Getting Rich – Part 1: Listen to Rodriguez, damn it

There is a common maxim in the world of low-budget, independent film that says to write for locations that you have. In fact, Robert Rodriguez, one our idols and role models in the making of this movie, and wearer of superior head gear, perfected this method, which Stu Maschwitz called “The Rodriguez List.” You make a list of all the stuff you have at your disposal, and then you write your script around those items and locations.

Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez, whose hats are cooler than my entire wardrobe.

This makes sense on a number of levels. First of all, the financial benefit of this approach is obvious. Things that you have equal things that you don’t have to acquire or make yourself. In Grassman, all of our characters arrive at the forest in vehicles that the actors actually drove to set. No rentals, or special needs; just some consideration for who will be on set with what vehicles for an scenes shot around that location.

Second, it is a great way to figure out early on what you have that will make your film uniquely yours. Taking stock of your inventory of stuff and locals lends itself to a level of personalizing of your script in a way to can add to its authenticity. Writing a scene that takes place in a science lab that you don’t have access to, versus a gravel pit that you do because of your connected uncle “knows a guy” may not have the same feel or tone, but if you make it work, it will have production value like a mofo.

Cover of "Rebel without a Crew: How a 23 ...

Cover via Amazon

Of course, despite our following the Gospel of Rodriguez (Rebel Without a Crew), this was not something I did when writing the script for Grassman. Like the inexperienced, delusional dork that I am, I wrote a film that takes place 90% of the time in the woods. Woods are easy to find, I thought. Hell, if we have to we’ll just do this guerrilla-style, sneaking into local parks and making a Bigfoot movie when no one is looking. Yeah, I know. I was an idiot.

But, that’s what I did. And when I was finished, I had a forest, but also needed a gas station, a cave, a shed, a cliff and a gorge, a large creek. Somehow, this thing seemed a bit bigger than showing up at one of Hamilton County’s fine parks and hoping we weren’t going to get caught. It was a huge feature film, which a lot of action, blood, screaming, fighting, falling, and fire. These thing do not lend themselves to a stealthy guerrilla production.

Robert Rodriguez, Jaime King, & Nick Stahl at ...

Rodriguez with people who actually listen to him.

It became abundantly clear that 1) I had not followed Rodriguez’s sage advice, 2) we needed to run this gig like professionals, not idiots running through public parks until we were banned for life, and 3) we needed an alternative to that. Somewhere where we could be both professionals and idiots, which would lend itself to the film seamlessly and not cost us a thing.  Essentially, we were screwed.

Until, in one magical moment at my real job, when I had a thought that would change everything. A beautiful, serendipitous, life just falling into place moment that made the movie possible. I had my Rodriguez List after I wrote the script in the form of a gentleman that I had known for 5 years. All I had to do was ask and pray that he said yes.

Next week, I will conclude the tale of Rich, the man behind the non-acting character of The Legend of Grassman: the best location a growing filmmaker could hope for.

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The Schlock Party II: Out of the Closet, Into the Fire

Last week, I told this story:

meyer bros

Our trailer unexpectedly received a bunch of positive attention on the Internet, because the very awesome Avery Guerra liked it and started spreading the word around. Then, referred to it as “Schlock Party” but that was totally fine, because the worst review we ever got was that a film of ours was “just ok.”

I love it when people like our work, because the best reason for making movies is to make people happy.  It’s awesome when you see people laughing and enjoying themselves while watching something that you had a hand in. But at least “schlock party” is an emotional response, whereas “just ok” is a lot like saying “I suppose I could have committed suicide during this film and it wouldn’t have bothered me one way or the other.”

The part of the Joblo story that really stung about the schlock party story is when I was quoted as saying: “Our prior horror efforts, including Consumed are dark, grim tales, which we enjoy, but didn’t feel that tone was what we wanted in a Bigfoot film. We agreed that Jaws had a good balance or horror, comedy, and adventure which we are attempting to capture.” Then author responded with: “Based on the two trailers below, farther from JAWS this film could not be.”


Me as Dave Smith, the androgynous lead singer of BADNESS

Me as Dave Smith, the androgynous lead singer of Badness.  I guess if you can tell anything from the picture, it’s that I’m sooo the opposite of a tool.

I, naturally, felt like a complete tool.  My quote was very tool-ish, but why was it necessary for this guy to point that out? Back in the old days, when we were promoting Badness, our imaginary rock band that couldn’t play instruments, promoting our work seemed much easier.  We had a couple films and a website for the band and, for some reason, I was always much more outgoing and impervious to ever feeling like a tool.  Like I did now.  It would take a well-known speech by actress/director Jodie Foster to help me start to comprehend why.

In ninth grade, I had to give a speech about myself in English class, and thinking that would be super easy, I didn’t prepare anything.  I said I made movies, cause that was really all I did, then I ran out of material.  After 2 minutes of me staring blankly at the rest of the class staring blankly back at me, Mr. Carey took pity on me and started asking me questions and trying to coax me into not looking like a total ass.

