The making of “Little Red”
After five long years, Tate Bunker's Little Red Riding Hood retelling, featuring Mark Metcalf, has arrived at the Milwaukee Film Festival.
Like the title character in his film, Milwaukee filmmaker Tate Bunker had a goal to achieve. And while their goals were very different, there was danger and uncertainty to both, because without risk there is no reward.
With this attitude and determination, Bunker set out to create the low-budget indie film, Little Red, and after more than five years in the making, the film made its world premiere at the 2012 Milwaukee Film Festival on Sunday, Sept. 30.
The film began as a fun project to do with his niece, Paige Bunker, and the story took shape after a visit to Florida, where Tate was told about Cumberland Island and the wild horses that roam free on its beaches. Soon enough, he decided that’s where the main character would go, and the project took on the name Resurrection Ferns.
This was short-lived, however, as Bunker said he felt it might not be enough for a feature. The story needed an antagonist, so Bunker came up with the idea of a an older man pursuing the girl along her journey.
At this point, Bunker was talking to fellow filmmaker Brad Pruitt about the project, who mentioned that the story Bunker created was very similar to the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood. It was this observation that provided the push the story needed, and it soon evolved into Little Red — a modern day telling of Little Red Riding Hood as the journey of an 11-year-old girl who runs away from home to see the wild horses of Cumberland Island while being pursed by an older man with a wolf-like predatory nature.
“It just seemed to solidify everything and made me feel very comfortable about the story,” Bunker said of incorporating the Little Red Riding Hood connection in his film. “It became an inspiration, then a motivation and then a type of security.”
He said it took a couple of years to get a screenwriter, write a script, cast the film and pre-produce. The title character of Red was initially created for his niece, Paige, but as the story evolved, Bunker eventually went with Hannah Obst, a local actress who was 13 at the time of shooting in 2009. His niece took the role of Kayla, Red’s eventual sidekick and at times protector, but Bunker said that it was his niece that was the real inspiration behind Red.
“In a way, I saw her as the Red character,” said Tate of Paige. “She would do something like that when she was a young girl, just take off. Nothing would stop her, and I love that, and that was the inspiration.”
The role of the antagonist named Lou, channeling the Big Bad Wolf, went to actor (and TCD podcast host) Mark Metcalf, whose acting credits include playing Neidermeyer in Animal House and The Master in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, among many others. Bunker said he had worked on a couple short films with Metcalf, and once he came up with the idea of the wolf character, he immediately thought of him.
“He has a great history of playing the creepy character that you hate,” he said. “He’s a wonderful bad guy, and he plays it so well. In a way, I started writing it with him in mind.”
Metcalf said it has been a dream of his to make a feature film in Wisconsin, and working with Bunker would be a good project, since he comes from an experimental background. He also mentioned that being a low-budget independent film made Little Red‘s appeal even stronger, and plus, playing the bad guy is always fun.
“It’s great to work on some of those urges and ideas that you’re not allowed to in social situations,” Metcalf said.
The film follows Red, who takes it upon herself to fly down to Florida without her parents’ knowledge so she can see the wild horses of Cumberland Island. A brave girl, yet very naive, she sleeps on the beach and befriends a local girl named Kayla. Kayla takes Red under her wing after she notices that Red is being followed by an older man whose mere presence gives the sense of danger, and that something just isn’t right.
Despite the danger, the two girls go forth on their mission to Cumberland Island, and for Obst, Red was an appealing character with ambitions and courage.
“I thought she was such a strong character,” said Obst. “She was brave, and although she was a vulnerable little girl trying to become a woman, she had so many different sides to her that it really drew me into the character.”
In her first feature film, Obst, who has been involved in Milwaukee’s First Stage children’s theater, said she sees some similarities between Red and herself. She said that she’s certainly not brave enough to get on a plane and go to Florida by herself, but like Red, whenever she wants to do something she can put her mind to it and get it done.
At a poignant part in the film, Kayla says to Red, “Just because you don’t know what’s out there should never stop you.” And while this sentiment is crucial to the story, it also mirrors Bunker’s approach when he made the film. Like Red, Bunker had a goal. She wanted to go to Cumberland Island; he wanted to make a film. It was a risky endeavor for both, but as his niece noted, if you want something in life, you need to go after it—nobody’s going to hand it to you.
It took more than five years to make, but in the end, Bunker said the risk was worth the reward, and it’s this message of going after your dreams despite not knowing what’s out there that Bunker believes is the most important to take away from the film. If he didn’t believe in this message himself, Little Red would never have been made.
“The film portrays the power of not caring, listening to your heart and doing what you want to do,” Bunker said. “Even if you’re aware of the dangers, you still don’t stop that adventure.”
There are two more screenings for Little Red, on Wed., Oct. 3 at The Oriental Theatre and Wed., Oct. 10 at the Fox-Bay Cinema. For more information on the film, visit littleredthemovie.com, Like the film on Facebook, and follow it on Twitter at @LittleRedMovie.
The Milwaukee Film Festival runs through Oct. 11 at the Oriental Theatre, Downer Theatre and Fox-Bay Cinema. Check out TCD’s Flick by Flick guides for films opening this weekend and throughout October. For more information, visit the MFF website.