Don’t worry, your first film festival screening probably wasn’t as bad as mine.

Following is an account of my very first film festival screening for the feature film, LULLABY―a project we’re all very proud of but buried long ago. The film premiered at the 2000 Fort Worth Film Festival (now Lone Star International Film Festival) and went on to screen at the Dallas VideoFest (still going strong). Writer/director, David Lowery, was responsible for keeping the film alive; but last I heard, he’d copied over it, or something. And I haven’t seen my SVHS copy since I graduated college in 2002. Such is life. Introduced by David, and originally published on his website, here’s my accounting of our very first screening at the Black Dog Tavern in Fort Worth (now defunct).

Lullaby First Screening Review

Well, both screenings are now over. The Saturday show was great; however, with the screening on Friday, we had both the honor and the nightmare of being the very first film to play at the Fort Worth Film Festival (and it was more of a nightmare); they obviously hadn’t given their equipment much testing prior to the screenings. Luckily, as I predicted, hardly anyone showed up. Adam was there, though, and he has provided this first hand account of an experience no indie filmmaker wants to go through. So without further ado:

The room was dark―black―the very essence of its name. As I ran into the Black Dog Tavern to present the first screening of “Lullaby”; with sweat pouring down my cheeks and soaking my Kenneth Cole shirt, and rainwater having already dampened my freshly polished Versace shoes, I realized, as I was already five minutes late to the screening with a fresh tape―re-edited, color washed out and sound enhanced―that it was going to be a very long day. Running inside, I was confronted by one of the festival guys: “Are you the filmmaker?” he asked. “Yeah, I’m representing the film,” I responded quickly, “and I’ve got the refined tape.”

I addressed the audience, which consisted of two women at the front table whom I had never seen before; one guy directly behind them and to my right who I think may have been associated with the film playing directly after “Lullaby”; Doug’s father behind him; a good friend of mine, Evan, to the far left, my sister and her friend, Kevin behind Evan; my mother, directly behind them; and two club guys running around. They seemed relieved when the new tape came in, and I was too, despite the fact that I ran all the way from 1st to 8th street and four blocks of cross streets to get there. Panting and sweating harder then ever, I apologized for the delay as the club guys put in the new tape and pressed play. “Great,” I thought, “everything should be fine now.” But to my horror, everything went horribly wrong. The black and white contrast in the images was blurred and shaky, making it impossible to see what was going on at key points in the film. We stopped the film, and I ran to a corner and called David. No answer, so I left a frantic message on his voicemail.

A few minutes later he called and told me to apologize and cancel the screening. I couldn’t do that―most of the people who had gone out there were there to support us totally and I couldn’t take that away from them. So, the club guy went and got another VCR. Twenty minutes later as I was at the end of the bar out of sight, drinking a glass of water, and hiding my face, the VCR came. We plugged it in, taking another slight delay. Relieved once again, I prayed that the movie would run right.

Did it? Of course not, same problem occurred, albeit a tiny bit cleared up. The only thing that kept me from stopping the film altogether was the fact that no one left during the screening. I mean, the most exciting thing that happened during the screening was when the beer guy came with the beer and when an electrician started working outside the bar and then came in and said, “You’re online.” The screening sucked and the worst part was thanking everyone for coming at the end and having to hide my anguish and fear. However, the guy that I didn’t know asked for the website, so I guess that’s good. But, all in all, it was a pretty bad screening. And of course, when I took the tape home and played it on my Super VHS VCR, it worked fine. Bummer.

The less known half of Road Dog,
Adam Donaghey

Stay tuned for a report on the GREATLY IMPROVED Saturday show (we brought our own VCR)…

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TIGER TAIL IN BLUE: The joke’s on you!

Last week I flew home from Chicago, while most of my friends and colleagues were flying home from Salt Lake City. Although I missed all the hubbub that was the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, I was lucky enough to be a part of a truly inspiring and rewarding experience. All that, and I still got to go sledding!

