Thursday, September 15, 2011
"Missing Pieces," A Visit from Kenton Bartlett
I was in for a genuine surprise today as I arrived at my Advanced Screenwriting class this morning. We had a guest lecturer, Kenton Bartlett, 23-year-old Alabama native who recently directed an $80,000 independent film called Missing Pieces, starring Mark Boone Junior and Melora Walters. The movie had a preview screening at the Sidewalk Film Festival a few weeks back, and is currently playing at the Rave-Patton Creek 15 in Hoover, AL, for one week only to qualify for the Independent Spirit Awards. While the movie is still currently searching for distribution, they're hoping that if the critics who have already been vocal about the movie will speak up and get the movie some nomination at the Spirits, then a buyer may come along.
What I found so interesting about this morning is that Kenton was not so much different than me. He was only two years older, had an obsessive love for movies constantly referencing other directors rather than talking about himself or his own methods. He was simple and humble and just wanted to make a good movie. He went to the American University in Washington, D.C., which he said he double majored in Journalism and Business, only taking a few Video Production classes and learning most of what he knows from DVD commentaries, books, and How-To podcasts. Once again, his self taught approach really just struck a chord with me and inspired me.
Here was a guy who did not go to a major film school, came from a middle class suburb in Birmingham, AL, and yet he has made a real movie that actually looks like a Hollywood production with Hollywood actors that are actually good actors and not just people who were some guest star role on a TV Show once. The real kicker was when I learned that none of the cast and crew wanted money, they all simply liked the script and did the 108 day shooting schedule for free (granted the crew was just three people, Kenton and his two college friends as DP and audio).
What I really enjoyed about this morning was just getting to ask Kenton questions and hear how he did these things. This was where the most interesting things came. Such as when he talked about writing the script. He did not write a script that he knew he could not make. Before he wrote a new scene with a new location, he thought realistically about whether or not they could actually find and shoot at a location like that, and he said that is why most scenes take place outside during the day, so that they could use natural lighting. As well, he went on to elaborate how he studied other low budget independent films and found that they used few locations and only a small handful of characters to tell their story.
What I found most interesting, is Kenton's democratic approach to directing. He was talking about how he never really dictates what the actors do, he typically communicates with them and simply takes their ideas or the ideas of a crew member to make the scene and characters work. Like he said there was a scene where they blew up a boat in a field and he did not know how he was gonna shoot it, so he had fire crews and bomb crews there with no clue what to do, and actor Mark Boone Junior just suggested shots and Kenton took those and shot it. I for one am usually too stubborn to accept suggestions that often change what I see in my head, even if their suggestion really is better. Like when Mark Boone Junior wanted to sit an entire scene, Kenton wanted him to stand and be active, but Kenton ultimately said the scene was better with Mark Boone Junior's character simply sitting there and meditating. While he did say such an open method of communication did have its drawbacks when his lead actress rarely did the scene the same way twice, resulting in a good deal of jump cuts in her scene, which he says that the critics have all mistaken as brilliant artistic choices!
There was just an honesty to Kenton that I liked. He owned up to the fact that he truly did not know everything he probably should have known to make such a large scale project, but yet he did it, that is more than anyone else can say. He made mistakes, he recognizes them, and wants to correct them on his next project.
As for how they got an $80,000 loan, he had simply assembled a reel of clips from other movies and tried to assemble a vague sense as to what the movie might seem like and put it on the website they created. The clips would show action from No Country for Old Men and then show sweeping vista shots from another movie. This led to a person with a presumably good credit report who just co-signed on a loan, and lo and behold, they had the $80,000 they had figured it would cost to get the movie made.
Even more interesting is how Kenton found locations. He simply flipped through Discover America books and found pictures of locations that he'd like to film at, he typed in where that location was on Google, and found it on Google Earth. And if he needed a specific location, like a playground, he simply searched all playgrounds on Google Earth in the Birmingham area (where 75% of the movie was shot, till they went up to Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Utah, on a road trip to finish).
As for actors and crew... He simply posted notices on Craigslist and got youtube audition videos, as well as sending scripts to the agents of the pro actors he wanted. Then he also managed to nab a professional composer from England, who was so eager about the movie, he assembled over 15 members from a string orchestra in Sussex, England, and scored the entire movie, communicating with Kenton via emails and quicktime video files. He said it was funny, that he and the composer did not actually even talk in person till after the score was completed.
Then when it came to the camera, rather than renting and paying $1,ooo a day for a RED Camera, they just bought one and shot the movie on that, putting pantyhose over the lens and sliding another, empty, lens over it to hold it in place to give the movie a softer, more film-like look.
Kenton was just a nice guy who loved movies, and the way in which he is mostly self taught in filmmaking from reading books and watching DVD special features really mimics how I've been taught to make movies for the most part. To see a guy who simply was determined to do something and did it, at only 23 is astonishing, and inspiring. It actually instilled in me that I'm not wasting my time making movies and writing scripts, and that I could actually do something with my obsession and possibly have a chance to make it to making the big budget Hollywood movies I want to someday make.
If you're interested in more on Missing Pieces, check out the website or watch the trailer below:
The movie will be playing at the Patton Creek Rave in Hoover, AL, through Sunday. The next time is 7 o'clock tonight, followed by 10 A.M. both Friday and Saturday mornings and then a final showing Sunday night at 7. Support this movie, cause it actually looks like it has a shot to be something bigger.