Small Town Crime premiered at the Paramount theater in Austin, Texas on Saturday, March 11th at the SXSW conference film festival. Before the film began, SXSW film director Janet Pierson introduced writer/directors Ian and Eshom Nelms onto the stage.
Eshom extended his gratitude to the audience, “We just want to give our sincerest thanks to all of you coming out this afternoon. We want to thank Austin. We want to thank South by Southwest. It’s brilliant to be here.” Ian then continued, “I came to Austin two years ago for a meeting, and I quickly realized this was the ‘rock and roll’ of the festival circuit and I came back to my brother and I said, ‘We’ve got to get there. We’ve got to get to Austin.’ Here we are two years later - we finally made it. So, thank you for having us.”
After a thunderous applause as the credits rolled, moderator Alicia Malone introduced the directors back up on to the stage followed by Octavia Spencer, John Hawkes, Clifton Collins Jr., Caity Lotz, James Lafferty, Jeremy Ratchford, Dale Dickey, Don Harvey, Michael Vartan, Stefanie Scott and Michelle Lang.
The Q&A began with Malone asking the Nelms brothers who their influences were when they were growing up. Eshom replied, “I think our parents had a huge influence on us and the number one gift was that they had a standing order for the Clint Eastwood collection and every two weeks we would get another beautiful Clint Eastwood classic in the mail. So, my brother and I grew up on those.”
Malone then questioned actor John Hawkes, a long time resident of Austin, “How does it feel to premiere this film, in this town, with this kind of audience?” Hawkes responded, ‘Oh, it’s amazing. I have family here. I have friends here. This town has a lot to do with how I turned out - for better or worse - but I think for the better with this town and to be here at the Paramount is amazing, too, because I got to stand on this stage and do plays some years back. It’s really cool to be here.”
When asked why she wanted to not only act in the film but also go behind the scenes as an executive producer, Octavia Spencer replied, “I’ve known these guys for ten years and when they first moved to L.A., we were all in the same boat and they made a movie for fifteen thousand dollars - and it was just as good as this movie. It was easy for me to get behind it. When I read it, I was thinking John Hawkes but you can’t influence the directors, so I asked them, ‘In your dream world, who would you cast?’ They said we would really love to have John Hawkes and I said, ‘oh really, I guess we’re in the same boat,’ so I made that call happily. I’m thrilled to have a tiny little part in the movie but it’s even better sharing the stage with this amazing group of actors.”
Malone then questioned Clifton Collins Jr. about how he came up with his character in the film. Collins Jr. stated that the directors created the basic skeleton of the character but he shaped him after some Skype calls, “I have this old friend who’s been my mentor since I was fifteen and kept me out of trouble - I saw so much of him in this character and I sat down with him and went through all of my dialogue. I also researched Iceberg Slim and getting into that literature… and it was really fun to delve in. I’m so grateful to have these two guys trust me in that way and let me be creative collaborate with them.”
Michael Vartan spoke about his role and playing this particular character, “I had to be a little more serious than the rest of them but not off camera. I actually only got to work really with John and Daniel and never had the pleasure of working with Octavia — but it was obviously and amazing cast… My character had to keep his wits about him because he’s really the only one who believes in Mike (Hawkes) and wants him to find his way back.”
Caity Lotz, commenting on what it was like to play a character who you’re never really sure about, said, “It was amazing. Just working with John and Clifton - they’re so fun to play off of. From the beginning, when I read the script, the character and their relationship was so unique and the opportunity to work with such amazing actors was [a dream come true.]”
John Hawkes spoke about imagining how he would play his character before filming, “I laughed out loud a lot reading the script and that doesn’t happen often. The opportunity also to work with Octavia — she and I have done several films together but never really got the chance to be on screen together. She sent me the script with a note that said this might remedy that problem. I called her before I read the script and said I’m really anxious to read it, thanks so much for all of this but I don’t like to know too much beforehand. She said, ‘I won’t tell you anything… just that we play brother and sister,’ and I said, ‘where do I sign?’”
Octavia spoke about her chemistry and relationship with Hawkes and what it was like to finally share the screen with him, “When I read it, I was like, I want to see John Hawkes do this because he is so bad ass. If you look at his filmography, you want to see him do this type of role. I had never had the opportunity in all of the films we’ve done together - the same thing with Michael Vartan, we’ve never had the opportunity to have scenes together and still not in this movie. We’ll have to do another one, Michael. - It was kismet and I knew these guys [Nelms brothers] would deliver because I love working with writer/directors. It feels like [this cast is] magic in a bottle.”
The final question from an audience member asked what the working relationship is like between Ian and Eshom and how the cast interacted with the both of them. Ian answered first, “Most of our battles are won or lost in the writing room so if [Eshom’s] really passionate about something, he gets it. If I’m really passionate about something, I get it. If we’re both passionate, we both get it.” James Lafferty added, “We’ve done a couple of movies with them before this and the thing I admire about Ian and Eshom is that they put together such an amazing team. Every time they create a project, they bring at least five new people with them that want to come with them because it’s such an amazing, collaborative experience. The fact that they’re able to hold on to people for that long is a testament to that.”
Michelle Lang ended the discussion with, “For me, I produce a lot for the brothers and since I get to be behind the scenes a lot, I get to meet everyone, in addition to playing my role, and it’s like a summer camp. It’s such a joy to see everybody every day.”