Category Archives: Writer's Journal

Getting Rich – Part 3: Everything is better with a rope bridge

Previously, on Jackasses Make Movie:

Rodriguez Rodriguez. Script. Rodriguez Rodriguez Rodriguez, Rodriguez Rodriguez. Shit. Rodriguez. Shevchik. Rodriguez. Shevchik, Rodriguez Rodriguez. Rodriguez!

English: Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez at the pre...

Final gratuitous Rodriguez pic. The man can sign autographs without looking.

So, yeah. We had a script. Now we had somewhere to shoot. What we were about to realize, however, was that we had more than just a shooting location. We had a goldmine of Rodriguezness.

Shortly after asking Rich if we could shoot on his property, Tyler and I began talking about casting. Some of the cast members were already set, with parts written specifically for them (see Lights, Camera, Action! What have I gotten myself into? to see how I wrote myself into the movie). But, there were still several other roles that needed actors, specifically members of the Bigfoot expedition. We needed folks who not only could act, but who looked the parts. The first such character was that of Gavin Reynolds, the cryptid expert with years of experience and clout in the Bigfoot community.

As we were talking about what kind of guy we wanted for the part, a crazy thought popped into my jackass mind. What about Rich? He’s a outdoor dude. He’s the smartest guy I know. He’s a natural storyteller. He’s got… a look. Hell, the look. So, I sent Tyler a picture of Rich with the message “This is Gavin.” I don’t recall Tyler’s exact words, but it was something along the lines of “Shit, yeah! See if he’ll do it.”

Rich and son, blissfully unaware of what they've gotten themselves into.

Rich and son, blissfully unaware of what they’ve gotten themselves into.

After reading the script and a talk about acting abilities concerns which I countered with the experience of the cast and a memory-refreshing clip of Badness, Rich agreed. We had our first non-family actor on board and our first unexpected benefit of getting Rich’s location.

But, that wasn’t all. A few weeks later, Tyler and I went to Rich’s property to scope out the land and start picking locations for specific scenes. We arrived on a nice Spring Saturday, armed with script, cameras, and a Google Map printout of the area for reference. Rich met us and we began a 3 hour trek through the wilds of Lebanon.

Shooting on a rope bridge in the jungle wilds of Lebanon, OH.

Shooting on a rope bridge in the jungle wilds of Lebanon, OH.

It was better than we could have imagined. Not only did it have places for the majority of the script locations, and a story behind each from Rich, but there were places that I had forgotten, treasure troves of production value. Things like a rope bridge and an old, abandoned Shaker home which were too good to not include in the fourth draft of the script.  And there was Rich’s son, Michael, who is the spitting image of his father, who managed to get worked into the film, as well.

Cover of "Slacker [Region 2]"

Now, imagine it with a rope bridge… yeah.

That’s right. We were post-Rodriguezing the script! I mean, who wouldn’t jump on the chance to have a rope bridge in their low-budget, independent film? Imagine how much more exciting Richard Linklater‘s Slacker would have been with a rope bridge in it!

So, the lesson of this entire long-winded tale is this: if you have no budget, use the Rodriguez List method. Make a list of what you have and write with those things in mind. If you are a jackass like me and forget the advice of one of your filmmaking idols, then hope that you are friends with Rich. Then everything will be okay.

Regardless of your friendship level with the Rich, once you’ve gotten some locations worked out, don’t be afraid to post-Rodriguez your script, to make adjustments to accommodate unexpected production value that may fall into your lap. In this business, you’re either adaptive or you’re dead.

Well, not dead… but without a kick-ass rope bridge, that’s for sure!

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Getting Rich – Part 2: The Rodriguez works in mysterious ways

In my last post, I talked about the Rodriguez rule for low budget film of making a list of what you have, and the writing your script around those things, and about how I complete ignored that rule in my writing of a Bigfoot movie, and possibly killing the whole thing dead before we even got started. Great. Now what?

Director Robert Rodriguez at the 1993 Atlanta ...

El Mariachi era, hatless Rodriguez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me begin by saying that I don’t always necessarily subscribe to the Rodriguez rule. Most people will tell you to just write the best script you can, regardless of any external pressures. Get your story down on paper and don’t concern yourself with anything but writing a good movie. That said, when you are dealing with a no- or micro-budget film and can’t pay for much of anything, the Rodriguez list is a highly recommended exercise.

