Friday, June 3, 2011

"Monkfish," "A Man Among Giants," "I Thought You Finally Completely Lost It," and "American Psych Ward" by Rod Webber


A Man Among Giants:

I Thought You Finally Completely Lost It:

American Psych Ward:

  • Rod will be posting here soon about three other features he's made, including his latest release, My America, which The Boston Globe called "a shocking drama on the subject of racism"
  • Though doesn't, as a rule, do interviews, this is an edited transcription of a conversation with Rod, who has difficulty typing at the moment, since his hand was broken in a car-meets-bike accident (he was on the bike)

New England-based filmmaker Rod Webber describes how one indie feature led to another... and the personal manifesto that has guided his more-recent work:
After doing a couple of short-feature documentaries, I started writing Monkfish around 2001.

I had always wanted to make a film, a written one, not just a documentary. I'd spent most of my 20s working on music, feeling I wouldn't yet have anything valuable to say as a filmmaker. Finally, I felt ready to make a switchover.

I wanted to make a funny movie. I was a fan of slapstick 80s comedies, and at the same time a big fan of Jim Jarmusch films and things of the weird, like Fellini's 8 ½. And I always liked movies about bungling robbers. I envisioned Monkfish as a mishmash of those... with Danny DeVito in it.

I wanted to make a heist movie. If the nemesis was a DeVito-type person, that made for an odd physical conflict.

I started passing the script around for a director to attach to it, and that director ended up being Dave Lewis. He's a Boston guy, he liked the script, and he was able to put up the financing.

The more we did script revisions, the story changes made me uncomfortable. Ultimately, I said "Listen, man, I'd be happy to write you a new script."

There was a short scene in Monkfish, a 5-minute gag that Dave wanted to expand to become the focus of the movie. It had virtually nothing to do with my script. He went off and wrote a feature-length film called Mob Yoga, the first act of which became his conceptual short film, Spaghetti and Matzo Balls.

I didn't see myself being the director of Monkfish, but that cartoon lightbulb appears over your head—it's that moment when you say "If I want to put this out in the world, I have to direct it." It was really just a matter of "No, it's not me. I have to take responsibility for it, I have to be the director." If you care about the art, you've got to do it yourself.

For the role I'd written with Danny DeVito in mind, we cast Doug "Tiny the Terrible" Tunstall. Tiny is an out-there character, with dozens of different stage names. He's a professional wildman, a court jester. Despite the fact he's 4'7", he's built like Hulk Hogan. He's a force of nature who needs to be seen to be believed, which is where two of my subsequent documentaries come in.

By some people's definition, they might say Tiny is mentally unstable. I spent a good year of my life getting him out of a mental hospital. He started running for mayor of Pawtucket, RI, derailing Monkfish for a time.

Eventually, we finished Monkfish, though I don't consider the cut we've (privately) screened to be the final version. I have a new version sitting on a shelf, which I hope to get out there.

Production of Monkfish was on and off, people in and out of the production, different hair between 2004 and 2006, and new stuff shot in 2007. I had to leave the final edit aside, when I made a decision to focus on A Man Among Giants, a documentary about Tiny's 2006 run for mayor. It was an easy choice, no worrying about continuity errors in a doc.

Dave Lewis plays a major on-screen role in the documentary, because he bankrolled Tiny's campaign.

I shot my next film, I Thought You Finally Completely Lost It (otherwise known as Diversion), in 2007. It's an improvisational film, shot in 3 days.

I came up with a manifesto (see below) to avoid all the things that had happened in Monkfish. After the many years of working with Monkfish, dealing with mentally unstable people, I developed a very quick shooting technique. I'd be driving to Rhode Island from Boston, and then Tiny would have to get boozed up, or smoke a ton of pot, or go chase after hookers, and I couldn't do anything about it. When all was said and done, I'd have maybe an hour to shoot before I had to get him back so he could go see his kids. And this is no way to shoot a movie.

I thought about what if we honed these quick-shooting techniques and applied them to a film without all the crazy people involved, and shoot a feature in three days.

I called up my ex-girlfriend, Irina Peligrad, and said "I have a concept for a movie, this is what it is, are you down?" And she said yes.

By 2009, I'd saved up a good amount of money to do a full promotional campaign for a couple of my completed films. But I got a call from Tiny on April Fools Day—which at first I thought was a joke, but hearing the echo, I realized he was in jail. I went and bailed him out.

A couple of days later, Tiny was supposed to be at the Boston premiere of A Man Among Giants. The Rhode Island state police broke down his door and brought him to a prison mental hospital. Apparently, he'd been shooting his mouth off in court.

I spent the next several months trying to get him out, and I made a documentary about that, American Psych Ward.

There's a place in Rhode Island where they throw their political unwanteds and other troublemakers, called Eleanor Slater Hospital, which was run by a psychologist named Brandon Krupp. He was one of the good guys, but he realized it was a corrupt institution. He stepped down as the head (shortly before Tiny was locked up), making a big public statement, saying it was basically a modern-day gulag, where they would throw people away to let them rot. This did, indeed, seem to be an accurate statement. Google it—you can find plenty of details.

Tiny had made himself such a political nuisance, they were sick of dealing him, and they locked him away.

I will grant them that Tiny is a bit of a crazy guy, but I'm not saying that in a scientific, clinical sort of way. He's not going to harm himself, he's just a nutty court jester. He's banging on the mayor's office every two minutes. He's on disability, and he has nothing better to do with his time.

He ended up getting 17% of the vote, he's such a charismatic individual. The actual mayor was afraid he might succeed, and thus the political gulag, which is ridiculous.

I pretty much exhausted the marketing budget I'd built for the previous films on lawyer fees and making American Psych Ward itself. But I did save enough money to help get as much press as possible, and to use that as a tool to get him out.

I rented out the Somerville Theatre for five days straight, and there was so much demand we decided to do a sixth day.

There was coverage in The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald,, in hopes to spread the news to Rhode Island.

On the day of the fourth screening, they let him out. No explanation, just "goodbye."

Rod Webber's filmmaking manifesto:

Spend a day filming people interacting with each other and observing their actions. Create a concept based upon something someone says or does.

Principle shooting to take place in three days

3. COST:
Spend no more than $3000

Actors must be unaware of story. The director must guide the actors through their journey by playing one of the roles.

5. CREW:
No communication between cast and crew except on breaks. Conversation limited must not be related to the story at hand.

No re-takes of dialogue during principal shooting. Co-opt real life people. Multiple takes for establishing shots permitted.

No outside lighting gear, or extravagant equipment.

To avoid jump-cuts, camera-person must be in motion or turn at least 15 degrees every minute

When entering a new location, “actors” must naturalistically turn on light/ turn off any pre-recorded music or media.

Once principal photography is completed, pick-up shots are permitted, but may not exceed the time it took for principal photography. No time limit on post-production.

Wildcard rule:
Once per day, any crew member may instruct any actor to do ONE thing.

Instruction will be by text message. When you receive the text message, try not to make a big deal of it. DO NOT reply to the crew member, under any circumstances. Just carry out the instruction to the best of your ability.

The wild card rule is intended to steer the course of the story places we were not expecting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"That Thing" by Fernando Gil

Fernando Gil of Boring Monkey Productions candidly describes making a no-budget movie without any expectation that it would be especially good:
Despite my rotten memory I remember the day I decided to actually write the script I've been itching to make a movie out of. Not the exact date, but during late December, while I was skipping out of the final exam of an English class I was going to fail anyway. I enjoyed going to that class mind you, but I was a few papers behind and I was going to eat that F anyway. Grew tired of the community college grind and decided while sitting on a park bench that cold winter morning that I was going to do something. Just do it. And I did, it was that impulsive decision that lead to two years of slowly piecing together a flick that would be called That Thing. Directing wasn't something I dreamed of when I was a kid, only in the year or two before that December morning did I start getting the urge to tell a story in that way. Should be easy, right? In retrospect it was probably a stupid idea, but hey, it got done.

