Thursday, July 5, 2012

CONTRACTED: Getting Down with the Sickness

June came and went, like a cheap hooker in the pale, moon light.. without even so much as a thank you card left on the bedside table. Before I knew it, it was July 4th and fireworks were popping off right outside my window. What the hell happened?! I'll tell you what.. CONTRACTED.

In my last post, I had just gotten back from Arkansas where I welcomed my first feature film, MADISON COUNTY, into the world in my hometown of Russellville. Just five short days after that, I began shooting my 3rd feature film, CONTRACTED. Contracted is/was/always will be an experience that I'll never forget and one that has change my life for good. But before I get into that, let's go back to the beginning and think of how it all started.

CONTRACTED was an idea I had floating around in my head for about a year. I won't go into too much detail for fear of giving too much away, but essentially, I wanted to do a movie about a girl that has sex with a guy and has to deal with the unfortunate consequences. At first, I thought it would be a dark drama (and in a lot of ways, it still kind of is), but I didn't want to get on a soapbox and preach.. mainly because I don't have anything to preach about.. I just wanted to tell an engaging story about a subject we can all relate to (unless you're a virgin, then you're not in my demographic anyway).

Get it? ;)

Originally, I was going to set the film in a foreign country and add a layer of xenophobia to the film. A girl catching a horrible disease in a foreign country.. sounds shitty to me, right? Well, getting money to make a movie is hard enough -- getting enough money to make a movie overseas is even tougher. So that idea was set on the back burner for a rainy day.

Well, before you know it.. that rainy day had come. It was in January, I believe when JD Lifshitz (my producer) told me that he and his partner (Rafi Margules) were starting a company and wanted to do a movie.. JD wanted to produce a film for me. I had met with JD previously and really admired his drive and passion. Not to mention, he's a talented filmmaker himself -- so I was instantly open to the idea. We kicked a couple of topics back and forth until finally we both agreed that we wanted to do an intimate movie that was gritty, ballsy, but had passion.. that we could shoot in LA with a crew that we trusted, but most of all, WANTED to work with. That was kind of the starting point.

I pitched them the idea of CONTRACTED, we went back and forth over some major story points and before you know it, I was getting ready to write the script. As the script was being written, we started bringing other major pieces of the puzzle together.. one of those being Matt Mercer, who I had previously worked with on Madison County. Matt was interested in producing and I thought he'd be a great asset to the production, so we brought him on to act and produce the film with us.

Matt Mercer in Madison County

Matt was not only my saving grace as a producer on set, tackling a lot of the jobs/problems that can plague an indie film like ours, but he also introduced me to my lead actress, Najarra Townsend.. but we'll get to her and all of that in a minute.

Whenever I jump into making a film, I do what any filmmaker does.. I think about who I want to work with. I have a group of talented filmmakers and actors around me and I really wanted to tap into that. I loved working with Katie (Stegeman) on Madison and ROADSIDE, so naturally, I wanted to put her in the movie. She also ended up kicking some major ass behind the camera in helping with costumes and basically co-cast the film with Matt. Any role that I needed filling, she or Matt, tossed someone out that was perfect. It was a dream come true in a lot of ways with her and Matt just bringing people to the table that were absolutely amazing.

Katie Stegeman
The pre-production process was fast. I think it was something like 6 weeks to prep the movie before filming began. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. A week before filming began, we had still yet to cast the role of Sam's Mom (which would go on to be played by the lovely Caroline Williams), we hadn't found a place for the big climax of the movie (which was not something we could skimp on), and we still had a lot of work to do. But amazing things happen when you make a movie.. things seem to "click" and the cast/crew we had on this movie really clicked in a way that I've never seen before.

The casting process was nuts. I HAD to find the right girl to carry this movie. We had a couple of people in mind and I even reached out to a couple of more "well known" actresses, but I really wanted to find someone that WANTED to do this movie. That got what we did and wasn't on the fence about if it was the right thing for them. This is no walk in the park, in terms of character. This girl was literally going to be in every scene, had to be able to pull off some major performances and also trust me 100% while I was behind the camera doing unspeakable things to her. Luckily, thanks to Matt's recommendation, we found her in Najarra.

Najarra Townsend
 The moment Najarra walked into the room, I knew she was the girl. The way she looked. The way she acted. Everything was amazing. The moment she walked out, I turned to Matt and I said "That's my girl". It was one of those magical moments that only happens when you're making a movie. But I had to be sure. We met with her after her callback blew us away and after spending 5 minutes with her at a coffee shop in the middle of Hollwood, I knew she was right.

