Tag Archives: acting

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.

IMAG0026

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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Sneak Peek #16 Shooting with Lynn Lowry

In this behind-the-scenes video, Lynn Lowry (Shivers, The Crazies, Cat People) joins our cast!  We’ve had this up on our YouTube page for a while but never posted it here!  That makes it some kind of exclusive!

Drafting (Part 3) – Out Of Darkness Arises a Hero and a Really Awesome Draft.

In Drafting Part 2, out heroes were in a state of turmoil and the entire project in jeopardy. Tyler and I were finding ourselves unable to find common ground on the script for the film we had not only committed to doing and financing, but which we were actively in pre-production on.

At this point, things were dire. Tyler hated the 2nd draft that I had let him preview, and I hated some of the approaches he wanted to take with the script. No matter how much we talked, we could not come to agreement on what to do, and part of the problem was that neither of us (even me, the writer) felt connected to our protagonists.

Me defending draft 2 to Tyler.

Me defending draft 2 to Tyler.

To top things off, we had worries about our lead actor, our younger brother Stephan, on a number of fronts. First of all, he did not appear to be following the order by Tyler to all of us to get into better shape for this effort (see Director’s Journal #5). This was an action/horror film which many of us would be acting in, not to mention all of the walking and equipment lugging through actual woods that we would do a crew members. And as our lead, he would most likely be bear the brunt of that physicality. Days and hours of running in the woods would be no easy task, and was the kind of thing that can’t be added in Post. Secondly, he was tasked with working on one of our many horrory props, involving a coyote, and had not made the progress we had been expecting with it (see Director’s Journal #4). Needless to say, we were both understandably frustrated and concerned with the level of motivation that was being presented, and we weren’t certain how to deal with it. Hints and suggestions didn’t seem to be sticking.

At some point, Tyler made a suggestion that changed everything: what if we changed one of leads, made him a kid? That sounded nuts for a non-comedic horror film, but I was intrigued. We began to toss that idea back and forth, each of us adding to it, expanding it and what it could mean. The more we talked, the more this idea made sense. It eliminated the TV show crew angle and took the steam out of the documentary, script-less style idea. It also grounded the story in this sympathetic kid, who became the emotional core of the all the protagonist, a different, new, and familiar voice in this “special world” of Bigfoot hunting. Entire character’s stories and motivations changed, and had more clarity.

We gots feelings now, bitches!

We gots feelings now, bitches! Damion Meyer as Danny, with some jackass.

It was the strangest thing, but this single idea completely changed and saved the entire film.

I mentioned in Drafting Part 1 that we “fired” our lead actor. That’s not entirely accurate. More specifically, we demoted Stephan from lead to supporting character, as his character changed to accommodate the new, angsty teen character of Danny. His character became a merging of two characters, which some background changes, the dropping of some of the dumber elements (like to TV show angle). Admittedly, the initial rewrite of his character had it chopped down quite a bit, after some discussion with Tyler and particularly after our initial read-through with the cast, his character became our director’s favorite and soon found me expanding it a much more robust, second lead. Stephan’s renewed dedication and focus on the acting was a big help, as he was willing to do whatever it took to play this new version of his character and make it his.

11 Star Trek 2009

11 Star Trek 2009 (Photo credit: dkalo)

The other thing that I have to mention that I feel had a significant impact on the third and fourth drafts of the film, specifically with the tone: I saw JJ AbramsStar Trek. I won’t go into my love of Star Trek as a whole, but I will say that this film reminded me of what drew me to making films to begin with. It was everything I want in a summer movie blockbuster: action, humor, drama, excitement, and over-the-top spectacle, reminiscent of the days of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films I looked forward to seeing dozens of times each over my summer vacations as a kid. I saw Star Trek about 8 times, and wrote the 3rd draft to the Michael Giacchino score. This was the type of Bigfoot movie we were making: an exciting, suspenseful, scary, and fun journey into the unknown with characters that we care about. This is what the Tyler’s grim, Bigfoot-less script, and my first and second drafts were missing.

When gave the third draft over to Tyler, I was no longer worried about anything. This draft was IT, the film we wanted to make. Tyler loved it. I loved it. It was everything we wanted in a Bigfoot movie. And everyone else agreed. The read-through with the entire cast was magical. Everything began to move full-speed ahead, and would not be stopped. Slowed at times, perhaps, but not stopped.

The most awesome film set two indie filmmakers could dream of.

The most awesome film set two indie filmmakers could dream of. Now, imagine there is a rope bridge in this picture…

The fourth draft consisted mostly of re-writes to gear things more specifically towards the actors we had cast and to add in some new, exciting set pieces we had encountered on our primary shooting location in Lebanon, OH that were too good to pass up on. After all, how often does one find themselves with access to an actual rope bridge?

So, that is the exciting tale of how we started on a Bigfoot movie, only to almost be uninspired and stopped in our tracks by that very same idea. The importance of getting to the right place with story and character can’t be overlooked. Well, it can, but the resulting film will be less than.

In my next post, I will talk about the other character that I, as the writer, needed to get into the head of and connect with: our antagonist, Grassman (aka, the Ohio Bigfoot).

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