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Love, Antosha Interview: Garret Price on Telling Anton Yelchin’s Story, Working with Nic Cage, and the Evolution of Documentaries.

Anton Yelchin was one of Hollywood’s most promising young actors before a freak accident cut his life short. In just 27 years, Yelchin amassed nearly 70 acting credits. He starred in everything from critically acclaimed indie flicks (Green Room) to box office smashes (Star Trek). In his short time on earth, Yelchin left his mark on show business, and it speaks volumes about the young man’s character that he made an even greater impact on his family, friends, and colleagues.

Director Garret Price’s documentary Love, Antosha examines Yelchin’s life and career. Price shows us who Yelchin was by weaving together film footage, home movie clips, and first-hand stories from the people who knew him best. Love, Antosha is the joyful elegy of a young man whose best years were still ahead of him. And it’s also a heartfelt reminder of how we’re all bound together through acts of love and compassion, even after we’re dead and gone.

This touching movie will tug at your heartstrings even if you’re unfamiliar with Yelchin’s story. Price has delivered a deeply affecting film that implores us to cherish the here and now, so I was excited to have a conversation with this filmmaker. We discussed why he chose his unique approach to sharing Yelchin’s story, the golden era of documentary films, and of course, what prized possession sits on this director’s shelf.

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Victor Stiff: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. My first questions for you are how did you discover this story, and why did you decide you had to tell it?

Garret Price: I always tell people, Anton found me to tell this his story. It’s not one that I went out looking for. I was approached by a good friend of mine who’s a filmmaker, Drake Doremus, who made a movie with Anton called Like Crazy years ago. And when Anton’s parents started exploring this idea of potentially finding a filmmaker to tell his story, they reached out to Drake because of his relationship with their son, and they were very close.

But Drake convinced them he wasn’t the right person to tell the story; he felt too close to the subject matter. And he really talked them into finding a filmmaker with more of an objective voice. That’s what Anton would have appreciated. And knowing his friend, he knew he needed someone to tell both sides of the story. So Drake suggested me to [Anton’s] parents, and he would come on as a producer.

I’m a long-time film editor and documentary editor. I worked with Drake many times, so we got to do a little role reversal where I was directing a film, and he was producing it, and that’s kind of the beginning of it all. That’s how I became involved in it.

I still wasn’t sure I wanted to even do this and I didn’t know if there was a story to be told. I knew of Anton, I had never met him personally, but I knew the projects he had been involved with. And I knew about his unfortunate passing, but I didn’t know if it warranted a full feature-length documentary that the story could sustain. And as I started researching and talking to his parents and started talking to his friends, I was hooked. I knew right away, it was a story that not only could be told but needed to be told.

VS: Just from personal experience, I know after speaking to a filmmaker, it’s a bit tougher to review their film and look at it objectively. When you’re diving into the life of someone who’s passed, is there a hesitancy to show their warts? How do you keep from crossing over into a puff piece?

GP: Well, first of all, it feels really invasive going through someone’s stuff. I had the full keys to the kingdom, so to speak. His parents gave me everything in their archive of their son, including his personal writings that were never meant to be seen by anybody, let alone used in a film to tell his story. So it’s scary and it’s weird.

But learning about him through not only Drake but as I started speaking to his friends and his coworkers, he was such an honest and true and raw person. I knew this film could never be a puff piece. You know what I mean? Yes, people were so honest when they talked about their friend. They shared not only the lighter side of him but the darker side of him because that’s who he was.

And he was open about that. I don’t think he hid some of his curiosities, and that comes across in the film. I didn’t know Anton, so I learned about Anton as I was making this film and I started from the beginning and went to the end. That’s why the film is told in a linear fashion. I wanted people to learn about Anton the way I was learning about him.

The only way I figured out… was to start at the beginning and lay it out until the end. And that’s how I wanted the film to feel. Like when I was in the editing bay, and I was doing interviews and learning about the subject.

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VS: I’m a sentimental person. So just watching a film about someone who has passed starts tugging on my heartstrings right off the bat. Filmmakers, you’ve got to spend hundreds of hours researching, shooting, and editing movies. How did immersing yourself in Anton’s life and listening to his friends speak about him, how did that personally affect you?

