Sunday, June 7, 2009

lights, camera, action...

i received an e-mail last year from a lady by the name of marie ullrich. there wasn't much detail but she wanted to know if i had some time to spare to get together and talk messengers. do i have time to talk messengers? suuuuuure...why not? turns out marie is working on a film based on a female chicago bicycle messenger...nice! marie is/was doing research and figured she should start reaching out to our community to make the film as authentic as possible.

anyway...we got together and had a few drinks. i shared all i could in the limited time we spent together but i left pleased. why? i knew marie was being sincere in wanting to make sure the movie wasn't just some quicksilver type film. not that there's anything wrong with that cause Lord knows i enjoy a good laugh but...well, you know. well, time passed and we kept exchanging e-mails. i remembered that a fellow co-worker and friend, rene, of four-star was into film. the man is great people and i knew this would work out fine. soon...they got together and now production is on it's way on faster, a short film.

she was also able to get a hold of the talented christopher dilts to come in and take production stills. marie is doing a great job from the look of things. even though she's busy running around on getting this film to come to life she was able to provide a small interview. again, i have to apologize for my silly interview skills as far as the questions go...Lord knows im not very good at this...

1. without giving too much away...what exactly are you working on? what is the movie about?

Faster! is a short narrative film shot in HD about a bike messenger working in Chicago’s Loop. It’s based on the main character of a feature film that I wrote that was a finalist for the Sundance Filmmakers Labs a couple years ago. The short is its own complete story and the plot is somewhat different from the feature, but it’s based on the same main character, Jasper. She’s burnt out trying to work and put herself through school, and it’s showing.

2. why did you decide to do a movie with messengers? why chicago?

Why messengers? I don’t know. I have never messengered myself although especially when I lived in Boston I commuted on my bike year round. At one point I was biking 15 miles a day to work plus whatever else I was doing. I don’t know if you’ve been in Boston or looked at a map of it recently, but the streets are a mess of one-ways and rotaries and roads that veer off into random directions. And the drivers are very aggressive – that’s where I get my fancy driving techniques from. I lived in the Fort Point area for a while, which is downtown across the Channel, by South Station, so I would drink at some of the same bars with messengers and got to know a few of them. I always admired them and the lifestyle. I guess messengering is something I always wanted to try but never did - I freelance in film so I’ve got to be able to take a gig when it comes along.

Why Chicago? Well originally my screenplay was set in Boston. But I moved to Chicago and I love it. So it’s gotta be in Chicago.

3. how "real" will this movie be? what kind of research have you done?

Ha ha! Well I have been doing research on messengers since the early 90’s. Even before I met you & Rene I was also researching it here. I was supposed to go on a day of runs with this one dude George but he stood me up… but I talked to a few messenger dudes and showed some of them my feature film script and made some changes based on stuff they told me. I found sites like and would read as much as I could. Had a few messenger zines – you know, on paper! – too. So I’ve been reading a lot and I observe a lot on the street, too.

Now, as far as this short film goes, I guess I started researching it hard core in December or January. I had come upon your site a while ago, and then finally got up the courage to ask you to talk to me about it. I guess I was afraid that folks would think I was stupid for trying to make a film about something I’ve never done myself. But I’ve tried to be as real as I can be. You gave me some tips, and you hooked me up with Rene, and he has been fantastic. My lead actress Jenny (Strubin) has never been a messenger either, or probably even ridden a bike downtown. I did try to find a messenger chick with some acting chops, and almost cast someone who is not a messenger but who races. But she ended up bowing out. And Jenny has been incredible. Rene gave her some tips and lessons and took her out on some runs with him while he was at work. Alexis talked to us about what it’s like being a biker chick in the city. She has never messengered either but she works at Upgrade and is a year-round hard core city biker.

*Ok and so this is the part where I have to tell you that I have knowingly done some stuff that’s not 100% authentic. Rene asked me if I can put a pop-up in the movie wherever this happens, letting y’all know that I shot it that way against his advice. So maybe in the extra features I’ll have Rene narrate and tell me all the things I did wrong! Stuff like, I knew she needed to lock her back wheel to the frame. That’s the expensive wheel. But the way we had the dolly set up, you couldn’t see her face at all if she did that, so I had her lock the front wheel. So I’m one of those Hollywood assholes who does it all wrong. Jeebus, I hope not. But there will be some things that you’ll notice.

