Tag Archives: Robert Rodriguez

Getting Rich – Part 1: Listen to Rodriguez, damn it

There is a common maxim in the world of low-budget, independent film that says to write for locations that you have. In fact, Robert Rodriguez, one our idols and role models in the making of this movie, and wearer of superior head gear, perfected this method, which Stu Maschwitz called “The Rodriguez List.” You make a list of all the stuff you have at your disposal, and then you write your script around those items and locations.

Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez, whose hats are cooler than my entire wardrobe.

This makes sense on a number of levels. First of all, the financial benefit of this approach is obvious. Things that you have equal things that you don’t have to acquire or make yourself. In Grassman, all of our characters arrive at the forest in vehicles that the actors actually drove to set. No rentals, or special needs; just some consideration for who will be on set with what vehicles for an scenes shot around that location.

Second, it is a great way to figure out early on what you have that will make your film uniquely yours. Taking stock of your inventory of stuff and locals lends itself to a level of personalizing of your script in a way to can add to its authenticity. Writing a scene that takes place in a science lab that you don’t have access to, versus a gravel pit that you do because of your connected uncle “knows a guy” may not have the same feel or tone, but if you make it work, it will have production value like a mofo.

Cover of "Rebel without a Crew: How a 23 ...

Cover via Amazon

Of course, despite our following the Gospel of Rodriguez (Rebel Without a Crew), this was not something I did when writing the script for Grassman. Like the inexperienced, delusional dork that I am, I wrote a film that takes place 90% of the time in the woods. Woods are easy to find, I thought. Hell, if we have to we’ll just do this guerrilla-style, sneaking into local parks and making a Bigfoot movie when no one is looking. Yeah, I know. I was an idiot.

But, that’s what I did. And when I was finished, I had a forest, but also needed a gas station, a cave, a shed, a cliff and a gorge, a large creek. Somehow, this thing seemed a bit bigger than showing up at one of Hamilton County’s fine parks and hoping we weren’t going to get caught. It was a huge feature film, which a lot of action, blood, screaming, fighting, falling, and fire. These thing do not lend themselves to a stealthy guerrilla production.

Robert Rodriguez, Jaime King, & Nick Stahl at ...

Rodriguez with people who actually listen to him.

It became abundantly clear that 1) I had not followed Rodriguez’s sage advice, 2) we needed to run this gig like professionals, not idiots running through public parks until we were banned for life, and 3) we needed an alternative to that. Somewhere where we could be both professionals and idiots, which would lend itself to the film seamlessly and not cost us a thing.  Essentially, we were screwed.

Until, in one magical moment at my real job, when I had a thought that would change everything. A beautiful, serendipitous, life just falling into place moment that made the movie possible. I had my Rodriguez List after I wrote the script in the form of a gentleman that I had known for 5 years. All I had to do was ask and pray that he said yes.

Next week, I will conclude the tale of Rich, the man behind the non-acting character of The Legend of Grassman: the best location a growing filmmaker could hope for.

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The Things We Have to Do to Finish a Scene Around Here – Part III – Conclusion Part 2 – The Actual Conclusion

In last week’s first part of this third part of a series (it’s gotten totally out of hand, I know – we’ll pull it together) our story left off when I had just broken one of the Rules of Rodriguez by offering to pay Rachel Scott to play a small but important part in the opening scene of our film.  “Never spend any money on anything ever” is a pretty important guideline for any filmmaker doing a no-budget feature, but in many ways, it’s like a finger pointing away to the moon.  Don’t concentrate on the finger or you get smacked in the head by Bruce Lee.

Before resorting to this disreputable business of paying people, we had tried getting someone to play the part for free.  Our attempts were met with a constant stream of people flaking on us and never getting back to us.  There were a couple girls I talked to who were really excited about doing it, and when it came time to schedule a time, I’d never hear from them again.  Then they’d be interested again.  Then I’d never hear from them again.

I can never get too mad when people flake out like that, because it’s not a paying gig (it’s like a finger) and I think if you tested my DNA, you’d see that my genetic makeup is at least 80% flake.  But man, are flakes a pain in the butt to work with.  Or do things with.   While I am always disappointed in flakery, I always have to say “There goes one of my people.”