GP: Yeah, it’s tough. I think there’s something about Anton that everybody can relate to in his life. When you make a film, those are the themes you really want to dig into; things that people can relate to. And Anton is one of the most relatable people I’ve ever made a film about.

I think there’s something about him, whether you’re in the creative arts or just, love your parents, have a relationship with your parents. There’s an aspect of the story that we can all relate to. So, I instantly latched on to that part of the story, especially his relationship with his mom. I knew that was my through-line through this whole film. And it could take me from the beginning to the end.

But like you mentioned, it was going to inherently be an emotional story, just because of the way it ended. I knew from the beginning, this was going to be a movie about life and not a death because of not only the way he lived his life but the way he pushed himself and the way he inspired people to live life. And that’s what I really wanted to come across in the film. Yes, his tragic death was always going to be a part of the story, but that’s not the story of Anton Yelchin, and that’s something I really wanted to express.

VS: Yeah. That’s an excellent point. It doesn’t really feel like it’s leading up to that moment so much as celebrating what he was able to achieve while he was here. That’s a very interesting distinction there.

GP: Thank you. It was really important for me. It was really important also where it wasn’t just a bunch of famous people that he worked with talking about Anton Yelchin. Yeah. I wanted to find a balance of not only coworkers but with personal friends, and everyone that crossed his path that was important to him in his life.

And also, it was a conscious effort to not use Jennifer Lawrence throughout the whole film. I didn’t want to introduce these people until Anton met them in his life. Because I wanted to tell the story from his point of view as much as possible. I hope that’s noticed. That was an intention of mine. And the most important thing was to tell [the story] from his point of view, as much as possible. I think that’s why the letters really helped get inside his mind and his creative process.

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VS: So, your narrator, Nic Cage, in recent years he’s become known as this over-the-top cult figure, but this is such an earnest, down-to-earth story. How did you land on Cage as the right choice to take viewers through this journey?

GP: When I determined I wanted to use this device – Anton’s letters – as this vetting force through the film, I was temping my own voice in for most of the edit. And then I went to his mom, and I said, I really need to find somebody who can read Anton’s words. I don’t want them to be Anton. I just want them to read Anton’s writings. But it’s really important to me that this person had an emotional connection with Anton, had a relationship with him.

We hadn’t interviewed some of the talking heads yet, because that would just be kind of weird when it wouldn’t make sense [in the timeline], and she immediately blurted out Nicolas Cage. And I was like, but really? He was the last person that crossed my mind.

But I went home that night and really thought about it and watched Raising Arizona, where he does a bunch of voiceover. And I really found this, there’s this special earnest sentiment in his voice. And he’s also very Anton-esque, in the amount of projects he participates in, he’s a big cinephile himself, and they spent a lot of time together making a film, and they got really close.

We reached out to Nic, and he wanted to do it right away. So, I flew up to Las Vegas and sat for a day with him. And it was a really emotional experience for him reading Anton’s words. He broke down a couple of times, and I think it comes across in the narration of the letters. You can hear him getting emotional because it’s someone he loved and cared about immensely too. So it all worked out really, really well, in the end. And I think it was the perfect choice in hindsight too.

VS: Yeah, he wouldn’t have been my go-to, but it definitely worked.

GP: It surprises people. He’s not even introduced; he doesn’t even come in until twenty-minutes into the movie. Again, I didn’t want to lean on people to tell Anton’s story. I wanted Anton to tell his own story.

VS: So it seems in the last, I’d say ten-years people’s perception of documentary films have really shifted. Mainstream audiences used to consider them as this dry, kind of academic thing. And now mainstream audiences have this voracious appetite for docs. Have you noticed this change, and if so, why do you think it’s happening?

GP: Absolutely. In fact, I still consider myself an editor by trade, and I go back and forth, cutting narrative films and documentaries. I think documentary have become more narrative-esque in their storytelling.

VS:  Oh, for sure.

