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“I’ve Always Been Interested in Making My Own Version of Goodbye Dragon Inn: Director Carson Lund on His Cannes-Premiering Eephus


“Please stop me if any of the terms don’t make sense.” A few days before his feature debut, Eephus, will premiere in the Directors’ Fortnight, Carson Lund is sitting on a rooftop terrace in Cannes and worrying I may not catch all the jargon. Understandably. A chronicle of the last baseball game played at Soldiers Field in Douglas, MA before the grounds will be paved over and replaced by a middle school, the chat’s testing my—admittedly limited—knowledge of the sport. Yet how you’ll respond to Lund’s wistful film won’t depend on your level of inside baseball. It will depend on how much you like old guys, people who’re watching the world they love as it falls indelibly into the past, who know all too well this isn’t a game so much as a farewell, but can’t find the words to say goodbye. Eephus is a dazzling tribute to the sport itself, told by someone with a keen ear for its colloquialisms and lore, but it’s also something much bigger. It’s a snapshot of a fading universe that transcends the specifics of its subject; an ode to a place as much as one to a certain way of communing.

A critic, musician, and cinematographer responsible for lensing two of the most singular first features to have recently come out of the States, Tyler Taormina’s Ham on Rye (2019) and Jonathan Davies’s Topology of Sirens (2021), Lund follows in the footsteps of several other tributes to soon-to-be-shut American hangouts, from Eagle Pennell’s Last Day at the Alamo (1983) to A Prairie Home Companion (2006), and, most recently, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (2020). Like Robert Altman’s swan song, Eephus unfurls as a choral portrait, peopled by a garrulous bunch of amateur baseball players and scored to the intermittent Greek chorus-like announcements crackling from a boombox (a cast of local radio hosts that includes one fabulously named Branch Moreland, voiced by none other than Frederick Wiseman).

Like the Ross brothers’ film, Lund’s—edited by its multi-hyphenate director and shot by Greg Tango—fosters a kind of omniscient narration, zigzagging sporadically between characters and chats while retaining the feeling of temporal continuity. Eephus kicks off on a cloudless morning in late October and wraps when the sky’s already pitch black, with no umpire or lights to illuminate the field other the players’ own cars—determined to stretch their last match as long as possible. It exists in a liminal region where time has seemingly ceased to hold its sway, and where different markers (some 1970s-looking vehicles and some very twenty-first century sports kits worn by people just outside the field) heighten a kind of rootlessness. This is, at its core, an elegy of sorts, but for all the nostalgia it radiates, a dirge Eephusis not. Written by Lund, Michael Basta, and Nate Fisher, it retains a pugnacious tone throughout, in turns poking fun at and celebrating this gaggle of baseball enthusiasts as untimely heroes. It is also, in my book, one of the strongest entries to bow in Cannes this year.

Filmmaker: I looked up Soldiers Field after the film and… turns out the place still exists, after all?

Lund: That’s right; the middle school that was meant to be built over it, that was all fiction. And we only found the field late in the process. I’d been scouting hundreds of them around New England looking for one that would suit the story we’d written. I needed to find a field that was kind of fading away because I’ve always been interested in making whatever my version of Goodbye Dragon Inn might be. I’m a baseball fan and baseball player and the sport has been very important to me throughout my life. But the culture around it has really changed in America.

Filmmaker: How so?

Lund: Well, at a major league level, they’ve implemented new rules because of declining viewership. It’s just the older crowds now that remain these baseball purists who believe that no, the game should have its own kind of arcane rules and follow its own poetic language. Bear in mind this is also one of the few sports that did not have a clock until very recently—the pitch clock. Which means now you have a certain amount of time to throw the pitch, whereas before you didn’t, and this allowed a certain elongation of time. It used to be America’s pastime or whatever, and I thought about this in relation to my own life and how I used to play so much. It was kind of what I wanted to do for a long while before I became a cinephile, a critic, and a filmmaker. I grew up in a small town where there’s lots of green space and I was always playing, until I moved to Los Angeles where everything’s privatized. I was just trying to assess these questions, like where I am now and where I was as I was growing up, both in relation to baseball and in broader terms. I knew I wanted to make this story about something fading away, something passing. And it’s not completely unheard of that a baseball field would be paved over. Bernie Sanders was running on the idea of unionizing the minor leagues ’cause it’s such an important part of small communities across America, to have these baseball fields that everyone can kind of commune at. Of course, the one we have in our film is more of an amateur field.