The super talented Rachel Scott on set, evidently posing for some film that is cooler than ours. This seems to be a common practice among our actors.

The super talented Rachel Scott on set, evidently posing for some film that is cooler than ours. This seems to be a common practice among our actors.

We did manage to get us a  professional stage actor for this scene to play the “Tom the Perverted Meth Addicted Gun Bastard.”  Jack Elam Guy (not his real name) knew Dennis from back in the day and kind of looked like Jack Elam.  He had recently lost his job and was looking for something to do.  Of course, we had told him we couldn’t pay him – in case he thought we were real filmmakers or something.  (A common occurrence.   It happens a lot.)

The setup made for a potentially an awkward situation, if he found out we were paying Rachel and not him.  I stand by the decision, because Rachel was brought on board to single-handedly get the scene back on track, making her sort of like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction.  Jack Elam Guy’s involvement, while important and greatly appreciated, wasn’t as critical.   (See, it is like a finger pointing over at the moon and stuff like that.)  

60 for who and 40 for who?

“60 for who and 40 for who?”

We weren’t able to get everyone on set at the same time, so we split the shoot up into two nights with some of the actors one night and the rest the next.  This actually made the shoots much easier, because the amount of actors I had to concentrate on was cut in half.  (This movie contains the largest cast I have ever worked with.  Sometimes there are up to 5 people in a scene.  Ahhhhh!!!  What the hell do I do with all of them?)

Half our cast doing half the scene.  Microphone still has duct tape on it.

Half our cast doing half the scene. Microphone still has duct tape on it.

The first night, we shot again with Dennis’ son, Dennis, and his wife Erin, who stepped seamlessly into their roles after two years and a baby.  Erin’s chronic giggling was in remission now, but I had changed Dennis’ son’s character, originally named “Dennis” by Dennis, to “Pahoo” (after a character in The Creature from Black Lake).  This unfortunately caused laughter problems – not just with Erin, but with all the actors and people in the room who were humans.  You see,  everyone was under the mistaken impression that it was a stupid name.  Very strange.

My cousin Adam Stigler had taken one of the roles and was able to make it both nights, so he was the only character who could be in the same shot with all of the characters.  Adam had joined our production as a member of the crew.  Among the jobs he performed for us were operating the boom pole and trying to get a mouse out of one of our tents.  I asked him to take this part, in part, because he seemed like he’d be a natural at the acting thing and also because the ladies demanded it.

Adam answers the demands of the ladies, while Kirk continues to ponder how Tyler could possibly suck that much.  That'll make sense in a minute.

Adam answers the demands of the ladies, while Kirk continues to ponder how Tyler could possibly suck that much at acting.  That’ll make sense in a minute.

Everyone did a great job.  Having been re-christened Pahoo, Dennis was allowed to say lines this time and even get off the bed.  And we ended the shoot that night by finally putting his head through that window just like we promised him we would.  (?)  It was sort of  a fun reward for all our hard work at the end of the night.  Like when you get to wear jeans at Catholic school cause you sold a lot of raffle tickets.

The next night, we were back at it again with Adam and our two new actors.   Rachel, thankfully, showed up before Jack Elam Guy.  If I remember correctly, what I did first was immediately get her payment and contract signing out of the way so Jack wouldn’t be privy to it.  Then I said “hi” or “nice to meet you” or something and then we ran off to start shooting so that when Jack Elam Guy showed up, he wouldn’t ever suspect that we had just paid her.

60 for who and 40 for who?!!!

60 for who and 40 for who?!!!

We started with an emotional freakout scene where Rachel’s character reacts to death and destruction and all sorts of mayhem.  I called action and without hesitation, she brought it – Full Freakout Mode.  She was great!  I knew instantly that hiring Rachel had paid off.  Robert Rodriguez would have approved. 

With Rachel's incredible aptitude for Bringing It, I was able to take a much needed break from directing and finally look at my thumb as I had been long hoping to do.

With Rachel’s incredible aptitude for Bringing It, I was able to take a much needed break from directing and finally get a good look at my thumb.

I couldn’t wait to get started with Jack Elam Guy and see what wonderful acting surprises awaited me with him.  I loved his look and someone with that much training and experience can take the scene you have written on the page and elevate it to…  Wait a second…  Where the hell was he?

