Film Festival Profile: Skills Like This

The world's worst writer has had enough. Tormented by the knowledge that he will never make it as a playwright, he abandons his primary passion for a more lucrative trade at which he finds he has a natural talent: Robbing banks. And this spur-of-the-moment act of desperation changes his life and inspires those around him to take charge of theirs.

It hardly seems like an inspirational act; to most it would seem a sign of desperation at worst, an example of anti-establishment protest theatrics at best. But as the narrative thrust of director Monty Miranda's black comedy Skills Like This, the quarter-life crisis of Max Solomon (played by Skills screenwriter Spencer Berger) works well as both catalyst and comedic fodder.

“A lot of people of this generation have this sense of entitlement,” said Miranda in a recent phone interview. “If this were a typical Hollywood film, at the end of the film he would become a good writer and live happily ever after. But I was attracted to the idea of what happens if you're a failure at what you really love to do.”

Hitting too close to home? Well, add the fact that the film was shot entirely in Denver and the there-by-the-grace-of-God-go-I generational recognition factor of the film increases exponentially. Miranda, a graduate of the CU-Boulder film program who moved on to form a commercial production company in Los Angeles, says he got used to that lifestyle but always wanted to make a feature film. And when Denver producer Donna Dewey (whose business partner, Rock Obenchain, edited the film) forwarded him the original script for Skills Like This, he found a project he loved and in Dewey found a producer who could help him get the film made.

“I always thought of the film as a Denver film,” said Miranda. “I wanted a medium-sized urban city that didn't have the same exposure as New York or L.A. and the parallels with my life in Denver when I got out school were elements of the film I could really relate to. And it felt like the character of the film. It felt right.”

Miranda says there were talks about how the film could be shot for less money in Los Angeles or in New Mexico because of the incentives that state offers filmmakers, but that everyone involved ultimately felt that Denver was the best fit. And in every possible way, Skills Like This is a truly Colorado film. Beyond the cast, crew and creative being from and of our square state, Miranda made an effort to include an array of Colorado bands in the soundtrack of the film. Nate Rateliff, who plays under the name The Wheel, provides emotional backing for the film and is featured in the trailer (above). Andy Monley did some scoring and score design for the film, Halden Wofford & the Hi-Beams wrote a song for the film, and Thank God For Astronauts is also featured on the soundtrack.

Taking home the audience the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, Skills Like This is a modest production that bodes well for future film production in Denver. Colorado might not offer the tax incentives that have made New Mexico and Louisiana the production destinations they have become in the last few years, but with the digitization of the medium making production cheaper and more filmmakers like Miranda willing to make films here in spite of the bottom line, may not be the next Hollywood, but we may be the next New Mexico. Only with better green chile. -- Sean Cronin