Lawrence University hosted a private screening of “Company Retreat” Oct. 29 in the Warch Campus Center cinema. The film was written and directed by Campbell Scott, a Lawrence Class of 1983 alumnus.
“Company Retreat” was released in 2009 and essentially includes two comedic situations in one plot. First, the film presents a “mockumentary” of a low-budget production company’s failed attempt to create a reality TV series. Second, it highlights the absurdities and detrimental effects of reality television in general.
The plot of the film follows pairs of white and blue-collar workers who audition and compete in a reality TV game show, set in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. It also highlights the ineptitude of the show’s producers and the ultimate — and comedic — failure of the series as whole.
The characters have fairly ridiculous personalities and actually epitomize the types of people one might see on reality TV shows. Freshman Raena Mueller-Dahl remarked, “The characters were really good and original [as well as] very diverse, varied and hilarious.”
According to Scott, the creation of this film was intended to be a shooting experience that would leave a lot of room for improvisation from the actors and the crew. Instead of being in a completely controlled situation, as he was when directing other works, Scott wanted to experience greater freedom with this project.
Said Scott, “Since I started directing and producing movies, the movie business has changed a lot. I got tired of trying to raise money in the usual way for the movies I wanted to make, so I decided to write one that would take very little time and money and could be made experimentally in ‘my back yard.'”
Even with a greater amount of freedom, the process of creating the film was certainly not easy. Scott said the movie was shot over the course of 17 days and included a cast of 30 main characters with a total of 72 speaking parts.
However, the challenge was not confined to the shooting process. In total, both the scripted and improvised material provided 45 hours worth of footage, which had to be narrowed down to under two hours. Scott even considered turning the movie into segments from a series or episodes for the Internet, but ultimately decided to keep everything in a linear movie.
Campbell relates his own challenges and situations he experienced while creating this movie to the actual events presented in the movie itself. He supposes that “it’s very reflective of itself; in other words, making the movie often mirrored what the experience of the fictional producers’ experiences were like.”
Specifically, he compares their few resources, lack of a definitive or clear vision and uncontrollable circumstances to the major challenges that he experienced while creating a low-budget but innovative work. He also thought that it was interesting during the process to see what it might be like for not necessarily talented or resourceful people to try to create something out of nothing, or not much.
The process of creating “Company Retreat” was demanding and challenging for Scott and his cast and crew, and the resulting lack of appreciation from film festivals and audiences is hardly encouraging. However, Mueller-Dahl sees the value of this off-beat film. She commented, “It promotes deeper thought, and there was some really good humor in the movie.”
The film has been rejected from over 25 film festivals and accepted into none. Regarding the movie’s apparent non-success, Scott commented, “I can’t decide if this should make me feel good about the movie because it’s so different that programmers don’t know how to pigeon hole it, or feel bad about it because it sucks and doesn’t involve the viewer the way a movie should.”
Regardless of the reactions, Scott also values his involvement with this experience. Said Scott, “The jury’s still out. I have to say I still like it, though, but maybe that’s because I can’t separate it from the experience of making it. It seems like it’s still being made.”