Seasick Sailor packs so much action and tension into its 22 minutes that it’s not hard to see where the film finds its motivation.
In his first stint directing a short film, Torre Catalano says he and producer Devin Bostick wanted to do something more than make a catchy film that could maybe snag some awards at film festivals. They wanted to join the resurgence of the independent film, the ones that focus on substance and storytelling rather than big budgets and explosions.
“In the early 90s you saw this wave of indie films, with Reservoir Dogs and Tarantino leading the way, and suddenly everyone was looking to these new mavericks,” Catalano says. “Now there’s a revival of the indie film, and that’s what we were trying to do.”
The shades of Reservoir Dogs are certainly clear in Seasick Sailor, which shows a day in the life of teenage hitman Penna (Keir Gilchrist). The story is told in a way that doesn’t box in its characters or turn them into stereotypes, but at the same time doesn’t shield audiences from the reality of their violence.
Even the man in charge of the underground gambling ring — the one who directs Penna to his next targets, telling him in graphic detail what he would need to do to them — is seen as much as an efficient office manager as he is a mobster.
At its core, Seasick Sailor is the story about a teenager who hates his job and is trying to balance fitting in with a new group of friends. Gilchrist gives the character life, showing that there a lot going on beneath his ruthless exterior.
Seasick Sailor isn’t lacking for talent. Aside from the powerful performance from Gilchrist, it features performances from Martin Starr (Knocked Up, Freaks and Geeks), Martha MacIsaac (1600 Penn, Superbad), and Brandon Jay McLaren (Graceland). Emily Osment is only on screen briefly in the opening scene, but her performance creates a tension that sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Catalano says he and Bostick wanted to do something different than the countless short films being churned out in Hollywood.
“I know in Hollywood there’s a million people who have done shorts and put their friends and friends of friends in it,” he says. “But in this movie there are seven or eight parts and they’re all big names. These are all people who are doing a ton of projects and aren’t worried about a paycheck, so we just had a lot of fun.”
Not that Catalano and Bostick aren’t calling on their friends, too. Catalano says he wrote the part of Penna specifically for Gilchrist, and cast his wife Martha as Penna’s love interest. He and Bostick called on their friends to fill out the rest of the cast, which Catalano notes is made up of about 90 percent Canadians.
Seasick Sailor is a chance for Bostick to move beyond his acting work (which includes the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series) and step into producing.
For Catalano, the movie is an avenue to directing feature films. He started in the music world, creating behind the scenes features from music videos, before breaking off to start his own studio producing web content and commercials.
Together he and Bostick looked at a handful of scripts for feature films, but none of them seemed right.
“After that happened like six times I was done and just focused on making commercials, but Devin said, ‘Just write a short and we’ll make that,’ ” Catalano says, admitting that writing a film was a bit of a stretch given that the bulk of his work had been in non-fiction documentaries and commercials.
After writing Seasick Sailor, finding the right director was another challenge. As a writer at heart, Catalano had a very specific vision for how the story should unfold on camera.
“We kept talking about who we could get and I was very particular with the way I wanted to look, so after about six meetings Devin just said, ‘You should direct it.’ ”
Catalano admits it was a bit emotional sitting in on table readings and hearing the actors bring his words to life.
“It’s amazing to see how they work,” he says. “You have a vision for how it all should sound, but they come up with a different approach and it just blows your mind. Steve Bauer, who was playing this idiot, I’d only met briefly before the movie, pulls me aside and tells me the whole backstory he imagines for his character. It was just brilliant.”
Even though he had been behind the camera plenty of times, Catalano says he was terrified at first when production started on Seasick Sailor. But had a very capable cinematographer in Kit Pennebaker (who also happens to be the son of Oscar-winning cinematographer D.A. Pennebaker).
Seasick Sailor is now making the rounds at film festivals, and has already earned honors. It won Best Narrative Short at the Los Angeles Cinema Festival, and is slated to appear at a number of upcoming festivals including the LA Film & Script Festival and the Toronto International Short Film Festival.
As Seasick Sailor has been building buzz, Catalano says he’s thought about what kind of project could come next. He’s been asked often if he would consider turning the film into a feature or even a web series, and while he says he’s eager to work with the cast and crew again, for now he’s focusing on promoting the movie and bringing it to a wider audience.
“We hope this is part of the next wave in this resurgence of good indie stuff,” he says. “We want to inspire viewers and people in Hollywood that you can do a movie for cheap in three days and come out with something as good as this.”