A great movie title matters. Just ask David Lowery, the writer and director of Ain't Them Bodies Saints, a romantic story that follows three characters on various sides of the law.
The title conjures up the authentic, atmospheric tang of a 1970’s western movie, and for Lowery, it was the perfect title for this outlaw drama that stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.
“The title was a phrase that went back before I wrote the script,” said Lowery. “I really wanted the movie to have the feeling of an old folk song or an old gospel song, or something that had that kind of musicality to it…I thought it dramatically worked as it gives it that folklore quality.”
Lyrics from a song he had previously heard and filed away as a potential movie title influenced Lowery. The independent filmmaker initially tried to find a shorter and equally memorable title, but he was unsuccessful.
“At first, I thought, there is no way I am going to release a movie with this title… people would come up to me and say; ‘Great title, I can’t wait to find out what you change it to when you release it,’”said Lowery. “We did half heatedly talk about other options, but at a certain point, everyone really liked it and was behind it… nothing worked in quite the same way, so we decided to go for it.”
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is the tale of an outlaw (Affleck) who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife (Mara) and the daughter he has never met. Featuring powerful performances by Affleck, Mara as well as Ben Foster, Nate Parker and Keith Carradine, Aint Them Bodies Saints is a movie about “consequences and repercussions,” according to Lowery.
“It is about the doomed love of two American outlaws in the waning days of the West,” said the self-taught filmmaker who Variety magazine hailed as one of their “10 Directors to Watch” for 2013. “They have known each other since they were kids. One has grown up and one hasn’t, and the journey of the movie is him realizing that he has to.”
The film is a huge accolade for the director who skipped film school (pursuing, but never quite finishing a degree in English literature). Lowery has always aspired to be a film director and picked up a video camera when he was just 7 years old.
“I never went to film school and wanted to figure it out myself and get my hands dirty as quickly as I could, so I started just making films. They started off terrible but got better, and then at a certain point, they started getting into film festivals.”
His lucky break came in 2011 with the release of a short film called Pioneer. A film that did really well at the Sundance and SXSW film festivals, it helped Lowery gain recognition in the industry and led him to find the cast and resources for Ain't Them Bodies Saints.
“Although I didn’t write the script with anyone in mind, Casey [Affleck] was the first person I wanted to meet with for the character Bob,” said Lowery. “I was fortunate to have all my first choices with the cast. Along with the script, I had sent them Pioneer to give them an idea of what I could do with written material, and they were excited about it.”
“[Lowery] wrote a really good script,” echoed Mara who plays Casey’s love interest, Ruth. “I loved the whole world and the relationship between Bob and Ruth, and I also wanted to play a mum as it’s something I haven’t done before and felt his film Pioneer was different and interesting. He wrote such a beautiful script, and I had a feeling about him and knew he would [write] something great.”
Shot in five and a half weeks, the movie debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won the Cinematography Award in the U.S. Dramatic Category. IFC Film picked it up shortly after.
“My last feature was shot in 14 days, so I thought I had time, but I now realize exactly why doing 99 takes will be a great thing if I had the luxury to do that,” reflected Lowery. “I am a messy perfectionist and like things to get to a state of perfection and then destroy that perfection a little bit. We had a low budget and so didn’t have time to take it as far as I really would have liked to. But I had good actors who nailed it, a good technical crew and a tremendous team working with me.”