Let me begin with a little background information. My name is Tony Urban and I’m stranded somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. Not Philadelphia, mind you. Not even Pittsburgh. I live in a little village called Friedens, which is about as close to Hollywood as Siberia. ^ So it must have seemed like a mad idea when, after graduating, I decided that I was going to make a career for myself in the entertainment industry. What can I say; common sense and analytical thinking had never been my strong suit. ^ I knew I could write. I’d been writing monthly columns for an international magazine since I was 15. And I loved movies, so what could possibly prevent me from being successful, right? So I sat down before my trustworthy little laptop and pounded out a few screenplays. Once they were written, I didn’t really know what to do with them. ^ One day, I bought a book that listed email address for production companies and other industry professionals. I sent off some queries letters and waited for the Hollywood Gods to rain cash. But, apparently, there was a bit of a drought. My manna arrived in the form of Michæl Addis.^ Michæl wasn’t interested in the script I was hawking at the moment, but mentioned that he was looking for comedies. It so happened that I had just begun writing a little ditty called “Poor White Trash”. Michæl asked if I’d be interested in co-writing, and my career was born. ^ Three years after that chance encounter, “Poor White Trash” opened in Los Angeles theatres. It stars Sean Young, William Devane, Jason London, Jaime Pressly, M. Emmet Walsh(my hero), and others. And yours truly has a credit on the opening sequence, “Story by”. Wow! So what does that have to do with this rambling missive? I’m getting there, honest.
Sometime in June 2000 ^ It’s June of 2000 and I’m still in Pennsylvania. Since PWT was produced in July of ’99, I’ve sold a few scripts, optioned several others. I’ve bought the rights to a few books and attached some “names” to another script. But I’m unfulfilled. I’m not sure what’s missing. ^ Let me confess, I have an affinity for low budget horror movies. Really good ones and really bad ones, it doesn’t make much difference to me. They’re my dirty little secret. So I head to the local “Video Warehouse” and grab a big stack of cheesy B horror flicks (they have a special, 7 movies, 7 days, 7 dollars). ^ I pop the first into the VCR; it’s called “Truth or Dare”. No, not that Madonna weirdness. This stars no one you’ve ever heard of and has no discernable plot. After some poor Joe finds his wife banging his friend, he runs off into the desert to play a game of truth or dare with an imaginary friend. It was sometime between when he cuts out his own tongue and the third time he escaped from the mental institution that I had my epiphany. ^ “I can do this!” And then, my friends, my life was full. Never before had I seriously considered directing. It always seemed like too much work. But producing was always where I’d set my sights. With the dawn of the digital age, I knew movies could now be made by any old hack with a few dollars and a dream. And that dream was mine. ^ I was tired of waiting for other producers to make my films. I was annoyed with “development” notes that contradicted everything that was said in the last batch of notes. I was disgusted with Indie Producers taking months and months and months trying to find the “last two hundred thousand”. I can do all of that myself. I can do it faster. I can do it better. ^ I scoured the net looking for a business plan to send out to potential investors. I found several, each around forty to sixty pages. Pshaw, I said. No one’s going to read that. I’ll write my own. It was four pages, very straightforward. I included my resume, gave examples of low-budget films that did well (thank you “Blair Witch”) and tried to convince people that I knew what I was doing. I sent out around three dozen plans and waited for the phone to ring.
July 2000 ^ Lesson number one, people don’t call you to offer money. You must call them. You must pester them. You must create reasons to become their new best friend. I was on the phone around eighteen hours a day; thank goodness they were mostly local calls. ^ And, much to my surprise, money started trickling in. A thousand here, five hundred there, a few more grand. I was doing pretty darned good, but was still a little shy. A minor panic, and then another light-bulb moment; hit up my Internet compadres! So a batch of emails went around, business plan attached, of course. I found an Executive Producer, and he put up the rest of our budget. After a half hour or so of constantly pinching myself, I realized that I was really going to make a movie. ^ Cast and crew; I need those types of people. But I’m in Pennsylvania, and they aren’t. What to do, what to do? The Internet comes to the rescue again. I post our casting notices on the Buzz lists (BuzzLA, BuzzNYC). Boy, there sure are a lot of aspiring actors out there, even more than there are aspiring screenwriters. Every day the US Postal Service would bring a small forest worth of printed materials, which I then perused, trying to find just the right batch of actors for my movie (which I decided to call “High Point”). I narrowed it down to a little pile, and then made phone calls to the candidates. ^ Over the next few weeks I brought on board Chad Whitson, Kimberly Jo Marsh, Joshua Picard, and Nechelle Fabiana. All applied for the film after seeing my casting calls on line. They came from Florida, New York, and California. ^ Next up was crew. I was on the set of “Poor White Trash” and saw the tremendous amount of work that went into making a movie. I knew we didn’t have the money for grips, gaffers, and other positions the layman doesn’t understand (but I do, honest). I needed a DP, an AD, and some other people who would work for free. ^ I checked out the big listings on line and found extremely experienced men and women who wanted more money than we could possibly afford. So I tried those nifty little listings called “Newsgroups”. I made a few posts, said what we were doing, and a savior named Mike Tandecki came to my rescue. A fellow filmmaker with several shorts under his belt, he agreed to work for a pathetically small sum of money, airline tickets, and a hotel room. He also brought along his Production Manager/AD Vicky Lee. ^ It’s getting closer.
