When we left off, it was the best of times and the worst of times…
My last blog post was January 31, 2014. A lot has happened since then. Except for writing my “How to Make a Movie in 18 Years” blog. (Truth be told, I did write a very angry entry on Valentine’s Day 2014. It had nothing to do with the movie… OK, it did. But my editor told me not to publish it. Or maybe I did publish it and then took it down… I think that’s what happened. Those were dark days, my friends.)
27 months ago, I wasn’t in the best place mentally or physically. Things were pretty shitty. I was angry, depressed, and starting to eat my way to a 25 pound weight gain that would reach its climax a year later.
The Shower, since retitled KILLER PARTY (I’ll explain later), was just beginning its festival run.
Yes, we had a festival run.
So why was I angry and depressed? The end of 2012 and all of 2013 were rough. It began with making the movie. I’ll go into more details when (if) I get that far with the blog. But from August of 2012 (when we started shooting) to October 2013 (when we had our world premiere), it was a daily struggle. Like question the meaning of your existence and everything you’ve done with your life sorta stuff. We shot the movie very quickly, we didn’t get everything we needed, and our first cut was ROUGH. Or “unwatchable.” So we had to do whatever we could to turn it around. That meant a lot of work, and getting more shots to fill out the movie.
And we did. But there was a price. Mentally and physically. Financially, it was a drop in the bucket compared to what came before and what would come after. (I was very fortunate to work with folks who wanted to save the movie as much as I did.)
The movie got better. And we got into our first festival. (This is a story unto itself. Thank you SHRIEKFEST!!! http://www.shriekfest.com)
But that’s not the end of the story. It’s just a new chapter. We were just getting started…
Back when I last posted, we had recently been accepted into two festivals.
TWO GREAT FESTIVALS: Nevermore Film Festival in Durham, NC http://www.carolinatheatre.org/films/festivals/nevermore and International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix http://jason-carney-hh5u.squarespace.com/submissions/ which was incredible, life-affirming news.
SO WHAT THE EFF WAS MY PROBLEM???
For every festival we got in to, we were rejected by two. In baseball, a .333 batting average is great. In everything else, it pretty much sucks. (If I continue to blog after this, I’ll list all the festivals we submitted to. I probably shouldn’t have submitted to half of them.) One day, I’d get amazing news that the movie was accepted into a festival. The next day, I’d get a rejection. Followed by another rejection. This being my first movie, and first time doing the festival thing, I wasn’t able to let it roll off me like rain. I couldn’t feel good about the victories, because I was brooding over the failures. Each rejection was painful. Paralyzing. Proof that my greatest fears were true. The movie wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough.
I’d often say to Rachael, or anyone that would listen to my mad ramblings, “I need some good news about The Shower.”
And fortunately, I’d get some good news, to lift me up before I got too low.
I was lucky.
But I’m way ahead of myself. I haven’t even gotten into the “making of the movie” stuff yet… Festivals. Parties. Selfies. Awards. They will have their time. (Possibly. Or I could take another lengthy hiatus.)
OK, so “How to Make a Movie in 18 Years…”
Back in June of 2012, we had a script. We had producers. (Friends who would act in the movie and help get it made.) We realized that making the movie would not be nearly as cheap as we thought it would be. We went from $0 to $10,000 to $35,000 very quickly. (And $35,000 went to $52,000 right after that. Someday, I’ll let you know what the final cost is. We ain’t finished spending.)
We needed to raise real funds. I didn’t think it would be possible. I was a waiter who had made some primitive youtube videos years earlier. I didn’t have a director’s reel or any credits on IMDB. We didn’t produce a slick fund-raising video. Instead, Phillip Wilburn, a friend and very funny and talented guy, helped us shoot a video at his place in Burbank.
Somehow, we raised money. Anyone who gave us anything was being kind. Possibly showing faith. But mostly just being kind. We were lucky because the only people that we were asking for money were people we knew. This wasn’t really crowd-funding. We just asked our friends and family to help us. And they did. Which is wonderful and still makes me feel incredibly grateful. And it also makes me sick to my stomach. Because I NEED to pay all those people back…
So it’s July 2012 and we’re trying to put this movie together.
Here are a few of the things we were doing that fateful month: raising money, casting, dealing with SAG (lots of paperwork, which one of our producers, Andy, handled), finding a location (or two), putting a crew together, wardrobe, props, getting insurance, and preparing to have a baby.
Preparing to Have a Baby: Yes, Rachael was 7 months pregnant.
