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By Mark Bell | July 18, 2007

It’s Summertime, which means fun, sun and barbecues! Filmmaker Rob Gray knows this all too well, as his feature film showcases not one, but THREE of the Summer community events. Ohio native Rob sits down with Film Threat to talk all about his comedy feature film “Three Barbecues, A Blackened Comedy,” filmmaking and the film’s new DVD release…

What made you decide to get into filmmaking?
I wanted to get more blowjobs. I always thought directors got that. I guess I was wrong. I guess we all were.

But seriously…
I am actually going to let my wife answer this.

Molly: “Rob’s first venture into story-telling is not a visual effort but one worth mentioning, nonetheless. An only child, his closest companion was a tape recorder. He used to host these dramas on the imaginary WKIV, Radio 6. There was a host of characters, colorful DJs, curse words, fights with his aunt in the background and a perversion that permeated every word. I’ve personally listened to most of these tapes and am as creatively hopeful as I am mortified and fearful of our children and where their minds might take them. Speaking to his first film, he and lifelong friend Jeff Brandt (“Three Barbecues” AP/AD) did make a movie when they were 12. It was a one-day shoot. A story was earth-shattering and original – it was about two guys chasing each other for no stated reason. They realized shortly after wrapping that day that there was no film in the camera. The picture remains in the works to this day…the guts of the story are the same.”

Did you make any films where film was in the camera?
I made some You Tube worthy stuff back in the college – a decade+ before You Tube existed (didn’t all of us?). For awhile, I worked on a stop-frame animation called “Fern” and developed some other planned concepts. But, the format wasn’t as rewarding as I thought so I moved on to a ham sandwich and a Grape Crush. During the post of “Three Barbecues,” Molly and I shot a short in one weekend called “C.I.A. Holes.” The short won a few awards, including Best Picture as a part of the 48 Hour Film Project and screened at SXSW in 2004.

Tell me about “Three Barbecues”: what is the film about?
“Three Barbecues, A Blackened Comedy” is about three barbecues that happen in the same day, with the same guests. It never occurs to these timeless characters to not go to each grill out. Luckily for them and our viewers, something outlandish happens at every barbecue. From a choreographed Parade of Side Dishes to the Ragtime Dragtime rendition of “The Chicken Bone Man,” “Three Barbecues” has enough garnish for even the most aggressive appetite.

How did the idea for the film come about?
In 2001, a guy at a party (Jay Metz, Co-writer) said he wanted to make a movie based on his friend’s song, “Barbecue Nights.” The guy next to him (Rob Gray, Director/Co-writer, me) was a commercial production designer looking for a project to direct. The host of the party was also a production designer (Laura Robinson, Production Designer) and laughed. Upstairs in the bathroom was a producer (Molly A. Donnellon, Producer) who was married to the soon-to-be director. By the end of the party, a project was launched from drunken promises. The four friends turned business partners and started pre-production with the nugget of a script in mind.

Since a majority of the players were all in the film business, the thought of weekend shoots with no clients sounded like fun. Other friends in the business began to link themselves to the project as well and over the course of one month, the key team and department heads were in place.

Four weekends of shooting turned into over 25 shoot days. “Three Barbecues” turned into five barbecues. Free music from friends turned into a nine-month post score. A small investment of a few thousand turned into a budget that would have afforded one very nice, luxury car. “If we’ve come this far, we should go all the way,” said Rob Gray (Director, me again). “There would be no reason to write the script if we weren’t going to shoot the movie. There would be no reason to shoot the movie if we weren’t going to complete the movie. There would be no reason to edit the movie and if we weren’t going to release the movie to the public. I know too many people that have gone down this road and run out of gas.” These theories carried the filmmakers through the four-year production, post, premiere and marketing experience.

When a production expands like that it can lend itself to budgetary issues. What was the budget for the film?
Shooting budget was about $15 thousand plus the promise to help about 42 people move. However, we were blind-sided by the intense post process. We wanted everything… editorial, VFX, color correction… all said and done, we stand today with about about $80 thousand in. And our film’s producer has an indentured servitude staff position at our post facility.

The film has an amazing look to it, real over-the-top colors that really pop. How was it shot? Film or digital?
We shot all digital. A majority of the movie was shot on Mini DV, which at the time was the most accessible format for us, but when necessary we would mix in footage captured on Digibeta, which were mainly the planned green screen bits. We shot primarily on Canon XL1s and avoided filters or using the camera’s ‘cinema mode’ feature, knowing that we were going to use a plug-in called Magic Bullet® to give the footage a film look and a brighter, more saturated color correction.