He totally flaked on us.

Tyler realizes he's been flaked on.

Tyler realizes he’s been flaked on.  Dennis laughs at his distress.

Well…  There goes one of my people…  At least the money wouldn’t be an issue.

What you mean is 60 for you and 40 for me!

“What you mean is 60 for you and 40 for me!”

We had no spare actors laying around, so my first plan was to quickly rewrite the scene combining Adam’s character, Adam, with Jack Elam Guy’s character, Tom.  I thought about that for 5 seconds before realizing it sucked.  Still didn’t have a second plan, so I kept working on the sucky plan.  Boy, do I hate flakes.

I remember standing around with Dennis, Stephan, and Steve and someone was all like, “Hey, buddy, you could play the part yourself.”

Sweet blazing tiger hearts!  I could play the part myself!  Our film has a number of quirky, offbeat characters and I had been missing out on all the fun.  But I already had a cameo!  I play “70’s Bigfoot Hunter.”  A dream come true, for certain.  But no lines.  No quirkiness.



“You look totally different now,” Stephan offered.

OF COURSE!  I knew there had been a reason I gained 30 pounds and grew out my hair and beard in the years since we started this film!  ACTING!!!

The only problem I could see with this is that I can’t really act.  I had played an angry tree faerie in Steve Grothaus’ short film The Wood Sprite that had aired on Chiller as part of Synthetic Cinema’s Monster Mash-up Competition in 2010.  So, at this point, I was pretty much an internationally known horror star.  But that was just me basically playing myself, you know?

But there was a dark secret in my past.  In my first very dramatic film, I got to perform my first very dramatic scene, opposite my  cousin Joe Maurits.  I, in the role of “Kevin the Perverted Theater Manager,” was very dismayed that one of my employees just “accidentally” died.  After waiting for the police inspector (played by Dennis Meyer with a tie and cardboard badge) to leave, I confronted Joe about my suspicions.

I had been so focused on how to direct good, I didn’t give any thought to my character, how not to overact or, you know, learning my lines.  Then around about 3am, after torturing the crew with my “acting,” I turned to Kirk Westendorf, who was running camera that night.  We had been friends since college and prided ourselves on our blunt honesty when it came to our work, so I ask him,”What do you think?”  I was sure it was pretty damn good, but I’m the type that always likes to take it up a notch.  Work ethic, you know.

“You’re so incredible, I can’t believe you don’t do this professionally!” is what I was hoping he might say.  I can’t remember his exact phrasing, but, in summary, I sucked and it reminded him of an Ed Wood movie.  Except for the obvious absence of Kelton the Cop, Kirk was right.

And those were the best takes culled from 45 minutes of footage.  

I guess the lesson I learned from that experience, besides never to straight up tell an actor he sucks, was that directing and acting both require a lot of focus and I shouldn’t attempt combine the two things until I got better at one or the other.  I couldn’t jeopardize this scene just so I could take a crack at a whacky bit part.  I turned to Steve Grothaus.

“I cannot play Tom the Perverted Meth Addicted Gun Bastard,”  I told him, in sincere disappointment.  “BUT YOU CAN!!!”

Then I made this face.

Then I made this face.

Of course, if you’ve read Part I, II and Part 1 of Part III of this series, you know that Steve hates being on camera and once had a terrible experience on a film set experiencing a situation just like this.



So, how could I possibly convince him to-

“Yeah,” Steve replied, “I figured I’d have to do that so, I stayed up last night and researched how meth addicts act.”

-do this when I knew this wasn’t his cup of…  Wait…  What?

He suited up in my coat, which we determined made him look more like a meth addict… (?) and we went to work. 

Frame grab from a rough cut of Steve, Rachel, and Adam pretending to be in the same room at the same time as Dennis, Erin, and Adam while simultaneously trying not to laugh at the name "Pahoo."

Frame grab from a rough cut.  Steve, Rachel, and Adam pretend to be in the same room at the same time as Dennis, Erin, and Adam while simultaneously trying not to laugh at the name “Pahoo.”

