Round Table Roundabout

by Peggy Nelson

07 October 2004

The Algonquin Round Table is justly famous for the nexus of creative types that gathered there in the early 20th century to talk, work, laugh and live. To be a fly on the wall, or in the sugar bowl: what amazing conversations took place over that table! But don't feel that you missed out just because you were not that fly. Outside the Bijou Theater in Worcester, Massachusetts, there is a table. And as can sometimes happen, around that table were gathered a nexus of creative filmmakers, writers, actors and directors who agreed to let me into the sugar bowl for one of their conversations. Participating were Trey Stokes and Amy Earhart, creators of Pink Five, and Chris Hanel and Steve Phelan, creators of The Formula. I can tell you, I am one happy fly.

Trey Stokes and Amy Earhart

Trey Stokes and Amy EarhartPN: So how did you guys get into making fan films? Have you been into science fiction for a long time; do you do independent movies and this is just one of them ... how did it all begin?

Amy: The science fiction thing is definitely Trey!

Trey: That's me, it's all me. We were making just videos together for about a year, I guess: at least a year or more. I think that was two years ago and we've been doing it for three and a half years. We started out doing it was an internet thing.

PN: Really? So you'd just show online?

Trey: Yeah, there's a whole story about that but ... you had to create three to four minutes of content every day, it was this little project that we were involved in.

Amy: I ended up making about 200 episodes in a year. I was the only one that kept showing up and sort of working for free every day!

Trey: And I was the only director after a while who would always show up, and then always also edit the stuff and turn it around. After awhile it sort of turned into the Trey and Amy show. And often no one else would show up and so we would do endless episodes of just Amy, somehow, just Amy alone in front of the camera turning it into something! Sometimes I would be an off-camera voice or an off-camera person or a hand that would come in or something like that, but it was always just all Amy all the time.

Amy: He'd be the other person on the phone...

Trey: Once I believe we did one where she's playing ping-pong, the camera's always on her and I'm actually playing ping-pong from the camera side and talking, so I'm the other character but I'm never onscreen!

And I know together we did at least thirty of those, just the two of us.

Amy: We'll probably string those together and make a little feature.

Trey: Yeah, exactly, a little weird feature.

Amy: We should do that someday!

Trey: Yeah, the thirty episodes, somehow find a thread to tie them together with.

PN: What year was that?

Trey: That was 2000. And so we'd done those, and then, I bought a new camera. I had always had to do it with a borrowed camera, didn't even have my own camera, and then I bought a camera and so now I can shoot anything any time I want, and I'd call up Amy and I'd go, "Hey, I want to test something, I want to test the camera," and she'd come over and we'd just test filters, or we'd test the new microphone, or we'd do whatever, and then I wanted to practice bluescreen, so I said, "I have some friends with a bluescreen, and so I want to shoot something." And so literally, just to have an excuse for something to shoot, I wrote Pink Five. That's based on being a lifetime Star Wars freak. I just wrote it from memory and just was sort of like, OK, "what if ..." and then went from there. I wrote it one afternoon, picked up Amy and drove her to the set the next day, handed her the script in the car, and we shot it.

Amy: And he lied to me, and said that nobody was ever going to see it, like it was never supposed to be a film!! (laughing)

Trey: I never intended it anyone to see it!

PN: "It won't embarrass you at all!"

Amy: I mean it was never supposed to be what it is.

Trey: I had no intention of ever showing it to anyone, it was just going to be this...

Amy: I literally showed up, rolled out of bed, didn't have a stitch of makeup on, you know, just went and did this goofy test thing and two years later it's here...

Trey: Then after I finished it, it was sort of, well, that's kind of OK, it's kind of all right! And so I just sent it out there, and it got picked up on ifilm, it got picked up on atom. So it's fun to be here [at Fanzillacon] but you know, the fanfilm thing is really, it's really not what we do. There are people who, that's what they do, and that's great! But we just like to make films and this is one that we made. And then we kind of felt obligated to do the sequel, but we were very leery of it...

Amy: We were really reticent, for a long time we were like, nope, that's it, we're not going to fall into this sequel, it just not going to happen.

Trey: There's no upside to making a sequel. There's no plus side. It's all potential downside to making a sequel, so we resisted for a long time, and then we got a secretive kind of invite from someone at LucasFilm to say, "Think you might be making another one this year...? Because it would be really cool if you made another one...!"

