Mr. Fun Guy is here again and this month we did something special! We talked to Jason Cortlund, writer and co-director of the film Now, Forager.
This is unique: a narrative feature film about mushrooms!
Jason, please tell my readers what Now, Forager is all about.
Now, Forager is narrative feature film about Lucien and Regina—a married couple who make their living hunting edible wild mushrooms and selling them to restaurants in New York City. For them, it’s a hard life. If it doesn’t rain enough or if it’s too cold, they can’t earn any money.
Regina decides to take a full-time job cooking at a high-end restaurant to improve their financial security and to follow a more fulfilling personal career path. Feeling threatened, Lucien proposes that instead of selling out, they give up their apartment and drive to the more-profitable West Coast as full-time itinerant foragers.
As individual desires take them down divergent paths over the course of a year, their marriage comes apart. But there’s lots of beautiful mushrooms all along the way.
The story takes place over the course of a year. Because we wanted to show different species of fungi actually growing in each unique season, we had to shoot the film over the course of a year. It proved to be a very challenging commitment, but we were able to capture an incredibly rich annual cycle of mushroom specimens.
Our style of filmmaking is strongly rooted in realism and influenced by the work of directors such as The Dardenne Brothers, Lynne Ramsay, and Kelly Reichardt.
Is Now, Forager a reality film or is it pure fiction? Is this film based on a true story?
The story is fictional; the mushrooms are all real. The script was researched and written/re-written over a 5-year period. But we had to be open to some amount of improvisation based on the species of fungi that we could locate.
During the three months leading up to production, there was a fairly serious drought in New York and New Jersey (where we filmed all of our woodland scenes). We were nervous. There were almost no good edible mushrooms to find all summer—very few boletes and no chanterelles.
In late-September, about ten days before we started shooting, a large storm system hit New York—heavy rains and a tornado even formed. It took down several large trees in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, near our apartment. Three days later, however, there were mushrooms everywhere. And for the next month that we shot, we had almost perfect weather for our schedule—clear skies when we needed to shoot outside, and rain on our days off to generate more fresh fungi. The mushroom gods were definitely with us.
It’s an odd subject for a film. At least it has never been done before. What inspired you to write this film?
The kingdom of fungi is a beautiful world unto itself. It’s begging for a proper cinematic treatment.
But where the movie started was with food. Movies about food tend to be sweet, romantic and metaphorical. Cooking tends to be magical rather than realistic skilled labor. My filmmaking partner, Julia Halperin, and I really wanted to do something that paid naturalistic tribute to people who work with food for a living. Both of us have worked in restaurants before, so the environments were familiar.
We decided to make this film precisely because something like it hadn’t properly been done before, and because cooking and mushrooms are both subjects to which I’m fanatically devoted. When you work on something for six or eight years, you have to love it.
Do you have a close relationship with foraging?
Absolutely. Foraging is something that I’ve been doing my whole life. Hunting, fishing, picking berries, harvesting wild pine nuts and greens. These were all family activities, along with cooking.
I grew up mostly in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, which has amazing habitats for wild foods—and it’s especially famous for mushrooms. Strangely enough, wild mushrooms were forbidden in my home growing up because my grandfather was poisoned before I was born (he survived, fortunately). When I left home to attend university, wild mushrooms were the forbidden fruit. I started studying and exploring fungi almost immediately.
Shortly after I wrote the first draft of the script for Now, Forager, Julia and I moved to New York to find actors, assemble a crew, etc. We also joined the New York Mycological Society to learn more about the specific species of fungi that grow in the region. What we discovered in the NYMS was really a second family. The members embraced us as part of their community and they really have supported our film throughout the process of making it.
I’ve learned so much about mycology over the last four years that I can’t imagine not spending my spare time studying the differences between Agrocybe and Stropharia. For the last two years, I’ve also served as the editor of the NYMS quarterly newsletter—assembling content and writing articles about the science and culture of mushrooms.
How are you financing this film?
We are completely independent. It’s hard to get most grants or government money for narrative films in the US because they’re seen as commercial ventures. There’s no distinction between something made for $100 million USD starring Brad Pitt and a little movie about mushrooms made for far less than 1/1000th of that cost.
Our budget has come from money that we’ve been able to save working over the last decade, a little bit from our families, and a little bit more from donations by people who like the project and who want to see it come to fruition.
Do you still need many donations to complete the film?
Yes. We are still raising money to finish all the technical work that will prepare the film to be shown publicly—color correction, musical score, sound mixing, etc. We’re running a fundraiser through a website called United States Artists. Our minimum goal is to raise $6000 USD. We’re very fortunate to qualify for a one-to-one matching private matching fund for the first $3000 donated, so we’re optimistic that our target can be achieved or surpassed by the deadline in mid-November.
The URL for our project fundraiser (where you can also watch a trailer and learn more about the film) is: http://www.unitedstatesartists.org/project/now_forager
And there are some unique mushroom-themed “thank you” gifts that go along with different levels of donation.
What would you tell our followers to convince them to donate?
It’s a very challenging time to ask people for money. We don’t take that for granted.
If someone could afford to make a donation, I would want them to know that their money was going directly to help pay for the services of our crew–working people who are making humble livings in the arts.
But they’d also be helping to bring a beautiful story (and some truly spectacular mushrooms) to the cinema. It’s the first time that a film like this has been made and the timing is right for it. We strongly believe that there’s a hungry audience for this type of small, honest drama about our food, where it comes from, and the lives of the people who harvest and prepare it.
Thanks so much for talking to us Jason. I wish you the best of luck with your movie. I hope to see your movie in the near future!