interviewed By Heather Johnson
Twentysomething director Cam Archer doesn’t have much interest in conveying the often self-involved dramas of his own generation.
The inner lives of teenagers provides much more interesting filmmaking fodder. In our 20s, we discover more fully who we are; in our teens, we struggle to be like everyone else and for everyone to like us. If that doesn’t happen, the results can be brutal, and lead to years of therapy in our 30s. Most of Archer’s previous short films, including works such as Godly Boyish
, American Fame Pt. 1: Drowning River Phoenix
, American Fame, Pt. 2: Forgetting Jonathan Brandis
, and Bobbycrush
, (the latter two screened at Sundance Film Festival in 2004 and 2005, respectively), hone in on the isolation and turmoil that characterize teenage existence. Not too many years away from teenage life himself, Archer, 25, continues to work through these ideas, and then some, in his feature film debut, Wild Tigers I Have Known
, executive produced by Gus Van Sant
, which premiered at Sundance 2006 and earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for "Best Cinematography."
Actor Malcolm Stumpf plays lead character Logan, a gangly 13-year-old suffering through junior high as well as any of us would. An only child raised by a single mom (played by Fairuza Balk), Logan has one "best friend," Joey (Max Paradise), to hang out with, but otherwise has a lot of time on his hands. Much to his mom’s chagrin, he spends most of it alone with his thoughts, whether swimming, exploring the woods, or…masturbating in his bedroom. Presumably, the thoughts running through his mind during those early morning hand-jobs involve Rodeo (Patrick White), a 15-year-old, one of the group of cool, older kids at school. While most of the older gang torment, look down on, or just plain ignore the tweens, Rodeo doesn’t mind having Logan around, and the two develop an oddly paired friendship, even though Rodeo wouldn’t dare admit it to his friends. Logan longs for Rodeo’s attention and affection; his boyish "crush" consuming him to the point that he distances himself from Joey, and drives him to develop a scheme of sorts to woo Rodeo to his way of thinking.
Struggling with his personal and sexual identity, Logan feels a kinship with the mountain lion, the proud animal that roams the property near Logan’s (and Santa Cruz native Archer’s) school. The mountain lions seem to share the young boy’s feelings of separateness—they’re judged without being known. Other feelings are conveyed more directly: when Logan’s alter ego, Leah, calls Rodeo in the middle of the night, we know the primary (or primal, rather) thoughts running through his adolescent mind.
Cinematographer Aaron Platt marries the emotionally complex storyline with stylized images similar to those found in Archer’s previous shorts, while brother/sound designer Nate Archer incorporates a moody backdrop ranging from songs by Current 93, Pantaleimon, and Six Organs of Admittance to ethereal effects and voice-overs. The result is precisely the type of film that Archer believes has a deserved place in the cinematic landscape, but now wants to move away from: an art film for teens.
GreenCine caught up with Archer just days before the Independent Spirit Awards, which take place just prior to Wild Tigers I Have Known’s February 28, 2007, opening in New York City.
You participated in the 2005 Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab—the youngest participant in its history—with Wild Tigers. Did you get some good tips?
Definitely. That’s the best thing that I did for the film, I think. I got to work with the professionals of the world. You have meetings every day with people who know what they’re talking about, and they’re also not your friends [laughs]. They’re going to be a lot more honest, but that’s what you want. That’s the only way your project can really grow. The script that I brought to the lab changed immensely.
How did the idea for this story come about?
In my mind it was a natural next step from what I’d been doing with short films and music videos. A lot of the work I’d been doing was focusing on kids: bored kids, kids unsure of their identities, or more specifically their sexual identities, and trying to get through that horrific time that we call adolescence that, in a way, is beautiful at times. Wild Tigers is very similar to Bobbycrush; it’s not an amazingly complex storyline, but something I was still working over and through, so I decided to write it into a full-length film. And then of course it became bigger. It started to become sympathetic to mountain lions, which were filmed in the [Santa Cruz] neighborhoods and schools. I decided to relate that to this idea of being isolated and targeted and it became one big project.
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