The Last Treasure Hunt centers on Oliver and Lucy Sinclair (Casey Nelson, Kate Murdoch), estranged siblings who return home after their father’s passing. Instead of giving his kids a seamless way to handle his estate, he leaves an elaborate treasure hunt for his children as a way for them to reconnect.
Nelson and Murdoch also serve as co-writers and producers of this family drama whose indie production values are greatly enhanced by its beautiful location (the film was shot in Fishers Island). Over a twenty minute phone conversation, the pair talked about the journey of making The Last Treasure Hunt.Was this film drawn from your own lives, or is The Last Treasure Hunt inspired from an entirely different place?
Casey: There were a lot of aspects that were drawn from personal experiences. I lost my father when I was 15 years old so I had that to pull from and I know Kate had done a lot of treasure hunts with her family when she was growing up. She can elaborate on that, so there’s a lot that was drawn from personal experience but it’s obviously a movie as well.
Kate: As co-writers it’s nice, because part of it is definitely Casey’s personal experience with his father passing away. I have brothers that I’m not very close to as well. So that was something that I added to it and then like Casey mentioned my aunt (laughs) used to send me and my cousins on treasure hunts and they would always be light years ahead of me.
The relationship between the siblings isn’t sugar coated. Even though the journey with the treasure hunt could be fantastical, their relationship is real.
Kate: Well, Casey and I fight like brother and sister (laughs). That’s our natural banter and the things we sometimes say to each other came across as we were writing (the script). We’re generally drawn to very realistic films that aren’t necessarily campy. We love very quiet, human stories.
Casey: We just eased into those roles pretty easily because that’s how we are. We fight like brother and sister but at the end of the day it’s always grounded in love and in pushing each other to make each other better. We have an unconditional relationship at this point just like Oliver and Lucy. I actually grew up an only child and Kate had that sibling relationship to pull from too so that helped a lot.
With today’s technology, it would seem like an easier process to make a movie. Is that true or is it still a monumental task to accomplish?
Kate: It’s really hard. I get really passionate about this subject because Casey and I – we were nobodies – we didn’t know anyone. We just wanted to create roles for ourselves. Though it’s very hard and it’s definitely a journey – we wrote the script two years ago – it’s not as monumental and hard as people make it out to be. If Casey and I can do it, absolutely anyone else can do it.
You just have to have an absolute love and passion for the story, which we do. We’re confident it’s a good product and a good movie, it’s just going to be a challenge, kind of like anything else. It’s a job. It’s calling people and asking favors from people every day and not paying people the amount of money we know they’re worth for their amazing talent. It’s hard, but it’s something that everyone should be doing because you’re right, it’s easier now in the digital space and with Final Cut Pro you can cut a movie on your laptop. You can shoot a movie on your iPhone. It’s so easy and everyone should be creating their own content.
Casey: It was extremely difficult, probably the hardest thing I’ve had to endure in my life. I compare it to running or training for a marathon. It’s going to be hard, hard, hard and once you finish it, it’s such a sense of accomplishment. The one thing I tell people is that everything has to go right. If there was a tornado and we couldn’t shoot on the beach, we would have been screwed. If our sound was bad, if we didn’t get a certain scene shot and the movie wouldn’t make sense . . . everything has to kind of go right. And if it doesn’t, you have to figure out another avenue.
We had so many times when we would hit a wall (and say) ‘what are we going to do?’ Then we just had to figure it out and I know I tell Kate this all the time, but there is no way I could have done this without her. There’s no way I could sit down and write a script and get a movie made by myself. I would have just given up, and we were both there to pick each other up if the other one fell down. We just kept moving forward.
Are you a natural runner?
Casey: Yeah, Kate and I – that’s actually how we met. We both had a background in running. She ran at Cornell and I ran at University of Georgia. We actually attended the same camp when we were kids.
Kate: It was this random, upstate Vermont running camp that we were both camp counselors at.
Casey: Not only did we write the scenes that would cater to the location, but we wrote scenes that would cater to things we could do. We knew that I could run and we had a love for running so we made Oliver this distance runner who goes out and relieves stress through running. I’m not great at guitar, but we knew I could play it well enough to have Oliver in that scene where he’s playing the guitar. You write for what you have and what your abilities are.
Can you talk about securing the locations?
Kate: The house that we shot at is actually my family home. My grandmother’s father built it for her and her brothers and sisters and now my mom owns it with her cousins and now it’s a vacation house for the family. I’ve grown up going there every single year so it’s a special place to me, so when Casey and I were sitting down to write, we laid out what we have and what we could use. My family was so excited and on board. The community, it’s so funny, if you shoot in L.A. or New York, everyone wants you to pay them like a million dollars and they have so many questions. Me and my family were so excited and I just thought ‘Great, we should never shoot in New York or L.A. (laughs).”
Casey: We shot outside this movie theater outside Fishers Island and this lady came out to her yard and said ‘Hey you guys can come inside and change in my bathroom if you need to and if you guys want to come inside and watch TV, or I can make everyone some sandwiches.” At one point, I was up in this stranger’s bathroom (changing clothes)!
Is part of the gratification behind making this movie come from the reactions from people who could relate to this story?
Casey: That’s actually been the most rewarding thing for me at this point was going to these festivals and having people come up and talk to us after the movie. We’ve had people contact us via email and our website saying how they recently had a loved one pass and how the movie meant so much to them. They just wanted to talk about that, and that’s exactly what we were going for. We have so many goals in making this and one of the goals was to write a touching story that moved and affected people.
Any advice for people who are determined to shoot their own film?
Kate: If you’re not happy sitting on your couch watching other people on TV, you should do something about it. Shoot it on your iPhone with your friends, bounce ideas back and forth. You can always write. We might have to ask someone permission to audition or be in a movie, but you can write anything. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.
Casey: Katie and I, we had a mentality of ‘if you’re not in, you’re in the way.’ We didn’t say that to people but we knew that in our hearts. If people wanted to help us, we were extremely appreciative and we’ll be eternally grateful. If they didn’t, then we’re on to the next. We never doubted, for one minute, that we were going to make the film. We kept that perspective the entire time.
Can you talk about getting Charles Hoyes to play the best friend of the siblings’ dad?
Chuck and I were in a theater company together probably 10 or 11 years ago and we’ve just stayed in touch. He’s been a working actor for over 30 years. He was in Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner. Recently he was in Southpaw with Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s just a great actor and he’s so natural.
He came to the original table read just to kind of hear it and he did a good job. And I said he should audition for the film and we didn’t know where we were at during that point. Where we wanted to go with that character, and who we wanted to look at.
He wanted to come in and audition and I thought that was so telling of the guy he is. Most people, if they’re your friends, or you’re making a little film they just want it offered to them, and he was willing to come in. I even said, ‘hey you can come to my house – me, you and Kate can just sit down and audition together.’ And he said ‘No, I want to compete with everyone.’ He went in there and just crushed it. I’m so glad we went with Chuck because he’s such a good person. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is with him and Kate at the end – I literally tear up every time I watch that scene!
Thanks guys for your time and good luck with the film!
Kate: Thank you so much!
Casey: Thank you Greg, we really appreciate it!