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By Film Threat Staff | April 20, 1998

[ THE SCOOP: ] ^ Drama. A desperate gunman, on the run from a senseless murder, stumbles upon a Modern Day Shaman in the middle of the desert. As his pursuers draw closer, the fugitive finds the answers he needs through the shaman that transcend life and death. ^
[ BUDGET, SCHEDULE, STATUS: ] ^ Total cost of my film, including post, came to $26,500. I guess fair to middlin’ for a half hour short. I budgeted for $1,000 a minute, so I came out a little below. Funding came through the generous donations of family, friends, and the people at Citibank, Discover, et al. The project was my thesis film from Grad School at California Institute of the Arts, where narrative filmmaking is not the norm. It was also the first film done at CalArts that was shot in 16mm, edited on the Avid, sound designed on ProTools, and finished on film. Telecine-ing was a hairy experience at $250 an hour, as we reached hour 14, I was purchasing Depends. The school’s technology was a step or two behind, so lots of campaigning was done on my part, which was beneficial to the school in the end, because now updated software is available to all students who want to go the modern route of posting a film. It’s been finished since May 97, which was my deadline in order to graduate. ^
[ WHY DID YOU DO IT? ] ^ I want to write and direct, dammit! I wanted to come out of Grad School with something I was proud of. The story was based on my own play which was performed at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and won the National One-Act Competition. Being a filmmaker, the concept behind was always very cinematic. I had two great actors in the roles, and it made sense to use them in the film. They already knew the characters so well. ^
[ WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE MAKING THE FILM? ] ^ I made sure, after writing 7 drafts, to tell a story for film, not film a stage play. This meant opening the story up and including characters that were not in the play. Initially, I wanted to shoot in Sedona, Arizona, where the play takes place, but then I looked in my wallet, got real, and decided on Red Rock Canyon, Mojave, which has some pretty impressive landscape and was much closer to home base. My DP, Glen Ade Brown, really worked to bring out the character of the rock formations, making them an integral part of the story. ^
We were assured by the Ranger (this was a National Reserve) that the weekends we chose to shoot were the best; weatherwise. Well, surprise-surprise, a storm hit as we were setting up camp, and as we were getting our first shots off, our staging area was attacked by the Mother of El Nino, and blew everything away. Half our crew was chasing down tents and toilet paper while the rest worked on the film. Friendships were tested. Then the rangers wanted to throw us out of the park, because so many people were running around retreiving clothes, food and flying film cans. In stepped my producer, Karen Sheeler, to do some fast talking, and calm the agitated Ranger down.
We had night shoots, and found a way to recreate the rocky plateau on a set back on campus. Now you know, if you see it. We needed the obligatory fog shot, and set the fire alarms off at school, which made an audience filled theatre down the hall vacate the premesis. More Producer fast talk.
[ WHAT SACRIFICES DID YOU HAVE TO MAKE ALONG THE WAY? ] ^ Film wise we were pretty lucky. Realistic pre-production planning meant that we didn’t try for too much each day. I like to storyboard, and my DP was very open to seeing the shots as I did. I did lose a friend over it, but that’s what happens. The bonds of friendship are tested, and you really learn who is in your corner come the dawn’s early light. ^
[ WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FILM? ] ^ Fortunately, a producer saw the play and optioned it. The company was also excited at the success of the screening, and so I am now working on the feature version. This has been even more difficult than adapting the play into a short, since I have had to create lives for these characters that go beyond the “talking-heads” of a play. ^
CalArts has chosen to screen their “best” films on April 29th at the Los Angeles Public Library and so “Vortex” is screening again.
[ WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR FIRST TIME FEATURE FILMMAKERS? ] ^ 1. Feed your crew well. Get someone really good on Craft Services. People will really work hard for you, (especially when you pay them nothing, or next to it) if you show your appreciation by filling their stomachs with the four food groups, and I don’t mean Donuts, M&M’s, Oreos and Tortilla Chips. ^ 2. Say “thank You” to each of them personally at the end of the day. ^ 3. Make sure your script is sea-worthy. Throw your ego out the window. If someone has a better idea, listen to them. Don’t get bullied, but at the same time, don’t be stubborn. ^ 4. Good actors. I understand the need to cast the guy whose father is footing 75% of the bill, so surround him with talent. Casting is 90% of the director’s job. Take it as seriously as the SAT. Also, let your actors find the truth. They are living up there in those characters, not you. They will find amazing things you never thought possible. ^
[ WAS IT WORTH IT? ] ^ The real answer will reveal itself in the years to come. I’ve gotten work, and some good interviews. I am proud of the work, the experience, and the accomplishment. ^
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