I mean ... Pink 5 ... or whatever.Amy: We couldn't say no to LucasFilm.

Trey: So we went, well, let's see what we can do. So we started to put it together, and it just started to snowball based on, I guess on popularity of the other one. The fact that we've been doing a lot of films since, and we had a lot of friends, and we had sort of a repertory group put together that we do these films with, and everybody just jumped on board and it became the biggest project we've ever done, this sequel. Far and away. For the first time we had someone else besides me running the camera, we had someone else besides me doing...

Amy: We had a producer,

Trey: We had someone doing costumes, you know, we had people with a Darth Vader suit, people with an R2D2 unit showed up and said, "Oh, yeah, I'd love to be in that!" And it became this big thing!

Amy: We had almost twenty people working on it. And we didn't know what to do because suddenly everybody else was taking care of everything and Trey and I were sitting there smoking a cigarette and we were like, "What do we do now? I don't know!"

Trey: Yeah, there was one point where the two of us were standing there, there was fifteen people there, and we were the only two not doing anything!

Amy: Everybody looked so busy and we were just like I don't know what to do!

Trey: Which had never been the case before because I'm always camera, sound, edit: there's no crew, whatsoever.

Amy: Trey's a genius, he does everything. I mean, he just makes this all look so good and so easy.

Trey: It was fun. So anyway, the fanfilm deal is it's been great, and obviously it's been our biggest exposure and has given us the most name recognition such as we have, but it's not our goal to go on and make all the fanfilms in the world. There are other films we want to make.

Amy: It's definitely been a great experience though. Especially for me because I sort of missed the whole crest of the Star Wars wave. I mean it just wasn't my thing, but I feel very welcomed into this. Like you were saying, it's a boy's club, and everybody's just so supportive. I guess that would be the right word, just really encouraging and supportive.

Trey: Yeah.

Amy: And, it's fun! I was talking to, what was she, about fourteen, a little girl earlier, "Oh, we showed it in my eighth grade drama class!" And just hearing about these things is really cute.

Trey: So we've been having fun! Just before this, it's not even on the reel, we did our first project with a recognizable actor, a name actor that you might actually know. He came in and he loved working with us, because we were so fast, and it was such a gun and run style. That's fun for actors I think who have been working in real "real" movies, because it takes two hours being set up and you lose your character and you lose your focus, and this was just the "me and the camera" thing again and it was like, OK, bang! We'll do a close up, we're going to do the wide angle, OK boom! We're into the next one. I thought we were going to like bore him or horrify him and he just could not stop talking. His name is, go ahead and plug him, it's Curtis Armstrong, "Booger" from Revenge of the Nerds.

Amy: He's so awesome. And his wife actually ended up saying, "I have not seen Curtis this excited about acting or anything, in years!" He invited his in-laws to the screening, we sold out two shows at the Arclight Theater which was exciting.

Trey: This was as part of the 48hour film festival.

Amy: And he invited his inlaws and his wife was saying "He never invites them anywhere!"

Trey: Which was such a gratifying thing. So, it's been an ongoing process which has been very interesting. There's a progression here, you can go chronologically, it's like: there's Amy; Amy and Greg, who's a longtime friend of mine; Amy, Greg and Victor; Amy, Greg, Victor and Jim.

Amy: So we've sort of added one person each time.

Trey: Greg appears on camera in all of these but he was also Yoda, because I know him as a puppeteer, we were puppeteers together.

PN: I was going to ask you about that aspect too. Are you guys involved in any live performances as well?

siren in street

Amy: Um, holding for ambulance!

Trey: Yeah, my ride is here!

Amy: I can pretty much say that 99% of my acting training experience is with theater. Certainly when you go to acting school, pretty much all they give you is plays to do, and I love that but I've learned to work in this other medium through just doing it. Working with Trey on the internet series, that was my film school, and I learned something new every day. Especially working with a genius like Trey!! (laughing) Little plug for Trey there!

Trey: I like to tell the story that our fastest turnaround was when we went from, "What are we going to shoot today?" to finished, edited product in two hours.

Amy: We turned around a three to four minute episode of this little series.

Trey: A three minute episode in two hours from "I don't know, what do you want to do?" to finished, shot edited, and uploaded onto the site in two hours.

