Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Casting Part II: The Bad Boy

Welcome to part II of our ongoing series concerning the casting of "Humboldt County." Our aim, as always, is to give you an insider's perspective into how we ended up with the amazing actors we had in our film. Today, we talk about casting the part of "Max" played brilliantly by Mr. Chris Messina. This story's a douzy so hang onto your hats...

First of all, Chris Messina was not the first person we hired for the role. The first person we hired for the role was....ahhh...we better not say, actually. Truth be told we had several actors attached to the picture in this role over the course of our nine month casting process.

For a variety of reasons, we ended up parting ways with a number of really great actors. Most of the time, it was because the actors we had, though truly fantastic, were not exactly right for the part like we had thought they would be. One of the strange things about Hollywood is that the more well known you are, the less you have to audition for roles. Many talent agents will flat out refuse to let their clients audition for movies, believing the actors have already proven their ability in previous films and TV parts. There is some truth to that. However, someone’s past work doesn’t necessarily tell you whether or not he would be good for a specific part. In absence of auditions, then, there is little to go on and sometimes wrong decisions are made.

This was the case for the early actors we were considering for the part. Either they just weren’t right or their vision for the film did not align with ours. In fact, the last actor we had attached to the project before Chris was very helpful: coming to auditions for the other roles in the movie and reading with actors for eight hour marathon session, giving input on the script and even personally lobbying big profile thespians to come join the project.

However, soon, Darren and I became personally aware of the oft-used Hollywood term “creative differences.” We had it with our actor in spades. In addition to not playing the character how we had imagined it, the actor simply did not understand the kind of movie Darren and I wanted to make. Soon, it became clear that something had to be done. We had hired the wrong actor for the role.

However, we were only one month away from shooting at this point. Darren and I were set to head up to Humboldt for pre-production in a matter of days. We couldn’t possibly fire one of our lead actors so late in the process….could we?

The answer was “you bet.” Independent filmmaking is all about working with limited resources, limited time, and insufficient EVERYTHING. Nothing ever happens the way you think it will. So, with a big, deep inhale, we took the plunge and let our actor go. It was a scary day.

And this is where pure, blind luck came knocking on our door. When Jeremy Strong (Peter) came to LA to focus on his role, he was staying at the home of a good friend of his who he had known for years back in New York. In fact, he had even borrowed his friend's shoes as he was fleshing out the character of "Peter." That friend's name? Chris Messina.

That's right, our eventual "Max" had been living with our lead for several weeks. When our previous actor fell off the radar, we were scrambling, trying to audition anyone we could. We didn't have much time and so when Jeremy suggested Chris and brought him to our house for an impromptu audition.

Chris, as you can expect, was unbelievable. Darren and I were relatively unfamiliar with his work and so didn't know what to expect. But Chris came in and was electrifying. In our dining room, he played a scene with Jeremy that was so intensely real and powerful that when he left, Darren and I had to just sit in silence while we decompressed. We had found our Max.

In hindsight, it was a good thing we weren't familiar with Chris's work. He had recently played an uptight Republican on the final season of "Six Feet Under" and had also completed shooting on Jennifer Westfeldt's new film "Ira and Abby" in which Chris played an uptight New Yorker. If we had watched his work, we would have been uncertain Chris could pull off such a wholly different character and might not have brought him in. But the gods were smiling upon us and we were rewarded for our ignorance.

Throughout shooting, Chris was truly amazing. He came on board the project later than we would have liked obviously, and as such, we were worried that he wouldn't quite have a fully formed character ready by the time we began shooting. But Chris, as always, allayed our fears.

And since shooting "Humboldt," Chris has been on a hot streak. "Ira and Abby" came out to excellent reviews and Chris then shot a pilot for J.J. Abrams. Chris now has a whole slate of new films ready to be released in 2008: There's the Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) film, "Towelhead" with Aaron Eckhart and Toni Collette, the Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan romantic comedy "Made of Honor", and, most exciting for us, the Woody Allen film "Vicky Christina Barcelona" with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson.

