from the mind of Rob Bowen
whatsabudget is my brainchild. my artistic voice visualized and focused, raised in collaboration through a cinematic narrative. it is my retreat from the world, and my attempts to make sense of it. an independent spirit naturally fit in the world of independent filmmaking.
in 2012, I began making short films as a means to explore and teach myself this potent and expressive medium. over 50 short films later (and growing), I continue to use this short form storytelling tool to hone and grow my voice as an indie filmmaker and artist. in collaborative spirit and nature with my growing whatsabudget films family!
latest release - the gifts that keep on giving
It was at the end of 2022 that I was looking over some of the wonderful gifts I had been given as the year wound toward its final phases, I was extremely eager to use them. Trouble was, I had plans for some other projects already in the works, and nothing really I had already penned was calling to me particularly loudly proclaiming its desire to head into pre-production. So I sat down and started the gears turning, got the ink flowing, and I crafted a whole new tale of surreal drama. Nature’s Bastards was born, and I knew I had my project.
Having had been trying for a minute to reunite with and collab once more with my talented friend Mark E. Cannon (Soulmates, Return of the Masked One), I knew the lead role of Coleman in this script was one he was so well suited for, so I reached out to and sent him the pages. He was sold, and that meant we had our leading man, so things were officially kicking off! Though, as with most films, feature or short, there were several bumps in the road to come as we moved forward. We began planning to shoot in December, but ran into some delays due to Covid, colds, and unforeseen need for recasting a role after losing contact with the actor who was set to play Sharon.
But we pressed on, for as has been hailed for generations, the show must go on. With nine roles to fill, and eight other characters for Coleman to cross paths with in this journey of influence, recognition, and change there were a lot of pieces to get aligned as we moved into production. So I tapped several familiar faces from the Whatsabudget Films family (and beyond) to join us in this project, including Skye Armenta (thorns, Zapper), Bobby Hadden (Ackla Tev, Night of the Missing Bleach), Cynthia Rodriguez (There Came a Knocking, Matchbot), Anna Loehr (Night of the Missing Bleach, Lenore), Brent Wilkerson (la Chasse, Life’s a Tarantino Flick), and Becky Bruner making her debut in front of the cameras for us having helped out behind the scenes on a couple of other projects in the past. We also had Vina Valdez (of Lady V radio fame) and David Corder (Sour Ground) both of whom I had worked with in the past, and who I wanted to finally work with on a Whatsabudget piece.
With the cast all settled and placed, we rolled into 2023 ready to take on this short and kick it fully into production mode. We gathered on the first, in the revelry and celebratory air of the day for film and in the name of indie cinema. With the further aid and expertise of Ian Brander (Matchbot, There Came a Knocking) and Phil Sweren (Black Joker music video series, ART) we bounced between three different locations throughout the day and night to rock the first day. Then our plans hit something of sinkhole as both Ian and I caught Covid that first day. Not only that, but I only found out I had Covid after having my very first seizure a couple of days later. Talk about a clustery series of firsts triggered by our shoot on the first day of the new year. My first round of Covid since the pandemic began, and the out-of-nowhere seizure that hit me early in the morning days after production started on Nature’s Bastards. Bastards indeed.
But we all managed to bounce back, and it was only a matter of weeks before we were back on set making magic happen! We also had Caitlin McKoy join the project behind the scenes after she was so key and great to work with on There Came a Knocking. At this point, I had to lean more on my cast and crew than ever before, as the seizure took its share of steam from my sails, and I wasn’t able to drive and more. Though this certainly complicated matters, in true indie and Whatsabudget form, we persisted. Travis Eckland, the Heartland Emmy Award Winning cinematographer of ART, also stepped up to lend a hand as his schedule allowed to complete the team and bring this film to screen.
In a film about those defining moments that change our very nature and make us confront how they have molded us and the days that followed, I couldn’t help but to see some life imitating art as the seizure was certainly a mirror being held up in front of me. So the film took on a whole new meaning and importance to me as we pushed on to complete it. Not only because, as I like to joke, this film tried to kill me (Angie does not laugh at that), but because I began to wonder as we pushed on, if I would be able to finish it. My own health and future being somewhat uncertain at that time. So I put my head down, and I pushed as hard as I was able towards the finish line, fingers crossed and focus fixed. And by the first couple weeks of February, we were wrapping principle and moving into post! I couldn’t believe it.
