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'Skateland' director and co-writer found creative bearings in Austin

Chris Garcia
Shiloh Fernandez and Ashley Greene star in 'Skateland,' which screens Tuesday. Director Anthony Burns did a lot of the script writing at Spider House Cafe.

Using a five-question format, we're interviewing South by Southwest filmmakers about their movies before and during the festival, which runs today through March 20. The interview series is being posted at the Austin Movie Blog at austin360.com, with weekly updates.

We e-chatted with Anthony Burns, director and co-writer of "Skateland," a drama about teens coming of age in East Texas in the '80s. Burns attended Texas State University-San Marcos and wrote "Skateland" in Austin, though the film was shot in Shreveport, La. The movie world-premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year and co-stars Shiloh Fernandez ("Deadgirl") and Ashley Greene ("Twilight").

"Skateland" screens at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Paramount Theatre.

Chris Garcia: What are your ties to Austin? Why, after moving to Los Angeles, did you choose to write 'Skateland' here?

Anthony Burns: Initially, we wanted to shoot in Texas, around Austin, but aesthetically it didn't work for our story so we ended up in Shreveport. However, I had adapted a book years before and had written the entire script at Spider House Cafe. I found it to have the perfect vibe to be creative and write — just enough noise, quiet and comfort to keep you focused. The co-writers, Brandon Freeman and Heath Freeman, went to the University of Texas and I practically grew up here, so it sounded like a good time to get back (at least for the first draft).

As a nostalgic coming-of-age story set in a small Texas town, your movie's been compared to 'The Last Picture Show' and even 'Adventureland.' Are these fair comparisons?

I don't mind comparisons as long as it's completely obvious or the person making the statement takes time to explain them. When it comes to "The Last Picture Show," our film's very similar in place and story, albeit 30 years of separation. Besides the word "land" and having the same decade as a backdrop, there's not much to compare between our film and "Adventureland."

What other films influenced how you told your story? Did Austin classic 'Dazed and Confused' have any effect?

"Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club" and "Say Anything" all captured the zeitgeist in their storytelling, and I feel that's a major factor why they're continually celebrated. That's what we set out to do, and I believe we accomplished it. I read a review that said what "American Graffiti" did for the '60s and what "Dazed and Confused" did for the '70s, "Skateland" does for the '80s.

Explain how you achieved the film's period textures through photography, fashion, art direction, music.

We spent a lot of time researching '70s photographers to create the color palette, and the entire production team worked off those swatches to design our wardrobe and sets. We wanted the textures and the overall appearance of the film to be harmonious, so it was important that everyone was working with the same tones. MTV's pop appeal was on the rise during 1983 and the music being created early on in the decade was so incredible that we knew from conception our soundtrack would be a key element.

We did decide on some less obvious choices, too, like the Buzzcocks and Lipps Inc., but of course bands like New Order, Blondie, Flock of Seagulls and many more made the final cut.

What does the title skate rink represent to you and the characters?

The rink represents familiarity and comfort. We decided to use the rink as one of many tools to motivate the main character to start making decisions, to grow up basically. Skateland is closing and, like much of his life, times are changing and you have to move with it or get swallowed up.

More about "Skateland" at freemanfilm.com/skateland.

cgarcia@statesman.com; 445-3649