Across The Tracks pt. II
If you haven't read the first installment of this blog post Across The Tracks pt 1 make sure you go check that out so you're all caught up to speed.
Where to begin? It's hard to sum up this journey. Such a myriad of emotions cumulated to make this film a reality. This was by far one of the biggest challenges of my professional career. When I look back on it, it still blows my mind that it all came together like some beautiful house of cards. From raising money, to transportation logistics, to filming and casting something special was in the air, because if even one of these things was off, the entire production would have changed dramatically. But lets start from the beginning...
If you've ever had the pleasure of crowdfunding ANY project then you just got a hollow feeling in your stomach. Crowdfunding is the quickest way to make you go insane with paranoia, and reassess how many friends you thought you had. Indie filmmaking is nothing without a support system at the front end. Before you've rolled a take, or casted anyone, you're asking friends, family, and would be supporters to take a risk on you and your idea based on things you've done in the past. Its quite a reality check. Its full of crafting witty Facebook and twitter updates and watching a digital needle creep ever so slowly toward your goal. Seed&Spark was our platform of choice. We managed to meet some great people along the way who believed in our project, and with a few well place co-signs and some fantastic articles written about us we were able to meet our goal. We raised 20k to begin production. Check and Check. So whats next?
LOCATION & CREW
Early on there were a couple of factors that allowed us to even attempt Across The Tracks in the manor that we wanted to. The biggest ones being the longevity and experience of our crew, our picture town, Arlington GA, and our home that would serve for "Mama's House".
Arlington played the role perfectly of the small town of West Chatnam. In the script we needed several locations from a dry bed cotton field, a small downtown strip, and train tracks that went to infinity. Arlington had all of that. I can't say enough how supportive and warm the people of Arlington, Ga were toward our film. Litereally opening their hearts and letting us take over their town for a few days. Our cotton field was provided graciously by Malone Garrett, who owns a local water bottling company Nantze Springs, he was also so kind as to donate ALL of our bottled water to our production, becoming one of our 1st sponsors.
Obviously train tracks played an integral role in our film. I mean, our story is called Across The Tracks, with the recent tragedy of Sarah Jones, we knew shooting on live train tracks would be next to impossible. We played with the idea of changing the title to "Across The Dirt Road" but it didn't have the same ring to it. Bravely we marched forward and started the process to get the tracks cleared. Another gracious gift from above. Our tracks were owned by light rail company GSWR, after a few phone calls and a great in person meeting, not only did they clear us for shooting, but they sent out a representative that remained with us the entire time we would be filming on the tracks. After that bit of good luck we HAD to keep moving forward.
Mama's house needed to be a character all on its own. We were lucky to find the house that we did, an old family friend of my grandmother. The owner of the home, Mrs. Crenshaw, is a stage 3 cancer survivor and one of the kindest, most gentile souls you'll ever have the pleasure of meeting. Her home resonated with so much character. A perfect location to showcase where mama once lived. It would have been hard for a film of our small size to pack out a space with that much art direction.
Without these aces in our back pocket our film would have sang a very different tune. Our crew was nothing short of spectacular rockstars with years of work in multiple departments of production. This allowed each crew member to support another crew member if we were ever running light in any department. Our hair department knew how to style wardrobe. Our Wardrobe department knew how to do make up. Our G&E department knew camera, etc etc. Having well rounded crew members is the only way to get indie films over the line now a days, and we had the best.
Across The Tracks demanded a lot from me. A couple of months without paid work to properly give this film the love and attention it deserved. Casting, budgeting, logistics, storyboarding, shot listing... Gah my head is still spinning but it all turned out amazing.
First up was casting. Isabella Way was an amazing casting director. If you're attempting an indie with more than 3 actors you owe it to yourself to try and find a casting director. We needed two sets of sisters to match in different time periods. After a lengthy casting session it came down to Berkeley Clayborne and Brynn Crosby as Young Ella and Young Tara, and Thursday Farrar and Carla McCullough as Older Ella and Tara. Don Battee took the reigns as the sister's life long friend Walter Lee. We were also graced with E Roger Mitchell and Nicky Buggs to play Mama and Daddy, rounding out our happy family.
