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.
latest release - tension comes to call
Back in the fall of 2020 I got a special visit from my “sister” (her family has sort of unofficially adopted Angie and myself back many moons ago), who was back in Colorado for a short spell and was looking to do some acting on a few projects while in town to add to her reel once she returned to L.A. After only getting to work with Nayla (By the Blood, Film 2000) on a couple of occasions before, I decided that I would find a few different projects to place her in, during the couple weeks she was in town. Given that we were already in the middle of filming Travelers Through Time when she landed, I wrote the Proud Boys commercial break into the piece just for her to appear in, but then I wanted to give her another lead role to tackle whilst in town as well. So I turned to my vault and started looking through scripts I had previously penned that might be a good fit, and that would still allow for us to keep numbers on set as low as possible.
Given that Nayla was in a high risk category as were her folks for different reasons, we wanted to be just as cautious as we had been, but also aim for the smallest numbers of those on set as possible to keep things even safer and more guarded. That’s when I came across The Call, a short I had penned years earlier after an incident locally had me considering the tension and terror someone who’s loved one is caught up in a tense situation must experience. One where information is not easily obtained, but that information which is available is not always helpful. And what that struggle would look like, as opposed to the regular focus of such a story that drops the audience directly into the action and situation itself. Almost like The Zeppo episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with more focus on the tension and helplessness the outsider would experience. Being so separated from the action and information, and overall, the ability to do anything at all but stress and worry.
The script originally only had the one character, and it was written for a male lead, but after some slight reworking of the piece to make it fit Nayla and more up to date, I was able to present it to her with Terra as the lead character now. I had also originally written the newscaster, the only other voice we hear in the film, to be only that of a disemobied voice from the screen. It was a character we were never intended to see in the first draft. However, as I was reworking the script, I found opportunities to expand the role and work it into the story a bit more, even bringing this, somewhat antagonistic, amplified character into the film in tormenting, fun, new ways. This was further owing to the fact, that I once more wanted to work with Alex Abundis (Free Hugs, The Flu) on a project, that gave him more to do than his cameo appearances in both The Quarantine Zone shorts we shot in 2020. Especially since it would be a minute before his leading role in Free Hugs was ready to release.
Both responded extremely favorably to the script, and so we were ready to roll on and make this film (one I had almost given up on the idea of making after it had sat unproduced in my folder fiilled with fictions for years), but one whose tension and tale I had always favored and wanted to see come to fruition. So this was a wonderful moment of univeral symmetry bringing all these pieces together to finally make this a reality. I also really loved the new draft of the film, that took the tension and more and really elevated it in my opinion, so I was anxious to see what these two would do with the parts. With those two in the roles in front of the camera, I took on the roles behind the camera to ensure once more that numbers were low, and we could make it happen in the small window of opportunity we were being presented with. It was also fitting, given that the three of us were the three in my circle who had been doing the most isolating and staying home over the year as the virus raged through the nation, owing to the immuno-compromised and otherwise higher risk loved ones in our lives. So to have it be only the three of us together to make this piece happen, seemed beyond appropriate for the times.
And thus, our first release of 2021 was born! The Call, nearly six years since it was first conceived in my mind, had finally found life with a new script packed with purpose and intent, and my cautious Colorado film fam on board! The film, still drawn somewhat from elements and moments of my own life, Angie and I getting separated for hours in New York City via the subway back in the late 90’s, to my Grandfather’s stroke resulting (from my father’s perspective) in large part due to the news coverage that dominated his days following 9/11 and the ways he would get worked up by said reports, make this still a personal tale at times, even though the exact nature of the narrative was drawn from outside experiences. Thus, seeing it come together was still a very meaningful and gratifying experience (as all my cinematic creations have been in their ways), and I hope that it proves an ejoyable one for the audience it finds as well.
another trip through the demented dimension
Back when I penned The Flu, and first entered into The Quarantine Zone idea, I knew I wanted to attempt at least a trilogy of shorts based around this time of madness and the comedies it could inspire. Even though the pandemic has continued to drag on, and since we had really heavily leaned into the social satire arena on the first zonal foray, I wanted to shift gears a bit on this second trip, and give the comedy and focus of the film a bit of a different direction. Oddly enough, I ended up mining my own childhood adventures for the underlying story to center the comedy around. So not only is this film based on a true story, we goes to a much less dark place with the social commentary than the last dip into the demented dimension. And so Travelers Through Time was born!
