How far will Guy go for the woman he loves?

Proposals are nerve-wrecking as much as they are, but sometimes the hardest part is asking for the father’s blessing. ‘Family Heirloom’ takes us down this harrowing path, where things don’t quite go as expected for our main protagonist Guy. Directed by Will Pinke, where he embraces the wild emotional rollercoaster from beginning to the end. We caught up with Will who told us a little more about his film.

Can you tell us what inspired you to bring this story to life?

Luckily, the film is not based on actual events, but it was inspired by real things I was dealing with in my personal life at the time of writing. My ex and my family didn’t particularly get along throughout my last relationship, and I came up with this idea after one especially difficult night that brought their differences to the surface.

Without getting into too much detail, making this film was a way to process my situation and how I was feeling. As someone who is close with his family, being pulled between them and my partner was not a fun position to find myself in, but it’s my natural inclination to search for humor when I’m struggling. I wanted to tell a funny and relatable story that explored some of the many ways that family and love intersect, and often come into conflict.

An intimidating father testing his potential future son-in-law seemed like a familiar setup that was ripe for dark comedy. Once I had that basic scenario, I just needed to come up with an unconventional test – and digging up Grandma’s wedding ring popped into my head. The thought made me simultaneously smile and cringe, and I was excited to pass that feeling along to an audience.

As a writer/director are you open to changes or suggestions when you start shooting or do you like to stick to what has been written?

Yes, if something isn’t working on set or aligning with how I imagined it on paper, I try to be ready to adapt to whatever is happening in front of me. At a certain point in pre-production, after I have actors on board and locations secured, I try to leave the writer in me behind and shift my focus from what makes sense in theory to the concrete things I need to do as the director to tell the best possible version of the story. The script is just a blueprint, and I know the actual act of making the film is its own distinct process that offers countless unexpected challenges and opportunities for spontaneous magic.

The plot of this film is wound fairly tightly, so I definitely didn’t tinker with the overall structure of the story while shooting, but while directing individual scenes I tried my best to be responsive to the moment-to-moment flow. I like to rehearse with my actors a few times in advance of the shoot and work through any questions or ideas that come up during improvisations and discussions. Generally, we stick pretty closely to whatever is decided in those rehearsals. But I tend to work with funny people and to keep the mood light on set, so new ideas and jokes inevitably surface no matter how much a scene has been prepared in advance. Film is a collaborative medium by nature, and I know that nothing I think of while sitting alone at my desk has as much potential as what a group of smart, creative, and passionate people can produce together as a team.

How did you go about casting for Family Heirloom?

I started with my lead character, Guy, played by Woody Fu. I had never met Woody before, but I was a fan after seeing him perform sketch and improv comedy a few times at UCB and the Magnet Theater in New York. When I first started working on the script, for some reason Woody came to mind, and I imagined him as Guy while writing. Once I had a finished draft, I looked up Woody on social media and sent him a direct message with the script to see if he was interested. Thankfully, he didn’t ignore my random message and he liked the script!

For Marty and Emily, I went through a more traditional audition process with New York-based actors I found on various casting websites. I called in about ten actors for Marty, but as soon as Bill Gold walked through the door, it was clear he was the right man for the job. He is a naturally funny guy who innately understood the tone of the script and who embodied the character of Marty effortlessly. I was even a bit intimidated when I first met him, but he’s an incredibly sweet person.

Emily was the hardest role to cast. I auditioned a lot of talented and funny actors, but none were able to strike quite the right balance between the version of Emily we see at the beginning of the film and the version we see at the end. Then, Woody recommended a friend of his, Thea Brooks. We were able to schedule an audition with Thea after seeing everyone else on our list, and she was the first person who really brought Emily to life. One of the best pieces of casting advice I’ve received is that good actors know other good actors. So I always ask my actors for recommendations if I’m stumped!

Love how that ending gives us enough time to thought-process through his shoes, and had us thinking what we’d do in that situation. Was that always the intended ending? Or did you ever flirt with the opposite outcome?

I always intended for Guy to run away from Emily’s proposal at the end, and I don’t think I ever considered showing him actually going back. I’m not sure anyone would willingly decide to join this family after what they put Guy through in the film. That being said, I did originally intend to end the film with Guy stopping and looking over his shoulder, so that you never know what he decides.

While I liked the idea of ending on a question, it ultimately felt more satisfying to give the audience an answer, and to show Guy’s decision to keep running. By cutting to the title when Guy turns around and making the audience think the movie is over, and then having him continue to run away after the title card, I managed to find a way in the edit to use both of my potential endings.

Has this film taught you anything about filmmaking?

Yes! Every project I work on teaches me a lot, so it’s hard to pinpoint one thing. Maybe the main lesson that I’ve tried to carry with me is how much easier it is to make a movie when you cast the right people. That applies to the actors, but also to every single person on the crew. On this film, I was surrounded by people I really respect and enjoy spending time with, and who invested themselves fully in the project. Being able to trust my collaborators in each position on set (special shout-out to my DP Alejandro Miyashiro, and producers Tianyi Jiang and Justin Gonçalves) took a lot of the weight off of my shoulders while directing. I believe the fun, positive environment we created during the shoot definitely rubbed off on the quality of the final product.

The lesson of good casting extended beyond the shoot as well, up until the very end of post-production. I’d shot and edited a few shorts before this, but this is the first one I “finished” professionally. My composer, sound designer, and colorist each added exciting new elements to the film late in the process that I didn’t expect or even consider when I started editing. I now have a much better sense of how difficult and integral the final stages of post-production are, and how much they can elevate a story when done right. I had a great collaboration with my composer Jacob Snider in particular. We worked on the score together remotely for many months during the early stages of the pandemic, and I’m very proud of the result.