The golden age of black-and-white feature films might not be relegated to the past.
Following the success of “Roma,” Martha Stephens’ latest film “To the Stars,” which premiered in competition at Sundance, also uses color — or the lack thereof — for dramatic effect. Starring young up-and-comers Kara Hayward and Liana Liberato, the Sixties period film set in the Midwest is a coming-of-age story, which visually evokes a bygone time, but takes a modern approach to the vernacular and friendship between two teenage girls.
“I was a little apprehensive at first when I heard it was going to be in black-and-white, just because where we were shooting was so beautiful, and having seen some stills and stuff in color I was like, ‘gosh, it’s going to be so sad when we lose all this beautiful color in it,'” Liberato says. “And the moment it came on screen I was like, ‘Thank god we have a smart director who stands her ground and won’t take no for an answer.’ It’s very captivating to me, I feel like you just associate black-and-white with an older crowd and all of a sudden you throw a bunch of teens into that and it’s just an interesting thing to watch.”
“I feel like it made me personally a little less self-conscious because it felt even less like I was watching myself. I was like, no, it’s a black-and-white movie. They don’t make those anymore but yeah, they do, we did it. It was trippy,” says Hayward of watching the completed film.
This year marks the “Moonrise Kingdom” actress’ first time premiering a project at Sundance. “It was an interesting way to mesh honoring the Sixties with bringing it to an audience today. They weren’t trying to make some undiscovered relic from the Sixties, they were trying to make a modern movie.”
In addition to its female director and leads, the script was also penned by a woman, Shannon Bradley-Colleary, who had written it 20 years earlier.
“That’s how old I am. Isn’t that wild?” Hayward says. “I don’t even know if I was necessarily even born yet at that point when that script, that role, was beginning to take shape.”
“It’s such a testament to how timeless the story is,” Liberato adds.
The film was shot over the span of a month in Enid, Okla., with a cast that also includes Malin Akerman, Jordana Spiro and Tony Hale.
“I remember talking to my boyfriend when we were there and I was like, ‘Man, if this was a one-woman show, I’d go crazy.’ It was really the company that we had that made it so special. We ate Chili’s every day for about 21 days,” Liberato says.
Filming in Oklahoma also came with some natural obstacles to production.
“There’s the scene where there’s a little mini twister coming down [the street] and that was actually happening; I couldn’t even look up to see it because I was just trying to not look straight into the wind,” Hayward says.
“You really have to fight against [the elements] as an actor sometimes,” Liberato adds.
Hayward quickly follows that up. “We fought our hardest. We wanted to make this movie,” she says.
The film ends on an ambiguous note for Liberato’s character, but both women have their theories about where she ends up after the credits roll. Maybe she makes it out to San Francisco; maybe she finds herself a girlfriend there.
“We all daydream about where our characters end up,” Hayward says. “And that’s how I think you know you’ve had fun in a role, is when you’re like ‘I don’t want it to end, I want to talk about what happens next.'”