Tag Archives: production

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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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!

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.