To me, authenticity means refraining from trying to be something you’re not. It’s about understanding the parameters that you have to work with when taking action toward realizing your goals and/or interests.
In many ways, making the short film drama “Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever” was a continuous exercise in being true to who I was, what I had and how it was going to find an audience.
Writing the Movie
Knowing my production budget was going to be small, I wrote a screenplay revolving around a story that could have just as easily been shot on a home video camera – if necessary – given what was accessible to me. Although this movie was shot in HD, the story lends itself to a type of on-the-fly recording style that provides some flexibility during production.
A U.S. Army Officer enlists the help of his friends to make an audition tape for a Reality TV contest, until a wedding proposal dilemma shakes up their reunion.
It was simple enough to not require any special effects, elaborate sequences or other fancy schmancy components that would be difficult to pull off with the budget, material resources and level of expertise available to me.
Making the Movie
During pre-production in the fall 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast, causing me to cancel meetings with actors and then improvise the casting process by using online messaging services and iPhone videos for auditions. When production began, the reality nature of this movie allowed us to use any mistakes that occurred to our advantage, if needed. The screenplay was designed for cast and crew to continue shooting without worrying too much about multiple setups and camera angles.
I’m not the best cinematographer in the world. I don’t have the resources to hire the best Director of Photography (DP) in the world. So, I focused my time, money, energy and resources on areas that would help carry the story:
Writing a cameraman into the script came in handy since the actor I chose for this role also happens to moonlight as a photographer.
Hiring a tech savvy guy to pretend to be someone behind the camera is one thing. Designating him as the actual on-set camera operator, however, later proved to not only be a way around my lack of DP resources but also the best way to stay true to the story.
The crash course in production sound I had by watching YouTube videos about product reviews, tutorials and unboxing of audio equipment became helpful along with useful tips offered by a sound guy who was unable to work on the project.
Production lasted from mid-November to early December, complete with weather delays (we were shooting outdoors), scheduling conflicts and unexpected re-shoots after a days’ worth of footage was rendered unusable. Yet, we managed to get everything “in-the-can” as they say, and with the help of a producer, I quickly started interviewing potential editors for the movie. Then, one of my producers – a U.S. military veteran – lost his home in a fire on New Year’s Day 2013. This terrible disaster changed the course of our post-production schedule and was the first event in what quickly became a devastating year for one of the most vital people involved in making the movie.
So, I scrambled to find an editor and post-production funds in an attempt to move this project forward; eventually going through multiple rough cuts before completing a final cut of the movie in the summer, thanks to technical assistance from a director friend, supplemented by the expertise of my longtime editor buddy at ESPN.
The World Premiere
When NewFilmmakers NY selected “Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever” to screen at the Anthology Archives Theater in January as part of their 2014 Winter Series, the time had come to develop promotional materials for this project.
My initial and overcomplicated approach to coming up with movie poster ideas included analyzing the key art of mainstream feature films, which was an unsuccessful task.
So, I went back to the basics of what this movie is about, and using a production still, designed an 11x17 poster resembling a large Polaroid photo. Building the main design concept around this one picture worked out well because it lends itself to a “less is more” vibe while still delivering on the story’s message, with regards to viewer interest.
“It’s simple, well stated, and genuinely makes me curious about the movie. I love the tagline at the top. Made me break out into a great big smile!” – Herman Turnip
When printing standard postcard sized flyers became costly, I added different tag lines to still photographs from the movie and used them to promote the World Premiere screening in New York. This practice continued to be useful long after the premiere; I no longer needed to make large print runs of 500-1,000 copies of the same flyer since a variety of digital photos could be printed out in small batches at (or near) many retail stores like Walgreens and CVS.
Inspired by street papers and homelessness awareness advocate Noah Rattler’s 1,800 mile walk and his annual Sleepout Saturday events in Houston, TX, I pursued potential partnerships with a few non-profit organizations that help homeless people, including veterans, find housing and employment.
Several conversations later, little to no progress came out of my efforts with the organizations I approached. As such, the hope for an adult literacy initiative I wanted to launch using the movie, quickly fizzled. I became anxious about what the next steps for my movie would be, while considering whether to do an online streaming/VOD release or continue trying to play at film festivals.
In the spring, I realized that the answer of where to go from here was right in front of me for months on end. Remembering all the positive remarks that my producer made, on several occasions, about how the Red Cross came to his aid after the blaze that caused a major setback for him – and for the movie -- I partnered with them to continue helping people in similar situations.
Now, as I tour area restaurants where sneak preview edition DVDs of “Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever” are made available for sale, I’ve trimmed my sales and product materials down to include only the essential items necessary to get the job done – move product.
I designed the DVD packaging to be lightweight because it was cost-effective and this non-traditional presentation would help guide audience expectations to be in alignment with what they’re getting – a short film, minus featurettes, audio commentaries and related extras that typically comes with feature length fare; and for a good cause.
Each “stop” on my tour calls for a lot of walking, hauling of supplies, campaigning and handling of packages; so I tapped into my early days of participating in art exhibitions at galleries and artist competitions, for inspiration. Seeking mobility, I created a single DIY style poster with bold text that conveyed all of the information necessary, while also doubling as my product display.
At the suggestion and request of people who have either already supported my Red Cross Fundraiser or want an alternative to traveling to one of my tour stops, the sneak preview edition DVD of “Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever” is also available to order online, exclusively from yours truly.
By looking inward at what directly had an impact on me and/or those that I work with, the purpose of this movie became clearer and thus, gaining an audience comes naturally as a byproduct of the main endeavor.
From the time I began writing the script to now, all of the headway up to this point was made possible by working within the structures that were already in line with my capabilities and goals.
Each step of the way, I found my footing when I thought about the project and how to best utilize its own distinct attributes when making decisions.
I invite those of you who enjoy buddy flicks or relationship dramas to watch “Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever” and take it, or leave it, for what it is. Either way, I find satisfaction in knowing that it is possible to reach goals while giving back and helping to save lives at the same time – by promoting nothing more, and nothing less, than exactly what I have to offer. That is as real as it gets.
If you enjoyed reading about these (mis)adventures in movie making, I would appreciate it if you order a DVD of my short film “ABYSS: THE GREATEST PROPOSAL EVER.”