It’s a Thursday, six days before director Shaun Scott is due to present a live-tweet screening of Pacific Aggression, his fourth feature film, in Scarecrow Video’s Screening Room. We’re texting about how he’s just fine with the press and public tweeting all the way through the movie.
“It's true that [the format]'s unconventional,” Scott texts. “But this is how people enjoy media and consume it and dissect it in 2014. It feels right to embrace rather than fight the trends. Film is back in that place today, where the medium has to adjust how it's presented. The idea of encouraging tweeting while watching at a publicity screening is a salvo in that regard."
The following Wednesday, March 12, a mixture of press, film buffs, friends and crew fill Scarecrow’s screening room to capacity. Other theaters in town have utilized live-tweeting for sillier purposes—Central Cinema and SIFF Cinema, for example, have encouraged texting and tweeting in tandem with some of their campier presentations—but Scott’s hoping to open up a somewhat more serious dialogue here.
Pacific Aggression’s two main characters represent decidedly different takes on technology’s intersection with humanity. College student Meryl Applegate (Libby Matthews) nurses a diagnosed addiction to social media technology. New York writer Frank Waters (Trevor Young Marston) journeys to Meryl’s Northwest stomping grounds to reconnect with her and write a book about his travels. But Frank’s pressured by his editor to turn his musings into a blog for easier public consumption, and reuniting with Meryl after their brief affair two years previous isn’t as straightforward as Frank would like it to be.
“The broad content is a summary of certain relationships I've been in, where distances of time and space led me to mythologize the other person and to communicate in ways that were borderline addictive,” Scott texts.
Not surprisingly in a town where moviegoing is treated as a religion, most of the audience abstains from online participation. Much of the Twitter chain that does transpire (#pacagg) is devoted to quoting choice lines of dialogue and to spotting the numerous cinematic references that Scott worked into the movie (the part-Native-American Meryl reads a copy of The Searchers at one point, while Frank whiles away his evenings in the Northwest watching old westerns on late-night TV).
The screening demonstrates Scott’s impressive evolution as a filmmaker. Pacific Aggression is his most accomplished work on a technical level, handsomely shot by Seattle lensman Toryan Dixon in more than 25 Northwest locales and sharply edited by Scott. The director has also improved as a screenwriter, injecting a healthy dose of wry wit into his script and tempering his tendency to let his impassioned socio-political stance run roughshod over his characters’ personal voices.
He’s also captured three great performances from his leads. Marsdon’s quietly humorous persona alternately serves and subverts standard dissolute-writer cliches and Marya Sea Kaminski likewise delivers sterling work as Meryl’s therapist (her dialogue-free scene, listening to an NPR-style broadcast while she breaks down emotionally, is the movie’s most powerful moment). But Matthews anchors the movie. Funny, natural and effortless onscreen, she conveys worlds with a pause and a glance. It’s no wonder people have done more watching than tweeting by the time the movie ends.
Look for Pacific Aggression in theatres this September and on iTunes sometime shortly thereafter.