Tag Archives: Lynn Lowry

Goodbye, Comfort Zone! Hello, Hollywood! or: How I Totally Got to Chill with George Chakiris

First off, I can’t write this blog weekly, cause I don’t do anything well on a weekly basis, and writing words so that they make sense is REALLY HARD. I think maybe I can do it every two weeks, which is what I think I had been doing at some point. Unless that was a dream or something…  But I wanted to clear something up. I feel like I did something wrong last week in my post when I just kind of casually let it slip that I had recently been in Hollywood for the screening of one of my new motion picture shorts. Like it was no big deal.

You name-dropping squinty-eye FANCYPANTS!

You braggadocio spewing, name-dropping, single-squinty-eye FANCYPANTS!

But the truth of the matter is that it was no big deal.

I mean, the fact that my film was being screened in the LA area – That was kind of a big deal. To me, anyway. I don’t want to rely too much on metaphor here, so I’ll use a simile: LA is like the “Hollywood” of the world – the filmmaking world, anyway. So it’s definitely a huge deal for a backyard filmmaker like myself.(That’s not a metaphor; we literally shot The Legend of Grassman in our friend’s back yard. Like 70% of it.) It was a great, productive trip. And the most fun I’ve ever had screening a film. But it wasn’t a huge deal. I’ll tell you why.

2011: It was a huge deal when Lynn Lowry’s manager emailed me asking me to call him just minutes after I had emailed him.  I had never emailed an actor’s manager before and half-expected to never hear back. And now I was expected to actually TALK to him for REALZ. With very little notice, I was soon on the phone with a real Hollywood dude while pretending to be a real filmmaker who knew real things about real stuff. It was terrifying.

Working with Lynn herself wasn’t so terrifying. Somewhat intimidating to think about, perhaps, because of her incredible amount of talent and experience. But in practice, all her talent and experience were there at my disposal, in the service of the film. Which just means I don’t have to work as hard as usual and then I look like a better director for it. It’s a pretty righteous deal.

I am literally doing nothing in this behind-the-scenes photo.

So after that experience, something clicked on in the producer side of my brain. In my mind, there was Tyler before Lynn Lowry and Tyler after Lynn Lowry. And latter Tyler is a much better producer than former Tyler. I wanted to use my new producer powers for good, and I had some sky miles saved up – which happen to be the two main ingredients for adventure.

Unless you're flying Delta. Get it? Cause they're computers broke. It's funny cause it's topical. It was topical, I mean. A couple weeks ago.

Unless you’re flying Delta. Get it? Cause their computers broke… It’s funny cause it’s topical. It was topical, I mean…  A couple weeks ago… I flew Delta. It wasn’t that funny…

I work at a community television cable station in Norwood, Ohio, which happens to be the birthplace of Oscar-winning actor/singer/dancer George Chakiris (West Side Story). I had always thought about doing a program about him at work, but as we just learned, Pre-Lynn Lowry Tyler had no producing skills whatsoever, and no idea how to make that happen. As it turns out, Pre-Lynn Lowry Tyler was kind of a moron because all I really had to do was go to www.georgechakiris.com and click “Contact.”

gcdotcom

And, perhaps, buy some beautiful, high-end jewelry…

I don’t remember the exact content of my email to him, but it was probably something like “Hey, maybe I could interview you or something.” And I don’t exactly remember how he responded, except that it was probably something like “Cool, bro.”

And that’s how I found myself on a plane to LA, (a.k.a. Hollywood of the world) panicked cause I suddenly realized that I HAD NO IDEA HOW TO INTERVIEW SOMEONE!!!!  WHAT AM I DOING!!!! WHO DOES THIS!!!! WHO JUST CALLS UP RANDOM OSCAR WINNERS AND FLIES TO LA TO SHOOT INTERVIEWS WITH THEM?!!!! I’M NOT A PROFESSIONAL!!!!  I WORK AT A CABLE ACCESS CENTER!!!!!

Yes. It was EXACTLY like this.