At first, it was a bit difficult to find the characters’ voice.   We were trying to get the right delivery of a particular line of dialogue.  Steve had done it a couple times and it just wasn’t clicking with me.  I don’t remember what the line was, only that it was decidedly non-sexual.

I suggested “Say it like it’s something dirty.”

And that did it.   Tom the Perverted Meth Addicted Gun Bastard had entered the building.  I once again became enamored with the character, who had taken the form of Steve, and we worked together to gleefully come up with awful ways for him to act.  The scene came off great.

Winter came, and with it came a diagnosis 0f moderate to severe sleep apnea that sidelined me for half the year.  In June, I finally had it under control and was feeling normal again, so I started editing like a fiend in an attempt to make our end-of-December goal for the film.

How I spent my summer.

How I spent my summer.

Then a hard drive crash wiped out a bunch of work.  I figured that it was only 2 weeks, and while that still sucked, I’ve had worse.  Then I realized in my apneatic haze, I had neglected to back up the footage from the previous November.  Rachel bringing it.  Dennis’ head through the window.  Steve’s transformation to my favorite awful character.   It was all mostly gone.  The creepy old house we had shot in was gone, too, having been torn down the previous spring.  A reshoot was not practical.

If you’ve never lost a project due to a hard drive crash, don’t do it.  It sucks.  It totally killed whatever momentum I had built up since June.  But I was very lucky –  I was able to rebuild it all with rendered files, exported clips, and original audio recordings I found scattered among my hard drives.  After a while, I was able to rebuild my spirit, too.

But now it was winter again.  So, one week in January, when the temperature got up into the 60’s, we assembled a movie strike force and prepared an emergency scene shooting blitz.

Most of Steve’s shots would be shot with a barn behind him, so the lack of leaves wouldn’t be a problem.  We would shoot a couple shots of him that could be combined with the shots of Jessica from July 2011.  If we needed leaves on the trees, we could get them from the many stills we had taken previously during the production.

To entice him to do the role, I let him wear my sweet adventure hat. You can pick up one of these babies at most of the Walt Disney World Theme Parks (Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom definitely have it.  It is far too cool for Epcot.)  It's pretty much THE hat for vacationing adventurers.

Tom the Perverted Meth Addicted Gun Bastard in the flesh.

And so there was Steve Grothaus, with my adventure hat on and a shotgun in hand, saying everyday normal lines as if they were dirty.  Rich Shevchik, whose barn it is we were shooting at, offered up his best ideas for creating phallic symbolism with the shot gun and we thought of great ways for Steve’s character to lasciviously leer at Jessica & awkwardly fumble about.

If I were an actor, this is the character I would want to play.  Oh, my brother.  How lucky you are!  What I would give to have one night in your bootsies!



– Tyler

The Things We Have to Do Around Here to Finish a Scene – Part III – Conclusion Part 1

There we were a couple weekends ago in January, finishing up a scene we had started shooting a year and a half earlier with the very awesome Jessica Cameron.  Due to some weather weirdness, the temperature had warmed up to the 60’s, though the overcast nasty winter deadness was still a stark contrast to the vibrantly sunny and oppressively hot July day we had shot Jessica’s scenes on.

January 12, 2013:  Tyler begs for his life as Stephan considers the ramifications of returning to the compund having not met his quota.

January 12, 2013: Tyler begs for his life as Stephan considers the ramifications of returning to the compound having not met his quota.

The shots we were doing this day were of a character named Tom and his half of a conversation with Jessica’s character.  Tom had been written as a good-natured perverted hunter and gradually, by the time of this shoot, developed into a vile despicable meth addicted perverted gun-bastard, in part, because the professionally trained actor we cast in the role reminded me of Jack Elam, and the more awful Jack Elam gets, the more fun he is.  

But there was no one on set who looked like Jack Elam on that that abnormally warm day in early 2013.  Instead, the character was being performed by Steve Grothaus, our lighting director, (whose previous on-camera work included a bad experience on a film he refers to only as “that accursed thing.”)   Steve didn’t look anything like Jack Elam.  William Fichtner, perhaps. (Whom many of you, no doubt, recognize as “that one guy” from that thing.)  I’ll even accept Steve Carell.  But not Jack Elam.

