Crash Reports: Filmmaking 101

On the morning of June 2, I was driving over an hour to the shooting destination for CASE_5930_Reid_Bell_SCASE #5930, the crime thriller I would directing. In the passenger seat: long time friend, and a fantastic screenwriter, David McDonald, who’d serve as the production assistant on set. When I asked him why he wanted to take part in the project, he said, “It’s filmmaking 101 for me.” My reply, “Well, it’s filmmaking 101 for me, too. It’s always filmmaking 101.”

I wasn’t being a smartass by any means. Each film presents its own challenges whether due to ever looming financial restraints, location problems, weather, personnel – and stuff you can’t even dream of until it leaps out at you.

CASE #5930 first came to my attention in my New Jersey Screenwriter’s Group. I’ve been a member for nearly fifteen years (my longest commitment to anything), and one Saturday in 2009, friend and fellow screen scribe, Paul J. Williams, brought in this short script. Paul’s always been a remarkable writer, and that day was no different. When we got to the finish, we were all wide-eyed by the concept, story, characters, theme, and potent finale.

So inspired by his unique tale, we called for a feature. Due to costs and concept, Paul realized a short would serve him best. After several rewrites, and after putting a few other shorts behind him, he wanted to move forward and make the film. He asked me to direct, which made me feel honored while leaving me humbled, and he also wanted CASE #5930 to be a Crash Palace production. I knew making the thirty-minute movie would be far from simple, but I couldn’t say no. I had to do this because I believed in Paul’s story.

From our combined experience with short films, and from being on many sets, we knew pre-production was key to a successful production, and we began meeting in August 2013. Like most other people, neither of us had disposable income, so we went with a Kickstarter campaign that worked very well, otherwise, the film would never have happened. Then came the process of auditioning and hiring talent, as well as crew. Yet, for our shoot, the biggest obstacle proved to be location.

I would have loved to have gone guerilla and shoot on the street, but this was a story about a New Jersey State Police officer and his last day on duty. We couldn’t have actors running around in uniforms and toting fake guns. No, that wouldn’t have ended well. We contacted people we knew, drove around Morris County, New Jersey for hours on end, and I ultimately cold called a few places. Thankfully, our one friend, Lil Bibb, offered up her home, but nothing else worked. We were just about to call off the shoot when Morris County allowed us access to county property. Whew.

With cast, crew, costumes, car rentals, food, equipment, and locations secured, we double-checked every single item for the four-day shoot. The only element beyond our control: the weather. Thankfully, the first three days were glorious, and once the sun came out after a rainy Thursday morning, we shot our final scene and wrapped.

CASE #5930 involved some stunts, wild driving, and long scenes. Yet, our amazing actors hit their marks, and we only did a few takes per scene. They listened to the great law enforcement officers on set who taught them everything from how to get out of a police cruiser, where to stand, and how to draw a weapon. Setup and blocking were a breeze. The camera and sound equipment were rock solid. Everybody got along and had a great time. So why did everything work so well? Besides our great planning, we also agreed to hire the best cast and crew. That just doesn’t mean professionals who can fulfill their roles, but people who are great to work with and be around due to positive energy and a great sense of humanity. Once again, I refer to David McDonald who said the shoot was “organic” and that we moved like a single organism.

Every film you ever see is a miracle. Beyond the money, the stars have to align with all of the aforementioned. Nevertheless, CASE #5930 is still a miracle in the making because post-production will soon be underway for a 2015 release. And we’re taking our time with editing, sound editing, and special effects to do it right. Nothing may be perfect, but I’m going to make certain we get as close as possible with the resources at our disposal. After all, everyone who took part in the film has their name on it, and as director and president of Crash Palace Productions, I want this is to be a successful vehicle for everyone involved, and for everyone who invested in the venture.

Many thanks to my gorgeous wife, Ally Bishop, for putting up with me over these many months, and for Paul J. Williams for entrusting me with his award-winning script. And I can’t thank enough every person who came through with our Kickstarter campaign. But here are the people who ultimately brought CASE #5930 to life (I thanked them all so often for their talent, professionalism, and commitment that I ran out of adjectives):

Cast: Merritt Reid, Leon Morgan, Frank Logan, Richard Bell, Jennifer Hall Turner, and Owen McCuen.

Crew: Nick DeMicco, Nick Pietronio, Dylan Keselman, and David McDonald

As for “Filmmaking 101”, I can tell you one truth, if you view the challenges as “problems”, and you don’t have a creative thinking cast and crew to rise above, don’t make movies. You’ll be too disgruntled to ever make it work.

On that note, I salute all the great independent filmmakers who have been on the show for making their own miracles and sharing them with all of us:

David Paul Baker, Oklahoma Ward, Mark Ricche and Christian Stavrakis of Cryptic Pictures, Jonathan Chance, Michael Dougherty, Kyle Schiffert and Ryan Fox of Time to Back Out Productions, Anthony Brownrigg, Erik Bloomquist, Dom Frank, the awesome madman, Mike Mendez, and one of horror cinema’s living legends, the amazing Stuart Gordon. Thank you all for the continued inspiration.

Now, stop reading and do as the independent filmmaking guru Lloyd Kaufman said, go make your own damn movie.

(Merritt Reid and Richard Bell in CASE #5930. Photo by William D. Prystauk)

8 Replies to “Crash Reports: Filmmaking 101”

  1. Inspired essay and post, Bill. Loved it. What an amazing read, my man. So glad the shoot well so well and I am very proud and impressed with your hard work (along with your cast and crew of course) and determination. You are an inspiration, bro. Looking forward, very much, to your Short.

    1. Thank you very much, my friend. I know we were blessed on that shoot. Even the bumps and hiccups were easy to overcome. I meet with my fellow producer next week to discuss our next steps.

      Your words mean much to me, Vic. I am truly grateful.

      Please be well, and thanks for posting!

    1. Thank you very much, David. I will keep you posted. I hope your “Crime Lord” web series is going well. I can’t wait for the next episode.

      1. All good. Got a little side video biz going, so means I can shoot each month now. Will shoot several and release at end of year. Anyway, congrats on the shoot mate. I hope to be in NY early next year. So look forward to meeting up. Cheers!

        1. Congratulations on the new venture! Definitely looking forward to diving into “Crime Lord” later this year (and I’m happy to hear that your production is right on schedule). As for New York, let me know! I’m but 90-minutes away.

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