Yes. It was EXACTLY like this.

I must apologize. I don’t usually panic like that. But it was kind of a big deal for me. The only other time I remember having similar thoughts about my work is on the first day of principal photography on Grassman. Only then, it was more like “Who in their right mind shoots a movie?!!!  Why don’t I just WATCH a movie if I want to see a movie so bad?!!! WHAT AM I DOING!!!!

At the end of the day, I looked like this, my imitation pvc pipe Fig Rig and Director's Helmet discarded in the dirt beside me.

At the end of the day, I looked like this, my imitation pvc pipe Fig Rig and Director’s Utility Helmet discarded in the dirt beside me.

Oddly, I still don’t really have answers for any of those questions. But I can tell you my visit to Los Angeles to see George Chakiris is one of the best things I’ve ever done. We met at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the first Oscars were held, where Marilyn Monroe used to live and he told me about working with Marilyn Monroe. He told me about working with Charlton Heston, Ricardo Montalban, Rita Moreno, Natalie Wood, Gene KellyGENE KELLY!!!! – And told me stories about Elia Kazan, James Dean, Judy Garland, and Marlene Dietrich. I was so thoroughly absorbed in the conversation, I forgot to ask him about working with Howard Hawks HOWARD HAWKS!!!!   The most interesting portions of the conversation, however, centered around another Hollywood notable – GEORGE CHAKIRIS!!!! CAUSE HE WAS SITTING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!!! We talked about the awesome stuff he’s done and the awesome stuff he’s doing, and much like Lynn – thankfully – was so nice, so generous, and so supportive to an inexperienced filmmaker.

Totally chillin with George Chakiris in the hallways of a Hollywood studio with totally awesome giant photos of Douglas Fairbanks & Mary Pickford behind us. (Thanks, Jovana)

coyoteIn E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, there’s a scene where Peter Coyote as a peaceful alien-loving scientist, shortly before murdering  E.T., says to the boy who took the alien into his home, “I’m glad he met you first.” And then he and his fellow scientists murder E.T.

That’s how I feel – not the part about murdering E.T. – I’ve always been an extremely vocal critic of that. But I spent years making films in a bubble of my own making. I’m so glad that when I finally reached outside that bubble, to Lynn Lowry and George Chakiris, that I met them first. I can only hope that Peter Coyote doesn’t murder me now.

I have a feeling he won’t.

coyote

That meeting with George went extremely well. I hadn’t ever attempted anything like this. But I was prepared and determined, and I focused on the work instead of my anxieties. Except on the flight, where I flipped out in ways I’m not proud of. The interview I did with him became part of a larger documentary I’m still working on, profiling other successful artists and performers from the same hometown of Norwood, Ohio. I think it’s shaping up to be a great film, and I’m very proud of the work I’ve done on it – though it eventually lead to this unfortunate incident at Roger Neal’s Style Hollywood Oscar Suite in Beverly Hills several years later when I was ATTACKED BY LAMB CHOP!!!

[video width="400" height="224" mp4="http://monkeyltd.com/jackasses/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/758689_10151961171934397_2123820971_n.mp4"][/video]

(Which, in retrospect, I think was inevitable.)

The whole endeavor was way outside my comfort zone, but I pushed through it. And this is why my LA (county) premiere was not too big a deal. I mean, it was very exciting to me. But because I had put in the work expanding my comfort zone, I was able to enjoy every minute of it and not worry about whether or not I was qualified to be there or not.

Always actively push your comfort zone. Sometimes push a little, sometimes push a lot – it doesn’t matter – each time you push it, it expands. I’d probably stop short of causing yourself a full-blown panic attack, but if you aren’t occasionally doing things that somewhat terrify you, I think you’re doing life wrong. Eventually, your comfort zone will expand enough to allow you to do the things you’ve always dreamed of, whatever those things may be.

If you’re Peter Coyote and your dream is to murder me, however, perhaps your comfort zone is just fine right where it is.

coyote

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!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keSJt-jF5Uc]

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.

-Tyler

[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.