Many Wisconsinites can connect to the ritual experience of taking a camping trip with family or friends to escape the distractions of everyday life and enjoy the state’s scenery. Outside of the many activities you can do such as hiking, boating or exploring, many people consider camping to be a “reset” of sorts, a time for contemplation.
A camping trip is the center of the new Wisconsin-made Pet Names. Directed by Milwaukee filmmaker Carol Brandt, Pet Names takes place between the city and on a campground in Lone Rock, Wis. Leigh, played by Meredith Johnston, sets off on a camping trip when her sick mother urges her to take a vacation from caretaking. On a whim, Lee invites her ex-boyfriend Cam, played by René Cruz, along for a weekend in the woods that turns out to be anything but relaxing.
"To have these two people with such a loaded past and not really knowing who they are and where they stood now in this very calm and placid and serene place, just struck me as really engaging because it really allows the subtext to come through," says Johnston.
Johnston originally wrote Pet Names as a college assignment and later presented it to Brandt for development. "I thought it'd be an interesting experiment to put as much of myself into something as possible," explains Johnston.
Cruz notes that it was the script that got him invested and excited about the project. "When I read the script for the first time I just cried," he recalls. "I recognized the character so much and I recognized the truth in it so much, and I really wanted that to come through and I just really believed in it."
Johnston and Cruz joined Lake Effect’s Audrey Nowakowski in the studio ahead of a screening at the Milwaukee Film Festival to discuss the project:
Meredith Johnston is the writer, lead actress, associate producer, and composer of the film, Pet Names. Rene Cruz is the lead actor and fellow composer. Pet Names screens during the Milwaukee Film Festival on Saturday, Oct. 27 and Monday, Oct 29.