January 10, 2024

Inside “Daruma”: A Real Take on Disability in Film

Subscribe on

Show notes


Hello and welcome to On Production brought to you by Wrapbook. In today's episode we're joined by Alexander Yellen and Kelli McNeil-Yellen, a filmmaking duo with a passion for telling unique stories. Alexander is known for his cinematography on various projects, including Z Nation, and Kelli, an actress and writer with a flair for creating engaging narratives have come together to work on the film Daruma. This film marks a significant step in their journey in the world of independent cinema. They've experienced firsthand the challenges and joys of bringing a film from concept to screen, including working with Wrapbook for their payroll needs on this one, which is awesome. Alexander, Kelli, it's wonderful to have you with us to share your story. Welcome to On Production. Thank you for having us. Very happy to be here. So this question is for both of you. But could you both share a bit about how the film began? What was the spark that started this project? I typically get asked this question, since I'm the writer of the film, so I will dive into this. So a lot of people ask, you know, Alex, and I, why we would want to cut literally everything, all of our resources, every favor that we've banked over the last 20 years as a career in this industry, towards a film that, you know, basically it stars to leads with disabilities and a narrative that is not about overcoming a disability. And due to the reason for that is, you know, I think that people aren't impacted or think about disability until it happens to them personally. And that that is what happened with me, we had a we had a tragedy in my family, where a member of my family became disabled, and at the time, there was really no resources to help us get through that, you know, it was it was such a life changing, you know, incident, especially, especially for them going through it. And one of the things that I noticed was just the accessibility of the way that our world was built, which is it just wasn't built, you know, in an inclusive format. And, you know, additionally, the media that was out there, you know, there was a film out of the time, I'm not going to say the name of it, because this is I know, this is going on online. But there was a film that was very well received and accolades and Oscars, but basically, it showed that dying was better than life with a disability. And I, and I just felt that we could do better. And I wanted to tell a story where the central character, you know, was overcoming some emotional challenges rather than the physical ones. Because once my relative got injured, it was, they were still the same person, nothing had changed, just their body had changed, but they were the same person. And I really wanted to dive into what that looks like and tell the story through that lens. So we worked very closely with a number of nonprofits and advocacy groups to do, you know, sensitivity reads on the script and make sure that it was that it was accurately told. So that's really how it came to be. And I'll tell you, you know, it was one of the first pieces that I let Alex read if and if anybody doesn't know this, we're a husband and wife team, we work together. And this was before we were married. I had originally done the draft with the script in 2008. And when was this 2016 or 2017 2017? I let him read the script in 2017. And I kind of give it to him. I'm like, I run away because I don't I don't want to I don't want to see his reaction. And I hear him start laughing from the other room a few minutes into it. I'm like, I run it. I'm like, What is so funny? Like, this is a drama, what are you what are you laughing about? And he looks at me and he goes, this is a dark comedy. He's like, this is a dark comedy. What are you going to do with this? And I said, I really don't know. I was like, I've tried to, you know, tried to get people to look at it. And everyone thinks the story's really great. And then when I tell them that I want to cast it authentically, they kind of you know, pull back because it's just one of those things that's, you know, able bodied actors play characters with disabilities. And Alex is the first person to step up and say, if we can put this together, I'll direct it. So I was like, okay, and this was before we were married. My do so this was him really making a big statement.


Well, I guess if we hadn't gotten married, he still might have been able to be business owners would not have been sad, though.


Yes, in hindsight,


no, the last Kelli said it was a script that, you know, she gave to me with a little bit of trepidation. Because if you're going to be involved with another creative, you really had better respect their work. And you know, you otherwise the relationship might not work out. But no, it was a great script. And, you know, most people out there who are producers, directors read a lot. And you had a lot of scripts that come across your desk, and most of them are, I mean, honestly, most of them are pretty bad. You know, you might or investing usually go for his average and really, it's not often that a really great scrip lands in front of you. And this was, this was a great story.


I just like it, it spoke to me in a very real way. And I don't have a tremendous amount of experience in disability. I mean, you know, obviously as, as people's family members get older, you know, maybe maybe you have a parent who walks with a cane or, or uses a rascal or something like that. But most people don't have a lot of direct experience with disability. And, you know, I don't have any family members who have, you know, severe physical disabilities. So I really, you know,


