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 - 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…
more from wabf
Years ago, I penned a script called Fallout, and it was awesome!! So much so, I attempted a crowdfunding campaign to try and secure the necessary funds to make the film the way I saw it in my head. Not only did the campaign fail, but so did the first several attempts I made at trying to get the film put together and shot. It was during that campaign that I was asked if the film had any connection whatsoever to a video game series by the same name, that I was somewhat cluelessly unaware of, that similarly followed in a post-nuclear apocalypse. It would be after another failed attempt at rallying this short to fruition that the opening monologue was partly co-opted for another short we made called, Level 6.
For those who remember our short film By the Blood, I was looking to once again take part in the new series of Transmission Presents (renamed Redshift Presents in the 2019-2020 season), and Erynn Mitchell filled me in that Apocalypse was going to be the Spring theme. That’s when I heard that old familiar call for Fallout to be given that old college try once more. Only I would have to slightly redo the opening monologue now that I had pilfered pieces of it for another film, but that allowed the films to cohabit the same universe in an interesting way. That was when I also retitled it, The Wastelander, seeking to free it from any unintended affiliations to the video game series.
All of this seemed to give the project new life, and me new hope for actually getting to see this through once and for all. I had plenty of time before it was due, and I had assembled a brand new cast and crew of talented people who were equally eager to see this film realized. In the years since the failed crowdfunding campaign had closed, I found money here and there to start gathering props and pieces I would eventually need for the film, and that proved a worthwhile endeavor, because it would only take a little bit more investment and capital on my part to bring the finishing touches necessary into my arsenal.
When I contacted J Giordano (Life’s a Tarantino Flick, Terror Tales, Rule 17, and more, I mean, I could really just go on and on here), he was on board and asked to homage Dennis Hopper in Waterworld with a similar eye-patched look for Grimm. He got to work immediately in crafting his own prop immediately, which came out superbly, and added an extra element to his character’s history in the wastelands. Speaking of props, I have to give more out to J here for his eating of the prop “racoon tare-tare” I made for the scenes that act as his character’s introduction in the film. He ate it like a champ, despite how unappetizing and sickeningly sweet it was.
Getting to work with Shanah Leaf (Babylon) for the first time was an absolute joy! She brought the pitch-perfect tone and attitude to the film’s no-nonsense lead, Evelyn. The weightiness she delivered to the role was exactly what the character needed to carry the film’s weight (their mission and the hopes of those counting on them) on Evelyn’s shoulders. All of which worked so well off of her co-stars comic relief and ‘absolutely-over-it’ yang to her yin, Adam, played by Johnny Barlett (Coffee and Wine, Kingpin). This was my first time directing Johnny, but I had worked with him on previous projects in other capacities.
There will also be other familiar faces popping up in some of the smaller side characters that populate the short, if you have seen some of the other Whatsabudget Films oeuvre especially. Cliff Cage (Level 6, La Chasse, and more), Cheyenne York (Socks), and Jo Black (Empty) all show up, along with Arantxa Chavez first time helping me out on screen with one of the shorts. They all help fill in the background of this spiritual prequel to Level 6, and deliver for Whatsabudget, another amazing short film filled with tension and grit.
On the heels of By the Blood being done, I was looking to start off 2019 with a new short film project that would keep along the dark track Blood laid down, but not in a horror way. This time I wanted to look at the human drama angle and weave a dark tale that looked at entertainment and how empty it can be and leave the viewer, even though it is meant as a means of escape. Along came an actor I met at a Peak Film Forum near the close of the year, and we talked about working on something together. So I penned this new short with him in mind, and collected together some of the usual suspects (several of the Blood alum returning once more) and Empty! was born.
Interestingly enough, Jo, the actor I mentioned, once he got the script and we were talking it over in our initial project meeting, asked if I had anyone specific in mind to play opposite his character as his family member and acts as his character’s motivation. When I explained that I had actually not defined that role because I wanted to leave that to him to determine who it was and in turn, what the stakes were for his character Adam. When he told me he wanted it to be Adam’s mom, because of things he had gone through with his own mother’s health, and asked if it could be her hand he was holding, I decided to go him one better. I expanded the role, giving her lines and more, and then we brought Jo’s real mom in to act the part. It meant a lot to them both, and though it was such a dark piece, gave it some light and heart that carried through the production.
Poor Ariel, who returned to this film after working on Blood, but who was suffering from a near broken arm from a fall she suffered just before shooting. One night the pain was so bad, and one of her costars was running late, so I had to shoot more single sides of just her than I had originally planned, just to let her go and not have to stay late in pain. Once I had expanded the role for Jo’s mom to play, that made me want to flip the roles for Ariel’s character, and make Tracy the mom and have her taking the risk for her daughter’s sake. It’s such a wonderfully dark tale and the relationships of the characters involved really add some punch to the piece overall. Perhaps in this twisted game of life, the selfish can become the selfless when the empty are led by desperation.
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