Taking on Skateland one roll at a time



By Gary Dean Murray


Brandon Freeman comes across as a can-do kind of guy who doesn’t see barriers as much as small hurtles to jump over.  The entrepreneur has started different businesses, working as a venture lawyer and starting his own private investment firm, the Freeman Group.  Through his investment firm, he started Freeman Film with his brother Heath Freeman and their friend Anthony Burns. 


There is a creative side to Brandon Freeman.  He is the co-writer, 2nd unit director and producer of Skateland, the Sundance sensation that is getting a wide release. 


The story is a cross between a John Hughes film and Dazed and Confused.  It is the story of Richie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez) a young man who manages at a skating rink in a small East Texas town in the early 1980s. 


Just as the decades are changing, everything in the town is changing.  There is a great divide between those who are going off to college and those who are staying behind to work in the oil fields.  Brent (Heath Freeman) is one of those who have made it out to pursue his dream of motorcycle racing.  His sister Michelle (Ashley Greene) works at the local Music-land and pines for Richie.  


“It is a serious slice-of-life film that resonates with character development,” said Brandon.  He began writing the film with his brother Heath and their friend Anthony Burns.  They finished in May 2008 and starting casting August 2008.  The filming of Skateland began in October and wrapped by the end of December.  The editing started in January of 2009 until mid summer.   Then the film premiered as a part of the Sundance 2010 Festival in-route to releasing to being released for Summer 2011.  Brandon found the Sundance experience exhausting, with a wild schedule of screenings and national interviews.  


Every screenplay has a beginning and Brandon explained his journey to the big screen,  “The genesis of this film is that my brother and I have been working on scripts for years.  He is an actor and he’s been out in LA since he was 21.  He’s had some minor success in independent films and TV.  I have been an entrepreneur and stepped out and done my own thing since I got out of law school.  I always have encouraged him to make their own films otherwise you are sitting around waiting for someone to hire you.  He was down to the wire on a call back and didn’t get it.  I said, ‘Let’s just make a film’.” 


The plans for what was to become Skateland started at a wedding with their buddy Anthony Burns, who ended up directing the film.  “We all grew up together.  He was trying to get small directing jobs.”  They started the writing project in East Texas because that was where the basis of the film was to take place.  “We worked on scripts that were based in East Texas.  Skateland centered around a skating rink that we grew up.  We originally wanted to make it a comedy.  That is what we started out with.”


Doing research on 1983, they saw it as a transition between the 1970s and the 1980s.  “All the 1980s films we’ve seen are very self aware, almost over-done and in your face.  That’s not how we remembered the 1980s.” said Brandon.  “It was a transition of style, music and culture–both at home and at the workplace.  All the things that made that interesting, we wanted to make that a backdrop.  In Skateland, the roller rink is really a metaphor for that change in time.”    


They eventually moved the project to Austin to work on the script.  They wrote about 50% in Dallas and 50% in Austin and were looking to shoot the film in either city.  After looking at the finances of the production, they decided the best fiscal sense made for shooting in Shreveport, Louisiana.  Brandon said that it looked like East Texas in the 1980s, a bit underdeveloped. 


Though it is placed in 1983, they wanted to make it hard to pick out a specific time.  Brandon said about the location, “Part of our passion for the script was for the time.  We wanted to feel authentic but not try too hard, like you can’t really pick out the time.  We wanted to be middle class, lower middle class kids in Texas.  Back in that time period there wasn’t that much style, you were just getting exposed to MTV.  We wanted to be very subtle about the whole look and feel.  We chose super high-end 35 film.  We were very particular about how we dressed our sets.  Every day I went to everyone’s trailer and helped pick out clothes.  I was so particular about what they were going to wear and hair style.  We paid a lot of attention to details.”


When they pulled out all the annuals from the 1980s they found that the kids looked more like the 1970s   “It didn’t look like Go-Go eighties.  Hair was long still.  People wore plaid and T-shirts.  Only 50% of the high school graduating classes went to college.  It was a time period when people weren’t that ambitious.  It was taking it easy, status quo and hang out and smoke cigarettes. It is a lot different from today.”


There are bits and pieces that are biographical.  “You kind of tem\nd to write what you know,” said Brandon.  “I think we drew on experiences that we knew.  But it is not that anyone of us is a character in the film. We started out with our cast of characters and we built the characters up. We built the story up really around our set of characters.  It was a very personal writing experience.  We wrote together more like you’d see sit-com writers together.  We’d bounce ideas around.” 


For a first time writer of a screenplay, Brandon found that was a different experience.  He had written the screenplay more like a novel.  “We had numerous scenes that were cut just for pacing.  If we knew that going into it, we would have been more efficient in our writing. Every day of production is extremely expensive, we could have cut out four or five days of production if we would have known the scenes were going to end up on the editing room floor. ”  


He said that next time they will bring in an editor as they shoot.  “They have such a great understanding of story and pacing.  They help out a lot.”


“We were trying to do an independent Dramedy,” said Brandon, which is a difficult task in the fast-paced film world of the 21st century.  “Films today just start out and hit the ground running.  Audiences don’t seem to have the patience to watch a film that is more of a drawn out story that is writer-director driven.” 


The film is dedicated to John Hughes, the writer/director of such teen films as 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club.  “John Hughes was a huge influence.  What I like about John Hughes is that his films are character driven.  You don’t see films like The Breakfast Club anymore, where the whole thing takes place in the library of a school.   It is just brilliant.”


Since he has started different businesses over the years, he parallels doing a start-up project with making a film.   “It is like putting a small business together and your exit is getting distributing.”  There are more projects in the future for Brandon Freeman and Freeman Films.  He ended by saying, “There is no time like now.  Let’s get started.”






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