say, God, this is a disability from I never looked at it that way. It always just felt like a road trip, drop it, you know, it was a love, it was a love letter from the father to a daughter. And I really related to that aspect of it, I really was able to connect with the characters, and the narrative was engaging. And it really took me on a journey from A to B, and it wasn't, you know, it wasn't a secret Hallmark movie, it was a, you know, messy, real, you know, authentic, you know, in the style film, I was like, wow, this is, this is something we could really make. And, you know, when you sort of see that combination of ingredients, you have to give it a try, like you have to try it. And also, there's not that much, you know, it's only ever so often that you see something that hasn't been done before. And this really had not been done before, we did a lot of searching to try to find another film that had to lead to disabilities. And we could only find one, that's an Asian martial arts fell, we weren't even Gould's. They weren't even the leads, and the narrative and the narrative, that's all this disability. So, you know, we really did something that hasn't been done before. And, you know, hopefully, it creates a model and a framework for other filmmakers who want to tell stories with groups that have been historically marginalized, and normalize that experience for audiences. And we're hungry for this type of content. And I will say that there's a huge audience out there for you know, if you we did a lot of statistics, I mean, we have a great EPK that, you know, shows all of the stats that, you know, organizations have done researching this audience, because, you know, one of the things that people say is, oh, there's not an audience out there for Well, that's just not true. One in four people in the entire world identify as having a disability. And a 2021 study showed that in America alone, this audience has over half a trillion dollars in disposable income. So this is a huge, untapped market. And what we've seen, you know, the few screenings that we've we've had, and and again, you know, we've worked very closely with organizations, you know, like respectability, and Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, and media access awards to make sure that, you know, they, they saw the film, and they get their, their, their board members and their, you know, the people in there to see it. Across the board, they have said, what a refreshing, authentic, you know, real piece it is, it's been lovely, it's lovely to have your work validated like that, you know, by the people that it was intended for? Absolutely, I want to ask you about the production of the film. So I know that you're in this mode of distribution of marketing, showing this amazing piece of work that you've built, it's gonna be at Slamdance coming up, it's gonna be absolutely fantastic. You've got a bunch of people and momentum built into the film, which is great. But press, pause, rewind, you know, the project was written, you were ready, you were committed, putting together the budget? How did you two balance your creative goals with the financial realities of making this habit? What a challenging question. Because you know, as an indie film, you have to look at what you want to do versus what you can do. And I know, Alex, do you want to say something? So I'm gonna let you start this? Well, I mean, you know, very rarely do you go into a project where you, you know, show the script to someone, they say, Here's your budget. I mean, there are, you know, companies out there that make, you know, regular content stuff for, you know, some of the linear cable networks, or for certain overseas distribution, where you have a pattern budget, that's like, Okay, well, well, you know, exactly how much money you're going to have to make a film, you can plan around that, in detail just isn't that way. And so, you know, create a plan that's based on you created a number of different plans based on how much money you think you can raise, and there's, you know, there's an optimistic goal, there's a, you know, realistic goal, and then there's a well, this is the lowest amount of money we could possibly make this normal film for, and you consider all the possible ways to do it. And then you sort of you shoot for that big number. And you shop that around and you see if you can, you know, get the right investment and the right team together. And then you start seeing where your resources lined up. And you start making you know, those creative logistical choices and thinking, okay, you know, what can we realistically afford now? What can we defer later, you know, who's willing to


Do us a favor. And you know, that's another benefit to having been in this business as long as I doubt is that, you know, I have a 20 year career behind me of building relationships and goodwill with an amazing, amazing team of people. You know, we had half our crew team from Washington state, they were people who've worked with me on Z nation, the zombie series, and, you know, we were family after five seasons, and some of those folks came down, and they slept on our couch, in our guest room, on an air mattress in the living room, with friends and, and, you know, work for way less than what they were that what they normally make, because, you know, they said, they like me, and they really believed in that and the cause of what we were trying to do. But you know, at the end of the day, you condense all of those dreams, they held on to, you know, 10-page budget, that, you know, scenes, semi semi realistic, and then, you know, there's an old saying that no, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. So we made this film, and forgive me if this is wandering off topic a little bit, but we made the film in January of 2022, which was at the height of the Omicron surge. And so, you know, COVID, budgeting was really a thing. And we've had a great or Kelli's had a great organization called Project and do that really was able to manage our testing, and PPE and onset safety needs for a very, very reasonable budget. And that saved us a lot of money. But we also had COVID Scare, right before we started filming, that simultaneously cost us a chunk of money. And, you know, so it's, it's, it's a dynamic process, and then you sort of say, Okay, well, maybe we can't afford, you know, maybe we can afford a process trailer anymore. Let's look for other ways to do some of our driving stuff. And, you know, at the end, you don't have you don't have so much breakage, you have to be creative in your problem solving and come up with solutions constantly on the fly. If I can add to that, if you don't mind. I mean, I know Karen, you said that we're are in distribution and marketing phase right now. But you know, truthfully, we really started the marketing of this project when we started pushing it out there. And, you know, one of the things that was really key to getting this film made was building the audience early on, and finding champions and finding people who would believe in the project. And one of the biggest resources to come through for us was piano vision. And we received the Panavision, new filmmakers grant for the film, and usually that grant is reserved for short films, but they believed so strongly in the film, and in the project, that for several weeks, we were allowed to use these incredible camera packages, you know, that they gifted to the production. And we have an absolutely incredibly-shot film, which Alex was also the cinematographer of the film, too. So he was calling double duty, again, one of those budget constraints, you know, we would, we would probably like to have, you know, maybe someone do double duty, but or not your double duty, but, you know, we had to work with what we had to work with,


want us knew we're all doing, I like to call myself chief toilet scrubber, because, you know, we were, we were in a lot of private residences, you know, shooting this. And at the end of the day, we couldn't afford a cleaning crew, I'm the executive producer, you know, I'm making sure everyone's got their food, I'm making sure everyone's wearing their masks and making sure, you know, everyone's abiding by the permits and know everything that we're doing and who's going to clean up at the end of the day, it's me, you know, I'm literally there ever was rolling up, you know, cable on their arms when I'm there with a toilet brush,


cleaning the bathrooms. But, you know, that's, that's one of the things that I realized about, you know, indie filmmaking is really like how hard it is. And like, you have to really set aside your ego when you go into something like this, because you're going to do things that you know that are not glamorous, and that you don't expect that you're going to have to do, and the process of making a film. But it's a very messy process, you try to organize it as much as possible. But you know, it's funny, the very, very polished, you know, veneer that you see, at the end of the day on the screen, wow, if you If people only knew what went into making.


