Fri Feb 28, 2020 – 5:00 pm | Domenico’s
Sat Feb 29, 2020 – 7:30 pm | La Casa Grande
USA | 75 min | 2019
Frances Ferguson, the eponymously named character at the center of Bob Byington’s new film, is discontent. Like a lot of us, she does a bit of “acting out” and pays the price —an arrest, a trial, incarceration. And then a new identity, one that’s not terribly comfortable. Nick Offerman narrates this deviant comedy, based on actual events.
Frances Ferguson kind of rose out of this Zeitgeist-y series of articles in the NY Post —every week a new teacher was being nabbed for some kind of malfeasance with a student. We noticed the teachers had a certain aspect.
I had been working with Kaley Wheless on a short and we decided to convert the project to a reenactment doc and go from Austin, Texas where we lived, to Western Nebraska, a town of 25,000 named North Platte. Kaley was from nearby Boulder, which may have made the decision seem less strange. I knew the story would work a lot better in a place where it felt like everyone knew everybody, and that proved to be true in North Platte.
I contacted a writer I’d worked with before, Scott King, who lives in Brittany, France, and started working with him on the story and the script. Scott wrote the script over the course of four months, and because we both met Nick Offerman twenty years ago, we were able from the start to imagine Nick telling us this story. It’s helped that Nick has developed into a skilled orator.
North Platte is a town mainly in service to the railway industry, and the town was excited about filmmaking —a lot like Austin might have been fifteen years ago. While Austin is a supportive filmmaking community, they’re not going to open their doors to you for locations like the county courthouse, and we were also made particularly welcome at the North Platte jail, which was a great experience. It was not possible for them to have been nicer. Even the inmates were nice to us!
We had made a film in Austin in 2017 (Infinity Baby) and we had such a great crew, and we convinced a lot of them to come up to Nebraska for a month. Carmen Hilbert shot the movie superbly, and Olivia Mori returned to do the costumes. Caitlin Ward was the production designer, and Mischa Fruge did the makeup, helping create a pretty great look for Kaley. Having a primarily female crew helped with the portrayal of the teacher and I think made it less prone to male gaze.
Fran’s case is amalgamated from more than a half dozen separate court cases; her sentence is fairly common —it’s handed out when the evidence is circumstantial, and the film was going to explore this more further —we became more interested in Fran’s rehab, particularly the idea that the rehab isn’t necessarily tailored to the transgression.
It was a challenge to adhere to a comedic tone, but take what Fran had done seriously. And indeed there’s a subtext that any boy lucky enough to get with a teacher he had a crush on would want to count blessings. Not that we saw it that way, necessarily, either. We went to Nebraska wanting to kind of find comedy in the small town judging her also —
Bob Byington is an American film director, screenwriter and actor living in Austin, Texas. Byington’s work has been called literate, bawdy, sardonic and quirky. “mumblecore without the mumble.” Unlike the extreme naturalistic dialogue of many mumblecore films, Byington’s work leans towards exact dialogue and, according to Roger Ebert, “perfect timing” which is “unreasonably funny”. Byington often reuses performers, including Nick Offerman, Kristen Tucker, Pat Healy, Keith Poulson, Kevin Corrigan and Suzy Nakamura.