Tag Archives: Arts

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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Director’s Journal #11 – Still Getting There…

We’ve been hard at work the last couple months and there have been some exciting things taking place.   Here’s a quick(ish) summary:

Annual Bigfoot Conference

Last year, Don Keating, of the Eastern Ohio Bigfoot Investigation Center, was kind enough to let us shoot a scene at his Annual Bigfoot Conference held at Salt Fork State Park in Ohio.  As a result, our conference scene will feature several real-life Bigfoot researchers with our fictional ones.  We’ve just started doing the necessary legal paperwork, and so far we’ve for Dr. Jeff Meldrum officially on board, and several others who have verbally agreed.   Very cool.  We’re very thankful to everyone involved.  This scene will go a long way to helping make this film the authentically Bigfooty experience we’re hoping to present.

Me and Bob Gimlin

P.S.  Them Bigfooters were EXTREMELY nice.  Everyone was very helpful and accomodating to me.  People get the idea that a Bigfoot Conference is a freak show – I, myself, didn’t know  what to expect when I went – but it was really nothing of the sort.  Lots of families in attendance and a lot of friendly normal people.  The Conference itself was very impressive.  If you love you some Bigfoot, it’s really a lot of fun.  Go there.  Also, I ate a Bigfoot cookie.

Cleveland Shoot with Lynn Lowry

Where the hell are we going?

Most of March was spent planning for what turned out to be our most expensive shoot on the film.  We have a short scene where Stephan’s character goes off by himself and meets a stranger living in an old, creepy house.  We had been talking about getting a name actor for a small role in our film… for years really, before we even started working on Grassman.  With our original budget, this wasn’t really a possibility, but I’ve been making some extra money by working on sports shoots on the side, and I felt with this scene – and with the slight break in our schedule caused by the cold weather – that it was a perfect opportunity to learn this particular skill.  I’ve begun thinking of The Legend of Grassman as my film school and so I like to set up lessons for myself – to teach myself specific skills.  Since 1999 when I took Dov S S Simens’ 2 Day Film School, I had become aware that I had the power to not only produce my own film right now (this was a novel idea for me at the time) but also to get a name actor in that movie.  It’s not a superpower.  Anyone can do it.  All you need is a project, money, and the ability to stop being a chicken shit.  Finally I found myself in a position where I had all three.

So we picked an actress and I went after her.  Used that IMDb Pro to get her manager’s contact info.  Emailed him with an offer and immediately received a response to give him a call that night.  I was terrified, but I wrote down notes about what kind of film we were doing and about the role and called him up and tried to subdue my chickenshitness.  When I hung up, it occurred to me that there’s no reason to be nervous.  I’m hiring someone to do a job.  Like calling a plumber.  I offer them money and they either say yes or no.  So I hung up, feeling like a badass.  A total badass.

The phone call did not get me an actress.  It did, however, give me a direction to head in.  I had never heard of Lynn Lowry or seen any of her films at this point, but once I took a look at her demo reel, I knew I wanted her.  Eventually, I was able to get in touch with her, make an offer, negotiate (holy shit, I’m negotiating with an actress) and we made a deal.

Lynn Lowry bringin' it...

In my dumbass mind, I thought I could do this for cheaper if I went to her rather than flying her to Cincinnati.  She was scheduled to be in Cleveland (about 5 hours away) soon for the Cinema Wasteland horror convention, so we planned to shoot then.  I paid to change her flight (which was more expensive than I imagined) and put her up in her hotel room for a couple extra days.

Then came the process of finding a location in a city I had only visited a handful of times.  I was looking for an old Victorian house.  I had this idea that the scene should be like a quick trip to Psycho or Dracula, in the midst of a film that was took most of its inspiration from 1970’s Bigfoot movies and 1930’s adventure films.  Chuck Gove, from Haunted Cleveland Ghost Tours, was kind enough to direct me to the Robert Russell Rhoades House, a 19th century home currently occupied by the Cuyahoga County Archives.

The people I spoke with from the County were very accommodating, helpful, and eager to work with us.  Unfortunately, due to the historic nature of our location, there were extra expenses involved, including liability insurance for the duration of the shoot.  (We don’t do no insurance.)  To that, add the cost of gas for two trips up and back (location scout, and shoot), rental car (my wife and mother-in-law insisted my car wouldn’t make it (thankfully)) food and hotel rooms for the crew (thank goodness for Priceline) and it became an extremely expensive shoot compared to what we are accustomed to.

So, a terrible idea for a no-budget movie.  Don’t shoot five hours away to try to piggyback on your actress’ convention schedule.  This is probably a no-brainer, but being an idiot, it’s tough for me to tell.

As a film school class, it was AWESOME.  Money well-spent.  College can go suck it.  Our location was incredible.  Lynn was absolutely amazing to work with.  She’s very easy going and incredibly talented.   Watching Lynn perform our script, I felt like a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert – she was amazing.  I’ve never had raw footage that was so fun to watch.

Other Stuffs

Shooting in Real Restaurant = Production Value

We recently had a great shoot at the Little River Cafe in Oregonia, Ohio.  It’s for one of those exposition scenes that set up the movie at the beginning.  Justine Moore joined our cast as a waitress.  And thanks to Mark Burris, who owns the restaurant and was gracious enough to allow us to shoot there, we also had – for the first time ever – EXTRAS!  It was weird.  We never have extras.  I didn’t know what to do with them.

In addition to Lynn and the Bigfoot researchers, we’re working on getting a couple more guest stars, which we will tell you about when the contracts are signed.

Stephan Meyer, who plays one of our main characters, just finished up the last of his scenes this past Saturday, so we have kicked him off the set.  This leaves two more main characters, who’ll be finished up soon, and a couple short scenes involving different actors.  Production is almost DONE.  Seriously.

Seriously.