Down Down the Deep River



Down Down The Deep River marks the directorial debut of Will Sheff, lead singer and songwriter for Okkervil River. Shot in Sheff's hometown over one year with local non-actors, the dreamy, dialogue-less 35-minute short is the story of childhood, imagination, alienation, and loss as two young boys form a friendship and spur the unfolding strange events in 1980s smalltown New Hampshire.

Impeccable art direction brings magic to nostalgic, fictionalized representations of Sheff's own childhood memories, filtering them through the aesthetics of the cornerstone children's fantasy films of the era — E.T., Explorers, The Goonies to name a few.

Sheff scored the film to a musical landscape drawn from his band's song "Down Down the Deep River" from recent album The Silver Gymnasium.

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Waterville, Maine
Sneak Preview Screenings

Maine International Film Festival
Railroad Square Cinema
17 Railroad Square, Waterville, ME 04901

Queens, New York

World Premiere
Rural Route Film Festival
Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35 Avenue (at 37 Street) Astoria, NY 11106

SEPT. 17
Austin, Texas

Details TBA

Screenings inquiries:


"Down Down the Deep River" is both a short film and a music video. Instead of setting the six-minute Okkervil River song of the same name to imagery, over the course of a 30-minute runtime "Down Down the Deep River" starts the song and then cuts it off, doubles back to the song in different renditions appropriate to its 1987 period setting (a New Wave version, a soft-rock version, a rap version appear, similarly to the way in which Altman used multiple versions of the title song in "The Long Goodbye), and deconstructs the song in an ambient-music score for strings and synthesizer, based of musical motifs from the album version. Additionally, the film will use diegetic sound musically, in sonic collages or in long passages of silence that will punctuate the score and soundtrack. In a similar way to how the musical elements of the film comment and expand upon the title song, The story itself references and is based around the lyrics of the song, drawing inspiration from both art film and classic children's fantasy films contemporary to the 1987 setting ("Explorers," "E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial," The Goonies," The Last Starfighter") to create a simple story told not through dialogue but through pure action and sound


How did this project originate?

WILL SHEFF: I remember sitting at my desk upstairs in my bedroom in grade school - this was the mid-1980s - and trying to avoid doing my homework. I was thinking about the Chicago single "Hard Habit to Break," which was a song that always made me feel deeply melancholy. Because I was a little kid, I didn't think about the song in a love or relationship context, and instead I pictured having a friend who just, in some kind of science fiction way, kind of completely evaporated from the universe, and what it would be like to miss a friend who that happened to. I felt this really strong desire to write a story or a script about it or something, but I didn't have anything more than an image of a boy, like me, who had a friend who evaporated or dissolved from the world somehow. 

I always wanted to be a filmmaker, starting with a little kid obsession with classic Hollywood monster movies which shifted over to the kids' fantasy fare that was popular in the 80s, carrying over into an investment in 90s indie cinema which led me to all the 60s European stuff by the time I was a pretentious teenager. I gave the whole idea up as an unrealistic dream by the time I got to college and realized how much money was involved in making a movie, but I never stopped having ideas for movies or wishing I could make one. One idea that kept popping up and never really went away was the idea of making a movie that felt like the way those 1980s kids' fantasy films felt to me when I was watching them as an actual kid - instead of cheesy and light, they felt sorrowful and overwhelming and like there was a secret message underneath the plot that might have come from another planet, that wasn't quite decipherable. 

