for something to happen. So I don’t have anything going on right now ready to go. But I have several things that could go at any moment. The world could get back to normal soon, and maybe we can start moving forward on things!
Jessica Denney, as Meg Mahoney, doing some sleuthing
FF: Do you have any advice for young filmmakers hoping to get into the industry and make films?
BB: Sure, yeah. Well, I think the obvious thing is ‘just do it’. Like, there’s always a reason not to try to do something creative. You don’t need fancy gear – you can do movies on your phone now. People will forgive the quality of your filmmaking if your story is good, if your story is creative, or if it’s funny. Being funny goes a long way. You don’t have to be in Hollywood. If you maybe want to have more of a career or have more fame, Hollywood’s where to go but I make movies out of Iowa; we make good products and there’s a lot of creative people here. We can make things that are enjoyable to watch. Are they famous? Probably not. You know, every once in a while we get a little attention from Hollywood, but not so often. So, yeah, just don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to try weird things either, because weird things tend to stick.
FF: That’s great advice. One of the first things I noticed when watching your film is visually it reminded me instantly of Sin City (2005). Have other people said that at all?
BB: I’ve heard people think it and it was one of the things that popped in my head. Like, instantly when our director was like, ‘I’m gonna shoot this all on green screen and I kind of want to make a noir’, the first thing you think of is Sin City (2005). It’s kind of like people’s cultural touchstone for film noir. I could rattle off some movies from the 1940s and 1950s, and, you know, people today may not know what I’m talking about.
We worked a lot with the local community college because myself and our director taught there for a little bit, and they have this awesome recording studio in there. It’s super professional.
So, we used that for a little bit of our Foley work and we brought in a live saxophone player to play some of the score. So we worked in there, and we had some of the students help out as part of their classwork. They would come in and help us with like mixing and learn how to set stuff up, you know? And one of my students was like, ‘So, what is a film noir? Like, can you name a couple?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, have you seen Laura (1944) or The Dark Corner (1946) or Double Indemnity (1944) or Touch of Evil (1958)?’ and he’s like, ‘No, I haven’t heard of any of those.’ ‘Well, okay, so have you seen Sin City (2005)?’ It’s not as like, cartoony and stylised, but it is a little bit because you want to take advantage of your green screen, but it is similar to Sin City (2005).
Film Studies graduate. Aspiring screenwriter.