THE LONG GERMINATION OF A SHORT FILM
“Moment of Anger” is meant to be a tale about a man forgetting what is good in life, and life itself helping him remember. The process of creating the movie was in turn a “remembering.” We each of us found what was best in our talents and put them on the screen. This is the story.
All of my film ideas percolate for a long time, before pouring out of me in a rush, like a cook leaping to take care of a stove that is boiling over. The first germ of “Moment of Anger” starts in 2005, with my divorce. Not that I would have recognized that at the time. I had absolutely no self-awareness that there was anything about myself that would make me hard to live with. All I knew was that I had been hurt and I couldn’t understand why someone would be so cruel. You know, to me.
Flash forward ten years, and I am married again to another fantastic woman (How do I attract these Mighty Aphrodite? All I know is it must be what Opus the Penguin once described as the “Billy Joel/Christie Brinkley Syndrome”). I am only slightly less self-aware of my personal faults than I was then, which means a lot of frustration for the people who love me. But ten years also means that the screenwriting degree from BYU I held in 2005 has been PHD’d (Piled Higher & Deeper) with a Film & Television Producing degree from Chapman. So while I may not be (I may never) fully equipped to engage in an emotional relationship, I am completely qualified to entertain the masses about my shortcomings!
It was around Valentine’s Day 2015 (ah, romance) that I determined my hands had been idle long enough and it was time for me to make another feature film. In my film career, which I chart starting in 1995 with my first semester at BYU, I have been involved with 2 features that have made it all the way to theaters. At Chapman, I had been engaged in the production of several short films as well, but the features, the big projects, have always been the ones that excited me, so I said, “I want to do that again.” I spent the next year reminding myself why my 21 years in the business working for myself have resulted in a grand total of 2 features: Wow, it’s HARD. My first was a coattail kind of thing, anyway. And my second almost never saw the light of day. 2016, and that third one is still a script, a dream, and a Facebook page, but it will come.
I told you about that project because it, too, led to “Moment of Anger.” It was in the face of another schedule stall, yet another pushing back of the goal post, that I was contacted by an actor friend who wanted to know if I could help him “put something together for his reel.” He was thinking of some mock commercials. Stuff that could be done quick, without renting a lot of equipment, just whatever was on hand. He had an idea or two, and he asked me to improv some for him. That sounded super... super. But he was a longtime friend and I honestly had the time, so we set a date. Then as I started to gather the crew for THAT shoot, I stood in the shower and asked myself: Given the opportunity of working with one of the best actors I knew (seriously, Gary, you’re awesome) and doing whatever I wanted... was this what I wanted to do? If not, what did I want to do? What was my story, and where did I want to tell it?
Porterville, CA, is, and used to be widely known as, the “Gateway to the Sequoias.” There is an old motel here in town of the kind they sing about in the movie “Cars.” Long ago but not so very long ago the Palm Tree Inn was known as the Paul Bunyan--complete with statute of the Legend Himself and Babe the Blue Ox--it was a bustling tourist stop, restaurant, bar, and dance hall. Today, it is thriving on business of a different sort (Seriously, a week after we shot our movie the place was raided) The subtext for great potential squandered... well, it couldn’t be LESS of a subtext, it is so RIGHT THERE. That was where to set the story. The story of a man who takes a wrong turn in his life. A man who has gotten in his own way, and could lose everything if he doesn’t face up to it. Will he? Or will he run away?
There is a lot of me and my experience in “Moment of Anger,” because I have more than once stormed out of the presence of people who love me, unable to say how I feel and unwilling to strike out physically; I could never be that guy. Of course, being adverse to the bad side of things sometimes means you’re not very good at the positive side, and so I am either too clingy or inarticulate with the people who matter--much like Dave, in “Moment of Anger,” who screams, leaves, and then instead of returning and apologizing goes off and gambles with a stranger, losing his sandwich. And as that plot swirled in my head, bizarrely, I began to hear the haunting lyrics of Dolli Grace mixed with the upbeat sound of Cordwood.
