Rob Thomas – Veronica Mars

March 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews, Uncategorized

After years of being off the air, creator Rob Thomas was able to revive “Veronica Mars” by using a Kickstarter campaign. Through fan contributions, the film raised $5.7 million dollars and is due out sometime next year. Also the creator of the TV show “Party Down,” I spoke to Rob at Austin Film Festival about Kickstarter campaign, the process in creating the movie, and the heartbreaking NBA Finals.

What is it like to be the first person to be able to revive a series that had been cancelled via fan crowdsourcing on Kickstarter?

Being the first out of the box was the thing I kept pitching as the most important aspect. I felt like there was potential there and “Veronica Mars” felt like the right thing for the moment. We were a cult show, so there were people who were big fans of it, and yet we weren’t huge enough to warrant a movie on our own. But we weren’t so small that we couldn’t attract enough attention. We were a project that Warner Bros. had flirted with doing a movie about and through their sophisticated market testing decided there wasn’t a big enough audience, which is understandable since Warner Bros. typically does baseline $30-million movies and up. So I understand why they didn’t think “Veronica Mars” was worth that sort of investment. So we were left in this limbo of not being able to do the movie as an indie because Warner Bros. owns the title, even though I created the show. When you create a show for a studio, they own that title. I had exhausted all other avenues, trying to figure out a way to sell them on this idea and yet every interview I did, whenever I met people who knew me as a writer, they always asked, “Will there be a Veronica Mars movie?” In Season 3, it ends in an uncomfortable place. It’s not a happy ending, which I think left fans wanting some clarity on where Veronica landed. It was such a long journey. It took a year and a half from the time I approached [Warner Bros.] to the day we got to hit “launch” on the Kickstarter page. One thing I’ll say about it is I felt like at that point, one way or another, the question would be answered. Will there be a “Veronica Mars” movie or will there not? If the Kickstarter had failed, people would have seen that we took our shot and it didn’t warrant it and I could be free of it. I don’t mean that as though it’s some albatross that I’ve been carrying around. I’m proud of it. But I would see headlines of articles on the web saying, “Will Rob Thomas shut up about the Veronica Mars movie?” There were times when I tried to promote the idea because I wanted the fans to be vested. Then years later I was so pessimistic about the chances of there being a movie I really tried to tone it down.

One thing I was kind of surprised with was the negativity about making the movie, whether funded by a studio or by a crowdsourced project. Some even said, “’Veronica Mars’ had its shot. It was on for three seasons and that’s the end.” Were you surprised at all with that kind of negativity?

I think I was surprised about the opposite. I think we got off pretty easy. I read a ton of the press and I would say four out of five were positive and there would be the one that would be critical. For Warner Bros., it may have been the prime reason they were reluctant to do it. They were worried that it could be perceived as a huge entertainment conglomerate going to fans to fund their movie. They wanted to very careful about how we did it. The people at Kickstarter were also very nervous about taking hits for getting into business with what is a studio property. So everyone was very conscious of it. For a few reasons, I think the press was mostly positive. I think the perception, when you think of Kickstarter, is that people are asking for money, almost like a pledge drive. They are counting on charity. It’s like a local band going to their fanbase to record an album. We were very conscious of trying to make the reward system where it was something that was good value for the dollar. The bulk of the money that came in was at the $35 and $50 dollar reward levels which would get people a t-shirt, a digital download of the movie, a copy of the script, and for the $50 level you’d get a copy of the DVD. The press got a bit more negative with what came after us. Let’s say the “Veronica Mars” movie did really well and Warner Bros. was willing to make another one and they were willing to finance it completely on their own. I would still be tempted to do the Kickstarter drive again and put the goal amount at $1 because I think the people who did it the first time have liked the experience. They like getting the updates. If the movie is good, at the end, I hope people think it was worth it. There would not be a “Veronica Mars” movie without the Kickstarter drive. I think the most important element may have been the free advertising. Before Kickstarter one out of 50 people might have heard of [“Veronica Mars”]. Now, it’s the weirdest thing. I get recognized. The brand awareness of this as a product, whether people know the show or are fans, is so much higher than it’s ever been. We may have raised $5.7 million online but I bet we got $20 million worth of marketing. When I was trying to sell Warner Bros. on the concept I said we have to be the first one out because the first one out will get all this heat. I was worried someone else was going to do this. Eventually we got the “yes.” I’ve read people whose commentary has been like, “How easy it is now [to make a movie]? You just put a Kickstarter page and you can raise money” as though it’s a bad thing. I think previously, movies got made when they got Robert Pattinson to say “yes” to a movie. Is that the better system? [Kickstarter] brings a certain democracy. Fans can decide what gets made.

What about as far as writing? There was a pretty large gap from when the show ended to when you started writing the script. Was it easy to get back into writing for Veronica?

Yeah, that was really comfortable, though the way I did it was tough because I didn’t start writing the movie until the Kickstarter had launched. We had a concept of both whether we were going to get a yes or no and what size the movie would be. If we had raised $1.5 million it would need to be a murder mystery in a house like anyone else’s indie. I didn’t know the scope until we got into the Kickstarter. Then we went into prep three weeks after the drive ended. So I had to write it very fast. At the end I had it outlined and I realized I may not be done in time so I brought in Diane Ruggiero, who had been one of the writers on the show, and she helped me out with it, which was both great creatively and it saved my ass.

I believe you had two ideas for directions you could go with the movie – the version people are used to and would expect and an ambitious plot with Veronica in the FBI. What led to your decision?