Next, Chris is set to star alongside Amy Adams and Meryl Streep in "Julie and Julia" which will be shooting, no doubt, as soon as this blasted writer's strike ends. Finally, Chris was named in Variety as one of Hollywood's ten most promising actors.

How lucky were we, huh? Looking back on the saga now, it seems like fate. At the time, however, I can tell you that we were scared out of our minds. And so it goes...

And, oh yea, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!! We’re so excited that 2008 is going to be the year that we get to finally unleash “Humboldt County” to its audience. We hope you like the film as much as we do.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Holichanimas! (Video Fun Part Uno)

Well, I have sad news. Unfortunately, due to the douchey tone of Darren's last post, he is officially off the project. He will no longer be involved in any publicity or developments for "Humboldt County."

In fact, faithful readers, if you see him trolling around the interweb here, tell him to bugger off. Still, in the name of all we've been through, I thought I'd put up the first in our soon to be ongoing video series on the film. This one deals with the origins of our "friendship" and "collaboration."


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Even Las Vegas has the Internet!

Hello from the Wynn Casino.

I'm sitting currently in the Terrace Pointe Cafe at the bar, drinking a Maker's Mark and using the free wifi provided by Mr. Steve Wynn. Just checking emails, doing a bit of writing, killing time in a way that does NOT involve losing money: that's just life circa December 2007; I don't ever have to be away from the wonderful world wide web and our loyal blog readers (unless, of course, I'm hanging with Aunt Laura in her hobbit hut nestled deep in the woods of southern Humboldt. There, flush toilets are hard to come by, let alone an internet connecton! Note that this is a choice that Aunt Laura makes as to how she lives, and it is not reflective of the life of a typical Humboldt County resident. No angry comments, please).

The Wynn is indeed a fine hotel, and the price is right (as Danny mentioned, my room is comped thanks to my lovely lady). But I sensed some bitterness in Danny's last post. It was subtle, to be sure, beneath the surface, but when you've known someone as long as I've known Danny, you can just tell. I thought I'd address the implication that I'm off galavanting in paradise while Danny toils away in LA working his little tail off. I'll address it this way: it's absolutely true.

And I'm not apologizing for it. Don't get me wrong. I feel bad that Danny and his lovely lady are not in the room next to us. Just as I'm sure Danny had sympathy for me that I wasn't with him for the month he spent in Miami in a free hotel and studio per diem working on the Bachelor Party movie. Just as he surely also felt pity for his poor friend Darren, holding down the fort in LA while he trekked around Australia for three weeks.

Danny's had it rough, you see. Never more than now, while his friend Darren spends three days in Vegas. Three days. Rough.


But seriously, coming soon on this blog expect more casting posts, as well as some in depth looks at the filmmaking process we went through in behind the scenes videos. There may even be an addiotional blog from a very special guest. We've got lots of little goodies and nuggets to throw your way in the coming weeks. I'll try to update again from Vegas, but I make no guarantees. I've been drinking throughout this post, and, well, it's getting more and more difficult to type.

Love to you all, especially to poor Danny,

Casting Part I: The Lead

Darren and I wanted to start a series on the casting of the film. Each part in this series will focus on a different character and a different actor and how we ended up deciding to bring that actor on board the project. This, the first installment of said series, will be on our film's lead: Mr. Jeremy Strong.

Jeremy played the part of "Peter" in "Humboldt County" - our protagonist extraordinaire. It was a difficult part to cast because the character was deliberately under-written in the screenplay. The part of Peter called for an actor who could react to the often outlandish behavior of the other characters and, without saying much, bring the audience along for the ride.

It took us over nine months to cast the role. It was a grueling process and there were many times Darren and I were unsure we would be able to find the right person. We started by scouring the Los Angeles actor landscape. We brought in hundreds of actors to audition and, though a few were better than others, overall they just weren't right. Part of the problem was that Hollywood likes to populate its television and film projects with actors that do not resemble normal people. They are mostly too pretty, too put together and a little too...well, let's put it this way: they all have nice haircuts. Incidentally, this is yet another reason why Darren and I are such big fans of the American cinema from the 1970s. Finally, films began to show up on screen with actors like Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman that looked like how normal people look. I can relate to them. I have a hard time relating to Tom Cruise. I find it difficult to empathize with Tom Cruise in a movie when he's TOM CRUISE for god's sake. How troubled can his life really be? He's TOM CRUISE.