The 3 Faces of Tom the Meth Addicted Perverted Gun-toting Bastard.  From left to right, William Fichtner, Steve Grothaus,  and Jack Elam.

The 3 Faces of Tom the Meth Addicted Perverted Gun-Bastard. From left to right, William Fichtner, Steve Grothaus, and Jack Elam.  The condom hat on Steve Grothaus has been digitally added for effect.  Wait…  that can’t be right…

To understand the how Steve found himself in this predicament, we need to go back to November 2011 as we were planning to finish the opening teaser scene we had begun shooting with only half the actors in 2009.  Jack Elam Guy had now joined the cast as Tom, and my cousin, Adam Stigler, took the other male role, a character who had been quite ingeniously been given the name “Adam.”

But we still needed a young attractive female who could scream her head off.  Dennis insisted on this because all the other horror movies have young attractive females screaming their heads off and he didn’t want our film to get picked on by the other films.  This was quite a difficult challenge for us, because despite a few exceptions, no girls would hang out with us.

The screaming was critical, because the scene needed to be intense, and as I had learned during the making of my emotionally sterile short film, The Projection Booth, it’s not the ghosts and monsters that makes horror movies scary as much as the reactions of the actors.  William Hurt dressed as a Skeksis isn’t scary.  But M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village creeped me out because Bryce Dallas Howard’s emotion-tricks fooled me into thinking that something scary was happening.

Yeah something scary was happening!  That a major studio would greenlight this turd!  Shut up.  I liked it.

Yeah something scary was happening! A major studio actually greenlit this turd!  Shut up, assface.  I liked it.

In the footage of our opening scene we already had shot, Erin Myers (who plays the other female character in the scene) and I initially went for intense but settled on a much more subdued performance because we felt that this particular character would react to this situation with more of an almost stoic shock and also that it was really the only way to get her to make scared faces where she wouldn’t immediately start laughing uncontrollably.

The lack of emotional displays in this film wasn’t a problem unique to Erin.  Our cast and crew is mostly family and friends.   Everyone I’m related to has the same inability to express any sort of normal-people feelings and, naturally, anyone we choose to hang out with isn’t gonna be one of those sensitive people with emotions.  Ew.  They cry all the time, and I never know whether I’m supposed to hug them or pat them on the head or something.

For instance, on the day we were shooting his death scene (oh yeah, spoiler or something) actor/scientist Matt Funke came to me to express his concern over the scene, saying “I don’t really emote.”

“No shit,” is what I thought in my head, but I think it came out something like, “I know.”

Matt Funke in a moment of intense James Dean brooding on set while gleeful family members Stephan and Max frolic nearby.  I suspect behind that tough, roguish exterior, is the heart and soul of a poet and a deep desire to be  the one with the cuddle buddy.  I.  SUSPECT. WRONG.  (Note the empty space in the upper left corner symbolizing the empty void of his heart.

Matt Funke in a moment of intense on-set James Dean brooding as gleeful family members Stephan and Max frolic nearby. I suspect behind that tough exterior is a deep desire to be the one with the cuddle buddy.  I. SUSPECT. WRONG.

In the scene, the Grassman has our heroes cornered and is slowly closing in on them.  Matt suggested we shoot the scene this way:

Matt:  Don’t worry, guys.  I got this.

Matt walks off screen.   A second later, his companions are splashed from head to toe with his blood.

I hesitate to admit this, but I actually ran it by Dennis, who obviously shot it down.  Not that I thought we should do it, but I didn’t have the strength to resist such Solid Gold Jokes and I preferred that he do it for me.  I do love The Jokes.  Oh, how well I love The Jokes. So, for this emotionally charged opening scene, I needed to find someone who not only didn’t have Meyer blood, but never hangs out with me.

Years ago,there was this thing I guess was somewhat like of like our modern Facebook.  Naturally, we didn’t have the technology back then that we do now, so it was primitive by today’s standards, though it served it’s purpose.  It was called “MeTime” or “MyTime” or “MySpace” or something.  No one really remembers what it was called, but what’s important is that this is were I first became aware of Rachel Scott.  There was this video floating around “MyWorld” or whatever it was that was produced by M.A.R.S. Productions, a company consisting of Rachel and her mother and sister.  It was a parody of The Shining starring Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson from the reality tv series Ghost Hunters.