I did toy around with the FBI idea. In Season 3 there’s a whole plotline about her getting an internship at the FBI. When it became apparent that we were going to be cancelled, we went to the CW and said, “What if we reboot the show with Veronica in the FBI?” and they actually gave us the money to shoot a mini-pilot. When we did it we thought, “We’ve done it. We’ve saved the show.” The head of the network went from, “You’re dead” to “Oh my god, this is great.” We even got the bullseye in Entertainment Weekly. But I think the president of the network has a certain amount of control and I think people who do ratings, marketing and publicity have even more and so we did not get picked up. But a lot of people are familiar with that notion of Veronica in the FBI. So when I was coming up with ideas that was one that I strongly considered. I didn’t take it as far as breaking it down and putting an outline down on paper, but there is a vague notion of it.

Would that have meant not bringing back all the other characters?

That’s one of the reasons I decided against it. Having to work in all of those characters started to seem crazy. It started to make me roll my eyes. Particularly in a fan-funded movie, there’s a certain amount of “give the people what they want.” I knew they wanted to see Wallace and Weevil and Mac. To bring those all into an FBI movie felt very tough

Switching gears to “Party Down”…looking back on that show now that we’re a few years removed from it ending, what are your thoughts on it ending and the circumstances involving how it wrapped up?

It was heartbreaking. That show was so much fun to do. The cast was great. Right now I’m doing a movie and I have three pilots in various stages of completion and I’ve had a 16-17 year career and I feel in there I’ve done three things that have been special. It’s so hard to get something good on and something you’re proud of and something where you like going to work each day. “Veronica Mars” and “Party Down” were both those. Starz was so proud of that show even though our ratings were not good. There was no doubt we were coming for Season 2. We were valuable to them because after we started airing, people would develop at Starz. Then they hired a new network president who was not there for the development and didn’t give a shit about it because it wasn’t his. Then they had a big hit with “Spartacus.” I think they were willing to roll with our crappy numbers because they were proud of the show, but when they saw they could get a million people watching Starz with the blood and breasts formula, they decided to go straight down that path so it was heartbreaking. I was working on a project with all my friends and doing a show we were proud of so that was hard.

I know from Twitter that you’re a big Spurs fan. I believe that you had started shooting the “Veronica Mars” movie the nights of those last two NBA Finals games. Were you a good director to be around during that time?

Here’s what happened the night we lost Game 6. I got to see some of the games. They were either on the weekend or there were days we shot early. I didn’t get to see Game 6. I still haven’t seen it. I will never see it.

You don’t want to.

I had it on the GameCast on my phone, so I could see the point totals and between takes I was checking it and checking it. I was all worked up. Then we broke for lunch at 8 p.m. L.A. time. I was walking across the street for lunch and we were up five points with under a minute and I was celebrating. I was so happy; so unbelievably happy. We’re going to win the NBA championship. I couldn’t believe it. And then I sat down. I got my meal and I saw we missed a free throw. Then they hit the three. And I became so panicked and people around the table were sort of laughing about how worked up I was and I couldn’t…I just can’t take that. “Look at Rob, he’s about to freak out!” And so I actually walked away so I wouldn’t have to experience it. Then when Ray Allen hit that three, I saw it come up on my phone. I knew we were going into overtime. I know we’d even have another possession, but I knew the series was over. I was destroyed and I didn’t finish my meal. The whole crew heard me moan, heard me cry out. And I went back up to set and just sat in a room for 45 minutes trying to gather myself. It hurts me now.

I never thought it would get worse than Derek Fisher’s .4 shot, and it did.

The Derek Fisher shot…I was on a cruise. I missed that one as well. I had just asked my now wife to marry me. We’re on a cruise in the Mediterranean and I was getting updates infrequently, so it was a very similar thing. It wasn’t as painful because I wasn’t watching it minute by minute but I heard from my friend and he described it to me. And again, I’m on a cruise, I’m in love and it wrecked me. It wrecked me.

AFF Film Review: Circle the Wagen

October 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Dave Torstenson, Charlie Pecoraro, Pete Sottnik
Directed by: Ryan Steven Green
Written by: Ryan Steven Green (debut) and Charlie Pecoraro (debut)

Some of the best types of documentaries are those hold a magnifying glass to interesting or relatively unknown subcultures. In “Circle the Wagen,” Dave Torstenson buys his dream car, a 1972 Volkswagen Bus on eBay. The problem is, the bus is rusted out, beat up, and in Iowa, far from his home in California. To try to get the bus home, Dave and his friend Charlie enlist the help of a group of Volkswagen owners from an online community who are willing to go above and beyond to help the boys get “The Croc” (the name given to the bus) home in any way they can, with their only commonality being the love for the same car.

As a subject, the Volkswagen community is particularly interesting to examine.  While it is certainly fascinating to look at why people are attracted to VW’s in the first place, “Circle the Wagen” mainly focuses on the goodwill of those within the community. The film shows that owning a Volkswagen makes you a part of a weird little club and once you are in, perfect strangers are like family. It’s astonishing to watch some of the things these VW owners do to help when “The Croc” inevitably breaks down at every turn. The film is also successful in using Dave’s penchant for starting projects and not finishing to give the film an emotional element to make the viewer really root for him to get the bus back home.