Filmmaker: But it’s got such a strong history. I read that the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox apparently played at Soldiers Field in 1946 for an exhibition game before a crowd of 12,000.

Lund: But that was just serendipitous! We found the field at a stage in our scouting when we felt like we were really striking out—sorry…—looking for fields because a lot of them have been renovated, meaning a lot of aluminum bleachers, which is just ugly. I wanted something that had that sense of history, with the wooden fence, the paint chipping and so on. And we knew we couldn’t recreate it on the budget we had. And once I first saw the field, I was like, this feels like it has history. I look it up and I’m finding out all this stuff the Red Sox and the Yankees, and everything started clicking.

Filmmaker: How much had you written before you found your location, and how much did the script change once you landed on Soldiers Field?

Lund: It was a fluid process. We’d written a script that had a very particular sense of space, and we had to map it all out, because the film is about these spatial relationships: where people and players and local fans are situated on the field. And we needed a parking lot so that the cars could all arrive in one place. Plus I was also really interested in having this expansive woods somewhere around it. So we had drawn a overhead map, essentially. And a lot of the scouting was basically me browsing on Google Maps to try and find a similar layout. And when we finally picked Soldiers Field, a lot of it was exactly as how we’d written it. Other things didn’t quite match; for starters, it was more of a suburban field than I think we had imagined. It’s kind of planted right in the middle of this small town. Which means you do see houses, and there is a forest around it, but it’s not that expansive. Still, there were also serendipitous things about the field that influenced how we wrote on the fly—like that beautiful tower, the press box, where the character of Franny relocates toward the end.

Filmmaker: I love the fact that it’s a place that seems to exist out of time, so to speak. I tried to look for clues as to when exactly the action was taking place, but everything from the old car models to the players’ uniforms feels temporally ambiguous. The only thing that gave me a sense that this might be set in the present came from outside the field—the soccer kits of the people playing right next door. It’s as if outside the year was 2024, and once you step inside Soldiers Field you entered another dimension, where time works differently, or maybe doesn’t work at all.

Lund: That’s fascinating. I hadn’t thought of the outside coming in, but really the outside world was the only thing we couldn’t control. Sometimes we would see modern cars; sometimes I painted them out and sometimes I didn’t. I guess I was sort of embracing a little bit of that ambiguity. I’ll start with the cars because that’s such an interesting point. We wanted this film to be set in the ‘90s, the reason being it’s the period of my youth when I grew up in this kind of lost world of pre-internet outdoor recreation, when baseball had a certain role in my life—both playing and watching.

I also wanted the film to be about men who have the game and each other, no other distractions. They’re forced to relate to one another through that experience. Yes, there’s a boombox, so there are these transmissions from the outside world as well. But there are no phones that they can look at throughout the game. I play in a league now, and that’s something people do, which I think changes the whole dynamic, and pulls you out of the moment. I wanted to make a film that was all about experiencing time very directly.

But the cars, we wanted them to be from the ‘90s. But those were hard to find. No collectors will keep these boxy Volkswagens from 30 years back. And yet, in another stroke of serendipity, we met a car collector who lived right down the street. And he happened to keep maybe 10 vintage cars that he let us use. Still, there was something very strange about their inclusion, at first. It just didn’t feel like the right world. But then it, to your point, their inclusion added to that temporal ambiguity. It made it somehow more moving to watch these guys cling onto the past.

Filmmaker: And yet there’s nothing funereal about Eephus. The melancholy is always reined in by the men’s banter, their petty grievances. How did you handle the film’s tone?

