Edited By: Calleen Page
The Art of Monteque sat down this week with Diego Ongaro, Writer and Director of the 2015 Sundance NEXT feature film Bob and the Trees. We talked about the making of the film and becoming an artist.
Bob and the Trees seems to have a lot of complex undertones about the struggles of life, did you mean this to be a part of the film or did it just work out that way?
Diego Ongaro: Well of course everything was intended. It was not scripted but outlined in a very detailed way. Of course we had some stuff that was improvised too. It’s definitely not trying to trick the audience, but I like not quite knowing. It is not a documentary. I think it’s interesting not knowing. That’s what I like when I see films. It’s definitely a fiction film that’s not overly dramatic or overly forced.
As Bob’s cow gets sicker and sicker it seems that Bob’s life starts to spin out-of-control. Is Bob’s cow a metaphor for his life and if so how did you come to link the two?
D.O.: Yeah, it is totally a metaphor; it’s a spoiler when you find out that it was Bob who was creating his own problems. It is a complete metaphor of where Bob is… very stubborn, getting older and in denial about some of his life situations. This story has a good pace; it’s very restrained. I was careful not to push too much on the drama.
Bob is an actual logger and forester and has a farm that you see in the film. In the film, he is close to the person he is in real life. This (the cow impaling itself on a fence bolt) happened to one of his cows a few years ago, I live near him and I sometimes give him a hand. This all really happened and that was like a stunning story that stuck in my mind and I was clear I would use it as a triggering event in the film.
The film is a beautifully told story and yet very humbling. What do you want the audience to take away from the film?
D.O.: I really hope that they will root for Bob and find him endearing. I hope they will see logging differently besides the generally (negative) examples we see in the media. Bob does this (logging) in a sustainable way to make it healthier for the forest.
One of the major characters of the film are the trees. How did you come to make trees a central part of the film?
D.O.: I wanted to show logging and what it takes to take a tree down. It takes a lot of machinery and manual work in tough conditions.
The wintry location for the film is beautiful, a beauty that seems to hide just how harsh it can be to make a living and survive. How did you find the right location for the story line?
D.O.: It’s the town I live in. I’ve been living there for 7 years. On a personal level, I moved here out of New York with my wife and daughter; we found a really interesting mix of people: blue collar, intellectual.
What was your process of creating the screenplay and then turning it into the film?
D.O.: Yeah, so I was working with my wife Courtney Maum she is a writer. Her first book “I Am Having so Much Fun (Here without You)”, was seen in film. It took actually a long time. I really wanted to find this fine balance between a proper drama but also allow a lot of life and not be a “victim” or too didactic (for example, having to teach people to log). It took a couple of years to write the treatment, I won’t call it a script because it’s is not a traditional script, I didn’t want them to learn any lines…I wanted them to use their own words by putting them in a situation and (seeing) how they reacted. We did some rehearsal and tryouts and I gave them various situations to improvise.
With the emotional complexities of its characters and the weather was this a difficult film to make?
D.O.: Yeah, It was a severe winter, cold and wet. We made sure we bought a lot of army surplus clothes and found some really great boots that kept peoples’ feet dry that were used in the Korean War. It was easy because the actors were all from this area and (accustomed to) the weather. I was worried, but the equipment did pretty well. I really wanted the snow to be part of the film.
Can you talk a little bit about the cast and their roles?
D.O.: Yes of course. So, we have Bob Tarasuk who is also the title character Bob. He has been a professional forester for 35 years. He is very well known and respected and has done some logging so (he is) also very knowledgeable and has a farm with his wife and family. Matt Gallagher is actually Bob’s son-in law. I have known Matt for many years. He is a Brew Master for Portsmouth Brewery in New Hampshire, He’s a really good logger and a natural on camera, he’s extremely gifted and he was able to be very consistent from one scene to the next. Polly McIntyre, who plays Bob’s wife, is the only professional actress in the cast. She was selected from a casting call in New York City and was extremely confident about having no script. Polly was really like a good shoulder for me to rest upon. She is a total city woman from Philadelphia but she was able to put on the clothes of a farmer’s wife and become a farmer’s wife. I wanted to have some strong post that we could hold on to and as a professional actress; she was exactly that centering persona.
What does this project and being an artist mean to you?
I mean on a personal level it has a lot to do with me moving to this area (Berkshires of Massachusetts) and living here. Also it’s my first feature film and it’s something. U-m-m that’s a tough one (question) I mean it (being an artist) would be being able to have the freedom to create. There are a lot of struggles. I think it’s a really hard process. You cannot put that on a shelf; there’s really no half way of doing it. It takes time to really make sure that you are on the right path and (you must) take the time to think about it. I take my time. My wife for example is a very fast writer, which made our collaboration very interesting because you had two different work styles.
How about your daughter, do you think she will be an artist like her parents?
D.O.: I really don’t know yet, she is very young — 15 months. But I do know she loves books with farm animals!
Thank you so much for speaking with me today.
Your welcome. [AOMR]