So we had our cast, we had our crew, and we had our locations... The only trick was getting there. Once crowdfunding was done the initial production crew packed up and headed down to Georgia to start a month of Pre Production. My parents and Grandparents living rooms serving as our production office. We had crew coming from all different parts of America, driving was out the question, so we had to fly them all. (Great idea for a short film on a shoestring budget right?) Luckily I had a friend at Delta who hooked us up with some great deals on flights. Our production coordinator, Shaniqua Henry Davis, managed to orchestrate a tricky process of getting 20 plus people, on different flights on different days into Atlanta, into vans, then down to Arlington and back again. Still not sure exactly how it all came together but at the end of the day everyone made it to home base and principle photography could begin.
I was very clear with everyone where we had to go to shoot this film. I was taking them out on the edge, deep into the heart of Georgia, where there was little to no cellphone service. They'd be staying in a Christian retreat lodge about 4 miles off the main road named Burning Bush. You'd work all day, have little sleep, but we'll walk away with an amazing film, with a very timely story that is anything but average. No one took much convincing, all the crew who signed on had read the script months in advance, this was a project they wanted to do and it was that passion that drove this film. So after we casted, budgeted, did logistics and traveled everyone down, we all found ourselves as one big happy film family preparing to shoot Across The Tracks.
LOOK & FEEL
I spent a lot of time crafting the look and feel of this film. Taking the reigns as DP/Director it was a fun challenge to conceptualize not only how the story would be told, but how the visuals would play in tandem. Our film has a lot to say and not a lot of time to say it. At the end of the day I'd say my biggest influences on story telling came from directors Terrance Malick and Sam Mendes. Both those directors do a great job at pacing and putting the viewer right there inside the action. Their period piece films never do a lot of hand holding, they put you in a moment and give you enough information to where you, as the viewer, can figure out a lot on your own. From a visual standpoint a big nod goes to the influences of Andrew Wyeth and Roger Deakins. Both these men share a similar aesthetic on how they approach wides and placement of characters. One paints with light and the other paints with... Well paint. Andrew is a great American illustrator, I've been in love with his sweeping landscapes since before I ever attended SCAD or picked up a camera. Roger Deakins' style of shooting is classic. He stages his talent strong in the frame, does motivated camera moves, and shoots scenes that have a lot of visual depth.
Since our film takes place in two different time periods I wanted an inherent look right off the back to define both eras. This would come down to lens choice, and operating style to help sell this message. We shot on the RED DRAGON, so quality wise, we'd be there. With RED RAW i'd have the ability to go anywhere I wanted to go color wise in post. We shot wide screen anamorphic to make sure we captured everything our locations had to offer. I chose to go with Lomo Anamorphic for the 60s scenes. 3 lenses would get us what we needed 35, 50, and 75. Theses lenses, by nature, are just old themselves, having their heyday between the 60s and 80s. They have a cool undertone, but keep the warmth in their mid tones. Shooting with them is a magical experience, I highly recommend it. Schneider Xenons would be our lens of choice for any modern day scene. They hold color very well and are nice and crisp, a major difference between our Lomos. Straight out of camera the look was set, and since we shot wide screen on both pair of lenses the aspect ratio would match in post. Kyle Wullschleger was our steadi and cam op on this little epic. He had been apart of this project since the early stages of writing and I knew with his skill set he would bring an advanced level of operating and technical knowledge to this short. He has shot for numerous award winning features and currently lends his talented eye to SNL Digital shorts. From an operating standpoint a lot of the the late 60s scenes are either handheld or steadicam. This decision was made to allow our young actors the ability to move freely, as kids do, we left ourselves more open to spontaneous actions that would be inherent with their performances. Kids, run, they jump, they play, and the racial elements Ella and Tara are dealing with in that time period are anything but predictable. For our modern day scenes we locked the camera down. Sticks and sliders, our two actors have grown into women who've lives have become more of a routine. They move with purpose and the film takes on a more exploratory role through dialog and voice overs.
Now the fun starts all over again. We've got a pretty solid rough cut in the can and we're eye balling a few major film festivals at the top of the year. Im beyond thrilled with what we've come away with, I couldn't have asked for a better team to craft these visuals with. I'll leave you with a few select frame grabs from the soon to be released film, Across The Tracks.