Lund: Well, my co-writers, Michael Basta and Nate Fisher, they’re phenomenal partners. I knew I’d be making a film about a big ensemble and about these sort of comedic figures, and I wanted two of my closest and funniest friends to write it with. I think the tone has something to do with the culture and atmosphere of recreational baseball or any other similar amateur enthusiast activities. You develop a relationship with people around you that’s really rooted in jokes. That, and I also wanted to deal with a certain masculinity that is prominent in the corner of New England where I’m from. I grew up around very stoic, macho people—the type who find it difficult to discuss their feelings because that’s perceived as, you know, unmanly or something. I think it’s a regional thing, too; there’s a puritan history in New England, and I wonder if it may all stem from that. I really love films where what people are saying is only a façade, a mask for what’s really happening. The banter of baseball is so much around these strange colloquialisms, a language that’s very unique to that space, but might not be the same language these men would share if they were to meet up at a bar. It’s all about the performance of a certain kind of comradery. And yet they all know what’s happening; this ritual they all love will not happen again necessarily on the field they’re used to playing in. Still, they could just go play somewhere else! But to make the effort to say, hey, I really enjoy playing with you guys, let’s go do it somewhere else, that would mean coming across as too soft. That’s where the absurdity lies, and that’s where the tone comes in. I wanted to commit to that specialized language, but let the visual style tell something different.

Filmmaker: You mentioned Goodbye Dragon Inn, but there were other last-day-before-closure films your Eephusbrought me back to—Eagle Pennell’s Last Night at the Alamo, for one, and of course, as far as the multicharacter canvas goes, Robert Altman’s Prairie Home Companion.

Lund: Also an influence! [laughs]

Filmmaker: Could you speak about how you went about writing so many voices? I must confess that, for all their quirks and macho banter, these men never really struck me as caricatures.

Lund: Well, part of it is personal experience. I play with these kinds of people, and it’s funny to hear you say that because sometimes they honestly feel like caricatures to me; I’m glad they don’t to you. Sometimes I tried to composite all these memories of certain archetypes that I witnessed in my past playing games or sitting in a dugout with this or that type of guy. And you keep those archetypes in mind when you’re going about the casting. That’s where much of that authenticity comes out—writing is essentially working from broad ideas and trying to cull them down into specificity.

Filmmaker: Where your actors already good at baseball? I’m trying to picture what your rehearsals must have looked like.

Lund: We rehearsed on a field, every time. Though a lot of the practices… See? I’m already calling them practices! A lot of the rehearsals were just practices, during which I basically refreshed or simply taught people the mechanics of the game so that they had it as internalized as possible. The idea after all was to make a movie about people who so deeply love the game and have been playing it for so many years they have acquired a certain fluency with it. Which didn’t necessarily mean that they had to be phenomenal players. It was about understanding the game, and how gestural it is. It’s how you compose yourself in a dugout. It’s how you compose yourself in the field. It’s the way you spit and the way you use these colloquialisms. A lot of our rehearsals was just us playing. I’d hit them ground balls. I’d explain different situations; I had to make sure that the game had an internal logic, that it would feel very real. Baseball films have a long lineage in America, and I didn’t want to be seen as making mine from an outsider’s perspective, someone who doesn’t understand the game. I had to do a lot of teaching.

Filmmaker: I’m wondering whether you think there’s an overlap between the figure of the coach and the director.

