One of These Days director Bastian Günther and actress Carrie Preston tell us about the film’s unique perspectives, the current media landscape, and the intimate set the film created.
One of These Days is an intimate story from director and writer Bastian Günther that dives deep into the heart of small-town America that has been created and molded into a victim of the larger system it finds itself trapped inside.
Set in a small American town in the south, One of These Days tells the story of two characters, Kyle (Joe Cole) and Joan (Carrie Preston) as they find themselves in the middle of an intense competition centered around the promise of a brand new truck. Kyle joins the contest out of desperation to support his wife and newborn child while Joan handles the competition from the PR side. Juggling her personal struggles while keeping the contest running even in its most intense moments. As we see these two different perspectives collide with each other, the film becomes a beautiful and unique take that views the world of late-stage American capitalism with sympathy and a sense of passion for the beauty that small intimate towns can create.
Ahead of its UK release on April 1st, we had an interview with director Bastian Günther and actress Carrie Preston about the film and what their unique perspectives brought to the film as well as delving into a larger discussion of where One of These Days stands in the current media landscape.
Bastian Günther on his personal perspective of One of These Days
Bastian, as a director from Germany, what made you want to tackle stories that were centered around American capitalism and culture?
Bastian Günther: I think the two films I made before One of These Days were also handling the subject of capitalism and the system we live in. The film Houston (2013) and the film California City (2014) both have this as a topic: how we came up with a system that doesn’t work for us and how we contribute to the system every day. And so, I heard about this contest in East Texas, maybe around 2010: my wife told me about a documentary that had come out in the 90s called Hands on a Hardbody. And I thought: this is a very interesting topic to make a film about. Not a documentary, but a narrative feature, because I thought that [the subject of the documentary] would have been exploitative. Poor people get exploited, they can’t afford a truck themselves. So they have to stand there, and it becomes a big circus. And I just thought it was so interesting how it is 12 square meters, our whole system is mirrored in this competition. And so I spent a lot of time in Texas, and I started my research. And then I came across this case that happened in 2005, where one of these contenders killed himself. And I thought: this is the story for the film. And from then I started writing the script, and it took some years, but yeah, this was the inspiration.
Carrie Preston on her research for One of These Days
Carrie, what research did you personally conduct before the film?
Carrie Preston: I had seen the documentary a long time ago. I knew of the contest as I grew up in the South where they had similar contests, where I grew up in Georgia. I had also seen a musical about the subject matter, so people had explored it. And I was aware of the potential for a great amount of drama just given what the competition is, to begin with. Bastian had done several interviews with a woman that he loosely based my character on, and he had videos of her so I watched them, just to kind of get a little inspiration from her. I wasn’t imitating her, but I got some of the cadences of her like some of her mannerisms and used that to inspire my character, the way I wanted to play her and honor her and find this balance between her desperation and her joy.
Was there any part of Joan’s character that you personally related to?
C.P.: I grew up with a lot of women like her. I certainly grew up in a, not as small of a town like the one in the film, but a smaller town. There are a lot of people that I grew up around that have this sense of trying to kind of justify their actions in a way and to imbue their lives with some kind of purpose and I can relate to that. She warrants so much to believe in this competition and not to see any of the ramifications or anything like that. She keeps trying to sell it and I feel like we understand that as a culture we try to curate and sell our lives.
The production and distribution process
Much of the film takes place around one truck which I imagine means a very free form and intimate set. Were there any improvised moments whether they were in the film or cut out that were particularly noteworthy?
B.G.: The scenes that were around the truck were all scripted. But, in every scene, we did some improvising, we let the camera run longer and picked up little reactions from the whole ensemble. Even when the scene was over, they still stayed in the moment. And we were just able to pick up little moments, like…somebody’s sweating, somebody is looking over here, somebody is talking here, and just all these little things that you can’t even think of when you write a script on your desk. Once you have the actors, and they bring so much to the film that you can’t even think of, you have to give everybody the freedom to just give it, and then later you will cut things and put it all together.
But especially with this film, it was really important that we always had the freedom to make long takes and to be able to do it over and over again with little variations so that everybody was able to bring everything they wanted. Everybody was really motivated, and everybody had a lot of fun despite having to stand for a long time around the truck in hot and humid weather. Before we started the shooting, we had a one-day rehearsal in a big hall: we had a truck in there. We went through the whole script. And even there, the first improv already started. People came to me saying, “Hey, I thought about this,” so I’d say, “Yeah, let’s just try some stuff,” and then we would put it together. It was a nice experience because it was almost like a theatre stage. We have this one truck that’s like a stage, so you just focus on the actor. Although the film was scripted, we always had the freedom to do different things.
Film right now has its eyes particularly set on superhero and blockbuster films, which means stories like One of These Days can often fly under the radar. So I was wondering how you think this film with stories like this can freshen up the current media landscape?
C.P.: Independent film has since the 80s, really, always had a place to tell stories that wouldn’t otherwise be able to be told. It is a bit of a David and Goliath situation right now, because of the largeness of the studios as well all of these streaming services we have now. The Academy Award was just won by a streaming film, CODA, which is on Apple TV and has done the film festivals and stuff, but I think I’m glad that there’s a place to showcase them streaming-wise. I wish that we could get US distribution for One of These Days. I’ve been really pushing for it, since it is such an American story. But the business side of things sometimes prevents that, because economically you just can’t make a lot of money.
Bastian Günther on what’s next
Bastian, have you thought about what stories you might want to tackle for your next film? Would it be anything similar to one of these days, where it bases itself in reality?
B.G.: My next film takes place on Mars, so it’s kind of a fake science-fiction film. That’s what I call it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.