I knew I would have no budget straight from the start, I've always been poor and I've never been one to ask for money. It felt ridiculous to have a budget or to even credit somebody as a producer, because anything that was paid for came out of my nearly empty pocket. Having no money probably freed us from trying to make a “good” movie. Didn't have to worry about being commercially viable, wasn't even planning to sell it. Was free to make a movie as I saw fit, good or bad. And I think that was the best way to go about it.

Wrote the script in a way that took advantage of the location I just happened to be born and raised in, out in the streets of the South Bronx, definitely added some character. Nearly all the scenes are during the day so we wouldn't need to spend as much time lighting and that worked out well. Made it so that nearly all the characters and their actors would only require one day's worth of shooting. Both a blessing and a curse because I didn't have to worry about people I wasn't paying flaking out, but it also meant I had to fill near two dozen roles, which resulted in using more non-acting friends than I would have liked. Even worse was scheduling all these people around their real jobs and lives, trying to get five or seven people to show up at the same place at the same time was never easy. Frustrating work outside of the actual movie making part. The reason the film took so long to make was because we only got to shoot a scene once every couple of weeks if we were lucky.

The experience felt like a hobby, a very frustrating hobby. I mean, once everyone was finally on set and we started rolling, it was bliss. Maybe that's the hind-sight talking but I hardly felt stressed when shooting, those were the fun times. Still kinda boggles my mind that I was able to gather that many folks together just to make something. Borrowed nearly everything outside of a tripod and the hard drive I cut the thing on, most of the budget went to lunch and the occasional prop or two. And about two years after that cold December morning there we were again, fighting the snow and shooting the last scene. And that was the easy part.

What came next was the editing of so many video tapes and coming to the realization that the movie I just made was not good, it didn't look good, didn't sound good. And that was something I had to accept, this was no Hollywood flick. From the beginning I knew I was not making a Hollywood movie, it's just a thing that was made in my spare time with the spare change that was in my pocket. Nonetheless, that realization hits hard, especially when you're on the fourth month of editing at nights while running on nothing but a can of leftover Dr Pepper because you're too broke to pay for food. When you hand someone a burned DVD with those two years of your life on it, it's hard not to tell them to look past the lack of a budget, you feel the movie can't speak for itself. Whether that's true or I'm being hard on myself, I'm not sure. Probably a little of both.

A hard lesson to learn, but probably the best way to learn it. By putting the feet to the fire, actually creating something and seeing it through from conception to completion, that experience offered wisdom that I couldn't gain from merely taking a class or reading some books, many lessons that would have been glossed over without the context. Those lessons, those words of advice I hear from other directors and such ring much more clearly now. I've been there and back.

“What now?” is the question I've been asking myself lately. The cost to make it was less than most folks who walk into a Best Buy spend on their 50-inch television set, and I'm proud that we actually made a movie for that much. No regrets. But sometimes it feels like a tree fell in the forest and nobody was around to hear it, I hope it doesn't just rot in the hard drive. It'll find it's way to the internet sooner or later, but will people watch? Probably not. If nothing else, at least I proved to myself that it could be done, as long as you have that burning desire to tell a story and you're stubborn enough to see it through to the end you can make a movie, education and upbringing be damned. That Thing is a small glimpse into the way my eyes saw the world. Now I just gotta take those lessons and make another. Made one already, the next one should be easy, right?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"The Waterhole" by Nathan Cole

Nathan Cole, writer and co-producer of Reno, NV-based drama, The Waterhole, describes how his team used that rarity, a larger-than-expected budget.

His post is titled "The Film Budget Buffet":
The journey to getting our film The Waterhole made was a lengthy one, filled with false starts, long periods of waiting, and stress. Through it all there was only one certainty: there was always money to be spent. The cost to make a film is at the forefront of every producer’s mind, whether you’re a studio putting together a summer blockbuster or an indie filmmaker crowdfunding a micro-budget film. Reaffirming this is the fact that pretty much every filmmaker I have spoken to, aspiring or not, wants to know what our budget was. I know many independent filmmakers might disagree, but the budget affects most of the creative decisions we make. Money will not make a bad movie better, but it can make a good movie better.

The Waterhole was always conceived as a low budget film. How low of budget was never really known. At one time I thought it could be done for as low as ten grand, so when my co-producer, Daniel Menahem, came up with a sum far greater than that we thought we would have more than enough to make the film we envisioned with money left over. The reality we discovered is that if given the chance, there is no ceiling as to how much you can spend on a movie. Also, if you spend in one place, you will spend in another. A rising tide indeed floats all boats in a film budget… for the most part.

The one area where we were willing to spend money that we knew would directly affect the quality of the final product was on cast. The script is dialogue-heavy and character-driven. If the actors aren’t believable, the film is dead. We hired a casting director, Mark Tillman, a position we initially thought was a luxury (how hard is it to find actors in LA?), but it became evident early on that he would earn every penny we paid him. Mark was able to get us access to thousands of young actors in Los Angeles, carefully weeding out the ones that would not work and keeping those that had the talent to handle the script. Mark knew we weren’t interested in “names” but also kept in mind those actors that might be on the verge of breaking big. We had tons of casting sessions, which is a great way to get a feel of how different actors tackled the characters and to hear the dialogue read aloud. Mark also handled all the contracts and dealt with the managers and agents. All of which was incredibly helpful and time saving. Of course, the most important thing he accomplished was to get us our great cast.

Another position we hired that at first we were reluctant to spend money on was a line producer. If before we started you asked us what a line producer did, I would have not been able to tell you. Now I have no idea what we would have done without him. We met Michael Tarzian after he responded for a job posting. We had one conversation with him and realized how much we were in over our heads. Mike knew every last little detail of how to budget for and run a production. He was able to get a full crew, organize a reliable schedule and keep the whole operation running while not letting the spending get out of control.

This was not without a lot of back and forth from us as we tried to cut out line items from the budget that Mike fought to have put back in. For instance, anything we could do ourselves we did not want to pay for, such as location scouting and catering. It was a major pain, but we did those things ourselves. We did not think we needed a third AD, so we axed that position and were fine without it. One position we resisted at first was that of an art director. We thought that by shooting on location we would not need to dress sets or deal with props and what we did need we could manage ourselves. Mike persisted and we relented and allowed him to hire one single person to handle it all. Within one day the new art director had proved his worth by doing a great job transforming our locations into something unique. It was an eye opening experience.

The only problem was that by hiring only one person in the art department Daniel and I ended up in over our heads trying to keep up with the amount of work and constant attention needed to every seemingly insignificant detail. Making it worse is when we were needed elsewhere we struggled to move crew around to fill in for us. This was a lot of extra stress that could have inexpensively been avoided. At the end of the day having a good line producer let us experience making a film with, for the most part, a full crew. It could be argued that we could have achieved the same results without them. This might be true, but in terms of what we learned, having them was invaluable.

