A Year and Change’s co-writer and director Stephen Suettinger is excited about the release of his independent film on DVD and VOD this Tuesday, November 24.
A Year and Change made the 2015 festival circuit, including the Dances with Films Festival in June. Through streaming services like Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Netflix, the film now has the opportunity to be viewed by a worldwide audience. “I’m just happy we got the opportunity to get it out there. Because a lot of movies you see at film festivals, and a lot of movies that are made—heck the ones that don’t even make it into festivals—of which there are a ton, don’t get distribution,” Suettinger said. “So we’re just extremely thankful to be able to do that and to have the movie out there.
“When you’re making a small budget independent film, you hope to be able to get it before a large audience. We didn’t expect theatrical, so we didn’t go in hoping to only get theatrical, because we know what happens in theaters with movies of our size since we didn’t have any kind of promotion or advertising budget or anything like that.”
An intimate and personal film, A Year and Change gives us a glimpse into the life of Owen, a vending machine owner/operator, after he drunkenly falls off the roof at a New Year’s house party and breaks his arm. While sitting in the emergency room, Owen decides that it’s time to make some wholesale changes in his life, and pursues it in fits and starts, with different choices and relationships.
Despite the exploding streaming market and the Millennial generation’s penchant for watching films on various devices any time they wish, a Gen-X filmmaker like Suettinger still harbors the desire to see his work premiere on the wide screen.
“At the same time, not having theatrical—there’s still the stigma, a little bit, of ‘straight to DVD’, although I think it’s changing,” Suettinger said. “Although I love seeing it on the big screen, it’s a completely different experience seeing a movie on the big screen rather than one’s personal home theater. But I knew that wasn’t the way that I was going to get it into people’s homes, and how we were going to get people to see it was on VOD and DVD.”
Suettinger received the story, “out of the blue”, from screenwriter and playwright Jim Beggarly. Beggarly saw Wentworth, Suettinger’s graduate school thesis film, and discovered he was from Maryland. Jim also grew up in Maryland, and felt his story had an East Coast flavor that might draw Suettinger into a collaborative relationship.
“I took a look at it, and I agreed with him. I knew I liked it enough to option it, but I knew it needed work. I didn’t know my way into the story yet, I just knew as a director I liked some of the scenes, and I liked the overall idea of this journey that he was taking. But it was only after my mom passed away in 2011 that I understood what the story was for me. And that was that he needed to surround himself with a family.”
Suettinger had a sound support system around him in dealing with his loss, but had an epiphany regarding Owen’s journey. “It occurred to me that Owen, who had lost his parents, and lost his marriage, and his relationships with his son and his ex-wife, didn’t have that support system, so it became clear that the movie should be about Owen surrounding himself with a new family, a surrogate family. So that’s the direction we went in, and that’s kind of the way we took it, and that’s what you see on the screen.”
The film is shot as a series of diary entries to a mysterious “Jen”, as Owen quits drinking, re-enters his estranged son’s life, reignites old friendships and relationships with his cousins, , and falls in love with Vera, a bank teller and fellow divorcee.
The role of Owen is artfully played by Bryan Greenberg (Prime, How to Make It in America) who hits all the emotional and personal highs and lows as Owen begins his unconscious and stumbling steps to be different.
“The actor that we ended up going with needed to be a tough kind of a guy, but also as he progresses through the script, he needed to open himself up to that softer side; to that more caring, more generous, that more helpful side of his personality. So we definitely needed an actor that could handle the wide range of emotions that Owen has in this story.”
While Suettinger knew of Bryan Greenberg’s work, it was Jim Beggarly who also presented the entree for Greenberg to audition for the role of Owen.
“Jim Beggarly had written a movie called The Kitchen which Emily Ting (A Year and Change producer) had also produced and Bryan Greenberg was in. At their New York premiere of that movie, Bryan asked Jim what else he was working on, and Jim immediately texted me and said, ‘Hey, can I show Bryan the script?’ I said absolutely you can show Bryan the script; please give it to him immediately!”
Greenberg fell in love with the script and in a meeting with Suettinger to discuss the role, it was discovered that Greenberg had worked with and collaborated with some of his potential co-stars. “It just worked out really well. When Bryan came on board, things kind of took off from there. It was really great to be able to get him involved in the movie.”
Suettinger was also thrilled with the rest of his cast (including Claire van der Boom [The Pacific, Hawaii Five-0], and T.R. Knight [Grey’s Anatomy, 42]). “Everybody in this movie—the actors were lucky they had a room on location, and they were lucky if we weren’t moving to four separate locations on that specific day. We didn’t have a dressing room, we didn’t have a honey wagon, or anything like that. We were just very bare bones. And they just kind of sat down and said, ‘Let’s do this!’“
Suettinger completed his undergraduate education at Colgate University, with majors in Molecular Biology and Music, and worked on a multitude of feature films that shot in the Washington DC area. He then worked as a Production Coordinator for the Discovery Channel before making his first short film, Writing Wrongs. Suettinger went on to USC, where he received his M.F.A. in Cinematic Arts. Suettinger was chosen for the Fotokem Student Filmmaker Grant to help make Wentworth, his graduate thesis project. The project played at 15 film festivals and took home several awards. It was also picked up by Imagemakers, a PBS television program featuring emerging filmmakers. After graduating from USC, Suettinger jumped into the motion capture feature world working on Beowulf and then Avatar, where he served as one of James Cameron’s primary note takers. Suettinger helmed the sitcom television pilot American Bar and directed a music video for the hard rock band ‘Earth at Night.’
After 10 years in Los Angeles, Suettinger returned home to suburban Maryland to start Pebble Hill Films. A Year and Change is a signature Pebble Hill production and Suettinger’s first feature directorial debut. The film premiered at several festivals and received favorable reviews, but the audience response is what has captured Suettinger’s attention.
“So far we’ve had very pleasant audience reaction. A lot of people have said that these characters feel like real people, and they don’t get real people on the screen very much anymore. And I love that. Then some people come up and talk to me about having dealt with some of the issues in their own lives, including suicide, and things like that in the story, and they’re appreciative of the way we have handled that. So, yeah, we’ve had a pretty positive response to all of the screenings that we’ve had and in the reviews, so hopefully that will continue when we release.”
A Year in Change becomes available on Tuesday November 24 via Amazon Prime and iTunes, and Netflix within the next few months. Visit the A Year and Change website and the Facebook Page for more information about the movie and where you can download and view the film.