The baby was due in mid-September. In the conception of the movie that spring, the idea was to shoot it right away, for next to nothing. Or nothing. So the timeline of shooting the movie before the baby wasn’t as daunting because I thought we’d be shooting in June/July. I didn’t want to wait until after the baby because I knew that the 6 months after the baby was born would be so crazy that there’d be no way to shoot the movie during that time. Also, Rachael was playing the female lead. If we didn’t shoot before the baby, we’d be shooting the movie in March 2013 at the earliest. In hindsight, that might have been a good idea. Or maybe we wouldn’t have made the movie. (It would have been different. There are so many variables in timing that cast, crew and location would have had to change to some extent.) But I was desperate. A waiter with two kids. I’d made $2000 in my writing career. I was further from selling a script than I was in 2010, when I had almost sold a script. And that and $2.75 will get you a ride on the subway ($2.75!?!? Seems expensive.) In my view, the window was closing fast, if it hadn’t closed already. We had to make this movie now.
Raising Money: We didn’t do Kickstarter for three reasons: 1. They take a fee (now it’s 5%, I believe it was more in 2012. Plus a 3% payment fee.) 2. You don’t get the money right away. (At the time, they would hold it for a few weeks, and we didn’t have the luxury of time.) 3. We were only expecting to receive money from people we knew, so why pay the fees?
One of our producers, Stephanie, built a website and set up a paypal account.
This made it easy for people to donate, and paypal only took 3%. We also received checks, and were able to keep the full amount. (We had a mailbox at Mister Mail on Sunset. It was nice to go there everyday and find a donation check or two waiting in our little mailbox.)
www.theshowerthemovie.com no longer exists, but a new Killer Party website will soon rise from its virtual ashes.
Casting: When I wrote the script, I imagined all the parts would be played by people we knew. I wrote some parts specifically for certain friends. Basically, I imagined the cast would come from two sources: Gulfstream Restaurant http://gulfstreamrestaurants.com/locations/centurycity/ and iO West http://ioimprov.com/west/. Rachael and I worked at Gulfstream for years. Our co-workers became friends and then became our L.A. family. Rachael was an improvisor at iO West. (I was a bad improvisor, and retreated back to the comfort of the computer keyboard after a brief run on stage.) Rachael was performing regularly with Trophy Wife http://www.trophywifeimprov.com, a very talented team, and I envisioned her teammates and other performers from the theater in the movie.
Things took a bit of a detour when a couple of friends, slated for key roles, had to drop out of the movie, and when the whole SAG “we are now paying actors to be in this movie” thing came up. Instead of just offering people parts, rehearsing like a play, and shooting the movie, we were in a weird limbo where money was now a factor. And it was clear we would not have enough money to “rehearse.” We were going to have to cast people and they were going to have to show up and give a performance in one or two takes. We didn’t have time or resources for more… (Yes, I suppose we could have asked the actors to “rehearse” since most would be friends, but that was a slippery slope. And then we cast people outside of my immediate circle and it didn’t feel like an option. I wish we had rehearsed. For me and the cast… I’ll jump ahead, we actually won awards for BEST ENSEMBLE, so the actors were amazing considering the circumstances. Imagine if we had rehearsed… Probably a few Oscar nominations…)
So we opened up casting for the remaining roles. I felt like casting and callbacks would be a good indicator of how it might go on set. There would be some pressure. Most movie acting isn’t like theater acting. It’s stops and starts. No flow. We weren’t shooting completely in order.
The audition process is just as humbling as raising money. Casting is agony, with a moment or two of joy. And I don’t mean it’s agony watching the actors perform. It’s feeling for all these actors who have 2-3 minutes to do a performance. Of course, some folks were better than others. But I could not help but feel compassion for all the actors who came in to audition. I’m used to being the low man, the one asking, begging, waiting… And here I was, having all these gorgeous people come in and say the words I wrote and… it actually sounds like it should be a huge ego trip. It wasn’t. I felt like I was living and dying with each audition. The actors were nervous, nice and very hard on themselves. It was not just eye-opening to be part of the audition process. It was more of a “crack open your chest and rip out your heart over and over again” sort of thing. Go hug an actor. They need it.
At first, we only auditioned people we knew. But Pandora’s Box was opened with the SAG thing so we put out casting notices and held “real” auditions.
It was difficult. Some of the actors were so close it could have been a coin flip either way. It was a situation where the actors were different, and had their own qualities that would bring a different interpretation to the role. In this case, it’s not a science. I’d call great casting an art. I wonder what a casting director would say?
Overall, I think the audition process was a good thing. We found very good actors. And it was almost a rehearsal for the actors who auditioned because they had to prepare and perform, and I saw how they responded to pressure.
We offered roles to a couple of actors who were excellent, but lost one because of schedule and the other because of money (we couldn’t pay the normal rate this actor received, nor come remotely close). This was the beginning of the journey and I was quickly learning that “compromises” are a way of life when making a movie. I had to adjust and move forward. Which became a
daily hourly occurrence.
We don’t learn much when things go right. We learn when things go wrong.
And believe me, things went wrong… And I learned.
All right, I’ll leave off here and hopefully pick it up again sometime between April 15, 2016 and July 15, 2018.
Thanks for reading.