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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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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.

Feel the heat! More shooting, more good times.

It has been a while since our last post. It has also been a while since we have shot anything. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, our real lives, the things we do that pay the bills, have been kind enough to really interfere in our filmmaking time. Two, availability. Making a micro-budget movie tends to put you at the mercy of the schedule of the people who are kind enough to volunteer their time to your endeavor. And third, it has been apocalypticly hot out. Every time we turn on the weather report, it’s another Heat Emergency. And, let’s face it – a bigfoot movie with a dizzy sasquatch that passes out in every scene is not really what we are going for.

So, we’re determined to grab the days when we can and get this film finished before the fall (or rather, before Mother Nature decides to mess with us again). In the meantime, we have been working on what we can; Tyler editing our footage into a very viewable rough cut, myself working on some scene rewrites, our make-up FX  head creating and testing new blood formulas (enjoying it a little too much sometimes, I think).  So, without further ado, or excuses, I give you Day 23 of shooting.

Day 23 – August 1, 2010

After a day of purchasing supplies, dusting off the wardrobe, arranging the availability of the actors, and confirming a shooting location,  the team was ready to begin another intensive day of shooting in the woods.

Tyler and his army of one.

We arrived on location and I was pleased to see a familiar face onset: Kirk. Kirk has been a friend of Tyler’s for many moons, and he helped us out on our short film The Projection Booth. He had been following our progress via this wonderful blogstrosity here, and had offered his services should we need. Hell yeah, we do! In fact, just a few nights before I had told Tyler that he desperately needed a right-hand man, or two, to work with him through the organized chaos that is our shooting style. Being so short-staffed, while intentional, has also been a bit of a hindrance.

So, it was cool to see Kirk again after all this time. And it eased my mind to know that Tyler had someone there whom he knew and trusted, and who knew him and his bizarreness, to provide needed support. Kirk would be our sound guy this shoot. Awesome!

You think you're above the law?

Stephan, Max, and I geared up. Today would be a actiony day. Two scenes, both with a fair share of running, ducking, jumping, falling, and slamming into trees.  The first 2/3 of the day was a lot of me doing the aforementioned physical work. It was surprisingly hot, and I was soaked, exhausted, and not feeling well by the time we finished. For some reason, only a handful of water bottles were brought down from the vehicles into the woods, so it was a while still before I got any fluids in me.

"More action hero, and less you, please."

Stephan had a stunt, which he nailed several times very well, and then he and Max had some running of their own to do. And it was done. It’s been rare, but I love when we get a whole scene finished in a day, more-or-less on schedule.

We then headed back out to the Lebanon, OH location for a couple of quick pickup shots for a scene that seemed to be missing some things.

Water... why did it have to be water?

Max was not pleased to find out that he was going to wind up in the creek for what would be the second time.  But, he stuck it out. We shot there for about an hour or so, then called it a day. Everyone did a terrific job and it felt good to get back into the groove. And Kirk jumped right into the mess without missing a beat. It was a good day.

August 2, 2010 – August 4, 2010

I have heat exhaustion, having been severely dehydrated from the 5 hrs in the heat.  I spend the next 3 days dizzy, cramping, nauseous, and swimming in Powerade.  I curse my stupidity for not ensuring we had enough fluids on set because, as a former EMT and US Army Medic, I most definitely know better. I decide that I would rather be accidentally caught on fire again than to let myself get dehydrated like this again. In a light-headed daze, I silently make a Khan-like vow to avenge myself.