Frank V. Ross, a completely self-taught filmmaker, has made seven movies in the Chicagoland area. Not only does he write, direct and edit his own films; but oftentimes he’s one of the lead actors, he runs sound, and up until his last few pictures, he’s operated his own camera. Essentially, he’s a one man movie making machine. He’s also waited tables for over ten years and has no idea how to do anything else.

I first met Frank after a screening of his fifth film, PRESENT COMPANY, at the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival. I was impressed with his ability to capture working people in real situations in an interesting way. Maintaining that balance between real people and the characters they play is key when creating a narrative meant both to convey the real world and to entice its viewers. Additionally, I’m fascinated in Frank’s remarkable ability to play jokes on his viewers and get away with it. He’ll often use suspense in humorous situations throughout his films to build the interest of the audience and then offer no real payoff. The audience will go along with it, oftentimes knowing they’ve been duped, because of his keen ability to distract and redirect.

As I read the script for AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK (our first collaboration), I found myself consistently amused, expecting something to happen and then chuckling when it didn’t. Frank even blatantly adds a title card, displayed after the main title while a supporting character has a tire blowout, that reads: “Or… These Things Happen in Threes.” Maintaining a pleasant vibe and keeping it fun for the audience, we ultimately get a payoff at the end – albeit, a non-traditional one.

In Frank’s latest incarnation, TIGER TAIL IN BLUE, he ups the joke’s-on-you ante. The film will thoroughly confuse some audiences and they’ll be constantly trying to figure out what’s going on. Whether or not the confusion over something so simple actually matters in the grand scheme of things is up to them. That being said, when discussing filmmaking over a glass of Scotch one evening, Frank said, “Movies aren’t a painting that you can stare at and make your own conclusions.” The endings don’t change, and the viewer can either accept that and go along for the ride, or not.

Some of the highlights in Chicago included reading an infamous John Wayne interview from a 1971 edition of Playboy Magazine, sledding down a hill on a snow shovel, Drew falling down the hill with all the sound gear (unscathed!), sausage and peppers, stares I got when I whipped out my koozie, realizing that I really enjoy slate jokes, laughing at how much fun it really is to count down the New Year over and over again in the middle of January. Somewhere in between all of that we made a movie. Follow TTIB on Twitter @TIGERTAILinBLUE.

In the meantime, the day before this edition of The SCENE Magazine rolls out, AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK will be screening in Los Angeles at UCLA. Towards the end of March, we’ve got a screening in The Netherlands. You can catch up with Frank while he’s waiting tables at Vincitori Restaurant in Westmont, Illinois – despite the fact that aspiring filmmakers should be paying him buckets of money to teach them how the heck to make movies.

Originally published in The SCENE MAGAZINE – February 2011

Find out more about TIGER TAIL IN BLUE, including links to still photos, Facebook and Twitter sites.

Historic Texas Theatre’s Tainted Past, Promising Future

When I was in high school, one of the coolest jobs was being a projectionist at a movie theater. Especially a movie theater that gave you a key because of the long hours. Not only did you get to see first run movies for free and have first dibs on all sorts of uber-cool swag like posters and film trailers, but you got to take your friends to the movies at like three in the morning to see any movie you wanted.

I never worked in a movie theater; but I was the friend of the guy who worked in a movie theater. There was a time where I was seeing every first run print of a movie at no cost and in the wee hours of the morning – oftentimes before the film premiered at the theater. That’s pretty darn neat for a kid who just got his driver’s license.

A mere two days before The SCENE Magazine went to print, Aviation Cinemas, Inc., a brand new venture I’m a part of, signed a lease to take over operations of the historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff (south Dallas). Formed specifically to close this deal, Aviation Cinemas is named in honor of billionaire Howard Hughes, who financed the Texas in 1931. The solid concrete, “fireproof” structure was the largest suburban theater in the metroplex at that time and the first in Dallas to have air conditioning. In its heyday, the Texas attracted the Dallas elite with its grand design and state of the art projection and acoustics.