As we wrapped and headed into post-production, the decisions as to where we should spend money became harder to make. We shot so fast and dirty that the rough cut was a bit of a nightmare to watch. It didn’t take long to realize we needed to spend a lot more than we had left in the budget. The audio had issues and the cinematography, although fantastic, was too dark to be viewed in all but the most perfectly calibrated monitors. Despite our post house’s best efforts to deliver us a polished product it just wasn’t working. We needed more money to do a better color correction, clean up the audio, and do some ADR with the actors. In addition, we had to license several songs that were needed to enhance the tone of the movie. We had hired a great composer, whose cues really do a great job heightening the emotion of key scenes, but there was much more that we needed to prevent a film that takes place in a bar from getting too quiet. In the end we had to make sacrifices and were unable to bring the actors back into ADR and if I were to be nitpicky, the sound in some scenes is one of the areas we failed to completely make the production work.

The money you have to spend will almost always affect the choices you make and sometimes it will make them for you. On a low budget film you stretch that money as far as it can go, sometimes making artistic sacrifices, sometimes asking your crew to make sacrifices. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses and adjust as needed. You need to take care of the crew that are working for low rates and asked to do more than they normally would be required to do. Most of all you need to stay true to your vision. This is a very difficult balancing act. When people ask for advice I am usually at a loss. There is so much to tell, yet so little that may be of any use to any one filmmaker. Every experience will be different, and there is no right way to make a movie.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Amateur Hour" by Sam Moussavi

I heard about Amateur Hour when I was asked to review it for Reel Zine (review to be posted soon).

Here, DC-based filmmaker Sam Moussavi shares his personal recollections of creating the film, his first feature. He titles his post "So you want to make an independent film?"
There were times during the twenty-two day shoot when I would ask myself: "What are you doing? What the hell kind of a life is this?" Directing a goat to walk up and down the sidewalk in downtown Washington, DC will bring about these reflective questions. But such is the life of an indie filmmaker.

Amateur Hour is the first feature length of Austere Films, Justin D'Agostino's (Producer) and my production company. We wrote the screenplay in February 2010 and somehow raised the budget by June, which set the table to actually shoot the thing in September.

It was shot on the Red One, with a single-camera setup and a total crew of about ten on a good day and five on a bad one. Ninety percent of the cast and cast were local from the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The film was shot in those same three states, with the majority of the "outdoor hangout" scenes being filmed at a National State Park in Virginia called Sky Meadows State Park. We wanted to take advantage of the idyllic scenery that the state park had to offer us, as a major portion of the film takes place at the crew's "outdoor hangout," in front the white shed, by the old picnic table with a cooler full of root beers.

The music in the film was a two-headed monster: during the "Dream Girl" sequences in front of the glowing jukebox, Thievery Corporation (Washington DC power DJ-duo) provided the soundtrack. While the rest of the film was scored by local DC composer and Jazz pianist named Thomas Nassif. On insanely short notice, Tom was able to put together a string quartet of music students from American University, and they in turn put together the soulful score of Amateur Hour. Along with live trumpet tracks that local musician Joe Brotherton provided, Tom put together an amazing musical ensemble that complemented the visual aspects of the film wonderfully. Working with Tom on the music, not just the style but philosophy behind the music, was one the most rewarding experiences for me during the entire process. The collaboration between director and composer is extremely important when talking about the tone and pacing of a film and Tom's work and dedication enhanced the film without a doubt.

Amateur Hour is (loosely) based on Justin's and my struggles raising money to make a film. Filmmakers worldwide are constantly dreaming up crazy ideas and schemes to fund their films. That is what we wanted to tap into with Amateur Hour. It conjures up memories of the classic heist genre, where a crew is formed of different misfits, who encounter both internal and external hurdles, while chasing a goal. It was also my intention to create a comedic film that does not have to rely on the vulgarity or shock value that most films contain today. The style of the film is cinéma vérité, very much in the tradition of the classic French films of the 60's.

When the concept on Amateur Hour was first conceived, it was our goal to create a piece of juxtaposition. Not only with the characters and their incongruous interactions, but also with the aesthetics of the piece. Here we have this comedic film with HEART, accompanied by a jazz score, that is shot South American-style, along with a running dream sequence and flash-forward sequence to boot. I don't like to pigeonhole the film into a certain genre; so that is why I call it a comedic film with heart. The heart lies in the true message of the film. The main character believes that it is not simply about "creating something," but that the thing you are creating must affect the world in a positive way. I hope that this message shines through to the audience, but you can never be sure.

As the director of a film, something interesting yet jarring happens when you bring a cast and crew together to shoot your film... you have to give up pieces of your film and share it with the other members of the crew. That was very difficult for me at first, because from the very beginning of the project, from writing to casting, I had complete control. It is quite the humbling experience. And I had to swallow some pride. Once I understood this dynamic, it made the shooting days much more pleasant. You also realize that every crew member's job is equally important, whether it is the sound guy, the runner who picks up the food for day or the person in charge of picking up the goat (his name is "Billy," and we borrowed him from a local wildlife sanctuary) for the final scene of the film. Now that the project is over and I've I taken a step back from it, I have a true appreciation for everybody who was involved in the project to bring it to life.

Making a feature is definitely a beast, and it is something that you cannot tip-toe into; you have to dive in head first and see where you end up. There are a tremendous number of emotions flowing through your mind and body and it doesn't help to dwell on any one of those emotions. The most important thing is to get everything you need for the day so that you can have something to cut that does justice to the screenplay in the end. Coincidentally, there is also this indescribable energy that percolates throughout the entire crew during principal photography. There is a family dynamic that invariably occurs with the cast and crew members spending twelve, sometimes fifteen hours a day with each other. Eating with each other, laughing with each other, arguing (as was the case a lot of the time for us) with each other. And yet in the end, it is all about reaching a singular goal: not killing one another along the way. That's what makes filmmaking equal parts invigorating and vexing; it's totally unpredictable. But when shooting is done, the family dissolves, and it is just you and the footage. You have to sift through all of the rubble that will eventually become your film. There's no magic. And there's no guarantee that you are going to get a chance to do it again. You go with what is in your mind and in your heart. And you live with the results.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Cost of the Living: a Zom Rom Com" by Daniel Lee White

Rhode Island-based filmmaker Daniel Lee White is now in post-production of his first feature film, and he titles his post here about it, "Zombies Movies Are Not As Easy As They Look":
I will start with my “What if...” as all good movies should start. “What if it is 40 years past the zombie apocalypse and humans and zombies have now learned to coexist?” This is the idea I had for my film almost 7 years ago--a Zombie Romantic Comedy (or Zom Rom Com for short) where we see a love story in a world where zombies are an every day part of life. I am also a fan of a film that has something to say, so I added issues of same-sex marriage, migrant workers and references to abortion and euthanasia. All of these pieces helped to create a solid story and characters the audience can fall in love with.

I began my journey as a filmmaker making a series of short films on related subjects. Many of these films were part of competitions. Although fun, these films were primarily giving me a chance to try things out and find the styles that worked for me. I got to try long-shots, musicals and even a movie shot in one continuous take. I got to work with an array of talented actors from all over New England. Finally I decided in 2009 that I was ready to do it--I was ready to take on my first feature film, and in my mind, a Zom Rom Com was just the place to start.

Writing began in the summer of 2009, and we had it finished by October. As I am a child who came from no money, we began fundraising in November of 2009, hoping to reach our goal and begin filming by April. But a bad economy and a natural disaster fund really made it harder to fundraise.

By May of 2010, thanks to many very generous donors, we had raised enough to begin shooting my first feature film. I put together an awesome collection of talented crew and hard working actors. We began shooting in June, took a break in July and resumed in August, filming all of the way until November 12th 2010. Along the way, we also shot promotional material and teasers for the film to help the film succeed.

It was not an easy process, and I will admit that attempting to produce and direct at the same time was almost more difficult than I could handle. This was a tough shooting schedule because of the locations and attempting to get all of the actors in the right place at the right time while working around their busy schedules. Makeup was tough and we had trouble with crew due to the economy--finding free available help became almost impossible. Despite all of the hurdles, there were some great times too. We had a blast filming, got to meet some great people and pulled off some amazing scenes. Not only that, but we shot a really cool music video that will be shown during the credits of the film.