Lund: A very literal overlap in this case, seeing as I was wearing a glove for a large portion of the shoot. If you see a ball fly from off screen, chances are that’s me throwing. I would often have a ball and glove in my hand. It reminds me of Richard Linklater’s Inning by Inning —have you seen it? It’s a film about the University of Texas baseball coach, Augie Garrido, which is basically a drawn-out analogy between the two things. What Linklater posits is that a coach is first and foremost an organizer of people—a kind of emotional guide. And in a film like Eephus, with such a huge cast and crew, and so many of your creative ideas already agreed upon with your key collaborators, so much of your daily work is guiding the mood of the set. And in that sense, this was such an amazing production because so much of my cast and crew lived together, in a kind of boy scout cabin in the woods nearby. And these are grown men! You’d think something would go wrong; egos would combust. Yet it was miraculously smooth. I never went to where they lived because I thought it was important to maintain a separation of sorts. And when they came to set, it was all just so harmonious that their alchemy wound up changing the course of the shoot in certain ways, as we gradually started to embrace more improvisation. Largely because I felt like I’d be doing a disservice to this ensemble if I didn’t them run free of my designs. We still kept very close to the script, but the energy that they created together made them genuine friends with a history. All in the space of a month. It’s a very compressed history, but you feel it, I think, on screen.

Filmmaker: I believe I’m contractually obligated to ask how you managed to recruit Frederick Wiseman as one of the radio announcers.

Lund: I’ve always admired Fred’s work, obviously; I went to school in Boston, and he’s got a long history in Cambridge. I had his email and reached out to him cold with the script. I’d never met him prior to that, but I knew a few people who knew him, and I guess my name piqued his interest or something. I’m still not sure. But he read the script—very quickly, I might add—and he liked it. I sent it to him before we shot, incidentally, with the intention of casting him in the role of Franny. To which he replied, “You do realize the character in the film is in his 60s and that I’m 94?” But he was still very interested in doing it, only the schedules didn’t align. It just wasn’t going to happen. And I’d almost forgotten that we spoke, but, later on, when I finally decided to introduce the boombox as a kind of Greek Chorus, I thought he’d serve as the only voice. Yet in the end I reconsidered—I thought it’d be best if the boombox too remained an ensemble of voices, just like the rest of the film. In the end he wound up with a speaking role that you hear quite prominently in the beginning, and then again more quietly a few other times. I think the choice to recruit him is a testament to my admiration for his work, but it’s also, I hope, a cue about the way Eephus is operating. Wiseman’s films are all about the collective, these vast systems and communities that often have their own internal logic. I wanted to tell the viewer this is an almost an anthropological study of a big group as opposed to a film about this or that protagonist. It’s a film about a world that’s about to reveal itself to you.

Filmmaker: I was thinking of another recent last-day film, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets. The Ross brothers shot it with a two-camera setup, and relied on montage editing to foster a kind of omniscient narration, all while maintaining a temporal continuity. You achieve something very similar here too; how did you manage?

Lund: I love that Ross brothers film. I will also note that they had it easy because they had one indoor space. They could set the lights and then forget about it. Here, we were beholden to the foliage, the changing weather, and the rain. We’d done some research about how rainy it would be throughout the month of October in Douglas, and the average said six days of rain. I think we got 13 or 12. Sometimes it’d only rain for a few hours or whatever, and then we’d be able to go out and shoot. But our plans were thwarted right away after the first week turned out to be very rainy, and we had to shuffle everything around. But I’d developed some pretty rigorous storyboards, and that really helped. I’d written out a shot list in text form, and when I first got to the field I brought a camera with me, and shot every frame that I thought we might use for the film. These were empty frames, of course, so then I shot people against green screens in different poses and in baseball uniforms, and added them with Photoshop. We had some very long Zoom sessions with Greg Tango, my cinematographer, and Michael [Basta], the assistant director, to talk about where the sun would be at any given moment in all these different angles. We had to study where and how it would move over the field and make sure that we had continuity—if this character’s back lit, this other character needs to be frontlit. And I think we managed to do that pretty closely.

Filmmaker: How many cameras did you use, and what kind?

Lund: One camera only—the Sony Venice, with master prime anamorphics.

Filmmaker: Had you ever used it before?