A few of the elements of film don’t work as well others. Some stop motion animation works with varying degree and there’s a voiceover present that seems unnecessary.  But as soon as the crew gets on the road, “Circle the Wagen,” is immensely enjoyable, funny, and engaging, all pushed forward by its charismatic leads. Director Ryan Steven Green, as well as the stars do a great job of unearthing the passion that folks have for the Volkswagen automobile, and revealing the compassion, kindheartedness and the best elements of the human condition in helping a couple of like-minded strangers who are in need.

“Circle the Wagen” screened as a part of Austin Film Festival 2013.

For more Austin Film Festival Coverage, click here

AFF Interview – Circle the Wagen

October 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

In the documentary “Circle the Wagen,” Dave Torstenson buys his dream car, a 1972 Volkswagen bus (later named “The Croc”) on eBay. Though it is beat up, he makes the trip out to Iowa to pick it up and drive it back home to California. After abandoning it once in a failed attempt, Dave tries again, this time bringing his friend Charlie Pecoraro and enlisting in the help of fellow Volkswagen owners along Route 66 who have volunteered mechanical and other types of help to get the bus to its rightful home. I had the chance to speak with Dave, Charlie and director Ryan Steven Green at Austin Film Festival about their experience with “The Croc,” the process of making the film, and the goodwill of fellow VW owners.

Dave, I’m sure there were plenty of busses from all around the country available when you were looking on eBay. What about “The Croc” really spoke to you?

Dave: I think the fact that it was $800 dollars, which was within my budget at that point. I like that the owner had a 100 percent rating on eBay, so I thought, “Well, this guy is a trustworthy guy. Who cares if he’s in Iowa and who cares if the bus is rusted out and crunched in the back?” I mean, what could go wrong?

Ryan: 100 percent out of three sales. (laughs)

I don’t remember it being touched on in the film, but how did “The Croc” get its name?

Dave: When I won the eBay auction, I was on an Elton John kick. This was November of 2006 and “Crocodile Rock” was the song that was playing when the eBay auction went through and I was declared the winner. I figured, “Well you know what, ‘Crocodile Rock’…I’m gonna call this ‘The Croc.’” I definitely knew the shape the bus was in and it was probably going to be a crock. I expanded on the name eventually because I’m just a nerd like that. I decided to call it Crocodile Rockford Jobs. I added the Jobs surname as a homage to Steve Jobs. I was working at Apple Computer at the time and he was a bit of a personal hero for me. In the years since, we actually discovered that Steve Jobs had sold his first Volkswagen bus, presumably his only Volkswagen bus, to finance the first Apple computer. We thought it was this delicious irony that 30 years later, I’d be selling Apple computers to buy my first Volkswagen bus.

At what point did any of you know that there was a film here, other than just this story of you taking a car and getting it home?

Dave: I won the auction in November of 2006 and I attempted the first road trip in it on New Years Eve 2006, and abandoned it January 2, 2007. Then about a month later, I moved in with Charlie and we got to talking and that’s kind of where he got really fascinated with the Volkswagen subculture.

Charlie: I was very shocked that strangers would help each other just because they have the same type of car. At the time I was driving a Buick Regal and if someone were to call me out of the blue and say, “Hey Charlie, I’m stuck. I’m driving a Regal.” I’d be like, “Uh, I don’t know. Who are you?” There’s no allegiance to the Buick Regal brand.

Dave: And I had explained to him that along the way, in my attempts to see what I could possibly to do maybe salvage this vehicle as I realized it was going to break down and was not going to make it to L.A., I discovered this Volkswagen subculture – this list online you can call. So we were driving around in his car in Santa Monica and Charlie said, “That would be fascinating.” We had talked about what it might look like to possibly go back and have a little handheld camera, just a silly little home video-type thing.

Charlie: What cinched it for me was that it was so vast, yet so unknown. That to me sounded like the perfect crossroads for a niche-interest documentary people would be fascinated by. How could this be so big and yet we didn’t know?

Were you all aware of this community that would come and help when you started making the film? Was the initial plan to try to get home with the aid of them?

Dave: Yeah, initially it started off as a social experiment. I had discovered in having had broken down on my own and doing all this research on the internet the list and that’s when we started talking about it. In those five weeks that we went from concept to on the road, we reached out. We hit up a bunch of these guys on the list. We just cold called these dudes out of the blue and said, “Hey…”

Charlie: “Hey, we might be breaking down in your neck of the woods in the next three or four weeks…”

Dave: “Also, we may have a camera in tow, no big deal, just ignore it…”

Ryan: “We’re shooting a movie about it, I hope that’s OK.”

Charlie: They were all very enthusiastic. They’d say, “Yeah, yeah sure!” So we said, “Hey, we’re gonna be rolling into town” and more often than not we were stopping because we were broke down. So they were like, “Alright, we’ll come help you and see what we can do.” There were a series of repair scenes and we certainly had our share of difficulties.

And did you get a sense from talking to them what shape your bus was in compared to the others?

Dave: (Laughs) It was funny because there was the warm sentimentality of, “Aw, little beater bus.” Then there was a guy in Amarillo who was like, “I’d crush busses that were in better shape than this.” So fairly early on we got schooled in just what we were working with. As Charlie says at some point in the film, it definitely wasn’t bequeathed to us with a full stack.

In the four years between your second and third attempt to get “The Croc” back to L.A., was there any point where you thought it would just stay at the Blue Swallow Inn forever and live in infamy there?

Dave: There was a while there where I thought, “Well, maybe Bill’s just going to sell it off and we’ll be done with it.”

