It’s a daunting task to direct your first feature film in Hollywood. It’s even more daunting when you also commit to acting, writing, and producing the said film – all of which are also firsts. But Terrence “TJ” Martin and Dominique “Domi” Braun, a real-life couple that has been together for 12 years, jumped right into it with both feet on their film Get Away If You Can, which also stars four-time Oscar-nominated actor Ed Harris and Riley Smith.
Martin has had some experience in the Hollywood realm, having written and directed The Donner Party in 2009 and also working in the art department for the 2003 film Holes. But Get Away If You Can marks a first for him in terms of acting and producing, and also working alongside his wife. A personal project for both, the film follows a couple facing a troubled marriage, with the hopes that a trip to a deserted island will rekindle the lost flames. Facing a past that continuously haunts them, the two make decisions that will forever alter their relationship and how their lives will proceed afterward.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to both Martin and Braun about their film, about working together as co-directors while also being married to each other, and what’s next for them now that they were able to complete this project that took them seven years to finish. The full transcript of the interview is below.
Since you guys have been together for 12 years, did you incorporate any trials and tribulations that your relationship has encountered into this movie? Was that what inspired the script?
Dominique Braun: Yeah, 100 percent. It has a lot of personal things that we’ve lived before we met with other relationships, and what we think about certain things in life and love. It’s completely personal.
Terrence Martin: Yeah, we’re both pretty fiery and we’re both directing together. It was kind of fun to embrace those ideas. When we looked at the original footage, when we were coming in, it was very strong. Our group from Argentina was like, “Wow, you guys have a power when you go at it together. So that kind of informed how we wanted to tell the story – take it to a couple that was really in a tough state. But in real life, we treat each other really, really nice. I probably would have said, “Let’s go to the island, baby. Let’s go have a glass of wine.” I do get that typical thing where we’re on a journey, I don’t want to be bothered, and I get that tunnel vision, and I see that in my character. You kind of learn you don’t have to be that way. It’s very interesting for me.
From an outsider’s perspective, say someone watches this movie and they’ve never met you, never talked to you, and they know that you’re a couple. Do you think that they may interpret it that way where they believe the relationship is almost how it’s portrayed in the movie? I mean, hopefully, they won’t.
DB: I think the big majority is going to think that we’re almost playing ourselves, but it’s not really like that. We’re not playing ourselves at all. I am so different than that character. I can’t even go camping. She’s like in that deserted island with seals – I was terrified. But the reality is that’s not our story. It has things that we’ve both lived in being disappointed or disconnected in other relationships, and what you’re willing to give to follow your path or give it all for very pure love. It’s more about our thoughts.
TM: For me, it’s people’s first time meeting us, so they tend to think, “Oh, wow, that really is them.” But, hopefully, next time, we’ll play different characters and people will realize, “Hey, they’re pretty decent actors.” For me, the performance is everything. I really want the performance to be so convincing to where the audience members will be like, “Oh, wow, that was a little scary real.” That was what we were going for especially with this film.
DB: Another thing that can be confusing is we decided to leave our real nicknames as the names of the characters. That can confuse some people, but nobody knows us so they won’t know what our real names are. That was the idea.
TM: It’s funny. Nobody would ask that about Ed [Harris]. “Are you really like that, Ed?” No, he’s such a great actor. Of course, he’s acting. But you have to match his reality. It’s not tough. I’ve seen Ed do some smaller budget stuff, and it’s like, “Oh, my god. This actor is just like the best thing.” We hope that’s not the case; we hope that we brought our performance.
DB: Well, it’s because we are the writers and directors, and I feel that may lead to some more of the confusion.
TM: Yeah, definitely.
I think with Ed as well, he’s been around for a while. He’s had a great career playing menacing characters. I’m thinking of his character in A History of Violence and how it’s almost the same in this movie, but in a different way. Working with Ed Harris, I’m sure having him onboard was a blast. I know that he’s directed before. Did you go to him for any tips on directing or anything, or did he just let you guys take the wheel and go with it?
DB: Because he’s a director, it was really a pleasure to work with him, because he’s there for the story as an actor. It was beautiful to work with him. It was very easy and things were flowing. [He and TJ] got to do a couple of rehearsals and got to talk very deeply about what was going on with this couple and with this father that loves him but at the same time wants him on this path to inherit the business. It was a pleasure. Mostly, he let us do our thing. It was a collaboration, but that’s everything in a film.