Now almost two years from the start of the process, Cost of the Living: A Zom Rom Com is being edited and will hopefully be complete and screened August of this year. The film has really come together and is a work I am very proud of. I feel this is a great way for me to begin directing feature films, a dream of mine since I was a child.

Please feel free to visit the website for the film: and please donate to help us with post production and festival submission costs. On the site you can see the cast, crew and trailer for the film. Hope to see you at the premiere!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lloyd Kaufman on making your own damn movie

Asked for words of inspiration for DIY filmmakers at TMAYM, Troma Entertainment legend Lloyd Kaufman suggested we use a quote from one of his books, so here goes—from Make Your Own Damn Movie:
To make your own damn movie, you have to be equal parts dictator and diplomat. You must be both the visionary storyteller addressing the audience at the film festival and the dickhead shoveling rat shit out of the basement because nobody else would and everything would be lost if it didn't get done. You must be both extravagant artist and penny-pinching asshole. It isn't easy, it isn't always fun, and if you're looking to get rich quick by making the next Blair Witch Project then you'd might just as well stop right now. The odds are stacked heavily against you ever making a dime directly off your masterpiece.

So, knowing full well that the road you're about to embark on is long and painful, will probably require you to be publicly humiliated on more than one occasion, and will require your total obsessive attention for more than a year, is it worth doing? Absolutely. Writers know the satisfaction of completing a story. Musicians know the satisfaction of completing a song. But filmmakers know they've brought people together and created something bigger than any of them could have done individually. They have orchestrated an experience that no one involved will ever forget. They've created something that will have a life long after they're gone. They have made some art under circumstances that would send most people into therapy for the next five years.
FYI, this quote follows a rather vivid description of Lloyd having to clean a Troma storage room that was befouled by rat feces... as well as a rat carcass infested with spiders. Filmmaking is nothing if not glamorous.


Lloyd, thanks for the tweet about TMAYM!

"Glass City," "Happily After," and "Separation Anxiety" by John Klein

Glass City:

Happily After:

Separation Anxiety:

Here with our first triple-feature is John Klein, whose production company bears the name of his first feature as producer, Glass City. (Note: Klein produced all three films discussed here, and he directed Happily After. Cole Simon directed Glass City and Separation Anxiety.)
Back in my hometown of Toledo, when I was a senior in high school, I started an amateur theatre company called Still Waiting Productions, the name inspired by our first production, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. (Cue ironic chuckles.) Knowing what I know now about theatre, acting, and art in general, I can only assume it was a horrible mess. But at the time, we were the kings and queens of our domain, a small band of passionate students eager to leave a small yet significant mark on our hometown. Our summers, home from college and producing stage plays, defined us, as they do for everyone, I’m sure. When I graduated college with my film degree, it seemed only natural to write what I knew.

I think I’ve covered all the clichés so far, right?

Anyway, that first script I wrote was called Glass City, based very loosely on our experiences with Still Waiting Productions. And, like so many beginning efforts at anything, it also was a mess at first. The screenplay was a hodgepodge of my favorite influences of the minute – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Garden State were doing circles in my head – and elements were borrowed or ripped wholesale from my life and the lives of my friends. There was no reason not to bring on Cole Simon - fellow SWP-er, good friend, theatre major at Ohio State – to direct because, in addition to being supremely talented, he had shared so many of those influences and elements.

Cole likes to say that when I tell people I’ll do something, it’ll happen. However true or untrue that is, I said we would produce Glass City in my hometown – Toledo has always been referred to as the Glass City, and we saw the morose, stagnant Mike Stegman’s life (get it?) as a nice parallel to that of the city’s downtrodden luck – and that’s what we did, about a year after I moved to Chicago. To keep our costs down, we shot on my HVX200 with a Redrock M2 adapter – all the rage at the time, prior to the onslaught of DSLRs – and Cole brought in actors from Ohio State while I brought crew in from Chicago. Ninety-two pages in thirteen days.

The result was probably the most personal film I will ever produce or shoot. I know everyone looks back at their first film and cringes. I won’t say I don’t do that, because I do. But I also know we made some seriously good choices on Glass City. We came up with a visual style and color scheme that fit the story perfectly, gradually growing from a desaturated, static palette to a more frenetic, vivid look. The acting was remarkable, and I can say that with my modesty intact because I had absolutely nothing to do with it; Cole is just a phenomenal director. And oh, the things we accomplished! We set up a traffic jam with twenty picture cars. We had a fifty-five setup day in a Laundromat, and finished ahead of schedule, dolly moves and jibs through ceilings and all. We closed the largest bridge in Toledo for a night. For a few twenty-somethings on a micro-budget, that was majestic. And for a couple of guys who had lived through summers we wished could last for years, we watch Glass City and now have a complete snapshot of what those times were like for us.

* * *

Following the completion of Glass City, we christened our production company Glass City Films and set off on finding our next projects. I suppose the easy goal was to grow and stretch ourselves beyond our means in terms of production value. But we also wanted to break down our storytelling barriers. Glass City showcased us portraying our own experiences. We wanted our next projects to be steps outside of ourselves.

It didn’t take long. After Glass City premiered, a friend of mine from elementary school invited me out for coffee – which I don’t drink, but whatever – and slid a script across the table for a feature titled Happily After. (The “Ever” is silent.) I read it, and as her first feature film screenplay – much like ours – it needed some tweaking. It was a romantic drama, a love triangle of sorts that was incredibly talky… but then around page 68, a spectacular twist just turned the whole script around, turning it into a sort of neo-noir thriller. It was awesomely twisted and unique in the best way, and excited the hell out of me. We collaborated on smoothing over some of the rougher patches - as we've done with all our scripts - though the big selling points of the story and dialogue barely changed. And then I told her I'd direct it. It was an enthusiastic statement without any substance at the time. But when I say I’ll do something….

About the same time I was signing my creative life away, Cole was in a play at Ohio State called Separation Anxiety, written by Jeremy Sony. He sent me the script on a whim, in full acknowledgement of its limitations as a stage play, expecting me to come back and call it unfilmable or something or other. It was one of the most emotionally resonant pieces of writing I had read, and I immediately said, “Let’s do it!” Never mind that half the script took place in an airport, or that there were fireworks at one point, or that the story juggled three separate timelines at once, or that one character sounded like a walking, talking Hallmark card. It was there, and we could totally pull it off.

Now, if you had told me in 2008 at the premiere of Glass City that we’d be producing two feature films back-to-back not more than one year later, I think I’d have spit my drink in your face. But, well, I’m an ambitious idiot. We slated both films for 2009: Happily After for August and Separation Anxiety for November. And our sanity left with them.

* * *

Happily After, my directorial debut, came first. Ninety-seven pages in eighteen days. It was our first SAG feature, and our lead actor, Ross Marquand, was a revelation. My longtime friend and 1st AC, Justin Cameron, lensed the film – his first feature – taking over for my usual cinematography work, and brought a whole new level of excitement and raw creative energy to the set. We had nearly twenty locations, ranging from a park to a police station. My gear was still our only option given our budget, but we had learned much from our mistakes on Glass City, and were able to handle the adapter this time.

I think it’s a fact that every first-time director can’t sleep in the weeks leading up to Day One, and when I did sleep, I dreamt of the worst possible circumstances. But when you get on set, everything melts away but the joy. And that’s how it was. We made our first five days, the scenes looked and sounded great, we were able to bounce two pages ahead of schedule by taking advantage of a sunset on a high-rise rooftop, and we all started to feel that excitement.

