Last weekend I directed a Filmmakers Alliance short film called "Melancholy Baby" (aka "Zachariah," aka "Sounds Through A Wall"). The script, which I also wrote, won the Los Angeles Short Filmmaking Grant a while back, but I was having a lot of trouble finding the right elements to get it on its feet. It was only early this year that the pieces came together.
First of all, I found the right producers. Amanda Swiekow (Plus or Minus) and Cain DeVore (Mitzi & Joe) are not only talented filmmakers, they are long time friends who seemed to make it their personal mission to force me to stop putting-off making the movie. I've never had the experience of working with producers who so completely embraced every indie-film-nightmare and allowed me to focus so completely on directing. They were also fierce advocates of the creative ambitions of the film, refusing to let me compromise, even when I wanted to.
The next difficult element was casting the central character. The piece centers on the point of view of an agoraphobic man who spends most of the film listening to his neighbor through their shared wall. There is almost no dialog. I needed to find a talented and experienced actor who had the ability to play an extremely eccentric man while maintaining a childlike innocence. I wanted to find someone with a face you could look at for ten minutes straight and still find both interesting and empathic. It was a tall order, and I auditioned a number of really wonderful actors who just weren't... quite... right.
Then at a children's birthday party I watched actor Patrick Labyorteaux (Yes Man, JAG) from across the room and it struck me that he would be perfect for the character. I was right. Luckily, he was eager for this kind of intimate leading part, and was willing do it. I'm not sure I can even imagine another actor in the role now that I've seen him play it, but I won't say much more because I want everyone who reads this to see him in the film for themselves.
The minor roles proved no easier to cast. I ended up losing an extremely talented actress, and I had to recast with only a week before shooting. It wasn't until literally the night before that I was finally able to decide on Linda Tomassone (Confessions of A Dangerous Mind), who turned out to be both striking and mysterious in ways I hadn't expected - as well as extremely professional in juggling everything we threw at her on short notice. Likewise Filmmakers Alliance's own Sean Russell took a cliche-violent-ex-boyfriend role and turned it inside out, giving a performance that was both scary and authentic.
Fortunato Procopio, who shot the Filmmakers Alliance Production "You Turned Back and Held My Hand" by Gabriella Toleman, created haunting visuals using Cain DeVore's famously unfinished house as modeling clay. He was also was admirably calm the night before shooting when we discovered that the brand-new RED camera wouldn't turn on.
Generally, the entire crew worked together with both intensity and focus. I was pleased and amazed by how quickly, professionally, and good-humoredly they all pulled off a surprising number of difficult and complex shots. By the time we wrapped, I was confident that the sound, picture and performances were outstanding, and I was convinced that it all was the result of the creativity of the cast and crew, assembled by the producers, Amanda and Cain.
It took a long time to get here...
My first FA "film" was shot in 1994 on Hi-8, with Filmakers Alliance co-founders Jacques Thelemaque, as the DP, and Diane Gaidry, as the star. Since then I've shot FA films on super-8, on 16mm, on 35mm, and even still photographs. I've been the DP on Sundance shorts; I've supported other FA films as screenwriter, PA, editor, boom operator, creative collaborator, and even sketchbook actor. My short "Shiva's Teardrop" played the first Visionfest event at the DGA over ten years ago.
But last weekend was by far the most rewarding experience I've every had making movies. It was the result of 15 years of FA support, FA workshops, FA collaboration, and FA spirit.
It reminded me that Filmmakers Alliance has always had my back, always pushed me forward, and never let me down.