That all ended the day President John F. Kennedy was shot and his alleged assassin was captured at the Texas after not paying for a movie ticket. Soon after that fateful day, the Texas underwent a massive facelift – all of its glorious designs and vibrant colors were covered in plaster, sealing it away from public view. Since then, the Texas has struggled, moving from one owner to another and barely avoiding the wrecking ball. Oliver Stone remodeled the marquee and exterior facade for his 1990 film, JFK, when the theatre was under the ownership of the Texas Theatre Historical Society; and in 1995 the theatre barely survived an interior fire.

Today, the Texas Theatre is under the ownership of the Oak Cliff Foundation and, up until recently, has been a community run theater, holding special events and screening films using modest equipment. On August 30th, the Oak Cliff Foundation officially handed the keys to the historic Texas Theatre over to Aviation Cinemas. Our expressed goal is immediately renovating the theatre by installing a 35mm changeover system, tweaking the existing digital projection system to meet I-Cinema compliance, and installing a new adjustable 40 foot screen. This will allow the theatre to screen movies of various exhibition formats, utilizing state of the art equipment. The large screen will be moveable to allow for other kinds of entertainment including plays and concerts. The old school style film changeover system will allow the Texas to screen repertory film prints that would not normally be allowed to be spliced together on a platter. Additional exhibition for small format films and filmmaking will be supported by the addition of 16mm and Super 8mm projection. Plans also include constructing a concession stand and a separate full-service bar in the main lobby and soundproofing the area between the theatre and the bar.

Future goals include restoring the existing balcony, remodeling additional areas for lounge space and installing a digital cinema 2K and 3D projector. Currently, there’s actually no seats in the balcony area – in fact, it’s rather spooky up there and quite dangerous. We believe that creating a barrier between the balcony area and the lower screening area (which seats 650 people) will be an acoustically sound decision. Filling out the balcony with seats and installing additional projectors will allow us to utilize that space most effectively and provide additional outlets to entertain audiences. There’s also a great deal of space in the building that could be used as lounge areas and/or green rooms for theatre patrons and/or guests of the theatre.

Our hopes are that patrons will not only come out to the theatre because of the movies, but also to come hang out at the bar and enjoy the intriguing space of the Texas. The bar will have an assortment of bottled, canned and draught beers – including some craft beer selections. Additionally, the bar will have wine and liquor – with a variety of movie themed signature drinks. The wall between the screening area and the bar will be made of glass so that patrons can see what’s being screened from the bar area and art work will adorn the walls around them.

Long term goals for the Texas are to continue the Oak Cliff Foundation’s plan to restore the interior of the theatre back to its 1930s era design. The exterior facade and marquee will remain as is – a restoration of the 1960s era. We believe the value of the Texas Theatre is unparalleled because of its rich history. We aim to provide solid movie entertainment while promoting the values, culture and spirit of independent cinema and filmmaking. We’re independent filmmakers who now run a movie theater – what better way to foster the creative and artistic aspects of filmmaking and help cultivate a community of filmmakers?

Although theater expansion is certainly a distance off, we’ve already been discussing potential locations. The Houston area is certainly on the list, given my residence in Kemah. And with the recent closing of the Angelika downtown, there’s an even greater opportunity to succeed.

So, coming full circle, I’ll soon be able to bring my friends out to my movie theater in the wee hours of the morning and have special screenings and parties and all the other crazy events you do when you operate a movie theater. Will you be my friend?

Adam Donaghey is Vice President and CMO of Aviation Cinemas, Inc.

Keep up to date at http://TheTexasTheatre.com and become a fan on Facebook at http://facebook.com/TexTheatre.

Originally published in The SCENE Magazine – September 2010

Historic Texas Theatre Goes High Tech!