TM: For me, when you work with someone who knows from a director’s standpoint, they have a certain empathy that you get – that, like, “Wow, I’ve been there. I know it. I’m here for you.” Ed makes very strong choices and he wants to get it right, which we love. When he does a work like Pollock, I really responded to that film when I saw it. I thought, “Wow, there’s a real master at work here.” For me, it’s like you have this great actor, but you have this creative mind, too. It’s a really wonderful way to work.
For you, TJ, I know this is the second film you directed. You did another film called The Donner Party. For you, Domi, this is your first film. What made you decide to take this on as a couple and do the acting and writing for it as well?
TM: She studied acting in New York, and it was always a passion of hers. When we were sitting in bed watching movies, we would always laugh at the same part. Maybe if something bothered us in the movie, our creative tastes were lining up to the point where I was like, “You know, I’d love to jump into a project with her because I think it will have our moment. But I think we’ll get along enough to where we’ll create something with a real nice synergy.” And then it kind of blossomed from there.
DB: Yeah, we have a lot of creativity and our tastes align, which is not easy at all. More for us, we’re very passionate. We know what we want, we know when, we know everything. That’s why when we get at it, we get at it. But it’s also really fun because when we disagree and we’re able to really communicate our different points of view, it’s the moment where one or the other opens and sees it. I think it was really interesting working together and living together really.
TM: Yeah, I realize now on my first movie, I didn’t see eye to eye with the producer and that really hurt the process. It wasn’t so much one was right or wrong; it was just like a different subjective experience. So when you jump into making a film, especially one that you’re going to direct yourself, now I realize you really need to be on the same page with your main collaborators from the beginning. We really strived to do that with our DP (director of photography), with our music…
DB: We had a fabulous crew and cast, obviously, but we had really sweet, nice, talented, and generous people working with us from their hearts. Everyone put their hearts and souls into it.
TM: And risked their lives going to this island, traveling overseas. We always thought, “Hey, maybe one day we would like to live on a sailboat.” And now, after this movie, we’re like, “Never ever.” It was very rough.
Are there any other takeaways aside from not wanting to live on a sailboat that you learned from making this movie?
TM: I think to be open-minded [laughs]. When your wife asks you to take a pit stop, you don’t have to be so strong. I learned that about myself because I see some just anger from the past, you know. I see it coming out through the acting, and I wonder where that is. I think we can all question why, sometimes, we get frustrated with things that, maybe, we don’t have to. We can choose a more enlightened path. When I see my performance in the movie, that’s what I think of, and, of course, love.
DB: Yeah, I think from the movie, one of the biggest things I can take away is to take risks in life. This movie was a risk for us. We put everything into it. For years, we had to save just to shoot a part. It took us seven years. It was a big risk. When you put it out there and someone connects, and you’re telling something from the bottom of your heart, it’s incredible. It’s like your life has a sense for a moment. I think taking risks in life is very important to feel alive and to live your life.
TM: I agree.
The way the movie is told is in a very non-linear fashion. You get flashbacks to the past, and then you get the present where they’re on the boat. And then it looks like it goes to the future as well. I don’t want to spoil it, but it looks like it shows where their lives go. When you made this, I know movies usually get filmed out of order from their script. But did you do this differently to where you filmed the past first, the present second, and then the future later? How did you approach the filmmaking process of this?
DB: It was very interesting because we filmed the part on the island first. It was going to be just that – the movie. But it was interesting, and people were really digging it and they wanted to know more about these characters and why they wanted to go to the island. So we wanted to shoot the backstory, and that came after. We shot the backstory with Ed and my sister and his brother, Riley Smith. Then we had to decide how we were going to tell the story. We really felt that the way to tell the story is that these experiences they had in the past are still traumatic and are still in the boat with them. So that’s why the story is on the boat – that’s the core of the movie. But their traumas, their memories, the places that come in and out are on the boat.
TM: Yeah, we wanted their flashbacks to feel very related to the present. It’s like the past keeps coming and weaving in. Recently, and I didn’t use it as a reference or a study, but I saw The Godfather Part II, and that’s a masterpiece. I’m not comparing it to that movie. But I realized when they cut away to the flashes, they also used the present mood to guide you in, in a way that is quite similar. I find that’s an interesting way to tell a story, to where it’s just not like a flashback and then a dream goes to this blurriness. It’s just related to the moment of a thought you had.