Charlie: It was pretty soul-crushing actually, because we desperately wanted to make this film and you don’t want to fabricate the ending to a documentary. So when you’re making a documentary that’s in real time, you don’t know what turns life is going to take. Dave started getting offers to teach around the world. How’s he going to turn that down as a 20-something? It’s a great opportunity. And yet, there was something unfinished in his life which is also the meta perspective of if this bus doesn’t get back we’re not sure if we can finish the film either. So they all kind of fueled each other.

To sort of piggyback off that idea, Dave, there’s a running theme about you starting projects and not finishing them. How much did that factor in to not only getting the bus back but finishing the film?

Dave: Very instrumental. To be honest, I don’t think I would have gone back to rescue the bus had we not shot the film. And so, there was that symbiotic relationship where the film needed the road trip and the road trip needed the film. When you see us at the end of the film and I’m reflecting on it and you see me getting visibly choked up at the prospects…it’s just a sense of contentment. I think in that moment I’m speaking as much about it as a filmmaker as I was as a guy who bought a bus on eBay and is trying to cross the country. That was kind of a through line that we did kind of discover. Ryan realized probably about halfway through the process of making this film that there was an emotional hook that was needed. He was the one to spot it and say, “Dave, that’s your story.”

Charlie, I couldn’t help but notice that any time there was a mechanical problem, you were either standing in the back or nowhere to be found. So for all of you, including Charlie, how important was Charlie’s role in the trip as far as offering support or a moral boost?

Charlie: Well, first and foremost, we’re great friends. We’ve had adventures before this and we’ll have adventures after this. I was there as a friend, co-piloting with Dave on his journey. I had no vested interest in Volkswagen or cars in particular. I’m not a gearhead, but I’m a people head. I’m a culture head, adventure head. So I didn’t have anything to offer mechanically, but any other way which I could support, whether it be gathering around strangers or creating some sort of sense of rally, I felt particularly useful in that regard.

Dave: I would definitely say for me, thinking in terms of who would make a great road trip buddy, this guy is second to none. He brings people in and he’s very warm and very inviting. He creates this great atmosphere and it’s just a lot of fun. In my mind, just to sit in a bus and share an adventure with this guy was the overarching thing.

Ryan: I challenge you to find two men who are easier to fall in love with than these two.

One thing I noticed was there seemed to be a refusal to be towed at any point. Was that a set rule that you guys had or would it be seen as a loss if you towed it?

Dave: The closest we’d get to an actual tow is when they would rope the bus and the guy in the pick up would come and tow it. That was the initial rules I think, right?  We had kind of this set of rules like, “Here’s the things we don’t want to do.” We want to rely on the goodwill of the Volkswagen community at all costs.

Charlie: I mean, tow it to where? We couldn’t ever afford to have it towed back to California so if we needed to have it towed to a shop or something then it’s really not like any other car. It’s the community that we’re exploring, so that worked nearly every time either via phone call or someone actually coming out.

Ryan: I don’t remember it being a rule that we made, nor do I ever remember it really crossing our minds to have it towed, but when the bus was left at the Blue Swallow I think it was part of the conversation. I think we explored that possibility, but at the time we’re young, we’ve only been shooting for nine days or whatever and it’s like, “Well, even if we have to leave it we can come back. We can pick it up. Even if it’s six months from now we can play it in the film as if there’s no gap.”

What about the community in general? How was it compared to your expectations? You knew you had people that would come out and help but obviously they go above and beyond. So what were the expectations versus what you found?

Charlie: All we really had were profiles on paper. Matter of fact, you can display a little bit of personality and it was amazing what you could conjure about each of these people depending on what they had to offer – some internet and phone, some had tools and parts, some had a space for you to bring your bus and camp in the driveway, some let you crash on the couch. Also interesting was the type of beer they would accept [as payment] – thick and chewy, light and crispy. So based on these very abbreviated profiles, Dave and I went through every one along Route 66 and individually gave them a number 1 thru 10. We ranked them. Who would be the most interesting people to be on screen? So if I give someone a seven, he gives someone a five, we have a cumulative of 12 and then we would just go through it and…

Dave: We’d call our 20s first.

Charlie: Each one of these people was so fleshed out and full of personality, quirk. Ryan calls these people “salt of the earth.”

Ryan: Salt of the earth, man. That’s the term right there.

Charlie: You’d want to have a beer with any one these people.  Unless you really start getting into busses, they’re not gonna bore you with that shit. I mean, they’ll get excited. If the conversation goes that way they’ll talk to no end. But even the three of us who aren’t really gearheads, there are much worse people up there to talk about other things that are interesting. Great people.

Ryan: The first major interview we had was with a character that’s throughout the film, Pete Sottnik. We show up in his yard, and he’s got all these Volkswagens everywhere. There’s this moment in the footage where we show up to this first thing, Dave and Charlie are shooting the breeze with Pete and Pete says, “Why don’t we fire up ‘The Croc’ and we’ll see what’s going on here?” And so Dave hops in, fires up “The Croc” and [Pete] is down on the ground and listening and he says, “Alright, kill it.” Dave gets out and Pete’s like, “Your heater box isn’t even attached to the engine. It’s not even attached.” In other words, this car is a complete piece of shit. There’s a moment in the footage, and it passes by so fast, but when you’re looking at every single frame, you catch these things. Pete looks up at the camera, essentially looks at me and….I froze that frame so many times just looking at Pete’s face and wondering…in his mind right now, this is it. This is the tipping point. Either these guys are out of here and we’ve got nothing or Pete is in and all of our troubles are over and we’re making a film. And Pete, at that moment decides, “Let’s give it a shot! What could go wrong? Let’s do it!” He’s in. I feel like that was the most convincing anybody needed the entire trip. It felt like everybody was willing, able, friendly, overjoyed to be a part of it. That’s salt of the earth. What kind of people do this? Salt of the earth.