PN: What do you use for post?

Trey: I'm an Adobe man, all the way, across the board. Premiere and AfterEffects and the new stuff is great, Audition is great. Audition saved our bacon on Pink Five Strikes Back because both of our outdoor locations were right next to the freeway. The original soundtrack is just full of "Aawwrr aawwrr rrawwrr!" car noise, and there's some really nice filtering abilities in Adobe Audition that took a lot of that out, and once you put the swamp noise back underneath it, then you get away with it! And Photoshop and everything else. So I do everything in Adobe. I've just always used it, so I can pretty much just make it work.

PN: What's your ideal distribution network, do you like microcinemas, or is the internet pretty much the way to go, or are you submitting stuff to festivals and trying to go that way...?

Trey: We've started, I sent Pink Five out to a couple of festivals again just because it had that packaged aspect, it's an instantly recognisable kind of a thing and it's been accepted at a couple of festivals. It hasn't won anything, but it got screened in Durango, Colorado.

Amy: To George Lucas!

Trey: But one of the things that we have never actually successfully done is made any money off of any of these things. Because we've never ... really ... tried.

Amy: That's pretty true.

Trey: I have always felt like we're still basically going through film school, and you know, I went to film school! I went to actual film school. Twenty years ago! But my personal thing has always been stealth: my marketing plan is stealth! (laughing)

You know, we'll just put it out there, and if it flies, it flies. I'm just not the kind of person who likes to hype something. Even Pink Five Strikes Back, everyone was like, "Can we see Pink Five Strikes Back?" It was like there's one videotape copy and we keep hold of it, and it's like (reluctantly), "Well, OK. OK that's it!' (laughing) Then, "Give it back give it back give it back right now! It's not done yet, it's not done yet!'" Which it's really not, I want to go back and next week I'm going to finish that audio that I didn't get to finish this week and finish some of the effects.

But we've been gearing up. For me it's been a confidence-building thing. And certainly, the thing about Pink Five Strikes Back which personally speaking, is not my favorite film that we've done, is that it's far and away the biggest one we've done, and we actually had so many people, and almost a full crew. There's at least one feature project idea that's been in my mind for literally over a decade that, once I met Amy and started working with Amy and thought, oh, if Amy was the lead in that, and then I think, now I can see it and it's all there, and it's all coming together. I really want to do it and I feel like we're ready to do it now because now we've been able to pull off something that has a lot of scope to it. And so I'm going to try and get back and finish that script and see if we can get that off the ground.

Amy: We always joke about like, what would we do with money though? I don't know!

Trey: Yeah, like if we had a budget, what would we do?

PN: If you had a million dollars ... no. What is the budget for a major movie?

Amy: We said if we had a million dollars we could make four really good films.

Trey: Yeah, we could make four movies. We'd try to make four movies out of that.

Amy: Pink Four!

Trey: Pink Four. Which was the unseen prequel.

Amy: Which was like 6-Up before 7-Up! No, Pink Five we made for $4.

Trey: That was the actual cash expenditure on Pink Five. This one [Pink Five Strikes Back], I don't know what we've spent on this one because the producer got all the receipts: but it's not much, it probably came in for 500 bucks, and a lot of that was giving people food and giving us gas money, because that's what you can offer people.

And the producer, this great guy named Chris Reed, who produced the Curtis Armstrong one and all that...

Amy: A shameless plug for Christopher Reed, who's just amazing amazing!

Trey: Couldn't have done it without him. This thing snowballed so fast, it was like we've gotta get somebody to make this all work. Amy and I were both doing full-time stuff. I have a full-time job, 12 hours a day, Amy was working half-time and going to school the rest of the time, and we were all just busy as hell, and it's like, there's no time to even make all these phone calls to get everybody to the same place at the same time! So Chris came in and really, this would never have happened if we hadn't brought Chris in. He's a writer that works in L.A. but he wants to start producing stuff, he wants producer credits, and he wants to do it and he loves doing it, and he's good at it.

Amy: So good at it! Having his hand involved in it just made it so much better.

Trey: Yeah, it made it all come together.

PN: And he respects your vision?

Trey: He really does!

Amy: He's awesome! He's just awesome.

Trey: We've done two films with him now, we did Double Shot which he wrote.

