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 trilogy concludes, destitute the third
December 2022 ended with the second entry in the Pawn’s introductory film trilogy of poetry shorts, and this year shall conclude the trilogy with the final entry’s release. destitute III (2023), was actually finished earlier this year over the summer so as to have it ready in time for a film festival deadline that it was being eyed for. However, given the symmetry of wrapping it up a year after the last, and to have it be our final film of the year long release plan of dropping a new short every two months, was too hard to resist. So we held on to the film, keeping it from full public release until these last days of December.
Given the personal nature of the character and pieces they are associated with, I once again felt like the reading of the poem should fall to me. So this would be another easy film to put together and pull off, as there was not a lot of planning and scheduling to deal with or coordinate. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to get Ariel (Ackla Tev, By the Blood, Vinnie’s Vantastic Rock and Roll Adventure) to return for this final chapter too, after she stepped into the roles of the Fates in part two. With a Chaos Demon being the only other character to appear in this short, she was more than happy to hop on board and take the reigns of the Demon. She even came up with the look and costume for the character as well, based on some conversations we had leading up to the shoot.
I knew that I wanted the Demon to wear a mask, and which one that would be, however, Ariel was responsible for incorporating it with the rest of the look she was crafting, and even came up with the idea of the double-sided demon. I was immediately sold on the idea, and it added such dimension to the part and meaning overall. She also wanted to steer the look towards the Boogieman from the animated 80’s series The Real Ghostbusters, as the main source of inspiration and pitched that as the general idea. I wanted her to have full creative control, so I told her to run with it. And run with it, she did. It’s always exciting to reunite and collaborate with my old friend from the days of sharing trenches in the service industry, but as this was a culminating chapter of the trilogy, the excitement was amplified even more.
One of the other really exciting elements of this short was creating the practical hellscape the Pawn is seen in throughout the film, and that is referenced in the poem throughout as well via the lines “through a hell of his own making.” Working closely with my partner in all things, Angie (Life’s a Tarantino Flick, thorns, Level 6) and borrowing from her vast array of art supplies, we managed a simple, layered diorama from watercolor paper, markers and pastels. That added a rich, new layer to this short that the others lacked, and that was a lot of fun to envision, cut/craft, and manipulate during preproduction and filming. Expanding the reaches of the Pawn to a new, third plane of existence for the third film in the trilogy: the game or chess board (his world), the real world (our plane), and the hell of his own making. Here in this final chapter, the Pawn is having to navigate all three.
As with the previous films, taking the Pawn out into the world and planning the settings he would be placed in this round, was more crucial than ever before, and so I was even more intentional than in the previous films. It had to really cement the tethers between the character and its inspiration, and it had to place the Pawn in environments that helped conclude and wrap up this journey the Pawn has been on since appearing in the first short. It was clearly stated in that first piece, that “this is not a hero’s tale,” and that point had to play out the way it needed and was intended in this final entry of the trilogy. But those environments were key, and so the staging was a lot of fun to work out for this film. Like when the Pawn is watching the scenes of his own journey play back before him, set against a canvas and adjacent to my high school yearbook from the year I graduated. Threading the connective tissue between us even deeper as this first series comes to a close.
I wanted the Pawn’s first poetic series of films to have a unique journey, one that built throughout the series with each entry. Not only do I feel that we were able to pull that off, but the last chapter does such a fantastic job bringing the journey full circle, and in my own humble opinion, sticking the landing on its way out. I really am so proud of each of the films in the trilogy, but this third one, really takes the proverbial cake for me. I hope you get an equal amount out of the film and journey too.
tricks and treats for halloween
What began last Halloween with our release of There Came a Knocking (2022), and which ended up kicking off our year plus of a new release every two months for all of 2023, came frightfully close to becoming an unachievable goal as summer came to a close and we were still one short…well, short of crossing the finish line. During the warm summer days I had been trying to put together another shoot for a short horror film I had penned called What They Do In the Shadows. It was a small cast of characters, but somewhat logistically challenging, and with the cast I had ready to tackle the tale, all of our schedules began conflicting with one another in just enough ways as to thwart our attempts time and again to move the project into production. So I had to get all Gellar on the task at hand and pivot!
Knowing it was being aimed for a Halloween release time frame, I wanted to keep the horror element in the mix, so I pulled out a fun little script I had penned earlier in the year called Avoid as Able. Having just completed a short film of Jack Alejandro Young’s (Matchbot, Pound, Contract) called Pseudo just a couple of months after we wrapped Pound, I knew Jack was available and down to clown once again (and it is always a pleasure to collab with such a funny, creative and kind soul as Jack) so I sent the script over to him to see if he might be willing to Whatsabudget once more. Once he was on board, I started reaching out to others to help fill in the rest of the cast. Having just come off a derailed project that I couldn’t make happen owing to scheduling issues, switching gears to a film that had a larger cast seemed like a risky pivot to make, but I was all in on the goal we had set for releases, so I knew this would be our make or break moment for that charge. And while it was a larger cast, the parts and setups were much less involved, and so it seemed it would be an easier film to pull together.