DALLAS, TX (August 31, 2010)—The Oak Cliff Foundation has officially handed the keys to the historic Texas Theatre over to Aviation Cinemas, Inc., a newly formed movie theatre company with the expressed goal of renovating the theatre by installing a 35mm changeover system, tweaking the existing digital projection system to meet I-Cinema compliance, and installing a new adjustable 40 foot screen. This will allow the theatre to screen movies of various exhibition formats, utilizing state of the art equipment. The large screen will be movable to allow for other kinds of entertainment including plays and concerts. The old school style film changeover system will allow the Texas to screen repertory film prints that would not normally be allowed to be spliced together on a platter. Additional exhibition for small format films and filmmaking will be supported by the addition of 16mm and Super 8mm projection. Plans also include constructing a concession stand and a separate full-service bar in the main lobby and soundproofing the area between the theatre and the bar.

“Phase one is to get the theatre in good working condition in order to exhibit films in traditional and digital formats,” said Barak Epstein, President and CEO of Aviation Cinemas. “Long term goals to restore the theatre to its original condition still exist; but in order to realize those goals we’ve got to be on par with competing theaters. Attracting audiences is the only way this theatre will survive.”

Aviation Cinemas, named in honor of billionaire Howard Hughes, who financed The Texas Theatre in 1931, is the brainchild of award-winning independent filmmaker, Barak Epstein. Epstein has been scouting potential spaces in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for several years. Following the Oak Cliff Foundation’s involvement with the Texas Theatre led him to his first opportunity.

Award-winning Independent film producer, Adam Donaghey, is Vice-President and CMO. “Barak and I have been looking for the next project to team up on,” said Donaghey, who’s produced several films alongside Epstein, “and when the opportunity to be a part of a movie theatre with the kind of history the Texas has, I jumped all over it.”

Creative Director for The Oak Cliff Foundation, Jason Reimer, will stay on as a part of Aviation Cinemas, continuing to head up programming and book shows. “When Barak came to us with his ideas for the Texas Theatre, “ says Reimer, “I knew instantly he was the right fit. Coupled with Adam’s ability to scout the latest and greatest on the indie film market, will make for some quality programming.”

While the theatre has content booked through the rest of the year, beginning in October, including the Texas Blood Bath Film Festival in November, the grand opening of the new Texas Theatre is scheduled in January 2011. Following the grand opening, phase two will consist of remodeling the balcony by possibly turning it into two additional screens (ala the Inwood Theater in Dallas), remodeling additional areas for lounge space and installing a digital cinema 2K and 3D projector.

The Texas Theatre is currently booking independent films, concerts, theater programs, parties and events. Book your event by visiting: http://TheTexasTheatre.com

Upcoming Shows

Following are a selection of confirmed shows
all dates subject to change

* Thurs. Sept. 30 – encore showing of Return to Giant (w/ dir. Kirby Warnock)
* Tues. Oct. 5 – Touch of Evil (dir. Orson Welles)
* Tues. Oct. 12 – Harold and Maude (dir. Hal Ashby)
* Tues. Oct. 19 – After Hours (dir. Martin Scorsese)
* Tues. Oct. 26 – Bonnie and Clyde (dir. Arthur Penn)
* Tues. Nov. 2 – Last Days of Disco (dir. Whit Stillman)
* Tues. Nov. 9 – Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (dir. Sam Peckinpah)
* Tues. Nov. 16 – Jesus’ Son (dir. Alison Maclean)

* Nov. 13/14 – Blood Bath Horror Film Festival

Coming Soon:

* Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields
* Adventures of Power
* Until the Light Takes Us
* Life During Wartime

Featured Directors of the Month Series:

* Akira Kurosawa
* Jacques Tati
* Alfred Hitchcock

Corporate Bios

Barak Epstein earned a degree in Radio, Television, and Film from the University of North Texas and afterwards moved into independent film production, distribution and Film/TV technology sales and consulting. As film producer, Barak has completed five feature films, which have played at film festivals throughout the world and have international distribution. Recent films include BLOOD ON THE HIGHWAY, which was released internationally in 2009 and EARTHLING, which premiered at SXSW 2010. Barak also works as a senior production consultant at Videotex Systems and has several start-up ventures in various stages of incubation including Film Out Releasing, an alternative independent film distribution company, and Texas MicroCine, a co-op and resource for small format filmmaking in north Texas.