Dave: You talk to [these people] on the phone and it’s a five minute phone call where they’re like, “You’re gonna do what?” You can’t really gauge someone over the phone. It was interesting how they went above and beyond. Pete could have easily said, “Well, I recommend going to Dynabug and I’ll give you a list of the things you’re going to need.” Instead, he takes it one step further. He says, “Actually, there’s a Tulsa Volkswagen club meeting in like a couple hours. Why don’t we go there? I’ll introduce you to those guys and then we’ll go to their parts place afterwards and they’ll fix it up there.” It really was amazing how the individual members in the community really did introduce us into the subculture at large.

I know there’s a point in the movie where you’re about to leave it at the Blue Swallow and you mention that maybe it will become an urban legend, and then it did. What was that like?

Dave: It was pretty surreal to realize that this bus, this mistake that I made a couple years prior by buying this thing on eBay is now getting…

Charlie: I found a painting online. That’s how long it was there. Someone did an oil painting and the bus is in there.

Dave: It’s a pretty amazing thing. People from all over the world showed up. I don’t know how much of the story that Bill told people. I’d be curious to ask how much of that story got shared.

Ryan: We have these four years where the bus is sitting, and if we leave the bus and six months go by, the way that appears in the film is nothing happens. It never got left. Four years go by, these guys are older and they look different. The bus is older, the mural is all faded, the Blue Swallow is shut down, Bill is no longer there. There’s no way to fake anymore, that expanse in time. And yet, I didn’t do any shooting. …so how do I tell the story of this gap of four years that’s gone by? I thought, “We had a couple friends that took pictures of themselves with ‘The Croc’ during that time and e-mailed them and said “hey! We stopped in Tucumcari, here’s me with ‘The Croc’” …so I thought if our friends did that, then other people must have done that. So I went to Flickr and Volkswagen groups and any site I could think of and just did searches. I came up with over 70 photos taken by complete strangers. I contacted each and every one of them, told them what I was doing and asked if I could use their photos in the film. Everybody except for one said yeah. So that middle section is made up of photographs taken by complete strangers, while the bus is sitting there and they are passing through on their travels. It’s very cool.

Ryan, was it difficult being Dave’s friend and being the filmmaker in the sense that you’re watching him struggle mightily against all of this stuff, and yet you know you’re getting great footage and your film is going to be better because of it? 

Ryan: One time I shot a travel show and I found myself in Tasmania in a pen five feet away from half a dozen Tasmanian devils eating a wallaby carcass and somehow I was able to stay there for 30 minutes in a crouch, with my camera, with the smell, and the gnawing and the crunching of bones until every scrap of that wallaby was gone. It’s only after you exit the pen that the nausea hits. I guess what I’m getting at is when you’re behind a camera, you’re the most isolated man in the world. It doesn’t matter where you are. What you’re looking at in the camera is not reality. It’s the screen on the camera. It’s what I love and hate about filmmaking. You’re a participant, but you’re also really not. You’re seeing it through technology. It’s why I don’t do Twitter. It’s why I don’t do Facebook. I don’t answer the phone. I want to be here, with you, talking instead. With Dave, there’s a riveting scene that involves gasoline and it takes place over a prolonged amount of time. Again, I’m in a crouch, in a puddle of gasoline and Dave is under there and in moments like that you do have a sense of like…I’m not thinking about it right now because I’m making a movie but this is probably really dangerous. Then when it’s all over, you step away and you’re like, “That was really dangerous.” I don’t know how many more times I want to put Dave through that kind of stuff. There was a breakdown on I-40, a six-lane freeway. And it’s like…any crew who is not wielding a camera, get the hell off the freeway, get the RV off the freeway. I told our DP, “You do not have to shoot this, get out of danger.” So there are moments like that, but I trust Dave and Charlie and they’re only going to make choices that they feel comfortable with. So if it’s somebody I know a little bit less, maybe I’m more guarded. But with these guys, we were in this together. So to the extent you’re willing to go, I’ll follow you there.

Dave: And it’s funny too because in the scenes where awful things are happening to me, you’re like, “Ah, this sucks! This is awful! I hate my life right now!” But in the back of your mind, as a producer and as a filmmaker, you’re like, “Oh, I pray to God they are getting this on camera because this is golden.” That was kind of the dual minds I’d have in those moments.

Ryan: It’s a huge conversation in the documentary. To what extent does the presence of the camera affect peoples performances.

It seems like that’s a question for any documentary really.

Ryan: Yeah. So for my work, I try to be as hands off as I possibly can be. Let it roll. Let them do their thing and just make sure the camera continues to roll. I hold to myself pretty stringent ethics, trying to make sure what I am presenting is as true to what happened as possible. Knowing of course that a documentary is a manipulation. It’s not reality. It’s a presentation of reality. So I still try to be very hands off when shooting.

What has the response been from this community after seeing the film?

Charlie: Very, very positive. People have told is in Q&As that they relate to Dave’s story. Some people say that Dave had more patience than they had. They would have lit a match and let it kaboom. We’ve won three awards at festivals, so critically we’re doing pretty well. I got another request to show the movie from Alaska and one from Seattle, one from Tulsa. We played Orlando last week. We’re trying to find a way to quench that. I think that’s really just the beginning. I think a lot of the vintage communities have heard of it, especially the ones that are more connected online, but I think it’s gonna grow more and more in the coming year.

