JEANIE: Nil. This was my first project. I wrote, directed, and produced it. I did all of the casting and location scouting. I also edited it and compiled the soundtrack - 37 original songs by 11 Baltimore artists. I relied heavily on my Director of Photography, Michelle Farrell, in regards to the cinematography. She did a fantastic job. I knew what I wanted for certain shots, but I gave her a lot of creative leeway. We have a great steadicam shot near the end that I call our Goodfellas, shot. It was my idea and it was really tough, and at the time she said it was the hardest shot she ever pulled off. We're both pretty proud of that one. I drive her crazy but she likes it because I challenge her to do new things. We make a great team.
Where did you get the idea for the film?
JEANIE: I have always been a writer but had never had the stamina to write anything I couldn't finish in one sitting. Five years ago I was interested in two different men, and one morning I woke up with an entire story from start to finish in my head, loosely based on these quasi-relationships, along with a lot of other things that were going on in my life at the time. I wrote as fast as I could before I forgot it, and had the first draft written within a month. I never really thought I'd do anything with it. I knew it needed a lot of work but I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong. A year later, my friend Thom, who didn't know of the script's existence, unwittingly said something to me that sparked an idea of how to fix the script.
Unfortunately, two weeks later Thom was killed in a car accident (http://www.thomhickling.com/). What he never knew was that I based a character on him. Thom was a very special, unique person and I could not imagine anyone else playing his part. I was too sad to work on the script because he was in it. It remained untouched for another 7 months.
Then in July of 2006 I met the actor Bill Pullman when he was staying for three weeks at the bed & breakfast I operate in Baltimore. Bill reminded me so much of Thom, he is one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet, and now picturing Bill as Thom I could write again without being so sad, even though I knew it was doubtful that Bill would actually play Thom if I ever got it off the ground. I did ask him to, which he very sweetly and politely declined. We have stayed in touch and he has been very supportive of me throughout the process. He has his own copy of Smalltimore.
Honestly, though, what made me get off my butt and actually get the thing made was that I was tired of seeing bad movies, especially romantic comedies that rely solely on star power to sell them. They are insulting to the intelligence of women and create completely unrealistic expectations. Also, I HATE knowing five minutes into the movie exactly what is going to happen for the rest of the film. Most of them, if you see the commercial, you've seen the movie. Makes me nuts. Runaway Bride was the final straw.
And I wanted to show off MY Baltimore. So many people who have never been here only know of it through shows like, The Wire and Homicide. That is not the Baltimore I see every day. My friends are artists, poets, musicians, writers, sculptors, painters, filmmakers, and, of course, bartenders. We all have day jobs, but we don't talk about them much. That's what pays the rent, not what defines us.
What technology did you employ to shoot the film and what did you like about it?JEANIE: We shot on an HVX-200A, and I really think it shoots beautifully. We shot on the P2 cards, and those things are a dream when it comes to editing, way easier than shooting on mini-DV tapes. With the cards, every time you turn the camera off it cuts the clip as its own file. Saves you countless hours in editing. The downside was that we couldn't just let the camera roll and roll because the cards have limited space, so we didn't capture a lot of the funny stuff that happens between takes. But now that I know better what I am doing, in the same situation I would have the cards offloaded during the lunch break so we wouldn't be such slaves to the time limitations.
What was the smartest thing you did during pre-production or production? The dumbest?
JEANIE: The smartest thing I did was having a table read of the script with the entire cast, and really working through it and allowing the actors some input. Not only did this collaboration help make the script stronger and funnier, it also established a respect between the actors and myself. Actors are so often forced to recite terrible, unnatural dialogue and they have no control over it whatsoever. They really appreciated that I listened to them. Every one of them has at least one line in the film that is something they came up with themselves. When you can't pay talented people what they are worth financially, it is important to find a way to make them feel appreciated and allow them some ownership of the character and the project.
The other smartest thing I did was hiring Michelle as my DP. And the other smartest thing was planning all of the locations within a five-mile radius.
The dumbest thing I did was not having an Assistant Director. At the time, I didn't really know what that position was, the title is very misleading. I thought that meant that that person helped to direct the actors, and I didn't want anyone directing other than myself. But what an AD really does is keep the pace moving, makes sure everyone is where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there, locks down the set, puts out fires, anything that needs to be done. I was doing all of this myself for the most part, plus the bulk of the production work, plus directing. At the end of a 15-hour day I'd go home and spend hours making up the call sheets for the next day, and even going grocery shopping for the craft services. It was too much. It is hard to believe in retrospect that I even managed to pull it off. I didn't get much sleep for two weeks. I have been AD for other people on several projects since then. It is a position that I really enjoy, and I will never do a feature without one again.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?
JEANIE: Good lord, I can't possibly answer that question concisely. I still learn something new every day. That's the best thing about filmmaking. The learning never ends, and it is never the same day twice.
I guess what I have learned that is useful across the board, is that I have lost most of my stage fright. Public speaking used to terrify me, but now it is sort of a rush. I have kept a blog since the moment I jumped into this mess two years ago, at the earliest stages of pre-production, when I didn't even know what the term "B-roll," meant. The first year the blog (still available online) was www.charmcitythemovie.blogspot.com. The working title of the movie was Charm City, because I didn't want anyone to scoop the title Smalltimore from me. Not even the cast knew that Charm City was never intended as the movie's title.
When I screened the rough cut to cast & crew in December 2008 I revealed the real title and started the current blog, www.smalltim orethemovie.blogspot.com. On these blogs you can read through the process with me blow-by-blow. I've garnered a small but loyal coast-to-coast following. It is a peek behind the curtain into the world of indie filmmaking. In some ways it is not nearly as glamorous as most people think it is. In other ways, ya know what, it is. It is really a lot of fun, a LOT of work, it is exciting and unpredictable and insane and I wouldn't have it any other way.