Ed Radtke grew up the son of a U.S. Air Force musician and a Japanese mother in the all-white town of Bellbrook, Ohio. His first feature, BOTTOM LAND, was filmed on the farm where he worked as he grew up. The film was completed in 1992 and won a first-feature award at the Houston Film Festival. Financed by small grants, money from carpentry jobs and through credit card loans from friends and relatives, the film is a tale of three generations of males in one Ohio family, a "slow burn," as Radtke calls it. "I was so ignorant, naive and unsuspecting," continues the director. "I budgeted it at $10,000 with a timetable of six months, and I spent $100,000 and it took six years."
After BOTTOM LAND, Radtke was able to quit construction and concentrate on a filmmaking career, earning money by working on film crews as assistant director or editor and teaching film and video to high school students. Radtke, working with writing partner M S Nieson, completed the first draft of THE DREAM CATCHER in 1994 and began to develop the feature in his native Ohio.
In 1995, Radtke was awarded the last of the major National Endowment for the Arts Film Production grants for THE DREAM CATCHER. The following year he received a Guggenheim Fellowship, based on the achievement of BOTTOM LAND, and the promise of his new script for THE DREAM CATCHER.
Although not strictly autobiographical, Radtke based THE DREAM CATCHER on his own life experiences. Growing up in a small Ohio town, Radtke floated in and out of trouble with the law. "Every time there was an Asian kid reported to have been seen doing something wrong, the cops knew immediately where to go," he said. "I couldnÕt get away with anything." Convicted of strong-arm robbery at age 16 (Radtke and some friends robbed a pizza delivery boy), Radtke was put on probation but continued to drift. He became a teenage father at 17. THE DREAM CATCHER examines the lives of Freddy and Albert, two marginal teenage boys drifting across the country, whose brash energies mask their own troubles. "Both my films are very male oriented," Radtke says. "They're about missing fathers, about the buddy, and the male psyche not being able to emote -- the bravado, the macho."
Radtke approached his friends, filmmakers and neighbors Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar about becoming producers of the film. Reichert had been nominated for two Academy Awards for her documentaries (with Jim Klein) "Union Maids" and "Seeing Red," and had directed the feature film "Emma and Elvis." And Bognar had directed "Personal Belongings," an award-winning documentary about his father which played at Sundance and on the PBS program, "P.O.V." The two agreed to join the production, and Reichert signed on early to help with fundraising. As a barter for her experience and time, Radtke did carpentry work on her house. By the summer of 1997 a team began to assemble. Incredibly many of the key crew people including the composer, editor, casting director, unit manager, assistant camera, to lots of production assistants were assembled from the small town of Yellow Springs, Ohio. Start of production was set for late September.
Casting for the two key parts of Freddy and Albert began in May. On their first audition trip to Los Angeles, Radtke and casting directors Alison Kennedy Maier and Jonathan Platt were struck almost immediately by actor Maurice Compte, a perfect match for Freddy, the filmÕs lead role. Compte, who had starred in prominent guest roles on NYPD BLUE and CHICAGO HOPE, and had co-starred in the Nick Gomez feature ILLTOWN, instantly became the front-runner for Freddy.
The search for Albert, the second lead, proved far more difficult. Hoping for a regional discovery, the casting team held auditions in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Louisville, Kentucky. Coming up empty-handed, the team proceeded to hold seven days of auditions in New York City. Hundreds of actors tried out, but no one fit the bill. The filmmakers then went to Chicago and Los Angeles for further open call sessions.
Early September came with no Albert in sight. The entire crew was facing despair over this missing actor. With only ten days left before production was to begin, a VHS tape arrived from Colorado. The team popped it in and on screen came the image of a skinny awkward boy, leaning against a blank wall. A woman, obviously the boy's mom, cajoled from off camera, leading him through a five-minute audition. The whole team was stunned. The boy turned out to be Paddy Connor, a fourteen-year-old from Boulder. "I was stunned. There he was, the kid we'd been looking for," said Reichert. After viewing a second video, Radtke's hopes were confirmed. "I knew Paddy could be goofy," says the director. "I wanted to see if he could take me on a journey."
Maurice Compte, meanwhile, had faced hundreds of competitors for the part of Freddy. But "no one came close," says Radtke. "Freddy and Maurice live in each other's skin," said Bognar. Production began on September 28, 1997, with Maurice Compte, Paddy Connor and New York actress Jeanne Heaton in the lead roles. Cinematographer Terry Stacey (who shot "Trick" from this year's Sundance and the upcoming Tom Gilroy film, "Spring Forward") shot the film on Super-16, utilizing a borrowed Aaton XO-Plus. The shoot included a major road trip out West, in six borrowed vans and mini-vans jammed with actors, crew and equipment. The team stopped to shoot in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Key scenes were filmed at the Unitah and Ouray Indian Reservations in Utah, the St. Louis Arch, the Great Salt Flats, and the Casino strips of Nevada.
Arduous six-day shooting weeks continued through early November. The crew found itself caught in sudden snowstorms twice in the Colorado Rockies and on the Ohio plains during a night shoot. The crew included over 20 young, first-time filmmakers, working in professional internships. The entire crew grew tough and adept at sudden shifts in schedule and weather during the long, cold shoot.
Post-production began in December, 1997 and continued through the fall of 1998. Editor Jim Klein cut the film on an AVID MCXpress loaned from nearby Wright State University's film school. THE DREAM CATCHER was shown as a work-in-progress at the 1998 Independent Feature Film Market, where Amy Taubin from The Village Voice remarked: "Paddy Connor and Maurice Compte have faces that leap off the screen." The work-in progress was also selected for RotterdamÕs recent Cinemart. The completed DREAM CATCHERÕs participation in the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival marked its world premiere, where Radtke earned the festival's Best Director award.