I like a big blockbuster as much as the next guy. For the number of times I’ve seen Titanic, Avatar and T2 in theaters, I’ve probably paid for two of James Cameron’s Hummers. I blame my high cholesterol on Bond movies and the amount of buttered popcorn I’ve consumed while enjoying them. My father took me to my first James Bond movie when I was a kid and I was hooked. To this day, we try to see the new ones together.
FUN FACT: The movie theater where I saw my first James Bond movie, in Sarasota, Florida, is the same movie theater that Pee-Wee Herman was arrested in.
Anyway, I'm a huge fan of blockbusters.
But my first love is the indie.... small films that would never have been created had it not been for a band of like-minded artists who willed them into existence. With no budget for alien invasions or car chases, they rely on acting, dialogue, and story-telling to function as the special effects. I have many favorites. John Carney's movie Once, with Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I loved David Slade's Hard Candy with Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page. Primer. Sling Blade. Mean Streets. Open Water. Do you realize that the original Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 to make?!?
When I was given the green-light to write and direct my first solo indie, Conception, I was determined not to let our lack of budget be a weakness.
The genesis of Conception lies in the old adage ‘write what you know.’ When my wife and I conceived our first son, we were in the middle of a huge fight, but my wife was ovulating at the time, so we were forced to still power through and have sex. Believe me, that night could not be called “making love”. There is a post about our personal "conception" on Huffington Post if you'd like to read about it. LINK HERE.
While my movie isn’t about sex, I certainly couldn’t shy away from it. One of my favorite directors is Pedro Almodovar. He never glamorizes sex with soft blue lighting and slow pans across the actors’ bodies. In that same way, I hoped to address the sex in a natural way without showcasing it. The film isn’t supposed to be sexually provocative so much as emotionally provocative.
Writing the script, I pulled a lot of moments from my relationship with my wife, at least as a jumping off point. To some extent, each couple represents a different time in our 22-year relationship.
But what was really exciting for me was to show up on set with all these amazing actors who brilliantly gave a different voice to these characters. They brought such depth to the roles, especially considering the short amount of time they played them... one day each. But it was the only way I could GET all these incredible actors. While some critics have asserted that trying to showcase 9 different stories "hurt" the film (because it didn't allow the audience to get invested in any of them fully)... it was, in fact, the only way to attract and lock in all that incredible talent.
I was impressed also by the entire crew. We had what’s known as a “skeleton crew”, which is a nice way of saying that fourteen people were doing the job of fifty (or 400 if you’re Michael Bay). Everyone came early and stayed late. We shot the film at friends’ houses. My wife, Leila, both acted and produced. Our good friend Stephanie Sherrin produced and picked up craft service.
Some of these scenes were especially tricky because of the emotions I was asking my actors to reach, or because of the nudity and sexual situations. But even on this low-budget, tight-scheduled shoot, everyone approached the work with a delicate sense of respect and professionalism.
After screenings, I was so grateful for the reactions I got from audiences. While the film is "niche" and plays much better to a certain segment (women of a child-bearing age), everyone seems to relate to at least one of the couples, if not more. That has been the most fun -- to see how people see themselves in all these different relationships.
While it's been a couple of years since we made the movie, my participation in it hasn't ended. Just this week, I received emails from the producer asking for more elements for the foreign release (which is just happening now). And I still receive the occasional email from people who were moved by one of the story lines... "My husband and I have tried to have a child for over a decade and your movie..." "I dealt with many body issues after the birth of my first child..." I still love getting those emails. And that kind of a personal response doesn't usually come my way for the work I did on Piranha 3D or Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
I was reading an article about one of the last Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. Boiling it down, with a budget of 230 million, Solace cost 2.16 million dollars per minute to produce. We made our little film, Conception, for about what it cost for 2.9 seconds of Quantum of Solace.
That is indie!
Paradoxically, there is something really freeing about having so little money to work with. You know from the get-go that the only thing you can do is tell the most simple truth you know in each scene you have to shoot. And even though I hope I can pay my actors and my crew closer to what they’re worth on future films (we had Emmy and Tony winners working for 100 dollars a day... ALL IN)... even if I’m sinking the Titanic on the next movie, I hope that we'll still be ale to hang on to some of those raw moments that indie film forces you to discover.
If You have yet to discover Conception, a trailer can be found on the "Movie Trailers" page on this site. There are also several selected scenes from the film in the "Directing Clips" page on this site. The film is available on DVD on Amazon... and streaming sites a well.