This Thursday, October 22, Matthew Balzer premieres his new independent film, The Catch, filmed on the North Shore, at the Austin Film Festival. The festival’s virtual format means that anyone can buy a $10 ticket to watch the film and try and spot their favorite Gloucester, Rockport, and Ipswich landmarks.
The Catch tells the story of a young woman returning to her hometown and her estranged family on the rural coast of Maine. Her and an ex-boyfriend put together a drug-hijacking scheme while her father wages his own turf war against other lobstermen. Balzer, who wrote and directed the film, pieced together the plot from true crime stories, his own upbringing in small town Massachusetts, and real anecdotes from New England fishermen.
Balzer began the script years ago when he heard about a shooting on Matinicus Island off the coast of Maine—a territorial dispute between two lobstermen. When Balzer went out to learn how to lobster with Cape fishermen out of Provincetown Harbor, he started hearing more fishing stories. “These stories that are probably better than anything you would’ve come up with as a writer,” says Balzer. “Those things started to make their way into the script and I then did the same thing up into Maine.”
Although he wanted to film the movie in Maine, the infrastructure wasn’t there, especially for a small, independent production like his. “Massachusetts these days actually has a lot of crew, it has a really nice tax incentive,” says Balzer, “and it has a group of great actors.” So he settled on a North Shore filming location—mostly Gloucester and Rockport, with a focus on Pigeon Cove.
Balzer can’t say enough of the wonderful help he and his crew received from the Gloucester and Rockport communities. Gloucester breakfast spot Two Sisters fed the cast and crew, local residents opened up their homes for filming, and local fishermen lent their boats and even taught the cast how to fish. “We could not have achieved what we did without people doing us favors,” says Balzer.
Balzer also has endless thanks for the cast and crew, who “delivered amazing work and really elevated” the film.
Especially integral to the film was Bob Morris, a Rockport fisherman who Balzer met one day on a dock in Rockport as he was scouting. “He asked us if we were a bunch of Hollywood guys,” laughs Balzer. “I said actually, we’re making this movie.”
They chatted for twenty minutes as Balzer explained that he, too, is from a small Massachusetts town and was looking to tell an authentic story about the struggles of a modern-day New England fishing community. Morris never once had to look down at the rope he was coiling and knotting.
Morris offered to take Balzer out on his boat the next morning. Little by little, Morris became more and more involved in the film—“He liked being around the actors and the actors like being around him,” says Balzer, who says that Morris did a little bit of everything for the film: fishing, boat wrangling, technical advising, and even acting. He provided the production entrée into the world of North Shore fishermen.
“I wound up in places I never thought I’d wind up, I did a little acting I guess, much to my surprise,” says Morris in a behind-the-scenes video. The Catch actors said Morris was the heart and soul of the film. “I had a good time,” says Morris. “I’ll always look back on it as a wonderful time where our worlds collided—a real lobsterman and a real filming of a production. I’m gonna take that one to the box with me.”
Balzer pulled a lot of his inspiration from his own upbringing in Watertown. “You can either get a sense of support and community from an environment like that or a sense of claustrophobia,” he says. Balzer had a homecoming of his own as he stayed in Watertown for much of the filming. “It was a really wonderful experience in coming home as we were telling this story of coming home,” he says, “And it really shaped the film, to have shot it in the North Shore.”
A half-Asian filmmaker, Balzer says that representation both on screen, behind the camera, and in plotlines is important to what he does. Growing up Asian in a predominantly white community in the eighties, Balzer experienced a dichotomy between himself and the societal “ideal” he saw around him and in the movies. “It’s an outsider story,” he says of The Catch, “and where some of that outsider feeling comes from is my upbringing, growing up in a place not really feeling like I fit in.”
It’s also been important for him, he says, to see an increase in Asian representation on screen in recent years, “and to see, more importantly, that they aren’t necessarily minor characters or immigrants—they’re just people,” he says. “You can be an Asian person and be on screen and that’s enough.”
The Catch premieres tomorrow, October 22, at 8:00 p.m. EST. Tickets are $10 and are available through the Austin Film Festival website. Once you purchase a ticket you’ll have through the end of the festival, October 29, to watch the film, and once you start the film, you’ll have 24 hours to finish it.
With a ticket purchase you’ll also have a chance to vote which film you’d like to win the audience award. “For a film like ours, an independent film, it makes a huge difference if we could win something like an audience award,” says Balzer.
As an independent film, The Catch didn’t have all the resources that other big productions have. “This wasn’t a film shot in a water tank, this wasn’t a film shot with special effects,” says Balzer. “We really were out in the middle of the water in the middle of the night.”
And they couldn’t have done it without the support of the North Shore community. “These were people we had just met who were willing to help us and willing to try things they hadn’t tried before,” says Balzer. “We leaned hard on that community and they really took wonderful care of us.”