It was probably the most difficult shoot I have ever encountered on a personal level, based on the health factors alone, and the ways they impacted me over the course of the shoot. But with a renewed sense of passion, edged with an urgency and silent fear, I pulled myself together. But it was only with/through the help of those closest to me, and the beyond amazing team we had assembled for the project that I was able to keep things on track. Together we crossed that finish line on what will likely live in my mind as my favorite film we’ve made to date for some time to come. Because, well, as I said, it tried to kill me. But we killed it instead. So proud of the team and the work they put into the film. Hope you all enjoy what we pulled off.
bleach and on the story must go
Back in the cluster that was 2020, Alex Abundis and I started a journey together. Like the year that begat it, that journey took on certain of those properties and had an element of clusteriness to it. That is to say, we rolled the dice on this new horror anthology short series called Nightmares From the Beyond, and started rolling this ball…uphill. Turns out, launching a new project during a pandemic can be challenging to keep on track. Especially when things all go up in the air and begin crashing down all around you. We got all the scripts in and set for the first series of shorts, and even got the first chapter shot and released by Spring 2021 (no small feat with all the restrictions and madness of 2020 taking place). But that was when, as we got ready to get things moved on to the next short from writer/director Kevin Mulligan, my producing partner, Alex ended up having to relocate out of Colorado.
As did one of the other writer/directors for the series. And then a third, I lost contact with in all the hustle and bustle and delays of the days of Rona. Having had recently met up with and starting working with Travis Eckland (We’re Watching, ART), and with me knowing I could not produce the rest of the series on my own, we discussed him coming on board as a producing partner for the series. With him already signed on to shoot Kevin’s film, he stepped into the role and we pushed the Nightmares forward! With Bobby Hadden (Ackla Tev, The Flu) a regular collaborator signed up to lead Kevin’s Night of the Missing Bleach, and having had Bobby appear in Chapter One of the series in passing, an idea had come together as a way to link each of the shorts in the series even though they are all separate films and narratives.
But Alex had to exit the area and with it, the project, as he was set to take up the third role in Kevin’s film, that of the Landlord. As filming was getting closer, we were running short on options for getting the shoot off and running as planned. This meant that I had to step in to the part, putting on the old acting hat along with the producer’s cap I had on. Anna Loehr (Lenore, Nature’s Bastards) was also attached as the other lead in the film, and things looked like they would be smooth sailing forward from there. We had Chapter Three lined up, and even had the lead for Michael’s film set to thread through Kevin’s short, as Bobby had mine before her. She graciously came down from Denver one day for a very short cameo moment that we shot to keep the film links going. Unfortunately, this would be the next link to fall apart. Not only would Michael have to follow a job out of state, the lead we shot with ended up having to back out of Chapter Three as Summer came to a close.
Given that the pandemic days had already highlighted the absurdity of the best laid plans and all that jazz, we were pretty used to rolling with the punches by this point. And so we remained determined and focused on the finish line. And just shortly beyond the one year anniversary of the release of Chapter One of the series, on April 4th, 2022, we wrapped production on Kevin’s Bleach! Travis, Bobby, Anna, and the whole team were dedicated and saw the film through, despite the challenges and hurdles it had faced. Kevin was also anxious to edit the film himself, as like with directing, he had not had too many film projects under his belt yet and really wanted to tackle, learn and grow in that area too. And though there were still a few bumps in the road of life and, as such, there would be a couple of delays to getting that finish line crossed, the dedication and passion that first sparked it all, kept it burning and building until this year came and with it, the final steps to completing the film were strode. The Sisyphusian feat was, for now, handled and a new rock atop the hill.
