I do think I shaved a few years off my life while making this movie. We had our ups and downs, a stressful first week, torrential downpours (during Florida's dry season, mind you), a continuous battle against the lazy winter sun. It was difficult, to say in the least. I think this set photo of the Producer sums it up:
The second time, I was determined to do things the "right" way on the shoot, to take all necessary precautions, to work within the established, decent way of filmmaking. I had no interest in attracting the attention of police again for doing a war movie in suburbia, no, those days were behind me. I enlisted the help of twenty friends, and we found a good stretch of woods in my hometown where we could film explosions and faux gunfire and storm foxholes and all the good stuff that kids with cameras would try to put on film... or tape. Mini-DV to be exact. We missed the whole permitting part of pre-production...
The fact that we had parked at a bank (the only place to access our beautiful little wilderness) nearly cost us our little "Youtube" movie. When a friend and I marched the long trek back to the parking lot, and emerged from the woods, we found one very nervous police officer waiting for us. I couldn't believe it; this place was frequented by all kinds of rednecks and satanists and sociopaths with shotguns and chicken heads and suspicious trash bags. Why the HELL did we always get busted for making movies?
I'll never forget the look on the officer's face when he placed his hand on his holster and shot a pair of beady red eyes my way, pointing in hysterics at my car, asking me in a shrill tone why the hell I left the door open. Billy and I just stood there, shaking in our flip-flops, and I said we were hauling stuff to the forest, that we were making a movie. He pointed to my car and said with skepticism, "Oh, that's for a movie?" He let me inch around him (at a respectable distance of course), and then I saw what had scared the shit out of him. We had a hollowed army storage tube, which was harmless and only filled with clothes and water. But, to the unsuspecting Sheriff, it looked quite a bit like a missile or something. It took me a few minutes to confess my idiocy, open up the tube and pull out the bottled water and clothes, and convince him we were just making a movie. I'll never forget his parting words, "Y'all have fun with your war games, but if I hear any explosions or bombs go off, you're screwed."
No such mistakes this time. After a few years of experience in the industry and a graduate education, I was off to make a feature. This time, the right way. The real right way. With permits and a company and a budget and insurance and all...
I spent two and a half years working on The Miseducation of Simon Kraus. The concept originated as a documentary and quickly evolved into a narrative, through which I wanted to explore my time at home after I graduated with my Bachelors (a useless degree in the humanities, mind you.). I had a lot of fun during that year off; I worked as a restaurant manager and reconnected with all of my old friends. I hadn't seen most of them for three or more years, and when I returned home, life was pretty much as it had always been for everybody. People got married, others tinkered with community college, and most worked, worked, worked. And for me, well I traveled twice to Europe, took a lot of time to read and think, wrote a lot, and wasted a ton of time. Before long I realized I had to get out, because the luxury of floating without want or responsibility was sure to seal my permanent residence at home.
The real world isn't too fun either, especially nowadays. I've spent tens of thousands to get an advanced education, and it hasn't yielded much in the way of money. Most people that I know who are just out of college are in the same boat. We do have "a recession on," sure. And, my friends and I have arts degrees, yes. Still, it's never been this hard to find work.
So, I am reminiscing quite a bit about the positive experience I had while making my first feature, The Miseducation of Simon Kraus. For years I wrote, for months I fund raised and produced, and for 19 days in December I directed a group of incredibly talented actors and crew. It was cathartic, to say in the least, watching these ideas and experiences and musings come to life on set. We shot everything in my home town, burned images of popular hangout spots, and made the character of Simon real. The crew connected with him, and I hope audiences do too, because for me, Simon Kraus represents the struggle that a lot of us face after graduating (especially those of us who have ambitions for creative careers).
It's an exciting time for everybody involved in film at the independent level. New technology is allowing filmmakers of all skill levels and ambitions to produce stunning visual media for little or no money. For the first time in history, filmmaking is accessible to the masses in the way that painting and writing and photography have been for generations. Moreover, people have the ability to show their work to millions via the Internet, as new modes of distribution evolve. As more and more consumers become producers of emerging media and film, I believe that we'll be witness to a renaissance in cinema. There are new, exciting success stories of filmmakers reaching audiences. Now, if your film doesn't get to the top tier festivals, there's still hope:
POST PARTEM is a better way to convey the end of our shoot. By the time we got to the "martini" shot, the crew had gelled into a family. I've truly missed working with everyone involved in Simon Kraus, and look forward to reconnecting with the cast and crew soon. In the meantime, James (the Producer) and I anxiously await our assembly cut's completion.