So anyway, after months of searching, our esteemed casting director Mr. John Jackson (ABOUT SCHMIDT, SIDEWAYS) was frustrated with us. There were doubts that Darren and I knew what we wanted. We knew, of course, we just hadn't seen it yet. Finally, after scouring the LA landscape we decided to look elsewhere: New York City. Surely there, away from the land of constant 72 degree days, we would find what we needed.

We called a few casting directors we knew and described what we were looking for. One such CD said to us: "Well, I'll send you ten names of actors I know but I can tell you now - I have your guy. His name's Jeremy Strong and he's never been in a film before." Suffice it to say, we were skeptical. Sure the kid was a Yale grad with a bunch of great theater under his belt, but we had turned down offers from big talent agencies in LA for "name" actors to the play the role. Would we be committing independent film suicide by hiring some unknown theater actor from New York?

We figured it couldn't hurt to watch the kid's audition, so we had him put himself on tape and send it over. The minute we saw the tape, we knew he was right. He displayed vulnerability, pathos, a deep sense of self and killer instincts. We flew him out to LA, had lunch with him at Tom Bergen's on Fairfax (a favorite haunt of ours for daytime meetings) and hired him immediately afterwards. When you meet someone as talented as Jeremy Strong - it kind of hits you over the face like a hammer. Although the experience bloodied our faces, we couldn't NOT hire him.

Jeremy, we are proud to say, is now flowering like a young newbile pup recently released upon the world. A couple of months ago he shot M. Night Shyamalan's new movie, "The Happening," opposite Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel which will be released into a gazillion theaters worldwide in the Summer of '08 and he is now in rehearsals for the lead role in "New Jerusalem" at the Classic Stage Company in New York. Opening night is January 13. Go see him. And say "hi" for us.


Bring it on, texters!

Saw “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” tonight. It’s a beautiful, lovely film and amazingly shot by Spielberg’s DP, Janusz Kaminski. The film takes place almost exclusively in the head of a recently paralyzed man who can only use his one healthy eye to communicate with the world.

But that wasn’t the best part of my evening. I finally have a solution to the “movie texter” problem. A Movie Texter is someone who, during the course of a film, will continue to receive and send text messages to god-knows who. First of all, if you are so busy that you must continue to message the outside world at all times without interruption, then stay home. See, every time that little bright screen pops up in my peripheral view, I look at it. I can’t help it. It’s evolutionary. Bright shiny objects make humans look. It’s built into our DNA. And somehow, these Movie Texters think because they aren’t talking that what they are doing is okay. But it’s not okay to introduce an extra light source into a darkened movie theater. And if you think differently then I’m going to metaphorically shoot you in the face.

But tonight, brilliance struck. A young woman next to me started texting early on in the movie. My first thought was to switch seats, but the place was packed. So…I decided to read her text. That’s right – as she texted away to her friend John about their plans to meet up at Skybar and how she wasn’t going to wear any panties, I leaned over and unapologetically began reading. She looked at me incredulously but I just smiled and turned my attention back to her Crackberry – eagerly awaiting John’s reply. Finally, in a huff she shut her devil machine off.

So everyone – if you’re at the multiplex and your neighbor begins to text. Please – read it! And share with the class. Post any great texts you read on this blog. I think we might be able to make a coffee table book out of it.

Ok. I feel better now.

P.S. Darren’s in Vegas right now. He got a free suite at the Wynn through his girlfriend’s parents who own a travel agency. I’m stuck here in LA trying to make our next script work. But no, I’m not bitter. Bitterness is for small minds. But, on an unrelated note, Darren is an asshole.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Strange Days...

Yesterday began with an exciting development and ended with a tragic one.

