With the right script, a knowledgeable director, a creative cast and crew, and a dedicated pool of community support, a successful comedy, science fiction, or western movie can be filmed at an unconventional location. Meet three local filmmakers who recently put their movies in the can in Evansville.
Writer/Director: Michael Rosenbaum; Producer: Kim Waltrip; Co-Producers: Eric Rosenbaum, Bradley Stonesifer, and Sandy S. Solowitz
After an unsatisfying acting career in Hollywood, main character Jim Owens (Michael Rosenbaum) is in desperate need of a getaway. Eager to attend his 15-year high school reunion, Owen retreats to his small, Midwestern hometown in Indiana. Back on the set of his old life, the 30-something-year-old creates a bit of chaos in this endearing, comedic, often brash tale of a man’s quest for happiness, leading his buddies on a journey of revenge against their abusive high school principal and reconnecting with an old high school flame, Lori, played by science fiction television star Morena Baccarin. Rated R, the film’s consistent flow of sophomoric humor creates a wealth of golden comedic, and sneakily sentimental moments, with star comedians Nick Swardson, Harland Williams, Sarah Colonna, and Isaiah Mustafa. Even singer/songwriter Richard Marx of 1980s top single fame hung out with the cast during filming, shooting a short cameo and offering some of his best songs for the film.
Writer, director, and leading actor, Rosenbaum wore many hats in the production of “Old Days,” expected to premier in April 2013. Known for his seven-year stint as Lex Luthor in the Superman-inspired television series “Smallville,” a leading role in Touchstone Pictures’ comedy “Sorority Boys,” and a role in Touchstone’s “Bringing Down the House,” the 40-year-old Newburgh, Ind., native is adding to an already impressive Hollywood resume with his new film. Collaborating with producer Kim Waltrip — who produced the newly-released movie “Hit & Run,” featuring Rosenbaum and starring Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, Bradley Cooper, and Tom Arnold — Rosenbaum brought a bit of Los Angeles glamour to his hometown, where he and his 82-member cast and crew spent 22 days filming from March 12 to April 2.
“Michael could rule the world,” says Waltrip. “And maybe we’d all laugh more if he did. He’s smart, dedicated, and his work ethic is unstoppable. He’s a realist. It’s very difficult for a director to ‘cut’ his or her baby, but Michael knows that a comedy can’t be too long. This makes him a smart director and one that producers and distributors will want to work with over and over again.”
Evansville Living: Based loosely on your life growing up in Newburgh, why was it so important to shoot “Old Days” in your hometown?
Michael Rosenbaum: The reason I chose to shoot in Indiana is because it’s beautiful. I just felt like the times I had at certain locations couldn’t be recreated in LA. That’s why I wanted to film at my old high school (Castle High School in Newburgh), my old friend’s house, or my sister’s house; these locations have a lot of meaning to me. Some of the things that happened in the movie are somewhat true events, but I think it’s more of an essence of events that happened.
EL: What was the atmosphere on set like?
Rosenbaum: It was four weeks of camp. When you’re shooting a low-budget movie in a small town, you have to goof on each other. I told every cast member that if they were coming to do this movie, they were coming to laugh, to have a good time, and to work. A lot of times, big studio movies give each actor their own trailer. We didn’t have the money to do that so we got two trailers — one for the actresses and one for the actors. Coincidentally, it actually helped the film. I think the characters bonded so quickly by being piled up in one trailer. Harland Williams, who plays the character Skunk, would constantly have a game of Catch Phrase going on. It was a constant party. A lot of sophomoric humor; a lot of fart jokes and pranks. Sometimes I would walk out with no clothes on and say, “Hey, guys, have you seen my wardrobe?” Everyone was trying to one up each other. It was a riot.
EL: Forty-six members of your cast and crew were from the Evansville area; the rest primarily came from LA. Did you worry they wouldn’t share in your enthusiasm of filming in a small town?
Rosenbaum: Yes, I was worried. I love this town, but didn’t know if other people would. Are they really going to enjoy a Pizza King stromboli or Noble Roman’s breadsticks as much as I do? Are the hotels nice enough? In the end, all of the actors thought this was the best time of their life. I could speak for 95 percent of them. I think this was a getaway. That’s why I wanted to get in this business to begin with, to work with my friends and to laugh. I think a lot of times actors are concerned with so many other things that they forget to do that. It’s hard to just be yourself and let go and remember why you came there in the first place, and I think that’s what this movie allowed. When we got back to LA we didn’t want to let it go. I think we all went into a little depression.
EL: What was your goal with the film?
Rosenbaum: We wanted to step outside of the comfort zone. We didn’t want to make a movie that everyone has seen a million times. We wanted to make a fun, lighthearted, cheesy, raunchy comedy and we didn’t want anyone to ask questions, we just wanted to do it our way. When you do a studio movie you have to deal with 20 producers and you never can do what you really want. They always want it to be the Hollywood ending, and we don’t have a Hollywood ending in this movie. We’ve got a pregnant woman taking shots of whiskey in a bar.