Of course, to compliment such a unique look is a brilliant cast playing some pretty crazy barbecue eccentrics. How’d you go about casting?
We ran down the street yelling “Who will be in our movie and show their boobs?” It didn’t go quite like that but came close at times. We held open castings attended by actors and wannabe actors who couldn’t find gainful employment. We did solicit Vera Wong by throwing a business card in her moving car.

Ultimately, the script won out though, right?
None of them really saw the script before signing on to do the movie. We basically pitched the idea to them and they were drawn to our enthusiasm.

Beyond post-production expanding the budget, were there any on-set horror stories?
The month-long shoot was like summer camp. What followed was like 20 years at San Quentin! The horror stories are too numerous to mention. We often muse about starting a blog onto which we could post all the hate mail bounced back and forth between the partners. As for the rated G horror stories, buy the DVD, watch the MAKING OF featurette and find out.

What kind of life did the film have on the festival circuit?
Actually, the festival circuit eluded us for a spell until we garnered a 4-star review from (thank you Stina). After that, we had a modest run of festivals. We screened at The Black Point Film Festival in Spring 2004 and won an Honorable Mention for Best Writing. The film was nominated for Best Director and Audience Taste Award Feature at the SMMASH Film Festival in October 2004. In April 2005, the film received awards from the B-Movie Film Festival for Best Digital Effects (Lightborne) and Best Set Design (Laura Robinson). We nabbed a total of nine nominations from the B-Movie Film Festival: Best B-Movie (Three Barbecues), Best Actress (Randy Sterns), Best Supporting Actress (Laura Chapnick & Susan R. Hill), Best Music Score (Ashley Shepherd), Best Cinematography (Scott Fredette, Jeff Barklage, John Erhardt, Gary Bush & Ed DiMuzio), Best Make-up Effects (Cass Brake), Best Editing (Keith Roberts & Jeremiah Shuff). “Three Barbecues, a blackened comedy” played at the Lite Brite Test in August 2005, winning Best Picture for the festival.

You mentioned the DVD, and as the film has just been released, give me a bit of the back story of how “Three Barbecues” came to be released on the Film Threat DVD label?
At SXSW 2003, on the way to the Austin Convention Center one early morning, I stopped to tie my shoe. In doing so, the beloved vintage gaspumper jacket, donning the name Stump, which I was carrying, was left behind. Realizing it moments later, I retreated to look for it. It was lost, I was late and was now one of five hundred people headed for morning panels. Then, the words “Hey, Flash!” changed the doomed fate of “Three Barbecues” forever. Now depressed and jacketless, The red bolt icon of Flash Gordon on the back of my t-shirt caught the eye of then stranger Chris Gore. A fan of Gore’s magazine and web site, I recognized him immediately and responded, “Hey, Chris Gore!” Molly A. Donnellon came to the rescue and forced me over for a proper meeting.

Through the course of that week in Austin, Donnellon and I had more than a few opportunities to get to know Chris Gore. In 2004, I and Donnellon crossed paths with Gore once again at the SXSW Film Festival. Gore off-handedly offered to release “Three Barbecues” under the FT DVD banner but an email later that night from FT DVD Acquisitions proved to bring a reality to the invitation.

Why Film Threat DVD?
Though the offers were overwhelming, Chris Gore has the nicest a*s.

What are your expectations for the film now that it’s available on DVD?
I’m afraid to answer that. I’m afraid to expect anything. Getting the movie out there is almost reward enough. S**t, just kidding, we want money like everyone else. We expect sales in the kabillions.

What other projects do you have coming up?
Stupid Johnny has a few things brewing. One is “Kitty Vinegar.” It is best described as Harold and Maude meets an Edward Gorey version of “Spellbound.” The story is taking shape but we’re not yet sure what we want the medium to be. We are also developing a script called “Brown Eye and Muff,” and are not willing to share anything about this cuz it’s so f*****g potentially gold that we don’t want to sabotage it.

Last word, anything you think the readers of Film Threat should know?
HBO has some weird amazing soft core porn on Saturday nights all the sudden. We think the masterminds behind “Kinky Kong” are genius. We invite them to send any future script idea to us. An oversized ape in a diaper that peeps in on unsuspecting Manhattanites doin’ the deed? C’mon!!

“Three Barbecues, A Blackened Comedy” is currently available on Film Threat DVD>>>

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