I lead the onboarding here for new employees at Wrapbook. And we have a tremendous number of staff here at Rob Buck who have been in the industry for a long time. But you know, we're unique in that we really are kind of bringing a lot of technology innovation to the space as well. And so for a lot of our engineers, they never worked in entertainment before. And something that I always stress to them about the vision of what we're doing is like, look, production is hard. It is really, really tough. From locations to cast and crew, the management of the production, the making of moving images is just nearly impossible. And so like anything that we can do on our side, to bring together


the tooling for that production and that finance arm to work together is


a welcomed like, benefit. And even still, it's still going to be hard because of exactly what you're saying someone still needs to clean up after. So it sounds to be the army of crews. So that's really, really well stated. I want to ask. So Alexander, you were both the director and cinematographer. On this project. Both are very important roles. You know, it's nice for a director to lean on a cinematographer. And it's great for a cinematographer to lean on a director in this case, you were doing both of those roles. How did you handle wearing those two hats on the set? Well, delicately.


And periodically, I would make a joke about since you specifically mentioned asked about taking one ad off and putting the other ad on, because someone would come up with a question. And I would have been focused on a visual check out a visual problem that I was solving, and someone would come up with a logistics question or performance question. And, you know, sometimes just for comedic value, I would say, Wait, hang up,


the other hat on. But, you know, in the same way that directors and DPs can lean on one another, I really lean on like crew. And this was a team that I like, as I mentioned, I had a lot of experience with so our first ad, we had a great first ad in Mark Dahlstrom, who had been the UPM on Z Nation for five seasons, and II and I, you know, even my landlord for two seasons of that. And you know, as kind of a, you know, Uncle father kind of figure to me, and he's somebody who I respect tremendously. And he really took a lot of the, you know, logistical and even some of the, you know, I'm not gonna call it creative, but he was somebody who understood what I wanted to do creatively, it really helped me with that plan. So I could offload a little bit of my directing braid on him. You know, Kelli, similarly is a creative partner, she's a creative, fundamentally, she was the writer. And so if it was something with an actor's having a problem with a line, or the motion or something, there are things I could ask her to take care of, for me, or, you know, an actor needs to run lines or needs help getting to a place emotionally, I would take them off set and run rehearsals with them. So I need to step in, in that role. Yeah. And then my second unit DP from Z Nation came down, he was a camera operator, as well as my key grip, and those two guys really understand the way I shoot and the way I like, and, you know, I could really give them broad strokes for what I wanted a seat or a shot to be. And they could, you know, pick up that baton and run with it, I really didn't have to micromanage as much as I might on another project.


And I'll also say, you know, I had five years to think about what I want this movie to look like, and to sort of be visualize it in my head, and to do that planning. And so, you know, I have notes that go back to sort of 2018, which is when we, you know, we did a proof of concept before we looked at it, as you know, as a fundraising tool.


And so, you know, we did a dry run of some of the scenes and some of the ideas we wanted to execute, when we finally got around to doing it. And there, it's funny to look back and see some of these things that are shot for shot and the mix of what we did at our booth concept, almost identically. And, you know, having that plan, really well mapped out. And that visual language really that well mapped out before we ever got set, saved a lot of time and energy when we got there. But you know, also I'm not I was, I'm a collaborative director, I really like


working with people who are artists with a vision and bring bring something to the table. And if there's, if someone has a good idea, you know, let's explore that idea. Let's try it out. If someone says, hey, does this feel off to you, I'm very happy to listen to that sort of thing. And, you know, reflect on it, and a lot of good suggestions will find those practices that also nearly, you know, improves the flow and saves me from having to do you know, more work that.


That's fantastic. And for you, Kelli, you know, you have a really amazing set of experiences, both in acting, writing and marketing, like very rich experiences. How did these roles influence you in managing the production side of things? I mean, you already mentioned something really wise that I think folks are realizing as they're kind of exploring or even executing on multiple indie projects is your marketing from day one. Like to yourself to your crew to the communities you're shooting in building support along the way. Maybe it never ends. But yeah, I'm curious, like, having these past roles for you really influenced you and mainly the production side. It's really funny, you know, I think for so many years, I really resented the fact that like


I'd had to have a day job, you know, and all I wanted to do was write and be in the entertainment, you know, business, you know, and I think the creative dreamer side of me really disconnected from, you know, the business side of it, but reality just kind of, you know, took me up through the ranks. So there was there, and there was a 15 year period where, like, I was dabbling, and writing and acting, and I knew I always wanted to produce something, I was the Creative Director for a tech startup for a long time, I worked for Fortune 50 companies, and on each of those different, you know, roles, I would try to incorporate, you know, as much video production as possible, you know, I would produce shoots, I would produce, you know, spots, commercials, I would work clients, but I never, I never did it for myself. And I don't think that I ever really, truly realized the value that I bring to a table, you know, my own unique experiences. And, you know, each film is a business, each film that you put together as a business, you know, we have, you know, an entity that was formed, we pay taxes on it, you know, we have to create this thing. And I really don't think that without my prior experience, you know, in the business side of things that I would have been able to do this, and I will give you the best soundbite possible that you could ever have for Wrapbook. I'm not a math person. I don't do accounting, it's not my strong point, I'm very quick to admit, you know what, I'm not good at something. And that is one of that is something that I'm just not great at. But I did know that working with your company, I would be able to abide by, you know, state and local laws, I was able to pay my crew on time, we worked with two unions, we work with the DGA, and SAG, all of that was compliant. And all of that was done through your company. And, you know, your team was extremely responsive, you guys got back to me quickly, I don't think that without that logistical, you know, support on that side of, you know, the process, I don't think it would have gone as smoothly as it had or be that we could have possibly finished it as you know, as as well as we did. But nobody, nobody missed a payment. We weren't late on anything. You know, every everything, every union was taken care of every everything was taken care of. And it was in the centralized hub, that, you know, it was so helpful, you know, Alex and I were checking payroll, you know, at the end of every week, and we knew that everyone was going to get paid. But that's just one of the things that you have to do.