And so it was decided that today, on the anniversary of wrapping the film’s production, Chapter Two would be released and the series would live on again! To paraphrase another horror classic, “it’s still alive!” And so you too can now view Chapter Two of Nightmares From the Beyond – Night of the Missing Bleach!
finally getting ghosted
*Disclaimer* I have always, ALWAYS been fascinated with, and long believed in, the idea of the supernatural. Not the TV show, though admittedly, also a huge fan, but of the actual idea that there are other plains of existence and others ways of existing where beings and spirits of those who once inhabited this plain are moving about and interacting with the world still. The idea of ghosts was always as real and present in this world to me as is the idea of witches existing. Witchcraft (even if misrepresented largely in media depictions throughout the ages) is very real and focuses on energies and auras and more. So I felt like ghosts weren’t out of the realm of possibility.
I also grew up on a (what some would possibly call an un)healthy diet of ghost stories and supernatural fiction. I was the kid in elementary school checking his school library for books on vampires and werewolves, but not in the fiction sections. I was looking for true stories involving the monsters media taught me were lurking in the shadows. The kid who in fourth grade found a book in my school library that talked of rituals and pacts with the devil to actually become a werewolf. Which, by the way, what the hell, elementary school library?! Like really, what was that book even doing there? But I digress.
After a couple of my own unexplainable encounters over the years, my belief in ghosts was only cemented further. Then Angie and moved to Colorado in the mid 2000’s and I was in the same state as the famed “Overlook” inspiration itself, the Stanley Hotel. Being a Stephen King junkie from my tween years, I was so very keen on crossing that storied threshold and stepping into the haunted history that lay inside those hallowed halls. Angie, also being a decades deep King fan, was not adverse to the idea of spending a night in one of the most famously haunted hotels in all of the US that served as inspiration for the King. So we decided that as an anniversary present we would do it. We booked the ghost adventure package, and headed out to Estes Park (after some initial delays and rescheduling as everything must happen in its time).
Having put some recent roots down in the documentary film genre of late, I felt like the footage we captured from that night, and the overall story behind it was somewhat fitting for a documentary style exploration after we returned home (unscathed), but armed with an experience unlike any that either of us had had before. But there was lots to sort through, and much to contextualize and shape to make it a story that we felt was worth the telling and time taken to craft it. And like with any documentary, I had to find that story within it to present it in the right way. I thought when I first started out down this path that it was simply a tale of two (beyond) amateur ghost hunters exploring and staying in one of the most infamous supernatural hot spots from coast to coast, but it turned out to be a bit more than that. There was so much of us wrapped up in it, and it became a bit of a personal story as well.
That is part of what took so long to get this film finished and out to the public, was realizing what it really was, and how that story had to be told. I even ended up dragging my poor dad into the film, to add some context to my fascination with ghost stories. So there were many other pieces that I had never even fathomed would become part of this story when we set out to experience the supernatural firsthand in Estes Park in 2016, but like with all stories, you have to let it go where it wants. Where it needs to. And so, after many years, and so much ado, we FINALLY present to you, Ghosting Stanley, our first solo documentary from Whatsabudget Films and Permanent Marker Productions.
the chips have fallen - bookending the year
2022 began with poetry, and it shall end with poetry as well. Our first short film of the year was the poetry short thorns (2022), and when I learned over the summer that I would be the featured filmmaker/poet for the inaugural online Poetry In Motion Film Festival kicking off in December, I knew that I wanted to make a new poetry piece to premiere at the festival and release at the year’s end. Since this was to be our second poetry short of the year, I looked to last year’s trilogy of poetic visualizations we produced and landed on making a sequel to that short which kicked off the pawn’s journey from page to screen. So with a number of poems in that vein and along the destitute theme/series I knew I had plenty of inspiration to drawn from, and I would end up turning to the poem, the chips have fallen (a poem I had penned in 2018).
Having such a long history with the pawn character in my poems, bringing them to screen and imagining them for a narrative compiled of emotive tableaux is an endlessly challenging and equally rewarding task. And where the first outing with the pawn had only one figure to film, and made the piece easy to put together and organize, this time around, I wanted to add someone in to represent the Fates. So I reached out to an old friend, Ariel Crawford (Coffee & Cigarettes, Ackla Tev) to step in and embody the sisters three, and she was delighted to join the project. Travis Eckland (ART, Matchbot) had shown me a neat camera technique/trick with the lens (whacking) and so I got a chance to deploy of bit of that in this short as well. I love the effect it adds and how it elevates the shot with a natural enhancement. So that was another fun, collaborative aspect to making this short, and I am grateful to both for their contributions to the piece.
