First-time director and Milbridge native Katie Aselton, who has made a name for herself as an actress in the indie film world as well as on the FX series “The League,” admits that she never planned on becoming a filmmaker.
“Was it my dream to be a director? No. But am I super-excited that I can be one now? Yeah,” Aselton said in a recent phone interview.
The motivations behind her do-it-yourself debut “The Freebie” came more from her frustration as an actress than a desire to direct.
“[Acting is] what I love to do, I really want to do it as often as I possibly can,” the 32-year-old said. “And I wasn’t getting the roles that I wanted to be working on.”
It was Aselton’s husband, writer-director Mark Duplass (who, along with his brother, Jay, has made such films as “Baghead” and “Cyrus”) who pushed her to make a movie.
“I was like, ‘You can’t just make a movie, Mark.’” The actress quickly discovered that yes, she could.
“The Freebie,” which was shot in 11 days and entirely improvised, stars Aselton and Dax Shepard (“Idiocracy” and “Baby Mama”) as a couple who, after years of marriage, still enjoy each other’s company but are missing the spark in their love life. In an attempt to retrieve what they have lost, the two agree to give each other one night off from their marriage — an experiment in infidelity.
The film is funny at times and becomes more emotionally charged as the story progresses. It offers an honest look at the good and bad sides of relationships, and benefits from the actors’ improvisation.
“You get these really rich, honest moments that feel natural and real because they are,” Aselton said.
That realness gave “The Freebie” a lot of traction on the film festival circuit. The movie was chosen for Sundance, South by Southwest and the Seattle International Film Festival, among others, many of which Aselton previously had attended as an actor, but not as a director.
Aselton compared touring the festivals with “The Freebie” to a proud parent showing off a brilliant child. She said she was most surprised and pleased by the discussion that the movie spurred.
“I think that’s the mark of a really good film, when it can create a conversation between perfect strangers.”
“The Freebie” won Aselton acclaim for her work both in front of and behind the camera.
“You know as an actor when things are working and when things aren’t,” she said. “And where it was all improvised, it was very easy to steer a scene and control a scene.”
For her work as a director, Aselton gives a lot of credit to her “safety net,” including cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke, whom she trusted to take the creative reins while acting, and editor Nat Sanders, who Aselton said had one of the most difficult jobs, sometimes having to cut hourlong takes.
“They would be my creative eyes. And I felt very free to just sort of do my thing on the other side,” she said.
Aselton continues to do her thing in front of the camera with two movies slated for release in 2011 — the Duplass brothers’ “Jeff Who Lives at Home” starring Jason Segal and an independent film titled “The Treatment.”
Her filming schedule for “The League” occupies most of the summer — the prime season for visiting her home state. Still, Aselton says she tries to come back to Maine as often as possible, and is tinkering with a script that she hopes to shoot herself Down East.
“That’s where I’m from. It’s my blood,” Aselton said. “I would just love to dig into the natural beauty that is Maine and create an amazing story.”
“The Freebie” is now available on DVD at Bull Moose for $19.97 and at Amazon.com for $24.99.
Joel Crabtree is a Bangor Daily News copy editor and guest blogger for movie critic Christopher Smith at www.weekinrewind.com.