Hot Summer, High Stakes
A pot dealer comes of age in 'Dance With the One'
August in Austin is a particularly hellish time to shoot a film, so it's no wonder the actors in Dance With the One, which was shot locally two summers ago, drip with sweat from scene to scene. It's a small but telling detail that authentically conveys our little corner of the planet; that kind of authenticity distinguishes the entire film, a production of the University of Texas Film Institute. It's there in the set dressing and decor, the casually multiethnic cast, the house party that believably mixes old-Austin hippies and skateboarding pot dealers.
Director Mike Dolan, who teaches filmmaking and acting at St. Stephen's Episcopal School, credits the screenwriters, Jon Marc Smith (an Austin native) and Smith Henderson (an Austin transplant), with "capturing the Austin vibe," along with production designer Yvonne Boudreaux and her art department.
"Casting is also huge in capturing place, and I think we got really lucky with all of the cast," says Dolan. "Gabriel Luna is from Austin, so he was a killer resource in terms of that authenticity."
Luna plays Nate, a small-time dealer trying to keep his family together in the wake of his mother's death by overdose. Luna, a longtime Austin theatre actor, has a can't-look-away-from-him quality, as his beleaguered Nate shoulders the burdens of a parent when his own father (played by Gary McCleery) disappears inside a bottle of whiskey, while betraying his own still young age with a little-kid kind of panic when a drug deal goes south – way south.
"Gabe has a sort of sad nobility that really comes across," says Dolan, "and he also has the courage and physicality to believably take all the actions in the film that the story demands."
What kind of actions? Well, there's sex, drugs, and rock & roll – not to mention shotgun-toting and intense emoting – but for all the sensationalist sheen of the film's premise, it plays out with real sensitivity.
"The stakes in our film are often very high," says Dolan, "and this could be death if we played at that emotion in a way that was false, so I was always really aware of the intensity of the emotion, because it really loses clarity if it gets too heavy."
Dolan brought to set his own years of experience in front of the camera, in films like Biloxi Blues and Hamburger Hill (more recently, he's appeared in local productions Mars and Friday Night Lights).
"I love actors and acting, and when I was working in New York I worked with some very good directors who taught me a ton about working with actors. I feel like I have a pretty good tool kit I can play with.
"The key is freeing actors up; there are so many ways actors shut themselves down. They put pressure on themselves, get caught up in an obligation to fulfill an idea instead of just trusting that all they need to do is be entirely in the moment and trust that unplanned behavior will emerge and tell the story. I always bring everything back to the story."
Dance With the One screens July 27, 7pm, at the Dobie Theatre. Proceeds benefit Gabriel Luna's Paper Chairs theatre company.