Cleared for takeoff

Locally produced ‘Tin Can’ shown at Vermont International Film Festival

Oct. 27, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The cast and crew of ‘Tin Can’ — (from left to right) Tim Kavanagh, Logan Howe, former Williston resident Stephen Maas, Jayson Argento and Eric Clifford — answer questions from the audience following the film’s premiere at the Vermont International Film Festival on Oct. 21. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

Its title may be similar to a Kevin Costner golf movie, but Logan Howe’s feature-length debut is set as far from the bucolic sprawl of a golf course as possible.

“Tin Can,” set almost entirely within the claustrophobic confines of a spaceship, had its Vermont premiere at Palace 9 Cinemas in South Burlington on Oct. 21 as part of the opening night of the Vermont International Film Festival. Directed by Howe — whose husband, John, owns and operates Rocky’s Pizzeria in Williston — “Tin Can” concerns three astronauts who find themselves lost (literally and figuratively) when a mission to Mars goes horribly awry.

Howe said her involvement in the project began with a casual conversation she had with screenwriter, and former Williston resident, Stephen Maas.

“He told me he was going to start building a spaceship in his garage, and I wasn’t sure whether to take him seriously,” Howe said. “As we got to know each other better, he told me about this script he was writing and eventually he asked me if I was interested in directing it.”

Maas noted that his choice of subject matter was based on curiosity and practicality.

“They did this experiment in a European space station where they were doing Mars mission simulation and they actually put people in an enclosed environment for the length of time it takes to go to Mars,” Maas said. “I was also thinking about how can I make a film with as few locations as possible, as condensed in terms of resources as possible — because we had no resources — but still make something really effective.”

It took Maas 10 months to build a replica space pod in his one-car garage, often with materials he scavenged from junkyards. Howe then shot the actors — including Maas, in the lead role of the spacecraft commander — by digitally zooming through vents built in the outside of the set.

“There were no cameras on the ship at all,” said co-star Eric Clifford, who made his acting debut as a member of the astronaut crew. “It was all through the vents, so it really made it easy to get into it because there were no cameras in your face.”

Howe, who referred to science fiction as her “favorite genre,” named Terry Gilliam (“Brazil,” “12 Monkeys”) and Ridley Scott (“Alien, ““Blade Runner”) among her primary directorial influences. She also pointed to Duncan Jones as a contemporary favorite, whose recent films “Moon” and “Source Code” mark a return to a more cerebral, character-driven form of sci-fi filmmaking.

From left to right: Jayson Argento, Eric Clifford, former Williston resident Stephen Maas and Tim Kavanagh appear in a scene from ‘Tin Can.’ Kavanagh, playing himself, portrays a late night talk show host who interviews a team of astronauts prior to their mission to Mars. (Photo courtesy of Intrinsic Films)

“In modern movies, sci-fi tends to be about crazy makeup or silly aliens and all these special effects, and the human story gets lost,” Howe said.

In addition to directing and playing the role of Maas’ onscreen girlfriend, Howe had 12 other technical designations on the film, including art director and set designer. Maas, for his part, had 17 different job titles.

“You wear a bunch of different hats to make things work,” said Tim Kavanagh, the former host of WCAX-TV’s “Late Night Saturday,” who plays himself in the film, in addition to serving as its executive producer.

“Tin Can,” which won “Most Artistic Film” at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival in September, is one of 24 Vermont-made films that will be screened as part of the VTIFF. The lineup also includes the Kavanagh-produced “Soul Keeper” and “One Voice,” a 16-minute short about teen bullying directed by Williston resident Joel Klein and produced by fellow Willistonian Debbie Ingram.

“I think (the amount of local films in the festival) really speaks volumes to the state of independent filmmaking in Vermont,” said Kavanagh.