And then disaster struck.

During the filming of a scene involving our lead actress, Sharina Martin, she severely injured her wrist on a broken window. The good news: she’d be fine (and was, eventually). The bad news: she needed reconstructive surgery on her wrist, and would require a cast for the remainder of the shoot. Too deep into shooting to recast – something none of us wanted anyway – we simply rewrote the film to accommodate and rescheduled nearly every scene of the shoot to fit around the change in availability. We wound up only two days over schedule, in the end, and I’d say no one who watches the film is aware of the change until I bring it up in Q&A sessions, so I’ll count my blessings.

But for the rest of that month, we were all in a state of heightened awareness, of constant improvisation within the confines of what visual arcs, themes, and ideas we had already set out for ourselves. The police station – an abandoned location rented out by the city of Chicago – had fallen prey to scrap metal thieves, and there was no longer power in the building. The art department had one day to redress four rooms of the station, including the prison area. We had only half a day to film the final scene of the film, which featured an eighteen-foot crane and a Steadicam. Such is life on every set, I know, but it all seemed more so because of the early challenges.

The editing room only brought further difficulties, as we struggled with early test screenings and wound up cutting 25 minutes of superfluous plot points out of the rough cut. To say this film was made in post-production is a true understatement, and if I could share a directing credit, editor and colorist Mike Molenda would get it. The work he did was awe-inspiring, and the film exists and thrives because of it.

To this day, the completion of Happily After is something I refer to as a collection of minor miracles. I’ll never have a cast and crew as good as that ever again, methinks, at least not a group so dedicated and so willing to take on the impossible. I took more creative risks on it than on anything I’ve ever done, and more financial risks to boot. I hope that energy comes across. And so, here we are, and here it is.

* * *

Compared to that, producing Separation Anxiety should have been a breeze. Five main characters instead of twenty? Half the locations? Sixteen days instead of eighteen? Easy as pie. Of course, by now, I should also have gotten used to being wrong.

There were rewrites and changes abound in the early stages of the transition from stage to screen. The screenplay was trimmed to ninety pages from over 120. A more ambiguous ending was scrapped in favor of one that provided a real emotional catharsis for our trio of main characters. Finally, Cole stepped in as director when Jeremy decided to focus solely on the screenwriting, and I again relinquished the cinematography reins to Justin so I could exclusively produce. We’ve always prided ourselves on not wearing too many hats, so we could excel at one thing rather than be mediocre at two or three things. Collaboration makes our world of filmmaking go round, no question about it.

The first five days were early wraps and brought incredible performances from Glass City actress Kiana Harris and former “Dawson’s Creek” star John Wesley Shipp. I suppose it must be our sixth day of production that brings us trouble on our shoots, because the massive forty-setup day – which featured emergency vehicles and a rather complicated series of jib crane moves at dawn near an iconic dam location – finally broke us. We wound up having to come back the next day to shoot several remaining elements, and had severe issues matching the cloudy day to the previous day’s sunny footage. I suppose we should be grateful, though, that clouds were all we got. We were blessed with a two-week dry spell; had it rained on a single one of our shoot days in Columbus, the entire schedule would have been dead in the water.

As it stood, we got to Toledo and I finally realized the worst part of filming Separation Anxiety as a producer: the airport. Populating an entire wing of the Toledo Express Airport with extras – whose information we required weeks in advance for TSA to run background checks – and then trying desperately to light consistently despite being surrounded by wall-to-wall windows just as the days are getting shorter…yeah, we probably should have thought that through a bit. All praise to Justin for not losing his cool and getting some truly splendid photography out of it. And equal praise to our 1st AD, Dan Gutierrez, for corralling extras and making an indie film look massive. In the end, we closed an airport. We even got to film on a plane. What films get to do that at our level?

After Separation Anxiety premiered, Cole won the Golden Drover for Best Director at the Trail Dance Film Festival. I think we all would’ve been happy to win Best Drama, of course, but I think I was secretly happier that Cole took home his award. The growth he displayed from Glass City to Separation Anxiety was stunning; I can only hope my second feature is as grand a leap in maturity and quality.

* * *

I could list hundreds of little nuggets of advice for all independent filmmakers. Don’t be so afraid of hearing “no” that you forget to ask the question. Trust your crew. Good food is the most important thing on a low-budget set. Always have a backup plan in mind, whether it’s a second airport or another picture car or a replacement crewperson. Or hard drives, for that matter. But, no matter what, treat every single person on the cast and crew with the respect they deserve, which is quite a lot. That means communication. That means proper housing, food, and paychecks. That means insurance. And it means just plain being nice.

Our company is a Midwest group. We started in Toledo, we’re in Chicago now, and we have no intention of going to either coast. This is home, and this is where we’ll do our best work, always. Our mission statement speaks of fostering Midwest talent and artists through powerful narrative drama. We have humble beginnings, as all indie filmmakers do. But however much a mess we may think we are sometimes, we couldn’t be happier with our films or with the people we’ve chosen to tag along with on this crazy journey. And someday, hopefully, we can look back on all this and say, Yes…this was still only the beginning.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Cannonball" by Scott Stafford

Scott Stafford tells us about the long, long road Kentucky-based Walk Softly Films took in making a Bigfoot feature:
From conception to completion, Cannonball was in some form of production for seven long years. Three friends who always wanted to make films decided to jump into the process feet first and learn the craft through their mistakes. There were plenty to learn from. I am one of those friends and the mistakes began with my first screenplay which was at least 40 pages too long. However, we had confidence in the moments and beats that we had devised together. Someone would be entertained by our efforts and that would make it all worthwhile.

For us, the real victory comes in simply having a finished product in hand. Our shooting schedule was horrific. Even in our most productive stages we were only able to shoot every other Saturday. We're talking 8 hours every two weeks. We are three men with full time jobs and families. When production began, all three of us were married. By the time it was over, one of the three marriages was still intact. Victory! Through divorce, remarriage, child birth and job loss, we struggled to persevere. None of us had seen any project this large to completion before. And Cannonball had every possible chance not to succeed; no experience, no budget, no actors, etc. Cannonball, despite any shortcomings, is a tale that we fostered all the way to the end despite obstacles of every variety. And, for that reason, it will always hold a special place for us. (And we will never attempt to shoot any project in the same manner again.)

When we started to discuss ideas in 2002, we all agreed that a Bigfoot movie would be a blast to explore. It had been at least twenty-five years since the last Bigfoot movie we could remember had been produced. Flash forward seven years and at least fifty sasquatch-related, straight-to-video titles, a handful of theatrical releases, and at least one national advertising campaign have been released in the meantime. And, somehow, they all star Lance Henriksen. We also decided to combine Bigfoot with a project we had been working on since 1992; the Global Wrestling Alliance, a loving spoof of professional wrestling. It was our obsession for a decade. We were compelled to weave the GWA into our story because we felt a couple of those characters that we loved and knew so well would be a perfect fit for this story about friends without a future.

When we began shooting Cannonball, exactly one of our actors had acting experience and it came from community theatre. Since I was directing and also spending much of my time in front of the camera, we had to find someone to put behind it. Our first two candidates bowed out, so we did what any true filmmaker would do. We drafted my Dad. Thankfully, he is an extremely talented artist in his own right and blessed with a good eye. More help came in the form of two amazing musicians who allowed us to use their songs for a snippet of their worth.

