I lived in Denmark since my last teenage years and throughout most of my adult life. I owned and sold two properties there, which left me with solid investments, to live from interest and not work for the rest of my life. This had been made possible through hard work and through a contact in a good investment deal. But both reaching and maintaining that lifestyle were only possible, because I am a simple and practical man with expenses that were never excessive. This is where I came from, to a seminar in San Francisco. Three years later I was still in San Francisco, I had married and moved out from the rental home my ex-wife and I lived in, and moved to my own home, also a rental. Two years later, with too much pressure at work, I opened a marketing company, moved out of town and lived a relatively nomadic life, following client work. On my return to San Francisco in 2009, against my average patterns, I found myself in need to reduce my space, but there where no spaces small enough or close enough to Jasper, my dying poodle friend. This is why I moved into a hole in the wall above a rest room. I used a weekend to build frames, sheetrock and painted it to make it livable. That isolated it from the rest of the space above the ceiling. I cut a new latex mattress to fit it’s irregular walls and adapted my present to what I needed--enough space to lay down in fetal position, for as long as it took. Everybody knew me in that office, but most of the time, they did not even notice I was there. Jasper was gone and an irrational sense of guilt kept me focused only on him, month after month. When the mourning period had surpassed what is probably considered to be a normal mourning length, Lisa came up to try and get me out of that mental space. But the only thing that worked, in that regard, was seeing new employees joining the office and having the ability to humbly offer them my work experience. For not only was I much older, but I had held a directorial position in that office. I saw them come and go. Feeling able to be of service to those who stayed, I found myself capable, and recognized that I should start working on my movie projects, as originally planned.
I wrote, produced and shot two thirds of an entire test-feature film, but lost my main character on the way. He had decided he did not want to act after all. I felt bad for the remaining cast and crew that was comprised of around 30 people who had made a considerable effort, but I moved on to the next story, out of three I wanted to tell.
After shooting some 12 short movies and having learnt much about low budget filmmaking on my test feature, I wrote the story for RICE and completed all preproduction with a strong level of flexibility in mind. The story in my low budget movie was planned to be completed, regardless of who might want to change horses in the middle of the stream. The main role would be female and over 70 women were auditioned. There was only one that fit the character and had the general appeal I was looking for. She was however French Canadian and this meant huge changes on my script, due to language, but I wanted only Valèrie for that role. The next main role was also female. The same happened with Tanja. I knew that with both actresses, I had a level of quality I could work with and rely on. Both of them stayed through a process that lasted six years of sporadic participation including rehearsals, shoots and ADR. With all this, life in the cave changed from a space of mourning into a small editing studio. By then, Lisa had introduced little Viggo into my life—another little white Poodle. I spent holidays with him many days at a time, watching him when needed and walking him a few times a day at the office. My stamina increased and I started shooting one after another of the 53 scenes in my screenplay.
Filmmaking is absolutely a collaborative art. Historically, it includes many specialized areas of expertise, but with modern technology, it has become possible for a single person to do what in the past would have needed 30 people to achieve. However, it still requires a lot of work and know-how. I was an early adopter and my work style was not well received by some of the people I tested for crew. They wanted big crews and Hollywood standards that to me are a distraction still taught by modern film schools. But I digress, to each their own! I needed to find people who were not fixed on the old days and would have a fresh outlook at what could be done with small crews. I found her at the office. I had not met a more capable young employee than she was, through the entire time I was at that office. And plenty had passed by. Katie was young and had a level of integrity and vision that unfortunately, the older people at the office could not see. I saw her frustrated, but she never gave up or displayed lack of respect to others. Fortunately for me, she accepted to help me on a shoot, as a side gig to her day job. She became my AD and we spent five years shooting the remaining scenes for the movie. That was the base for my small crews. And yes, Katie eventually got overwhelmed with my style. I am very spontaneous, yet super organized. Katie was very planned to be organized, and she felt her efficiency depended on it. I agreed. The disparity between us, caused her much stress. Yet I witnessed her excellent work again and again, following my spontaneity, which was in fact necessary and pre-planned for flexibility, in order to achieve completion. I believe we were excellent life experience to each other. We connected beyond work and carried each other at many levels, for five years, before we parted ways as friends when she moved out of state and I moved on to post production.
I was a professional musician and a recording artist during 15 years of my life. It was mostly live performances and the root of it all was based on my songs. My stories. A song has a life of it’s own. It has a birth, a learning curve, trauma and it's death. Death comes when it is recorded for release into a form that represents little of what it’s life was. From then on, it is only a product subject to marketing or the lack of it--just like a toothpaste or the latest cereal brand.
