When Aaron Katz brought his fellow filmmakers into production for “Cold Weather” in the fall of 2008, he didn’t have the opening shot in mind.
That changed when actor Cris Lankenau sheepishly suggested that he step out in the middle of a Pacific Northwest downpour so that Katz could film him walking down a rain-soaked alley.
The story is indicative of the collaboration between director and cast that is representative of the entire movie. Both director and film will be on display when “Cold Weather” is shown at the James Bridges Theater today at 7:30 p.m., with Katz present for a Q&A session afterward. The event is part of the Graduate Students Association’s Melnitz Movies screening series.
The film follows Doug, a working-class, 20-something Oregonian (Lankenau) who must find his ex-girlfriend after she disappears suddenly on a return trip back home from Chicago.
“I think it’s a very relevant movie about post-college life,” said program director Phil Coldiron, citing one of Doug’s other troubles, maintaining steady employment.
Like many detective movies before it, “Cold Weather” owes much of the emotional timbre to its locale. When Katz wrote the screenplay, he imagined setting the tale in his hometown of Portland, Ore. Despite his familiarity with the city, there were still times during production when the crew would discover an ideal location for a particular scene by accident.
“We’d be driving around and all of a sudden, one of us would say, “˜Hey, that would work for this place!’” Katz said.
Actress Trieste Kelly Dunn explained that part of the ease and comfort in creating a realistic environment and life-like relationships among the characters came from the fact that the cast and crew lived in the same house together during production. In a four-story house, the only woman was Dunn, who plays Doug’s older sister (and main investigative partner), Gail.
“When you’re all staying in a house together, everyone feels like a little brother,” Dunn said.
While Katz was busy creating an environment for the rest of the crew, he was also drawing on his previous experience of working with Lankenau in a featured role. Not a professional actor, Lankenau’s only other major previous credit was on Katz’s 2007 critically acclaimed film “Quiet City.” The movie caught the eye of Dunn, a former classmate of Katz at the North Carolina School for the Arts.
Unlike some of its genre predecessors, “Cold Weather” focuses on the relationship between the investigators more so than the actual pursuit.
“We’re all big fans of the genre,” said Katz, who opted to fit the form to his movie-making style rather than the other way around.
Dunn said that the decision made it easier for her to focus more on her role as older sister rather than private eye.
“The whole point is that they’re not good at the detective stuff,” Dunn said. “It’s about these two people and how they go through it. I tried not to think about it as a mystery.”
Katz is recognized as a member of a filmmaking movement known as mumblecore, a group which includes the films “Cyrus” and “Tiny Furniture,” two of independent cinema’s biggest hits of 2010. While Katz acknowledged that he may get lumped in with those other films, Katz said that all the directors associated with the style, such as Mark Duplass and Lynn Shelton, like to have their works judged on their merit and on a case-by-case basis.
Either way, with “Cold Weather,” Katz said he hopes to offer a closer look at an old convention in lieu of the current Hollywood standard.
“I like to give my audience more credit than that,” Katz said.