In the end, despite our mistakes and inexperience, we ended up with a feature film that makes people laugh. Success. Every time we sit in on a screening and we hear laughs and see smiles, we receive the reward we were looking for. We were also surprised to discover that kids love the movie. When I say love, I mean kids who are six, seven, and up go bananas for it, which never ceases to amaze us. Cannonball has been an official selection of four film festivals and even won Best Original Feature in one of them. It has also received some very kind reviews and was selected Feature of the Month by Microfilmmaker Magazine. DVD's are available for purchase at and you can follow all our newest projects at

One last example of lessons learned: It isn’t wise to leave your prop shotgun laying out when you’re in a public nature preserve. Also, it isn’t fun when the caretaker of said preserve walks up to find the shotgun, two of your actors in bloody combat on the ground while one is dressed in a gorilla suit, and she believes your tripod is some type of “crossbow”. Things can get awkward.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A hat tip to Microfilmmaker Magazine (

I just wanted to give a shout-out to the folks at Microfilmmaker, whose constructive, solicited critiques of ultra-low-budget films were a great resource for finding dedicated DIY filmmakers when we began outreach to find good first-person feature-filmmaker stories to get this blog started.

Microfilmmaker offers a lot of resources, and they have a great philosophy that respects true independent filmmakers, who all too often get ignored in favor of star-studded, multi-million dollar so-called indies.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Dawn" by Jay Reel

Tell Me About Your Movie isn't a review site, but I'd be remiss if I didn't say how much I enjoy and admire Jay Reel's Dawn, a unique, low-budget, character-based take on vampirism. Very happy to see Jay share his story with us here:
I based the screenplay of Dawn on a short story I wrote in September of 2000. At the time, the idea was to write a "journal" of sorts, with entries made in real time, set on the dates they were written. The final entry was to be on my birthday (12th). It didn't quite work out that way, and I finished the story several days early. The "journal" was written by a man, who was relating the day-to-day struggle of living on the road, homeless, with his young daughter, who just happened to be a vampire. She was around 8 years old in the story and was a living creature, in that she had a heartbeat and could die like any human. I kept some of the vampire attributes of legend (unnatural strength, empathic abilities) and eliminated others (no "allergies" to the sun or crosses). Ultimately, the human father and his "special" daughter come a rather tragic end.

In adapting the short story to feature length, I needed to add some elements of danger, that wasn't there in the original version. Now, there was a man pursuing Dawn and her father, who knew of the girl's vampire origins. The ending of the movie is very similar to the short story, but otherwise the mood is much more somber. This really isn't a horror movie, but rather a story of two misfits, struggling to survive in the world. I was influenced by certain "road movies" I appreciated throughout my life, about characters on the run and trying to eke out a living. Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law, Paper Moon, Of Mice and Men, etc. In this case, Dawn's vampirism is like a disability that separates her from society in general. Otherwise, she's a normal little girl, with all the aspirations and hopes of any child her age. The father is like any caring parent, who would do anything to protect and provide for his child.

Dawn was shot during the summer of 2002, with Ray Boucher portraying the father (John), 10-year-old Kacie Young was Dawn, and Mindy Raymond as the mother. The mother's story is told during an unusually long flashback (20 minutes!) that culminates in her death, while giving birth to Dawn. I "acted" as Carlton Reed, the psychic "bloodhound" who is pursuing Dawn.

Dawn premiered in Dallas, at the Angelika Film Center, in August of 2003. J.R. Bookwalter (The Dead Next Door) picked up Dawn for DVD distribution through his Tempe Video label in 2006. It is available for sale through, and several other online retailers. It can be rented via as well.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Driver's Ed Mutiny" by Brad Hansen

Brad Hansen of Collateral Damage Productions tells us about crossing state lines—lots of them—to make his indie feature, Driver's Ed Mutiny:
Driver's Ed Mutiny follows three teenagers who have to make their way from Chicago to Los Angeles, each for their own personal reasons. With no other options, they hijack their driver’s ed car and embark on a coming-of-age journey down the historic Route 66, with plenty of bumps along the way.

A comedy/drama, Driver's Ed Mutiny is the second feature from filmmaking group Collateral Damage Productions following their award-winning 2007 release The Chemistry of Dating.

* * *

Driver's Ed Mutiny came about because I thought I had a great story idea and I had friends who were willing to help make it a reality. I wanted to make a modern day John Hughes movie—a film about teenagers that wasn't an R-rated gross-out comedy. I was also tired of seeing indie films that all took place indoors. I wanted to push the scope of what a microbudget movie could show.

Driver's Ed Mutiny was certainly a challenge to make. We ended up shooting in 9 states and over 50 different locations—a massive logistical challenge, particularly for a tight budget. But it was a terrific bonding experience for the cast and crew (most of us didn't know each other before the film but we are now close friends). Ultimately I think we ended up with the film we set out to make—a touching yet funny movie about characters you hopefully care about that spans the nation. I'm very proud of all the hard work and dedication that the cast and crew put into the film to make this dream a reality.

Our movie is nearing the end of its successful festival run and we are starting the search for distribution. Keep tabs with us on Facebook or Twitter for distribution news!

"The Drachen Recruitment Experiment" by Matthew Martino

Matthew Martino recently finished post-production on his directorial-debut feature film, The Drachen Recruitment Experiment. He reports that he's currently negotiating distribution deals with several production companies and hopes for a limited theatrical release this summer.

He shares some observations from the experience, which he titles, "Solitaire in a Bar—A Big Headache for the Independent Filmmaker":
Imagine that you and a bunch of friends gather at your house and you decide to play poker. You all get together, plunk down your chips and after an a few rounds, they all go home happy after a fun round of games with good company. And yet you still want to play cards. You might decide to grab your deck and head to local bar where you can sit quietly at a table and play solitaire by yourself.

Only that would never happen. You would never sit quietly by yourself. Someone would inevitably come over and start to tell you how to play. He would stare over your shoulder until a move he would make comes up and he would emphatically tell you that you must make that move. And should you remind this rude onlooker that it is your game and your deck and you will make the decisions and the moves you want to make, most likely he will get very angry because his benevolent advice was not heeded. He will storm away and tell everyone in the bar how much of a jerk you are and that he hope you lose your card game.

If you make an independent film, this will happen often. As people learn that you are making a movie they instantly want to chime in with advice as to how you should do it. This is most likely because everyone has dreams of making movies, being movie stars and of breaking into Hollywood. So when you say you are making a film, you become their surrogate child. And they will live vicariously through you like a zealous soccer mom.

They have had some dream idea for years and they always felt if they just told the right person, it would be made into a blockbuster. I generally believe all people are creative. Truthfully everyone does have a blockbuster idea that could be a hit if it was made in Hollywood. Everyone is creative. Which is why the need for creative people is nil. There is nothing more cheap out there than ideas. No one owns an idea. What is needed are people with the work ethic and drive to do something with their ideas.

I don’t need ideas, I need script writers. When someone gives me this great idea of theirs, I tell them to write it out in a script. I will even recommend CELTX - a free script writing program that could help you put things in the proper format. When I say this, they seem offended. In their mind they believed their idea was so great, I would have to stop what I was doing and immediately get writing on their idea and when Hollywood makes millions on it, I would turn over a check to this gracious person who blessed me with their idea.

The problem is I got my own creative ideas I am working on. I don’t need yours. Why would I work on your stuff when I haven’t even gotten a fraction of my own stuff down? But that’s it, I actually have written scripts. I have put the keystrokes in and can see the fruits of my labor. It puts me in a rare category.

I made a big mistake once. Someone got to see my script. Someone I shouldn't have let see it. But he saw a laptop with the script up on the screen and he asked if he could read it. I said sure. Big mistake.

About an hour later without me prompting he told me that my script wasn't very good. I asked him why and he told me he had only read about two pages. So I asked him why he didn't read more. And he said it wasn't very entertaining.