These are always very personal pieces, the pawn being a character very close to my heart, so it is always a challenge to bring them to screen and not do so superfluously, but maintaining the impact and meaning of the pieces as I initially penned them. And since I knew I was creating this piece, inspired by the chance to get into the festival and premiere something new there, I wanted to ensure that I walked that line respectfully, and gave the piece the same heart it needed to be a good short in the first place. Especially since I had now involved someone else and was inflicting this journey on them too. It had to be charged, and it had to be effective. So I went to work envisioning the shots and visually setting up the narrative arc of the poem once again, but this time for the new medium. Unlike some of the poetry shorts that have their own uniquely devised narrative apart from the poem that inspired/accompanies them, I wanted this piece to once more be a virtual, visual retelling of this piece of the pawn’s journey.
Once I had the general idea of the shots I wanted to get, it was simple to just load up the gear and the pawn figure and head out to get them done. Scheduling the pieces with Ariel was as complex as it got, but even that was pretty breezy, so overall, the piece came together quite effortlessly. Flowing together like the verses of the poem that begat it, the film’s visuals would even evolve in the spaces where I envisioned some of the shots, as I found other areas and angles that helped serve the story more than I had originally planned. For example, I knew I wanted to use the statue figure in the park, but had not seen the words at her base, and that the word “love” was appropriately among them for use in the piece. With the time of day I was there and the sun’s light casting shadows with the fencing across the lettering, creating the sense of bars on a cage cutting across the frame, so much of the meaning from the poems expressed were suddenly here in a single, unplanned shot coming to life in front of me.
It was almost as if the gods of cinema were steering the afternoon to serve this small poetic bit of film, putting me right where I needed to be at the exact moment I needed to be there. The pieces all fell into place and the film was ready to submit long before the deadline. And it was officially selected for the festival to boot! Now you can see it here with a simple clickety click of the link below…
the long road to knocking
Once upon a time, like eight or so years ago, I penned a script for a found footage piece called There Came a Knocking. It was a simple, single person concept that centered around a haunting at the apartment we first lived at in Manitou Springs. But I wasn’t solidly sold on the idea. So much so, that I completely reworked the script a couple years later. Moving it into a fleshed out version of the story that was no longer a found footage piece more resembling the film as it is today. The revised version I was much happier with. In fact, after we shot and released Bad Friends (2016) I posted a teaser for There Came a Knocking, expecting it to be the next film we would tackle. But that didn’t happen. And the film lived on the back burner for the next six years.
It wouldn’t be until the summer of 2022 was approaching that I would even think of the film again, when Angie’s mom who was planning a visit to the Springs in May, offered to let us shoot a short film at the AirBnB they were staying in. And you can’t make an offer like that to a filmmaker like me and not expect me to jump at the chance! So I jumped! I dug through my archive of completed tales, and as soon as I saw the title, I knew in an instant it was the one that I wanted. So I started reaching out to those who I thought might be a good fit to take along on the ride with us. I reached out to Nicole Gaisford (Bad Friends, Rule 17, Life’s a Tarantino Flick), Kacie Vance (Tabula Rasa, Red Ever Grows Red Ever Tires, Empty), and Thomas Fears (Ackla Tev, Terror Tales) to fill the three main roles. They were all on board, and so we set out to tackle this beast in the short window of opportunity we had. And then, the day before we were set to roll cameras, Kacie tested positive for Covid, and we had to hit the brakes on production. The window we had with access to the location would be closed before she was clear, and I thought the film was somehow destined not to happen.
After having bought all the props and had everything ready for the shoot, I kept the film in the back of my mind and was searching for a new location that might be a good fit to pull it off. I knew we were pressed for time as Thomas would soon be relocating, so I kept scrambling. When I finally settled on a place and new short window of time opened up to make it happen, Thomas would no longer be available, and I wasn’t hearing back from Nicole owing to our wires getting somewhat crossed. And so as this new window was nearing, I was panicking. I had Kacie still on board, but needed to get two more leads for the roles we no longer had filled, and find a couple others for the additional roles I added over the summer in slightly expanding the script further. It was a random bit of luck that Michelle Charisse (The Hit, Life’s a Tarantino Flick) happened to be around and available when I reached out to her, and she too loved the script. One down. One to go.
