No Budget Film School comes to Davis Theatre
As a producer on the sci-fi thriller, “Pig,” Mark Stolaroff and his co-producer, Alex Cutler, faced several challenges. But they never counted on having to drive down a California road at 4 a.m. with no headlights. The two were headed to a location there, known as Joshua Tree, when the alternator went out on their truck.
“To keep the truck running until we could get to a gas station, I had to drive with the lights off, down a small highway that connects Interstate 10 to the highway into Joshua Tree,” Stolaroff said. “We could only manage about 20 mph and when we turned the headlights on, the truck would start to stall. It was pitch black and trucks were blowing by us coming and going. That was hairy.”
And it made for a long day. The crew was set to start filming at 6 a.m. and Stolaroff found himself up for 40 hours straight to work on the film.
But now, the movie is complete and has been shown in several countries and will be screening 7 p.m. Thursday at the Davis Theatre in Concord as part of the Modern Film Fest free monthly screening series.
Stolaroff, the producer of, “Pig” will be at the Davis Theatre as well to introduce the movie and after the film will host a No Budget Film School class, which help new filmmakers focus on making a film they can realistically afford.
The free screening of, “Pig,” tells the story of a man who wakes up alone in the middle of the desert with a black hood on his head and his hands tied behind his back. At death's door, he is discovered by a woman living alone in the desert and is nursed back to health. Upon regaining consciousness, the man realizes he has no idea who he is or how he got in the desert. His only clue, a piece of paper in his pocket with the name "Manny Elder" written on it, sends him on a journey to Los Angeles to discover his past. But things and people are not what they seem and clues lead to something bigger and more unusual than the man could have ever imagined.
The premise may sound a bit surreal, but like many movies went through several evolutions before telling the story it finally told.
“The initial idea--it was a one line pitch initially--and the first versions of the script were very straightforward. In those early drafts, it was written as a straight-up thriller,” Stolaroff said. “It was only deep in the writing process that we decided to make it more of a puzzle film, with the trippy narrative structure.”
For Stolaroff, making, “Pig” was an exercise in his own style of no budget filmmaking.
“As much as we could, we wrote for things we had access to, like locations, actors, vehicles, etc. I don't like throwing money at a problem and I feel it's a personal defeat to pay what something costs, but at the same time, we didn't want to be pound foolish,” Stolaroff said. “It's all about priorities, and making sure the important things get enough money to be done correctly.”
Stolaroff’s background helped prepare him for the production, having already worked with Next Wave, a company that specialized in helping small productions.
“Next Wave Films was a finishing funds company founded by Peter Broderick and financed by IFC. I was Peter's first hire and worked with him for six years before IFC closed the company,” Stolaroff said. “In that time, we gave finishing funds to Chris Nolan's, ‘Following,’ Joe Carnahan's, “Blood Guts Bullets & Octane,” Amir Bar-Lev's first film; an Academy Award nominated documentary, and many other worthy projects.”
Seeing those movies being made for a minimal amount of money helped Stolaroff with his own productions.
“That experience prepared me in all kinds of ways for producing, ‘Pig,’ but perhaps most in determining where to concentrate your efforts,” he said. “With no-budget filmmaking, it's all about picking your battles and knowing where to prioritize. And those priorities are different for every project.”
But, “Pig,” did teach him one major lesson.
“I think the biggest challenge personally was not having enough help,” he said. “I had no production manager or production coordinator to speak of, no bookkeeper/accountant, no full-time (production assistant) or craft services person, no drivers, no location manager.”
The movie may have been a lot of hard work, but Stolaroff has seen the results, with the movie touring various film festivals.
“I think our biggest surprise has been how broadly it plays. We thought that only a small percentage of our audiences would like it and the rest would be confused, bored or pissed off. Turns out that all kinds of people enjoy the film, even if they don't quite understand completely what's going on,” Stolaroff said. “We worked pretty hard in editing to get it like that, so it's nice to see that work pay off. Certainly, though, the hard-core sci-fi audience, when we've had the opportunities to screen for them, respond. Which is great when you consider the film is barely sci-fi.”
Stolaroff added that the film was screened at Sci-Fi London and won Best Feature film there, showing the movie resonates with fans of the science fiction genre.
“It was really gratifying to have so many people come up to us the day after we screened and let us know how much they liked the film,” he said. “I think they appreciated the fact that it wasn't so straightforwardly sci-fi.”