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By Melinda Hsu | March 2, 1998

[ THE SCOOP: ] ^ Action/satire. The mob, the FBI, a suicidal hit man and live TV crews chase after our hero and the drug shipment he may have stolen, but he lives happily ever after anyway. (Co-written by Jeff Ward, produced by Philip Farha and Rebecca Kentosh-Tederstrom.)
[ BUDGET, SCHEDULE, STATUS: ] ^ $15,000 to shoot on film and video, edit on video, and produce a soundtrack CD featuring local bands. CD sales and ticket sales (from screenings in a local theater) have recouped $4,000 of that. The money came from Eric’s savings and credit cards. Eric and Jeff started writing the script from the fall of 1994; Eric shot in Columbus, Ohio for 40 days in the summer of 1995, and edited on video for a year before screening the completed film in the summer of 1996.
[ WHY DID YOU DO IT? ] ^ While I was at film school at Columbia University, I shot the movie instead of taking directing classes one semester. I had a professor there who would come in every day and say, “How can I teach you directing from a classroom?” His big thing was, you just gotta go out and direct. Also, I wanted to take something from writing class and put it on the screen. At the time I was a cinematography TA and I was getting all these short ends [small amounts of unused film stock] and I also worked at the journalism school, where they were throwing away used 3/4-inch videotapes [broadcast quality tapes, as opposed to the 1/2-inch tapes used in a VCR.] So I had all these different formats and I decided I was going to write something to use those formats, and use the experience of shooting it to tutor myself. And I knew that I was going to edit on 3/4-inch video, and that it would be seen on video, and yeah, if it was really good we could transfer to film.
[ WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE MAKING THE FILM? ] ^ After we finished the script, I had casting sessions in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. I did bring one cast member with me from New York. My director of photography was from Philadelphia, one of my producers was in New York, my first AD came out from New York, and the assistant cameraman was from California. I also had a local producer, and she and I found all the other actors and crew members in Columbus. We advertised in the daily paper, on local radio and TV, in coffee houses, and in arts publications. There were about half a dozen loyal core crew members from Columbus. The rest were people who came for a few days, or who came for one day and never showed up again. But we always had enough people to get things done.
I grew up in Columbus, so I was calling up on a lot of friends that I had known forever, most of whom weren’t film people, so for them it was exciting to be part of a movie. We got free locations like restaurants, houses, and apartment buildings. I knew people who did makeup and hair, and who ran trucking companies… We paid for the cost of catering, and for a few costumes from the Salvation Army, and that was about all. All the lighting and camera equipment came from the film and journalism schools. All the editing equipment and time was donated from a hospital where I used to work. Everybody donated their time. To get all the extras for one of the big scenes, local radio stations advertised that there was a movie being shot, and about forty people showed up and hung out all afternoon for free. We paid the crew members with a tape of the movie, and meals on the days that they worked. When we made the CD, local bands donated rights and fees in return for copies of the CD. Most of those recordings already existed on DAT tape, and a local studio donated time to mix them.
[ DID YOU HAVE TO SACRIFICE ANYTHING BECAUSE OF THE BUDGET AND THE SCALE? ] ^ Like establishing shots? Yeah. I guess we knew what we were going to have to compromise on before we even shot it: we compromised on drama and seriousness by making the whole thing really kitschy and tongue-in-cheek. We only used extreme close-ups or very melodramatic two-shots, which looks cheesy, but I tried to make it cheesy as part of the feel. I thought we did a fairly good job going into it and just saying, “Okay: cheesy,” but I don’t know if “cheesy” plays to everybody… Obviously we sacrificed not being able to put it straight onto film, but no, nothing else.
[ WHAT’S THE CURRENT STATUS OF THE FILM? ] ^ Dead in the water. We spent about a year and half sending it out to film and video festivals as well as B-grade video distributors, both national and international. We got no response from anybody. We’re done with it. We’re not showing it anymore. I give copies to video stores in every city that I stay in for more than three days, so there are video stores in Columbus, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland that have copies of the movie. Blockbuster Video won’t accept that kind of walk-in, but local video stores are always happy to get a new feature, and they take mine and put it in their “bizarre video” section.
[ ANY ADVICE OR PEARLS OF BRILLIANT FILMMAKING WISDOM? ] ^ Do it for yourself, and set certain goals and try to meet those goals. My goal wasn’t to make a movie that everybody would see or even that would be in theaters. Mine was just to see what my written page would be like on the screen. I don’t think anybody likes the movie. But I achieved my purpose. I wasn’t really doing it to make a calling card for my directing abilities. I don’t think the actors thought that those were my goals, but… God, if you could go out and do it with a camcorder, you could learn certain things. If you were trying to win an Oscar, you might do it differently. I guess that’s my only advice. And get as much free stuff as you can.
[ WAS IT WORTH IT? ] ^ Oh, yeah. Unquestionably. It helped my writing a lot. The editing process helped me figure out how to edit in writing. And I had a blast, and I think most of the people that worked on it enjoyed it. And I actually like the movie, although I think most people don’t. I have to tell you my biggest compliment. A woman came up to me at the end of one of the screenings, and I didn’t know her–she was a psychiatrist, and she handed me her card and said, “If you ever want to talk, just give me a call.”
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  1. Sam Yamaguchi says:

    Please preserve this delightful action-thriller homage to permanent digital media while the VHS tapes still survive!

    Experimental films like this should be required viewing for film students.

    Besides that, everyone loves a good story and this is a great one. The fact is, this 1994-penned script brilliantly presaged both the 2002 Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs” and the 2006 Oscar-winner remake “The Departed.” You don’t believe? Watch this film.

    A true “no-budget” effort created by earnest filmmakers . A case-study in living the dream…

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