As I was looking for someone to replace Thomas, I got Bobby Hadden back again (Empty, Ackla Tev, Banished) for another small role in this piece. I also revived the character he played in Banished, the Golem of Ash & Bone, in the mythology I built for the story as I developed the expanded scenes so he would effectively end up playing a double role in the short. I also brought Gordon Lewis on board to boot, who has done music for a number of our films, and who had reached out earlier in the year about potentially being open to the idea of a small cameo in one of the projects. He also contributed three tracks to the film’s score, to really amplify the tone and tension of the piece. I had been working on a feature film for Mat Nelson recently, starring Michael Lee (Lather Rinse Repeat, Urban Myth Explorers, Real Michigan) and we talked about wanting to work together again on one of our shorts for Whatsabudget. So I sent him the script for TCaK (with a slight change to make his character siblings with Kacie’s versus parent and child as it was originally penned), and he was sold!
As I rounded out the cast, I had been talking with Ian Brander (Matchbot, Contract, ART) to come on board as the sound expert, plus Nicholas Hawkins whom worked on ART too was invited back to play with us behind the camera on our crew. With a new addition to the WaBF fam, Caitlin McKoy coming in to assist on crew as well (after meeting at the Peak Film Forum and being introduced by her former instructor, Ralph Giordano) we had a solid set of hands to finesse this film to life. The only sad part was that when we were set to film at the beginning of summer, I had Travis Eckland our wonderful cinematographer on ART set to shoot this film too (one of many collaborations we have had in the works since), but as August came to pass, I knew he had expressed needing to take some time off, so I didn’t want to reach out to him when the new window opened, because I knew regardless of his own well being, he would selflessly be there for us and shoot the film if I asked. Not being one to want to impose on my friends for our no-budget shorts and keep asking more of them, I didn’t want to put him in a position to have to either say no, or stretch himself thinner than he already was.
Having just worked on Jack Young’s film, Contract over the summer, I met Mia Valdez and Jack Vaughn on that set, and so when I needed more talented folx to tap, I asked them both to join the team. Mia bringing her wonderful fx make up skills to the piece. I also got Angie on board (Life’s a Tarantino Flick, Level 6) to help out with the mythology/history building shots as one of the members of the coven who originally, inadvertently set this darkness in motion centuries before the events of our film take place in the modern day and age. Scheduling conflicts kept me from being able to get Cliff Cage (Ackla Tev, Red Ever Grows Red Ever Tires, The Quarantine Zone shorts) on board in a pair of small but crucial roles, but it did allow for us to get to work with Cynthia Rodriguez (Real Michigan) for her first Whatsabudget Films project! So while sad, there was a silver lining.
Overall, we had quite the team assembled and were ready to tackle this haunting little tale. Everything fell into place the way the cinematic universe intended it seemed, because, after all these years on the burner, we finally managed to get this film in the proverbial can! And while it was fun to create, it turned out very creepy and effective in its chilling nature. So after this long a road to get here, we really hope you enjoy this ghost story by clicking on the link below.
making art in 2022
At the beginning of the year, I had an idea for a new short that I felt like was going to be fairly small and simple to organize and pull together, but the more I looked at it, and the more it began to take shape, the sooner I realized that this piece was growing in scope and scale, and appropriately so, as it would come to be our 50th Whatsabudget release! That’s right, it was the big 5-0! And to think this project all started with a mattress and a quart of fake blood, and ART would be born! So perhaps a little more background than that is needed.
So after replacing our mattress recently, and before throwing the old one out, I had an idea that involved a massively, if not somewhat macabre and gory transformation of this piece of trash, into an oversized prop for a new short film. From trash to treasure as the saying becomes bastardized for this purpose and goes. And as the first incarnations of the script flowed from Final Draft, I had visions of Angie (Life’s a Tarantino Flick, Level 6) and myself (Bad Friends, The New Millennial Tramp in Socks) as the leads, with the bulk of the film shot here in our apartment by me. Taking it back to the very first short film we made for Whatsabudget, Cashing Out, since this was such a monumental installment in the oeuvre.
