Summer Dreams

Image05No plans for me to star in Grease this summer, or to date Olivia Newton John.

But I do have plans. First, I’m teaching a filmmaking intensive at the NYS3 School, a (very) well-regarded acting and performance facility here in Asheville, North Carolina. Should be lots of fun. Sign up here if you want. You’ll learn something, I promise.

And … I’m also writing my second novel, called “In The Dark All Cats Are Grey.” This is a story that’s been floating around in my head for awhile, and it’s just time to finally get it down. About a small town kid in the early 1900’s who’s recruited into a shadowy occultist organization, it’s a little like “My Antonia” filtered through the darkest Stephen King. Or if Harry Potter were written by Nic Pizzolato. Tons of research, lots of cool stuff to learn, it’s a longer story but a worthy one. I’m very excited.

That’s my plans. What are yours?

More Press for American Breakdown

In the midst of our Kickstarter campaign for American Breakdown, more articles and press are making their way onto the Interwebs.

Asheville’s influential blog, Ashvegas, has a nice little press release here, and Mentorless.com asked me to write about my tips for no-budget filmmaking. You can find that article here.

And as always, please take a look at the Kickstarter for American Breakdown, and if you can, contribute!

Kickstanding — I mean, Kickstarting

We’re live on Kickstarter! We’ve raised a little money. Not that much, but a little! Go here to check out American Breakdown on Kickstarter. And remember, in the world of finance, nothing matters but cold hard cash. Please support indie film!

American Breakdown on Kickstarter.

The Black Curtain has risen

Last year, I went on an epic, several-day journey with Ben Lovett and his cohorts in filmmaking adventures. I directed the fifth video in his series of collaborations with various directors.

So take a gander at Black Curtain here.

Black Curtain from Harrow Beauty Motion Pictures on Vimeo.

You can find an in-depth look at our process here.

Rods & Cones

Sometimes creative projects crop up out of nowhere. Steven Soderbergh recently said his action movie Haywire came about because he was fired off Moneyball, and suddenly found himself with nothing to do. Well, I wasn’t fired off anything (as a matter of fact, I seem to have a pretty cool project coming up this summer), but a wintertime creative endeavor did indeed spring out of nowhere for me.

It’s a feature film called Rods & Cones, after the mechanism of the eye, and is a collaboration with one of North Carolina’s best (and busiest) actors, Rebecca Morris. I’ve been wanting to work with Rebecca for eons (she had a supporting part in a short film I directed a couple years ago) but this is our first chance to work together as a creative team. The movie’s about a recently-divorced woman who reconnects with her very odd brother in wild, woolly Western North Carolina. She learns he’s embroiled in some significant and nasty trouble, and in the process of helping him she discovers a bit about herself, as well. It’s a bit like Nancy Drew crossed with Terrence Malick.

The fun thing for me is that the crew is very minimal: I’m the co-writer, the camera op, DP and director. Production designer extraordinaire Shane Meador, among others, will be there as well. So much time on a film set is spent explaining ideas to people — and sometime re-explaining — that it felt good to set out to do much of this stuff myself. In my day job running Harrow Beauty Motion Pictures, I’ve gotten very good at being what we call a ‘one man band,’ and so Rods & Cones is an experiment to see how fast we can move when there’s no team to whom I need to explain. Much like the brilliant French New Wave filmmaker Eric Rohmer, who in his later films eventually pared down from a full crew to just a camera and an audio guy, we’ll just … get to work.

When you take this sort of pared-back approach to filmmaking, certain rules apply: rather than create a space, you look for a location that really is what you’re looking for. In this manner, locations rise to the level of production design — rivers, cabins, train bridges, horse farms and small towns that seem to exist outside of time. The story should be modern-day, however, so there are no costumes or period cars. And the drama is better served when it’s less about external issues, and more about personal discovery.

In other words, if you’re smart about the way you approach storytelling, anything is possible. Working with a crew of 60 is a collaborative thrill, but it can also be painfully slow. A small film can be a nice little chamber piece that is as good at what it does as Django Unchained is as what it does.

So wish us luck on this admittedly modest but very noble endeavor. For myself, I can’t wait to get started.

Black Curtain

Despite the incredibly high level of creativity going on in Asheville, North Carolina, this city where I live is actually a pretty small town. There’s an unusually robust population of prominent writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers (cough) and craftsmen who ply their trade in this larger than life, smaller-than-you’d-think mountain burgh.

One of those artists, the musician Ben Lovett, has been known primarily as a film composer, but last year he released his excellent indie rock debut CD, called Highway Collection. Perhaps because he’s so entrenched in the film industry, he once pledged to make a short film accompanying every song on the CD. And now, those short films have been so uniformly excellent that they’ve actually taken on a life of their own. Each one is a collaboration with a new director, in a unique and uncompromising style. (You can enjoy some of this previous work here, here, and here).

I met Ben about a year or so ago in a local recording studio, and was immediately impressed; not only was his music excellent, his 12 minute film Ghost of Old Highways was a brilliant example of compelling and gorgeous indie filmmaking, North Carolina-style. In other words, right up my alley. So I let him know if he needed another collaborator, I was willing.

He took me up on it. Recently, we completed shooting on Black Curtain, his next magnum opus. Over the winter, I pitched him an idea — a series of ideas, really — that can kinda be summed up as Edward Gorey meets Eyes Wide Shut. Set in the Edwardian Age (not the 1920’s as it may seem, but the 1910’s — the age of the Titanic), my concept revolved around spiritualism and seances, and elegant people who become more and more depraved the more you look at them. There’s a sickness there, a dark underbelly that contrasts and makes all the elegance come alive. (You can see even one of the images from my pitch here.)

Ben took those initial concepts and ran with them, creating a twisted narrative that’s both heartwarming and sinister at the same time. As we set about creating this production, it became bigger and bigger; soon we had a cast of close to 100 people, with a crew of 60-something folks, mixed with both Asheville veterans like Producer Kelly Denson, Production Designer Shane Meador and Art Director Christi Whitely, and a full crew from Atlanta, led by Director of Photography J. Christopher Campbell.

For our location, we were lucky enough to secure the Masonic Temple here in Asheville — a 100 year old building that, thanks to the Mason’s somewhat secretive nature, had been closed for many decades to outsiders, and was thus preserved as neatly as a time capsule. Gloriously eccentric, with the original furniture and lighting fixtures still in place, the building was perfect for our needs.

The production itself was surreal. Huge and complex, with teams of makeup and wardrobe personnel, the halls of the entire building were busy with costumed extras and technical crew carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars of high tech film equipment up and down the antique stairs. One bleary early morning I found myself approving various young women who were eager to get naked for our camera.

The result will be a gloriously elaborate and eccentric short film that will fit in nicely with the work Ben has previously done.

Watching all of this unfold, I got that visceral thrill that writer-directors experience when the quiet images that they formed in their heads — often sitting alone in an office or spare bedroom, staring at a blank wall — suddenly come to life around them. You can see the excitement in the performers’ and the crew members’ eyes. There’s no feeling like it. This is why we make movies.