“Who writes your films?” he asked helpfully.

“I… uh… I usually write them,” I answered.  I was a writer AND a director.  Wait till they found out I also acted!

If they had seen any of my films, they'd be even more impressed!

If they had seen any of my films, they’d be even more impressed!

“And how many films have you made?” was the follow up from Mr. Carey’s stupid teacher face.

Shit.  I done tons!  Let’s see…  I won’t count the cartoons I did on our Texas Instruments computer.  So, let’s see.  Teeth was my first.  Then we did Adventure Barney.  Wait, that was technically Dennis’ movie.  Do I count Vacation ’88?  It was just a home movie, but I thought it more of a docudrama.  Then there was the one I was currently working on.  But that didn’t count cause it wasn’t finished.

“One,” I answered.

Mr. Carey blinked at me.

“You usually write your own movies,” he said incredulously, having lost any pity he may have at one time had for me,  “but you’ve only done one?”

This picture of me taken during my high school years is proof positive that I wasn't a tool.

This picture of me taken during my high school years is proof positive that I wasn’t a tool.

All I could do was return to my seat with my head hanging low and accept the realization that high school was really going to suck for me.  This episode was humiliating and while I don’t mind telling you about it, I would be mortified if it was ever posted online.   It was perhaps this incident that sent me into the Filmmaker Closet.  I adopted a very strict Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy when it came to my film work, and that isn’t the best promotion strategy.

Years later, I produced a short about drunk driving that I was shopping around to different educational film distributors.  This is the first time I had ever done anything like this before, and I was terrified, naturally.  I distinctly remember I wouldn’t even refer to the film as a “film” when talking to people about it.  I called it a “video.”  Somehow, “video” sounded less George McFly to me.

About the same time, actress/director Jodie Foster delivered a speech that I, and a lot of other people, were greatly moved by. She said, “You gotta lose yourself to the music  The moment – you better own it.  You better never let it go.  You only got one shot.  Do not miss your chance to blow.  This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.”  Powerful words.  Words so powerful they were even made into a song by Eminem.

I remember that song playing in the car when I was on my way to transfer my miniDV master of my film  to a real format that professionals used so I could ship it off  to its new distributor.  And, even with the liberties Eminem took with Foster’s poetry (like adding something about his mom’s spaghetti), the song was very inspirational.  And it reminded me that I do only have one shot – one life – and this is it right now.  There’s no dress rehearsal.  And there’s no time for shenanigans.

That’s a hard lesson to get through one’s thick skull, and it took years, but I knew it was time to come out of the Filmmaker Closet.   I had been so comfortable as Dave Smith from BADNESS because I was promoting our work as Dave Smith and wasn’t preoccupied with what people thought of him.  I knew I either had to stop caring so much how I was coming off and pay more attention to what I was trying to accomplish or I needed to put on the wig and become Dave Smith forever.  Which wouldn’t have sounded so Norman Bates-ish if the real Dave Smith wasn’t stuffed in my attic.

The real Dave Smith.  We all go a little mad sometimes.

The real Dave Smith. It’s not as if he were a maniac – a raving thing.  He just goes a little mad sometimes.  We all go a little mad sometimes.

So, I switched to a strict Didn’t Ask?/I’m Telling You Anyway policy when it comes to the movie.  At times, I’m embarrassed at the self promoting whore I’ve become.  But it’s my duty to be a whore – for the film, for myself, and for everyone who busted their butts helping us out.  I have to spread the word.  It’s part of the job.  No one will ever hear of your film if you try to promote it from the closet.

I’m even cool with it if Mr. Carey tracks me down one day and corners me on some rambling. nonsensical babble I just spouted.  Because maybe this time – if I really pay attention – I’ll see one lone dude in the classroom thinking, “Cool!  I love a good Sasquatch flick!” While my classmates laugh their asses off at me.

Last week, I said that the lesson we took from our Joblo experience at the time was that that you have to be extra careful that what you say to the press can’t be misconstrued.  But I think maybe the real lesson here is people aren’t just going to be critical of your work, but they will set out to make you look like a tool -especially if you just said something toolish – and you need to get used to that.

Not missing footage from Kingdom of the Spiders starring William Shatner and Tyler Meyer... but it could be

Would a tool ever present himself this way? Obviously not.

A lot of people use “I don’t care what other people think” as an excuse to be a dick.  Don’t be a dick.  But don’t judge yourself by what others think.  Work hard.  Stay focused.  If you believe in what you’re doing, there will eventually be others who feel the same way, unless you’re doing some kind of weird puppet/poop/snuff film.

I remember bracing myself for the inevitable blizzard of negative comments that would no doubt accompany the Joblo story.  Hopefully, I’d be able to handle them and it wouldn’t derail the motivation that this sudden, unexpected burst of publicity had brought us.

But only one person ever commented.


Thanks, Avery.


Lights, Camera, Action! What have I gotten myself into?