I then asked him how many scripts he has read. He mentioned that he read the script for The Dark Knight and that it was way more entertaining to read then mine. So he stopped reading mine after two pages. I told him I can't take his opinion seriously because he didn't give my script a chance.

I then asked if he had ever took a script writing class. He hadn't. I asked him if he had ever written scripts, he told he hadn't but that he had really good ideas for scripts. Basically, I found out he knew nothing about script writing and had read only one example.

This seems to be the attitude of nearly everyone I meet where movies come in. Everyone is an expert without having any experience. Imagine applying for a job as a mechanic at an auto repair garage. When you get there the manager asks you what experience you have in the auto industry. You reply that you have been driving a car for ten years, so that makes you an expert on automobiles. After all, how hard can it be to fix a car? All you have to do to make them work is turn the key and step on the gas. They are easy to understand.

The logic falls apart in that scenario. Yet lots of people who have done nothing more than watch films, feel that they must be experts on how a film is made. What is there to do except tell the actors to say their lines and turn the camera on? Right? Certainly your average American has seen hundreds of movies. But that doesn’t mean you can make a movie any more than driving a car means you would know how to build one.

I recently had a woman watch my completed film albeit without the soundtrack being added. The soundtrack was being finished so I lent her a copy without it, thinking that since she had some musical experience, she could imagine where and what type of music would be added. I was wrong. She criticized the film for having long and silent scenes with no dialogue that dragged. She recommended that I re-edit it so that it could be more Hollywood style.

I agreed that the scene dragged, but that was because when music would be added, the scene would move along with it. And I told her that re-editing it at this point in the post production process would be disastrous. This is where the arguments began. When I told her that color correction took weeks, she dismissed the comment saying color correction was not that important. Well she lost me there. Ask anyone in Hollywood who edits how important color correction is. It is huge and massive time consumer. One friend who recently finished editing a feature film thought that he spent about 400 hours on color correction alone. We both bemoaned 13 hour overnight renders that crashed at the last minute, setting us back a full day.

Editing is one long, tedious and frustrating process that seems easy if you’ve never done it. If you really don’t know much about a subject, it’s best not to advise someone on it. You just come across as ignorant and I cannot respect your opinion. And when you get mad that I didn’t validate your opinion - well I cannot respect you.

So if you decide to make an independent film, be aware that people with no experience will give you advice. They will tell you which stars should be in your film (did I mention my first film had a budget with only 3 digits?). They will tell you that should add car chases, explosions, alien invasions - the list goes on. They will want you to completely take their ideas in exchange for a huge check. And be aware that they will be very angry when you don’t take their advice. You’ll make enemies. But you’ll also make a feature film - which puts you in a rare category. Who knows, you may even have some good advice to give to the next new filmmaker. Everyone’s an expert.

"The Changeling" by Jay Stern

Jay Stern tells us about making his first feature-length film, based on a 17th century play:
I made The Changeling because I had simply grown tired of wanting to make a feature.

There had been many things keeping me from making one. I went through film school prior to the digital revolution, so it was much harder to just go out and make a feature when I graduated and moved to New York City. Instead, I started working in theater, which I could rehearse in my apartment and put up in small theaters and bars around town for practically no money.

During this time I developed a few film projects but had trouble finding the financing. I made short films in the meantime and started a film festival which is just about to enter its 9th year.

One day in 2005, after another grant rejection for an ambitious project I planned to shoot in various locations across Europe, Siberia, and the U.S., I decided that enough was enough. I realized that I would never make a feature unless I just went out and made one. I looked at the network I had developed during my years in theater and running a film festival and realized I had all the resources I needed. I decided to adapt a successful play, so I wouldn’t have to worry about creating a script that worked. I searched for one that was public domain and could be produced on a tiny budget, shot in my apartment if need be. I would then gather my group of actor friends, rehearse, and shoot.

The goal was simply to make a movie, to get something in the can that was feature-length. I’d pay for lunch and tape stock (remember tape stock?) but that would be it. It would be a down and dirty production that would highlight our strengths – solid, strong and intimate acting, and a long-standing working relationship that would allow us to work efficiently.

After much search I settled on Middleton and Rowley’s 1622 play The Changeling. I know that in hindsight choosing a minor Jacobean play with the original period language isn’t the way to ensure commercial success for a super low budget first film. But our goals were small, simply to make a movie, to work through the process of creating a feature film together. For this, the play was perfect.

We started rehearsing without a crew, location, or any funding in place. I expected these things would come together eventually. I just wanted to be doing something every day that would keep momentum moving so that at some point we wouldn’t be able to stop the process, that there would be no turning back.

It’s a long story, and most of it can be read on my production diary. Suffice it to say that the project grew much bigger than I could have imagined. We found an incredible director of photography who was naturally in tune with me and the project (the supremely talented Alan McIntyre Smith, we gained access to two beautiful locations for very little expense, and what originally was going to be a down-and-dirty modern adaptation to be shot in friends' apartments became a beautiful period piece. We raised $17,000 from private donors to get the film in the can, and eventually went on to secure a New York release, and receive reviews in the New York Times and Variety.

The resources we went into the film with turned out to work to our advantage. My previous relationship with the cast and our long, detailed rehearsal process meant that the actors were completely comfortable with their roles and each other so that they weren’t thrown when things came up on set. We never had to do a second take due to a performance issue. And this was necessary because we could only afford to shoot for six days! (I don’t recommend doing this by the way. Six days is just too short to shoot a feature.) And giving crew members a chance to step up their own departments on this movie meant that they gave their best work to the project. The cast and crew were the best production resources I could have hoped for.

The experience was transformative for many of us. It was my director of photography’s first feature as DP, my composer’s first movie, my sound designer’s first feature, and my leads' first feature leading roles. And ever since then I have no longer been uncomfortable about referring to myself as a “filmmaker” (although, yes, technically it was shot on video, not film).

The movie was a hard sell, as far as I can tell, due to the genre, the lack of famous actors, and the fact it was shot (albeit beautifully) on miniDV. It was rejected by every festival I applied to. And I applied to tons of them, big and small. But Ray Privett, the programmer of the Pioneer Theater (and who now runs his own distribution company, Cinema Purgatorio), saw the film when we had a private screening at his theater and he asked if he could release it for a New York run.

Outside of our New York run, we had limited attention in the U.S., but the play the movie is adapted from is quite well known in Europe and the other film versions aren’t very well regarded, so I routinely get requests for copies from England and Germany. And having successfully produced and directed a low budget feature, I’ve received offers to produce other films. I’ve also gone on to lecture about low budget filmmaking (you can see one such lecture, about my work on The Changeling, here.)

Since The Changeling, we’ve since gone on to shoot another feature, Spirit Cabinet which is now in post. You can read about that ridiculously short shoot here. And now we’re in pre-production on a low budget romantic comedy musical called The Adventures of Paul and Marian. We’re currently raising funds to get us through production via Kickstarter, so if you’d like to join the indie film revolution, please check us out!

So let this be a lesson to you – you too can make a feature if you make sure to cultivate a group of talent and give them a chance to do the work they normally don’t get to do. Don’t sit around waiting for someone else to make your dreams come true. No one is going to be as good at it as you are.

Questions about our work or making movies in general? Feel free to email me at

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Freaky Farley" and "Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas" by Charles Roxburgh

Freaky Farley:

Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas:

Our first indie-filmmaker story at is a double-feature, with Charles Roxburgh from describing the making of two DIY feature-length films.