I always love how Hollywood so loosely, yet committedly uses the “based on a true story” tag on the tiniest bit of reality that is then blown up into an extremely sensationalized or exaggerated version of the events for the big screen. So it is always with a bit of the old tongue in cheekiness that I use it myself (only once before in our catalog of shorts, as our fan may remember, back on the comedy piece, The Suitcase). Now here I find myself once again, borrowing from my own timeline to make our first time travel gag from a moment of generous stupidity that left my brother and I banished from getting any sort of electrical or mechanical gifts or toys for many years to follow what we will just call, The Christmas Gift of Grand Idiocy: Un-Gifted (exact year, forgotten, but I was about seven years old, so it was early 80’s…we’ll just blame the cocaine then. JK, I was seven…it was the ketamine back then).
When I first envisioned the script, I had it planned for another one man/one woman setup, but when I wrote the third script in the series as two women leads, I decided to make this two men (and given the fact the two main characters are somewhat based on my older brother and myself, this worked out). Originally, to keep things small and manageable again, I was planning on playing the part of Earl, and had reached out to my talented buddy, Jo Black (Empty, The Spectacular Mind of Mackenzie Banks, Ackla Tev) to tackle the part of William which was based on my brother. Jo, who is always anxious to stretch those acting chops, was on board immediately upon reading the script. Naturally, returning to the Zone meant getting my good friend, Cliff Cage to reprise his role as the host of this demented dimension, Mod Sterling. Owing to the fact that there were a couple of shots on The Flu that I was less than happy with, which I take full responsibility for, and which resulted from the fact that both Erynn and I had to be on screen at the same time.
That meant neither of us was available to operate and monitor the shots as they took place, and I decided that I didn’t want the same thing to potentially happen here on Travelers. So I decided (with restrictions still having been eased enough to have more people on set) that I would step back behind the camera exclusively on this one, and tap someone else for the role. Exclusively that is, save for a minor cameo role reprisal that I had to do. When I think of funny guys in my growing circle of superb acting/filmmaking fam, Brent Wilkerson (la Chasse, Life’s a Tarantino Flick, Artifice Destiny) always comes to mind! Having had worked with him twice earlier in the year already, and once after all the madness of quarantines had begun, so I knew he was being cautious and would be a safe addition to the project if he were up for it. Spoiler alert, he was! Similarly, Nayla Hetman (Film 2000, By the Blood) was back in town from L.A. so she hit me up to see if I had any projects going that could get her in front of the camera too. I knew I would be doing a commercial break in this TQZ installment too, so I started brainstorming a place to work her in as well (never a regrettable decision!).
Micheal Tuxhorn (Life’s a Tarantino Flick, Rule 17 [crew]) was also back in town from Cali grad school and wanted to work together again on anything I had going so he joined the crew too. I also had Johnny Bartlett (The Wastelander, Kingpin), one of the other comedic CO crew I have worked with before, down to clown in the commercial spot I had put together. And since Alex Abundis and I had also partnered on a couple projects this year, I knew he’d be up for a quick cameo for me here too (including an extra special appearance alongside Laura Benitez and their former Whatsabudget co-star Brent from a project we shot in June called Free Hugs). This just meant all the pieces were all falling into place to get this short shot in my birthday month of October, and I was needing the artistic outlet on a personal level too, and although we would manage to pull off this middle finger to the year that is 2020, 2020 hit back in a way I hadn’t seen coming.
Just as we were getting ready to start the cameras rolling on the final day of shooting, and I had the actors in on set in our apartment I felt my phone ring (having yet to remember to turn it to silent), and when I saw that it was Angie’s mom calling my phone, I was confused. I thought for sure, she must have tried to call Angie’s phone, and Angie must have missed it. But as soon as I heard the crack in her voice as she asked if I was home with Angie, that this was not a going to be a good call. And as I feared, it was then I got the most heartbreaking of news. News that I watched hit Angie directly in the chest, stealing her breath away and shattering her heart. Her grandmother, whose recent two week bout with pneumonia that had been accompanied with a hospital stay (and who had just been released only to have to return to the emergency room within hours of getting home with breathing trouble and was then readmitted to the hospital, had passed.
I was telling my cast and crew what happened and that we would have to reconvene at some unknown point in the future, when Angie selflessly bid us to press on, allowing her space and room to be in her grief and in the moment’s wake with us out of the way in the other room behind closed doors, and so we obliged. But emotionally, it was a difficult shoot to get through (even though we were shooting a comedy, the laughs just hit differently that day). I was bouncing back and forth to check on Angie, to sit with her, cry with her, and make sure she didn’t need anything when I could without pestering or overwhelming her more than she already was. Again, our crew and cast were extremely supportive, and there for me too, really reaffirming why I call these people my film family. And while that weight is still being carried, we got through the filming and had one helluva funny short film wrapped and waiting for post.
