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The Things We Have to Go Through to Finish a Scene Around Here (Part I)

Steve Grothaus in character during some pickup shots for The Legend of Grassman, while Stephan Meyer stands to his left and looks on.

Actor Stephan Meyer runs audio while lighting director Steve Grothaus gets into character for a scene in The Legend of Grassman.

This weekend, like the parting of the Red Sea,  the weather here in Cincinnati quit it with that whole winter business and pretended it was Spring long enough for us to finish getting some pickup shots of Steve Grothaus as meth addicted barn owner, Tom.  Steve is our lighting guy and had no intention of being in the film, yet somehow he ended up sitting in a pile of logs, with a camera and shotgun mic pointed at him and me directing him to be the best meth-addicted barn owner he could in a scene that we began shooting in July of 2011

Back in summer 2011, we had just done our first shoot with one of those professional name actresses, Lynn Lowry, and I kind of dug the whole experience and wanted to do it again.  On one hand, there was this pure awesomeness of working with an actress who was a master of her craft, and on the other hand, there was some kind of weird producer rush I got from setting everything up and making it happen – a feeling that can only be compared to finding out you have X-Men powers.  I felt like I learned a great deal during the that shoot and I wanted to do experience this again and see what else I could learn.

Tyler pretends to be a director, fooling both Stephan Meyer and Lynn Lowry.  It's the hand gestures and the beard.

Tyler pretends to be a director, fooling both Stephan Meyer and Lynn Lowry. It’s the hand gestures and the beard.

About that time, I had spit out a rough cut of Grassman to DVD and it occurred to me that the first third of the film was a little slow to get moving.  Now, I experienced a tremendous amount of guilt about this, because the whole time Dennis and I were outlining the script we talked a lot about creating a streamlined narrative that didn’t mess around and got straight to the point, and his final draft delivered on that.  But I tend to like construct my films in a very intuitive way and the current cut had changed quite a bit from the original script.

We had added a new opening sequence with totally new characters, and some additional non-killing stuff in the first act, so it seemed that the insertion of a new scene with some new characters could help balance things out and also help tie the opening scene more into the larger story.  Dennis wrote up a scene about the mother of one of the characters from the opening and we set out to cast it with another actress that horror fans would know in an attempt to raise our visibility – a slightly whorish plan, but other than Lynn, our film at this point only featured my family members and 3 friends as actors.

All family.  Every one.  And me and Dennis are the Mommy and Daddy.

All family. Every one. And me and Dennis are the Mommy and Daddy.

I had been aware of Jessica Cameron from Facebook.  At some point in the previous year or two, she was living about and hour and a half away in Columbus and decided to become an actress.  Then she connected with a bunch of us local filmmaker-types with the social media and started promoting the hell out of herself and getting a lot of  work.  I hadn’t met her yet, but watching her going out and getting what she wanted was pretty impressive – She didn’t merely take the bull by horns – she tackled the bull and beat it into submission.   When it came time to cast this part, I thought of her first.

Rachel Meyer, who does all of the actual work on our films captured this photo of Jessica Cameron on set, evidently posing for some movie that is better than ours.   I would have had her character walking around doing this if I had known it was an option.

Rachel Meyer, who does all of the actual work on our films captured this photo of Jessica Cameron on set, evidently posing for some movie that is better than ours. I would have had her character walking around doing this if I had known it was an option.

I wanted a scream queen-type, and though she had since relocated to LA, she was planning on coming back to Ohio for a couple weeks, so I wouldn’t have fly her in (turns out that costs money).  Jessica didn’t look old enough to play the character, but after a lot of thought about how hold she was when she had these kids and how old she is now and that sort of thing, we were able to rationalize our choice of actress by saying “Hell with it.  Maybe no one will notice.”  (She is supposed to be mother to two girls.  We eventually solved this problem by making her the step-mother of the older girl and the birth mother of the younger girl.  It still doesn’t really add up, but maybe no one will notice.) 

I had a half hour car ride to the location to try to get to know her a little before the shoot, and immediately liked her.  She was very enthusiastic and funny and easy to get along with, and she seemed to have an understanding and an interest in film-making that went beyond just acting.  She’s an expert on “that’s what she said” jokes and, perhaps most importantly, she liked the Photoshopped “storyboard” I sent of the scene. (I can’t draw so I do them in Photoshop.)

It's cause I can't draw.  I have to use photographs...  Not sure why I would have shown this to her.  Or anyone, really.

Not sure why I would have shown this to her. Or anyone, really.

The shoot itself was a blast.  One of her scenes was opposite the meth addicted barn owner, Tom, who hadn’t been cast yet.  (I had big plans for the role, but I’ll go into that next week when I explain how our lighting director got stuck with it.) We shot around the character and it went very well.  I had her running and tripping and falling and getting smacked in the head and all sorts of shenanigans, and she was a real trooper.  She offered to do a horror movie scream for us (which we normal humans are incapable of doing, so I kinda didn’t expect to even have one in the film).  It was glorious.  We’re supposed to do a new trailer soon  and we’ll have to use it that.

