Denver filmmaker celebrates first feature film, We Are the Sea

Making a film is hard, making an independent film is even harder, and making your first independent film can seem damn near impossible. For Colorado filmmaker Neil Truglio, the journey from concept to film festival took seven years and the blood, sweat and tears of a very generous cast and crew. When all was said and done, he had written and directed his very first feature film, We Are the Sea.

The film tells the story of Sean (Jeff Childress), a teacher who is struggling with conflict in his family and within himself. Sean’s mother (Laura Cuetara) is of no help as she is still dealing with the death of her husband. His ex-wife (Lauren Shealy) only reminds him of the distance he feels from his daughter (Allison Savoy) and the person that he used to be. The darkness in his life begins fading away when Laine (Chantelle Frazier), one of his students, manages to connect with him and show him that the person he is might not be so bad.

Truglio conceived of the film while working at a record store in Boulder, Colorado, where he first heard the music of Iron & Wine. He remembers the moment when he felt the first spark of inspiration. While listening to debut album The Creek Drank the Cradle in the record store, he says, “it got to track three, ‘Faded from the Winter’, and the second I heard it I just put the headphones down and bought the CD. That ended up being the opening track in the film.” The music was the muse for both the visual style and storyline of the film. “I listened to the music constantly when I was formulating the story and it really spawned out of what I was hearing in the music,” Truglio says. “It was almost like hearing the most perfect soundtrack and then saying, ‘what’s this a soundtrack to?’”

From there, he began raising enough money to get started, not wanting to compromise his vision with limited budget. “We shot the movie on film, it’s all Super 16mm. We just felt like the cinematic qualities of the film, the graininess, the human motion the film has just helps tell the story better,” he says.

Casting also involved actors who were more committed to telling the story than getting a fat paycheck. “We were looking for the people that were the most on board,” Truglio says, “most of the directing comes from the casting room. If you find the right actor then your job as a director becomes so much easier.” Searching for a Sean was the most challenging aspect. “He had to be talented enough and stunning enough that he would be someone you’d be willing to watch for the 86 minutes and be able to go with him on the journey,” Truglio says. “There are always physical attributes you’re looking for too. I wanted him to be towering over [Savoy] so you have the little person and the giant in the field, but yet two people that are on the same emotional level.” He used all the local casting agencies in Colorado as resources and eventually found a solid cast with a true passion for telling the story.

Making the film in Colorado, a state not known for being a filmmaker’s paradise, posed it’s own challenges. At that time, the Colorado Film Commission, now the Colorado Office of Film, Television & Media, was a nonprofit organization in its primordial stage. “It’s harder on your time and your energy to make a film in a place like Denver, though it’s a little easier on your wallet,” Truglio says. “There’s not really a track record of filmmaking in town.” This can make securing locations much harder as businesses have no experience with the needs and schedules of filmmakers. “It’s so much easier to say no,” Truglio says about working with different businesses, “so you become a huge fan of anybody that says yes.”

Despite all the challenges facing a first-time filmmaker, Truglio completed his film and is enjoying success at film festivals around the world. The film premiered at the Dallas International Film Festival in April and has screened at the Austin Film Festival and the American Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland. The film sold out several screenings when it played in Denver and Truglio is looking forward to more festival screenings in the future.

Alexis Gentry

Alexis Gentry is the creator and editor of She has been called a “dynamic, talented and unique voice in pop culture” by Ben Lyons of E! and, with her strong fascination with entertainment and penchant for writing, it’s not hard to see why.

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