Amy: Inspired by me! I work in a coffee shop, that's my day job, and Chris is actually a customer from the coffee shop that I've known for three years, and it just has finally morphed into this and now it's like, OK, we gotta get him involved.

Trey: So he produced Double Shot and he was thrilled with the result! I mean it was his baby, it was his script, and I met with him and said, "Well, here's how I'd do it." I love the idea, it's dark, it's the most serious thing we've ever done, that piece, it's still a dark comedy, but it's kind of heavy in places, and I love that! I love the idea of it, I love the theme of it, and I said, "Oh I'd love to do this!" And we did it, and he was thrilled with the result, and Curtis was his friend who he brought in, an actor, and they were thrilled with the result, and so that was just a great thing.

Amy: He's currently writing something else for Curtis and I to do. So, we're excited about that. He's all about writing more stuff now, getting more stuff going.

Trey: It's been just this ongoing building process. And in the meantime, you know, I work in Hollywood, I'm doing visual effects, and all that kind of stuff.

PN: Do you do textures, lighting, rendering, work as a developer...?

Trey: Animation is mostly what I do. I went from being a puppeteer to getting into animation.

Amy: Ask him what he's working on right now!

Trey: Right now I'm working on Polar Express.

PN: Really! Excellent!

So, you guys live in L.A. How long have you both lived there?

Amy: I'm from Texas originally, and I've been out there since '86. So most of my life has been in L.A. but I'm still very much a Texas girl. I take that really seriously! No Texas jokes!

PN: OK! (laughing)

Amy: Every once in a while I'll slip into a "How y'all doin'," or something like that, but not too often.

Trey: "Who's tawkin'?"

Amy: "Who's tawkin'?" Yeah. I've been in L.A. long enough to know better, though! (laughing)

Trey: I came out to go to film school, to go to USC film school. For me it goes back to the Star Wars thing. I saw Star Wars when I was a junior in high school, or starting to be a senior, whenever that was, '77, and you know, what am I going to do with my life, and I saw that movie and I was like, I want to make movies, I want to do visual effects! So, where'd that George Lucas guy go to school, he went to USC, and OK, so I applied to USC, and I went to USC. And I've been in LA ever since then, just sort of slogging my way through the film business and done a lot of visual effects, in a lot of movies.

PN: Do you find that it's easy to network with creative people down there? Is there sort of a a flow, or is it difficult?

Trey: It's hard.

Amy: It's difficult.

Trey: It's been hard for me. There are very few people that I have any kind of a continuous, the-whole-time-I've-been-in-LA relationship with. Because when you work in movies, it tends to be this group that comes together and you have this very intense period of time where you work together, but then you all scatter again to the winds, and you very rarely actually stay in contact with anyone. There's only a few people that I stay in contact with. But this is different, this new dynamic is a little different for us because these are all people that we've brought in to do our little films and help us with our films, we think of it that way.

Amy: I just feel like I've been building my army of good people, you know what I mean? That you meet, like Chris from the coffee shop or one person from here, one person from this acting school, one person from there, and you get your little posse as it were.

Trey: When you're doing these kind of no-budget films, it's really important that people are part of the team and they don't have the prima donna thing and they're not too Hollywood about it. It's just like, we're going to do this because it's fun, we want to try to make a fun story, and if you're willling to show up and play with us, then great. Everyone has been pretty much that kind of a person. So that's been the networking that's been paying off, and that's only been happening in the past couple of years as we started to do this. The fact that we've been building our own sort of momentum is what's doing it rather than big movies, where people just show up and then they go away again.

PN: I would like to see some of your other work. I'm assuming this [DVD] is yours and you need it back? Is stuff online, or ...?

Trey: Some of it is. Pink Five obviously, and atomfilms said, what else have you got? And at that time we had Land of Many Uses and we gave that to them and that's also on atomfilms. Fish Guys is available at the 48hour film site, which is extremefilmmaker.com, plus, at least one of our others, 48filmhour, is there.

Chris and Steve join the table.

Chris: Which is brilliant.

Trey: These guys just saw 48filmhour.

Steve: Shove ova!

Amy: That was my baby, I loved that one.

Steve: (Sean Connery voice) I like to be between two ladies. Mmm, gives me a feeling of ...