EL: Would you consider filming in your hometown again?
Rosenbaum: I was surprised with how nice the people in Evansville and Newburgh were to us. They didn’t even know us, but that’s Midwestern mentality. It’s not really like that in Hollywood. Everyone wanted to help. I hope we get to do another one there.
The Book of Dallas
Writer: Joe Atkinson; Producers/Directors: Joe Atkinson, Jakob Bilinski, and Marx H. Pyle
Single, liberal, and atheist. These are adjectives that describe young newspaper reporter Dallas McKay (Benjamin Crockett). Throughout a 10-episode Internet television series, everything that once defined Dallas is questioned, as he finds himself in heaven after being hit by a truck in a bar parking lot. Surprised, the first words out of Dallas’ mouth upon meeting God are profanities. Good humored, God isn’t out for vengeance against Dallas’ disbelief and poor choice of vocabulary. Instead, God gives him a task: “I want you to write a new Bible,” says God. “One that people don’t use as a reason to fight and judge and kill each other.” Once written, Dallas is to sell it on an international book tour. Series regulars include area actors Crockett, Clay Evans, Jeanne Whitney, Kevin Roach, Rusty James, Julie Hernandez Seaton, David Ross, and Kristine Renee Farley as God (yes, a woman).
Associate director of university relations and director of digital media at the University of Evansville, Atkinson’s day job doesn’t interfere with his filmmaking pursuit. In September 2011, Atkinson and Dan Eaton, founders of Court Street Productions, premiered their first film, “Reality,” a collaboration with Henderson, Ky., directors Lewis D. Chaney and Neil Kellen of Keychain Productions. Finding screenwriting therapeutic, Atkinson quickly delved into a new project, “The Book of Dallas,” which makes its debut Sept. 17 on international network KoldCast TV.
Atkinson also helped produce, with creator Marx Pyle, “Reality on Demand,” a web series packed with action, special effects, and zombies. The series follows four strangers who are thrown into a highly-advanced virtual reality game that puts them into their favorite TV shows and movies. Since it premiered on Blip.tv in early 2012, “Reality on Demand” has won several awards, including second place for best series at Gen Con Indy, one of the longest running and largest gaming conventions in the world.
EL: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Atkinson: I’d love to say I was like the kid in “Super 8” walking around with a video camera, but I was absolutely not. I always had an interest in film as somebody who watched it more than anything. I had a high school teacher who prided himself on seeing at least 100 movies every year, so I was always competing with him. I’d go in his classroom after school and we’d talk about movies. I started writing screenplays in college. They were awful and will never see the light of day. I moved to Evansville after college for a job at the Courier & Press, worked there for more than three years, then left to be a freelancer and to write the “Great American Novel.” I realized I’m a terrible novelist. The story I started writing then became the genesis of what became my current project (“The Book of Dallas”).
EL: Where did you derive your inspiration for such a unique script?
Atkinson: I was raised Catholic, and religion in my family is a very big deal. There was a point in my life that I started questioning my faith. It started to creep into what I was writing. This story came out of that doubting; I started doing research about religion and decided to write something out of that. I really was starting to struggle with things and I had issues with anxiety and life and death. Writing this script was my therapy. Fortunately, I came out of the other end a little bit better adjusted.
EL: What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers?
Atkinson: When you’re writing/producing/directing your own script, you cannot get married to what you did as a writer. You get on set and there’s a prop that you can’t have or there’s something about the location that doesn’t exactly work for how you wrote it, or there’s a line that just doesn’t work when the actor says it. You have to be willing to adjust and work with what the room gives you, or work with what the actor’s got, or just say, “You know what, in my brain that line was hilarious, but out loud, it sucked!” Certainly, all of those things happened.
EL: What was one of the most memorable scenes to film?
Atkinson: When we were shooting at the Book Nook in Newburgh, the main character was signing books at the bookstore. On his way in the store, he had to go through a line of protestors. We had people with signs, which were appropriate for what you would see at any religious protest. Some of the neighbors were offended, and understandably so. They were provocative signs, and they were intended to be. People driving by took notice of what they were seeing. I guess the cameras, boom poles, and the big microphones did not put off that this wasn’t real. We had a group of people who demanded to talk to the person in charge and they were essentially protesting our protest. Michael Armanno, who was the production intern and a senior at UE, stood by the road while we were rolling the camera holding up a cardboard sign that said, “This Is A Movie, Fake Scene!”
To view the teaser for “The Book of Dallas,” visit www.koldcast.tv/video/the_book_of_dallas_teaser. Visit www.courtstreetproductions.com for more information on the movie, as well as “Reality” and “Reality on Demand.”
