from the mind of Rob Bowen
whatsabudget is my brainchild. my artistic voice visualized and focused 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 30 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.
the long road to knocking - our latest short
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.
2022 - new year, new poetry short
As 2021 drew to a close and we got a little Devil-ish in our releases, I wanted to start off the new year strong, with the first release being one that I felt was a nice follow up to Only Devils Die On Wednesdays. With multiple projects in the works and being juggled towards production, I wasn’t completely sure which project we would actually end up rolling camera on first. As pieces began moving around and taking shape, I saw that our first release of the new year was gearing up to be our first poetry short of 2022. Naturally, as a poet first, I was tickled pink that the proverbial cookie was crumbling as such, especially since for thorns, I had lined up a team I was absolutely stoked to work with! Let me take you back a few…
In the September Peak Film Forum screenings of 2021, I saw a short film by Skye Armenta, that she also starred in called Meal Time. She had worked with her partner in crime and all the time, Nick Gatsby (Close-Up, Zapper) ‘neath their production banner Gatsmenta Films, and a familiar face from the Whatsabudget Films fam, Nicole Goeke (Bad Friends, Life’s a Tarantino Flick). Skye was an extremely potent on-screen presence that left a lasting impression, and both were passionate, driven creatives in the local indie filmmaking scene, so when I started thinking of who I wanted to work with for thorns, they were the first two that immediately popped into my head. And at the conclusion of our poetry set of shorts for the previous year, Angie Bowen (Life’s a Tarantino Flick, Level 6), my own partner in all things life and lived, indicated that she would like to be one of the readers on the next set of shorts. So this seemed the perfect vehicle to have on board for too.
Once the full team was settled on in my head, I took a revisit through the verses of the poem to find a story that resonated within it, unrelated to the original inspirational narrative for the piece from my own life, and to find a story that could also be layered in the way I like to craft them. I knew I wanted it to have an environmental edge to it, and play off the toxic relationship man has with nature. Once I understood that it would deal with those abuses and toxicity, I knew that the poem’s lines read to contextualize that relationship in a way that offered the layers I was looking for. Going off of the powerful performance Skye gave in her own film, I knew I wanted to focus the short poetic piece around her ability to so easily take command of her emotions and so rawly and openly convey them to the audience. And thus, a darkly woven mirror tale took shape to add the context of neglect, and layer of abuse and toxicity I wanted the narrative to have.
Once I had the script, I approached Skye and Nick about partnering up on this poetry piece, and found both were just about as eager as I was to tackle the tale and bring it to life as a team. Skye began to assemble the various pieces of her costume and the accessories she saw that would really accentuate her character. As well finding and procuring the fake, decorative roses we used for production for all of the contained, internal sequences and shots. They really were an absolute joy and total pros to work with. I had such a good time on set with this dynamic duo. Skye’s heartbreaking moments of emotional vulnerability and rawness were such magic to witness and behold first-hand, that I would get lost in the power of her performance every time the camera would roll and she would switch it on. Nick was also equally committed, especially in his most demanding and difficult scenes, when action was called and he would dive into his. We only had two days on set together to accomplish the task and pull the film together, one indoor shoot, and one outdoor day spent in Red Rock Canyon Open Space (one of my favorite of locations to use in the Springs area for the perfect Colorado or natural backdrop), but those two days were magic.
After I had the footage, I immediately started cutting the pieces together to see what we had visually. Once that timeline was built (and which came together with such ease), I put on my DJ Mydnyt hat and began building a score that I felt could act as a rhythmic accompaniment to the potent visuals the production team helped us build and capture. I knew how I wanted to the piece to flow and how I wanted the two elements to pair, then it was all about the reading. Given that Angie and I have been together for more than half our lives, there is no one that understands me or my own particular beats and rhythms the way she does. She knows my voice, and as such, it makes her an invaluable interpreter of my words, because she somehow always knows exactly how I hear them being delivered in my head without any prompting, and very little, if any, direction whatsoever. And the reading was no different. With the first take (the one used in the film), I knew we had it, and I knew it was going to be so wonderful and emotionally effective.
I really couldn’t be happier with how this piece came together, and I hope that the same holds true for all our viewers, supporters, and the entire cast/crew to boot! We had a helluva team, and it resulted in a helluva film. See it for yourself at the link below.