Amy: Excuse me, we're having an interview right now? (laughing)

Trey: Yeah, hello?

Chris: I haven't said anything yet.


Trey: Co-Destiny is currently not available anywhere at any price.

Amy: It should be, though. It should be on a DVD at some point though, do you know when that was...?

Trey: It's supposed to be any time now.

Amy: This was for the national 48hour film competition and they're actually releasing a DVD of the top ten, and we made it on that.

Trey: Out of 85-some films that were submitted, we placed in the top ten, we won Best Film of the Pacific Coast.

Amy: Best in our category, which was "Western or Musical," and four Western/Musicals actually made it to the top ten so we feel pretty good about that.

Trey: That was a real fun one to do because they give you your genre and a line of dialogue and a prop, and you have 48 hours to finish a film. So all of our backgrounds of busting out films paid off, and we pulled this thing together. And everybody's in it, Greg and Jim and Victor, they're all back again and we just pulled everybody together and did it.

Amy: Amazing people. Everybody's just so talented in their own right. We were talking about Pink Five Strikes Back, every single person who had their hand in that was just a monster talent, you know, whatever they did, and often it seemed like they were working on stuff on the movie that wasn't actually what they really do.

Trey: What they do, yeah, for a living.

Amy: Exactly, so it was just, it was an honor to work with a lot of these people who wanted to have their names on this.

Trey: And none of them have seen it! (laughing) So we're hoping when they finally see it they'll be happy with the results. We just hope that they'll like it!


Chris Hanel and Steve Phelan

Chris Hanel and Steve PhelanPN: So how did you guys find out about fanfilms, and decide to make a fanfilm, fan film? Because The Formula isn't a fanfilm, but the subject matter is.

Steve: You (Chris) have to talk about how you learned about the fanfilm thing, because I actually learned about fan films from Chris. Chris had come up to me once he heard that I had had a commercial job and he was just like, "Oh, so you have access to a camera and you can edit and stuff?" I'm like, "Yeah, pretty good stuff too," and he was like, "Oh, great, great! I want to make a Star Wars fan film!" and I was like, "... wwwhat? Star Wars fan film?" He was the one who actually introduced me to the whole community of people that, it's almost like a culture unto itself that makes these films in tribute or in mockup of The Force. But tell me where you found out about it!

Chris: Who's interviewing me here? (laughing)

Steve: I'm just excited because I've never even heard where he heard about it!

Chris: OK, so the way it started was, I had kind of had a um, I kind of had a little bit of an identity crisis, on, you know, what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I really wanted to get into films, and I had a Woody Allen adaptation movie which ... we loved the script, we had other people saying, "Yeah, yeah, you gotta make this," or we'd give it to people and they'd be like "Yeah, yeah, that's really great." And we were like "No no no, this is the part where you give us money, to make a movie." "Oh, nah, look at the time, gotta wash my hair," you know? And it just wasn't happening, and wasn't happening, and so I'm walking around, and I'm going around the internet one day, and I discover: a light saber tutorial site. And, I'm looking and I'm like, "Wow, this is great! I know AfterEffects just a tiny little bit, but I think I could do this!" And they had a link to all of these finished movies, and I started exhausting them, then I got the link to TFN fanfilms, and the very first one I ever watched was A Question of Faith, which had an amazing light saber combat. And that was where it clicked. So I called Steve one day, and I said,

Steve: Actually, you had called me I think before that! You had said, yeah, I have this idea for a fanfilm, and I had no idea what you were talking about. I'm like, Star Wars fanfilm, like, OK, how are we gonna ... do ... that?

Well one day, I'm at work, and he shows up, I think it was on a lunch break or something. He takes me over to our local grocery store, and shows me a 5-second piece that he did outside of a comic book store with some friends of his who were working with a light saber duel. I actually saw light sabers. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And I was just like, OK! OK, we'll do it! (laughing) It's great, I'll help you out, whatever you need!

Chris: As the specific subject matter, we were going to do a standard cheesy good guy/bad guy light saber duel, that was the script I was working on at the time. But I started to download more and more films, and I'm like, you know, god, this has really been done, and it was already getting overdone. We're both actors and writers, and we've done a lot of this, and we were like, you know, we can really kick this up a notch.

