Last week, my crew and I wrapped principal photography on my fourth feature film, “Red Hand.” It’s about a man with the power to heal who time-travels from a dystopian future to save the Native American race. I’m pitching it as a “Native American ‘Terminator’-meets-‘Back to the Future.’ ” Sort of.
I wrote the script and am producing and directing. I’m also one of the lead actors (yes, I’m a glutton for punishment). We shot it all right here in Wichita with an all-local cast and crew.
It was certainly an adventure, to say the least. We shot for about 23 days throughout September and into October, mostly on weekends and evenings. Through it all, my cast and crew held down day jobs while also dealing with other life commitments, such as laundry or walking their dogs (sorry, Yoggie).
The whole process was certainly a grueling, exhausting, stressful time (my stomach acid probably neared apocalyptic levels). But there were also glorious moments, times when I said we were “committing filmmaking.” And that made it all worth it.
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These small triumphs were scattered throughout, and believe me, we fought to get them. But witnessing them – watching my words come to life – was simply awe-inducing. The level of talent that I tricked, er, asked to be in my film was amazing. When everything clicked, it was purely magical.
And it was all because I chose to have amazing, creative people around me who gave selflessly of themselves, just for the sheer love of making movies. My movie. I still can’t believe it.
Regardless of whatever roadblocks we encountered along the way, we made it through. Somehow we picked each other up and lifted each other through the trenches of the filmmaking battleground. And that, my friends, is no small feat, against some pretty amazing odds. Here is a look back at our journey.
Things I knew but had forgotten
▪ Scheduling will make your head explode. Trying to get everyone at the same place at the same time is like trying to get the planets to align. Sometimes I felt like I had a better chance of winning the lottery.
▪ Be ready for anything. One of my actors, Delno Ebie, told me that filmmaking is really just problem solving. And he’s absolutely right. Just as soon as you fix one thing, something else goes wrong. You have to be constantly thinking.
▪ Be able to touch your toes, because you have to be flexible in more ways than one. For instance, I had some principal actors back out at the last minute (not because they wanted to), so I had to recast quickly (thank you to you-know-who-you-are) and rewrite some scenes on the fly. Two of my male roles actually became females. Even if one of them is still named Larry.
▪ No place is ever quiet enough. We could be set up in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere and suddenly a semi-truck carrying drunken circus animals would roll through. And a helicopter would crash. Into a train.
Staples of the set
▪ Gaffe tape. You can never have enough. Gold is worth less on set.
▪ Cheese balls. My craft services goddess, Ann Freeman, made sure there were always cheese balls available.
▪ Dirt. A warehouse was one of our locations, and my costume designer/make-up artist/art director (can you tell that everyone multitasked?) Megan Ballway said, “I’ll never get the dirt from that warehouse out of my soul.”
▪ Two cop cars and a fire engine showed up one day because someone called 911 thinking my assistant director-turned-boom operator, B.J. Hatter, was a dead body lying in the street. I mean, we go for realism, but come on. And one of the firefighters showed up with a half-eaten Popsicle. Like he wasn’t going to ditch that for anything.
▪ An extra fainted on set. Seriously. An ambulance arrived and took him away. His father contacted me later and reported that his son was all right (thank goodness). Apparently he just locked his knees and got nervous. Don’t worry, he’ll still get screen credit.
▪ The last day of shooting. After almost 200 hours’ total of production, it was a relief. But it also was kind of a let-down to my lead actor, Bryon Burkhead. After we got one last tiny pick-up shot, he said, “Is that it?”
It is – for now. Months of post-production work are ahead. I don’t know how it will all turn out.
But I do know one thing: There will always be cheese balls around.