While shooting one particularly emotional scene, she asked me if I wanted her to break down and cry.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever described the emotional deadspace in my heart, but it’s something I’ve struggled with since our short The Projection Booth, which I thought didn’t work as well as it could have because it was emotionally sterile.  I tended to focus on events rather than what the characters were feeling and experiencing and it ended up as a horror film with some killing, but no actual horror in it.  Using a cast mostly made up of my family doesn’t help this situation, as being emotionally dead inside runs in the family, and hell, I’d rather not stand around directing while that kind of thing is taking place anyway.  But I know the film will be crap without the emotion stuff.

So I was all like, “You can do that?  Uh….  Yeah… Ok.  Let’s do that.”  And then she said she needed a minute to get ready.  And me and my brother Stephan, who was reading Tom’s lines, just stood there like “Whaaaat’s haaappeenning……”  It was like when E.T. makes the little clay balls that represent the planets fly up in the air and the kids realize for the first time that he’s got magical powers.  It turns out he was just using a visual aid to convey to them that he had come from another galaxy, but I bet for a moment there, because those kids had never seen magical powers before, at least one of them suspected that they were all about to die.

So she did her emotion things and I just kind of stood behind the camera thinking about the fact that our film now had some emotional content that I could take credit for as director.  And then, when she was done, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to call “cut” or something, or if that’s frowned upon in the world of emotional filmmaking.  Later, I looked it up.  Turns out you just say “cut.”

Jessica Cameron having emotions, through the use of a new filmmaking technique we stumbled upon called "acting."  Our characters usually just look at things and say words.

Jessica Cameron doing emotions.  Our characters tend to usually just look at things and say words.

So it was a great experience, and when I put the scenes into the rough cut, they looked great and accomplished the anti-boredom purpose they were intended for.  Since we had no Tom yet, the rough cut featured Jessica talking to a graphic that said “Tom” with Stephan’s voice.  From a strictly cinematic perspective, this sucked.  But how were we possibly going to fix it?

Normally, you just cast someone and finish the scene.  But that’s not really how we do it.  We’re idiots.  Stop by next week for the thrilling next chapter in this incredible filmmaking odyssey –  Right here on the one and only Grassman Movie Production Blog.


[You can see more of Jessica as one of the regular cast members on TLC’s Brides of Beverly Hills, or in one of the many films she’s done, including last year’s Silent Night with Malcolm McDowell.   Check out her IMDb page.

Here's the boring part in filmmaking where we signed contracts on someone's car.

Here’s the boring part in filmmaking where we signed contracts on someone’s car while two guys looked at their phones.

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.


Quick Update: We’re getting there…

It’s been a while since Tyler or I have written an update to this site. Needless to say, things have been very hectic these past few months.    But, I’ll do my best to sum it all up and then get into what’s next.

First of all, we finished the last of our outdoor shooting. This is a tremendous milestone, considering that 80% of the film takes place outside in the woods. We managed to get in about 5 more shooting days before the weather would no longer permit it.  But we got a lot of good footage during those five days, including the majority of the climax (what’s left will be mentioned below).

These were not easy days. People were tired and worn out. Schedules, as usual, were tough to coordinate. But, folks hung in there and gave their all. And I think it will show in the end product.

Getting the shot, anyway we can.

Since then, Tyler has been continuing to edit the film. I’ve seen much of the new stuff from this year added in and it looks damn good. I have been working on rewriting the few remaining scenes to account for location and story changes. And we both have been having meetings regarding the stuff that’s left. And in between all of that, we have been dealing with real life, which is it’s own unique type of pain in the ass. I think I speak for us both when I say that the bullshit, imaginary world of moviemaking is way more fun.

"Death and danger are my various breads and various butters."

Which leads me to what is next. We have three indoor scenes to shoot with the three core actors. We are location scouting for two of them, and one is inside a vehicle. We have one indoor scene that is half complete, but the location is not available until the weather gets nicer. And we have some effects shots to do in the studio (We call anywhere people let us shoot indoors “the studio.” We’re kinda like filmmaking hobos that way.).  One of the key effects bits involves the climax of the film and a really cool stunt that would kill people if we tried if for real. Which, of course, we considered.

Tyler, with his Nth adventure hat on, makes magic out of fur and leaves.

Add to that all the work that needs to done in post (more editing, sound, visual effects, music), and we still have a ways to go. But we are confident that the film will premiere this year. Somewhere.

Insanity: the final stage of filmmaking

What then? Who knows. But, keep checking here for updates and more insight on this ate-up process as we put the finishing touches on the greatest bigfoot movie to ever to be made for a few grand by two jackasses and a team of untrained professionals in their own backyard. Ever!