Ty Coughenour (left) at the 2013 NativeLab. Photo by Ross Chaney.
Nate von Zumwalt
This week, four filmmaking Fellows take their short film projects to the homelands of the Mescalero Apache Tribe in New Mexico to participate in an intensive four-day workshop at the 2013 NativeLab.
Ty Coughenour is a writer and director belonging to the Lummi Nation, a Native American tribe in western Washington state. Below he discusses developing a precocious passion for film as a child, how the Native tradition of storytelling informs his writing, and the genesis of his short film project A Good Day.
Coughenour recently graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a major in Political Science and a minor in Film and Television from UCLA. He is based in Seattle, where he serves as an associate producer at Mighty Media Studios.
Can you describe your short film project A Good Day and the stimulus for the story?
A Good Day is a story about an elderly couple that finds out that the wife’s cancer has worsened, and we follow along as the two of them try to figure out how to cope. I have a personal connection to the story because my Grandma, who has lived with me my whole life, is a four-time cancer survivor. I’ve seen how difficult cancer is and I wanted to tell a love story that is tested by it.
What are the origins of your interest in filmmaking?
I have wanted to be a filmmaker for as long as I can remember. My dad would take me to a movie every single Friday from the age of six onward. I had no censorship growing up, so I was exposed to a wide variety of films like Pulp Fiction, American Psycho and Boogie Nights before I was a teenager. I became obsessed with films and began writing/directing my own when I was 12 and I haven’t stopped.
How has your Native heritage influenced your desire to tell stories through film?
I was surrounded by great Native storytellers my whole life. It didn’t matter if they were cultural stories or a story of how someone got their nickname—they all were so vivid. I loved listening to great stories told by members of my family, and I always would envision them as films when I heard them. I feel that listening to those stories helped shape me as a writer and a storyteller.
Is there a film or director that you cite as having ignited your interest in filmmaking?
There are so many directors and films that I admire. I started watching films regularly at such a young age, so it would be difficult for me to identify specific films or filmmakers that spurred my interest. That said, some of the filmmakers who inspire me are David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino, Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick, and Christopher Nolan.
As a filmmaker who has experience with the short form, what do you find appealing about this medium?
I love that a great short film can have the same impact on people that a feature film can. In a lot of ways it’s almost more impressive to make a great short film than a feature because you have so much less time to develop characters, create conflict, and come to a resolution. I feel that if you can tell a great story in less than 10 minutes, you are capable of telling a great story in 120 minutes.