Jason Berman, one of the producers of the independent film Little Accidents spoke to Robert “Trae” DeLellis’ Survey of Motion Pictures class on October 22. Little Accidents, starring Elizabeth Banks, Boyd Holbrook, and Jacob Lofland, focuses on a small mining town after a terrible coal mine accident. The film was shown at Sundance Film Festival in January 2014 and was released in theaters a year later.
Berman answered a range of students’ questions from details of the indie film to filmmaking in general.
According to Berman, one of the most challenging aspects of making the film was shooting on location. Shooting on location makes any film more difficult because it adds expense to the film’s budget and the elements and scenery are not under control like on a set. The film was shot in West Virginia because the writer, Sara Colangelo, based the script off of articles she had read about coal mining accidents in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky. Berman said that it took about 10 weeks to find a coal mine that would let them shoot there.
“It was a very important location because the movie was based around a coalmine,” Berman said.
Another concern that spawned from making a movie about a coal mining accident was the reaction from corporate America and the coal industry.
“People in the coal industry actually appreciated the movie and thought we did a good job,” Berman said.
The producer said that he got invested in the film because of the storyline and the level of talent that was attached to the movie. Berman said that by the time he got on board, Elizabeth Banks and Boyd Holbrook had already been casted.
“It’s a powerful story,” Berman said. “It’s a film that has urgent issues because of everything going from coal to clean energy.”
While two of the stars were a part of the film before Berman, the character of Owen Briggs was not. Berman said that they did a wide casting search for this role and eventually landed on Jacob Lofland, with whom they were familiar from his role in Mud.
“We asked [Jacob] to put himself on tape for us and he just knocked it out of the park,” Berman said on Lofland’s audition.
Berman told the class that he didn’t always want to be a producer. When he started film school at the University of Southern California he wanted to be a director. However, he said that he did know that he wanted to work in the film industry since he was 7 years old.
After Berman’s first semester at USC, he realized that his skill set was more in producing than directing. After his freshman year, he began to produce both undergraduate and graduate students’ thesis films.
“I was one of the very few people in undergrad that wanted to produce, so I stuck out,” Berman said.
During his time at USC, he would road trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, which is where he said he fell in love with independent films.
Berman was one of four producers on Little Accidents. The others were Anne Carey, Summer Shelton, and Thomas Fore. According to Berman, he helped to put the financing together and dealt with the investors, while Carey worked on the creative aspects of the film, such as script revisions and working with the writer/director on the first actors. Shelton did a lot of the physical producing, and Fore was the only producer who was also an investor.
“In an independent film, when you don’t have the infrastructure of the studio, it’s generally good to work with one or two additional producing partners because it’s good to divide and conquer and there’s a lot of work that goes into the film,” Berman said.
Berman was a part of Little Accidents during pre-production, production, and post-production.
“It was a long process, but it was one that was very rewarding,” Berman said.