With the way the movie plays out, and the way your character acts, TJ, not to spoil it, is there a possibility that the final moments are what TJ is thinking, or is it actually playing it to where this is their future?
TM: I think we wanted to keep it ambiguous. I saw it as their future. I thought these characters had so much trauma, so many challenges, and the guy makes a horrible decision. I don’t want to spoil it either. But then, it’s like, give them something, you know? So it’s this idea of…
DB: Well, I mean, on the island, either you’re going to die or you’re going to thrive. They end up thriving.
TM: Yeah, we don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t seen it.
DB: They still don’t know how and why.
Yeah, trying to keep it as vague as possible for those who are going to watch it. Now, since you guys not only direct this movie together but are a couple in real life, how do you draw the line between, “This is my co-director” and “This is my wife”? How do you draw that line when you’re working on a project like this?
DB: I don’t think we have any lines [laugh].
TM: I was going to say the same exact thing. It’s really about talking everything through and figuring out together what the best course of action is and not being so line-driven – just realizing everybody has a point of view. I worked for years test screening giant studio movies, and my favorite directors and producers were always very open-minded to the process. I strive to do that as well with your crew and the people you’re close with. Everybody has a point of view, and listening takes nothing. You can make your decision. Domi actually really helped me, because when my performance would be really off, I would be stressed out and she would calm me down. She would say, “Hey, let’s re-evaluate this scene.”
DB: I would direct him and he would direct me. It felt very nice that we had each other’s back. We were acting together, but we were also directing each other. It felt good, yeah, no lines. [laughs] Just respect. It’s important when you work together that you have respect because we have admiration and respect for each other as a couple, I think that goes well with the partnership as well.
What other movies served as inspiration for this one when it came to putting the script together and filming it?
TM: Interesting question. I would say, first and foremost, we didn’t approach this movie from a standpoint of like, “We’re going to look at shots from other movies and emulate them.” I wanted this to be kind of like… you see it in Amores Perros and Before Night Falls. It’s this handheld beauty. It’s not handheld so much that you can’t get beautiful cinematic shots, but you’re giving the DP enough to really let his eye, when you trust them, choose the best shot. And it gives it this, for me, the cinematic reality…
DB: That we wanted for this film.
TM: Yeah. Nowadays, you can use an iPhone and get super pans, and you can make it look like a Hollywood film. And I think that’s a great aesthetic for the right project. But, for this, we really wanted that handheld, reality first, but then the beauty. We had a great DP from Argentina; he’s one of the top DPs, whose name is Lucio Bonelli. It became very evident that we let him flow and roam free. He chose an amazing look of us and the background. We just loved his taste. And that follows through with our Los Angeles DP Michael Lockridge and our Chilean DP as well. It was fun. Three different DPs in three different countries, which was supposed to give it a little different feel – a very slight different perspective for each place.
DB: As for movies, we didn’t really get inspired by other movies to do this one. This was almost like our baby. The story we really had inside and we really wanted to bring it to life are the things we really thought or would have wanted in our life in other moments. We really stayed true, and that’s why it took us so long to do it. We wanted to really tell the story we wanted to achieve.
My last question for you guys. Now that this is your first major film you’ve done together, what else are you looking to tackle next? Are there any other projects you want to take on next? Anything big, or do you still want to keep it small?
DB: As big as we can. I have a mermaid series that I’m writing that I love. Very fun, very passionate series. Not like the typical mermaid that you imagine for kids. This one is a strong female character.
TM: And I actually wrote a thriller. I’m not sure if we’ll act in it together or not, but it’s about a couple that goes through hormone treatment and the wife starts getting affected by the treatment. She starts getting these crazy powers, and it’s a look at birth and the future. It’s a fun sci-fi thriller. With that, I’d really like to sculpt it out and make it Hitchcock-style if we could where we really know every shot – just to try it that way. With this one, we ended up with so much footage that our story really could have gone 20 different ways. But we feel like, especially with the pandemic and having the time to really go over it, that we really found the way we wanted to tell Get Away If You Can.
This concludes the interview. On behalf of Cinema Sentries, I would like to thank TJ Martin and Domi Braun for taking the time to speak to me about their film. Get Away If You Can opens in theaters and premieres on video-on-demand on Friday, August 19, 2022.