I was acting in The Miracle Worker, and there was the assistant stage manager, this girl Tammy. I had such a crush on her, (laughing) and I was writing ideas, and I would always pitch them to her. And she would laugh at me. She wouldn't laugh with me, she would laugh at me. You know, "What is this?" So one night, during the show, when my scenes weren't on, I was writing, and I gave this idea to her, and she goes, "You know, I don't know about what you guys are doing, but watching you guys make it is going to be funny enough as it is." And she walks away and I'm like, That's IT!! That's it, a movie about guys trying to make a movie, because watching these geeks trying to do this is going to be funny enough as it is! That's it! So I wrote about seven pages out, seven to twelve pages, single-spaced, in play format, because I didn't know screenplay format yet, and I gave that to Steve.

Steve: And I rolled with it for like two days and you came over, and we got to about a forty-page script, and then we just kind of knocked it back and forth from there.

Chris: And then even during shooting, changes happened. The ending totally changed when we shot it, because we didn't like it. And because we shot it over a year and a half, we were always making modifications, changes, scenes that got cut out...

Steve: Or we didn't have the certain means...

Chris: We didn't have the certain means to do it. You know, not enough costumes, too elaborate, too many extras. And then, it just evolved into what it was, and we knocked it out. June 1st, 2002 was the premiere.

Steve: I wasn't even there for the premiere, I was in Williamstown!

Chris: But it went, and it got a great reception, and we put it online, and it got a great reception online.

Now Skywalker - you will die!Steve: Actually that was an original edit that I put together. I put together a rendered piece and gave it to Chris and then we decided in the end that it still wasn't finished so we went back and finished it when I came back from Willliamstown.

PN: So was that your first film project?

Chris: That was our very first. I mean, you had done stuff in a little bit of film ...

Steve: Yeah, I'd done a few movie parodies in high school, from deck-to-deck editing, things like that, but aside from that, just little thirty-second spots on the radio and TV.

Chris: It was my first finished movie.

PN: And what are you working on now, or what do you want to do next?

Chris: Oh man. I'm in Los Angeles now, doing anything that anyone will let me!

Trey: He was instrumental in helping make our film, for one thing. We pulled him in.

Amy: He did an amazing job on all of our light saber shots.

Trey: ... he's also Mister Smoke Machine on set; those are two very important key things.

Chris: And we're writing right now. You never stop writing, you always gotta have ideas. I've got a bin of notebooks. Steve's seen all the notebooks that we've got, it's this tall of just ideas that we someday want to do. The one we're working on right now is called Game Over, which is an original movie. We have a producer for it, we want to get a budget together, we're trying to finish that script by August. But other than that, freelance work, and I've got what savings I had left over and a credit card! So I can continue to work at home and be able to do all this stuff, and that was what enabled me to work on Pink Five Strikes Back. And yeah, just getting the name out there, giving your business card to as many people as possible, trying to make a demo reel, try to work outside the Hollywood system as much as possible and not put up with that B.S.

Amy: Word! Word.

Steve: Word.

Trey: Right on!


Chris: The best thing that we've done is we've got an awesome network of people out there that do not work in the system that are having fun doing it. You know, it's not business to them. If we're making a movie, and if we're ever like, god this is hard work, then we're not doing it right. It can be hard work but you should be enjoying what you're doing the entire time. We were talking earlier about when you get into this business, someone asks you "Well, what would you do if you weren't a filmmaker, if you weren't an actor? If you have any other answer, go and do that, because you are in the wrong business! This should be all you can see yourself doing, and you should love doing it.

Trey: It's a calling.

Chris: It's a calling!

Steve: Pretty much!

Amy: I for one feel so lucky to have this as a creative outlet, when so many actors, quote-unquote actors with the headshots and the reels, and the management, don't actually do it, ever! They're too busy going out auditioning and trying to get the jobs, and the art part of it is just - gone.

PN: They never get to actually act?

Amy: It's gone! They never actually get to do it! And here I've made, we've made five, six films in the last two or three years, and I'm having so much fun with it!

Chris: You're way ahead of the game.

Amy: Yeah, and people go, "Oh, do you want to be an actor?" and it's like, (laughing)

Chris: I am!

Steve: You already are!

Trey: It's that weird sort of thing. We have a mutual friend who sees it that way. She made her little film, because that will get her "the real job." When it's like, the film you made should be the real job. The whole purpose is to make it, it's not to make it so you can make the one you want to make, it's like, make the one you want to make!

