What was your filmmaking background before making Homemakers?
COLIN: My dad is a photographer, and he was making videos of me and with me from toddler age. I learned to edit deck-to-deck with VHS tapes at an arts camp called DASAC in the late nineties. I also went to art school at the Rhode Island School of Design in their film and animation program and that’s where I found a lot of my collaborators.
I really found myself as a filmmaker in the summers in college when I would teach video at DASAC and run around all day with costumes and a video camera making chaos with thirteen-year-olds. Teasing something fantastic out of their nutty visions.
Where did you get the idea and what was the writing process like?
COLIN: A lot of my college-era work was about families and finding a home. Particularly disconnected families was a theme. I moved to Pittsburgh and was suddenly confronted with this city where families had been split up by the steel collapse. Many people had left for Sun Belt pastures, leaving behind so many empty houses. That, and I was living with a girlfriend for the first time, making a home that way.
I wrote the film in a studio I had in a bombed-out old sign factory I was trying - unsuccessfully - to fix up a bit, and walking around on shifts as a security guard at the Andy Warhol Museum.
How did you cast the movie and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?
COLIN: Rachel McKeon lived with my studio mate but she actually found us through an ad we put out, and we found Jack Culbertson and a lot of good single scene players that way. Molly Carlisle is a painter friend I had taught with who was in my thesis film.
Once Rachel was on board, she really knew the theater scene in the city and we reached out together to respected Pittsburgh actors. Our co-producer Adrienne Wehr helped fill in the gaps once she came on board. She worked tirelessly to find an actress to play the burlesque ghost.
Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?
COLIN: Honestly, I can’t. But! I’ll tell you why I can’t: we are still negotiating with distributors. After we’ve sold, I can be more transparent. I can say that financially, this would have been impossible without the house we shot in. One of our production designers, Seth Clark, and our props master Travis Rohrbaugh were regulars and occasional employees at a great bar called the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, owned by our friend Steve Frankowski. He owned the house and used it as storage. Steve gave us free reign to use it however we liked as long as we had our own insurance and the art department helped him gut it afterwards.
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
COLIN: We used the Canon C300, mounted on our DP Ben Powell’s heroic shoulder. Nearly every shot is a Zeiss 28mm or a Canon 50mm. Those two focal lengths are approximate - in different ways - to how the human eye sees, and Ben felt these lenses allowed a potentially cartoonish world to feel grounded.
We chose the C300 because of it’s incredible low-light performance. We didn’t want to use movie lights at all - and didn’t - because we wanted to capture light in this dusty old house as it was. We wanted the indoor lighting to feel like it was coming from our character’s aesthetic choices, so practicals became a huge aspect of the set design and it was a conversation between myself, Ben, Danielle, Seth and Rachel.
Most of all, I wanted the actors, playing drunk and wild a lot of the time, to have free range of movement and to have any prop or wall as an option. Lights would just get in the way in that tiny house. I love love love the C300 and what it allowed us to do.
Did the movie change much in the editing and, if so, why did you make those changes?
COLIN: Cuts, mainly. The story wasn’t really altered - there had been a big script rewrite mid-production that worked a lot of kinks out. A lot of scenes were cut in the edit, though. One major scene was cut right before we premiered.
The tricky thing with this film was finding a balance between the melodramatic elements and the slapstick. Early cuts struggled because of that. But in the end our editor Dave Schachter came up with some genius solutions that allowed us to move it into a more centered place, and Matt Bryan’s finished score really drove it home.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
COLIN: The dumbest thing I did was underestimate how much organizational help we would need. I really didn’t think we needed to do things like regular movies and have all this staff. A week into production it was clear we needed some steadier hands to come in so we added a co-producer to teach our young producers how to rock out, and we added an assistant director Jeremy Braverman to teach our young director how to rock out, and it was pretty smooth from there.
The smartest thing I think I did was hire great people. And really trust them to do their jobs, and make sure they have the environment they need to create.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?
COLIN: I learned the most about leadership. I can take that to any project, even if I’m the only person I’m leading. Improving as a leader, and thinking about yourself as a leader - in terms of the responsibilities, not the perks - is the best thing you can do for yourself as any kind of artist, particularly one who literally gets people do things.
I also learned so much about the festival process. It’s important to know what you’re getting into, and we really didn’t. But at the same time, one thing that allowed us to be so creative was just saying ‘we aren’t going to talk about festivals.’
Our goal wasn’t to get into Sundance, although that would have been nice. Our goal was to enable each other to make our most creative decisions. And we absolutely did. Killed it. 1000%.