FOR THE COYOTES
An experiment in narrative feature filmmaking.
Two person cast.
Two person crew.
Two weeks of filming.
Written and directed by Eric Daniel Metzgar. Starring James Carpenter and Josh Schell.
A disgraced Buddhist teacher makes an unfathomable request of his estranged son during their final days together. A narrative feature film about love, delusion and death… set in the deep forest of Northern California.
“For the Coyotes is a master course for micro-budget filmmakers. Cinematic proof that thoughtful filmmaking doesn’t have a price tag.” San Francisco Chronicle
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This film was born of frustration. I had been developing another fictional feature film...forever. The budget was sizable. We had some renowned film actors attached. The financing would come into place, we'd set dates to begin production, I'd scout locations, draw storyboards, and then the financing would fall through. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
It was driving me mad. Coming from the documentary world, I have grown accustomed and deeply fond of walking out of my house with my camera in my hands and MAKING SOMETHING. No need for anyone's permission. No pitching. No cc'ing twelve people. Just spontaneous, down-and-dirty, hands-on, intuitive, follow-your-nose-and-heart filmmaking.
I had been writing a stage play inspired by an ancient ceremony called a sky burial -- in which a family carries their dead loved one’s naked body to a mountainside and then proceeds to cut it up and feed it to vultures. Though the notion initially horrified me, I was also intrigued by it, and I was fascinated by my initial horror— because after all, what could be more generous and natural and beautiful than giving yourself back to the earth, and by doing so, giving your family the gift of profound contact with the reality and inevitability of death? It was this part that intrigued me the most — and I wondered what impact it would have on our society if we regularly witnessed our dead being recycled back into the ecosystem.
So, frustrated and impatient with my other film, I decided to turn my stage play into a screenplay in such a way that I could go out and make it on a minuscule budget. I knew I wanted theater actors. The story hinges on the dialogue and the deeply intimate relationship between the father and son. I was a huge fan of Josh Schell’s already (Best Actor of 2012, SF Weekly), and he was on fire in the San Francisco theater scene (where I was about to move with my family) so I wrote the son’s part for him. In looking to fill the father’s role, I asked around for who was the best stage actor in San Francisco in that age range, and everyone said James Carpenter ("San Francisco's master actor," San Jose Mercury News), so I called him up and he was excited about the project. So Josh, James and I (plus a wonderful sound person, Katherine Gorringe), all drove up to a remote cabin in northern California and lived and worked together for two weeks and created this film together.
My embryonic and abstract idea eventually transformed into something bigger and better than I could have ever dreamed. It was a genuinely gratifying experience to watch Josh and James bring this vision to life. The entire undertaking was a spiritual practice for me. I was able to delve down into the core of my fascination with sky burial — which revealed itself as a bone-deep fear of impermanence, a yearning for the kind of peace that comes with the acceptance of death and loss, and a dream of a cultural paradigm shift regarding burial and end-of-life rituals so that someday I might be able to surrender myself to the earth with the fearlessness and generosity displayed in more ancient cultures.
I hope audiences are moved and disturbed as well, and that the film plays some small part in instigating new conversations about dying in America.