The Road to Your Feature: Just Do It (…stolen from Nike)

Posted by Valentina Valentini on July 5, 2013 at 3:46 pm

The Road to Your Feature: Just Do It (…stolen from Nike)

What does it actually take to make a film? Guts. That’s number one for sure. But number two seems to be a total naivety to the ‘shoulds’ that go into filmmaking. And three is money.

Most people would say money first. But Jimmy Loweree and his band of misfits (some via Mischievous Studios), friends, and friends of friends, begged, borrowed and stole, and ended up signed by Paradigm and distributed by Cinedigm – those are some pretty great -digms to be associated with.

“I was actually on a panel recently,” says Loweree over an iced mocha at a hip Melrose café down the street from Mischievous headquarters, “and a guy said, ‘Anyone can make a movie now.’ And while I agree with him in a way, there’s a caveat. Yes, anyone can make a movie if they have a camera and if they have an editor and if they know how to use that camera.”

Loweree, that rare Los Angeles native, wasn’t really planning on making a film initially. He was playing bass for a few bands while trying to get his own music going as well. He was starting to do pretty well and around that same time he was surrounded by of what he calls ‘super-talented people,’ – actors, musicians, cinematographers, etc. and he began to lament his friends’ begging for work when they were their own resources without even realizing it.

What happened next was a little bit good timing, a little bit luck and a little bit help from family and friends. Loweree decided to give filmmaking a shot and went out and made a short film with his co-writer and co-director Jake Moreno which never actually was given a final cut, but while doing something that he felt was exciting, creative and rewarding, he had the idea for Absence.

“It was right after Paranormal Activity had come out,” he recalls, “and growing up the Blair Witch Project which totally ruined me for camping, I had the headspace for this type of story. I had this notion of a seven-month pregnant woman waking up with no child anymore” — he pauses — “like it was just gone.”

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He couldn’t get it out of his head and it was terrifying and weird and disturbing, and he felt that if it was that engaging to just him, then maybe it’d be engaging enough of a story to put on the screen, even though, again unintentionally, he didn’t set out to make a horror film.

After the proverbial LA-wannabe-producer-scab offering $150,000 for the idea set in one location, Loweree and Moreno locked themselves away and finished the script in two days. The money was never actually there, of course, but it got them a finished script.

“We realized we really liked what we had and that we could actually shoot it on our own,” Loweree chats as we walk back to the office. “The one thing I do hate in this industry is this perception that it’s impossible, that it’s so difficult and it takes forever and you can’t do it on your own. That’s the same thing that makes all these talented people go to waste and sit around looking for work. So, I dove in with the mantra: ‘Let’s just figure out how to do it and just do it.’”

He and Moreno sat down with Parker J. Johal, who was to produce, and Ryan Smale, the male lead. Loweree could see they were a little skeptical, but Moreno and he just pushed through the skepticism and convinced them to sign on.

“The next step was to figure out how we were actually going to pull this off,” he grins. “I called up Mike Covino, a producer friend of mine and someone I knew had the same mentality as me with the no-BS approach.”

Covina read the script and called up his brother Christiano Covino, who is a cinematographer. He read the script and everyone got on a conference call and the excitement was beginning to become palpable.

Between the four of them they knew they could pull a lot of crew favors and the location just happened to be in their circle of friends – a couple of cabins on the way up to Big Bear – but they still needed a little bit of money. Loweree went around to friends and family and started seeing what kind of money he could pull together for the very basics. (Moreno, Loweree and Johal didn’t receive payment until the film was sold.)

I’m not allowed to say how much the initial budget was, but think low. Very low. Back to that phrase: “to beg, borrow, and steal.” (Although Loweree admits to stealing only his friends’ time.)

“We didn’t physically steal anything,” he grins, “but we definitely did not have approval for lots of our shots. We were in a tiny mountain town and we needed a liquor store, so we just went up to the local one and asked if we could shoot there. Fortunately they said yes. We put up a sign, and we shot for an hour and left. But that was the only place we got permission. Everything else, like driving on the street and the freeway was not approved, and rigging an HMI to the top of a Suburban with a running generator attached to the back, that was definitely not legal.

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The part of this story that makes you stop and go, ‘C’mon, that never happens!’ is now:

They had made the movie and they were beyond happy with the product and barely even began to think about submitting to festivals when a friend of Lowerees said he knew someone at Paramount. The ‘someone who knows someone at a studio’ scenario did not end up working out, but Eric Matheny, who plays Rick in the movie, did have a friend who was a producer and had been in the biz for a while. So Loweree set up a screening at a post-house in Burbank on a seven-foot screen and invited the producer friend of Matheny. And because he was a loyal friend, he showed up.

“Hi first question after the credits rolled was, ‘Do you guys have agents?’” says Loweree, sipping the last bits of his iced mocha. “And I just sat there, full-on ignorance.”

Next, picture a montage of Beverly Hills, Paradigm Talent Agency, driving up around the fountain, sitting in a room with a bunch of suits, turning on the movie and hearing them gasp and seeing them jump a bit.

At that meeting Loweree and Morena signed the film for domestic sales and got repped by Paradigm. And not long after, Cinedigm bought the film for distribution, which opens today in a theatre in New York City, one in Ohio and in your living room via Cinedigm on August 6.

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