It's all about the benjamins these days for Triangle filmmakers and their exhibitors. And if the benjamins aren't forthcoming they might settle for a ulysses or a couple of andrews.
Of course, no indie films would get made if the filmmakers waited around for funding. Last weekend saw the wrapping of Phoenix, a film that its producers managed to finish shooting despite having only raised one-half of their budget. Sunday's shoot capped a 26-day production schedule that included location work in Atlanta and some motorcycle stunts to boot.
Phoenix is the brainchild of writer/director Carrie Schrader and her creative partner, producer/cinematographer Dana Clark. This film, which was shot on old home-movie standard format of Super-8, on a decidedly non-home-movie budget of $35,000, concerns a bank robbing spree by an emotionally bereft lesbian named Phoenix.
Last Sunday night, I dropped in on the final night of shooting. The location was Joe & Jo's, a friendly neighborhood pub in downtown Durham that, after a year in business, has become a generous benefactor and stomping ground for Bull City artists. About a dozen women were inside the bar. Some were busy hauling lights, sandbags and C-stands while others were sitting around chatting. Behind the bar, a statuesque actress named Andrea Smith studied the lines for her role as bartender in the scene. The pub, with its alternating currents of busyness and waiting around, looked just like any other indie film set. Just like any other set, except that there were no men, other than myself and the bar's co-proprietor, Joe Fitzgibbon.
The star of the film is Schrader herself, an attractive, hazel-eyed woman who sports several magnificent tattoos (a long-stemmed rose grows along the length her left forearm and a Native American-style eagle adorns the small of her back). If she's burdened by the pressure of working both sides of the camera, she doesn't show it. The set is a quiet one as the crew members--mostly young locals with varying levels of experience--await her instructions. Tonight's final run is fairly straightforward, but acting coach Annie Michelson is trying to tweak the line readings of Schrader and her scene partner, apparently feeling that the scene needs to be played lightly.
Schrader wrote the script after receiving positive notice for a short called Boys, Dogs and Kids are Weird and in particular, for a feature script called Mine. She's in post-production on a excerpted version of the latter, which will be screened next month at the Los Angeles Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (better known as Outfest). Schrader was also one of five scribes selected to participate in the festival's writers' lab.
For the 30-year-old Schrader, filmmaking represents a return to her true love after spending several years as general business manager with Toys in Babeland, a women-centered purveyor of sex gear that has stores in Seattle and New York. Schrader moved to Durham in March, she says, because of the city's reputation for being hospitable to low-rent filmmaking and for its "small, but tight-knit lesbian community. And, I've always wanted to live in the South."
Saturday night, Durham's Dawn Dreyer hosted a fundraiser for Phoenix, an event that began in her Old North Durham apartment and continued at Ringside. (Dreyer, who is a neighbor of mine, works by day as program coordinator at the Center for Documentary Studies and is fast becoming the Gertrude Stein of local filmmaking for her unflagging support of DIY cinematic artistry.) Both Schrader and Clark are new to the community and they appreciated Dreyer's gesture.
"It was great," Schrader said. "Not just on the financial end--we got to meet new people. We all feel supportive of each other. It's not like Seattle, where you can't find free editing in exchange for working on other people's films."
In another Dreyer-chaperoned event, Durham's Brett Ingram and Jim Haverkamp will unveil a rough-but-close-to-final 90-minute cut of Monster Road. The screening, which is co-sponsored by the Southern Documentary Fund, will take place at the Center for Documentary Studies, this Wednesday, June 11, at 7 p.m.
In April, Ingram and Haverkamp screened an hour of footage during Full Frame to an appreciative, early-morning crowd. Chief among the film's admirers was Mr. Documentary himself, D.A. Pennebaker, who moderated the Q&A afterward. Now, two months later, Ingram and Haverkamp are trying to polish up Monster Road in time to make the Sundance application deadline. This screening will be the most complete one they've offered so far and they'll be interested in audience feedback. Ingram and Haverkamp are also trying to complete the last lap of their fundraising goal: They're in need of $2,000 so they can record and mix the film's music, an original score by Chapel Hill art rockers Shark Quest. If you can't make the film but would like to send your love, the filmmakers are accepting tax-deductible contributions at their Web site: www.brighteyepictures.com. And if a tax write-off isn't enough incentive, early-bird generosity in excess of $75 will be acknowledged with original Bickford artwork!
Just in time for Gay Pride Week, there are a couple of film items worth mentioning. First, Trailer Park Pictures, that trash-lovin', neo-John Waters production outfit in Raleigh, has found a distributor for Camp: The Movie, their recent comic epic about two rival drag gangs. According to Camp director Brigner, the online distributor TLV Video picked up their film in late April. Get your copy for $24.99 at www.tlavideo.com.
And finally, Jim Carl of Durham's Carolina Theatre has finished programming this August's N.C. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (GLFF) and the big news is that the event has been lengthened by two days, from three to five. There will be 98 films in this year's festival, which will run Aug. 6-10. The expansion of GLFF certainly bodes well for its long-term health and, as one local observer speculated, the increased size may go a long way toward getting a few more "L" films into what has been a "G" dominated event.