Producer-Director-Costar Scott Monahan and Producer-Writer-Costar Dakota Loesch kicked off Filmfort (part of the 2022 Treefort Music Festival) with their gritty and gripping feature film, ‘Anchorage,’ and received an enthusiastic reception from the Boise audience.
Before hitting Filmfort, ‘Anchorage’ had already won the German Independence Award, Audience Award for Best Film and the Seymour Cassel Award, Outstanding Performance by an Actor (Dakota Loesch) at the 2021 Oldenburg Film Festival and the Festival Grand Prize for Best Film at the 2021 Stony Brook Film Festival.
The film is summarized on IMDB as: “Two brothers attempt to drive a trunk full of opioids from Florida to Alaska to cash in big in the Land of Gold. A split-second act of violence somewhere in the California desert derails their trip and sets them on a crash course with tragedy.”
Before viewing the film for the first time, I met Scott (who plays Jacob) and Dakota (who plays John) on the lawn in front of The Flicks to talk about why this story about two brothers who decide to go on a road trip together to transport a trunk full of opioids from Florida to Alaska is important to share with audiences. Scott and Dakota rolled up on time and somehow both in and out of character, each authentically themselves and other—some mix of the characters they play in the film, the people they see themselves as today, and the people they aspire to become. Their energy is intense, disarming, and intriguing. And like their film, their responses to questions were infused with dark humor.
Your film explores sibling relationships among other things. How biblical and other parables play into your storytelling choices?
Scott: I grew up in a very strict religious military upbringing. My parents were evangelical Christians. I used to have to read the Bible before homeschooling every morning. It’s not representative of where I’m at now in my life, but I remember reading the passage about Cain and Abel. I had a sister, no brother. And I just wondered, how could it happen in this way? It’s such a short paragraph in the Bible and one of the oldest stories about fratricide, and I thought it was fascinating.
Dakota: I have a brother, so I totally understand.
Later in the interview, Dakota added more context: My mother was Jewish and then evangelical. My father was Catholic. They would have arguments like, ‘That’s not my God.’ And I was like, Whoa, there’re different gods? Holy camoly. This is very interesting material, you know?”
Scott: So, when I met Dakota and learned about some of his story and his life and his family, it just became this thing that was like, this is really interesting. And when you start pulling from ancient source texts—
Dakota: Grounded in a classical text.
Scott: It starts giving you so many things that were not things that we’d even planned. Like we had this final shot in the movie that has all these telephone poles just lined up down the way. They look like crosses. And there was stuff that just kept coming up that really gave us rich things to pull from that were beyond just the story about these brothers. It became this thing that was a little bit more, almost classical because we could bring it from this story that is contemporary and modern into more of a parabolic story that might be a little bit more timeless.
Was there a particular parable that you were thinking of that wasn’t associated with a biblical one?
Dakota: There are a lot of good ones.
Scott: Well, not parables, but sources: Cain and Abel—
Dakota: Burt and Ernie.
Dakota wasn’t kidding about Burt and Ernie. In the Q&A after the screening, he reiterated the Sesame Street duo’s role as a source of inspiration.
In another interview I watched of you guys, one of you talked about exploring masculinity. Having at this point only seen the trailer, that is fascinating to me. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Dakota: It’s loaded.
Scott: Loaded to an attribute, like, a thing about a story that isn’t necessarily what it’s about. But I grew up with all the men in my life pushing me towards violence, whether that was sports or just the way in which they lived their lives. And it was the women in my life that always pulled me towards the arts and towards my sensitivity, which is a part of me as well. So I thought it was really fascinating that these two characters would be going through such turmoil and conflict within each other in that masculine realm but were also rooted in the love for their mother who was gone. I thought, how can that inform these characters because it was actually their love for their mother, not love for their father. Their love for their mothers has this emotional weight to it. That’s important. In the movie, there’s this thing that’s called ‘the eulogy,’ which is a game they play.
Dakota: They say each other’s eulogy.
Scott: We talked about how we could show that these characters love each other without them saying it because they would never say “I love you.” And this game is created in this way where they’re able to express their emotions, almost knowing the darkness of where they’re headed with what they’re doing. They know that it’s not going to end well. And there’s some kind of poetic nature about that. And it’s sad that the only way that they can really tell each other how they truly feel is in the story they would tell about their brother if that brother weren’t there.
Dakota: And Jacob, Scott’s character, is the audience’s through character to experience all that. And John, my character, is the argument against it. So, leaning into toxicity and Jacob is kind of ready to leave. You can almost see Jacob’s experience. He’s looking for something else. He’s looking for the promise of one of those parables. Like, at the end of a parable. Like the Good Samaritan. Everything works out. You know, you get out of it; you get out of the world. So, he’s hoping for it in that way. And John is like, I am Him who is I Am. I was before there was before, you know.