It was in talking at another shoot on an indie feature, with my friend Travis Eckland (We’re Watching, Matchbot) about my intention to single hat the whole production as it were, and as I had done in the beginning, when he reminded me that I don’t have to make films like that if I don’t want to, and that he likes to shoot films. Not only does he like to shoot them, as he so modestly framed it, but he’s magnificent at doing so! He’s got an amazing eye, and talent for capturing such stunning and engaging images, so when he offered his skillsets to the project, I found it impossible to turn down. And if you have Travis Eckland on your set, and you don’t put a camera in his hand, then you are doing your film a disservice, I say, and so I had Travis set to now shoot the film.
At this point, I already felt the film growing beyond Angie’s comfort zone of shooting it in a much grander fashion, and about that time Erynn Mitchell (Mirror Mirror, Lenore) reached out to me saying she was going to be in town soon for a few days and was hoping to maybe shoot something while she was here. I sent Erynn the script, and she was over the moon for the part and the story! And with the chance to collaborate once again with her (after SO many wonderful projects worked on together in the past), this also seemed highly fitting of the 50th, as her recent years in Cali at USC had made (in-person) collaborations seem somewhat out of reach for us at this point. The pieces were coming together, and the collaboration was growing in production value and scale to be something really special (another fitting bit of symmetry to match the trajectory and growth of Whatsabudget over its ten year life span).
At that point, I started to slightly expand the script and add a bit more dimension and depth to the story, all the while bringing in another part to flesh out the arcs in this short narrative, and so Halston’s (Red Ever Grows Red Ever Tires, Ackla Tev) part was born! I also got my buddy Ian Brander (Matchbot, Walking Alone In the Dark) to help out and agree to do sound for several of the days we were shooting, with key fill-in and all around awesome dude, Phil Sweren (No Weapon Formed Against Me Shall Prosper) to assist as well. But with Erynn’s schedule and time so limited, we really had to make the most of the two days we had her in town to get what we needed for the film, and focus on shooting the scenes with her on camera in those days. We also worked together to develop an idea for a teaser/trailer for the film that would involve like an old interview with her character as a young, new artist to play off the added scenes in the film where we see her as an established artist being interviewed by the press.
Erynn was so taken with that idea, that she wrote out her answers for those interview segments after we discussed a bit more in depth what the questions would be and the full purpose of the pieces and how they would play in the film and with the narrative, authentically voicing them through the character she had constructed for the role. It was a wonderful addition and worked so well in really expanding the character’s arc and sense of agency in the piece, and gave Erynn and I our first shared writing credit in all the years we had partnered and collab’d on films together. Travis loaned us the space to shoot the bulk of the film in, where we could effectively create her character’s studio space and fit all the equipment, crew, and props into, really giving the whole film that much more realism and character. We also ended up renting some of the shared office space at The Next Us in town with them donating to the cause of indie film and giving us a deal on the rental fee. A further act of artistic kindness that contributed SUCH value to the production and story for our milestone project.
We had such an amazing experience on this film, and I even got to bring aboard some film students from UCCS to help out for the day we shot the office scenes, so there were so many aspects of the film that nodded to the entire journey Whatsabudget Films has had over the course of the ten years we’ve been making film in Colorado. This was such a magical cinematic undertaking, and as we worked together to grow the story, I brought aboard a talented SFX Makeup Artist I had worked with on a feature film recently, Merrilyn Moynihan (Sour Ground) to do the needed work on this film, and she nailed it from the jump! All the pieces came together so brilliantly, that I could not have asked for a better tribute to all that had come before, and hopefully follows after, than this film, ART. We hope you enjoy (for it’s limited time first release), our 50th cinematic entry into the aforementioned oeuvre.
Rob is available for hire as a freelance editor, director, or writer. He is also available for other comments and inquiries, so hit him up below.
Colorado Springs, CO