Many thanks to Charles for kicking things off!
A gorgeous co-ed drapes herself onto a bed, seductively toying with her hair. Her partner on the twin bed in this cozy dorm room is a male student, a guy she considers a friend, but about whom she might be having stronger feelings of late.

“Why is it that you can always make me laugh,” she coos, gazing dreamily at the guy.

Our young man maintains his position on the edge of the bed, sitting ramrod straight, a bottle of liquor clutched tightly in his fist. He looks away, apparently quite nervous about the beautiful female’s advances. This young man is Radish. Yes, his name is Radish.

It’s the moment of truth for Radish. He suddenly speaks up. “I... I’ve gotta go do my inventory for the coach.” With that, he pops up from the bed, hurries out the door, and down the dorm hallway, giddy, sporting an odd smile.

Matt, Tom, and I jumped from the couch, cheering, hollering, questioning, theorizing, basically freaking out. What a great scene we’d just witnessed! Radish’s rebuffing the delightful girl’s advances and his subsequent weird joy is unexpected and oddly charming. And his name is Radish; how great is that! We rewind the film, partly to take notes, partly to ensure that such a curious little scene just graced a horror movie. Thus, Final Exam (1981) won us over. To this day, we even use the I’ve-got-to-go-do-inventory-for-the-coach-line in regular conversation. (Q: Want to come over and help me mow the grass? A: I would, but I've gotta go do inventory for the coach).

My name is Charles Roxburgh and I’d like to tell you a bit about the two movies my friends and I have made: Freaky Farley (2007) and Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas (2009). Matt Farley, Tom Scalzo, and I went to college together. We began enjoying VHS horror screenings while at school, and soon enough decided that we'd like to make some of our own.

Some quick facts about Freaky Farley and Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas:

–Both movies were shot on super 16mm film.

–Filming took place predominantly in New Hampshire.

–No outside producers or financing was involved. We scraped together what we could, on all fronts.

–The majority of our actors are non-professional. These are people doing it for the sheer joy of it. Or because we begged them incessantly.

Movies like Final Exam serve as a powerful inspiration to us. In fact, check out Monsters, Marriage and Murder in Manchvegas for a direct homage to Radish. Our character Vince–a sweep-up boy from the wrong side of the tracks, played by Kyle Kochan–uses the gotta-do-inventory line to cover his shy nature whilst in the arms of beautiful young lady, played by Sharon Scalzo. We love the unique character moments, the low budget can-do spirit, and the free-and-easy style that results from not being overproduced. Similar low-budget horror influences include: The Pit (1981), Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1975), The Devil Master (1977), Fiend (1980), and Memorial Valley Massacre (1988). These are some entertaining movies! Regarding influences that I've experienced on my own, outside the Matt and Tom horror marathons (which we refer to as ShockMarathons), I'd cite Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and the TV shows Get a Life and Twin Peaks.

Seeing as we have such an affinity for late-1970's and early-1980's movies, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that we appreciate motion picture film. Going into Freaky Farley, I knew full well that we'd have quite a hard time pulling off various locations, props, and costumes. But with film, at least we always had the organic texture we were after. Digital scratches, jitter, or artifacts...heck no! Our movie is rough around the edges, but so were our filming conditions, and so are our characters. Even if it's on a subconscious level, I think that super 16mm film, especially when coupled with a 1970's zoom lens like ours, helps to put the audience in the right mood to experience a quirky horror/comedy story like Freaky Farley.

Perhaps the hardest part of shooting on film was that our particular setup (Krasnogorsk K-3, modified for super 16mm) only afforded 100-ft rolls. Thus, after every three minutes of filming (actually less, when you consider all the slates and a bit of waste at the tail), I had to open up the camera, unload the used film, and load a fresh roll. This created some downtime, but not enough to be seriously detrimental to a day's shoot. That camera sure is noisy, though. Use a camera like this to film a feature at your own peril!

As a filmmaker, you're never going to have everything perfect. I humbly offer up this advice for any other filmmaker to consider, as I've come in contact with many people who've had a hard time getting a start on their own projects, due to waiting for everything to reach some near-impossible degree of perfection. I truly think that you just have to gather all your resources, pick a time in the near future that seems best, and roll with it. And once you start, don't stop. Momentum is everything when making a movie. When the actors and crew are excited about the project and you're making progress, don't let anything derail the team. On Manchvegas we had a main actress drop out two days before she was supposed to start filming. Farley and I dropped a character, rewrote any scenes that were affected, and promoted another actress to the vacant role. It worked out just fine.

If I had to pick our biggest hurdle so far, I'd say that the lack of a promotional budget is the hardest to overcome. All ad space costs money, so any filmmaker wishing to push his or her film must be extremely diligent and creative. For us, the ball is entirely in our court regarding getting the word out there. We continue to try our best.

Are you interested in checking out our films? I hope so! Freaky Farley is currently on Netflix, and Manchvegas should be back up there once Netflix re-orders some DVDs from us. Please save Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas to your queue to help convince Netflix to order more! In the meantime, the easiest place to check out Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas is on iTunes.

Our goal was to make two breezy, fun pictures that just might, if we got lucky, find a way into the hearts of a few viewers out there. Just as we were dazzled by Radish's giddy moods and curious actions in Final Exam, we hope that perhaps a few viewers will find a moment or two to remember in our films.

If you know anyone who's willing to give low-budget, essentially homemade, films a chance, please pass on the word about our movies. We'd really appreciate it!

Our website:

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Welcome to "Tell Me About Your Movie"!

An awful lot of people dream about making movies. It certainly was a longtime dream of mine.

I made a short film in high school, in 1974, but that was about it for quite some time.

Flip the calendar pages all the way to 2004. That year, I began making short films under the banner "Castparty Productions."

Still, the big goal—making a feature-length film—remained unfulfilled for a few more years.

In 2008, my collaborators and I gave ourselves two weeks to conceive, write, shoot, and edit a feature film. We've since re-cut the movie, an art-film/thriller called The Observer.

We took a little more-patient approach with our second DIY feature, shooting it in the summer of 2009 and finishing post-production three days ago—on February 18, 2011. It's a slacker comedy called Inventory.

Along with starting to send DVDs to various film festivals to see if there's any love to be found there, I've been looking for film blogs that might be interested in publicizing such new, handmade works, without regard to their distribution status.

Most of the indie-film blogs I found fell into these categories:
  • News and opinion about movies that got into top-tier festivals, garnered award nominations, secured commercial distribution, etc.—many of the films containing famous or semi-famous talent
  • Advice on technique and marketing
  • Tips on lining up financing, distribution, etc.
  • One person's filmmaking odyssey

Any of these might be quite useful. But it seemed there might not be a place dedicated to commemorating the mere fact of giving birth to DIY films. A site to celebrate that, as Lloyd Kaufman would say, you made your own damn movie.

Think of "Tell Me About Your Movie" as the DIY filmmaker's equivalent of a site for knitters, where you post a picture of your sweater, discuss why and how you made it, what you learned, and whatever else you feel like saying about the journey and result.

You've done what so many dream about: making a feature film. Congratulations!

* * *

If you'd like me to post the story of making your film, please send a write-up about your project to

It doesn't matter whether your movie has been seen by no one but your mom, or if it made it into Cannes and theaters worldwide. It doesn't matter what format you shot it in. It doesn't matter what genre it is.

The important thing here is that you made a movie and want to tell people something about it and the experience of making it.

To be included, your movie needs:
  • To be completed, or at least in post-production
  • To be 45 minutes or longer
  • To have a trailer that we can embed in the post

Absolutely, feel free to talk about the business side, any laurels your film has earned, and so on.

But, except for the three requirements above, this isn't a "your film must be this tall to go on this ride" kind of site.

So, tell me about your movie!