You might say I had been preparing for this short film since I was 10 years old. I had watched all the Twilight Zones, I had been watching movies all my life and now it was time to take the leap. I had the script, and the small amount of funds to make what I could. Now it was time to build the crew and start cashing in on my friendships and contacts.
The first person I reached out to was Chris Mosely my Cinematographer. We discussed the process and the story. We talked about lighting and how we would move the camera. I wanted to keep the location small and use every inch of it. I went out with a couple of friends to have a beer, my intention was to scout for a location. They didn’t want to work, they wanted to relax and enjoy their day off. But as a filmmaker, you’re always looking at places that could be a possible location for something that you’re developing. So, we ended up at a small pub in North Hollywood called “The Tonga Hut”. As soon as I walked in I knew this place was the location I had been imagining. It was dark, small bar, booths , juke box, wild decor. I spoke to the owner and pleaded with him about what we were doing. I told him that I was just starting out and wasn’t supported by a big studio, just friends trying to make it in the movie business! After about an hour he told me to “come back tomorrow” and I did.
The next day we agreed to shoot during the off hours, which meant start at 6 am and shoot until 4 pm because the bar opened at 5pm. I also had to pay a small fee to for someone to watch over the bar. With that out of the way it was time to start casting. I had been worked for a producer by the name of Ron Samuels. Ron produced a film I worked on titled “IRON EAGLE”, I also worked on a television series titled “DOWNTOWN” with Robert Englund, Blair Underwood and Mariska Hargitay. Ron had an office on a lot in Hollywood on Las Palmas, it’s now called Hollywood Center Studios. There was a small tiny office that was empty and a payphone outside. So, I talked to a security guard and the lot rep who told me I could use it until someone came in. I brought posters from home and used it on my time off to hold auditions. This was long before I started to put the film together. As I said, I was prepping this film all my life.
The first actor I made sure was in was Carmen Filpi who I had been talking to for quite some time after becoming friends. Then, I asked my old girlfriend Tina Carlisi to play a role. At the time I had been writing with a friend who was an actor named Woody Brown and we were both bartenders together in the past, he had been an actor on television on a show titled “FLAMINGO ROAD”, “LOVE BOAT” and a few others. Now it was time to find the two key actors which were children. I was always told, avoid using kids and animals and I was going against the golden rule but I thought, these kids would be 11 years old, they could take direction and kids are not set in their ways and wouldn’t question the path I would lead them on. So I thought!
I auditioned well over 50 kids for the role and found two of the perfect actors. The first was 11 year old Ronnie Prettyman, white blonde hair, the typical California kid. Then, I found a very talented 11 year old black actor by the name Theodore Borders. Theo as I called him was a 45 year old man living in an 11 year old body. Theo asked questions, he wanted to get in my head. I was amazed by the dedication he brought to the table. His mother was extremely supportive. We talked on the phone and discussed certain elements of the character. This kid was teaching me how to be a director by asking questions, and every question was valid. Now, I had my cast. Next was crew.
While working on a film titled “COPS AND ROBBERSONS”, I was friendly with the producer Ron Schwary. Most people knew me as a craft service guy, a guy that cleans sets, a guy that assists other crew members, a guy that gets snacks for crew members. No where near the top of the food chain on set. But Ron Schwary actually listened to me and gave me the time to plead my case. He asked me many questions about the film I wanted to do. I told him I needed a camera. At that time, we were shooting 35 mm and using Panavision cameras, very expensive! I was floored when Ron said to me “Kid, on Friday, when we wrap, you take the camera and use it. If something happens to that camera, you call me at home”. I walked out of that office feeling so fortunate to have someone like Ron in my life. The next was getting equipment, grip, lighting, props, sound and of course a generator. I wanted to make sure we had great sound. Since I was working on Cops and Robbersons, I asked Kim Ornitz our sound man who I had formed a great relationship with. He agreed to be a part of it. Everything was falling into place. My friends were all banding together to support me.
Then, Woody was not available and I was now hitting my first road block. He was the lead character, the main man, the nucleus of the story! This was a big WTF moment for me. So, I called another bartender actor friend of mine by the name of Brad Wilson. I told him that I was needed him to play the lead in a short film I was directing. Brad said “yes”, he asked when were we shooting, I said in two days. Brad said, no worries, I’ll work my schedule around it. What a relief!
By this time, I was prepared for the film we were shooting in 2 days and I needed to see Robert Relyea and get a pep talk. Robert as you remember, was the producer from LAST ACTION HERO, he was also Steve McQueen’s partner years ago and Bob started out as an assistant to John Sturges who directed THE GREAT ESCAPE. I went to Bob’s office at MGM at the time and sat across from him. Bob sat behind his desk with his feet up on the top of the desk. I remember thinking his shoes were bigger than the length of my arm. Bob was so supportive. He told me to “Go see a movie, take in the camera work. Then go home and don’t think about anything else. Be prepared and don’t let anything get in your way and don’t let the crew see you confused or stressed. You’re the commander of this military team and your job is to take that hill. They’ll respect you and follow you if you’re strong.”
I walked out of that office with my head held high and ready for battle. I returned home to go over some details with my DP Chris Mosely when I received a call from Theodore’s mother. She proceeded to tell me that Theodore broke his arm on an MTV shoot and was in a cast. This was the day before shooting!!! This kid was a major part of the story. He knew his lines, he was perfect for the role. There was no one else!! NO ONE! And he had a BROKEN ARM! So, the producer in me asked “Can we remove the cast until the shoot was over?” What was I saying? This poor kid. She told me “no”. Then the director/writer in me rose up as I remembered what Bob Relyea had said. So, I told her, “We’ll work with the cast on his arm.” I asked if he was still up for doing the role and she said he was not going to give it up.
That night, I didn’t get to see a movie like Bob had said. Instead, I rewrote the script to add Theodore’s arm cast into the story.
I was the first one to the location. I stood there in the darkness of the parking lot thinking about my life. I felt like only yesterday I was in upstate New York dreaming about being here and now I’m here. I thought about my journey and how it disciplined me. I thought about the friends I left and the friends I made. I wondered why these people would even show up. Then, I spotted a line of cars with their turning signals on. I got choked up and felt a tear slide down my cheek. This was it. This was that the moment of truth for me. This was the payoff for the hard work and the dream.
TO BE CONTINUED…