Over the last year I’ve been asked again and again why I put my time and effort into creating three films (two shorts and a mini-feature) with little money or time at my disposal? After all, the films did not feature any well-known actors, had tiny budgets and were shot in a combined total of seven days. As I think about these questions, I too see the difficulty in understanding the logic of such endeavors.
However, the whole process of creating these films was to explore the potential of filmmaking in a completely new way. If this process proved successful, Breadline would use it as a blueprint for future, larger projects. They were also the perfect projects to build a bridge between Breadline Productions and its actor training program (PAI Training). The three films used the skills of over a dozen professional actors from the training program. These actors possess talent, technique and passion, but lacked the chance to test their craft on an actual shoot.
When the time came, each actor gave everything to the process. There were no actor conflicts, egos, or insecurities on the set. The trust they had for one another was extended to everyone working behind the cameras. They understood the larger, common purpose and did whatever necessary to better the artists working around them. Ultimately, they are now able to bring the joy of our harmonious process to every film and TV set on which they work.
I collaborated with Juri Film and Director of Photography, Rene Júng on all three films. By circumstance and necessity, we had to create a clear, concise Director/DP language during the shooting process that allowed us to compensate for lack of time. Because of the extreme limitations of the shooting days, we learned how to “create” together with heightened pressures all around us.
As the saying goes, a film is made in editing, so it was crucial to develop the right personal and professional synergy with an editor. Through unplanned events, I ended up working with two different editors on these projects. One editor I’d already worked with on a previous feature, and the other was on recommendation. This experience provided a fantastic revelation about my personal expectations in the cutting process. I learned how essential it is to have the same synergy in the cutting room as I had on the set.
These projects also provided me the chance to work more in depth with film composer, Chris Cash. Chris had composed music for Breadline Theatre Group back in Chicago, and also was the composer for the feature film I directed, Brothers Three. However, we knew there would be a lot more to learn about one another through collaborating on three additional projects.
These endeavors not only solidified my opinion of Chris’ talent but also helped us find an even deeper level of communication. By the third project, the temporary music he sent was a near perfect fit for the final cut without Chris ever seeing one frame of any rough edits.
In the journey of these three films, I was attempting to answer, for myself, why I should make small movies? Ultimately, the answers became self-evident every step of the process. With the advantage of familiarity and common experience, lack of time cannot break the rhythm and focus of a filmmaking team. As time is saved, the overall budget is reduced. With a lowered budget, there is less risk for an investor and more potential of creative and financial success for everyone.
With a cohesive team firmly in place and battle tested, Breadline Productions is ready to apply this model to projects of all sizes. Of course there will be many others that join the process going forward, yet it excites me that they’ll be additions to the solid foundation now under Breadline Productions.
I didn’t make my transition into filmmaking until 2005, just as the decline in independent financing started. Before that I’d spent nearly twenty years in the theater. When I made my first film I thought my huge budget was astonishingly large. “A million dollars? Wow!”
I’d been producing world premiere theater at less than twenty-five thousand per production. Of course I realized how little money a million dollars really is with the associated costs of filmmaking. However I learned there is a currency much more important than the budget: the people.
People have been the basis of all the theater I’ve done. Everyone worked for pennies an hour because there was something in the production that furthered their craft, or provided a necessary elevation in their career.
When I stepped on the film set, I was shocked to learn that most of the crew had not read the script. In fact, none of them were given a copy of the script. Why should they get one? They were there to be paid per hour, not because of the personal journey they’d experience. This threw me at first, but it reminded me that it’s money, personal growth, or both. After that first experience, I committed to strive for both on all my future projects. Yet, if I fell short, the personal experience would be the base currency.
The simplest question solved a lot of future problems: How does this project benefit each person and the project?
I learned not to assume that my answer to the question was right. I had to make sure that every person felt the same way. If not, it comes down to the same disagreement. “We’ve been working X hours and you’re only paying me Y dollars?” If everyone was on the same page up front, then that disagreement couldn’t happen, right?
This sounds good in theory, of course, but I’ve felt the pain of theory being directly opposite of experience. So, I put it into practice. I made a little feature film (From Grace) that would have cost about $350K in practical budget, but would be an actual spend of less than $25K. A theater budget.
The cast was made up of very talented, but yet unknown actors all from PAI’s Acting Training Program. The actors needed the real world experience and were hungry to get the chance. The technical crew came from one company that was very successful, but hadn’t had the chance to make dramatic films in America. The editor and sound designer each had Emmy awards, but wanted to work on a compelling story. The main location was a bed and breakfast. The owners wanted to create and publish a cookbook. The film enabled and promoted that dream. This principle played out in every aspect of the process.
With everyone’s needs met, there wasn’t one disagreement, argument, or personal problem during the three-day shoot or three month post-production. Of course there were obstacles that couldn’t be overcome, but with all personal objectives clear, the project launched with a full team of like-minded talents. I was back in the theater again, living the artistic experience.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that this will be duplicated in every film I make, but it definitely set a blueprint for the model that Breadline Productions will follow going forward. Focusing on people worked in the theater, and as independent film funding continues to shrivel, we’re left with the story, the storytellers and a collective belief in the project.
It’s worked for two thousand years, so there may still be something to it.
‘Life Support’ is a short film that examines the difficulty of the future after suffering your greatest loss. A husband needs to make sure his young wife will be able to feel again after his inevitable passing. So, he has her place an ad on Craigslist for an intimate encounter with a stranger as proof she can and will connect again.
The makers of ‘Life Support’ placed her actual ad in various cities through Craigslist. Within hours they received hundreds of responses. Here are a few of them…
‘Life Support’ has been submitted to numerous film festivals. We’ll keep you updated on our progress.