Lund: Oh, no. That was ultimately Greg Tango’s decision; I took his word for it. He was very confident that this was the right camera. And a big reason for that is the low-light capabilities, the dual base ISO — you can pump the ISO at night or in low light, and you get a pretty pristine image. We thought that would be useful for the twilight sections of the film. Because twilight, dusk, the blue hour—it’s constantly changing when you’re in it. And once we started going through the schedule, we realized that we couldn’t just rely on getting one scene per night. So we basically shot day for dusk. And we needed gray skies for it. We built a LUT that was very specific and we could view on set, which would basically convert this image under a gray sky into a dusk look. It was like under exposing by quite a bit, but still retaining all the detail. So all those gray and wet days we had, the minute it stopped raining, we went ahead and shot our dusk scenes. We ended up having so much gray that we finished those well before we’d expected. Another case of serendipity.

Filmmaker: Was there ever a moment when you thought you’d serve as your own cinematographer?

Lund: A very foolish moment, yes. I’m a DOP, and felt a bit stubborn about that. I’ve always shot things myself and it felt like I was giving up some essential part of the process by asking someone else to do it. But the more I got into rehearsing and discussing these characters with all the actors, the more I felt like I had way too much on my plate. So I started reaching out to cinematographers. I was very particular about who I’d pick. And a very good friend of mine who couldn’t do it recommended Greg Tango, whom I remembered from college. I didn’t know him very well at that point, but once we started talking about the film, I realized he very much understood the concept and had a technical expertise that exceeded my own, to be honest. He was proposing all sorts of nifty solutions for how we would overcome certain challenges; I felt in good hands, felt that I could finally devote myself to the very difficult work of corralling this massive team. I didn’t want Greg to think I was stepping on his toes in any way and invited his compositional opinions. But at the same time, because I’d been so diligent about the storyboarding, we were able to discuss every single one of those shots so thoroughly, and I felt confident that we were going in with a very sturdy frame of reference for how the film should be shot.

Filmmaker: Speaking of collaborators, you worked with your brother Erik on the score; could you speak  about how that came into being?

Lund: We didn’t even want to do a score at first. I really wanted to let the sounds of the field speak for themselves. But that just wasn’t doing it justice—maybe I hadn’t done enough sound design for it to work. At the same time, I felt as though I needed to do something that would almost act as a counterpoint to the rhythm of baseball. This is a very organized sport; you have the diamond, the specific places for the bases, the spots where people should stand. But there’s so much emotional turmoil. And this goes back to the tone: yes, they’re all speaking the language of the game while avoiding talking about the field’s impending demise. But I wanted a score that would sort of work against that in some way. I’d recently seen Barry Lyndon, and there are so many scenes in that film where the score is just the pulsing of a drum in the background, and it runs through multiple segments. And I found that very intriguing; it’s as if the score was its own voice—it doesn’t always work in tandem with the film but provides this texture that pushes against it in some way. Here, I think the score was also informed by the name of the field itself. I wanted to heighten this militant quality; these are men who are soldiering against time, the real enemy in the film. I wanted something with drums, but it took a little bit of time to figure out the syncopated rhythm that I was after. If you listen closely, there’s a kind of dissonance that’s echoed in the drums and the saxophones we used, but then you also hear a harp, which adds a very different, almost lilting quality to it all. I wanted a kind of melancholy to creep into the film around the halfway point and guide you to the end.

Filmmaker: As a fellow critic, I was curious as to how you see the relationship between your filmmaking and criticism. Do if you see them as wildly different practices, or as feeding into each other?

Lund: I don’t think I see them as different, necessarily. In fact, writing criticism helped me figure out the kind of films I wanted to make, and how to be a more critical thinker, especially with regards to intention and meaning. I think that learning all these different styles moved me towards a point where I kind of know what my voice should be. And over the years, I started to write less and less negative pieces. I’d much rather write about films that I know I’m already going to be interested in. It’s about trying to hone own my voice through writing about films that I admire. And as a critic, I’ve always been preoccupied with form. I think every critic should be aware of all how everything interacts. That’s what drew me to cinema: I think I’ve always been a little bit curious about the machinery of it all. But one practice has always informed the other. And I don’t think I’m done with criticism. This is not a transition; I think I’ll still write when I have more time. I’m still watching films, I’m still writing; it’s all an ongoing conversation within oneself.

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