For previous installments of this indie film journal which looks at the making of Child Eater, follow this link.
We’ve officially wrapped principal photography on Child Eater. I must have said, “I can’t believe we’re finally doing this,” to Erlingur countless times leading up to our April 7th start date, but now, even though it’s over, it’s still hard to believe we pulled it off.
Lesson 1: Local Support
When you’re making a movie at this budget level, there’s no way to do it alone. There’s absolutely no avoiding certain costs and requirements, so when there’s flexibility with others, it could be a huge asset and that’s exactly what the Village of Catskill did for us.
Back in the fall of 2013 when we were attempting to make Child Eater a $1 million+ movie, we were working with a casting director to get “name” talent for the film. It’s certainly a thrill to walk into a meeting like that, work with a casting director oozing with enthusiasm for the project and run through an endless list of top notch (and very recognizable) talent for the main roles, but even then, something wasn’t quite right. Ultimately, the $1 million+ version of this movie fell through and while it did rattle us a bit, it also forced us to take a step back and reassess what we were trying to do. The short film worked so well; why change it up? Our original Helen, Cait Bliss, needed to be the lead in this film.
You would think losing the opportunity to make Child Eater with a bigger budget would have been discouraging, but, oddly enough, it functioned as our first significant step forward. First off, Cait is Helen and always has been. No need to keep an eye out for her because I can guarantee you, she will be making big moves after Child Eater – if not before. And because clearly I’m a bit biased, here’s a little something Bloody Disgusting wrote about Cait when reviewing the short – “Bliss should easily make the leap from short film lead to feature lead any day now.” And we didn’t just get a stellar lead when Cait agreed to reprise the role in the feature; we also got her incredibly warm, supportive and generous family and hometown, too.
Whether you’re shooting a short or a feature, filming in someone’s home is an extremely invasive process, but the Bliss family was willing to do it to support Cait and the film. In the script, Lucas and his father are only first moving into this house, so we had to go in and box up the large majority of their belongings, paint various walls to give them a more warn look, black out a number of windows so we could shoot day for night, drive more than a half dozen vehicles onto their property and many more things beyond that, and even then, every single day Cait’s parents greeted us with open arms and all the support in the world.
They also introduced us to someone who would go on to serve as our town liaison, become an unwavering advocate of the film and a very good friend too, Jim Chewins. Without asking for a single thing in return, Jim helped us find numerous locations, borrow quite a few personal items including a much needed heater and generator, come to set to be an extra twice, and answer his phone day and night to ensure we had everything we needed. If only every independent production could have a guy like Jim on board.
Another vital contribution came from Cathy and Ben Ballone, the new owners of The Old Game Farm. When Cathy and Ben agreed to let us shoot on their property, our production value went through the roof. When the Game Farm shut down, a good deal of it went untouched. It simply sat and withered away. Cathy and Ben are in the process of restoring it with plans to turn it into a campground with some animals integrated into it, but for now, it was a location that was beyond our wildest dreams and they were kind enough to let us put it on screen. The Game Farm was pure gold in and of itself, but what made filming there even more remarkable and such a pleasure was the fact that Cathy and Ben didn’t just hand over the property and let us get to it. They were always a phone call away in case we needed something and even when we didn’t, they’d swing by set to stay involved or simply just to relax and spend time with us.
It can be great when someone signs on the dotted line, hands over their property and leaves you to it, but the ever-present warmth and encouragement of the Bliss family, Jim, Cathy and Ben was vital to the success of the production. They’re not just our location owners and village rep; they’re as much a part of this team as anyone.
(Now that we’ve preserved the Old Game Farm’s magnificently creepy state on film, help Cathy and Ben restore the property by supporting their fundraising campaign right here.)
Lesson 2: MoVI vs. Glidecam
After a good deal of thought and research, we decided to use a MoVI on Child Eater. Trouble is, we didn’t order it quick enough and it first arrived halfway through the shoot. Fortunately, we did rent a Glidecam and that functioned as an appropriate substitute, but the eagerness to use the MoVI when it finally arrived did hurt our pacing significantly, especially on the last day of the shoot.
For the first half of the day at our hospital location, we used the Glidecam and flew through the material. However, after lunch, we opted to switch to the MoVI and ran into some issues. Clearly I’m not part of the camera department so can’t speak to specific technical difficulties, but, from my perspective, the MoVI took time to set up and also required more adjustments between takes. You can see it here, the MoVI is an incredible piece of equipment, but it might not have been the best idea to try to work it into the schedule so far into the shoot.
Lesson 3: Wrap Takes Time
This section focuses on wrap out at the end of principal photography, but it’s also worth noting that even after you call wrap at the end of every shooting day, packing up gear and getting home can take a significant amount of time and requires just as much scheduling and prep as the actual shoot.
When we wrapped on Catskill, NY entirely, we were responsible for packing up all of our gear, putting together all personal luggage, cleaning up the Bliss house, the Game Farm and also the two homes we used in Hunter to house our cast and crew. G&E took care of our grip truck, the camera department handled their gear, the art department spent an extensive amount of time resetting every single location, production had equipment of our own to clean up and put away, and then we also had to figure out how to get everyone and everything home.
It took a lot of painting, vacuuming, garbage bags, cars and color-coded scheduling, but we did it. Just don’t estimate the amount of prep required to get this done and get it done right.
Producing movies on an ultra low budget is just crazy – but the best kind of crazy. Erlingur, Luke and I essentially gave up two months of our lives to work on Child Eater 24/7, not to mention the years Erlingur and I spent developing it. I rarely slept more than four hours a night, facilitated one day of shooting while prepping for the next, stress ate a disturbing amount of very delicious homemade banana bread and walked away with the ugliest blue nail after slamming my own finger in a door on set, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
There’s really nothing like making a movie. Sure, it’s a job to an extent, but on this budget level, people aren’t doing it just for paychecks – they can’t be. We got roughly 40 artists together because they believed in what we were making and that’s something that will definitely come through in the final product. And, as cheesy as it sounds, you do walk away from something like this with a new family. There were ups and downs every single day and I’m absolutely thrilled to be back in my own bed and quiet apartment, but I’m constantly stopping to think about how much I miss our overcrowded bright yellow house that was always too hot or cold, never had enough toilet paper and really belonged to a very social little mouse.
I just made a horror movie with a group of brilliant, tireless people under some outrageous circumstances and I’m truly homesick for every little bit of it. Those reshoots really can’t come soon enough.