Dave: They’ve really embraced it. My fear in presenting this film was the idea that I’m an outsider trying to get into this subculture and not doing so in the wisest of manners. There are a million better ways I could have become a Volkswagen owner. And yet at the end of these screenings, people have come up and said, “Yeah, you’re one of us. You may not think so. You may question that at times but you really are. “

Charlie: Baptism by fire.

Dave: They go up to Charlie and say, “Do you want to get in on this, too?”

And did you?

Charlie: I’ve been working on it. Neither one of us have space where we can work on a bus. We both have apartments. And I don’t have the income right now; maybe after the film if the film does well. But I am looking forward to getting one. I had no skin in the game before. I had never even been in a bus. But now, having this experience, I’ve really come to love the experience of traveling in busses.

This is obviously a love letter to Volkswagens and that community, but is any part of this almost like a cautionary tale for those who want to buy vintage cars? 

Dave: That’s a great question.

Ryan: No. The answer is no. Next question.

Dave: Yeah. I think we celebrate that even in a naïve, idealistic outlook on things, there’s still community to be had. Even in the worst of decisions that you may make.

Charlie: The answer is people have come away from the screening both wanting a bus and not wanting a bus. So really, we certainly didn’t have the intent. It really is a love letter to the community and the charisma of the bus. So people take away a vast spectrum of responses.

Ryan: People who know that I drive a squareback ask about Volkswagens and I tell anybody who asks me, “Don’t do it,” at least not as a daily driver. And mine runs well. In six years, it has broken down four times. From Pasadena to Santa Monica, it’s like crossing the country in a covered wagon. Every bump, every crack, every cigarette butt that’s flicked out the window, you feel. You don’t pass anybody. It’s an education, for sure, but it’s not for everybody.

Finally, in the end of the film you do see what becomes of “The Croc” immediately afterwards, and I know I saw on your Kickstarter page that one of the incentives was to own “The Croc,” but you didn’t get rid of that. So what is the current state of “The Croc?”

Dave: “The Croc” is living up the life of a movie star. A couple weeks before the world premiere in Albuquerque, there was an article done on us in Orange County and the owner of the Volkswagen dealership in Orange County read this article and got in touch with us and basically said, “I’d love to maybe babysit ‘The Croc’ in the showroom floor in our Volkswagen Capistrano. So if you take a trip to San Juan Capistrano, you can see it. Like I was saying before, to me, that’s just the most mindblowing thing to think this stupid purchase I made seven years ago is now sitting in the dealership for the worlds largest car company. We’ll see what happens after, but we want to keep it around. To me, it’s a bizarre and mindblowing ending, at least for now.

“Circle the Wagen” screened as a part of Austin Film Festival 2013.

For more Austin Film Festival Coverage, click here

AFF Film Review: Blood Punch

October 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Milo Cawthorne, Olivia Tennet, Ari Boyland
Directed by: Madellaine Paxson (debut)
Written by: Eddie Guzelian (debut)

Take a couple of former actors from “Power Rangers R.P.M.” and a writer and director team whose credits include “Lilo and Stitch: The Series” and “Kim Possible,” among other children’s shows and what do you get? How about the dark, vulgar, and hyper-violent spiritual cousin of “Groundhog Day?”

In “Blood Punch,” Milton (Milo Cawthorne) finds himself in a rehab center looking to get clean. But in a group session, he meets Skyler (Olivia Tennet) a girl who is looking for someone to help her cook meth. After a bit of convincing, they sneak out of the rehab with the help of Skyler’s psycho cop boyfriend Russell (Ari Boyland) and make it out to a secluded cabin. Once at the cabin, the plan is revealed to cook meth and make quick money. But things go terribly awry, and the trio all wake up the next morning finding that the day they just lived is repeating.

Most of the film serves as a playground for Tennet, who really eats up the offensive and brutal dialogue that is given to her character and approaches the role head on. Throughout the film, her character straddles the line of trying too hard to be a badass, and while she occasionally steps over, you can clearly tell how much fun she’s having with the role. There’s plenty of dark humor to go around, especially with the films unapologetic approach to violence. For what it’s worth, it’s a film that knows exactly what it wants to be and for that reason, the tone is consistent throughout.

The film, while certainly enjoyable enough to maintain interest, occasionally gets a little too twisty, ridiculous plot-wise and marginally acted by some the supporting cast. Regardless, “Blood Punch” is a fun film whose dark humor, twisted plot and unabashed attitude will make it a late-night favorite in the festival circuit.

“Blood Punch” is showing on Saturday, October 26th at 7:45 PM at the Alamo Drafthouse Village and Thursday, October 31st at 9:30 at the Rollins Theatre during Austin Film Festival 2013.

For more Austin Film Festival Coverage, click here

AFF Film Review: Always Learning

October 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Drew Benjamin Jones, Kathleen Normington, Julian Huguet
Directed by: Robert Krakower (debut)
Written by: Robert Krakower (debut)

As a 17-year-old kid who has been homeschooled his entire life, Tobiah (Drew Benjamin Jones) gets a taste of life outside his bubble when he meets Joey, (Sam Martin) a rebellious teenager in “Always Learning,” an exceedingly lighthearted coming-of-age film.

