In a cinematic landscape filled with superhero movies it’s perhaps not surprising to see that one or two might get lost in the shuffle each year, but while that’s probably not the worst thing for a new Batman or Dr. Strange feature it’s unfortunate when it happens to something wonderful. Fast Color is an original story told with an eye for beauty and power — and on a budget that probably matches the catering bill on Avengers: Endgame — about extra ordinary women coming to grips with their own responsibilities and abilities.
It’s new to Blu-ray/digital, and while it’s worth a pickup for the film alone I’m happy to report the commentary is also a great listen. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
Fast Color (2019)
Commentators: Julia Hart (writer/director), Jordan Horowitz (writer/producer)
1. Hart and Horowitz are married, and they wrote the film as a response to becoming parents. “We were just very overwhelmed by the feeling of strength and power that we had never felt before.” They feel parents, and mothers in particular, are heroic figures, and “that was the germ that grew from there.”
2. They were originally going to make a film called I’m Your Woman but felt it required too many resources at the time, so they moved forward with Fast Color instead. They’re currently in pre-production on I’m Your Woman.
3. She’s not sure she’d recommend this path, but they were in production on the film within a year of conceiving the idea. “It’s awesome,” she says in regard to the momentum and energy, “but we didn’t get to develop the script as much as we’d like and live with the characters as long as we would have liked.”
4. They’re currently developing the film into a television series. “The characters are far richer than we were able to get to in 100 minutes.”
5. They shot the film in Albuquerque, New Mexico — their second time filming there — and they love it.
6. They sent the script to Gugu Mbatha-Raw after watching the fantastic Beyond the Lights (2014). She was their first choice, and she said yes the following day.
7. The diner where Ruth (Mbatha-Raw) first meets Bill (Christopher Denham) sits just outside the city, and they’ve already filmed there a second time — showing the other side of the interior — for their current film. She hopes it becomes a staple of their films going forward.
8. Hart’s next film, Stargirl, premieres on Disney+ in 2020 and features both the diner from Fast Color and a needle-drop song choice from Hart’s first feature Miss Stevens (2016).
9. The local foliage bloomed early, so they had to use CG to “de-bloom” the flowering branches as the film takes place during a severe drought.
10. The confrontation between Ruth and Bill at 15:02 was Hart’s first action scene and stunt as a director. “I was really freaked out.”
11. The dissolve at 18:07 is a favorite of both filmmakers, and Hart excitedly shares that fans seem to like it too. “I forgot to tell you! When I was at the Q&A the other night at the Arclight someone literally brought up this dissolve as being their favorite of all time, and I meant to come home and tell you that.”
12. They started with an orchestral score, but it just didn’t work for the film. “It made the movie feel too dramatic and too serious,” so they worked with composer Rob Simonsen on making it more fitting for this genre-bending experience.
13. The search for music would be viewed as invigorating for Ruth led to X-Ray Spex’s “Germfree Adolescence.” Like Mbatha-Raw, lead singer/writer Poly Styrene is British and the daughter of a bi-racial couple.
14. It took a lot of schedule wrangling to land Lorraine Toussaint, but she was their first choice for Ruth’s mother and were thrilled that it worked out. The actor made a point of touring her character’s house before filming to ensure it was set up as Bo (the character) would have it. She also suggested the drawings on the walls of flowers and trees.
15. The wide shot at 36:49 is Hart’s favorite as it’s the first onscreen moment showing all three women — Ruth, Boo, and Ruth’s daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) — together in one shot. The image of “small figures in a vast night” was with her from the sequence’s conception through to the night they filmed it, and it’s one she wouldn’t, couldn’t shake. “I just love it.”
16. They originally had several flashbacks to Ruth’s childhood at the farm, but they trimmed it back to allow the sparseness to land with more emotion.
17. “Studios and financiers always want to get the script down to its elemental best,” says Hart, and while she acknowledges their desire for cost-cutting she thinks it’s not always to the benefit of the film. She listened and complied on her first film Miss Stevens, and it resulted in her not having anything to play with in the edit room. It’s an 85-minute movie she wishes was longer with scenes she had cut at the script level.
18. They wanted to feature the women between the camera and their abilities as often as possible. Hart says superhero movies, films with big effects beats, frequently put the fx first and leave characters off to the side of the screen. They instead chose to acknowledge that the characters are “extra ordinary” — a description Horowitz stole from Toussaint — and that they deserved to be front and center.
19. Hart thinks your analytical brain should be turned off while writing and turned on while reading it back.
20. She was asked where the color idea came from, and she thinks it came from simply letting go. “When we harness our greatest power we see this beautiful thing underneath the world around us that you can’t see when you’re not paying attention.”
21. “If the world is gonna die, we are gonna have to brave enough to share our power before it’s too late.” This idea is core to the film, that women often hide their strengths from the world — and from men — and that strength is magnified when they work together.
22. “Representation really does matter,” says Hart, and she recalls two moments that drive that point home. The first was when her young son asked the nanny on set why everyone was looking at his mom, and the answer was “because she’s in charge.” The other happened at a screening with black girls in the audience who rushed Sidney afterward to praise her performance and character. A young black woman told Hart that she wished she had had this movie when she was their age.
23. The series will hopefully dig into the addiction angle more, but they backgrounded it for the feature. They like the idea that Ruth is an addict in control of her addiction as opposed to the usual character who has to have a relapse before climbing back up again.
24. The single shot starting at 1:09:27 is among Horowitz’s favorites, and while they tried cutting it up they decided to go with Hart’s gut and keep with it straight through. It shows the three women, three generations of a family, who come together in the kitchen after a fight the night before and simply work together in silence.
25. She was having trouble writing the sequence at 1:18:15 but cracked it at a Panera Bread while listening to the Interstellar score.
26. The drought idea stemmed initially from the Greek goddess Demeter whose daughter would visit the underworld for six months out of the year. Their time apart created the fall and winter seasons as the Earth dies, and their return signifies spring and summer as the Earth comes back to life. It’s represented here by Ruth’s realization about wanting and needing to be with her own family, and that combined presence and power brings color to the sky and rain back to a dry and baked landscape.
27. Hart was advised to maybe shoot the big final sequence — the deserted town street, the blue sky turns cloudy and then unleashes rain — at night which would make it easier to finagle the visual effects, but she resisted knowing that it would be far more powerful during the daylight. Certain filmmakers behind movies about giant lizards and huge fighting robots should take a note.
28. They bail just after the end credits start, but Horowitz’s stomach is rumbling so you can’t fault them for wanting to go get lunch.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“As of the beginning of this commentary, we are married.”
“I’ve now made three movies, and every time I’m shocked by how little I actually knew about the final product until I was editing it together.”
“Should we talk a little bit about the colors?”
“How have women just not taken over the world yet?”
“Why are white men still in power?”
“We should do a podcast about wallpaper in cinema.”
“I just really love writing long speeches, and I think it’s a dying part of cinema, this great character speech in the middle of a movie.”
“Creative power is very scary when you know the power you’re up against is entirely destructive.”
Buy Fast Color on Blu-ray/digital from Amazon.
Hart and Horowitz are a passionate filmmaking team who talk about reaching for the sky even in the face of adversities both financial and logistical. Their commentary offers a glimpse into their working relationship, and it’s clear even across these 90+ minutes that they compliment each other’s strengths. Fans of the film will want to give it a listen, but even young filmmakers without an attachment are sure to learn a thing or two about realizing their vision on the screen.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.