It just that sometimes focusing too much on what you can’t do can put a serious damper on creativity. And, honestly, that’s kind of how I felt when writing the first draft. So, I focused on Tyler and my original plan of single to a couple locations, and a handful (at most) of characters.  I abbreviated the opening, non-forest location scene (at a quickie mart or something), then got right to the chase. But, I also let myself take a bit more license with the details of the forest location.

Memories are made of this

Kids, do you mind? You’re in the shot.(Photo credit: Joana Roja)

So, there we were with a script that demanded more locations than we had, and a level of action and level of conspicuousness that would not lend themselves to guerrilla-style filmmaking in public parks. No, we need a place where we could revel in the complete, unexpurgated madness that is indie horror action filmmaking; people screaming, creatures roaring, branches breaking, bodies falling, rocks flying, and fires… firing! Basically, a whole lot of chaos and mayhem.

And when I think of chaos and mayhem, I think of my workplace, naturally.

Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale (right) with Michae...

Batman and Not Rich Shevchik (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By workplace I am, of course, referring to my grown up job that pays my bills (and some of the Grassman budget). When I’m not running around like a masked vigilante committing acts of creativity all over the place, I am a mild-mannered web developer. The people that I work with are at least partially aware of my artistic proclivities, but one man in particular is privy to the more, for lack of a better word, avante-garde efforts, such as Badness. Like Vicki Vale in Tim Burton’s Batman, he has been allowed into the cave and seen where the we hang the filmmaker leotards. Unlike Vicki Vale, he’s not played by Kim Basinger.

That man is Rich Shevchik. You’re thinking “Hey, I know that name from somewher-” SHUT UP! I’m getting to that. Don’t jump ahead and ruin it for everyone else.

Rich used to be my boss. Not long after I began working for him, I came to realize that I had found a kindred spirit. He’s an very kind man with a great sense of humor, and sharper mind and wit than almost anyone I know. He is politically incorrect, but is too likable to be offending. The man has a story for everything. And, he has one of the most impressive beards I’ve ever seen anyone get away with in a professional work environment. He’s a non-conformist, train engineer hat wearing, Renaissance Man like no one I’ve ever met.

He also had a large property north of Cincinnati, in Lebanon. I knew this because some years earlier, when I was his employee, I was invited to one of his yearly team parties and bonfires. I got a brief tour of the land and the full Shevchik treatment. Stories, inappropriate jokes, tractor rides, and his ever-present train engineer hat. It was a fun time, and also when I realize he was one of “us.”

Rich Shevchik: the man, the myth, the beard

Rich Shevchik: the man, the myth, the beard

Shortly after finishing that first draft, and after numerous conversations with Tyler about how and where were going to shoot this, I ran into Rich (now a former boss) in the office and that’s when it hit me. I could ask Rich if he would allow us to shoot on his land. It would only be for a few weeks (hahahaha… damn it). Plus, if I recalled correctly, there was a lot to work with feature-wise. Plus, as one of us, he’d totally get what we were doing, versus being curious and mildly excited, only to be annoyed by it as it went on. We’ve discovered in the past that even family members can have their fill of the wonders of movie magic.

I ran the idea by Tyler and, given that we had no other options and that I vouched for Rich, he agreed that I should ask. And of course, since I had a reason to talk to him, he did not reappear in my part of the office for several hours, which drove me crazy. I am not a patient person. When he did appear, though, I got his attention and ran the whole thing past him: movie, Bigfoot, land, woods, exciting, no Badness, horror, action. “So what do you think?”

Rich regaling the cast and crew with mystical tales between takes.

Rich regaling the cast and crew with mystical tales between takes.

“Absolutely,” he said without hesitation.

Suddenly, we really had a movie. There was a script AND a location. A real location! It turned out that I had accidentally followed the Rodriguez method and didn’t even know it. The Rodriguez just needed to reveal itself at it’s own time, when I was ready to see it…. Yeah.

In the final installment of Getting Rich, you’ll learn how the right location and the right people can not only help your movie, it can actually make it. Rich wasn’t just a nice co-worker with some land. He would turn out to be an angel sent from The Rodriguez himself. Metaphorically speaking.

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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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