In his first film role Jones is surprisingly good, able to perfectly capture the awkwardness of a teen unfamiliar with certain social situations, yet so curious to get a taste. “Always Learning” is largely defined by its relationships, which tend to vary in success. The strongest of these is Tobiah’s relationship with his mother Cheryl (Kathleen Normington), with whom he constantly butts heads with over his personal freedoms. As their relationship gets more intense and Tobiah gets more and more fed up with the protection from his mother, that relationship also becomes more complex and the conversations between the two are well-written and great to watch. Other relationships are a mixed bag, with his relationships with both new friend Joey and Joey’s sister Samantha (Michelle Foletta) starting strong, but falling apart towards the end of the film.

First time director, and former homeschooler himself Robert Krakower doesn’t get everything right. The motives and actions of his characters in the big dramatic climax scene are on loose ground and are somewhat hard to latch onto. Still, there’s a lot to like in this slight indie dramedy and it is certainly refreshing to see a coming-of-age film that isn’t entirely reliant on sex, drugs and alcohol, but rather a kid experiencing life free from the shackles of his mother for the first time.

“Always Learning” screens on Saturday, October 26th at 3:15 at Alamo Drafthouse Village and on Monday, August 26th at 7:30 PM The Hideout Theatre as a part of Austin Film Festival 2013. 

For more Austin Film Festival Coverage, click here

AFF Film Review: Hellaware

October 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Keith Poulson, Clark Bliss, Brent Butler
Directed by: Michael Bilandic (“Happy Life”)
Written by: Michael Bilandic (“Happy Life”)

To promote his new film “Hellaware,” director Michael Bilandic did something pretty genius. The film tells the story of aspiring photographer and artist Nate (Keith Poulson) who follows a terrible rap-rock group called “Young Torture Killaz” and photographs their unique culture. To help gain awareness of the film, Biandic uploaded a music video for the fictional band’s graphic song “I’ll Cut Yo Dick Off” to various web video sites. The video went viral, racking up hundreds of thousands of views, sparking tons of angry and confused comments and, when eventually outed as a marketing tool, a spot in the consciousness of the film industry.

At its core “Hellaware” is a satire, poking fun at rap-rock culture made famous by Insane Clown Posse, pretentious hipsters, and the avant-garde art scene. Some of it can be quite funny, especially when in the hands of Poulson who plays his part well. The satire, however, is laid on pretty thick throughout the film and never seems to let up. As a result, the impact can tend to be lessened or just generally misfire. The music and characterization of this fictional band is obnoxious and one-dimensional. While it is by design, the film can also be a little unpleasant to watch. It feels like some restraint could have been used when it came to many of the party and dialogue-heavy scenes. Some of those specifically seem to run too long with little payoff.

There are a handful of genuine laughs in the film, mostly at non-sequitors or Nate’s pretentiousness when it comes to his art and the subsequent ribbing he gets for it. Mostly though, the satire is not sharp enough, the narrative is a bit lacking, and the film has middling comedic results.

“Hellaware” plays at the 2013 Austin Film Festival Friday, Oct. 25 at 10:45 p.m. (Alamo Drafthouse Village) and Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 9:45 p.m. (Hideout Theater).

For more Austin Film Festival Coverage, click here

AFF Film Review: Scrapper

October 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Michael Beach, Aidan Gillen, Anna Giles
Directed by: Brady Hall (“Hello, My Name is Dick Licker”)
Written by: Ed Dougherty (“Blackout”) and Brady Hall (“Hello, My Name is Dick Licker”)

An offensive, obnoxious, unfunny and badly-acted comedy/drama by director and co-writer Brady Hall (“Hello, My Name is Dick Licker”), “Scrapper” is one of those movies that will give filmmakers everywhere reason to believe their shoddy project has a chance to be accepted into film festivals. If something as staggeringly bad as “Scrapper” can get pulled out of the junk heap, anything is possible.

“Scrapper” stars Michael Beach as Hollis Wallace (terrible movie character name!), an independent scrap metal collector who makes a living by driving around neighborhoods looking for unwanted items he call sell to the scrap yard. For whatever far-fetched reason, Hollis decides to hire Swan (Anna Giles), a down-on-her-luck teenager who will do just about anything for a buck.

Despite Beach’s best attempt to keep the film grounded, the “Scrapper” script is an ugly one to say the least. If Hall’s intention was to create some sort of emotional bond between Hollis and Swan, he fails. Beach and co-writer Ed Dougherty try to write Hollis as this father-figure type character that gives advice to his new employee, but the dialogue they share (not to mention the word vomit spewed by the rest of the cast) is far from inspiring. We won’t even attempt to dissect what Beach was thinking when he has Hollis and Swan have awkward sex on the couch with each other. Without a scrap of emotion, authenticity, or real-world consequences behind it, “Scrapper” is a lost cause from every angle.

“Scrapper” plays at the 2013 Austin Film Festival Saturday, Oct. 26 at 10:30 p.m. (Rollins Theater) and Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 10:00 p.m. (Alamo Drafthouse Village).

For more Austin Film Festival Coverage, click here

AFF Film Review – The Golden Scallop

October 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: James Cosmo, Nicole Steinwedell, Marnie Schulenberg
Directed by: Joseph Laraja (debut)
Written by:  Kevin Harrigan (debut)

In the mockumentary “The Golden Scallop,” the three best fried fish restaurants in the northeast gather for the 43rd annual Golden Scallop Championship, a race to complete 100 orders of seafood with an emphasis on taste and speed. Judged by the enthusiastic and TV obsessed Judge Wellington (James Cosmo), the film brings together three unique teams, a former champion looking to reclaim glory, a themed restaurant with a lot of cash flow, and a food truck whose family name has been disgraced. It’s a nice idea for a film, but perhaps writer Kevin Harrigan and director Joseph Laraja have watched one too many Christopher Guest movies.