In the morning, Darren and I, along with Captain Deadpan (read: Producer, Jason Weiss), Ernie Holzman (our DP), Ed Marx (Ed, the Editor), and Aiden (Color Timer), convened at the Technicolor facilities in Burbank to watch Humboldt County on the beauty of 35mm film. First a quick technical primer: We shot the film on 35mm, then a digital output of that print is used throughout the editing and the majority of the post-production process. Now, we are finally cutting the print negative and color correcting and timing it. This process involves literally soaking the film in chemical solvents with very specific make-ups that alter the color palette of the film. It's one of the final steps in the movie-making process and is highly technical.

We arrived in the morning, armed with donuts, popcorn, peanut m&ms and diet coke and then sat and watched the film like we've never seen it before. It looked gorgeous. Though, I must say, after watching it in this new format, I saw a bunch of changes I would love to go back and make. Sigh. I guess that's the nature of the filmmaking process. There's always more that you feel that you could have done to improve the work. Now, however, it's too late. The film must stand on its own.

We watched the film all the way through and then turned the sound off and watched it again, commenting on the color palette and finding places where the color and feel might not match from shot to shot. I found my response to be very instinctual. Sometimes, I didn't know exactly what was wrong with a particular shot or scene other than that it just felt wrong. Usually, though, after some discussion we would hone in on the problem. Overall, though, Ernie and Aiden did a fantastic job on their initial run through and next week we'll go in again and see the changes.

When we finished, I headed over to the Grove movie theater in Hollywood for a memorial service for my friend Rhiannon Meier. I met her in college, we did some theatre together and after graduating she moved down to LA and was working as a VP at Red Wagon Productions. Last Friday she was killed (along with her boyfriend) by a drunk driver who ran through a red light. I had seen her 24 hours before she died, so it was quite a shock. She was an amazing woman and she'll be missed. The service was lovely and certainly helped put any concerns I have about "Humboldt County" into perspective.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Writing is Hard

1230 AM in Los Angeles.

It's actually raining, and the high tomorrow is not even going to reach 60. Because it is simply different, a change from the 80 degree sunny weather that fills our days, the rain is actually somewhat appealing.

Danny and I are sitting in my apartment writing. Well, technically I'm blogging, which does not officially count as writing. Instead, it counts as something I do much more often: procrastinating.

When my life is in disarray, I only need to sit down to write. I find that, within a couple hours, bills are paid, the desk is organized, the to-do list is typed, errands are run. I run through all my sports and news articles online, and I even check out the latest television show I would normally have no interest in. Finally, when all possible distractions have been eliminated and I'm full of frustration at my lack of progress and the self-loathing that goes along with it, I dive in and try to write.

But then it's probably time to go.


We're working on our next project now, which will be one of two scripts we've been developing since a summer sojourn to New York City. Manhattan was an incredible inspiration. We wrote every day, spent time with good friends, and literally found that writer's block could often be cured with a simple walk around the block -- the sights and sounds and people of the city still provide creative fodder just as they have for so many years, and for so many writers.

It reminds me that we first began writing HUMBOLDT COUNTY over four years ago while spending a month in Shelter Cove, a beautiful ocean town west of Garberville in southern Humboldt. It was there that we first conceived of the characters, the story and the themes we wanted to explore in this film that, in a few short days, we will finally see projected on 35mm.

It's funny to return, now, to the writing process.

I've often heard filmmakers lament the compromised vision that is the final product. While there are certainly aspects of our film that are different from our initial conception, and while we had to make many concessions due to budget or time constraints, in the end we've made a film that I feel proud of. We've made a film that I think people will enjoy.

It's rewarding to see interest building on this blog, as we begin the next step of this process: exhibition. It will be exciting for you all to see this film we've put so much into. Soon, we will show you our work and then it will no longer be ours alone. It will belong to you and your friends and anyone who sees it. You will have opinions and feelings about it, and they will be as valid as the ones we had while making it. So as we approach the time of actually letting this film go, I feel both fear and exhilaration. But mostly, I feel proud. And I feel eager to begin the process again.