Adam Donaghey, President and founder of Zero Trans Fat Productions, is an award-winning independent film producer from Texas. His work has been seen at festivals and special screenings all over the world and have international distribution. Adam’s latest projects are Independent Spirit nominee Bryan Poyser’s LOVERS OF HATE, picked up by IFC Films, and Clay Liford’s MY MOM SMOKES WEED, both of which screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival; Frank V. Ross’ AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK and Clay Liford’s EARTHLING, both premiered at the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival. He recently wrapped principle photography on Clay Liford’s WUSS and Eric Steele’s UNCERTAIN, TX, and is currently in pre-production on Michelle Mower’s PREACHER’S DAUGHTER.

Jason Reimer is a composer and filmmaker responsible most recently for the multi-media group History at Our Disposal (creative capitalism). Reimer’s also been a member of Ghostcar and the Baptist Generals (Sub Pop), and recorded music for Bridges and Blinking Lights, The Angelus, Raised by Tigers and Center Divider. In 2001 he founded Pyramid Scheme art collective, producing records and art shows for various regional artists. Since 2002 Jason has scored soundtracks for various films, including Dennis Lee’s Academy Award-winning short, JESUS HENRY CHRIST, as well as producing his own installation shorts. Currently, Jason is filming VESPA GIRL with his newly formed Pyramid Scheme Production Group.

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WEBSITE:
http://TheTexasTheatre.com

Check out all the press related to the Texas Theatre on my website!

That’s a Wrap on WUSS; Company Move to UNCERTAIN, TX

At this very moment, I’m surrounded by a comforting, slow-rolling breeze amidst the quiet air of the small historic town of Jefferson, TX. The birds are singing and I’m overlooking an overgrown backyard garden upon a second floor balcony at the Alley-McKay House Bed & Breakfast Inn. Attempting to clear my head, I’m mentally preparing myself for a chaotic nine day shoot for Eric Steele’s first feature length film, UNCERTAIN, TX. That much more intense, given we just wrapped on Clay Liford’s WUSS (previously MINOR IN POSSESSION) only a few days ago.

To be shot entirely on location in Jefferson, Marshall, and Uncertain, TX, news of the film shoot has already spread like wildfire in this small, tight knit community. While much of pre-production such as casting, preliminary crew hires and location securement, was initiated prior to principle photography on WUSS, logistics regarding photography, lodging, scheduling and general production were all tackled over the course of two fifteen hour days. In other words: we’re nuts!

But even in this brief, peaceful moment, I can’t help but reflect upon the absolute insanity that was WUSS. By and large the shoot went smoothly, albeit with ultra long hours. The actors really nailed it take after take and the entire crew was on point. Like all productions, however, the set of WUSS was not without its problems, culminating on the very last shooting day. Utilizing a “poor man’s” process trailer (i.e., a Uhaul trailer) we were filming all of the driving scenes. Down to the very last scene with two shots left, our trailer carrying the picture car carrying our actors was pulled over by Dallas PD. Fumbling to find something illegal with what we were doing, the stop ended up merely being an inconvenient delay―no tickets were issued and everybody went home.

Even more interesting and relevant, considering I recently joined the Kemah Volunteer Fire Department, was a small fire on set from the extremely hot exhaust of a generator. The fire started on the grass just behind the generator and ended up catching a furniture pad covering the generator to muffle the sound. Naturally, the location we were on did not have an accessible fire extinguisher; so we had to grab one out of the grip truck, parked in front. The fire department was called, as I put out the fire. Apparently, it was more amusing than shocking, given the fire was so small compared to the intense blast of the dry chemical in the extinguisher. All of this was caught on tape but then recorded over with footage of Tony Hale―probably a good idea.