And I know that's deviating a little bit from from the question that you asked me, but truly, you know, as an indie as an indie company, that didn't have a tremendous amount of resources and like, couldn't couldn't pay to hire someone to do this, we were able to DIY it because you guys built a platform that really was accessible and tremendously helpful in getting this film made? Well, I really appreciate both.


Very, very nice, you just say, and,


man, that's a long topic for me. I mean, for me, you were mentioning at the top of our interview, you you see this story, and this unique story that you can tell in your own unique way. And we've talked about how difficult filmmaking is even more professional filmmakers going on this journey, right. And so my deep, deep passion for building Wrapbook is so that great stories can get out there a little easier. And like I think as we add great ideas, unique ideas, bad ideas, any kind of idea or art into the world that adds to the marketplace of ideas, that is great personalization. So it really warms my heart that like the craft that I engage in, was able to support the crafts that you were engaged in bringing this this product, this production to life tremendously. Everybody that was you know, paid for as an employee, you know, I knew that their taxes were handled at the end of the year, what a relief that was for us, I could focus on other things. And I mean, that sincerely. This was Alex had mentioned that, you know, we discovered your company through another friend that has you have used you for a number of years, we, you know, we looked at other companies to process payroll with but this one made the most sense. It really did.


Yeah, it was it was one of those things where, you know, all of it kind of came together. And I love that, you know, you're building your business as we're building, you know, our film and our creative slate of projects. And I think it's kind of there's some, something very, you know, lovely about, you know, kind of coming up together. That's how cinema works. Right? That's how this entire industry works is we all try to add a lot of value and we come up together. And to that point on team. I mean, Alexander, you've mentioned this, like you had your your crew, this team that you've worked with before you've been in the trenches before and you have that rapport. Building the right team is just crucial. In film, how did you go about assembling your team? You spoke, you know about some of the folks coming from other projects, but how did you really embark on that as producers as you are kind of making this film happen? The two most essential teammates after Kelli and myself were our two weeks and you know the question


You know, after I said to Kelli, I really think we could make this movie. She's, you know, her one red line or one absolute condition was authentic casting. And I said, Okay, great. Do you have any idea what's out there? And she says, No.


But I guess we'll find out. And so we really didn't know what the, you know, what kind of talent there was in the disability acting community. And, and, you know, we did a nationwide casting search. And we found out and Tobias for us, and John Lawson, who, you know, we weren't well established in their community, but we, you know, reached out initially, and they were wary of us, and they're like, you know, who are these, you know, non disabled folks who are, you know, but you, we were tasked with a proof of concept. At that point, we didn't even know what if these were going to be the guys who would deal with us the whole way, we were just trying to raise money.


But they after that initial experience of you know, it was like three days shooting that teaser, were completely on board with us and what we were trying to do, and they also served as our guides, you know, in our, you know, like constantly areas within the broader disability filmmaking community. And so that was an incredibly strong foundation for us to build, you know, the rest of our so part of that team, and I'll let Kelli go more into the sort of the community partnerships. But yeah, then from from putting the crew together. For me, it was starting with a couple of key positions. So again, getting Mark, who has produced the experience, but also was what was our first ad, he was probably the next person who I got committed. And Jody Binstock, who is another as the nation that who actually I've, she's, I've shot movies, but she's directed, so we have a creative relationship, as well as a producing personal relationship.


And then, you know, it was sort of a balance between, you know, who was available,


you know, because we were asking people for three weeks of their time and, and it worked out to our advantage that COVID Shut down so much of production. And we were able to get some folks that we might not otherwise have been able to bring on board because, you know, they're in demand talented people who work on projects, a lot more than we can. And then we we filled out our crew with a combination of referrals, recommendations, and then people who, who came to us against the disability referrals in that space. And so there were some people who this was their first production. And, you know, our second AC, it was his first feature film. And, you know, he's somebody who's, who has gone on and he's been basically working nonstop for the last two years. And, you know, there's, there's probably a half dozen crew members who that was their first production and they've maintained those friendships like they have little reunions together from just and just for those three weeks they spent working with us and you know, we're, I have those stories with people I'm still close with in this business about, you know, those crazy, you know, indie projects that we worked on right in the beginning of our careers, where we really were just didn't know what we were doing. But we were trying to prove ourselves, and we were so eager. And those are really meaningful, lasting, lifelong professional friendships. And it actually is one of the most heartwarming things for me about having made this spell is that we get to be that story for somebody else. Can you all share a story from the set? We're working together as a team really made a difference? Do you remember that crazy day when we were driving up and down Highland? We I wasn't or I was on Eagle Rock, wasn't it? We had to film at the restaurant. And I wish all I did was shuttle people because the parking spot that we got was like way far away. And I was just shuttling people. Or what about that? What about the day that we ended up getting?


kind of kicked out of the bar?


Or the rain? Do you remember the rain? The Reds, actually the rain is a good one. So we have a there's we had a day where we were filming the first first half of our day at a Salvation Army store in the valley and then we went over to Lake Balboa Park which which has a beautiful bench under like a pergola overlooking the lake.


