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.
Laurie McDermott, (my producing partner) was there to get things started. Laurie and I had been friends. She worked at a product placement company and helped with a number of variables to elevate the film.
The crew went right to work, each of them came from the bigger world of studio films with skills and a mindset that were perfect for this ultra low budgeted passion project!
My cast included the following: Christina Carlisi, Brad Wilson, Theodore Borders, Ronnie Prettyman and Carmen Filpi. The cast was well prepared but I was concerned with the lead, Brad Wilson. I had given Brad the script only the day before and he was in every scene. Without exposing my apprehension, I made him feel as comfortable as possible and while the crew was setting up Brad and I went through the motions of the first scene. To my surprise, Brad was more than prepared! He had ideas that gave so much color to the character. I felt guilty for not having the immediate faith in him but our friendship which was at the time going on 6 years made it easier for both of us. I knew the moment he uttered the first line of the scene that Brad was perfect.
Once rehearsal was over, I then spoke with my cinematographer Chris Mosely. Chris and I had worked on a few films and we had built a trust in each other. Our discussion was to keep the light out as much as possible giving it a noir look. Chris knew exactly what to do and began lighting and setting up.
We had about 10 back ground artists to give the place life and each of them came prepared as a character. I was amazed by their professional attitude. They followed direction and I never had to wait for any of them.
Brad Wilson as “MIKEY”
The scene began with Brad at a phone booth talking to someone he owed money to. The voice you hear is me. We then follow Brad into the bar where he works. His world was falling apart and Brad kept that in his soul. When you watch him, you feel for him, not because he’s at the end of his rope, but because of his caring for other people even though he was in the pit of despair. Brad Wilson had such a subtle approach to the character “Mikey” that you wanted to know more about his life. That was not in my writing! That was what Brad brought to the role.
Chris Mosely (Cinematographer)
Things were moving like clockwork. Chris Mosely stayed one step ahead of me with the camera department. He knew what I was wanting and never once did we doubt each other. We discussed framing for the moments that would give the characters their moment even in silence.
Carmen Filpi’s role, even though small was significant. He discussed with me what he wanted this character to be like. He wanted to stay with the dialogue but asked if I would be against adding a line that he would improve. I told him as long as we stayed on path to where the scene was headed he could explore.
Carmen Filpi and Michael G Kehoe
I asked if he wanted to rehearse and Carmen said “Let’s shoot!” Chris Mosely was all for that, I was as well. Sometimes you can capture a pure moment if you let the actor convey the scene in his or her way. But the actor must stay on the path. We shot three takes and moved on. Both Carmen and I were happy and Chris Mosely’s coverage and lighting gave the scene so much life. The tone we were going for was the dark Twilight Zone feel. I had originally wanted to shoot in black and white but my discussions with Chris convinced me that the color would bring much more to the piece.
I have a special place in my heart for Christina (Tina) Carlisi. We had dated a while back when I first moved to Los Angeles. Tina is an extremely dedicated actress. Her passion for the art of acting is much like my passion for filmmaking. Tina is one of those actresses that follows the rule of the great actor Spencer Tracey who said “Learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture!” Tina listened to direction and followed it by the numbers. She was a natural in front of the camera. Her eyes were not focused on anything particular, it’s unnatural to watch an actor focus on another actor as they respond and then focus on the next waiting for a response. Tina was in her element as she moved with ease and communicated not just with the other actors, but with the camera never letting on that she even acknowledged it to be present. She was a pro. Her pacing created a hectic atmosphere in the bar. It was her moment that told the audience that there was so much going on in this setting even though your concentration was behind the bar.
As filming continued we were ready to bring the two young actors in. Early on in prep I was working with my costume designer Annette Dunford-Lewis. We talked about the young actors look. How would they be presented. In the script they were dressed in motorcycle clothing. This look would give them a sense of being experienced in a way, possibly more worldly. The concept was to have their helmets to reflect a connection to the after life, something that was not quite on the mark. Annette took that idea and created a skull image on both helmets.
I took the boys away from the set as Chris Mosely began to light. I wanted the boys to use the relationship with Brad Wilson’s character as a reflection of someone they knew in their life that they had not seen or had someone that had forgotten them. Someone they wanted to reach out to and give some friendly advice. The boys had not met each other before being on set so I had to get them to create a bond that felt like it had been forged many years beyond their age. Since they were only 11 years old and still innocent in those years they openly accepted this task and both of them believed each other to be best friends. I believed it. The cast believed it and the audience believed it.
I had to work out the situation with Theodore. As I mentioned, Theodore’s mom informed me that Theodore had broken his arm the day before and he was wearing a cast. Annette (costume designer) and I worked it out to slide the arm with the cast in the sleeve and if we had to cut the sleeve of the jacket we would but it fit. Then, when we cut he could already have his arm out and expose the cast for the reveal. I had to write something that was believable and creating something that would be the catalyst of Brad’s realization. I was confident that this would work only if the acting was spot on.
So, the scene commenced and the camera was rolling. The attention was on Ronnie and Theodore. The moment of truth was coming. Brad Wilson questions the boys testing them to find out what kind of joke this is with two kids walking into a bar. Then, Theodore lifts his arm up with the cast and his expression sent chills up my spine. This 11 year old actor nailed the moment and it was so subtle, so natural, so graceful, I almost screamed which would have ruined the moment. These actors were giving me their all.
TO BE CONTINUED…