Set to shoot this summer in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the David Lowery-directed, James Johnston-produced Ain't Them Bodies Saints is the collaborators' most high-profile filmmaking project to date. Although the cast can't yet be officially announced, Johnston says a number of well-known actors are expected to be involved. The hope is that it will be finished in time to submit for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
The journey to this point, of course, has taken awhile. Along with friends Nick Prendergast and Yen Tan, Lowery and Johnston each contributed a segment to a four-part omnibus film called Deadroom, which screened at South by Southwest and a number of other major festivals in 2005. That was when their names first started getting mentioned favorably in independent film circles.
The next big step for the duo of Johnston and Lowery came in 2009, with St. Nick, a haunting, Terrence Malick-flavored reverie, shot in Fort Worth, about a young brother and sister, who appear to have run away from their family and are trying to fend for themselves. The movie, directed by Lowery, was rejected by Sundance, but then accepted by South by Southwest, where pretty much everyone who saw it agreed it was the best thing there.
And while St. Nick never landed one of those storied, multimillion distribution deals, it got tastemakers -- critics and film festival programmers and indie film producers -- to take notice. (It did have a small commercial run in 2011; Johnston says it should eventually make its way onto DVD, though no release is presently scheduled.)
In rapid succession, Lowery's short film Pioneer, produced by Johnston and their friend Toby Halbrooks premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Lowery's newest screenplay, Ain't Them Bodies Saints was then accepted to the Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab. Meanwhile, Johnston and Halbrooks were invited to the Sundance Institute Producers Lab, where they worked with mentors on developing the project. Among the producers they met at the Sundance Lab were Amy Kaufman (Sin Nombre) and Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy (Beginners), who agreed to come aboard Ain't Them Bodies Saints as executive producers.
None of which is to suggest that Johnston has any intentions of abandoning plans to direct his own film. "We've always approached this from the idea of we'll do this as a team," he says. "When it's my turn, it will be my turn. Right now, it's David's turn. And I love producing. It's all working out. It's exactly the way I want things to be."