SVA Film & Animation

Faculty Blog: Jenna Ricker

Jenna Ricker’s feature film, The American Side, opens at the IFC Center on April 29th and runs through May 5th. Here, she tells us what attracted her to making the film. She will be present at Q&A’s. For more info click here.

Director Jenna Ricker talks with Matthew Broderick and Greg Stuhr on the set for The American Side.

Director Jenna Ricker talks with Matthew Broderick and Greg Stuhr on the set for The American Side.

Maybe it’s because I was raised on 70’s conspiracy thrillers, get swept up in Hitchcock’s average Joe in a heap of trouble films, and find that a few choice words by Raymond Chandler can disarm a thug, but films that inspire me often lure the audience, the collective ‘just a guy’, into an unfamiliar world, beckoning them to jump on the ride. These films are loaded with memorable characters, evocative settings, and twisting plots. They encourage as much imagination in the audiences that watch them as the filmmakers put into creating them.

When my collaborator told me about a story he’d been developing called The American Side, I was instantly intrigued. Set in the rust-belt town of Buffalo, NY, a low-rent detective quickly finds himself swept up in an ever-widening conspiracy to control a lost invention by the enigmatic genius, Nikola Tesla. Just a guy, racing against the clock to solve a mystery that climaxes under the roar of Niagara Falls- perfect for a contemporary noir.

At the risk of sounding like I’m on the payroll for the visitors bureau, if you’ve never been to Buffalo, do yourself a favor and go! The upside of a town that lost its industry is that they couldn’t afford to tear down the stunning buildings designed by many of America’s leading architects. For a filmmaker like me, this was prime real estate on which to build. The city feels a little out of time- a place where our hero could survive off the grid, operate out of his neighborhood bar, be at the mercy of a pay phone, and know his allies by the shady company they keep.

The use of long lenses, in-camera effects, and an atmospheric lighting scheme reminiscent of the best of Hitchcock and 70’s conspiracy thrillers allowed us to capture the locations and let the patina shine through. Contrasting hollowed-out factories with the lushness of mansions built for leading industrialists of the 1890’s helped reflect the gritty and elegant off-kilter world of a forgotten city and its people.
Speaking of people, every door our hero opens leads to stake-raising clues delivered by complexly motivated characters. Once we were ready to roll, casting brought new dimensions to these parts. We felt casting actors in uncharacteristic roles (Matthew Broderick, Camilla Belle) would both surprise and intrigue the audience, while drawing them further into the mystery. Additionally, in keeping with the film’s language, we looked to actors who had been a part of the film era and genres from which we were inspired- Robert Vaughn (Bullitt), Harris Yulin (Night Moves), Joe Grifasi (Presumed Innocent), and Robert Forster (Jackie Brown); and were honored to have our score created by David Shire (The Conversation, The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3, All the President’s Men).

It was a thrill to work with such amazing talent both in front of and behind the camera to bring The American Side to life and offer today’s audiences a cinematic experience that is both classic and fresh.

Filed Under: Faculty Blog