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!

Like a Grain of Sand

So, if you’ve read this blog at all (and don’t feel bad if you haven’t), you know that I’m gearing up for my third feature — a small but noble project called Rods & Cones. It’s been an interesting process of development — collaborating with the principal actors and crew to create a story in which our characters can roam free.

In the time-honored tradition of Robert Rodriguez, we crafted a tale that fit our available locations, talent and general story-world, and worked hard to fill in the details. One decision led to another and suddenly a full-fledged saga emerged — one which is hopefully as rich and compelling as any big-budgeted drama.

In a recent interview with Shane Carruth, the mastermind behind the very interesting low-budget indie Primer, he mentioned how many folks would tell him how good his movie was — for the money in which he had to make it. It was almost as if they were patting him on the back, telling him, “Not bad — for a person with developmental issues.” Carruth wisely made a decision: All of his budgets would now be a secret, because in the end it wasn’t about the money — it was about the ideas and the execution. “This thing about the budget,” he said, “I never want to hear those words again.”

What’s really interesting, though, is how much the world around us seems to rise to help us once we get going and gain momentum. A location scout with several crew members recently ended up fortuitously solving several problems at once — some with near complete randomness. It’s almost as if the world around us wants us to make a creative project come to fruition. People sense our drive and our commitment and want to help; they admire our energy and want to be involved.

But just as important is how a project accretes positive attributes like a pearl forming around a grain of sand — little by little, bit by bit. One decision leads to another, which in turn affects the whole, leading into yet another generation of decisions and positive developments. Flexibility is key, of course, as is a team of dedicated people you trust. And a little luck. But ultimately a story and a project develops that is as strong — or perhaps even stronger — than one which is toiled over in isolation for years.

In the end, it’s about the drive, the energy and the desire to get something done. “Enthusiasm,” William Blake once said, “is the all in all.”

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.

Your Ass Is Grass

Right. I’m extremely proud to announce that my production company, Harrow Beauty Motion Pictures, has teamed up with Jaime Byrd and Adam Cohen, of Blind Lyle Films, to mount my third full length feature film, Your Ass Is Grass.

We’ll keep you updated as things develop. Casting, location scouting and (gulp!) funding are now furiously underway.

It’s coming. Or, rather, I should say … she’s coming.

Your Ass is Grass, Update 2

Well, time heals all wounds.  It also helps tear down creative walls.

Indeed, the roadblocks have cleared and as expected, the time off from my next script YAIG was well spent.  A major plot point recently suggested itself, and now there’s a clearer vision, a better approach, a fresher perspective ahead.  Without getting too specific (you gotta watch the movie to find out what happens, man), I was able to get inside the main character’s point of view in a stronger way, one that will make the final version much more compelling.  Quirkier and more eccentric, too, which of course is really one of the strengths of indie film. The new approach will up the budget quite a bit, definitely out of the range of the micro- to low budget I was hoping for. Now it’ll be in the mid-six figure range, if not more.

But that’s okay.  The creative drive wins out every time, and if the story wants to be a bit more expensive, then so be it.  It is what it is.