Green River Road
Writer/Director: Louis Iaccarino; Producers: Paul Straw and Louis Iaccarino
Paying homage to western movies, “Green River Road” follows the journey of two brothers seeking revenge on their father’s murder, which they witnessed some 15 years ago. Set between the 1930s and 1950s, Iaccarino, who stars as one of the brothers, Cashius Hurley, brings a tale of human nature and the heavy consequences that come from hate and vengeance. As a result of false accusations against their late father, the boys grow up as forgotten souls and outcasts in their hometown. As they get older, the truth is revealed, and the struggle of getting even versus focusing on the family they have left ensues. More than 50 actors played roles in the film, including main stars Gregory Loomis of Evansville as Winston Hurley, the other brother, and John Druska, an Illinois native, as Bugsy Lee.
For Louis Iaccarino’s first independent film, it was either go big or go home — even though, technically, he already was at home. The 26-year-old Reitz Memorial High School graduate lives in Hollywood, where he attended a two-year program at the prestigious Stella Adler Academy of Acting & Theatre-Los Angeles after college. But as Dorothy would say, “There’s no place like home,” and instead of filming in Hollywood, the Evansville native brought his big ideas to the wonderful land of the Midwest.
“Some young, idiot director — myself — decided it was a good idea to shoot a movie during springtime in Indiana,” says Iaccarino, laughing. “We ended up shooting in the Great Ohio River Flood of 2011. We had two locations that were completely under water and had to wait until the end of production to finish them. It was chaos. It was like going to war, but we came back with all limbs intact, so it was fine.” Despite the rain, it was the best experience, at least thus far, of the young filmmaker’s life. When people see it, he adds, they are impressed with the cinematography and how beautiful it is. That’s a tribute to Eddy Scully, producer of photography and another Evansville native trying to make it in the film industry. After two months of filming from March to May in 2011 and countless hours in post-production, Iaccarino is hopeful for a premiere soon, although no plans have been finalized.
EL: Why did you choose Evansville as the filming location?
Iaccarino: The film sort of pays homage to westerns, so we got a lot of wrinkled eyebrows when we said we wanted to film this western in the Midwest. But there are just so many hidden beauties all around this area and I always knew that I wanted to shoot a movie here. The culture and the back-story with the Civil War really made for a beautiful backdrop.
EL: How do you determine the budget for the film?
Iaccarino: We shot the movie for $30,000, which to us seemed like all the money in the world. We were just throwing money at solutions when we were shooting, but once you get to post-production, you have to be very precise with where the money’s going and what the priorities are. Luckily, we spent so much time being very intricate when we were shooting to try to avoid problems. Truly, I was absolutely blessed with all of the people who were able to help out, especially in post. Our editor, Nicholas Allen (a Newburgh native) was phenomenal. If there were any mistakes we had made while shooting, he could hide or clean them up; he did a great job of making the film transition very nicely. I call him the Merlin of film. He makes me look better than I really am.
EL: What is some advice you would give to green filmmakers?
Iaccarino: In post-production, when you’re editing and going through takes, that’s like film school wrapped up into a year. You have to sit and soak in your mistakes and stare at them over and over. My motto: It’s baptism by fire. You can’t necessarily learn to do it unless you do it. You want to make a movie? Then a grab a camera and make a movie. When you get burned it’s the best; that’s when you learn that the stove’s hot. That was the motivation for me. I try to put all the perks and the fame and all that nonsense out of the way and just try to be great at what I do. When you do that, and you just try to be the best you possibly can, then there’s no denying you. Without rival, it was the greatest time in my life, even the grueling, gut-wrenching process in post-production.
EL: Tell us an anecdotal story about your first filming experience.
Iaccarino: While in Winslow, Ind., for a shoot, we decided to hit the town one night. We walked into Bob Inn (a local bar), and it was straight out of a movie — every single neck just turned to us. We thought, “We’re going to die.” Some of the locals were asking us what we were doing and demanded roles in the movie, even threatening with violence. We were about to be in some trouble with a couple of locals who really weren’t taking too kindly to us, but luckily, we were salvaged by one of our actors, John Druska, who grabbed the microphone and gave an amazing performance of “International Harvester” (a Craig Morgan tune). Literally, the crowd got wild and we became an absolute hit.
EL: Did you experience any trying times and long days during production?
Iaccarino: We went over 24 hours a few times. I certainly pushed. I may be prone to that sometimes. But everyone really hung tough and allowed me to push for minimal to absolutely zero pay. They were doing it for the love of it. They were so thrilled to be in the movie. I haven’t gotten paid for about two years of my life.
EL: Considering the long hours and many other struggles that come with creating a film, was it worth it?
Iaccarino: There was a guy involved with the movie who told us, “I just want to let you know that seeing you guys loving what you do every day really inspired me. So I quit my job at the plant and went back to school.” That made the entire experience worth it. It sounds cliché, but I mean it. The whole idea of art is to inspire.
EL: Where do you look for inspiration when writing a script?
Iaccarino: My mom asks me the same question. As far as writing goes, I won’t ever aspire to do anything autobiographical or having to do with my life. I saw an interview with Paul Haggis, writer/director of “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby,” and he said, “I write what I’m afraid of and what I don’t know about.” I took that to heart. The movies that I love are the ones that have a created universe and the stories were conjured up. If you write about something you don’t know or something that scares you, then there are no limitations or roads you can’t take.
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