By Steven Pressfield | Published: July 29, 2014
Today I talk with Jeff about the actual filmmaking—casting and shooting Jeff’s web series, Camp Abercorn. Jeff talks about his first day directing (“I’m a learn-by-doing kind of guy”) and how he and his partners are working up to a full-on eight-week $500K shoot. To me, this is what being an artist in 2014 is all about and I salute Jeff and his team for doing it, on their own, not waiting for permission from anybody, taking their dreams and making them happen.
(The transcript of today’s video is below.)
Steve: Infact, that leads me into the subject of casting these characters. So, you actually did it like a studio would do it, right? I mean, you didn’t go to your friends, you went to real actors. Tell me how the casting worked.
Jeff: We found a casting director, Kerry Barker, who signed us up for Breakdowns which is this place where all the people who want to be actors or who are actors in L.A. go to look for projects. We put up character descriptions and a show description of ‘Camp Abercorn.’ People apply, and we got thousands of submissions to go through.
S: Thousands? Really. Wow, how interesting.
J: Yeah, and Meg and Matt and I combed through them looking for people we thought would work.
S: And when you comb through it are you looking at videos or what?
J: Yeah. So they’ll have a photo, a resume and a reel. We made a selection of 30 people from each character and then did, I think, 5 days of auditions.
S: Live auditions? People would come in where you would tape them?
J: We filmed them, yeah.
S: So we could put a couple of those tapes in this tape here and see?
J: Yeah, sure.
S: What were some of the best ones? What made a good one different from a bad one?
J: My favorite audition [was from] the guy we have playing ‘Willy’ who’s this 15 year-old, crazy, uber Boy Scout, or uber Compass Guide character. Here’s a clip of Willy doing bird calls in his audition.
CLIP OF ZACH LOUIS AUDITION
J: Give us some bird noises.
Z: Okay. KACAAAAAH! KACAAAAHHH! KAKAKAKAHHHHH! Dooo dooo do do do. KA KAAHHHH! Cockadoodle dooo! Chickens are birds, right? Yeah. Are chickens birds? COCKADOODLE DOOOO!!
J: How about a sparrow?
Z: A sparrow….I don’t know what that sounds like, but I’m just gonna wing it. CHIC CHIC CHIC CHIC CHIC CHIC CHIC CHIC…is that right? I don’t know! CHIC CHIC. That’s how I would want sparrows to sound. CHIC CHIC CHIC CHIC CHIC.
J: How about a crow?
Z: A crow….well I know a crow. A crow’s just…WAAAAAAAK. Crows just make really ugly noises. WAAAAAAAAAK WAAAAAK! I don’t know if they make that noise. CRRRRAAACK!
BACK TO INTERVIEW
S: So it must have been for you, when you actually started having real actors doing the thing, it must have been a real moment in terms of the reality of it sinking in on you a little bit. Am I right?
J: Well, yeah. So the scariest part is that we cast Brad Leland who’s from Friday Night Lights. He plays ‘Buddy Garrity.’ He’s one of my favorite actors. He’s the guy that we had up on our Trello board from the beginning for this is what the guy should be like and we actually cast him.
S: So actual dream casting. Your wish list.
J: He of course didn’t audition. We reached out to his agent, and Matt and his agent went through weeks of negotiations. He’s been in 30 movies and he’s been in lots of TV shows and doesn’t need to, but he gets to try something different. We sent him the scripts. I think he liked the series…I mean, to get back to your question before, “was it weird to me when actors were there,” that was strange because it was my first day directing, basically, and I was directing my dream cast member!
S: You learn by doing! You must have had a rush at some point to see, “wow. this is really getting up on its feet now.” To really start to get to see it’s not just a fantasy anymore.
J: We filmed out at this camp in Lake Arrowhead.
S: Do you pay those people when you get 30 people out there and how do you do that if you do?
J: Meg and Matt and I are doing it for free, but we did pay the crew super low budget, ultra low wages, but that’s why I spent a year and a half [in London] and so many years working so I could afford to do it.
S: So you don’t have any money from Indiegogo yet?
J: No, not yet.
S: That campaign hasn’t really started yet, right?
J: Right. So once that happens we’ll hopefully have enough money to do the real shoot which will take 8 weeks later this year.
S: How much did that all cost if I may ask?
J: The whole development so far has cost $50,000.
S: That’s significant money, but it’s not a lot compared to what I’m sure you guys got on the screen.
J: I hope so. That’s development and our research trips and everything we’re spending prior to asking for money.
S: As directors, again you’re sort of learning by doing, right? Nobody taught you how to work with actors or put the camera. How do you know all that stuff?
J: Well, Matt went to film school, so he has that training. For me, I went to production design school which is for film so the framing and composing of pictures is certainly a part of it. Working with actors is, ya know, I guess that’s a learning by doing experience.
S: How else are you going to learn to do it? Yeah.
J: For me it’s like, how else do you learn how to direct other than direct? You could try to assist a director, but I know a lot of people that have assisted directors and it consists of sorting the script and getting coffee and feeding their dog and making sure the car’s ready on time.
S: Or you’re a second unit director and you’re just shooting sunsets and planes landing at LAX, right? Yeah.
J: Yeah, and so how do you learn how to do it unless you just go out? So for us, filming this “short film blitz” of 21 videos was a learning experience for us to sort of prove, yeah, we are actually capable, and hopefully the people that are on our Indiegogo will see that and believe that these are high enough quality that [we] could do a whole show.
S: This really brings this around to the culmination of this whole talk that we’re having today which is that I really admire you guys and your whole generation. You really have that attitude of, “let’s just jump in and do it.” Like Seth Godin says, “not waiting to get picked, not waiting to have an agent say or a studio say [yes].” You’re just going to go out there and do it. I hope that for the people that are watching this that this is…it’s inspirational to me. This is really what it’s about. You guys are right in the arena in my opinion, ya know? And my hat’s off to you. You came here from Chicago, nobody supporting you, nobody giving you a check, nobody’s patting you on the back. This is all your own vision that you’re following through and I salute you, Jeff! You’re doing what a real artist does in the 21st century.
S: God bless you!
J: Well, we learn from you!
S: From reading “Writing Wednesdays” every week!
S: So we’re going into your office…like in my office, there’s just one laptop, but this is like the Starship Enterprise!
J: This half over here is the recording studio.
S: This is like the equivalent of Van Gogh’s room in Arles, only the 2014 version of it, huh?!