At the top of 2021, I was wanting to break into new territory with Whatsabudget Films, which is often difficult, as there are not many waters we have not creatively dipped our toes in at this point. But I have long wanted to do a hard-boiled detective noir story, which was something we had not tackled yet, so I figured this would be the perfect time to tread those cobbles. I knew this would also help satisfy an itch I had been having to work with J Giordano (Life’s a Tarantino Flick, Rule 17) again, not getting to collab together since a year prior when we were shooting Ackla Tev (which at that moment, felt like years had passed since that shoot). So I started developing the story, and dove into an investigation of the popular hard-boiled slang that the genre was known for in its heyday. I was instantly in an euphemistic writer’s utopia!
The slang was so much fun to play with and incorporate into the script, however, as I neared completion of the story and was readying to send it to my actors, I quickly realized that they had not just completed any such investigation, and therefor might be a bit lost at times and places on what exactly their characters were saying. I felt that the context was plenty to sell it to the audience, but only if the actors themselves understood what it was they were conveying, so I set out to pen a glossary at the back of the script, so that they could quickly reference any slang bits they were saying that weren’t necessarily grounded in the parlance of our times. Also a first for any of my scripts.
To continue on this theme of firsts, I had recently friended a local actor on the Book of Faces, but had not yet had an opportunity to approach her with a project to potentially work together on. As I was penning the piece, I knew right away that I was writing the character of Farah for Kendra Dae Shock (Venus in Cancer). Given that things were still not completely recovered and opened back up when I started sending them the script, I figured I would step in to play the third character of main consequence who appeared mostly in voice in the original version of the script. However, as things developed further, I realized the piece needed a bit more of Drake, and I still wanted to be behind the camera mostly so I reached out to my frequent collaborating partner, and Whatsabudget Films EP, Jo Black (Empty, Travelers Through Time) to see about him taking on the role. Both were eager to accept the parts and to realize this engaging project from page to screen.
To my failure, and her complete credit, Kendra was an absolute trooper and champ on her first Whatsabudget Films project even though I told her were we would likely have it wrapped in a matter of weeks when we set out towards production in January. Cut to May when we would actually finish shooting the film, and I was absolutely mortified that I had taken up so much more of her time than I had initially promised. The scope of the project had widened slightly as delays pushed us into more open public days of fewer Covid restrictions, and we added a couple of extra scenes and characters to fill in the backstory a bit more. This gave me the chance to bring Marc Navarro (Dear Santa, sown in with the salt) on board for a small cameo piece, as he was also eager to get some time in front of the camera and we had continued to hit delays with completing the Dear Santa music video. I also had Chloe Carr (The Hit, Bad Friends) my longtime AD who was helping behind the scenes as usual, step back in front of the camera once again for a small cameo and nod to her time in Red Ever Grows, Red Ever Tires.
Chloe, J and Kendra had friends who were gracious enough to help us out as well and step in front of the camera during a few of the key expansion scenes. Mitch and Pierce were great with the assists, and Pierce had actually recorded some ADR for us as Castle’s Goon, but once we shot those scenes with Scott Glasgow (The Last Night – Freddy Krueger Fan Film), it was clear that the audio from the actual space would best serve the film. And alas, Pierce’s lines were redone in the moment with Scott who actually embodied the character on screen in such poignant fashion. Scott’s basement bar, The High Note was the perfect setting for Ace’s weekly penance at the altar of blood, working off his debts and more, and we couldn’t have scored it without J and his local indie film scene connections. In fact, it was J who also secured us the location that would serve as Drake’s place for the latter half of the film.
He really came in clutch multiple times on this production, not only on camera, but behind the scenes. Investing in the film’s success so much, we added him as a producer on the project. One of many reasons J is such an amazing person to collaborate with, not only because he is such a talented actor, but his commitment to the projects goes deep. Much like Kendra, whose final shots in the film occurred at sunrise, and who was so dedicated to completing the character’s arc fully that she came out to make those final moments happen just before sun up, warmed my heart that brisk Spring morning. Everyone really showed up for this project, in so many key ways really highlighting, as with all films, how the collaboration of so many creatives truly makes the final product shine through the noir-like shadows that plague so many of the film’s scenes and characters.
Overall, I couldn’t be prouder of the work we did on this first for Whatsabudget, and really hope the characters, the world, and the stories they bring to life resonate with you as much as they did with me throughout this entire process from page to premiere. **Update, as of Apr. 2022, the film was offered distribution but that didn’t work out, and so the film is back online! Regardless, this was big exciting news for the film, and Whatsabudget Films. A first for us.
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