We shot "Two Gays & a Girl" back in July 2015. The idea was sparked when Kelsey and I were hanging out with Chris, gearing up to shoot our recently crowdfunded shorts "We Had Plans" & "Not Our Living Room" (both of which came about as a way to experiment with story form after Kelsey had gotten some worrisome personal news). Kelsey & I talked about doing another comedy series together after the shorts (at this point we were a year removed from shooting "Kelsey"), and we joked about basing it on the three of us and our friendship -- from there the title was born. We decided we'd put together a no-budget pilot presentation that would introduce the quirky characters we came up with. And if they and their dynamics resonated with an audience, we'd start talking storylines and see if we could get a series made. We figured it'd be ideal to just submit to NYTV Fest, see what happens, and then go from there.
But production led to some mishaps. The performances were great and our usual small but mighty crew pulled it off in a weekend. But the biggest issue was our sound person bailing on us the morning we were to shoot an exterior walk & talk. Despite it being no-budget, we still had a bit of equipment rented or borrowed from friends, and everyone had cleared their busy schedules for the shoot this weekend specifically; so we had to follow through with shooting that day. Because of this, even though we had pretty solid sound overall, this scene was kind of a mess. It was a lesson learned, for sure. But we couldn't cut it from the final edit because it sets up most of the context for all the jokes in the second half of the pilot. So we cut the scene down as much as possible in the edit and did (DIY) ADR for what we needed to keep. I'm generally very against ADR from an indie filmmaking standpoint, but it was the better option over the terribly windy, changing-with-the-cuts original audio. We decided to submit to NYTV Fest anyway, despite knowing we didn't stand much of a chance with non-recognizable faces and some questionable audio. So then when we weren't accepted, I wasn't really sure what to do with it. I had largely stopped focusing on it creatively, having finally released Summit on VOD and was busy pushing that while having "Hello" on the festival circuit. And most importantly, Kelsey and I had moved on to starting development for our feature, About a Donkey. (I was also at the time on the verge of directing my new shorts "Night In" & "Enough," and producing Ryan's "Arm Bar." -- 2016 was a busy year, as is often the case for any year at CongestedCat.)
I knew that the pilot didn't really work as well as a standalone short because it's more about introducing the key characters and setting up potential storylines rather than an actual contained story in itself. But I felt it was still fun and entertaining for what it is, so wanted to do something with it. I figured since it was shot in Queens, submitting to the Queens World Film Festival was a wise choice because it has that neighborhood feel; and I'm generally a supporter and believer in the mission behind that festival and the couple that runs it.
QUEENS WORLD FILM FESTIVAL RECAP
Screening in the beautiful Redstone theater at the Museum of the Moving Image was lovely. It was nice getting to see something I made with such a big audience in such high quality. The pilot got some laughs at the strongest moments, but I could definitely feel the weight of the runtime during the screening. As I knew in my gut, it doesn't quite work as a standalone short. I actually went home after and cut 4 minutes out of the final cut. Having the distance of not really watching it in a year and then seeing it with an audience helped confirm some beats I knew weren't working. Plus, no longer needing to hit the minimum runtime for a pilot competition allowed me to see it through my eyes as a director and less as a producer needing to meet specific qualifications. I couldn't cut too much without creating continuity issues and losing some of the setups for later punchlines; but even losing moments here and there that added up to 4 minutes really elevated it. As for the full festival, we didn't really get to experience it this year because we've been in production all month for About a Donkey. But the festival directors and associates were wonderful and welcoming as usual. I have to say, though, the Q&A was quite weird. They didn't give us mics in such a huge theater, made worse by the fact that I was losing my voice due to a cold. It didn't end up mattering, though, because it wasn't much of a Q&A. With 8 films in a straight lineup, I know from experience running IndieWorks that it's hard for an audience to process so many films and have a truly thoughtful conversation right after. And this block in particular was curated as having all Queens-based filmmakers as the only commonality, while genre and tone significantly varied. It should have been on the host to bring out the conversation against those challenges. But this host just opened it to the audience and then asked one rapid-fire question requiring us to identify which one of three (male) directors most inspired us in making our screened film. I think that was the question, anyway; it was hard to hear and awkwardly posed -- plus I was distracted asking Kelsey if she wanted to answer since my raspy voice wouldn't be audible. In any case, none of the directors he insisted on us answering with applied to our inclusive, comedy pilot; so I just made up my own answer, claiming Amy Sherman-Palladino as an inspiration. It felt appropriate since she is an inspiration both Kelsey & I have in common, and whose work matches the tone of our pilot; and I was determined to answer that question mentioning a woman. I will say that it's rare to experience a Q&A host that truly engages with each film in a specific and individual way (which is a big part of why I run IndieWorks the way I do), so I'm not singling Queens World out. It is worth noting, however, that of my three Q&A experiences at Queens World, I've had two older white male hosts and one younger queer black male host, and only one of them asked nuanced questions that pertained to my (and the other) film(s) in a personalized way. Can you guess which host that was?