Speaking of which, for those of you who are “Arrested Development” fans, Tony Hale is an absolute riot and a constant performer. There wasn’t a straight face behind the scenes during his time on set. Luckily, no one busted a take! Endearing, sweet and genuinely happy to participate, Hale was a welcomed addition to our cast.

Ultimately, even with some minor setbacks, a multitude of locations and complicated scenes with a lot of actors, we managed to pull off a great shoot. The wrap party took place at the historic Texas Theatre, where we showed a blooper reel and a rough edited assembly of about ten minutes to the cast and crew. All that behind us, we’re taking a break from WUSS in order to shoot UNCERTAIN, TX, where the small town vibe has created an interesting juxtaposition to hectic city life of Dallas.

It’s now 12:30 a.m. and call time is six and a half hours later. The house is silent, save for me, clicking away on my computer. Tomorrow we begin a brand new endeavor and my exhaustion is overcome by my anxiousness. I’m certain most of the crew is feeling the same way, having also just worked on Liford’s film. I’ll say it again: we’re nuts; utterly nuts.

Thankfully, we’ve got an amazingly talented group of individuals taking on this task. I’m once again partnered with my right hand man, Daniel Laabs―my production coordinator and friend. My wrap present to him after WUSS was a crumpled up one sheet for the film, TRASH HUMPERS, I found in the garbage at the Texas Theatre. While this seems odd to most of you, I’m sure―it meant a great deal to Daniel. Although I’m super happy with this serendipitous find (seriously, watch the movie and you might begin to understand why it’s so great), this time I might need to spring for a bottle of Jim Beam.

As silly as this will sound, I’m uncertain about where this film is going to go; although I’m quite certain it will be something great. Having a smaller cast and crew and a shorter shooting schedule in an intimate location will surely create an entirely different vibe. But that’s what movie making is all about. If it’s the same old thing every day, we wouldn’t be so driven to do it. This raw intensity is my passion and what fuels me―I can never stop making movies.

Originally published in The SCENE Magazine – August 2010

Back on Set with WUSS and UNCERTAIN, TX

Update: The film previously titled “MINOR IN POSSESSION” is now titled “WUSS.”

This month, we begin principle photography on a feature dark comedy, tentatively titled WUSS (previously MINOR IN POSSESSION). Written and to be directed by Clay Liford, the film is somewhat of a follow-up to the Sundance short, MY MOM SMOKES WEED. Nate Rubin loosely reprises his role as “Mitch,” an awkward late twenty-something individual with little direction in life. A high school English teacher, Mitch finds himself incapable of relating to his students, his peers or his family. Barely managing to get through life as it is, things turn from ugly to worse when he’s beaten up by a group of his own students. Too embarrassed to tell his fellow teachers and having no where else to turn, Mitch teams up with Maddie, a young girl feared school-wide because of a dark family reputation. Bonded in battle, the student and teacher form a friendship that stretches the use of the word inappropriate.

The Film, to be shot in Dallas and surrounding areas, features a hodgepodge of local talent and well-known faces, such as Tony Hale from “Arrested Development” fame and Alex Karpovsky, who starred in Sundance favorite LOVERS OF HATE. Set to be shot in HD on the Canon 5D Mark II with all sorts of fancy lenses, rigs and adaptors, WUSS will continue a recent trend in independent (and some studio) productions of utilizing low cost camera solutions to produce quality, high definition video.

I got my first dose of the Canon 5D the last weekend in June while producing the short film NEAL, which Liford shot, about a poolside escapade that turns deadly for two lovers unaware of what lurks beneath the crystal clear water. Adding into the mix some heavy underwater footage, I was really impressed with what this camera can accomplish with the proper gadgetry―in this case, underwater housing specifically designed to keep the camera water tight. Although the most rewarding experience on this particular shoot was spraying co-lead Dallas based actor Ryan Harper Gray with a water cannon filled with fake blood.