So I guess I better get to writing.


p.s. I had the good pleasure of seeing JUNO last night, a wonderful film written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman. It's hysterically funny and also full of complex, well-rounded characters and is about as worth seeing as any film I've seen this year. If you get the chance, check it out because movies like this need to make money so that they can continue to be made (hopefully some of them, by us).

p.p.s. Regarding the issue brought up in the previous post, Danny if you were a better speller, maybe HUMBOLDT COUNTY would have been better. Oh well. There's always the next one.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Humboldt Housekeeping

Good morning. It's 9 AM here in LA. Which, let me tell you, is not the time I prefer to get up. I enjoy my sleep too much. But I've been helping a friend by acting in his USC Film School thesis project so I've been gettin' up a bit early recently. So it's getting into my blood. Which is bad, because, normally I don't like to see the morning rays of light until, say, 11 AM. Anyhoo - just a few housekeeping issues this morning:

1. For those of you who have tried to view the trailer, it's not available to the public yet. Sorry. Within a couple of weeks we're going to have our big, exciting, colorful website up and you'll be able to view a bunch of content about the film. Not yet though, so hold your horses.

2. Some have been wondering about the premiere of the film. All I can tell you now is that we've been invited to premiere the film at a number of high profile film festivals but have been unable to accept the invitation for a variety of reasons. Either the film hasn't been ready or we just felt that the festival was not the right place for our big debut. With that said, we plan to premier the film in the Spring at a high profile festival but unfortunately, until that time, we cannot show the film publicly to anyone. The minute we can reveal details of our premiere, believe you-me, we'll be shouting it from the rooftops.

3.Saw "Margot at the Wedding" last night. It's Noah Baumbach's follow up to "Squid and the Whale." I had the same response as I did to Squid - which was that I was blown away by the characters and the writing, but then he lost me at the end. He loves subtlety in his endings, which usually I do too, but both endings felt empty to me. Despite that, however, I really enjoyed the film. Fantastically edited and beautifully shot.

Have a great day!

P.S. Darren and I may occasionally respond to specific comments or questions in the comment area of the blog. So if you have a question you want answered, keep checking back at the comments section and we might have posted a response.

P.P.S Darren mentioned to me a number of spelling errors he found in a previousss posstt of myne. So I went bak and ficksed them. Thanc you asshole. :)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What is Humboldt anyway?

Hello e-universe! Some of the blog readers have been requesting a little bit more information on the history of this project and our relationship to Humboldt County. If anything, Darren and I are slaves to the public whimsy, so I thought I'd kowtow as quickly as possible to the demands of the 1 (or 2) of you who are currently reading this. Also, I kinda really wanted to use the word "kowtow" in a sentence. And I did. Twice, now. So there.

Neither Darren or I grew up in Humboldt, but the roots go deep. Darren's aunt and uncle moved into the beautiful redwood forests of Humboldt County over twenty-five years ago and Darren has been visiting them since he was a precocious, suburban, midwestern youngster. He had regaled me with stories of the place for many years but it wasn't until about five years ago that I went for the first time. Darren and I headed up to HC to get away from LA, isolate ourselves and work on a script we had been writing. But once we got there, and I was introduced to many people in the community, we knew that we had a new story to tell. HC, to me, was (and remains) a fascinating place. It is, of course, absolutely gorgeous but the community of people that reside there are truly unique - both in incredibly positive and deeply
unfortunate ways. How's that for vague? (see the movie and you'll know what I mean!)

It should be noted that though our film is called "Humboldt County" we do not, for a minute, pretend as if we've made a film that represents the entire county. There are too many different communities and cultures to do that in one story. Instead, we set out to make a film that represents one little sliver of life in the county, as seen through our distinctly outsider eyes. Our aim, though was to represent that sliver as accurately as we could.

That's it for today! Hopefully, by the end of this week, Darren and I will be joining our esteemed cinematographer Ernest Holzman at Technicolor to view the 35mm print of the movie for the first time. I'm getting blue balls just thinking about it....


