What was your filmmaking background before making Belleville?
DAN: I grew up in Michigan, writing and directing local TV shows since the age of 14. When I moved to Los Angeles as an adult, I initially focused on TV comedy pilots. The highlight was a pilot called The Captain, starring Melissa McCarthy, Jennifer Coolidge, and Cheryl Hines. But then I moved on to film.
The first film I wrote and produced, Jesus People, just released in ten theaters on April 11 and everywhere on itunes, amazon, and video on demand platforms. It has Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer and Bridesmaids star Wendi McLendon-Covey in it, as well as many brilliant improvisational actors from Second City and the Groundlings.
Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?
DAN: In the last two years, I've become passionate about shooting micro budgeted indie films in different parts of the country. Some of them are self-financed, such as my first film Red Lodge, shot in Red Lodge. Some are funded by Ted Trent Studios, a company I partner with. We recoup the costs if the local community - first and foremost - comes out and supports the theatrical run. That really determines whether or not we can continue. Right now, with Belleville, we are very enthusiastic about the response.
Of course we plan to do our best to take movies as wide as possible, but without name actors, you really have to rely on getting great actors in an engaging story -- and depend on word of mouth.
How did you cast the film and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?
DAN: Ted Trent (the producer and star) was obviously playing one of the two leads, from the beginning. I then cast Los Angeles based actor Tim O'Leary, who had just starred in another project of mine.
Everyone else was auditioned and found in the St. Louis and Southern Illinois area. In fact, I started auditioning local actors during my story outline and location scout phase. I didn't even have a script yet. But seeing the talented actors I had to work with actually helped shape the story I was telling. I decided to make the feature a faux documentary, just so I could work in all these great people.
Where did you shoot and how did your location help and hinder your process?
DAN: Ted grew up in the area, so we shot on his family's property. Our location only helped the film, by leaps and bounds. The location would have cost a studio picture millions of dollars... the fall leaves, the heavy rain on day one, the broken down farm house with real, legitimate spiders etc... that's all free production design!
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
DAN: We used Canon 5ds. Two of them running at the same time to capture different angles. I love the picture quality and the lenses my DP Brett Frager selected. Most of our film was outdoors, using natural light. The photography is just gorgeous. It was about finding great landscapes and balancing beauty shots with realism and grit shots. Also, I had those great Midwestern faces to film. I grew up in Michigan, so this was a fantastic experience, getting to shoot back in that part of the country.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
DAN: The smartest thing I did was shoot with two cameras. We did most scenes in 3-5 takes, getting double the coverage because of our two camera set up. That's harder to do indoors, with lighting set ups, but very easy to do in a murky swamp.
The dumbest thing I did? Allow blankets to be put nearby a generator to muffle the sound of the engine. Yes, we had a fire on set. Fortunately, no damage occurred, other than the generator. But it was a scary moment.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?
DAN: I learned about the great talent pool in the St. Louis area and I definitely took that to the next film.
We are gearing up to shoot a Christmas film, Expect Delays, in two weeks in the same area. This time, local actors that appear in Belleville have been written large, leading roles. I'm so excited to go back and work with them again. There's a real team spirit going on with what we're doing at Circa87.com and Ted Trent Studios.