Immediately, I saw opportunities to combine a couple of the roles and lessen the number of people we needed (by one), and so I turned to another talented actor I had collaborated recently with on two feature films since we had worked together on a Whatsabudget short, Kendra Dae Shock (Only Devils Die On Wednesdays, Matchbot, Real Michigan) to be the one who would double up on the assignments here. Knowing her love of horror, and having her tell me on the set of one of the feature films that she wanted to work with me again on a short, I figured she would jump at the chance. And she did! I also couldn’t do a short film that plays with so many of the classic horror tropes and stages so many classic setups to horror moments without tapping the one man who taught me Horror. Literally. When I was at UCCS, he was the guy who taught my Horror Film genre studies course, Sean Forrest (Kingpin, Ackla Tev, Life’s a Tarantino Flick). So I had to bring him on board too!
Since I wasn’t able to work with Brent Wilkerson (Nature’s Bastards, Life’s a Tarantino Flick, The Hit) as I had wished on Pound, I reached out to him again with this project, and found him open and ready to step back in front of the camera! I also naturally reached out to my friend and frequent collaborator, Bobby Hadden (Night of the Missing Bleach, Ackla Tev, Nature’s Bastards) because he’s always reaching out to me and asking “when is the next one?” So I had to find a part for him to play since he would be relocating to Texas soon. I also saw an opportunity to connect this film in two places to past Whatsabudget tales, once again, threading the overall cinematic universe together as I had gotten to do with Pound. The first way to connect them, was through one of the characters our lead would cross paths with, by bringing Bunny Williams (The Suitcase, Pope On Film Podcast) back once again as an ax-wielding Psycho Killer. The second way is a spoiler, so not gonna cover that one here.
Jon Sargent (Puppet Fire, Reclaiming Icarus, The Freak) was a filmmaker I had met through the Peak Film Forum a few times, and who expressed a desire to work with me in an acting capacity (to try his hand at some small parts here and there). So I thought I would reach out to him too with a small role in this short to get that ball rolling. And with all of them on board, the cast was set and ready to rock! But I had recently reconnected with Kathryn Diana Rogers (Ackla Tev, Socks, Film 2000) in thes now “post” pandemic days, and she also expressed a desire to collab once more. Since I had doubled up on Kendra’s roles, I didn’t have anything else immediately apparent in this short that I could bring her on for…so I wrote some new scenes. There are always more horror tropes to play with, so it was easy to do, and have it feel right at home in the piece. After she was on board and that was done, Jack mentioned his dad once again, asking if there were any small parts he might be able to play since he made the offer on Pound to have him step in to help out. So since I was adding new tropes to the film anyway, I felt like nodding to some of the urban legends that featured so prominently in the popular canon of Americana and horror throughout my life. So we welcomed Chris Young to the cast for his first film role.
And boom, I had added to the cast by two. Just for the added difficulty and juggling perhaps. But it really served to round out the journey of the film and of the lead as well, so I really appreciated being able to expand the world of it a bit and bring on the extra folks. And it really didn’t add too much beyond an extra hour or two of filming, and one additional location to sort out/use. Given that it was pretty much all taking place outdoors, the location scouting was easy, and mostly done from my many hikes through the city and my neck of the hoods. So the pieces came together from there with ease. Jack and my parents came through on two locations we needed for interiors, and so we were off and running! The goal was once more within reach, and since our December short was ready over summer so it could make the entry deadline for a film festival it was aimed for, Avoid as Able brought us to the finish line of achievement once we wrapped on production!
The film, and all those released before, stood as a beacon to what our creative teams could accomplish when we all, dedicated to the same cause of indie film, came together as one to create this fun chapter in the Whatsabudget oeuvre, and put the final piece of the puzzle together on the self-imposed release schedule goal. I couldn’t be prouder of what we managed to achieve this year in the face of some pretty overwhelming odds and heartbreaking circumstances. Having lost one of my Uncles and a mentor from the Film Studies program in the months since we released Pound, I wanted to dedicate this new short to them both as well, and so I added a note at the end of the credits to do just that. It’s certainly been a whirlwind of a year, and overall through the Whatsabudget years to boot, so this achievement feels extra special and meaningful, and to be able to dedicate it to people who meant so much to who I am today meant even more. Hope you enjoy the film and get a chuckle or two from it.
pound for pound a solid comedy darkly weighs in
After The Hit (2021) was released as a standalone short, apart from it’s original conception as the intro to an intended web series that did not come to fruition, I wanted to dip my pen back into the dark comedic waters in which the short lived. Having had such fun with the characters and the world. And I realized pretty quickly that I would be able to connect the world in which those characters lived with another character/world in which an earlier short from 2016 inhabited. Rule 17 (2016) introduced a character named Diggs, without actually introducing them. They were on the unseen/unheard receiving end of a phone call from the main character Faraday. Someone you called when you needed to get rid of a body. With O’Brien being mentioned in very much the same vein in The Hit, the idea and worlds webbed together with ease. Staying more in the comedic lane that O’Brien was born into, By the Pound, which would eventually be renamed to the shortened, final Pound in revisions that followed, took shape.