After the first week of shooting, I knew that NJT (that was the nickname I bestowed upon her) was nothing short of amazing and was becoming my favorite actress to work with. Through shooting, we developed a short hand of knowing what each other meant without even having to say it (Najarra's bad with words anyway) ;). I would give her small adjustments that would make massive impacts and her instincts as an actress were incredible. Watching her on screen is just so engaging. You want nothing more than to spend every second with her, which is what this character, and this film needed. I consider myself, and the rest of us all lucky, and blessed, that she took on the challenge of being in this film. This movie wouldn't have been the same without her.

Setting up a shot with NJT and Caroline for CONTRACTED

 NJT was also responsible for giving a good recommendation to our DP, Mike Testin. We had to lose our DP a few weeks before shooting because he was a lying piece of shit that had never seen a camera before in his life, and I was on the scramble to find someone to replace him. We needed a DP that was gonna be loose and could adapt to the crazy shoot we were about to put them through. A lot of people wouldn't be up for the job.. Mike was. After the first day of shooting, I knew right away.. Mike was my guy. We spoke the same language, we moved at the same pace and before you know it, we were quoting each other and making out in the corner (okay, that last part was a lie.. but we came close). There was just so much man love in the air that it was sick.

Everyone was walking around set saying things like "Man, Mike's amazing!" and they were right. By the end of the first week, Mike and I were buds. He knew what kinds of shots I was looking at before I ever had to look at them. He dug the way I shot and I dug the way he shot. He brought some interesting choices to the table and made my vision that much better.. everything you could ask for in a DP. Beyond that, the dude is great to grab a beer with. When shit hits the fan, Mike Testin is the guy I want behind the camera, helping me get it on film.

Mike and I after wrapping our last day on CONTRACTED
 The rest of the crew on this film was just amazing.. I literally mean that. You hear directors/producers jerk their crews off with their words all the time, but I truly mean this.. I loved this crew and it was the best shooting experience I've ever had. This shoot was so smooth and amazing, we were finishing days early.. which is insane and has never happened to me (and we didn't have a lot of time to shoot shit movie). This was the first movie that I've ever wrapped and wished it wasn't over. I wish I were still shooting to this day and I instantly began mulling over what I can do to try and get the gang back together. The moment we finished the last shot and our AD, Dave, was about to call the wrap, I went up and hugged Najarra and everyone else and told them how great of a job they did and how sad I was that it was over.. because I was and still am.

Everyone on this crew is now family to me. They all took a bullet for me and I would do the same for them. We made a fucking amazing movie together and I can't wait to bring them all back to do it again for the next one! Below, I just wanna give a shout-out to some of the people from this amazing team and say "Thank You". As for what's next? Roadside is being finished and let me say, on record.. it's been worth the wait. This is the little film that could and probably shouldn't have been.. the production was a nightmare, but we made it through with a great film and I can't wait to share with you all the result. I'll be updating the path that film will take soon. In the meantime, I'll update with what's next and more in the near future!

Til next time,


JD & Rafi - You guys are amazingly supportive and two of the most genuine guys I've ever met. Thanks for turning the wheels of this train and sending us all on the ride of our lives!

Mike - Thanks for being my co-pilot on this adventure. I've never had so much fun shooting a movie and this is by far, the best looking. Hope you're ready for more!

Matt - I couldn't have done it without you, buddy. Thanks for kicking ass in front of and behind the camera. Your talent never ceases to amaze me.

Katie - You're my rock in more ways than you'll ever know. Thanks for keeping me sane and driving me insane just enough to keep me creative ;). You're so talented, it's gross. I can't wait til the next one!

NJT - You made this all so special. I wish it would never stop. Thanks for being amazing.

Dave - I never met an AD that I actually liked until you. Thanks for keeping my crazy train on the tracks. Looking forward to the next time we're running the ship together. 

Phil - Anytime I get ready to make a movie, the first thought that crosses my mind is "I hope Phil's available". Thanks for always lightening the mood and keeping the sound good. Another one in the books and I can't wait til we're at it again!

Ian - We're about 3 or 4 films deep now! Thanks for always making me think twice about what I say before I say it ;)

Mayera - You were a Godsend. Thanks for making this movie as nasty as I needed it to be and always being a delight to be around. My only regret is that I didn't have more time to spend at your station to gossip ;)

Reed - You were a rockstar on the production design, dude! All the sets looks stellar and I can't wait to share your work with the world! Thanks for the free vodka as well :)

Denholm - Dude.. buds for life. You kicked so much ass on this movie. Anything you need, you let me know. I hope you're ready for more in the future because I want you there!

Claire - You were a ray of sunshine and a lifesaver in so many ways. I hope you'll put up with me again on the next ones :)

And to the rest of my cast and crew, THANK YOU! I can't wait to share all of our hard work with you in the near future!

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