And so we had we had a company move planned and and, you know, one of the cardinal rules of indie filmmaking is if it rains, you shoot in the rain. And so we knew there was weather coming in, and we make our move to the exterior and we're setting up in this park and it's dry right then and we do our first take of our master and it's dry. And then the sky opens up and it just starts pouring. And somebody runs in and somebody has umbrellas in their car. We didn't. They were I think they were Kelli's umbrellas. Yep, they were mine. Like, I've got umbrellas. Go get the


umbrellas and and I can't remember who was there but went and did that our gaffer who is nothing to do at that point, he goes and grabs balance boards, and he's holding them over the camera and you have one sound guy.


And, you know, we're we're standing here and we take two minutes, and we're like, is this gonna break? Or is it just gonna go? And, you know, our key grip, what's his weather app and says, Yeah, this might clear up in about 40 minutes. And I looked at our apartment for like, two hours, it was it was, it was like, two hours. And so look at look at Mark our first ad and, and he says, If he has a great South Dakota accent that I just can't do justice to, but it's very, you know, it's folksy. It's, well, Alex,


I think we shoot in the rain.


Now it's an umbrella see. And it frankly, is one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie, it's just like, it adds so much texture and tone to the scene. And, you know, it gave it a life, I don't think it would have had otherwise, I would love to add on to this, you know, and Alex had made mentioned that we were shooting at the height of Omicron. And, you know, one on set COVID incidents, because we were a SAG project would have it would have shut us down, it would have ruined us. Because at that time, you know, you had to pay for an actor to quarantine for 10 days. And while we didn't quite frankly, have the budget to do anything like that. So, you know, normally, you would get a lot of people, you know, maybe push back, you know, following on set protocols and masking and stuff like that. The camaraderie that was built on this set was unlike anything I have ever seen before everybody wanted this stone to succeed, everybody wanted to be there, everybody knew that, you know, they were doing something special, and everybody came to work every day, everybody stayed late to help clean up, it was we didn't leave set feeling. You know, like there was any kind of tension or anything at the end of the day, it was it was really lovely. And Like Alex said it was it was a family. And I do see, you know, our pas, you know, like the people that were sort of like, this was our first experience coming onto this. And they all came to one of our screenings. And it was so good. I didn't actually a lot of them, because everyone was masked, I didn't recognize some of them.


But it was it was just so lovely to see them. And to have that and to know that we were sort of one of these, you know, seminal experiences for them, you know, in their filmmaking career, and I didn't expect that. And that's, that is one of the nicest things have come out of this production. That's so fantastic. You know, I feel like we we've dived into the production of this film, I want to move on to the pose post production, which has its own set of challenges, what were some key things you focused on during that stage. So it's funny, you know, people think of filmmaking as all this work just to get on set, and then you shoot the film. And then it's just on cruise control. It's like anybody who's ever produced the film will appreciate it, the work really starts when you wrap picture. And we broke up our production a little bit, we did principal photography, with the understanding that we're probably going to do another couple of days of shooting, and we had some second year work to do. But we wanted to make sure we had a cut of the day first before we committed those resources to filling in the gaps and getting that little bit of extra material. So there was some stuff that we didn't shoot. During principal we were we were in a window because Victoria was aging, so we needed to, like do it. I mean, she we had a child actor, so we had to make sure that we shot you know, while she still looks like the role. Yeah, kids kids in two weeks, you know, they look different. And we had an editor who had a window of time, somebody who was had been an assistant on 911. And I had been recommended to me by her senior editor who was one of our editors from Z Nation, a really fabulous Saturday and in Europe Jewish, and she did the first couple of passes on the film. But that was I mean, that was about it. That was almost a three month process.


Doing sort of, you know, sketching out an edit, doing those first couple of rounds of notes and figuring out okay, what do we do with our second unit in our pickups?


One of the big things we discovered was that the driving you know, it's a roadtrip movie to driving stuff is really important, and that we've done all the driving practically the first time or you know, in car with car mounts and all this stuff. And it just it didn't say like it wasn't what needed to be and a lot of that was down to I think, you know, actors who haven't done practical driving before like femoral routes. It's a really intimidating process. Because you have the car is heavier and wider than it normally is. You have other actors ruin the car. And you know you


You have this sort of mandate to keep everyone safe and act at the same time. I asked too much of John for that. And, you know, we had the opportunity to do some pickups on a volume stage. And so part of our plan had always been to do second unit. And because I'd spent all this time it's still okay in Washington, I really knew that there was a variety of landscapes that could play for the entire United States within a 30 mile radius of the city. So Kelli that played the second unit shoe, we went just by ourselves, just the two of us up to Washington and spent three days driving around both shooting exteriors of the car and all the drone footage, but also shooting plates that we could then bring back to LA and use for our pickups. And that's probably the best decision I made at any point at the start was to redo that material, auto stage with blades that with backplates, then we got ourselves. You know, it's not that often that you especially in the knee, you sort of have to commit to choices and getting to rethink or get a second bite at that Apple is rare. We really nailed it the second time. And those scenes not only looked better performances were better. I think they make the movie. And they also marry perfectly to the exteriors because we shot X series of the car driving in the same location at the same time of year. So those things really marry together visually. But so that was from when we wrap the principal to when we did our pickups was about six more months. And then with that, with those pickups we were able to shake of Europe was no longer available. Then so I worked with one another one of his deviation editors, a guy


that Travis who Travis Berry. And I went by Bollgard with him also in Spokane for three weeks. And we hammered out our lot cut. Kelli had mentioned in the script writing process that we had done sensitivity rates, because obviously we're we're going to have blind spots as to what people in the disability community you're going to think about fell. Because we're not properly members of that community.