With Brent Wilkerson’s (Life’s a Tarantino Flick, la Chasse, Film 2000) Carl being smoking buddies with the body man from The Hit, I really wanted Brent to come back for Pound and play O’Brien to give the relationship between them a bit of a visual gag to thread things off from the start. However, as time for production moved closer and closer, Brent’s schedule was no longer working out to get him to return to the world once again. After some casting roulette and other scheduling misalignment kept shifting the production window, and delaying the short, I managed to find a time that worked to bring my frequent collaborator and long time friend, Cliff Cage (Red Ever Grows Red Ever Tires, Empty, The Wastelander) on board to take on the role of Diggs. Introducing a new character to the world, along with the actual physical introductions of O’Brien and Diggs, Franklin was a particularly fun role to play with and envision. However, having Jack Alejandro Young, (Contract, The Color of Apples, Matchbot) step into the role and bring him hilariously to life beyond even my expectations was comedic gold! And exactly what the role/film needed.
Unfortunately, with others being unavailable, and my self-imposed “new release every two months for all of 2023” deadline looming, I had to step into O’Brien’s shoes. Which having had Brent in mind for the role originally, whose comedic timing and delivery is the jelly making kind, those shoes were pretty big ones to step into and fill. Even if he had only worn them in my mind. Not that I am unfamiliar with the whole acting thing (Pseudo, Coffee & Cigarettes, ART) but tend to only do so today if necessary. Or if I owe a filmmaking friend a favor for starring as a storied cannibal body man in my latest short (see Pseudo…like seriously, go see it). With the three body men cast, and ready to rock, we rolled into rehearsals and I started building out my crew for the shoot. Given that I will, at any given moment and opportunity, jump at the chance to collaborate with my friend in cinema and beyond, Travis Eckland as cinematographer (Night of the Missing Bleach, ART, days without the words) I was stoked he wanted to shoot the short. If not a little hesitant to throw so much more onto his already overloaded plate. But he’s a multiple Emmy award winning cinematographer, so the demands on his time are understandable.
After recently reconnecting with my buddy from the Film Studies cohort, Kevin Mulligan (The Life and Times of Richard Nixon, Night of the Missing Bleach) and working on a couple of projects together, Kevin Mulligan signed on to assist with the film. And as an always engaging and entertaining storyteller and creative collaborator he is a welcome addition to any crew (and not just my own). So we were lucky to have him aboard. Like another guy I recently met who likes to help out on film sets to learn more about the process for his own growth and cinematic explorations too, Nate Moll (Just Business, Duck Rabbit, Real Michigan), he was another more than welcome addition to the team. And we all had such a fun behind the scenes energy and chemistry together, that each of them had some fun and hilarious ad libbed line changes that they shared, which were so pitch perfect and struck my funny bone in a fantastic way that I asked them if we could give the characters those laugh out loud adjustments. The entire process was great, and having another funny and fun member on the team in Bob Morsch (Venus In Cancer, Duck Rabbit, and more oh so much more) covering sound for us with such generosity of spirit, we were set to quickly knock out this short film.
And quickly we did. Having access to the tunnels we shot in, and having used them in films past after being introduced to them and the trail they were on by Ian Brander (Matchbot, Real Michigan, There Came a Knocking), we knew it would not take long to blow through the shoots given how well the rehearsals had gone in preproduction with the cast. The most unpredictable aspect was the weather because we were shooting outdoors in Colorado in a pretty public and well traversed area of town. That and you can never truly predict how people will react to you driving the “body wrapped in plastic” prop you assembled to set or “dragging” it around the trail. So there was that too. Speaking of props, this short also presented an opportunity for a fun little nod to one of my Dad’s favorite shorts that we’ve made, The Suitcase (2014) via giving Cliff’s character a means of disposal that some hawk-eyed, elephant-minded fans might recognize.
So overall, Pound acted as a fun and quirky, darkly comedic thread to weave together the ever growing WaBFCU. Because these days, it’s all about the cinematic universes. Jokes aside, post production offered an opportunity to recollab with my composer and filmmaking friend, Joseph Irvin (Overwhelming Majority, The New Millennial Tramp in “Is That My Wallet?”, days without the words) for some assistance with some original scoring to complete the piece in just the right fashion. And with being able to get the majority of the cast and crew together to screen the finished product to rave reviews with just one day left before the “every two months” window closed due to overwhelmed and stressed schedules, I am overly proud to finally release LB, or Pound!
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.
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