TQZ - trip through a demented dimension
Well 2020 sure took a turn, huh? The year got underway, and delivered with it a nightmare straight out of The Twilight Zone. As previously mentioned, we managed to wrap our last film, Ackla Tev just as the pandemic lockdowns were getting underway in our area. And during those first couple months of lockdown, as I sat in a state of creative denial, unable to work on the visual side of the spectrum, I ended up pouring all of my energy into writing. Preparing for the moment that the lockdowns would lift and we would find ourselves back in a world of vague familiarity. And thus, The Quarantine Zone series was born. It was only two scripts deep, but it was underway.
Then the news came down, and the daylight returned. Or rather, we returned to the daylight. We had a window, before things started degrading and cases of Covid started rising again locally, where I was able to get together with a handful of friends, under new conditions and restrictions, to make some art happen. Partnering with Alex Abundis on a new horror anthology series, I had the opportunity to shoot a short bit of horror, but with The Quarantine Zone series, I wanted to focus on the complete opposite of the horror we were really faced with, and so I penned some comedies to try and dull the edge of the troubled days we were neck deep into.
But just because I was going to apply the age-old rule of “make ’em laugh!”, that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to take on some of the lunacy that had been rearing its mad-ass head of late during the dumpster-fire response to Covid that we mustered here in the U.S. And thus, The Flu was born! I read a tweet from @ryschutt back in April that got me rolling with this idea, and the fire had more gas tossed on as I wrote from the news stories and daily reactions to our current conditions coming out that I managed to read between the fingers as I perpetually found myself in mid facepalm. Picture The Thinker, but just fucking over it all, and you’re there.
My dear friend, and fellow film studies cohort from my years at UCCS, Erynn Mitchell (Sugar, Mirror Mirror, Ackla Tev) was about to move off for Grad School in L.A., and having been such a crucial, solid ally in the arts and having helped out however we could on each other’s projects, I wanted to work together once more before she left. The Flu presented the perfect opportunity for that. As I was watching how things would likely be once things started to reopen, I specifically wrote this short to be able to be done with minimal crew to minimize risk. In fact, I essentially crafted a series of two person sets to make this short come about. Taking on several roles in the piece myself in order to pull it off. Calling on my old friend, Cliff Cage (Level 6, la Chasse, The Spectacular Mind of Mackenzie Banks), I was able to bring the whole Twilight Zone homage to fruition beautifully.
With a little more help, from a few of my other film family, including my friend and new co-producer on the other project I mentioned, Alex, a wonderfully snarky, satirical and packed with punches short film came out of the gate swinging! I also managed to get a key bit of assist from fellow filmmaker, Michael Bliss, who regularly shoots zombie films and organizes zombie crawls locally who happened to have some zombie horde footage our film needed, and that he was so gracious and willing to allow us to use. The short was also my first since Lather Rinse Repeat to go full Angry Hippie with all the sass and ass that my old podcast, The Angry Hippies’ Podcast, was known for showing. Right down to the fake sarcastic commercials that used to act as segment breaks in the show.
My talented buddy Gordon Lewis, of Roma Ransom and Seraphim Soundscapes hit me up once more with an array of musical possibilities to use for a film right as I was working on the trailer for the film, and one of the pieces he sent me (Shimmy) was a perfect fit for The Flu. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after we got two shorts shot and wrapped, that the restrictions started to tighten again, and so as it turned out, these two shorts (being all we would manage to get shot during our brief time in the sun) were pitch perfect for the moment and circumstances that bore them. And hopefully, The Flu offers our audiences enough of a tongue-in-cheek laugh to offer something of a reprieve from the frustrations these days have wrought.
from 2020 - going full lynch
David Lynch. For the uninitiated, the name might not conjure up anything at all. But for those in the know, the name brings to mind surreal worlds bubbling under the surface with a piercing darkness that bleeds over into the lives of all who inhabit said worlds. Perhaps the finest American surrealist auteur in the history of cinema, Lynch’s stories are wildly, weirdly simultaneously absurd, gut-punchingly terrifying, and astoundingly emotionally effective films. He uses these juxtapositions of genre and tone to weave trauma-laden tales so uniquely suited to his brand of Americana and vice, that he has practically birthed a new genre of filmmaking: The Lynchian.
