Tag Archives: Grassman

The Importance of Being Sidetracked

There are moments where it feels like I’ll never finish the film. I spend an entire weekend toiling away and on Sunday night, when I take stock of what I’ve accomplished, I see that I kind of got one effect shot looking sort of good. Or I feel overwhelmed by the any of the few short scenes I have left to shoot -It’s too complicated, or I don’t know how to shoot it, or I don’t have the resources to make it work and I’ve spent all my money on legal fees and a cool hat for my second cameo.

Look at this and tell me our film won't be any good. I DARE you.

Look at this and tell me our film won’t be any good. I DARE you.

Like a lot of creative people who never finish anything, I have a tendency to want to take on more than what I can accomplish, and for the past couple years I’ve been very strict about not taking on any new projects until I’m finished with Grassman – unless, of course, they pay, because I need a cool hat for my second cameo. Saying “no” has been more difficult than I anticipated, cause I like doing things. That’s why I do things in the first place.

"Working on it" included taking selfies in a dilapidated restroom.

“Working on it” included restroom selfies.

I have learned, however, right before I committed myself to not doing things, that switching projects can be a great way to recharge and replenish motivation and resolve. In 2012, I took on a particularly ambitious Halloween special for my day job – which was not supposed to conflict with my filmmaking activities any more than the act of having a day job does. However, it was too ambitious for the 3 weeks we had to produce it, and to get it done, I had to work on it during every available bit of free time I had.

When you work that quickly, you don’t have time to get too attached to the project, and you frequently have to choose to cut or rethink elements of the production that prove to be too time consuming or troublesome. The process bears no resemblance to the slow, quiet, sometimes painstaking work you’re used to while working on your epic masterpiece love letter to Bigfoot cinema.

But as you go, you can’t help but remember that’s sort of how working on your Bigfoot masterpiece used to be. I mean, that was the whole point of doing a movie about Bigfoot running around the woods killing people rather than your planned sci-fi adaptation of Pete’s Dragon, which would clearly be the real masterpiece, if it ever existed. We chose our subject matter so we could work quickly, learn the process, and not worry that Downton Abbey fans would be disappointed in the quality.

Petes Dragon

It would be awesome. He kills Jabba and then rules Tatooine with Chewbacca and Jimmy Pigman.

Most of the Bigfoot films our love letter is being written to were made under similar circumstances, and exist as shining examples of perfect imperfect art. These films weren’t made to be “perfect.” Most of them aren’t even “good.”

However, when you finish your 3 week marathon filmmaking session, you have no choice but to release the wretched, imperfect thing into the world. Cause there’s a deadline. And when you’re watching the premiere on cable on Halloween night, you are filled with a glowing feeling of being totally pissed. That music is totally mixed too loud, and what the hell was that shot doing there in the wrong scene, and that sound effect is in the wrong place! RUINED!!!!  I AM RUINED!!!!

After you recover from your crippling failure, you go back and fix some of the mistakes for the sake of posterity. And then you realize, this thing isn’t really half bad. It’s no Sci Fi Pete’s Dragon, but it’s pretty good work for a three week rush job. And some people actually have told you they liked it. (Plenty of others told you they didn’t, but that’s hardly the point.)

Ghost Girl

(I’m pretty sure this invalidates their arguments.)

It’s tempting to think of the three weeks of being unable to work on your Bigfoot masterpiece as a waste of time and a failure, but the fact is, the experience shook you up. You are suddenly used to working as fast as possible, and getting rid of scenes or elements that are too difficult and time consuming and aren’t 100% necessary to get the story across.

Two years ago, I received valuable lessons and inspiration from the simple act of being sidetracked. And then eventually, of course, I forgot all of it and promptly got back to the time consuming task of Photoshopping realistic Bigfoot nipples into wide shots, frame by frame.  People won’t ever see it, or care if they did, but boy, does it make the whole thing feel authentic.

Wrong House

A Dark Night at the Wrong House, our most recent sidetrack short film project. Playing at film festivals worldwide. Well…. mostly just two so far…



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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