In last week’s Case Study Class held at Film Independent, writer/director Evan Glodell and producer Vincent Grashaw discussed their passion-fueled and often unconventional process for completing their ultra low-budget and much talked about debut feature film Bellflower. Having recently garnered two Film Independent Spirit Award nominations, including the coveted John Cassavetes Award, Glodell and Grashaw are making an impact this awards season. Here are some lessons they shared with us based on their experiences from development all the way through securing distribution with Oscilloscope Laboratories following the world premiere of Bellflower at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival:
Bellflower Official Synopsis
Best friends Woodrow and Aiden spend all of their free time building Mad Max-inspired flamethrowers and muscle cars in preparation for a global apocalypse. But when Woodrow meets a charismatic young woman and falls hard in love, he and Aiden quickly integrate into a new group of friends, setting off on a journey of love and hate, betrayal, infidelity, and extreme violence more devastating and fiery than any of their apocalyptic fantasies.
Working without a clear budget or shooting schedule, Glodell and Grashaw were forced to get creative when it came to getting their film made. For example, Glodell utilized the spare commercial office space from his previous job as a makeshift production office for his crew. And when it came time to scout locations for the pyrotechnic-propelled “apocalypse” scenes, Glodell used Google Maps to locate a remote off-road recreation area in the desert where he had free reign to use firearms and handmade flamethrowers. Grashaw, producing a non-union film without permits or insurance, was forced to strategize which few scenes required street closures and production insurance and schedule them for the very end of the shoot. He also shared his trick for making party scenes look more populated than they actually were – hoodies. Extras were instructed to change hoodies and walk in and out of rooms to make a house party appear packed, when in reality, there were only nine extras on set. Through resourcefulness and resilience, the budget for Bellflower came to only $17,000 by the time the film was selected for Sundance.
Share A Piece Of The Pie
When it comes to recruiting your crew, “first off, get a strong producer,” said Glodell, in reference to co-star Grashaw, who stepped in as producer once production had already started. With a 6-person crew, everyone had to wear different hats and help out as needed. Both Glodell and Grashaw also act in the film and according to Grashaw, “if I wasn’t acting, I was usually operating the second camera.” So how did they retain their crewmembers throughout production, despite the heavy workload and lack of salaries for their crew? Instead of paid salaries, Glodell and Grashaw came up with a points system where they ensured each crewmember received a sizable percentage of ownership of the film. This way, Glodell said, “they were very involved and passionate about the project.” This level of ownership also incentivized the crew, who were already pitching in their own money, to continue to contribute financially to the production.
Timing: Start Now & Finish Later
Glodell wrote the script for Bellflower in 2003 and spent the next several years trying to get his first feature made while working at an internet startup company. It soon became clear that working a full-time job was hindering him from completing his project – so he saved up some money and eventually quit. Glodell decided he could no longer wait around for his film to get made and “realized it required my friends pitching in.” Although Glodell recommends taking charge in pushing your film past the development stage and into production as soon as possible, he and Grashaw also believe in taking the time necessary to make the film the best film it can be. And take their time they did – Bellflower took 3 years to wrap photography. “We didn’t even talk about Sundance. We just wanted to finish and have it be as good as it can be.” You’ll know when you are finished.
Trust Your Gut
Once Bellflower was selected for Sundance, Glodell and Grashaw’s inboxes started filling up with emails from sales reps and agents. According to Glodell, “it wasn’t too bad until the public announcement came out, and then it [became] much more overwhelming.” So how do you sift through all of those emails and phone calls? How do you know whom to trust? “In the end, because the people at CAA were the first ones I talked to and I got along with them from the beginning, … [the decision] wasn’t really that hard,” Glodell said. Upon first meeting CAA agents Micah Green and Dina Kuperstock, “both of them struck me as people who I had nothing but good feelings for.” Similarly, when buyers began to approach them with offers, CAA helped filter the offers but the decision had to be made by Glodell and Grashaw. They both agreed “Oscilloscope was the clear choice.” Besides providing the most appealing offer, Oscilloscope’s marketing concept struck them as more appropriate for the film than what other potential distributors were presenting to them.
Facebook Is Your Friend
When Bellflower premiered at Sundance, they still had not obtained music clearances for the film’s indie rock soundtrack, which includes a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up that Hill” and songs by Ratatat and Lykke Li, among others. At this point, after years of editing, Glodell felt the music was essential to the story and should stay, despite what he knew would be an uphill battle for securing the rights to use them. “We didn’t hold anything back on making the movie and felt we’re not going to give up now on the music,” said Glodell. After months of unsuccessfully reaching out to some of the artists, Glodell turned to Facebook. “We basically put out Facebook messages asking if there was anybody who can help us with this.” Thankfully, a friend of a friend heard his cry for help and reached out to Kate Bush directly; another Facebook friend connected Glodell to Ratatat. Ultimately, all of the music stayed in the final cut.
Glodell and Grashaw’s reward for their years of hard work is a feature that serves as an example of filmmaking at its most independent – handmade, unorthodox, genre-bending, dangerous and beautiful. Check out the full Case Study for Bellflower here.
– by Lee Jameson for Film Independent