We plan to shoot WUSS in fifteen days―a very small window of time, relatively speaking. During that time, I’ll be staying with one of my producing partners, Eric Steele, whom I stayed with during the production of NEAL. Lucky for me, I’ve already bonded with his dog, Jimmy―I’m hoping that’s some sort of omen. Along with general producing, I’ll be acting as unit production manager (UPM); meaning, I’ll be the primary producer on set. In short, I will be living, eating and breathing WUSS. It’s really hard for me to comprehend the fact that it’s actually been over a year since I’ve been on set for a feature (and other than NEAL, the set of a short, for that matter). Although, between film festivals, small dealings with distribution matters, and preparing for future projects, I’ve somehow stayed fully engrossed in filmmaking.

That being said, immediately following MIP, we go into pre-production for a measly five days before shooting our next project (also on the Canon 5D), co-written and to be directed by my future and temporary housemate. The film, titled UNCERTAIN, TX, is named for the small Texas town, with a population of approximately 150, on the west side of Caddo Lake; and will touch on it’s rich history and eerie superstitions. Although our principle location is a bed and breakfast located in the neighboring city of Marshall, there will be plenty of footage filmed on location.

Much like LOVERS OF HATE, which was conceived during a stay at the principle location, the script for UNCERTAIN, TX was largely written because of the already existing bed and breakfast. The film takes place on the banks of Caddo Lake and follows two drifting con-artists who deceive the aged, blind proprietors of a cozy bed and breakfast and their semi-retarded son by posing as two guests who have made reservations for the following week. They all sing songs and dance around and fish and garden and everything is quite comfortable and nice. And then… Wham!

Steele is interested in the reality of sudden changing moments. Heightened and stylized in the script, these moments can be very real and truly horrifying. Most of us have been in situations in life that suddenly, for whatever reason, everything seems to change. Without warning, the good times are over and our gut tightens up. What if we could pin point these moments and prolong them in cinematic time for an audience? A thriller, of sorts, I read UNCERTAIN, TX in under an hour on my iPhone on my way to Chicago for three screenings of AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK. Upon landing I immediately emailed Steele (and co-writer, Hunter Wood) the following: “This is incredible! I’m overcome with a sense of dread after completing the script! I read it in like an hour―couldn’t stop. I’m super excited about this and totally creeped out! Thanks a lot guys―my night is ruined!”

WUSS and UNCERTAIN, TX are just two of many films on the horizon. In early September I plan to work once again with my old friend David Lowery, writer/director of ST. NICK, on his short, PIONEER; but can’t give details on that just yet. Later that month, I’ll be producing Michelle Mower’s THE PREACHER’S DAUGHTER right here in Houston―with locations in Alvin and other surrounding areas. PD follows the estranged daughter of a small town minister who is forced to return to the strict, religious home of her youth and face the demons she left behind four years before. A small break in October to produce the Houston Film Race and then it’s back to Dallas in November for John Wildman’s STRIPPED, a film following the events of a birthday outing that turns into a horrific fight for survival when two brothers and a friend become trapped in a house with a “family” of malevolent women.

More details on those films and others currently in development as they come. In the meantime, I’ll be reporting next month from high school and the following knee deep in Caddo Lake.

Originally published in The SCENE Magazine – July 2010

See more information, including synopses, press and other information for WUSS and UNCERTAIN, TX

Maryland Film Fest Wrap Up -or- Yeah, I’ll Continue to Produce Movies

It’s now officially been a year since I upped the ante and started doing film full time. Oddly enough, the Maryland Film Festival, which takes place in May, accurately marks this decision. Last year, ST. NICK screened at the festival and I flew in from Huntsville, Alabama. Upon my return, I immediately packed my belongings and drove back to the Clear Lake Area. Partly due to the fact that I wanted to be closer to my sweetheart and partly because the passion for selling storm restoration services (yep, that’s what I used to do) had completely fizzled out and died. Since then, I haven’t looked back.