Anyway, as I said, not trying to knock Queens World. I do love the festival. They have way more class and integrity than most festivals, especially other local ones. And they're definitely not alone in this Q&A issue (in the past year of over a dozen festivals, the Ax Wound Film Fest Q&A experience is the only one I found truly insightful and well-run.) I just think what's the point of having a Q&A if it's not going to delve into the craft? Might as well just let the audience talk to the filmmakers afterwards if there will be no real conversation. Speaking of that, what was nice was that quite a few people came over after the Q&A and complimented the acting, and one person commented on how much he appreciated our use of color - putting bright colors against muted backgrounds - which is a cool thing only another filmmaker would make note of.
We had planned to only screen at Queens World, but the organizers of NewFilmmakers NY, who had invited our short "We Had Plans" last year, invited us to screen something again this year. I thought the pilot would be a nice fit for their AltFest (LGBTQ) series. So we decided one more screening for the cast & crew would be nice before releasing it online. Thankfully, I was able to get them the cut I had edited down in time to screen it instead of the original I sent. And I'm glad I did because it was cool getting to see the tighter version on another beautiful screen. There were only three films in this lineup, so the runtime in general felt less apparent - but even so, I could just tell the changes really helped the pace of the piece overall. The audience was small, only 10 people. The host (who's also the festival director) didn't attempt a real Q&A because of the crowd size but I appreciated his one-on-one attention, and he at least asked us what we're working on next and allowed us to plug our websites and all that good stuff.
We plan to release it online at the end of next month after we're done shooting About a Donkey . In the meantime, check out the trailer!
Kelsey & I (Christina) spent most of 2016 in pre-production for our feature film About a Donkey; and we made it a point to keep our audience updated on all our progress, from sharing videos about why we want to make the film to introductions to the characters with each casting announcement. Last weekend that work and progress resulted in the first execution of bringing this passion project to life.
On Saturday, the entire cast (even two via videochat) and much of the key crew met up for our first reading of the full script. It was so much fun getting to bring our new extended film family together to bond and collaborate. Hearing the whole script from such brilliant performers over 4 years after Kelsey shared the first draft of it with me was really rewarding and exciting. We cannot wait to work and create with all these wonderful people.
We're planning to crowdfund the film from February 1st through March 3rd, then jump into production on March 10th. We decided the best way to involve our audience, show them what we're capable of and give them a taste of what this film can be would be to actually devote a day to shooting the first scene of the film (12 pages!) and release a section of it as part of our Seed&Spark pitch video. So that's what we did on Sunday. I will talk more about how that went and how we pulled it off when our campaign launches next month, but know that it was a huge success thanks to our talented and dedicated crew and cast (and my amazingly supportive family). We know now more than ever that this project is something special. We look forward to bringing you along on this journey!
See a few raw stills from what we shot below!
And click through behind the scenes photos from the shoot!
Be sure to mark your calendars for February 1st at 12:30pm EST. Our campaign will not only reveal the opening scene and explain why this film is so important & worth getting behind, but will also offer a sneak peek at Saturday's read-through and a variety of exclusive incentives for your contribution(s)! Bookmark this link: www.seedandspark.com/fund/about-a-donkey. It's coming soon!
WHAT IS ABOUT A DONKEY?
About a Donkey is about growing up & growing old, and finding love & laughter along the way. The film follows the Owens family: Ann & Tim, their 3 adult children, Cecilia, Burgh, and Annie (and her husband Paul), and matriarch Farrah. When Tim brings home a donkey in a mixture of wanting to rescue both it and himself, things are shaken up in each of the characters' lives.
The films quirky but relatable nature has been referred to as a little Little Miss Sunshine meets Gilmore Girls, but with a donkey and a strong focus on inclusivity (both in front of and behind the camera)! We're strong believers in being the change -- reflecting the world as we want to see it. With this film, our mission is to combat hate with humor and heart.
In our film, love is love, people's lives and desires are relevant no matter their age, and struggling with depression is acceptable and normal.