Scott: And something my mom told me when I was very young, when I was making a couple of bad decisions consecutively was that your conscience is a voice. And whether you believe that or not, that voice will get quiet the less they listen to that. So for Jacob’s character, from the very beginning of the movie, he is starting to listen to that voice, starting to listen to that conscience that’s in his heart. He’s still doing the same things that he would normally do, but now he’s feeling the weight of them and his brother is not. His brother is seeing that and calling that weakness.
Dakota: Yeah. It compounds.
And it does indeed compound until the story reaches an explosive climax and final scene that is both satisfying and thought provoking. As Dakota said during the after-screening audience Q&A, “We made the movie. You fucking decide what it’s about. Go ahead, argue with our friends on the way home.” During our pre-screening interview, he’d said, “We present the questions. You come up with the answers. You and your friends drive home, and you can argue about it, love it or hate it. That’s what we’re hoping for, just a real reaction. Our job is to elicit an emotional response.”
And elicit an emotional response they did. After a loud and long round of applause, the post-screening Q&A ran past the film’s scheduled block thanks to many questions and feedback from audience members that included gratitude for the actors’ authenticity and vulnerability.
Dakota, you’re the writer of the 2014 feature ‘Kiss Like Big Dogs.’ You also starred in that film as you do in ‘Anchorage.’ How did those roles influence you as you’re performing the other role?
Dakota: When you’re thinking of the project itself, you’re just thinking of the project itself. It’s an island unto itself, but as an actor, you think about your lineage and where you might want to go. And one of my favorite things about ‘Anchorage’ is that Scott gave me permission to go to some place I had never been before. And that was a conjoined rule. It’s like you have carte blanche. I have carte blanche. You can do whatever feels right. I can do whatever feels right. I trust you and you trust me.
For me, everything really led up to ‘Anchorage.’ And I’ve got to say that the writing process of ‘Anchorage’ was the most unique one I’ve ever had. It started with us writing a 2-page treatment, a 6-page treatment, and a 10-page treatment. Then we wrote every scene that could possibly happen and went through the key ones with our Associate Director Meredith Treinen. I would record the audio, transcribe it later, and rearrange it a little bit. We’d read it, go through it again, rewrite it again. And we ended up writing up to the very last day.
You filmed this 80 minute film in 5 days, which demonstrates a commitment to planning and a strategic mindset. What was your biggest surprise or logistical challenge?
Scott: I tell you something, honestly, only one thing came up that was not planned about the whole shoot. We were shooting in gnarly locations. We could have stepped on a needle, been bit by a rat, or someone could have gotten into a asbestos or whatever. But everything was going according to plan; everything was super smooth. We shot it in five days, but then on day four we got separated from the caravan that was going to this shoot location, and we were a little bit late.
We got in the car, and we actually got pulled over because he had forgot to change the fake license plate on the front of the car. So it was Florida on the front, California on the back of the vehicle. It was the whole nine of like hands and arms out the window.
Dakota: Remind you, we looked like the guys in the movie, not us right now. You know, we got tattoos—
Scott: We look like we are doing exactly what he thinks we’re doing. There’s a bunch of fake pills … it was all very triggering. Also, the weight of the financial input that I had on the movie and how much time we didn’t have because we were coming to the end of this thing.
They went on to tell me that after some explanation, the law enforcement officer who pulled them over recognized that they were who they said they were and doing what they said they were doing—making a movie about two guys transporting a load of narcotics across the country. The experiences didn’t last too long, but Scott was still shaken even after reconnecting with the crew.
Scott: Everybody talked about their stories of past police interactions, and I was still shaking. I pulled the car over. I got out and I smoked a cigarette in the middle of the desert, and I had an epiphany.
Dakota: I saw him have it.
Scott: Dakota could see me from the car when it hit me like a bolt of lightning. And you’ll see the scene with the cop in the movie. That [experience of getting pulled over that day and the weight of it] change the nature of that scene. And because we were shooting chronologically, we were able to use that.
Dakota: My entire side of the thing was rewritten with Meredith in the moment.
Scott: How do you evoke an emotional response in that scene? And that thing was the only thing that went wrong with the whole shoot, and it actually made the film so much better.
Dakota: So thank you, Officer Joe Hanson from Game and Fish.
Scott: Thanks for not arresting us because we had the Bible on the dash with fake drugs in the back. We had a bloody bat. He [Dakota’s in character as John] had a 357 under the seat. It could have been the end of our shoot. It could have been jail time until they figured out the pills were made of plastic.
Do you think that your style rooted in immersive theater and the improv you’ve done helped you realize and take advantage of that in the moment in a way that other filmmakers who come from a more structured background may not have been able to?
Dakota: Yes, that was one of our assets. We’ve worked together in immersive theater for five years and five different shows, and that’s all devised dramatic theater that maybe comes from a source texts.
Scott: Sometimes site responsive, sometimes site-specific, and a lot of times almost exclusively devised content based on what’s happening in the room.