August 2000 We have our cast, we have our crew. Time for a shooting schedule. I throw one together and think, “Boy, we’re going to have a lot of down time”. After that, I go about securing our locations. It falls into place surprisingly well. Next up, publicity. ^ I call the local rags, I mean newspapers, and tell them what we’re doing. After assuring them that I’m not kidding, they show some interest. A few reporters interview me, and I stress that we can use extras (after all, they’ll want to buy the movie). More forests are decimated as dozens of letters and snapshots roll in. Several potential extras wonder how much they’ll be paid. After a few hearty guffaws, I place their letter on the bottom of the pile. ^ After the articles, I meet Chip Hajel, a PA native with some acting experience. He wonders if he could be in the film. I had one medium-sized role that needed cast, auditioned him, and gave him the part. ^ We’ve now made travel arrangements. The cast arrives Sept 3. The crew arrives Sept 6. We start shooting Sept 7. And I’m not even remotely nervous. ^ The very end of the month, we lose our main location. Chip saves the day and arranges for us to use his friends cabin. Can it really be this easy?
September 2000 ^ 9/2 – 24 hours until the cast arrives. I decide to have a Labor Day picnic to get to know everyone. Buy lots of food and spend the day preparing. ^ That night, lying in bed. Hard to fall asleep, I’m so excited. The phone rings around midnight. It’s a young woman who is calling for Chad Whitson(our lead). She says it’s a “family emergency” and to have him call as soon as he gets in the next morning. Boy, if I couldn’t sleep before, I sure can’t now. All sorts of terrible thoughts running through my head. What if someone died? I immediately create Plan B. ^ Plan B is that, if Chad has to leave, Joshua will assume his role, Chip Hajel will take over Josh’s part, and we’ll use a local gentleman for the small part Chip had previously held. If anything, I’m good at contingency plans.
9/3 – Morning. I head to the bus depot around nine a.m. Chad’s already there. I mention the phone call; he says he already called home. It was his girlfriend, and she dumped him. At least no one died, right? ^ We take Chad to his hotel room. He’s lonely, but I have to tie up some loose ends. I wonder when Josh and Kim will arrive. Josh flew in to visit family in Rhode Island and was then driving to Kim’s. They’re driving from NYC together. ^ Back to the hotel for Chad, spend the afternoon with him. Really nice guy, younger than I thought. It’s almost time to drive to the Pittsburgh airport to pick up Nechelle. She would have been in earlier but had a layover in St. Louis. Chad wants to come along. Why not? ^ Get Nechelle at the airport, she’s very friendly, genuinely interested in other people. That’s rare. Drive back to Somerset and find out that Josh and Kim arrived, they’re doing karaoke. I head home to sleep, or try to.
9/4 – Labor Day picnic. Fun day, good food, nice people. We watch “Poor White Trash” which everyone enjoys. Turn in early.
9/5 – Rehearsals. We read through the script a few times before breaking for lunch. Lots of laughing and joking around. I’m a first time director, and working with actors is my weakest link. Should probably be getting more intense, but we can do that tomorrow.
9/6 – Scheduled to meet early. The cast calls, asks if they can put it back an hour. They were up late rehearsing. I agree. Two hours later they actually show up. It’s so late that we don’t have time for a single read before we have to head to Pittsburgh, again, to get Mike and Vicky at the airport. ^ Meet my crew for the first time, both are great. Very driven. I like them immediately. We get dinner in Pittsburgh and chat a bit. By the time we get back, I’m ready to hit the sack so I can get a few hours sleep. After all, it’s a 7 am call tomorrow.
Get the full story in TONY URBAN’S HIGH POINT PRODUCTION JOURNAL Part 2>>>