On the other hand, when Chris (Dilts) was on set taking photos, he kept saying that he found it to be really authentic. like the scene where she’s in the elevator and guys are staring at her ass and making comments about her. Or people trying to bully her into taking a delivery that’s clearly a car job without paying extra for it. It has been really great to have the support of the biker and especially messenger community. I’m sure there will be people who will nit-pick or talk trash about us, but we tried to be as authentic as possible. I’m trying to be respectful. And the story comes from a genuine concern and wanting to get the “Share the Road” message out there some more. I bike in Chicago too. For the most part I feel safe on the streets but I get harassed a lot and I’ve been lucky not to get doored or anything (knocks on wood). I live near a ghost bike, and I see them all over the city and it really affects me. I mean I want this film to be kick-ass just as a film. But I also want to do some outreach with it. We’ve got a section on our film’s website called Share the Road and I’m looking for links, photos, and images – so please send them along.

4. what have been some of the challenges so far?

Holy crap, where to begin. I mean I knew from Day 1 that this was going to be a very challenging shoot just because of the nature of it. There’s action, being outdoors, location shooting – lots of moving parts. Did I mention location shooting? Getting locations is always a huge bugaboo, but Batman kind of screwed us independent filmmakers for a while because they were able to sprinkle $10G location fees around like cinnamon apparently. So many people have told me that this is the worst time they’ve ever had trying to secure locations – even worse than right after 9/11. You’d think that with the economy sucking, folks would be glad to make even an extra $500 or a grand. But you'd be wrong. They have this attitude that it’s not worth them getting out of bed for anything less than $5G. They don’t give a crap that you’re an artist or that your project is important and not some crappy commercial. They’d rather have a crappy commercial because that’s where the money is; even places that have a reputation for being involved with the arts – same story. So locations were a nightmare and a real struggle. My Production Designer was even looking for locations for us, working all her connections. It’s just rough out there. Locations fell through left and right and we ended up using some locations that were not Plan A or Plan B but more like Plan Z. But that’s where we ended up.

Then you’ve got the weather. Initially they were forecasting rain during our entire shoot. That stressed me out. All these people have made themselves available to work on the movie, but if it rains, they’ve got other gigs, jobs, plans… It ended up being okay. The weather was weird and iffy the whole time, but we got stuff done.

OK, and then my Art Director had his garage broken into during the shoot. The thieves stole all his tools (about $800 worth is the rough estimate), plus the custom-made messenger bag that we had already shot with. We had the film’s logo silkscreened onto it, and they distressed the hell out of it – it had one of production’s walkies on it, and other props inside it. So I get a call early one morning that we can’t shoot because we’re out the bag. But the scene we were doing that night, we only had that location for that one day. It was a one-shot deal, No other date was available, and I was going to lose my actor if we couldn’t shoot that week. But the Art Department, bless them – they had an extra bag with an alternate logo on it. They had to strip that logo off, get the thing silkscreened again, buy replacements for the other props, not to mention all the work they already had planned to do on that day – not to mention that Colin came to set that day with a fever after having all his shit stolen. Now THAT is dedication.

I mean in some respects production is always chaos. You plan like hell, and then when you get out there it has a life of its own and you just ride it like surfing a big wave. You gotta be able to move with the chaos and make it work for you. And we did that. For all that it seems like we had it rough, we were actually very lucky. When I think of all the things that could have gone wrong but didn’t – we were very lucky indeed.

5. your opinion on messengers?

In my experience, almost everyone who loves bikes is good people. With some exceptions. (Recumbent dudes, I’m looking at you!) (JK) (kind of). What can I say? Messengers are a kind of romantic figure for me. They’re hot, obviously. But they’re smart, too. They get shit done. One of the first times I ever rode my bike in downtown Boston I had a mechanical failure in a bad, bad spot - and before I even knew what was going on there was a messenger dude who grabbed a tool out of his bag, fixed me up, and he was off. I swooned. Never even got his name. Of course now I’m a little more experienced and better prepared. But still. I get the appeal of being out there on your own, making it by your own muscle, your wits, your skill. I have a lot of respect for messengers. I hope it comes across in the film.

there you have it people. i made her promise me to let me know when and where the premier is so keep your eyes and ears open for that madness. i have faith that this will be a nice film. wow...this was a long post...ha! good luck marie. let me know if there's anything else i can do. rene...the pressure is on...don't make us look bad...dun.dun.dun...peace.

*favorite paragraph


Anonymous said...

rene has put on some lbs

Anonymous said...

and yet he's still handsome