Sometimes one big break isn't enough. In early October, a group of Raleigh filmmakers went to New York's Chicago City Limits, a comedy club on the Upper East Side, in order for their 27-minute short, Fudgie and Jane, to compete in the club's monthly First Sundays film festival. The filmmakers watched as a crowd of Gotham hipsters laughed and applauded their offbeat comedy about a man who hands out flyers on a street corner while wearing a whale suit, and the gentle botanist that he adores.
Drew Martin, who wrote and directed the film with David Baeumler, is proud of the reception they got in New York. "It was the first time we'd screened it for strangers," Martin said. "It got a great response--they laughed at all the right places."
There was stiff competition that night. The program included an animated work by alternative political cartoonist and Strangers With Candy contributor Ward Sutton, and a polemical short called Asian Pride Porn that starred Tony award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang. But the night belonged to the upstarts from Raleigh, as their film took both the audience and jury prizes.
It was a fortuitous start for Fudgie and Jane: In getting their film noticed in the world's cultural capital, they had achieved a significant goal beyond the reach of the vast majority of filmmakers. Were this the upbeat narrative of a Hollywood movie, that glorious evening would have gotten them introduced to Film Critic X, Producer Y and Movie Star Z. After a few meetings at the Four Seasons, the Raleigh guys would have sealed a three-picture production deal.
But life isn't like the movies, even for filmmakers. So Martin and his collaborators collected their prize, went out for drinks and returned home to try to build on their initial flush of success. "We [had] made it as a resume film, a calling card film," Martin says. They've had trouble finding takers.
Calling card films are exactly what they sound like: shorts designed to showcase the talents of aspiring Hollywood directors. Although they make the rounds of festivals, the preferred avenue is to channel them directly to production companies, film critics, famous actors and anyone else who could possibly give the filmmaker the break he or she needs. (By now, calling card films have also inspired a backlash: It's no longer cool to make them, and most indie filmmakers will deny that is, in fact, what they are doing.)
The odds against being noticed this way are very long indeed. Still, Raleigh native Peyton Reed's career got an important boost on the strength of his short, Almost Beat, which was shot locally in 1989. If Reed's name doesn't ring a bell, his most recent film might: the Kirsten Dunst cheerleader epic, Bring It On. Next spring, Reed will raise the curtain on his sophomore feature effort, Down With Love, a tribute to the Rock Hudson-Doris Day films of the 1960s, but this time with Ewan MacGregor and Renee Zellweger. Reed's third project is already in place: The Fantastic Four, slated for the 2004 summer blockbuster season.
Calling card in hand, Martin and Bauemler began sending the film out to industry professionals. "We did our research, wrote flattering letters and sent out the film," Martin recalls. The response was underwhelming.
"Most people didn't even watch it," Martin notes. "So now we're regrouping and going the festival route." Accordingly, Martin and Baeumler have submitted Fudgie and Jane to Sundance and its salon des refuses knock-off, Slamdance, as well as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and Cucalorus in Wilmington, N.C.
Confidently shot in 35mm, Fudgie and Jane is a sharp-looking film, which shouldn't be surprising since its creators work by day at Center Line Productions, a commercial film and video company based in Raleigh's warehouse district. Thanks to the equipment and expertise at their disposal, they were able to make a professional looking product for relatively little cash. Including the value of Center Line's in-kind contributions as well as the considerable lab costs associated with 35 millimeter film, Martin estimates that the budget ended up being around $30,000.
But Martin and his cohorts didn't settle for a sharp presentation of their film. They also splurged on a fancy DVD package, complete with a commentary track, an amusing, hidden "Easter egg"--and yes, an "alternate scene." Those who worship at the shrine of Martin Scorsese may particularly want to seek out the Easter egg, in which the filmmakers splice together interview snippets of the director, looking haggard and disoriented, and make him appear to be praising Fudgie and Jane. (Martin won't say for the record where the Scorsese footage was found.)
Though the second act of Fudgie and Jane's distribution life may be a work in progress, Triangle residents can find the film in local North American and VisArt outlets.
David Fellerath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.