GP: And there’s vice versa. Narratives are becoming more documentary-esque. You know what I mean? It’s more of a hybrid between the two. And I think ever since documentaries have really started to embrace a three-act structure and these key parts of classical narrative filmmaking, audiences have been able to latch on. It’s become exciting for them to watch documentaries, and real-life (that’s not the news) is exciting for people.

There’s become this desire for this type of storytelling, and not just from an audience perspective, I think from a filmmaker perspective too. It’s so accessible to make these types of stories nowadays, documentaries films. With the way documentaries are being told now with more of this narrative structure and this appetite from audiences, it’s increased because of that.

I think they might describe this as the golden age of documentaries right now. And there are endless stories, as opposed to narrative films, which keep rehashing themselves. Documentaries don’t feel like that.

VS: Yes. They’re much slicker now and so well-produced. Even a Vox Explainer video can hook you for five-minutes with some really dry information. So the form has been evolving.

GP: Absolutely. And if there’s going to be any issues as we get on with documentaries, it’s going to be what archives are left to dig from?

VS: Yeah. That’s a good point.

GP: Because it’s so popular and again, what I loved about having all the footage of Anton is it’s kind of the last age pre-cellphone, and there’s something very different about footage captured on a camcorder, a home camcorder versus a cell phone. I think it’s less tacky. You’re not performing in front of that. There’s something that’s real and honest and raw that captures these moments. We’re running out of that sort of stuff.

VS: It definitely adds a sense of intimacy. Whereas when you have a cellphone in your hand, pointed at you, you’re showboating, right? On some level, viewers are cynical about that sort of behaviour.

GP: Absolutely. And you can do endless takes over and over again. Yeah. It’s becoming less and less common to find footage like that. It excites me when I see it and come across it in projects, in this type of storytelling, especially archival storytelling.

VS: I’m sure that as you’re making your film, you had to sort through the footage you captured, probably dozens of hours of footage, for every minute that made it into the movie. And at some point, every filmmaker has to kill their darlings. Was there anything you really wish you could have got in the film that you weren’t able to fit in there?

GP: The toughest part was we had so many interviews, and I had so many interviews that made it in the film, but I had so many that couldn’t make it. I just could not fit everybody in, and everybody wanted to be a part of this and share their stories about their friend. That’s the hardest part.

There are some people who just couldn’t get into the film, but I’ve talked to all of them since and they completely understood why, and it doesn’t bother them one bit. They’re just happy that this film exists in the world, and audiences can learn about this. There’s this amazing person that, unfortunately, a lot of people just don’t know his story or don’t know much about him besides maybe he was that kid in the Star Trek movies.

I discovered when I started making this, a lot of people only knew Anton, by the way, he died, this freak accident, which is ridiculous to be remembered that way when you lived such an amazing and one-of-a-kind life. So again, I wanted to change this perception that people had of this person and really create this story that we can all relate to. And just bring him, him to the forefront as a person.

VS: Yeah. It definitely comes across. Everyone I’ve spoken with who saw the film, they’ve had nothing but glowing things to say. So you definitely nailed that aspect.

I’m interviewing you for That Shelf, and there is a question we ask everyone we interview. My last question for you is if I was to come over to visit you, what’s that one item on your shelf that you would have to show off? It could be a collectible, a souvenir from a set. What would be that one thing you would most want to talk about

GP: From the movie itself?

VS: It could be anything in your life.

GP: I get what you’re saying. I’ve got a picture of my father directing Orson Welles in a commercial. That was the coolest thing in the world.

VS: Oh, wow. You’re not going to top that.

GP: Yeah, he worked… he was a young guy at an ad agency, and he was doing Paul Masson wine commercials and a towering, Orson Welles, stood over my father, my dad’s pointing to do something. And it’s the coolest thing in the world. It inspired me as a storyteller, having that on my shelf next to me.

VS: Oh, that’s great. That’s a perfect answer. Okay. Well, thank you so much for your time and thank you for your excellent film. I look forward to recommending it to people and hearing their thoughts on it.

GP: Thanks for spreading the word. I really appreciate it, man.

You can watch Garret Price’s documentary Love, Antosha this weekend on Hollywood Suite.

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