I LOVED them Ghost Hunters!  The first two seasons of that show are a television classic.  I Love Lucy is awesome, but it ain’t got NOTHIN on them Ghost Hunters – Roto Rooter plumbers by day that suit up at night and take to the shadows as paranormal investigators.  In that regard, it’s a lot like Batman, but Batman never had a dude named Brian that he would constantly yell at.  Or a dude named Andy that you suspected the others secretly hated.  Or twin brother demonologists!  WHAT?!!!  Oh, yes.  You heard right.

Me and Grant Wilson & Jason Hawes - Ghost Hunters.  If you look closely, you can see me kind of at an angle, I guess, sort of in the opposite direction that the camera is pointed in.

Me and Grant Wilson & Jason Hawes – Ghost Hunters. If you look closely, you can see me kind of at an angle, I guess, sort of in the opposite direction that the camera is pointed in.

So, here were these teenage girls who did a short with my favorite tv characters (who just happened, in this case, to be real guys).  I checked out the other videos on their “MayYou” page and I remember seeing that they had done a number of ambitious shorts, one of which had gotten into DragonCon in Atlanta around the same time as our film The Projection Booth was rejected by it.   If I remember correctly, they had also done some interviews with some of the scifi/fantasy celebrities.  I found it all very impressive.  Remember, when I was their age, my films looked like this:

Joe Maurits in The Space Invader, circa 1991.  Boy did this one suck.

Joe Maurits in The Space Traveler (1990). This is when the magical sword Excalibur flies into his hand, just before he beheads an extraterrestrial visitor.  Every time I see this, it feels as though it is my heart who is beheaded.

And even after many many years of experience, at the time I came across their “ManFace” page,  we had only recently upgraded to this:

The heart wipe was meant to be ironic.

The heart wipe was meant to be ironic.

So, 4 years later, when I was looking for an actress, I thought back to the girl in the Shining parody, and I remembered her screaming.  A lot.  That was Rachel Scott.  If you didn’t watch the clip, go ahead and check it out.  I’ll wait.  Make sure you skip ahead to the screaming part.  I don’t want to wait too long.  I have six other blogs to write after this.

I got in touch with her online and asked if she was interested and offered to pay her for her time…  which was going to be awkward, cause we weren’t paying the other guy, the professionally trained Jack Elam look-a-like.  In fact, we never paid anyone except our “guest stars” who had recognizable names.  In this case, though, we were running out of time and desperately needed someone.  And she was perfect.

This act directly and brazenly violates Robert Rodriguez‘s no-budget filmmaking advice to never spend  any money ever.  He clearly knows what he’s talking about.  But I took into consideration the advice of another filmmaker, me, when he said, “Spend a bunch of damn money and you’ll be less stressed out.”  Sometimes, I do that instead.

This is the single most important text for low budget filmmakers I've ever read.  Also the only one.  But hopefully that gives you an idea how important it is.

The single most important text for low budget filmmakers I’ve ever read. Also the only one. But hopefully that gives you an idea how important it is.

Plus, there’s this new phenomenon I really had just discovered for the first time that year, in 2011, where when you don’t get the actor you wanted for a role it sucks.  And, conversely, it’s really awesome when you do get them.   I never experienced this prior to then because I always just got my brothers or nephews to do it.  Except for maybe the one time when we were kids and my sister Justine decided she didn’t want to do the movie I wrote and had been planning to shoot forever because she instead decided she had to watch a Frank Sinatra  special because NKOTB’s “Joey Joe” said Frank Sinatra was “totally old school dope.”

So I knew Rachel Scott was the right person for the job and I wanted make sure I got her.  But would she do it?  And what would Jack Elam Guy say when he found out she was paid and he wasn’t?  What would the rest of the cast say if some idiot ever wrote a blog about this and they found out about it?  And why is it we never talk about Steve Grothaus in this series about Steve Grothaus?

Part 2 of the thrilling conclusion to part 1 of the the thrilling conclusion to the three part saga is coming next week!  Stay tuned!


I still hate these movie-ruining sons of bitches.

I still hate these movie-ruining sons of bitches.