Chris: There's a book that I will hype to death for the rest of my life called True and False by David Mamet, and one of the basic things it goes over is that you can jump through all the hoops, you can make your headshots, your auditions, your demo reels, oh which I happen to have right here!

Trey: Just happen to have it right here!


Chris: True and False by David Mamet. It goes over actors that want to be in the business, and it says that you can jump through all the hoops, you can put out your headshot, you can go to 200 auditions a day, get your agent, be all things to all people. Or, you can enjoy what you're doing by doing your own thing, finding your own group of people, making your own little projects, and going through your day not hating yourself. And you will still have about the same success rate. Which one would you rather choose? And if you're willing to choose the other one, the reasons you give are probably not the right ones, and again, you're probably saying well, if I don't become an actor I have a fallback. No! No fallback! This is what you're doing! It's an awesome book and it really changed ... I read that while I was going to school in Florida for visual effects and it really changed the way that I thought about what I was going to do when I got out here. I worked at MGM for three weeks and I walked out because I wasn't happy. I don't know if I would have had the courage to do that if I really didn't have the conviction to stick with what's going on. So, yeah, I could rant about that for a few hours! (laughing)

PN: So you guys do live performances too, right?

Chris: Oh yeah. We both started as actors.

Steve: Yeah, I'm the "actor who got stuck behind the camera" kind of deal, you know! Especially for The Formula. What I'm working on right now is a feature-length film, the first feature-length I think Cedar Rapids, Iowa has ever seen, probably. Hopefully it will get completely made and seen and make a little bit a of money to help us boys out who are making it.

Chris: The really sad thing was that our best actor in The Formula was the guy behind the camera! (laughing) He was supposed to be in the movie at one point, and he just couldn't be behind the camera and be acting at the same time.

Amy: Yeah. We're looking forward to getting him out to L.A. and hopefully getting him acting.

Chris: Yes, definitely.

Amy: Right?

Steve: I have issues with compliments!

Amy: I've never seen you acting! I'm saying we're looking forward to seeing it!

Steve: No no, but what Chris had said.

Amy: Oh, OK!

Steve: Yeah, I know you weren't complimenting me! I don't expect much from you, lady!

Amy: You'll never be let down that way!

Steve: Thanks for the beer, though.

Amy: No problem!


Chris: I've got to do some acting with small parts. My roommate is also a filmmaker and has done very well for himself, and I get to act in his movies, and that gets my outlet out, and then we've done improv, and we've done stage. I like to be the wannabe Renaissance Man. I want to do everything, as much as possible! I want to be able to understand all aspects of this. So the experience we've got being actors, writers, editors, directors, special effects dudes...

Steve: Should make our own guild really.

Chris: Yeah, the Everything Guild! The Jack of All Trades Guild!

Amy: We want to start a production company called Genius Under Pressure.

Steve: An ADD guild: I want to do this! No, I want to do that! Oo wait, I got a new idea...!

Chris: What do you do? I'm a writer, director, actor, editor, writer, director, actor, director, director, actor...

Steve: Orson Welles, only half the weight! No: a third; an eighth of the weight!

Trey: The four of us together equals one Orson Welles! In so many ways ...

Chris: It got so bad that I don't know what to sell myself as. So I have Creative Performance Production on my card.

PN: And it says, radio, and it says ...,

Chris: We've done internet radio.

Steve: Yup.

Chris: So we finally figured out a way to get it all on one business card. It's a double-edged sword because you don't want to go out and say, I can do all this! Because then they're like, well, are you a master at anything?

Trey: Yeah, they hate that!

Amy: Yeah.

PN: And what about science fiction? Does that hold a special place in your heart? Or is it just one of many?

Chris: I don't know how to answer. I mean, I'm obviously a huge Star Wars geek. The very first memory I have in my head is seeing Return of the Jedi as a little kid on opening day. So yeah, obviously I'm a big Star Wars geek but, am I setting out to just make science fiction? No. I mean, The Formula is obviously not science fiction in any regard.

