There’s an art to making a good movie trailer. While most trailers are a by-the-numbers edit of a movie into its most titillating tidbits, the trailers that stick in my memory are those that exhibit a singular narrative of their own, where you can see that the filmmakers regard this often-perfunctory bit of pre-release marketing as another creative endeavor in itself. Advertising your movie is business, sure, but an artist can transform business into an art of its own.
That’s all to say that you should watch the trailer for “Nighthawks,” a Maine-shot short film from co-directors Blake Wright and Henry Riley. There are plenty of elements to the short, currently in post-production, that had my ears perking up already. The low-budget film’s inevitable Indiegogo crowdfunding page cites “The Twilight Zone” as one inspiration for screenwriter DJ Monteith’s story of a young man’s eventful night at an eerily empty 1940s bar. (The film was shot over one 10-hour night in Lewiston’s suitably moody Sonder & Dram saloon.) The period setting and the trailer’s promise of lonely, perhaps mysterious nighttime barflies gets an “inspired by the Edward Hopper painting” in the credits. Other than that, Wright and Riley aren’t spoiling much about their first joint venture, which they plan to have ready for this summer’s film festival circuit.
“ ‘Nighthawks’ is an artistic expression of how, when we need something, we need to move on,” Wright said cagily. “That’s life, even spiritual life. We go where we need to be, even if it is a little bit by chance.” Added Riley, concerning his attraction to Monteith’s script (based on his play), “It’s the themes that stuck out. Exploring the human condition, perceptions and acceptance – and self identity.” And while the trailer hints that its boozy protagonist’s journey will be a trying (possibly dangerous) one, Wright said, “Sometimes it’s painful and darker, but there’s hope at the end. That’s something we always want to leave people with.”
If the filmmakers’ coming together wasn’t as eerie as it seems the films’ characters’ is (they all met while studying at the University of Southern Maine, alongside “Nighthawks” producer Cody Alexander Curtis), it was nonetheless a serendipitous event. Said Riley, “I really believe this is the starting point for many projects we’ll all work on together.” Having found a group of like-minded creative and business partners is almost a necessity for any independent Maine filmmaker, with both Riley and Wright tossing out encouragement for Maine to pass one of those under-consideration measures to lure movie and TV productions to the state and to already established Mainers looking to send a little financial assistance toward some fledgling filmmakers.
For Portland-raised Riley and Wright, who hails a three-plus-hour drive north in the Washington County coastal town of Columbia, “Nighthawks’” production has been a place to take the next step as filmmakers. Said trained actor Wright, “Learning has meant realizing that filmmaking is an art and a business and a craft that you can get better at.” (He confides that the first short film he made while studying at Husson University “will be seen by nobody.”) Riley echoes that, noting that his time filming everything from commercials to wedding videos (he does great drone work) was a process of “developing the craft without meaning to,” and stressing, “It’s learning to take an idea and having the craft and skill to build on it with hard work and hustle all contributing to success.”
All of that diverse and hard-won skill is on display in the “Nighthawks” trailer. Edited by Riley, the tight, minute-long short film (of a short film) manages to entice without giving away, a meticulous balancing act that so many movies (with exponentially bigger marketing budgets) screw up completely. What we can glean is enough to get me excited, anyway. A restless young man in an unfamiliar bar that’s both luxurious and oddly intimate – as if it were somehow constructed just for him, just for that night. An avuncular older bartender, whose natty attire and polite manner can’t help but recall Stephen King’s “The Shining” (speaking of generous Maine arts types), whether or not this barkeep is indeed some sort of specter. A brassy dame, dressed in red, smoke languorously curling around enigmatic words, either in come-on or warning. Neon, gleaming brass, a broken glass, a drop of blood. The music swells as the man seeks escape – but from what?
Where do I buy my ticket?
“Nighthawks” is a short film directed by Blake Wright and Henry Riley, from a script by DJ Monteith. You can donate to the film’s post-production at its Indiegogo page, and get seduced by the film’s trailer on YouTube. To learn more about Maine filmmakers Henry Riley and Blake Wright, check out henryrileyproductions.com and @blakewrightpresents on Instagram.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.