Only a live performance by the artist, can bring a song back to life. Pictures do something similar; they capture only a moment in time. That can be a story in itself, but in my work, my movie was a way to create a living song. The script, all preproduction, casting, art design, location scouting, cinematography, audio, direction, special effects, editing, score, songs, subtitles and all creative and technical post production had to work together, like colors do on canvas signed by it’s artist. I am nearly certain that there are "full spectrum" artists today who feel and work exactly the same way I do. And if there aren’t, it’s about time they come out.
I spent two months editing a single underwater scene. My body begun to slowly switch from what used to be regular daily yoga, to constantly sitting in bad posture while in front of two editing screens, hour after hour, day and night.
I knew what I had gotten into and it meant a lot of work, so the sooner I got done with each scene, the better. This would have been different had I had funds for the movie, but the only fundraiser we had, cost us more than the funds we raised. This and a number of other distractions in life, extended production considerably, to the point that one of my knees failed and put me in bed for a month, with six stitches on my upper lip and a cracked sternum. As soon as I was back on my feet, we travelled to Buenos Aires to shoot a scene that had failed here at home, plus three other scenes that would have a much better chance of success if shot in Argentina, as the script required. With amazing cooperation from so many people in Argentina, it all came out perfectly.
During production, as the years passed, my close friends begun to suggest that I “get a job”, meaning that I should stop making a movie and do what they did. It didn’t seem to matter that I also had paying clients. What they thought would be reasonable was that I should have a normal full time job, a savings account and leave the movie on a back burner, but I never stop a project once I have started it. And we only have a limited amount of energy to dedicate for any given challenge. As it is, I have been "considered normal" a few times in my life, but the comfort zone is not a space I find appropriate for personal evolution and the understanding of the bigger family. I prefer challenges. And the challenges I choose I generally take on my own. You can be born extraordinary or choose to be it. But for those who want to expand beyond our own noses, there is no other way to do something extraordinary than by getting out of the ordinary. It doesn’t matter if it works or not. Either we try it or we don’t. It is not better or worse, in any way. I am an artist. And by standard perspective, this is likely seen as 'being a risk taker'. Especially when production funds are non existent, which I never saw as a limitation for this movie. An artist is born into the inevitable destiny that pushes to create things that are not necessarily for sale. I am one of those. There is nothing fancy about it, nor is there any discontent. I have felt the same throughout my life, with and without money. Yet one way or another, people who felt the drive behind this movie have come in and supported it when and where it was needed. It has been a humbling honor. That helped me move ahead, leaving any criticism behind while reducing social life to zero, due to the increasing workload.
I owned a recording studio for years. Lots of expensive gear that I didn’t need for a movie. As I got more involved in production, I took less client work and started selling my audio gear to support the shooting. Compared to normal film production, our costs were minimal. Basically, I owned all the gear, so costs were gas for my Jeep and food for all production days that were sometimes a whole cast and crew, but most of the time was just me processing media or minimal crews. Over 130 people participated as cast or crew in this production. All of them agreed to work in exchange for only credits and something to show for their acting reel, after the film festival circuit is completed, provided that it poses no collision with potential distribution dates. All along, I have had in mind that should there be profit from this movie, all working hours will be calculated and anybody who worked on it would get their share, but most likely, I will end up only delivering footage for all cast to include in their acting reel. For I recently realized that I have done the work of so many people for so long, that I doubt there will ever be enough profit from this movie, to reimburse the work done. Nevertheless, film festival submissions are now under review and there are 10 months to go before all responses arrive. So it is still way too early to make any conclusions of any kind.
The cave provided a live/work situation where I was able to decompress from the loss of a loved one, while at the same time, it eliminated my personal expenses and allowed me to put everything into this production. Aside from this, Viggo spent many nights with me up there. And for a very long time, not understood by anyone I knew, except for Katie, that cave was my home. We all have a special place in our hearts for a short list of life experiences and the memories they hold.
The cave, now long gone, remains at the top of my list. I just may need to find another one for my next movie… and that was just a joke.
The next one will only be produced after funds are secured.
This was shot partly with the camera used to shoot RICE and partly with an iPhone 4, at low resolution. The singing dog is Viggo and that was a concert shot by Katie during the edit of RICE.
Next post I'll talk about production in Argentina. What was that going to replace and why?