You also, you know, naturally just become, you know, desensitized to the effect of your editing choices, because you've seen it over and over. So we also did some sensitivity views. Right, before we locked Etcher, just to see if there was anything we had missed. And we got a couple of really valuable notes from that process.


Maybe you know, you asked people to be critical, and they are going to be critical. But you look for you sort of look for what are the what are the things you really need to take away from that. And we, what we learned from that test, that test audience was that the story made sense. People could relate to the characters, they felt like real characters, that people were on the journey with us emotionally. And then really, it was just little things that we needed to finesse.


And then we were trying to do that for a festival deadline. And he made that deadline and didn't end up getting into that festival. And really, in hindsight, that's probably a good thing. Because I don't know that we would have been ready one of the luxuries of making anything self is that not unlike a studio system, as we didn't have a robust step


I've worked on you know, when working in television, everything is sort of scheduled back from your air date. And so you're you have to shoehorn your production to a really set in flexible schedule. And wherever you are, at the deadline, that side of where you are at, you can buy, you can horse trade to get a little bit more client gear for a little bit less time there. But that's what it is, we really had the opportunity to make this film, the way we want it to make it and to get it right. And, and the place I think that shows the most was music, music on this film was extremely challenging, because there's such a big


range of emotions and landscapes and styles and feelings that you wanted to get to. And some of them are very specific. And, you know, we thought about composing all the music and that just wasn't realistic work and find one artist who, or even a couple of artists who could do the breadth of what we were trying to do and so finding the right balance of


one licensing music from a couple of different libraries, and then having some original composition and finding the right pieces and the right artists to work with. So that that's what from September until what March of the following of 2020 break. I would even say April is when we got the last music, um, to like music as I mean for any film but really like that's such an essential character. So that's nice. You had the time. Yeah. And I mean, you know, we give ourselves to Him.


plans to hit certain things. And some of that, again, was sort of festival based. And eventually there was a deadline that to get to our premiere at dances with films in LA in June. But we didn't, you know, we weren't up until the last day it was, you know, the last two weeks, I would say, but at that point, it was just fine tuning. And really, you know, I think we hit on, not the the last pieces that we really needed to nail will probably get out, I think, in March or early April. But yeah, it took that long. And the having that time was truly a luxury, I want to just add this and say that, you know, at the same time that Alex and I are doing the indie film and Anna, we're getting it through your posts, we're finishing up and we're trying to get it out into the world, we're both working full time to, you know, Alex, Alex, we we couldn't you can't take your foot off the gas, you know, Alex was doing a lot of this remotely, because a lot of the films that he that he does are not shot in Southern California. So he's, you know, from the time that we wrapped production in February of 2022, he worked absolutely nonstop on projects back to back to that, and you know, obviously grateful for the work. But you know, this, it physically, it takes a toll on you. Because it's, you know, you've got to keep your head above water, and you've got to keep the project finish. So it's really not for the faint of heart to do something like this. You know, a lot of people ask Alex and I, you know, how do we work together creatively as a couple and we like to go, we'd like to draw on this comparison that his parents use. They're both scientists, and they were interviewed by a publication about their work, and they were they were doing, they were excavating a volcano. And you want to tell the story, honey? Sure. So my parents are archaeologists, and they, my mom was a college professor, my dad works for the federal government, but they do their field work together, which is great. It's like, you know, it's like a vacation for them. So they do a lot of work in Africa. And they had separate excavation sites on opposite sides of an extinct volcano.




you know, I, this was also a piece of like, fatherly marital advice that my dad gave me on working with the spouse. He said, You know, when, when we're on your mother's side of the volcano, when we're ersite, she's the boss, however, she wants it done. That's how we do it. And when she's on my side of the volcano, I'm the boss. And thus, Alex is being paid.


And it's very true, Sally and I have very different and complementary skill sets, you know, our Venn diagram overlaps, but it's a pretty, it's a relatively small overlap. And so there are things that are clearly her side of the volcano, and, you know, she takes the driver's seat for those things, and I do is tall. And similarly, there are things that are really my area of expertise. And, you know, she leans on me to make the decisions, it's important however, if you count those areas, and then you know, that overlap, we take those things on a case by case basis and


treat them more as a, you know, those things are negotiable, who's sort of in charge of it, we have a clear


delineation of responsibility and, and sort of hierarchy for each task. And that we were able to sort of keep it balanced and professional and not let that stuff and weakened our our bearings. Oh, some people when they were coming on, they were like, we're very concerned about, you know, working for a married couple on set. But everybody unilaterally said how relieved they were that not only were, we like a joy to work with, but just just how harmoniously, you know, that we got along. And I think that, you know, maintaining the balance in the marriage and onset is, is key, but it is an absolute joy to work with him. And you know, given given how in demand he is, as a cinematographer, and my, my guess is soon as, as the director, other people are going to be very much in agreement. That is to wonderful. You know, we've talked about production posts, you know, a second unit, when it comes to getting this film seen and kind of,


you know, brought into the indie community, you know, you all are bringing this film to slam dance.


Navigating the film festival circuit, what approach did you take? What's that process been? Like? I will head up that question, because that ends up being on my side of the volcano.


You know, it's part of the the PR and the marketing that goes into to doing any kind of a film. So I attended a ton of seminars, you know, I did virtual AFM, I did, you know, film independent I, I went to all of the places where I could do information, in fact gathering as I could possibly do, because one of the things that remains a bit of a black box in this industry is distribution and revenue sharing. And I think that we're at a time now that most people can can kind of unilaterally say that the indie film distribution model is broken. And I kept watching film


makers across the board just, you know, get taken in and their projects would be picked up by distributors. And either the distributor would never pay them or go back on their word, or they would, they would fool. So I wanted to make sure that, you know, all of the time that Alex and I spent going into this, you know, that we didn't fall into those same traps. So, you know, we're navigating it as best we can, with the resources that we have, and the knowledge base that we've built.


