MIXED MESSAGES is a good example of how a small idea can evolve into something much bigger than it was intended to be. 

The original project was to shoot a 1-minute "sad scene" for something called Wheatgrinder's Monthly Film Challenge. Almost immediately the thought of those country-western songs where the guy's wife leaves him, his truck breaks down, and he loses his job came to mind; but I knew I could only run with one of those sad scenes for the film challenge. Nevertheless, if I was planning on shooting the one scene, I figured it only made sense to shoot more, so that's how all the messages came about.

I cast a local actor and musician Edward Kasper as the lead Mr. Greg Wilson because we were both looking for projects to collaborate on together and I remembered him talking about wanting to do more comedy. I then had to cast the voices of all the messages and turned to some members on IndieTalk.com as well as a few friends up in Sacramento. I emailed everyone their scripts, they recorded the messages in character, then replied with an mp3. The only person I was in contact with through the production was Ed.

The reason there were nine messages is because that was the only answering machine I found that worked at a nearby thrift store for a dollar. The only difficulty was that when I plugged it into the wall, the digital numbers counted backwards from 9 to 0 and there was no way for me to pause on each digit. Since we don't have a land line at the house (who does anymore?) pretty much all of the shots where we hang on the number for several seconds were still frames. Very few of those close-ups were rolling video. So that presented some editing hurdles, but in the end I had a fun time trying to figure out how to make it all work.

Because Ed's character plays the banjo (which is mentioned in the last message) I thought it would be appropriate to end the movie with some bluegrass under the credits. I asked another local friend, Chance Noble, if he'd be interested in jamming on his banjo for a few songs and he was totally on board; and it also helped that Ed is a singer and guitar player, so the three of us became The Roustaboots for the soundtrack. It was nice to get out my bass and have a bluegrass jam session in the living room.

To wrap it up, since I do a lot of graphic design, some concepts came to me for potential DVD packaging, and once I get obsessed with a design idea I can't shake it. I don't imagine selling a ton of DVDs, but I did want to make sure that everyone involved with the production got something special for their video library and portfolio. And each DVD comes with a cool bumper sticker.

The final running time is 9 minutes which I think works well for festivals and fits with the 9 messages, too. What I like about the concept (and not everyone will) was the challenge of sticking with just the one character and the nine messages on the answering machine. I didn't want to cut away to other scenes or move away from the table. Also, I'll be curious to find out how it plays for an audience in a festival setting. I think there's something for everyone to find amusing, even if some of the humor is fairly dark!

When it comes to making movies, I'm a big fan of having imposed limitations on a production. It forces you to think on your toes and come up with inventive solutions. That seems to be the independent way, right? Making more with less. And for a budget of less than ten bucks, I'd like to think MIXED MESSAGES rises to the occasion.

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