And so I stepped out of the shower and contacted Gary. By the time I proposed the idea to him it was almost fully formed: A man who storms out on his woman, but then has a very bad day, culminating with being trapped by drug dealers. He has this day because she had been the best thing in his life, and after 5-10 (my timeline is unspecific) years with her he is unable to really handle his life without her. People are only happy in pairs. (“Enchanted April,” 1991).
Gary was on board almost immediately, as was the rest of the pre-production crew I had originally begun to form for the “commercials project.” My co-producers Kanarose (my producing partner on literally everything over the last ten years) and Matthew (new to my usual team, but fantastic) helped immensely by being interested in the story and offering their own takes on the material. Kanarose has always been great for bringing up things that need to be done in pre-production that I usually forget, and always pointing out where I’m being stupid or boring. Matthew would contact me at random times with story ideas, good ones, some that made it to the screen.
Watch the official trailer
Our main snags were 2 things: I wanted a professional cinematographer, I knew I didn’t want to shoot it myself. And we had to shoot the entire script in one day. I am a screenwriter, a producer, and a sometime director. I am also and mostly a dad, and one day in March 2016 was all I had for this one. As it happened the schedule constraints affected the search for a cine. Initially, a friend of mine whom I’d worked with on several projects was on board, then he called and said he was having Oral Surgery the day of the shoot. After an intense search (I believe I talked with a dozen different DPs) I had the good fortune of stumbling across the work of Adrian Sierkowski. And not just the work, but the man.
Adrian was a joy to work with because HE found the work to be a joy. He has filmed on all sorts of cameras from Big Budget to Garage Band (for lack of a better term) and what mattered to him was getting the most out of what he had--as opposed to some DPs where all they seem to want is to “get the most” (as in toys). Even so, our original DP still provided a great light package on top of what Adrian brought to the table, so I really believe that our production was able to look 100x more expensive than it really was. Good DPs matter.
So, that second problem: a one day shoot. How do you make that work? Well, after securing the locations, the #1 way to keep on point with that is a good Assistant Director. Personally, I always think women make the best ADs, particularly 1ADs. You may not believe this, but a strong woman commands attention, and everyone listens to her. I spoke to a couple of women in the run up to March, some that I had worked with before, but nothing was gelling. So we were very, very fortunate to have the schedule open up for one of the best in the business in this regard, Sharmane Franklin Johnson. Sharmane kept us on point, on time, and while we originally worried that our shoot would run overtime, working with me in the Director’s chair and her as my co-pilot on set, she had us wrapped 2 hours early.
I can’t end this without saying something about my lead actors. First of all, Gary Klavans, my star and the spark for the project, was a trooper and true professional. Everything he did was practically without me telling him. “Let’s do that again” meant more to Gary than a straight repeat, and he always found ways to give me exactly what I asked for in every take, making every one seamless, but at the same time there were subtle differences that would allow me to change entire tones if I re-arranged what he had done in the editing room. He is like the Algebra Actor.
Stefanie Halstead did so much with so little, I am humbled. When I cast her, I told her, “You speak hardly at all, but you are the center of this film. You have all the power here. His reaction to you. Whether he will go back to you. Whether you will TAKE him back. It is all you.” She really played with that. It is all up there on her face.
Bruce Allen Green was having so much fun. In life, he is a retired substance abuse counselor, and he channeled some of that experience back to his character--with, you can see, a bit of a wink at the screen. The production really rested on his shoulders, and not just as a character. At one point, we lost a location HALF AN HOUR before we were supposed to film there. Instead of taking his lunch break, Bruce was on the phone, and by the time we were ready to shoot we had a place to shoot in, and better than the old location.
I could go on, even about my support actors, but you need to go (Have a sandwich).
“Moment of Anger.” A Film by Eric C. Player. A love letter to life, marriage, frustration, commitment, and sandwiches. Enjoy.
Written by Eric C. Player, Director of Moment of Anger
Produced by Panther Pictures