You know, obviously, we tried for the bigger festivals. And, you know, I think that we discovered that, you know, even even though you know, film festivals are a place of discovery, realistically, a lot of the film festivals are meant for, you know, people who had who had been through the festival process before, they are like, you know, small to medium sized major players, you know, I'm not going to name the production companies, I think we know what a lot of the what that looks like. And, you know, here comes our film, which, you know, Alex and I have, you know, careers but we're not household names. And we have this very, you know, strange project that no one has really seen before. And you know, no one's this is not this is not tested, this is not true, we have two disabled leads. And people are like, well, this is great, we really don't, we just don't really know what to do with it. And sort of the first film festival that really took a chance on this was dances with films. And you know, we were familiar with it. We knew about dances, we are actually one of our associate producers, his film had premiered there the year before, he had an incredible experience. He was very, you know, enthusiastic about us participating in it. And in hindsight, you know, it was the best festival for us to have premiered out because it was in LA in our own backyard. And what ended up happening. We screened at the band's Chinese Theatre Theatre in Hollywood, we sold our first screening out, because we had such a demand for it, because we had built such a large base here, that they moved us to a larger theater, they then sold that theater out. And mind you at the time, too, we're having to make considerations because our film was all about accessibility. And we want to make sure that literally, this is something that everyone can enjoy. We had open captions at the screening. We also had audio visual descriptions, we worked with a company who did audio narration, and we had the headset so so persons with low vision could come and attended. And Easter Seals of Southern California actually did send a number of people that benefit from their services to come and attend the screening. And it was pretty incredible. And another thing that we did too, was we made sure we scouted the theater in advance. We asked attendees, you know, if they needed any kind of special considerations, you know, where they were sitting, were you bringing a guide dog with you? Do you need wheelchair space? Or, you know, will you be willing to transfer, and we ended up fitting about 35 wheelchairs into the theater without breaking fire codes, by the way. So in total, we had about 500 people attend our screening. And you know, as a filmmaker, especially, you know, you're showing this to an audience is the first time I was terrified, I was absolutely scared to death because, you know, I don't know if they're gonna I don't know if the movie was hiding tomatoes in their pockets. I don't know. But but the the screening was so well received. I mean, we got a standing ovation at the end of it. I mean, it was it was absolutely incredible. We ended up generating a lot of press out of this too, we got to feature in variety. We got our actors on NBC, Los Angeles, we got, you know, featured on CNN, all these were relationships that we had been, you know, building throughout this process. So once that film festival proved to be so successful, and we demonstrated that there was actually an audience for this, and that we did, we did kind of know what we were doing. And we could we could get butts in seats, because that's really what every distributor in every film festival wants to hear is Can you can you bring in the audience? And the answer is yes, we Yes, we could. So we've been selective, you know, about our film festival process. We have been, you know, we've played it a couple of others, we've passed on a few because they're online only. And we just, you know, as a filmmaker, you can't, you can't put your film out online. And that will negate your distribution deals. So we've unfortunately had to pass on a few of those. But the really phenomenal opportunity that came up was Slamdance. And here's where I kind of have to give a shout out to Slamdance and the programmers of the category that we're screening in, and we're in a block of films called the unstoppable program. Now for people that are not familiar with unstoppable This is a block of films that is by for and about persons with disabilities. And it was founded about three years ago by a woman named Juliet Romeo, who's who's a black disabled filmmaker, when she saw that there was just no space for this type of filmmaking. So she took it upon herself to write a letter to to slam dance and say, Would you consider giving


Ace for films like this. And they said, You know what we will, we will do this. So this is the third year that they're doing, I think it's the third and maybe the fourth. So don't don't hold me to this. But it's fair, it's fairly nascent in in where it is. But they said that this year, this was the most incredible selection of films that they've ever received. There are five features that are screaming in our blog, there's three documentaries, and then there's two narratives. And we're one of the narratives. So the fact that a festival like Slamdance, which is playing at the same time as Sundance, you know, that that says something to me that says that this is this is this is content, these are narratives, these are stories, that yeah, people really do want to see, people are going to pay attention to them, and they need to be told. So you know, we have a couple of other smaller festivals that we're playing in after Slamdance. But really going into this, you know, we are speaking with several distributors, we are speaking with several platforms. The goal is obviously with, you know, with the festival is to finish your distribution plans and get that in place. So, hopefully, you know, if you go through our social media, you'll see a lot of people asking, Where can I see this? When can I see this, which is really heartening. But I hope that we have an answer for those people very soon as to when they can, they can watch it. The other thing I'll add, just in terms of festival strategy, things have worked out well for us. And another reason why it was great for us to start with dances in LA, is because there's education, which Kelli has talked about, at length, and, you know, learning the theory of festival strategy, and then there's experience. And I think if we had started, we were talking about this earlier today, I think if we had gone to slam dance out of the gate, we would not have been as prepared and we wouldn't have the practical experience to understand, you know, what really works well, and what, you know, what maybe doesn't, we've been able to benefit from trying a couple of strategies out of these other festivals, and, you know, really sort of focusing on what are the most effective, one of the most effective tools, what are the what's the most effective outreach, and really bring, you know, six months, seven months, so festival practice, into play going and slammed so that we can have the best possible festival experience and have the most impact with the audience that we are bringing to treat what's been a really interesting byproduct out of this as