After a number of overly exciting posts on the highs and lows of screenwriting for this film, I thought I would take a post to put on one of my other hats that I wore for this production: my actor hat. It is a hat that I, like many others, have always wanted to wear. But, unlike others, as someone who also owns writer and producer hats, I am able to write myself into the script, and then make an executive decision to cast myself in that role. While it may sound like self-nepotism (because of my many jobs) or egotism, the fact is I had reservations over playing the part that I wrote for myself, reservations that I’m sure Tyler shared.

The Biggest Loser: Pinoy Edition (season 1)

The Biggest Loser: Pinoy Edition (season 1) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My first reservation was my weight. When Tyler and I first began work on the project, I was pretty heavy. Without getting into numbers, let me just say that if the movie didn’t go forward, I could have been a contestant on The Biggest Loser. It was not good. My weight had fluctuated a lot over the years, but always managed to creep upward. So, I took my desire to handle a role in this film as motivation to really get my ass back on track and get some pounds off before production began. It was a job I took very seriously, and it became the catalyst for Tyler’s command that everyone get in better shape for the project, simple for health and endurance reason. This was going to be a tough shoot, which we were at least partially aware of, and we needed as cast and crew to be able to handle it. Being a small production, we’d not only be handling the demands of the script (see the next point), but also of the production, carrying equipment, building sets, holding positions for ungodly lengths of time.

Making it happen for the film.

Making it happen for the film.

I set about dieting and exercising 5-6 days a week, consistently actually missing maybe a week in two years (not counting shooting weeks). By the time we got to the production (what I call Grassman: Year One), I was down 45 lbs. When Grassman: Year Two ended, I had lost over 80 lbs. By, the end of Grassman: Year Three, I had quit smoking to top it all off. It was no easy task, but I’m glad I finally had this to push me in a direction I hadn’t passionately dedicated myself to for over 10 years. It felt good, and I felt good.

There be action happening!

There be action happening!

The second concern was the level of action in the film. Action and stunts are always a concern on films, but when you are an insane micro-budget action horror film without the common sense to know that you shouldn’t be doing what you are doing, it’s even more so. As the character of Catch, I had a significant amount my own stunts to perform. Aside from the requisite running through actual woods, I had to fight, jump, fall, take hits, and roll around, all while carrying a real, non-prop 14″ Smith & Wesson Search & Rescue Bowie Knife. Like I said,   no common sense.


Step 1 for breaking back: fall off of this. (Photo credit: vaxciliate)

My major concern was my back. I have chronic back pain due to an US Army Airborne training accident when I was 19. I have a bulging disc, an only partially healed compressed vertebrae, and a touch of arthritis. The slightest thing can set it off and leave me essentially immobile. I once collapsed in a ball of pain on a bike trail because the damn back decided that one more push of the pedal was too much to ask. Stupid thing. However, I was willing to do whatever I had to do to make my action scenes as effective as I could. To top things off, day one of shooting, I contused my heal to the point where I needed to wrap it up tightly at the beginning of every day of shooting and wear running shoes when my feet weren’t in the shot. It didn’t get back to normal until around December of Grassman: Year One.

It's a wrap!

It’s a wrap!

The final reservation was over acting itself. I am not an actor, nor have I ever claimed to be. But, I’ve always felt that I could pull it off in the right part, and have wanted to take on that challenge since I was a kid. I’ve had small parts in Monkey Prod shorts in the past (aside from BADNESS where I played Vlad the Rocking Impaler from Hell, an over-the-top rock stereotype based loosely on myself).

Me, acting. From HELL!

Me, acting. From HELL!

However, I usually either wound up on the digital cutting room floor (aka, the Recycle Bin), didn’t have my face shown at all, or the project never saw the light of day. Not a terribly auspicious bunch of credits for an acting reel.

Needless to say, there was a level of anxiety on my part, some self-doubt over my ability to carry my own weight in the thespian department. Granted, we have a cast of primarily inexperience actors, but my role was a significant one, the third lead. I couldn’t let my performance be the one that stood out at amateur or, even worse, laughable.

Trying to learn my lines while getting AAA on the phone.

Trying to learn my lines while getting AAA on the phone.

To make my anxiety worse, I was so consumed with re-writes and my producer duties, I was often unable to prepare for scenes until right before we shot them. I tried squeezing in learning lines when I could, but I really was pushing it most days. Having seen much of my work in our rough cuts, I am relieved to say that my acting doesn’t make me want to go punch myself in the face. That’s a plus.

Taking on this project was a monumental undertaking, and most of the folks involved found themselves performing multiple duties for many hours. I was the only dumbass who had a choice to not take on one of my jobs, but I did it anyways. I guess the lesson here is that no matter what your part might be in making your film a reality, you’re going to have your doubts. Don’t let them stop you, but use them to motivate you. It also helps to check your sanity at the door. But, get your ass to do whatever you have to do to make shit happen and guess what? Shit will happen. It’s like magic. So endeth the lesson.

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