When we decided to make this film, we wanted to bring what we love from immersive in into the filmmaking to make it.
Dakota: We even brought people we knew from the immersive scene, like our cinematographer, Erin Naifeh who had gone to Meredith’s show. Immersive theater in LA is kind of like the method. Not that it’s like one practice or one school of thought, but there’s a group of people in a certain time all mixing together. Like blending styles. And that was our method, you know.
About their approach and crew, Dakota went on to say, “We benefited as a storytelling unit because of it. Because we’re all on the same page. We all know exactly where we’re at, what we’re going through, what could be an addition to the story.”
You went through the grant writing process too, right?
Dakota: We missed a lot of them,
Scott: Each time we had to write a grant it gave us more clarity about what it was we were making. Which words were very specific. And when we were submitting for grants we realized that if it felt like we were tailoring to a grant, then we would buck that and say, No, that’s not what we’re doing because if they don’t want to buy what the truth of this movie is, then that’s not a fit. And we kept getting these no’s which could be for a million reasons. The same thing happens to an actor that goes to audition. You don’t get the part, a lot of actors think like I’m a terrible actor. For me, I’m like, Okay, that’s not what they wanted.
Dakota: Here’s what I could do. It’s not what they want.
Scott: And there’s all those things. Same with film festivals. So then we have to find our own way. And then we get into the ones that we do, and we get into Oldenburg. We win best picture, and we win best actor. And then we get the Hollywood Reporter review and then we’re in Variety.
Dakota: Maybe it [not getting grants] wasn’t the most beneficial for the logistics of the film and the financing of the film, but for the poetry of the film, that’s what the film’s about. This is the little indie that could, you know what I mean? Like chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga, choo choo.
I mean, the movie’s about two kids. Why wouldn’t they go to like a major metropolitan city to make their killing? No, they’re going to go to some weird place in their own weird way on their own weird path. And that’s going to be the ultimate reward, whether or not it’s a reward. Yeah, however they interpret it, it’s a reward.
Scott: And that’s one of the great things I love about being an independent filmmaker is the freedom that we have to have different things in mind. And for us, we have an opportunity to make a movie that is clearly our own voice and to take a risk. And we took that financial risk and we took the risk on the content and the movie and presented what we have, and people are responding to it.
Last questions: Why Treefort and Filmfort? And how can film lovers best support you and your work?
Scott: I’m not entirely sure how the person that saw the trailer saw it, but somebody had seen the trailer and recommended it to Ian Clark [Filmfort’s Program Director] who was looking for another film. He hit us up and we submitted the film. And that’s one of those things that shows how important social media is and how important it is for me and for what we’ve been creating for our Instagram and working with our graphic designer Jens Wagner, who’s based in Germany, to create something that’s not just behind-the-scenes photos, that’s not just red carpet photos, but it’s also imagery and stuff that we can build on to.
This is something that’s part of our ethos that we kind of discovered on our own and found out that it was kind of novel and new. When we went to the Oldenburg Film Festival we met filmmaker Patricia Plotnick who is a Polish filmmaker that we were in competition with. And while we were at this festival, we got so excited to be included in this festival that I shared all the other features that we were in competition with on our Instagram. And she said, “You’re the first filmmaker that has ever shared things that you’re in competition with.” And I’m like, I don’t feel like I’m in competition. The competition was to get here. I’m here with you. I’m honored to be in your presence.
Those Instagram posts not only resonated with the other filmmakers at the event, they were seen and shared by others and helped them get into other festivals and get more media attention.
Dakota: Never underestimate the power of interconnectivity, what sharing people’s stuff through a Letterboxd rating or an IMDb rating. Or just shouting out and following and telling your friends about it. Word of mouth is important for filmmakers and not just for filmmakers connecting to audiences but for filmmakers to connect to filmmakers and support each other’s work.
And then they broke into song: “Because, because your friends are my friends, and my friends are your friends, the more we get together…” And you what? I believe and feel ever word of it.
During the course of our conversation and during the post-screening Q&A session, Scott and Dakota repeatedly mentioned their creative collaborators, fellow Producers Taylor Harrington, Gia Rigoli, and Ethan Seneker; Composer Savannah Wheeler; Cinematographer Erin Naifeh; Editor Spencer Showalter; Production Designer Perry Powell; and additional cast member Christopher Corey Smith. ‘Anchorage’ is about two brothers by birth, but Scott and Dakota are, among other things, about chosen family and the powerful effect that the collaborative process can have on their audiences.
You can support the ‘Anchorage’ filmmaking team by following Scott, Dakota, and their film on Instagram and sharing the ‘Anchorage’ film trailer with fellow film lovers and festival programmers.
Scott Monahan @chipsahoyjunkie
Dakota Loesch @dakotaloesch
For more images, visit the official ‘Anchorage’ film website.
Terry Welch Photography