Guest Blog: Some brief and freeform history of the making of A PUBLIC RANSOM by Pablo D’Stair

a public ransom

As I am a rather big admirer of Mr. Paul Brazill (what right-thinking person isn’t…hell, what wrong-thinking person isn’t, even more?) and have been for some time, I thought I would take the occasion of his kindly allowing me to crash on his couch, as it were, to write something a little bit different than I have been about my film.

Ladies and gentlemen, if I say I am an underground filmmaker, you will agree…Not altogether without ambition, I set out to adapt a 1000 word short story of mine (little more than a creepy idea and a punch ending) into a tightly scripted, subtext laden, character driven, quasi-thriller with a central player not only meant to be disliked, but actively despised as the screen-events moved forward…This film was to come in at 100 minutes in length, be black and white, with only three characters, one of whom (the one I was also to portray, under pseudonym, never having stood in front of camera lens, prior) required to be on screen for the duration, often acting by way of mile-a-minute blather in to cellphone while chain smoking like a fiend…The cinematographic aesthetic of the piece was to be comprised of 5-10 minute long, single-take scenes, static camera shots, all filmed on-location, at night, in public, in natural light—a look stylistically meant to resemble a cross between surveillance camera footage and the view of backstage/waiting-in-the-wings of a theater…And this was to be accomplished with a starting budget of precisely zero dollars, winding up utilizing only a single $70 camera, a $40 pocket voice recorder with clip-mic and for editing access only to the preloaded Windows Live Movie Maker on my seven-year-old laptop computer…Let me be clear: this is how I have always wanted to make a film and did turn down much kindly offered equipment (photographic, sound, and editing)…Let me be clear: this was to be a testing of ideas I have had in my mind for as far back as the desire to make a film has writhes in me (nearly two decades, as I am getting old)…So, if I say I am an underground filmmaker, you will agree…

…There was little time for proper “rehearsal” of any scene, due to having to film around not only my schedule of full-time work and two children, but that of the other actors (neither of whom were being paid, of course, and both of whom had much else to occupy themselves with on a daily basis), which added to the difficulties of the static camera, single-shot style…True, to the uninitiated it seems that such a way of going about things would be the easy-route (indeed, many crap movies utilize long takes not for effect, but due to budgetary restrictions etc.) but this certainly was not the case here…The densely worded script (always being rehearsed for hour-and-a-half, on set, before going “live” to get a workable take in the next hour-and-a-half before parties would have to return to their homes, no time at all to “meet again for another try” without falling irrevocably behind “schedule” and losing all momentum and ability to complete the project due to my horrific moodiness) was a mine field… Countless times at the six-minute-thirty-second-mark of a seven minute scene something would go off and, well, all would have to be reset…The movements of the players were choreographed to a large extent, so a mis-step on a mark could also render footage unusable (a character off screen—we had no one to stand behind the camera to be sure things were kept to frame—or, more the risk due to how we relied on natural dark and minimal light, swallowed in to the gloom of the nighttime)…The further trouble in our case being that, obviously, the time constraints did not allow us to view back each take, upon completion, to retool anything—a lot of “faith work” to say the least…

…I say there was no budget, only the money spent as became necessary (the final tally something around seven hundred bucks) and the largest expenditure was on cigarettes…While essential to the film (absolutely central to it, a character-trait, even, of the main player) these coffin-nails (a fuck load and a half of them) were a menace all their own—especially mingled with the bitter, unholy cold we had to shoot in, these bastards drove me to physical sickness on two separate occasions (you try smoking two full packs of unfiltered cigs over the course of three hours in twelve degree temperatures without finding yourself with a case of the shakes and in the rib-cramping upchuck)…Surely, it goes without saying, much of this could have been avoided if I had just not fucked up so many takes (I was the main culprit for having to call “Cut” or rather to call “Goddamnit to fuck”), but what with being the only person present for so many scenes (camera set up in a hidden spot to not draw much attention and to make my lingering presence outside of an Einstein Bagels or something not seem as suspect as it would have, otherwise) there were a lot of “in and out, lots of strands to keep in little Duder’s head”, as the expression goes…And no matter how well I could say the telephone monologues to myself, sitting in a car, when shivering out in the open air with passing traffic and office workers idling in their cars for whatever reason just on the periphery of my vision, getting the lines right was quite a different animal… My co-star, Goodloe Byron, was savvy enough to decide he was “no longer a smoker” on the first day out, which was compensated for by my character smoking twice as much, no sooner letting one be stepped out than flickering lit another…

pablo

…This was pure guerilla style filmmaking, as far as the location shoots as well—a basketful of troubles coming from that…While the framing of scenes made the final photography seem isolated enough (the images in the final film only showing hints of surrounding traffic, perhaps) in the majority of scenes there were people nearby (often suddenly passing by, mid-take) and many times locations had to be abandoned and substitutes found, mid-shoot, due to a cleaning staff showing up in the exact spot we were, right when we were finally done our practice runs or (as on three occasions) security or law enforcement staff unceremoniously asking us what we were doing and in no uncertain terms telling us to move on (but for my ability to beg and flim-flam some “I’m a poor film student” excuses, several key scenes would not have come off at all, as so often it would be the final take that was the sole keeper out of a batch)…

…Of course, in the end, it all came off gloriously—indeed, all of the best photography, set pieces, and takes would not have happened if not for the interplay with happenstance…We could not have planned the snow, the wet streets, the fog, could not have gotten some of the locations had we not been shooed out of others…These facts both make me feel quite clever and, frankly, disquietingly uncertain of myself at the same time, as if what I’d planned on would have not been half so good as what I hadn’t, it should be with a guilty, hangdog I take credit for it, yes?…

…And now the film is out there—free to view for all….Pop over to our humble hub-site  for info and teasers and reviews or just skip to the full film here  (https://vimeo.com/89132121, simply enter the password “pransom”)…Spread the word, if you’d be so kind, even if it’s a bad word…Any and all feedback is enthusiastically welcomed in whatever measure, whatever content—we’ve already heard it all and dig the good and the bad…If you have someplace you post such opinions up, please do—even if you hate it, I shall dance at your wedding in gratitude (even if I need to crash the joyous occasion)… Barring that, pop over to our page at IndyRed (http://www.indyred.com/a-public-ransom.html) and leave a rating or a comment…

Cheers all—hope you find something to dig or something to loathe—as the only way underground cinema fails is to be met with by indifferent shrugs.

Pablo D’Stair (4/22/14)

2 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Some brief and freeform history of the making of A PUBLIC RANSOM by Pablo D’Stair”

  1. Excellent piece, sir! Excellent!

    I know we didn’t see eye-to-eye on your movie and I know we had some good fun in the comments section of my post (and emails) but, like I said, even if it wasn’t my kind of flick, I do appreciate the fact that you MADE a movie (too much dialogue and no boobs and all that 🙂 ) and now I appreciate it even more regarding what you went through on the takes.

    I like you guys – let me know if / when you make another movie. I have modest means but would be willing to help out. I smoke Camel Wides so I would be happy to buy a bunch of them.

    Lastly – when you were out looking at my site, did you happen to hit the link for “My Movie”? It’s a Grindhouse treatment, so it might not be your taste, but maybe you have some friends?

    God luck and good fortunes!

    ei

  2. Fascinating piece! Many thanks to both of you. I’m much looking forward to watching the movie, as soon as time permits.

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