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Filmmaker Struggles to Get Vision on Screen in Movie 'Duck'


For independent filmmakers, the task of making a movie can be daunting. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan spoke with Nic Bettauer, writer and director of the movie Duck, about the difficult process of getting a film from the script to the screen.

Nic Bettauer was a student at Stanford University when she fell in love with movies, and she went on to earn a master's degree in cinema at the University of Southern California. She has made two documentaries and directed a 1998 dark comedy called Zack and Reba, and a humorous short film called Cloud Nine in 2000.

She is busy these days marketing a film that she nurtured from concept to finished movie, a full-length feature called Duck. She thought about making the movie while still in film school and living in Los Angeles near MacArthur Park, a public park with a duck pond in the middle. Police temporarily closed the park, which is notorious for its drug deals, and forced out the homeless men and women who had lived there. That incident gave Bettauer an idea.

"I found myself watching and wondering, where are all the ducks and the homeless people going to go? It's this strange image of this man and this duck looking for a life in Los Angeles in a world where they were no longer valued searching for community and purpose," she said.

Page by page, the idea became a film script.

Duck is an offbeat tale that required a daring actor who was not afraid to costar with a duck. Bettauer found him in the person of veteran actor, Philip Baker Hall. He liked the script and was willing to work on the low-budget project.

Hall plays a retired professor who has lost his wife and son and his sense of purpose. The story is set a few years in the future, when global warming is changing the urban landscape. At the opening of the movie, Hall is planting a tree using the ashes of his late wife.

"And this baby duck comes out of an accident scene and proceeds to think that this man is its mother. I guess the duck in a way gives him purpose. At first, he can't die until he finds the duck a place. And where this is set slightly in the future, this is the last public park in Los Angeles that is now being turned into landfill and a mall. And they're heading west on foot after he is evicted from his apartment in search of water and meaning in the desert that is Los Angeles," she said.

On their journey, the man and duck encounter a diverse cast of characters. Bettauer filmed each episode at a different location during 18 days of shooting.

"There are a lot of vignettes, so we pretty much scheduled out that it was one day per new character, and then they just have to keep moving on because they're heading west on their quest," added Bettauer.

One of the biggest challenges in making any film is getting the financing. Bettauer says spent her own money and found a few investors.

She says the picture was made for well under $500,000, and even then, it was only possible because key cast and crew members owned a piece of the project.

Duck has been shown at film festivals in the United States, Brazil and France, and Bettauer says the film has touched many viewers. It also has its critics, but she says the response has been mostly positive, especially overseas.

"It's a wonderful feeling, especially when you connect with an international audience. And the piece is in a lot of respects a universal tale about survival and hope and what it takes to make life worth living," she said.

The film ends as the man and his feathered companion reach the Pacific coast, where they bask in the sunshine and find a ray of hope.

The filmmaker says Duck is an inspiring but cautionary tale about a future with little room for people to express their humanity. She is pleased with the film as a creative project, but says that as a commercial venture, it is too early to tell if this tale of a man and duck will be an inspiration, or a cautionary tale, for other moviemakers.