Filmmaker Q&A: Irving Franco

Irving Franco, at right, pictured with Adam the First star Oakes Fegley on set in 2020.

Adam the First is a feature filmed entirely in Mississippi with a largely local crew in 2020. It tells the story of a 14-year-old boy (played by Oakes Fegley), who travels across the country in search of his father after being given a list of names and addresses. The film also stars David Duchovny and T.R. Knight.

The film will be shown at a free preview screening hosted by the Flowood Chamber of Commerce and the Mississippi Film Society at the Legacy Theaters Flowood at 7 p.m. April 15. You can RSVP for tickets here.

The film was written and directed by New York-based filmmaker Irving Franco. It’s his second feature film following 2016’s award-winning Cheerleader. We recently spoke with Franco about his experiences making Adam the First in Mississippi.

What initially drew you to Mississippi for this project?

The location scouting for this went through quite a bit of ups and downs. We were originally set to film in Utah and did a lot of location scouting with the folks there, who are wonderful. And then, as is the case with so many indie films, our financing got pulled by surprise last minute from us. And so, we had to kind of close down the tent and it was unclear if we would get this thing back up and running again. 

And then from there, we actually pivoted to the possibility of filming in South America with friends of ours who had helped us make our first film. We were going to shoot in and around the Bogota area and try to make something magical out there.

Once we replaced all the financing, we were set to launch in March of 2020. So, we were served another curveball with the pandemic, of course. We were three days into our trip down in Bogota, about to begin location scouting, and we had to pick up and go home. Much of the financing pulled out at that point.

And then there was a long pause as we pushed to get our financing back. We weren’t clear about what states could check all the boxes for us. We needed a place that was friendly to film, was open for filming during the pandemic, had great crews, but most importantly, had the magic of these different landscapes.

We needed a great range of terrain: swamps, farmland, a canyon, urban areas and we weren’t quite sure where we could find all of this in one place.

And so, that was one of the few good things about the pandemic, we were just sitting home, able to Google a lot. (laughs) We found ourselves looking at the map and just literally trying each state and getting in touch with film offices, and asking them if they could share their thoughts about crew and locations.

Eventually we got in touch with a location scout in Mississippi who was excited about the script. And he said he’d be happy to run around and take photos for us to prove we could do it in Mississippi. And so, for a few weeks, we were going back and forth remotely, getting these amazing pictures of the wide range of landscapes in Mississippi. And we fell in love. A couple weeks later we were on a plane to Jackson—well, actually, I drove. I was stuck in Florida at the time because of logistics. I drove up 13 hours to Jackson and it was fantastic.

It was a roundabout way to Mississippi but in retrospect, I’d say it was definitely our first choice. 

How did filming here help you to tell your story?

Certainly the timelessness of the locations, but also the warm welcome of the people in Mississippi. I mean, from day one, we felt at home. Southern hospitality is not just something you hear about in the movies. It’s a real thing.

What was the most surprising thing for you about filming here?

Easily the weather. I mean, you could have toe warmers in your boots before the sun came up filming a scene and by the end of the day, you change locations just an hour away, and you’re passing around sunscreen! (laughs) You know, many places have multiple seasons coming in and out of about a month or maybe even a week, this was within the same day sometimes! It would be flurries like winter, then like fall weather and then it would be pretty warm. Wardrobe made jokes about it. Like let’s start shooting with a winter coat on, and then you’ll have just your sweatshirt on, then you’re in a t-shirt by the end of the day.

Did you have a favorite location that you used it the film?

Red bluff, the canyon. It’s easily my favorite. It’s magic. And then there’s even different parts of that location that are just as wonderful. There are train tracks. There’s a stream there. And of course, the canyon itself. It’s fantastic. 

My location scout—John Read, now one of my favorite people in the world—didn’t know about it. We found it remotely. He said the only thing we can’t give you is a canyon. And we said, no, we Googled it, and there’s this place called Red Bluff. And he was like, I never heard of that location, I’ve been here forever. And we sent him to it, and he sent us back a video saying, “Guys, I’m at Red Bluff. And it is most definitely a canyon.”  We knew at that point we had landed on what we needed. 

Do you have a most memorable moment working on the film?

Torching the car. Filming that sequence was something we had spoken about for a while. So seeing that come together was certainly a highlight. Once we were on set with the whole team seeing it there on fire, blazing, it was just one of the moments when you say, “We’re finally here, we spoke about doing this for years, and we’re here, we’re doing it.” One of the great joys of production is when you’re out there filming a specific thing that you had envisioned and spoken about and anticipated for quite some time.

Adam the First was a completely independent production. Do you think there’s more opportunities for indie filmmakers today, particularly regarding streaming and digital distribution?

I think it’s kind of a double-edged sword.  It’s extremely exciting that suddenly you can make a film or album for an amount of money that decades ago you couldn’t get to the corner with—and that has been a dream come true for so many storytellers and artists. But I think the negative side of that is now there’s so much more out there in the sea, and we’re now competing for the same space on the distribution side and getting lost in the noise. But the overall positive is more indie films are getting made than ever.