Director, producer, screenwriter, and editor Tyler C. Peterson found We Make Movies through the inaugural We Make Movies International Film Festival where his award-winning short film Summer Hill (Best Narrative Short - North Beach American Film Festival, Audience Choice for Narrative Short - Cecil County Film Festival) was screened. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, he graduated from Towson University with a Bachelor's Degree in film and "a thirst for challenging industry ideologies." Exploring his own queer identity led him to place diversity as a priority both in-front of and behind the camera and found his own indie production company Lux Daze Media in 2015.
Based in Los Angeles, Peterson co-produced memorable documentary feature Mom & M, which screened at WMMINTL 2021 alongside several other festivals, including the prestigious Bentonville Film Festival founded by Geena Davis. He is currently developing Summer Hill into a feature-length film with co-writer Amanda Ferrarese, and promoting his latest directorial project, the largely improvised 16mm short film Copper & Wool about a young woman seeking clarity a week before her Orthodox Jewish wedding in a hilltop getaway where she forms a life-changing bond with the eccentric divorcee who owns the property.
WMM: What compelled you to make this film? What was the impetus?
TCP: Copper & Wool is a film conceptualized and born by leaning into our filmmaking restrictions. After watching Alex Lehman and Mark Duplass’ Blue Jay (2016), Amanda Ferrarese and I were inspired to use her UFVF/Kodak Cinematography grant to put towards a 16mm short film that took place in one location with two wildly different characters and a skeleton crew. In the spirit of mumblecore, I decided to keep the film scriptless and cast two strong improvisation actors with writing backgrounds.
WMM: What was your process in making this film?
TCP: Amanda and I cooked up a basic story concept and then first approached longtime collaborator Molly Shayna Cohen. We asked her to play the lead role, and she then created the character of Elisheva plus a full backstory. After she sent me a written entry on who this character was, I opened a casting call to find an actress to play the woman who would own the house Eli stayed at. All I knew was that I wanted that character to be played by an improv actress who could be Eli’s foil in every sense. I offered Susan Louise O’Connor the part after Amanda and I pitched the project to her, and she created the character of Meredith just as Molly created Eli.
We shot over two and a half days about six weeks later. There was a proper shooting schedule and we worked from a short, high level treatment that I wrote for the film, but the dialogue was improvised on set. We would run a rehearsal or two of a scene for camera and blocking, and then dive right into shooting. To create more room in the edit, we’d also ‘film’ every scene twice, but with only audio rolling. I wanted different audio takes with new dialogue to play around with while editing, since we were so strapped for how much footage could be shot.
WMM: What was the most challenging aspect of getting this film together?
TCP: The most challenging aspect was shooting on 16mm. It was challenging in regards to being hyper vigilant over how much film we were using on any given scene, and not being able to have a proper monitor or playback. On top of that, using the Bolex H16 Rex-5 required every shot to be cut after thirty seconds so the camera could be powered again via hand-crack. Because of that, I pushed for every scene to not exceed one minute so they could be filmed in no more than two wind ups of the camera.
Things came to a head on the final shooting day when we had only two rolls of film left and two scenes yet to shoot (that’s only about six minutes of film). The dialogue-heavy portion we needed to shoot was when Eli pries further into Mere’s previous marriage while they’re getting drunk. A scene that was intended to be shot rather traditionally, I radically shifted gears just before rolling to accommodate our lack of film. We instead shot the scene as an improvised one-take with Amanda picking up compelling shots throughout the run, and then we ran the scene again with just the audio once film ran out. In the edit, this was brought together into the dizzying montage you see now, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
WMM: Did you collaborate with WMM on this project, and how was that for you?
WMM: If you could make this film all over again, what would you do differently?
TCP: If there was somehow a way to have had more budget then that’s what I’d want! There’s not a lot I would have changed, but it would have been nice to have more rolls of film, more equipment, and a few more bodies on set. Alas, this was a film meant to be forged from our limitations, and we stuck to it.
WMM: What are your aspirations for the film? Do you have a marketing and/or distribution plan?
TCP: I’m hoping for a nice festival run over the course of 2022. It would be amazing to play in some niche festivals about LGBTQ+ life, Jewish culture, or even in shot on film categories. However, I firmly think this film could belong in any festival, whether it hits a topic close to the film or not. There’s a universal theme here of a person that feels trapped in their own life, and afraid they’re about to make a decision that could negatively impact them forever just to appease those around them. If there’s a festival or screening opportunity around you that you would like to see Copper & Wool at, then let me know! [Editor's note: Check out the film's gorgeous EPK and get in touch with Tyler if you have any suggestions.]
WMM: Who are the types of people most likely to watch your movie?
TCP: While queer people and Jewish people are obvious choices for a perfect audience, I think that anyone who has ever felt “othered” or different than the culture around them could identify with this film. At its core, Copper & Wool is just very human.
WMM: If you could, how would you improve the film industry?
TCP: I’d like to see the film industry embrace the mid budget indie film again. Nowadays it feels like most films are either blockbusters or made for no money. Also, where it feels like so much emphasis is placed on diversity with characters and actors onscreen, I want to see that energy continue on through with diversity for crew roles. I'm talking about diversity with not just the directors and screenwriters, but also the camera department, G&E, sound, etc.
Written by Sapna Gandhi
Sapna Gandhi is an actor, singer-songwriter, and content creator. In addition to TV credits such as BOSCH, SHAMELESS and SCANDAL, she has appeared in numerous shorts, features, and series, including festival darlings IN ABSENTIA (Raindance) and THUMPER (Tribeca). Gandhi has produced several series and films under the umbrella of her production company Elegant Grotesque (most recently SCRAP, starring Anthony Rapp and Vivian Kerr, and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ STRANDED ON THE EARTH, directed by Mike Bruce). She is also 1/2 of the musical duo, VATAVARAN, was born in England, raised all over the states, studied English and Women’s Studies, and trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in SF.