SXSW 2018 Review/Interview: PET NAMES

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Leigh (Meredith Johnston) flippantly states that she is searching for her soul, but the reality is that she is lost and confused and doesn’t know quite how to face her future.  Written by Meredith Johnston and directed by Carol Brandt, this true indie film follows Leigh during her day-to-day life, as she cares for her ailing mother (Stacy Parish), but is otherwise aimless, confused with no definite plans for her future.  Her loving mother gets Leigh to agree to take some time off for a mini vacation to rest, relax and gather herself away from her daily responsibilities.  When none of her friends are available to join her, Leigh very reluctantly invites her ex-boyfriend Cam (Rene Cruz).  The two go with Cam’s adorable pug dog, reconnect, but eventually re-visit some old wounds that haven’t quite healed.

I really loved this film.  It truly represents what indie film is about.  It focuses on people, their deep feelings and emotions and wonderfully captures some beautiful and genuine human moments–the joys and pains of life and the various ways we cope with these problems and issues which can only be put off for so long.  Meredith Johnson’s script comes across as genuine, heartfelt, and ponderous.  Carol Brandt’s direction brings it all to life and does so with great care and skill.  I also enjoyed the great performances by the two leads (Rene Cruz and Meredith Johnston) who bring a real humanity and delicacy to their roles.

It was a joy to speak with Carol Brandt, Meredith Johnson, and Rene Cruz at the festival and I am grateful they took the time to do an interview with me. I also had the pleasure of meeting Chato the Pug who plays the dog in the film.

Mark Saldana: Meredith, this movie feels like it comes from a very personal place.  Is this based on some of your experiences?

Meredith Johnston:  It is loosely based on experiences that happened to me in high school.  It certainly is a reflection on how I used to be, but not so much anymore.

Mark: Rene, you are a musician, artist, and actor.  I enjoyed your performance in the film which brings a sweet innocence to the character, is this your first film as an actor?

Rene Cruz: It is my first role in a feature film.  I have done some shorts and commercials you’d probably find on the internet somewhere, but please don’t! (Laughs) It is my first feature and my first film I actually liked.

Mark: Carol, how did you come across Meredith’s script?

Carol Brandt: Meredith and I had worked together on a previous film directed by my producing partner.  She sent me the script for this film and I loved it and wanted to make it right away.

Mark: I love the camping sequence.  Where was it shot?

Carol: It was shot in a town called Lone Rock in Wisconsin at this mom & pop owned camp ground and they were super sweet to work with and very accommodating.  It was also Memorial Day weekend, so they had a lot to do, but were so sweet to accommodate everything we needed to shoot.

Mark: Carol, as an independent filmmaker, how difficult has it been to get your films made and seen?

Carol: Getting them seen is way harder than getting them made.  It is comparatively easy to make a film that it is to get it out into the world, especially if you come from a town like Milwaukee where connections are sparse.  So the fact that we are here (at SXSW) is incredible.  This is my fourth feature.  It has been a long road to get my films out into the world.  I have learned a lot making all of these films, but they haven’t been seen by pretty much anybody.

Mark: (To Meredith and Carol) A women you face challenges in addition to the challenges faced by all indie filmmakers.  In the age of “Me Too” what advice do you have for women trying to make it in the film industry?

Carol: There is some discrimination, but it is going away–especially in the art communities.  Advice wise, I would say that for women filmmakers to not think of themselves as filmmakers specified by their gender.  No matter who you are or where you come from, you should hold yourself to the same caliber of filmmaking as any filmmaker you admire.

Meredith: I would have to say, Hire Women! As an actor I have only done a handful of films and I have had negative experiences with male directors on a few of them.  I thought it was astounding that it had happened to me, even though I thought I was nobody and no one.  I have also worked on films run by women and they just felt a lot more comfortable and balanced.  Hire women!


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