So I give you fair warning before we belay,
Way aye blow the man down
Don’t ever take head of what pretty girls say.
Give me some time to blow the man down
– English sea shanty
Directed by the team of Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole, Blow the Man Down opens with a recurring Greek chorus of fishermen singing a sea chanty, letting the audience know that despite the traditional appearance of this little New England town, things are not headed down a traditional path.
The Connelly sisters, Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor), are introduced on the day of their mother’s funeral. They grieve both their mother’s death and the debt she has left for the two women.
Mary Beth takes her mourning a few steps further when she goes to a bar and takes home a man who is clearly bad news. He tries to attack her but she ends up killing him. Seeking Priscilla’s help, the two decide against calling the police and then have to figure out what to do with the body and the bag of money they found in his shack. That is just the beginning of the story.
The film is part thriller, part mystery and part “fishing town noir,” as the directors describe it. The sisters’ attempt to cover up a murder is just one thread that weaves through the film. At the town inn/brothel, the madam Enid (Margo Martindale) has found that one of her girls and a large sum of money are missing. The town is quietly run by a group of three matriarchs (Marceline Hugot, Annette O’Toole, June Squibb), which previously included Pricilla and Mary Beth’s mother. When a body washes up on the shore, the women work to maintain the town’s unofficial code of conduct.
Directors Cole and Krudy both had connections to coastal New England towns and decided that Maine fit the bill as the setting for their film. “We liked the idea of small-town Maine as a kind of ‘alternative Wild West’—a remote, on-the-fringe place with its own rules, familiar but still uncharted. We like the contrast in how quaint and postcard-perfect these towns are, but like any place, there can be a dark side…”
“We established a visual language with our cinematographer, Todd Banhazl (Hustlers, The Strange Ones),” the directors explain, “so that the film had grit; we thought it should feel salty and weathered. We wanted the visuals, the tone, and especially the hair and makeup on the characters to all look natural. We wanted Blow the Man Down to love wrinkles, to love authentic faces, and love women in every respect.”
Banhazl expanded on the directors’ ideas in an interview with Moveablefest, describing get look as “this sensation of salty [air] and grime, so even before we really started talking about how we were going to make the movie, I knew that I wanted the movie to look like a salty bucket of fish guts. I didn’t know how we were going to do it yet, but that [is] what stayed with me forever was [this image of] a rusty fishing knife found in a bucket. I thought no matter what, that’s the defining feeling of the movie visually for me and then from there we figured out the rest.”
Building that gritty look started as early as production scouting. “…We all scouted a few towns in Maine together and when we did that, I brought a Super 8 camera, so when we started talking about how to create a look for the movie, my colorist and I actually based the look off of all that Super 8 footage that we came back with,” Banhazl said. “…We used old vintage lenses and we shot with an ALEXA, but we used a mode called 16mm sensor mode, which basically combining lenses and filters and this older sensor and then matching it to the Super 8 footage of the fishing town. That’s how we got our look.”
“He found the right touch to help balance how the camera told the story,” Krudy told Variety. Her directing partner continued, “He wanted to enjoy the wrinkles and the older faces,” says Cole, “because these women are the power that runs the town.”
“We wanted the visuals, the tone, and especially the hair and makeup on the characters to all look natural,” the directing team says. “We wanted Blow the Man Down to love wrinkles, to love authentic faces, and love women in every respect.”
Cole and Krudy wanted to maintain deep focus so that their audience could catch all of the details from background to foreground. Using the vintage 16mm lenses and shooting at a higher ISO, Banhazl was able to keep more of a shot in focus. “Usually getting those backgrounds in focus costs a lot of money in lighting, which we didn’t have,” the cinematographer said to Variety. “So, we measured every window and we cut frames that had these ND gels.”
Working with two directors was not new to Banhazl, having worked with a duo on The Strange Ones. “I actually love it because you hear the directors’ inner monologue out loud because you get to hear the discussions that they normally have in their head between their partners, so it’s a great way to understand the why behind all your directors’ decisions,” he explained to Moveablefest, “At the same time, you a DP becomes the third member of this triangle, so for me, it’s about letting the directors find what feels right together and then coming in and helping elevate that further visually.”
As with any film production, collaboration is key. It takes every department working hand-in-hand to achieve the filmmakers’ vision, explains Banhazl, “It really became about working from the ground up with the production design team and the costume/wardrobe team and lighting/grip to design this thing, like what the women’s world looked like, what the color stories are between the men and the women, and it becomes about communicating to every department in as in-depth a way as possible, so people can bring their brilliant ideas to the table. That’s what happened. Every single person that worked on this movie brought so much passion and talent to it, I think that’s on screen.”
Collaboration carried over into the production’s location. “We filmed in Harpswell, Maine, in March 2018, and fell in love with the community which really rallied to help our indie production,” say Cole and Krudy. “The town is a real character in the film, and we wanted to capture its corners and quirkiness. And we also wanted to feel the elements — weather is such a part of day-to-day life there. The cold does something to the way people walk and move. And we really got the weather we dreamed of and more. We experienced rain, sleet, snow, two Nor’easters that shut down production, and record setting cold. So when you see people looking cold in this film, they’re really cold! But it all helped anchor the movie in the power of place, as well as the power of the people who live there.”
Blow the Man Down was released in March of this year is available to stream from Amazon Prime Video.