A couple of Montana boys who stumbled into the movie business while attending Carroll College appear to have struck a chord with their latest film.
“What Separates Us,” by director Bryan Ferriter, a native of Helena, and producer Isaac Marble, who grew up on the East Bench outside of Fox, near Roberts, won the best-picture award at the Machetanz Film Festival in Palmer, Alaska, last summer.
Late last month, Ferriter was named best male actor at the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest in Polson. At the same festival, which featured more than 60 entries from the United States and six foreign countries, they also won two honorable mentions, for best feature movie and best director.
They’re both hooked on the business now.
Ferriter, 29, is living in L.A., running his own film company, promoting “What Separates Us,” working on other, smaller projects and developing several ideas he hopes to turn into films.
Marble, 27, has formed a production company that will focus on promoting and distributing not only movies but music made by Montanans. And though he’s currently living in Yakima, Wash., Marble said, “Montana is home to me. It’s always going to be home.”
The two met nine years ago at Carroll College in Helena, where another student, Martin Rogers, a friend of Marble’s from Joliet, had written a script he wanted to turn into a movie. He brought Marble in as a producer, since he was studying finance and marketing.
Ferriter, who was on the college football team with Rogers, was asked to play the lead role in Rogers’ film, a comedy called “My Favorite Movie.”
“I was into making movies since I was 16, but they were just camcorder movies in my backyard,” Ferriter said. He and Rogers fed each other’s infatuation with film, he said, going to a coffee shop almost every day between classes and football practice to talk about movies and filmmaking.
Marble was mostly in charge of raising funds for the movie, on which they ended up spending $100,000.
“Our excitement was only eclipsed by our naiveté,” Marble said.
Rogers ended up going to law school and now practices law in Missoula. Marble and Ferriter went on to work together on “Crimson Winter,” a much more ambitious film that Ferriter wrote and directed, and which he described as an “artsy, dark, Gothic vampire film.”
Ferriter said he enjoyed working on both those movies, but for his third full-length feature he wanted to “come back with a simple story and tell it well.”
“What Separates Us,” which was filmed partly in Helena, is described in press materials as “a coming-of-age drama following the complexities of the relationship between a small-town dishwasher with big aspirations and a beautiful art student new to Montana.”
Ferriter plays the dishwasher, Danny, who he said “embodies both the beauty and conflicts of what it is like to grow up under the Big Sky.” Another of Ferriter’s football buddies, Brandon Day, also from Helena, has a part in the new movie and was involved in the two previous films with Ferriter and Marble.
Ferriter, Marble and Day all moved to L.A., Ferriter in 2012 and the other two a year later. Ferriter said he was mostly making contacts, trying to find acting roles and absorbing what he could about the movie business.
“I was just waiting tables,” he said, “which I don’t mind and have no shame about. It’s what you have to do.”
He’s back down there now, after having returned to Montana for a spell. He formed Interwoven Studios, to promote the two movies he’s made already and any future films he’s involved in. He’s there with his fiancée, a Vegas native he met in Montana, and he plans to end up in Montana eventually.
He said he misses Montana every day and talks about it to anybody who will listen. “I’m a pretty Montana-pride guy,” he said, but for now, “I’m trying to bask in Hollywood while I’m here and learn from people, learn from the industry.”
When Marble moved to L.A., having earned degrees in finance, marketing and international business from Carroll, he spent two years working for Raleigh Studios, where he was a vice president of sales and acquisitions.
“That was the best exposure to distribution I could have asked for,” he said. He also formed a company, Running Bear Media, with Bill Piotrowski, a musician who wrote the score for “Crimson Winter.”
Running Bear is geared toward buying and distributing independent films, but Marble said they want to focus as much as they can on promoting Montana filmmakers and musicians. As “What Separates Us” has shown, he said, there are a lot of interesting, talented people and a lot of untapped potential in small towns all over Montana.
Marble and Ferriter both talked about how this is a good time to be involved in independent films.
Even since they worked on their first movie, Marble said, advances in digital filming and editing have revolutionized the industry, and made it a lot cheaper to make a high-quality film. In the early 2000s, he said, about 500 films a year were submitted to the Sundance Film Festival. By 2007 or 2008, that number was in excess of 4,000.
Ferriter said there is another renaissance in independent movies right now, similar to what was see in the early 1990s.
“There’s a lot of content being made now, and the options are endless,” he said.
“What Separates Us” has played to receptive audiences in Billings (at the Art House Cinema and Pub), Red Lodge and Helena, and the plan is to “build up the awareness and just saturate the state,” Marble said.
It might go to DVD this spring, he said, which would get it exposure nationally and internationally, but if they are invited to more film festivals, they might postpone that.
Marble is in Yakima at the moment, helping another good friend from Roberts, who is also a Carroll grad, establish his insurance and financial business. Marble plans to move back to Montana as soon as he can, and then work between here and L.A.
After working on his first movie and getting by on two hours of a sleep a night, he said, he told himself “I am never, ever going to do this again.” What brought him back was the excitement of working with so many people with diverse, specific talents, all working toward the same creative goal.
Ferriter, for his part, is going to keep trying to make it in L.A.
“It’s a tough road,” he said. “You’ve really got to have a mindset. … It’s got to be your passion. And it is for me. This is what I hope to continue to do.”