Steve: I get to the point where I find people who want to actually work on stuff with me. There are ideas that finally, once I get done with Sackers, I'm going to want to helm this one or two ideas that I have that I've always wanted to do. I tend to actually gravitate towards more drama than comedy. It just so happens that for some reason people think I'm funny. And, we tend to work on comedic projects, because that's fun! It's what people want to do, it's light fare, and it's easier to get people to volunteer to do something that's a lot of fun.

Amy: Instead of like, I need you to writhe on the floor and cry for six hours. That's hard.

Steve: (director voice) Get all the donuts you want. Nothing else, but: just, cry for me. No! It's not right. Come back tomorrow. Can you get off of work to do that for me? You're just not into this, are you?


Steve: I tend towards more dramatic fare, because catharsis in that sense ... some of my favorite movies are ones that just make me cry, that's all there is to it. I don't know if you've seen Mystic River? Kills me. Kiiillls me!

Chris: I'm kind of a hybrid, I'm the comedy guy that's always wanted to do drama but has never been able to do it that well.

Amy: Yeah, I'm the same way, I always really fancied myself as like this Shakespearean actress, and yet I keep getting thrown into like, the crazy girl, the schizo, the funny one. And it's the easiest. People always go, "Wow, it's really hard to do comedy," and I'm like, "No it's not! that's easy. it's hard to cry!"

Trey: As a director I gravitate towards comedies because I find those easier. The one we did, The Double Shot, was the closest to a drama.

Chris: I like that one too.

Steve: Which one was it. I'm sorry?

Trey: Double Shot. Which no one has seen.

Steve: I haven't seen it.

Trey: If you weren't at the screening you haven't seen it yet!

Chris: I can't stop thinking about 48 film hour! I love it! I'm sorry! Ooohhh.

Steve: 48 film hour!

Amy: Hooray, I love you for that! I somehow knew that you'd think that was cool.

Trey: Filmic improv, right there.

Chris: I mean it ... Ooohh.

Trey: But Double Shot was a really obscene experiment bcause we had to really try and pull off some emotional changes and things like that.

Amy: And we had the location for a very specific amount of time. We shot in the coffee shop where I work. We started at midnight when they closed, and then we worked through 'til six in the morning when they opened. We did that two days and the second day I actually had to open the coffee shop so I was there from eleven at night to one the next day, and the last seven hours were all serving coffee. Goooood morning!

Chris: (quavery) Here you guys want some coffee? Oh, can I have it? He hhe hee ohhhhhh.

Trey: And both days I had to go from shooting all night to go to my day job and work for twelve hours. And then go home and edit the thing!

Chris: I did the same thing. I drove, I drove; I didn't even go home! I went to Swork, the coffee shop, we got done around six.

Amy: Shameless plug for Swork coffee: S-W-O-R-K!

Trey: I'm talking to a professional actor. I'm like, "Curtis, we're going to be shooting from 1 to 6 am." "Fine!" "Curtis, we need to do reshoots, so, once again, 1 to 6 am." "I'm there!" When you get all those people to show up at the same time, I mean, you know, that's the point! All these people are willing to do it. And god love ya, let's go, let's do it!

That one was kind of a change of pace bcause it wasn't one that I wrote. And certainly when I write, the easiest thing is to write shtick. Da da dat da daaa! You know. But it was nice to have somebody else's script, and it had some darker stuff going on, and lines that I wouldn't have written, but I said, oh, good line, great, so it was the first time I was able to take someone else's stuff and kind of interpret it. We kicked it around and kind of changed some things on the fly, and all that kind of stuff. So that's what I've been working on,. But the hard part for me, is that I need to get more practice with actually giving actors direction. Actually Amy is kind enough to say that I've gotten better at that. Because it used to be just like, "OK, Amy, do your thing ... louder." Was about all I could come up with!

Chris: Faster, more intense!

Amy: It needs a little more ...

Chris: "Amyness" to it.

Amy: A little more of that ... thing? Go!

Trey: She and I have our sort of language, you know, like, OK do the thing! Oh OK great. (laughing) But that doesn't work with other actors, so I need to expand my vocabulary.

Chris: Whaat? The ... the "thing"?

Trey: Because Amy's a genius, just follow her lead, OK.

Chris: Wasn't that like in Fantastic Four?

Steve: No one understands me!

Trey: It really is again coming back to that repertory company, where you feed the people who just know it and they'll give you something good, and you just turn 'em loose!


(Peggy Nelson is a painter and writer for Otherzine.)