Director Trevor Clark Thalin turned to his native New Hampshire for inspiration in his new film, “Baby” (2016). The film is based on the novel of that name by New Hampshire author Joseph Monninger. It was filmed in Warren, and has a cast of entirely New Hampshire residents.
“Baby” won Best Feature Film at the SoCal Film Festival, and was recently nominated in the categories of Best Lead Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best New Talented Director at the Madrid International Film Festival.
Thalin joined NHPR’s Peter Biello to discuss how this film came together.
How did you decide to take on this project?
I’ve known the author, Joe Monninger, for a very long time, and he one day in passing asked me to make a feature film for him based on one of his books. That stuck in the back of my head, and I kept reading his novels until one finally stuck and I chose to go forward with it after a nice breakfast with Joe.
What was it about the novel Baby that spoke to you, among all his other novels?
It dealt with a lot of issues like foster care and being homeless, and it was a story that I really hadn’t seen before. It was a girl who was in the backwoods of New Hampshire and she was dog sled racing—it just had all these elements I hadn’t seen in a picture before. It felt like it could be special.
Baby is a special character in a lot of ways. I found her, at times, difficult to like, but I was also admiring what you were doing on the screen to make me care about and be interested in her. Was that on your mind as you were filming?
Yeah, she wasn’t a very likable character in the beginning, because she just didn’t have any accountability in the beginning as a kid growing up without her parents. She had just been doing whatever she wants and she has her guard up.
She gets the best card, probably, dealt to her, as she gets these foster parents and they’re great people. She just doesn’t really want to talk to them, doesn’t want to do chores around the house, but eventually she keeps growing and you sympathize with her. And yet she’s not doing awesome things and she makes a bunch of mistakes, but there’s a turning point near the third act where she starts making the right choices and doing the right thing.
One of the things that struck me as really interesting was early in the movie, when she’s sort of testing her foster parents. Her foster parents, I don’t want to call them hardened Yankees, but nothing really seems to phase them. They’ve been through New Hampshire winters, they’ve seen a lot.
Yeah, they’ve probably had a bunch of foster care kids come through, they’re used to the act, and they’ve got their own game plan where they’re going to push back when she pushes against them. They have all these strategies for how they’re going to outsmart her and make her come to their side.
I want to play a little bit from one of those early exchanges, let’s take a listen.
MARY: Cindy told us your size, or she guessed at it anyway. And we can take anything back if it doesn’t fit.
BABY: I’m not wearing any of this [expletive].
MARY: You don’t have to.
BABY: I’m not like you.
MARY: Okay. You don’t have to be. But we do a lot work around here, and the clothes might come in handy.
BABY: So. Is this where you put them all? The foster kids?
MARY: Oh, no. This used to be our room. We’re just getting older and we got sick of going up and down those stairs the other day. [Silence.] Well, I don’t want to bother you. Unpack, settle in. Dinner’s in fifteen minutes, and come down when you’re ready.
So for this scene, what kind of direction did you give these actors? It’s early on, they may still be learning their parts, learning who these people are. Did you give them any direction for this?
Yeah, I would always let them just go for it, and try to shoot things in a wide shot and let them get comfortable in the scene. I do a lot of takes, that’s kind of what I’m known for with those guys. I’ll just keep saying “again,” and eventually they’ll get into a rhythm where it’s coming off in a very natural way.
We didn’t do read-throughs or any rehearsal process really. We would show up on the day and start filming the scene. And they put their own ideas into it. They had so many opportunities to try different things that I could choose the performances that were standing out amongst the other ones.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I’ve always been making films. My parents got a video camera when I was six or seven to videotape my soccer games, and I started playing with it and using it to make short films. The family gave my parents a lot of grief for that. My aunts were saying, “You’re going to give him an $800 camera? He’s going to break that thing!” We joke now that that’s all I do, is continue to play with video cameras and film things.
I just have always had this love for filmmaking, and I didn’t realize that it was an actual job that you could do, but when I was probably eight or nine my mom explained it to me that that’s a job. I’m just so passionate about it, it’s all I think about.
Even now I have my camera rolling as I’m doing this interview. It’s like an addiction to keep filming things and capturing moments. I just think everything you get can be so beautiful if you get it at the right moment, or know when to cut at the right time. It’s just so much fun to do.