When I made the most recent Okkervil River record, The Silver Gymnasium, I decided to write about my childhood growing up in my little New Hampshire town, and about the experience of nostalgia. Along the way, I realized that I could create a tie in film, spun out from these themes, that would give me a chance to actually direct something. And I thought it would be a fun little high-five to my sixth grade self to bring to completion the movie I was picturing sitting at that desk avoiding my homework, filtered through the idea I had in college about making a film that felt like the way kid's films feel to a sensitive kid. I also thought it would be an interesting exercise to try to slavishly, almost obsessively try to resurrect that time and place, that bedroom, that avoided homework, that sixth grade class, that town, that time. I decided I'd film in the same elementary classrooms I attended, that the main character would sleep in the bedsheets I went to bed in every night, eat off the same plates we used, play with the same toys. I was lucky in that my mom kept a lot of that stuff and also in that my town, a tiny, remote village in rural New Hampshire, hasn't changed very much since the mid-1980s. I knew my attempt to resurrect the past in some kind of weird psychodrama was going to fail - you can't literally bring back the past - but I hoped that an audience would feel that failure in their own hearts, and share it with me, and we could all have a nice pretty document of how our childhoods are locked away from us and we can't return to them. 

Will SheffWhat was the process like casting and shooting in your home town?
WS: I shot the film in my hometown of Meriden, New Hampshire, which has a population of about 350 people. New Englanders have a reputation of being very private and reserved, especially around outsiders, but because I was a hometown kid everyone involved in the project was very helpful and warm to the production. I went by the police station - one room in a historic building, one police officer who isn't even in on some days - and told him I'd be shooting and he said sure. People opened their homes to us to use as sets, they help us put together extras for big classroom scenes, they carried us into our remote forested locations on their ATV's, they gave the kid actors hot cider on cold days. Catering for the production was by the Meriden Deli Mart, the only store in town (down the street from the only traffic light in town). 

We held auditions in the theater of Kimball Union Academy, a college preparatory boarding school in the middle of Meriden that my parents both taught at. We were flooded with kids who tried out and we put all of them in the film. The leads actors for the film were very hard to cast as these are very substantial roles. Our star, Dustin Cournoyer, is in every scene. Dustin's a young man from Londonderry, New Hampshire, a hardworking kid with a passionate interest in dance and acting but who had never been in a film before. His co-star, Griffin Gamache, is from nearby Lebanon and has had some experience acting in a series of local car dealership commercials. The other actors are all locals from around the area aside from one adult main character who is played by Okkervil River's original bassist Zachary Thomas. I've known Zachary since high school where he was the star of our theater department. He's a tremendously talented actor and I knew he'd be perfect in the role of Griffin's father.

There were some difficulties involved in shooting in rural New Hampshire (our winter scenes were shot during the famous 2014 "polar vortex," as were our scenes in interior sets, which were built in a small, uninsulated barn) and some unique elements too - our crew was a mix of young film professionals and locals who had never been involved in a film production before but leapt at the challenge and amazed everyone with their resourcefulness and dedication. The crew was like a big family and the town was like a cocoon around us, the townspeople watching us bemusedly and helping out where they could. With our a minuscule budget and narrow timeframe we daily faced all kinds of challenges and setbacks, but it was a wonderful experience and I hope my love of the town and all the people who helped make this happen comes through onscreen.



high-res downloadable stills coming soon // contact



<< View the cast & full crew on IMDB >>


Will Sheff | Writer, Director, Producer
In addition to his work as the songwriter and lead singer for the critically-acclaimed rock band Okkervil River, Will Sheff’s arts criticism and fiction have been published in McSweeney’sThe TalkhouseRolling StoneBillboard, and the Austin Chronicle, where he worked as a film critic. In 2010, Sheff’s liner notes for the Roky Erickson album True Love Cast Out All Evil, which he produced, were nominated for a Grammy. In addition to his writing and music work, Sheff acted in the 2012 film The Comedy and wrote, directed and scored the film Down Down the Deep River. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Johnny North | Producer, Director of Photography

Amy Creagh Good | Producer

Jenny Lynn Hall | Producer

Alexandra Marvar | Associate Producer

LoveStreams | Original Score

Alan Lampert | Production Designer

Gina Hirsch | Editor

Nancy Heyl | Costume Design

Brett Sylvia | Creature Makeup

Josh Kanuck | Color

Avram Dodson | Assistant Director

NYT Stereogum Kickstarter