I have actually started to consults for other filmmakers, on their marketing and their PR and their festival strategies. So I'm working with a couple of smaller distributors as well. So it's one of the strange things to come out of this, you know, you do I did this for myself. And people are saying, How can you replicate this recipe for success? So, you know, I don't know what that looks like in terms of Alex and I putting our slate together. But certainly I love helping filmmakers. And I've loved learning about these, you know, these other films that I'm working on. And it's, it's been really fun. It's, it was not expected, but I'm embracing it. It really ties in to like, what I wanted to ask you, which was like it really even just a comment as well, which is like, you know, both of you have production experience on different sides of the volcano, but like what a really cool experience, to bring this thing from concept to distribution, to really see the full stack, the all of the roles and all of the jobs to be done and really, really kind of bring it all the way through. That's really powerful.


And, you know, to your point, Kelli have like this


kind of expanse of opportunities through different folks in the community. And even between both of you as now a creative duo. Are there any other new projects on the horizon that you're excited about? Alexander, obviously, you're you're very busy as a cinematographer. You know, there's lots of different things that both of you are doing. But after kind of going through this experience, and being in this experience, what's coming up that you're excited about, especially here, we're recording at the beginning of 2024. In the new year, Alex and I are putting a slate of projects together. So throughout this, we have gone ahead and put together a production company throughout mostly passion projects that he and I want to get behind.


We like to tell untold, I mean, untold stories doesn't sound like the right way to say it. But we like to tell narratives that are often overlooked. But we'd like to make you know, fun movies as well. There's there's an action film that we're working on together, there is another small indie drama that we're working on together. You know, we hope that one of the things that comes out of this is you know, people will look at our film and go okay, you guys did that really, really well. What else you got? And we're gonna be ready and we'll be able to take those meetings. Can I teach you two on ones? Sure.


All right. So an archaeologist husband and wife, right? And they're on two different sides of a volcano. You say that almost say that like it's a joke, but you know, we've talked about doing a project that's based on my parents.


especially my mother, just because, you know, she was a field scientist at a time when there were very, very few women doing that kind of work. Her PhD thesis advisor, only accepted her into his program because he thought she was a lesbian. And he believed that women would, what shouldn't be scientists, because they just straight women shouldn't be scientists, because they just get married and have kids and not do science. So


the publisher of where the crawdads sing, it was having a conversation with my mother and said, you have a story that's at least as good as anything, anything else in the state and in this kind of space, and you have better photographs, you have better art to sort of get to sort of show that story than most people. Maybe that's not the next project, we're still, you know, collecting the 50 years of stories from my parents distill that down into something that might be workable as a movie or a series. But yeah, in the meantime, you know, we are,


you know, it's not like, we don't just want to make one kind of movie, you're sort of omnivores. In the movie space, we like, you know, horror selves, we like, drama buddies, we like, you know, action and railers. And there's a CDL driven to private script that we have out there, there's a theory piece, there's the action self Kelli mentioned, and there's a social justice project that's written did an African independent story that I'm very passionate about, obviously, family history, in that part of the world. So the picture behind him, it's from Kenya, so we, you


know, at the dock, you know, a little portion of his chair.


You know, if you want to be an active working filmmaker and generate your own projects, you have to have a lot of irons, and have a number of projects, because you never know who you might run into who is looking for the thing that you have. But if you only have one thing that's limited your options. So when someone says, Hey, what do you got? You know, what are you working on? And you have three things ready to go? They might be the person who's like, Oh, that one? You know, oh, yeah, we're looking for an action scripts, send it over? And then that's what goes or, Oh, yes, actually, I just had dinner with someone who's been looking for a social justice project. That's the one that that's suddenly that's rich. So you know, having all of these things and just taking meetings and using the momentum you've gotten from Daruma to try to move to try to move all these other projects for it is, is, that's really the only way that's how the game display, we don't really Chase mandates, because by the time you catch up with a mandate, it will no longer be a mandate, it was something else will happen. So as you can see, you know, we've been working on this film collectively together for seven years, six years now. So going into year seven, going into year seven, so seven years, from the time that he picked up that script and from where we are now. So it takes forever. So my advice to filmmakers is, you know, if you have a project, be prepared to get in bed with it for a very long time. And be prepared to do literally everything that you can possibly do to get it made. even be willing to scrub toilets to, to get it made, because you will you will find yourself doing stuff you didn't expect. Nobody is going to work as hard for your dream as you are. So don't expect your town or anybody else to do the real heavy lifting for you. Like be prepared to, you know, be prepared to do the lion's share of the work. And, you know, again, choose that project carefully because you're going to be with it for a very long time. Tremendous Alexander. Kelli, thank you so much for sharing your stories. And thanks for being On Production. Thank you for having us. We'll see you at slam dance.

More episodes

Aaron Gordon on Optic Sky: Pioneering AR/VR in Modern Production
Link to
Aaron Gordon on Optic Sky: Pioneering AR/VR in Modern Production
Demystifying Film Tax Credits: A Conversation with Will French
Link to
Demystifying Film Tax Credits: A Conversation with Will French
Pioneering the Future of Production Accounting with Wrapbook
Link to
Pioneering the Future of Production Accounting with Wrapbook
A Leap in Production Accounting: Liz Blunnie Shares Wrapbook’s Latest
Link to
A Leap in Production Accounting: Liz Blunnie Shares Wrapbook’s Latest

Payroll built for production

Get pricing, see a product demo, and find out how much easier payroll can be.