Monday, December 3, 2007

Meet the Humboldters & Thanks...


In an effort to get into the holiday spirit and also demonstrate just how hard your faithful Humboldt County crew is working to bring you the very best film possible, I'm posting the first "visual image" to this blog. We'd like for this blog to function as an opportunity for you to learn more about this motion picture and the people behind it, and as such we hope to utilize new technologies (such as photography) to aid in the process.

In this first image, you will find key members of the team caught candidly during a Saturday night "bowling" meeting. This photograph was snapped unbeknownst to the 8, who were actually in the midst of a discussion of marketing strategies for the film.

At far left you will find "Peymon the Purple", who supervises music and is also enveloped in the right arm of the film's composer: iZLER. Nestled snugly behind said composer is costume designer Amy. Amy's clothes are so dangerous, she will not allow them to be photographed clearly. Seated in the king's chair, overseeing the mayhem is the grinning grandpappy of it all, Captain Deadpan (CD), who's facial expression is brilliantly being mocked by director Danny, directly above him. Actor Chris sits on CD's lap, a seat in which all of us have unfortunately found ourselves at some point during this filmmaking process. The man above Chris is director Darren, whose unsuccessful attempt at coolness shocks no one, and at his right is the growling yet still incredibly attractive Renee, who has fulfilled her life's charity quota by dating director Darren. (Not pictured: everyone else)

As you may or may not know, Danny and I first met years ago at a Missouri Garbage Pail Kids convention held at the Ramada Inn at the Lake of the Ozarks. At just 11 yeas old, we were immediately drawn to each other's incredibly meticulous and organized collections of the famed cards. I know I'll never forget Danny's mint condition "Cranky Frankie" exhibit, and Danny told me he was drawn to my "Hairy Mary" collage.

Since that time, Danny and I have had the good fortune to work with many extraordinary people, but NONE of them have been as incredible as the good people who've helped bring Humboldt County to the big screen. As we prepare to put the final touches on the film in the next two weeks, we seriously cannot offer enough gratitude to all the many people who put everything they had into making this film come alive.

Talk to you all soon,

Darren & Danny

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Bit of Background

I realized, based on reading over my first post that maybe some background is in order….

Darren and I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and met when we were eight years old and were both hired as youth acts on a tourist steamboat on the Mississippi. The boat was called "Johnny's Water Journey!" Suffice it to say, neither of us actually ever met this infamous "Johnny." I was a kid juggler at the time and Darren had a really lovely animal act. Anyway, we hit it off and, to our own chagrin, have been buddies ever since.

As you read this, we are already four plus years into the journey of bringing “Humboldt County” to the screen. After two and a half years of writing we began the process of raising money and in stepped Jason Weiss, el producer extraordinaire. Jason, for the purposes of this blog, will hereby be called “Captain Deadpan” because, if you’ve ever met Jason Weiss, you’ll know the nickname is apt. After a year of fundraising, we finally shot the film last October with a stellar cast and have spent the last year in post. Which brings us to today – about two weeks away from finally completing the film and getting it ready for its big debut. Thanks for joining us.

Ahoy Planet Earth

Ahoy. And welcome to “Humboldt County.” Over the course of the next few months and years, Darren and I will be putting “words” on this “blog.” Hopefully, some of those “words” will relate to our “movie” Humboldt County.

First, a note. Darren and I do not have a positive relationship with technology. And by “positive relationship with technology” I mean technology has a tendency to make sure we’re alone and then beat us mercilessly with a blunt object - usually a sharp spoon. I mention this because there might be times when you read this blog and it is filled with gobbledygook like “harberioskjd Jkjoinfn.” If that happens, it’s because of Darren and I and our inability to handle anything more technologically advanced than a game of Hungry Hippos. So I apologize in advance.

Now, the movie. We’ve got some big premier news which I can’t share with you all yet but will soon. What I can share is that we’re getting ready to put HC back on film for the first time next week. It’s very exciting. We’ll see it for the first time as intended – on the beauty of a 35mm print.

Let’s talk soon! What have you guys been up to?

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