This year, EARTHLING, LOVERS OF HATE and MY MOM SMOKES WEED all screened in Maryland. One of the coolest filmmaker hangout festivals in the country, the Maryland Film Festival knows how to show its filmmakers a good time. This year, I got in early enough on Thursday to enjoy some of the sights in the Mount Vernon Historic District before slamming headfirst into films and parties. Strolling through the historic square, I took a gander at the (original) Washington Monument and ducked into The Walters Art Museum before meeting up with friends (including fellow Houstonian, Kelly Sears!) for a relaxing dinner where I sampled famous Maryland crab cakes and cream of crab soup.

As most of you know already, I’m quite a food lover; and Maryland certainly delivers. Golden West Cafe once again catered “Tent City”―the center of festival happenings―where the filmmakers lounge and most importantly, where all the eats and drinks are located. Nonstop complimentary made-to-order food and drink service from around noon to nine is always a plus. I believe I engulfed three rare buffalo bacon burgers in three days. Other complimentary food opportunities included smoked salmon and mussels at the filmmakers’ champagne reception and a gluttonous feast of good ole’ fashioned barbequed brisket at the closing night party.

Along with gorging myself, I happened to catch some really great films as well. The screenings of my films all went really well and the response during Q&A was positive. Maryland is a noncompetitive festival and totally laid back, so it’s a really great forum to hang out with other filmmakers and see lots of films you haven’t had a chance to check out. I used this festival to play catch-up and see some films by friends or acquaintances of mine that I hadn’t had a chance to catch at Sundance or South By Southwest.

DADDY LONGLEGS, a film by Josh and Benny Safdie―ultra-DIY filmmakers with no concern for things like permissions or permits―premiered at Cannes and stars fellow filmmaker and friend, Ronnie Bronstein, as Lenny, a father who’s mastered the art of making life as difficult as possible. Needy, helpless and downright impossible to deal with, DADDY LONGLEGS takes us through a short annual two week period where this completely devoted yet utterly hapless father has custody of his two kids. Most intriguing is the fact that Lenny’s character is based on the Safdie’s real-life father. And so, the film is both a subtly empathetic character study and a disturbingly sentimental portrait of a reckless and irresponsible individual. Distributed through IFC Films, DADDY LONGLEGS is currently in theaters and on demand.

Also picked up by IFC was Aaron Katz’ COLD WEATHER, which bowed at SXSW this year. Katz is often attributed to the esoteric genre “mumblecore.” Sort of a filmmakers and industry only club, mumblecore describes naturalistic, highly improvised low-budget films that started popping up at SXSW circa 2005. COLD WEATHER marks a different approach to the oddly coined genre in that it’s shot beautifully on the RED ONE and mixes in a mystery element, giving the film a richer, more intense, feel. At the same time, the mystery element is really, and brilliantly, beside the point―this film is really dealing with personal relationships of “mumbly” twenty-somethings.

Austin filmmaker and mumblecore actor, Mark Duplass stars in MARS, a film by UT professor Geoff Marslett. MARS is an animated feature about a group of laid back astronauts on a mission to land on the red planet, MARS, amidst a world who doesn’t really care about space travel anymore. An ominous tale of what’s to come; basically, it’s pretty darn close to the world we live in now. With Kinky Friedman playing himself as the President of the United States and quirky sub-genius characters playing highly-skilled astronauts, the film is definitely Austin-based. Marslett actually developed the method of animation used in the film. The film has not yet been acquired.

After leaving Maryland this time around, I was greeted at the airport by my sweetheart and we drove home to Kemah. In an weird sense of justification for the choices I’ve made, I’ve recently become attached to several other projects coming up throughout the year. Even weirder, however, is the fact that AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK, which premiered earlier this year at SXSW, will be having its hometown premiere in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center this month; while the company I represented doing storm restoration is also currently in Chicago selling exterior services after a hailstorm ravaged the northwest suburbs. I’m really not sure what that means; but I am certain I’m too busy to worry about it.

Originally Published in The SCENE Magazine – June 2010

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