So when I turned to one of my own artistic outlets for personal catharsis, after a particularly trying moment for our small family, naturally, I heard the call of one of my biggest inspirations, Mr. David Keith Lynch. So I channeled all of that darkness and pain I was feeling into my own surreal cinematic journey, weighted with the mundane, relieved by the absurd, and plagued by what was brewing beneath the surface. And so Ackla Tev was born. I had previously been attempting to cast and put together another horror short script I had penned after The Wastelander wrapped, but as soon as I finished this script, I knew Ackla Tev would have to be tackled next. If for no other reason, than to allow me to move through any closure it might have offered to this dark chapter I was currently dealing with.
I knew immediately that I wanted Kat (Road Kills, la Chasse, Film 2000), who coincidentally shared a nickname with our lead, to play the part. As she was already on board to lead the other horror short I mentioned I had been putting together, this was an easy transition to move into. Even though the parts, and the films themselves, were so very different (beyond both falling under the horror banner) I knew without a doubt that this would not fall outside Kat’s amazing abilities of bringing such truth and naturalness to the part. Thomas Fears (Terror Tales) was an actor I had met through the Peak Film Forum and who had approached me about working together in the past, but I had yet to find a project for us to collab on. So this finally presented me with that opportunity as I penned the role of The Apprentice. Thomas had also agreed to be part of the aforementioned horror short I was planning before completing Ackla Tev’s script, so I hoped he would be on board for this one too. And luckily, he was, because he brought such presence to the part that it was just what I was looking for.
From there it was a matter of assembling the rest of the cast, all populated with faces you will also recognize from the Whatsabudget oeuvre. Working on a piece that was so personal to me, I naturally wanted to surround myself with as many familiar and friendly faces as I could. Once we had the parts filling in, we began shooting as January was coming to close, and I was in the middle working on two other films for other friends. This, along with the size of the cast for Ackla Tev, made for some tricky scheduling, and extremely packed weeks with little rest. But as I was learning a new editing program, DaVinci Resolve, I was anxious to start a project that would allow me to begin to get myself familiar with this powerhouse software package, and Ackla Tev provided that as well. So sleep be damned, I pressed on.
As we rolled, somewhat exhaustedly into February, the shooting was coming along quite nicely, but the film itself, and the things it was helping me cope with, proved to be unfinished in several ways. Basically meaning, that I found myself expanding the short in some minor places to really flesh out the story a bit more, and fill it with the full brunt of what I was facing. This resulted in our longest short to date, growing this dark journey to just under 41 minutes from jump to creds. In the end, the story got all the Lynchian notes and accents it needed to be realized as I imagined it, and I got a helpful, healthy dose of personal catharsis in the process.
As we were winding down the production phase of the film, the world was slipping into deadly chaos as the Coronavirus pandemic was exploding around the globe, and finally reaching the point of mass closures and restrictions in our pocket of the planet. In fact, we had to compromise on some of our final shoots with regards to the locations we used since as several spaces we had sights on, were having to close their doors to the public en mass. But we, as a cast and crew, were determined to get those final shots done, so we applied the first rule of indie filmmaking, #1. Be Adaptable, and made it happen. At the time of our last shoot, groups of more than 10 in public were banned, but we only needed seven of us to finish things up, so we gathered together in the name of cinema, and shot the final scenes of the film before the full on local quarantine got issued and underway.
So while, I had been editing the film in pieces all along as we shot it, to learn the new software, once the official Stay-at-Home order was issued, I found myself unable to move forward, or really, just at all. I was in that shock and despair induced paralysis that so many of us were gripped with as we watched these unprecedented days taking place. The daily dispatches of dread dropping through the social networks and news sources keeping me focused and fixed on the tragedies of pandemic life, and robbing any and all of my drive and will to wrap the film’s post-production side and get it ready for release. The world was getting more Lynchian by the day, and I couldn’t help but be sucked into its melancholic waters, stuck in my own hell of the mundane and uncertain. Our ineffective leadership and the ensuing protests of the callous here in the U.S. making things more and more surreal by the day. It was in reflecting on this uncertainty that I moved back into the moment the film was born, and I knew I needed to complete the edit and get it finished. For me, more than anything, I needed it to be done.
And now it finally is, and this finished form it has taken is more glorious, and Lynchian than I had initially envisioned or imagined for the project! I could not be more proud of the work, nor could I be more grateful for the effort and talent my team put forth to get me through this, than I am today seeing the hard work and tireless months come to such wonderful fruition. Each and every film I make means something to me, but this one, well, this one meant so much more, and I am humbled and elated to get to present it to the public now. This is Ackla Tev…
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