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.


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

Let’s Go Exploring!

a_new_year_a_fresh_clean_startIt’s been twelve years since Bill Watterson published his final Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. The brilliant strip about a boy and his stuffed tiger that is alive, Calvin and Hobbes will always be an inspiration to explore new and unconquered territories. It teaches us to follow our creative instincts and allow ourselves the freedom to truly live!

As it’s been twelve years since the retirement of the comic strip, I was a twelve-year-old kid when I bought my first Calvin and Hobbes anthology, Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons. I remember reading the strip for a long time before in the Sunday paper and felt a strong connection to Calvin. I longed to live his and Hobbes’ adventures.

On my fifteenth birthday, November 9th, 1995, I remember reading Watterson’s statement–that he was going to retire Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. That December he published the final comic strip. And what a way to bring in the new year! Every few years I think back to this particular strip–I’ll see it in print somewhere, or someone blogs about it, or whatever–and it always puts a smile on my face.


On a related note, David and I went and explored a ranch we’ll be using in St. Nick, owned by a friend of mine the other day. Along with prospecting the land for great shots, we made friends with the cows, the buffalo, and the horses–particularly an overzealous glass-eyed horse with a propensity for biting (my wool sweater, David’s sport jacket, my SUV, etc.).

The ranch is located in Valley View, TX, just north of Sanger, and we hope to shoot there for several days.

St. Nick is inspired, in part, by a series of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips featured in the anthology, Yukon Ho! The titular strips feature Calvin and Hobbes running away from home, in an effort to free themselves from the constraints of parental control and its silly family rules. They choose the Yukon where they can sled all day and make friends with wild animals. That being said, the trip is short-lived due to the fact that Hobbes consumes the only two sandwiches Calvin bothered to pack. From “The Yukon Song”:

Oh, what a life! we cannot wait,
To be in that arctic land,
Where we’ll be masters of our fate,
And lead a life that’s grand!

No more of parental rules!
We’re heading for some snow!
Good riddance to those grown-up-ghouls!
We’re leaving! Yukon Ho!

“A new year… A fresh clean start!”