Watching the trailer for Parade, the first feature-length film from writer-director Brandon Cahoon, one gets a sense that something unspoken is behind the spare dialogue, stark scenery and no-frills cinematography, animating the film in a magical way. Talking with Cahoon, I learned that intersecting with the film’s coming-of-age story is the patience of a mature filmmaker, the generosity of a small town and the mystery and melancholy of the desert. If the film itself is half as charmed as the story behind it, Salt Lake City Film Festival attendees are in for a treat.
The idea for the movie began in 2005 as a vehicle for Cahoon to tell stories he accumulated while living with his cousin in Millard County, Utah as a high schooler. “I moved in with my cousin and his stepdad and his mom and their crazy situation and met all these people. Within a month’s time, I had ten brand new friends who would do anything for each other,” Cahoon recalls. “It wasn’t until I was out of that situation that it felt really unbelievable, really personal. Writing the movie forced me to go back and think that was really magical—that doesn’t happen to everybody.”
As he began scouting locations in the very town that inspired the story, the town continued to make things happen. He visited the parents of Esther Scott, the real life love interest who inspired the character of the same name. Not only did they agree to let Cahoon film at their house, but they insisted he talk to Esther’s sister, Sarah Scott, then about to begin her senior year of high school. “I came back and met Sarah … She looked spot on like her sister, and they had the same sense of humor. I was like, if you don’t do it, I don’t know if I can make the movie.” Her response to his pitch was “But what if I don’t want to?” Cahoon laughs as he recalls this. “I was like, oh my god, that’s exactly what your sister would have said to me. You have to do this!’”
After finding a crew from film classes at BYU and the University of Utah. and with a cast almost entirely composed of inexperienced local kids (and having gained the approval of his friends whose real names he uses in the film), Cahoon was nearly ready to begin shooting, but first came rehearsal. “For rehearsal, we hiked a mountain together, all of us,” Scott explains. “He gave us our characters and said, ‘The next three weeks you are your character.’ It was like a whole summer packed into three weeks.”
Working with a cast of kids who had grown up together in the very town where they filmed is all part of Cahoon’s filmmaking philosophy that he had articulated with cinematographer and former classmate Carlos Luis Rodriguez. “We operate on a level of feeling. If we can get the feeling right in the room, it doesn’t matter where we put the camera,” Cahoon says. “It’s a blood-and-guts sort of style.” Despite the script being based in fact, Cahoon was not determined to make his film accurate to the minute details of his experience. He was thrilled to see the story become something else in the hands of his cast. Cahoon says, “I remember telling the lead, Ryan Reyes, ‘Dude, you are making this way funnier, way more charming than I ever thought it would be. People smile when they see you.’ On the page, I didn’t see that. I’m so pumped because it has way more connectivity to people now through their collective point of view. It’s taken my idea, but shot it up in the air and given everybody a chance to catch it, play with it, put it up on the screen. I think the only way to make a picture is to trust that collaborative process.”