Most of the film’s jokes come at the expense of its eccentric characters. Perhaps the most successful of these is the relationship between the Happy Hooker’s cooks Lindsay (Nicole Steinwedell) and the odd Seth (Tobias Jelinek). But with their characters come quirks that don’t exactly work. Seth’s company, an outfit where he makes teddy bears resemble dead celebrities, feels forced and unfunny. So does his cuckolding relationship in the Caped Cod kitchen.

The mockumentery genre as a whole is not all one in the same, but “The Golden Scallop” is so similar to Guest’s films that it bears pointing out. Everything from the interview structures to the line deliveries to the character quirks are stunningly similar, with mixed execution of humor. It’s almost as if an exact blueprint was followed.

Some of the film and characters provide the occasional chuckle, but “The Golden Scallop” features too many unsatisfying characters, which is the draw of a movie like this. The film moves briskly and is easy and entertaining enough to watch, but it’s more amusing than it is funny and is ultimately a little too derivative to stand out.

“The Golden Scallop” plays at the 2013 Austin Film Festival Friday, Oct. 25 at 8:15 p.m. (Rollins Theater) and Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 9:45 p.m. (Galaxy Highland Village).

For more Austin Film Festival Coverage, click here

AFF Film Review: Favor

October 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Blayne Weaver, Patrick Day, Jeffrey Combs
Directed by: Paul Osborne (“Official Rejection”)
Written by: Paul Osborne (“Official Rejection”)

What’s the best way to measure how strong a friendship is? According to a conversation in their formative years, Kip (Blayne Weaver) and Marvin (Patrick Day) believe that you can tell how good a friend is by whether or not they’ll help you move a dead body. Following an unfortunate set of events, Kip comes to Marvin to test the theory and enlist his help in an event that will change both of their lives forever.

“Favor” starts out interesting enough as we witness Kip coming to Marvin begging for help. Through flashbacks, we see what exactly it is that Marvin did. The movie then comes apart, aiming high with a series of twists and manipulations and falling flat. While Day gives full effort to his role, the rest of the cast is below average, especially Weaver who is constantly toeing the line of being unnatural. The film’s screenplay is also a weak link, with a lot of hackneyed dialogue and jokes that don’t work. The scenes where Kip is talking to his secretary in particular come off as completely phony.

Though “Favor” strives to be a dark psychological thriller, not enough focus or weight is given to the true psychological effects of what Marvin ends up doing. Instead, we just see Marvin slowly start to unravel and become excessively weird and crazy. There’s a decent twist towards the end, but ultimately the film turns into another run-of-the-mill thriller and buries the potential of a relatively unique premise.

“Favor” plays at the 2013 Austin Film Festival Friday, Oct. 25 at 10:30 p.m. (Rollins Theater) and Thursday, Oct. 31 at 10:00 p.m. (Alamo Drafthouse Village).

For more Austin Film Festival Coverage, click here

AFF Film Review – Sombras de Azul

October 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Seedne Bujaidar, Yasamini Guerrero, Charlotta Mohlin
Directed by: Kelly Daniela Norris (debut)
Written by: Kelly Daniela Norris (debut)

Grief is a process that is both unique and universal. While it is something that we all experience, it is entirely complex and can take many different forms for different people. In “Sombras de Azul,” Maribel (Seedne Bujaidar) must come to terms with her brother’s suicide. In order to cope, she takes a trip to the one place he always wanted to visit: Cuba. After a rather troublesome introduction, she befriends Eusebo (Yasamani Guerrero) who serves as a guide (and, in a sense, an emotional guide) through the streets of Havana.

As a first time actress, Bujaidar is highly impressive. Her expressive eyes truly show the pain of a girl who is not only devastated by loss, but also confused in the process. The delivery of her dialogue is natural and her performance is elevated even further in her scenes with Guerrero with whom she has a very genuine chemistry.

Without a doubt, the strongest element of the film is writer/director Kelly Daniela Norris’ screenplay. In a well thought-out move, Norris makes use of voiceovers to convey the thoughts and emotions of Maribel. These come in the form of conversations with her deceased brother, which are often heartbreaking but always profound. They do a fantastic job of informing the audience about the nature of their relationship. Through Maribel’s words, we hear her imagine what her brother’s last moments alive were like. We hear her describe how she can feel him comforting her as she expresses remorse for not calling him. Maribel is understandably broken, but through her narration, the audience gets a brilliantly insightful look as she makes her way through the mourning process. While certainly not bad, Norris is a little less successful as a director. The shots of the streets, people and setting of Havana, while interesting at first, are far too many. There are also a few shots that suffer from either too much or too little camera movement and the closing moments of the film might lack a little resolution for some.

Having lost a brother of her own, Norris has crafted a deeply personal film, and it shows. Its construction has the type of insight that only someone who has suffered the pain and anguish of losing a loved one could provide. In it’s finest moments, “Sombras de Azul” is a beautiful and poetic meditation on life, death, and loss. With her first feature, Norris will be someone to watch in the future, especially for her screenwriting.

“Sombras de Azul” is playing at the Austin Film Festival on Thursday, Oct. 24 at 7:10 pm (Rollins Theater) and Monday, Oct. 28 at 7:00 pm (Texas Spirit Theater). 

For more Austin Film Festival Coverage, click here