Interview with Josh Melrod and Ujon Tokarski of Major Arcana

Congratulations on the amazing movie. It’s finally out there. You must be very proud and excited about it?

Josh Melrod (Director): I’m so thrilled. This is something that took three years and the amount of relief that I felt when it premiered was overwhelming. Joy, pride and the stress going away.


Ujon, for you this is your first movie, right? It must be even more exciting.


Ujon Tokarski (Actor): Yes, it is. It’s pretty exciting and almost surreal. Josh approached me so many years ago and asked if I wanted to do this and to have come this far, it’s amazing. Watching the film during the premiere was also the first time I saw it completely. The post-production team took the performances and crafted into something amazing. I was really proud and I was just blown away. It has been an amazing ride.


So were you an actor before this film? Or was this something completely new?


Ujon: I didn’t have any experience in acting.


So how did you guys meet each other then?


Josh: I moved to Vermont and Ujon is from Vermont. We met during the winter where people were playing ice-hockey at a pond. Ujon himself is sort of a character and he has a very unique personality. He was and still a carpenter. I was editing other people’s movies and I was also writing and working on a script from home and while that was happening, Ujon was painting my house and when I took a break from the writing and editing once in a while we would sit around and talk about it. Somehow he worked his way into my head. One day I asked him if he had ever acted before and he said no. Even before I asked him if he was interested in acting and while I was writing the script, he was like, “Can I be in it?”. That started the conversation between us about making this movie and working together. It was also a chance to get to know each other better and eventually he did a great job.


Where did the story for this movie come from? Did you write it together?


Josh: I came up with the story while driving through Vermont. I was just daydreaming. Despite being such a beautiful place, Vermont also has some areas of poverty. I was inspired by a documentary I had seen about a guy who build some cabins in Alaska and that was something really interesting for me. I thought of the idea of a character who’s really great in the woods and who’s at his best when he’s alone. The idea of this came to me during that drive. I didn’t know that that idea was going to stick with me or not but it did.


It’s clear in the movie that the lead character has a very dark past and that there were issues with drinking and drugs but we don’t know everything that happened. Was it a conscious choice to leave room for interpretation for the audience to guess what happened to him?


Josh: I prefer it that way. I’m more interested and intrigued by movies where you’re allowed to fill in some blanks. Leaving things sort of ambiguous and allowing people to create their own back story of Dink is incredibly valuable and especially in this type of movies. Very quiet and slow paste.


So when you read the story, what did you thought about his back story?


Ujon: Well, surprisingly enough there are some parallels with my life. The guy is a carpenter just like me and he grew up in Vermont. Some things I could relate to immediately.


How did the rest of the cast got involved in the film?


Josh: Ujon got involved very early on in this film. I knew that I wanted to have a non-professional actor for the leading role. Someone that could actually do the things that my character is supposed to do. I also knew that working with a non-professional actor had its challenges. For the two other bigger roles and in particular the one for Sierra. We had a great casting director in New York who brought in some phenomenal people. Tara Summers, who’s playing Sierra, gave this great audition and I still have the paper of her casting on which I wrote “fantastic but British” because I thought that it was really important to have an all American woman for the role. She was phenomenal, so professional and had a certain confidence in the understanding of the character that I really liked. Luckily for us, I got over the idea of wanting to have an American actor playing this role instead of an English one. Lane Bradbury, who plays Dink’s mum, recently told me that she had been going through some personal struggles on the very day of the audition. She came into the audition and gave this incredibly powerful audition where she broke down. It was very contained and controlled but still so powerful. It was between her and a more well-known actress. We had to go with the actor who was the most deeply invested in the audition and she was by far the one.


Ujon: She came out so brilliantly. Before seeing the whole movie during the premiere, I only saw bits and pieces of the film. The support to my character that Lane gave just heightened the whole experience. She brought a lot to the table and that was really moving to watch.


In the movie it’s all about tranquility, peace and quietness and the title track is the perfect example of that. It’s written and performed by Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol. How did he get involved in this project?


Josh: Tara is friends with him and she was moved by the whole experience of coming to Vermont. She’s a veteran actress because she’s been on a lot of American television shows, Hollywood films and she’s also used to work with a larger crew in big cities and not in a small one like Vermont. We shot the movie in a very rural area were cellphones don’t even work. She loved this whole experience of Vermont. At first, it was a challenging place but she got over it. She wrote to Gary when she got back and she shared the e-mail with me that she wrote to him. She wrote that she was working on this incredible film with a small cast and crew and the get along so well and it’s so beautiful. And then he wrote back to her that he wanted to create a song. He was incredibly generous with his time. Snow Patrol was recording an album at that same time and he was helping me out with this song for this little movie. We were going back and forth and we were talking about adjusting the lyrics and all these things. I kept on thinking that he must have been incredibly busy and that he’s doing a lot. He was phenomenoly generous. The song is great and to me, it works so well where it is in the movie. Also to his credits, he hadn’t seen anything at that point. He was just going off on the description of the movie Tara and I gave him.


Ujon: That was also one of the parts that I saw for the first time during the premiere. I’m only finding out recently how big Snow Patrol is and Gary giving his song and credentials to this film gave a lot of texture to this movie. It was a very organic process that everyone who got involved in the film was captivated by what we were doing and that became very clear in the result.


You have been to the Raindance Film Festival with this film, are there any other upcoming film festivals you’re doing?


Josh: We’re going to do the North-American premiere at the Austin Film Festival on the 26th of October. The Austin Film Festival is a great festival for this kind movie and it’s similar to Raindance. It’s a great line up we’re going to be in. We don’t know where we’re going from there but we’re hoping we will be able to go to more festivals in the near future.


Major Arcana is a more independent film. Sadly, people don’t go a lot to the movies anymore so why do you think people should go to the cinemas to watch this movie?


Josh: I think that it’s certainly true that the landscape of film is changing as you see the sheer volume of Hollywood films that are superhero driven and I really enjoy a lot of these movies. However, I also have an appetite for other movies. Smaller and different kinds of films and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Before making this movie, I was aware of this and I knew that you would never go to a shopping mall in America to watch this film. I think there is an audience for this who wants some other types of films. People have to dig a little deeper to find smaller films and fortunately, there are still people who want to see those films. There are also Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other platforms where films are now available.


One last question: Do you have more projects coming up?


Josh: I have a script that I’m working on at the moment. It’s also how this movie will be perceived and whether it will spur me on to dive back in straight away or to take some time off. I would love to make another movie but at the same time, it’s also a lot of work and effort that goes into it. I just have to see how I feel. I’m also an editor and I work on other people’s movies and that’s super fulfilling. Editing a documentary and a narrative at this moment so that’s all very exciting. I’m always involved in making movies and talking about films.


Ujon: I have a life and a profession that I love but if the opportunity presents itself to be able to act again, I would certainly take that chance again. It has been an amazing experience for me, being involved in every aspect. If it occurs again, I would be very happy to do it.


Ok, thank you so much for this interview!

MAJOR ARCANA Teaser #1 from General Store Films on Vimeo.

Liselotte Vanophem, Film and Celebrity Reporter – Just Celebrity Magazine


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