How I Got An Experimental Feature Film… Done
By Eric Michael Kochmer
Assembling an Ensemble
With Stephanie, Justin, Maria and myself in place as the leads, I still needed a few key characters to complete my cast. WMM character actor Whit Spurgeon signed on to play Leonard the Worm Agent, co-producer Angel Corbin became my Ghost, the brilliant Tara Samuels (and WMM co-founder) came in to play the mysterious Mara and my friend from my experimental theater days in NYC, Alana DiMaria became my Lisa/Alien Woman. Next, was the seemingly arduous task of finding our Annie. Annie was supposed to be a classic, blonde, bombshell/femme fatale like Lana Turner. One night, at a We Make Movies workshop, I met a beautiful, African-American actress/singer fresh from Coachella, Ashli Haynes. Turns out what I wanted was a classic bombshell/femme fatale that had nothing to do with being blonde.
I also wanted a few cameos. I started by drawing in a longtime neighbor and friend, Lisa Loring (the original Wednesday Adams from the Adams’ Family). Maria locked in Nancy Wolfe (Helter Skelter). I auditioned a dozen or so actors to audition for the worm characters (even though I wasn’t really sure what I wanted) and enlisted the help of Marjo-Riikka Makela from Chekhov Studio International, to work through some psychophysical, shape-shifting exercises. I had immersed myself in these techniques years before in the theater and I wanted to familiarize myself with it again. The main thing was to make sure it was all coming from an organic place and for everyone to be comfortable with what they were doing. As we were about to leave, WMM petite powerhouse Nicol Razon bounced into the room proclaiming to have a background in some obscure form of Japanese modern dance (Butoh), established in post-war Japan around the 1950’s and supremely influenced by German expressionist films of the 1920’s (specifically, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). I had no idea what I was about to witness but I let her dance. What a great little miracle.
Nuts and Bolts
Artistic agendas aside, I had to keep in mind a cold hard fact: It was becoming clearer by the day, that instead of reaching the fundraising goal of 15K we would be lucky if we came in at 7K. Kiko, my super-human cinematographer, expertly aided in abbreviating my budget, but there were some things that absolutely couldn’t be slashed. One thing he wasn’t going to be able to pull off without money was the lens package. Knowing that this was probably important, I asked “Is that important?” Like a samurai warrior (I say that not because I am racist but because Kiko is stealth-like and sports a bandana – you do the math) he simply explained that if I wanted a 1920’s finish to the film, I could actually skate through without a package, since they did not have them during that time. This guy was on my side.
It was about a week-and-a-half before the shoot for WDIC, and I was packing a small suitcase to go shoot more grit in San Francisco. Everything seemed to be lined up for my film, until the Line Producer/1st AD got another job out of town and needed to take it. My friend from Pennsylvania would take on some of the minor duties, Jon would take on some duties, Lucia Zuniga came on board as the 1st Ad – and from the hotel I was staying at for five days, I coordinated the shoot with the whole ramshackle team. It was around this time Jennifer Mammone (the makeup designer) suggested a great idea for costumes: Make them all black except for the protagonists, just like in silent horror movies. We weren’t going to have enough money and we didn’t care. It was going to happen.
Dress Rehearsal Rag
The day before the first day of shooting, I flew into the Burbank airport, cigarette in my mouth, still dressed in the suit from the San Francisco shoot. James was worried that things weren’t quite ready. We laughed. They never are. It was here I felt like a character in a Hunter S. Thompson short story. Immediately, I went to a full cast reading at the Art of Acting Studio, where we would be shooting the next day. James was there, pensive, smiling. Stephanie and Justin were there looking lovely; a little worried maybe, but as positive as ever. Tara Samuels. Check. Maria Olsen. Check. Lisa Loring. Check. And so on…
My head still echoed from the plane, but I focused, gathered everyone down on the floor like natives and we read through the script. We finished and everyone clapped. I ran out of the room to go deal with actors who would be in the theater ready to rehearse the choreography for the musical sequences. Shot list. Costumes. Call times. Parking. On the way back to my place for dinner and a music rehearsal with Ashli, James said something telling: “You know buddy, you got a real circus going on here, and I’ll be real honest with you. It’s kind of a mess, but the cast you got is dead on man. That reading was the best thing you did. Everyone … outcasts … perfect man … perfect …”
Stay tuned for part 3 next weeks.