Six years ago, in the cool early spring of the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, I set out to Direct what would be my last “student” film at Columbia College Chicago. It would be for a comedy directing class, one I particularly enjoyed, taught by Terry Miller. The short would be based off of a silly idea I had in high school about a boy’s stuffed bunny rabbit who springs to life as a serial killer. Sort of a tongue-in-cheek horror/comedy where TOY STORY meets CHILD’S PLAY. But why would this silly short film take so long to finally get edited and released? Well, that’s a whole different story.
After a casting process in downtown Chicago, I found the fantastic Zack Newman to play the lead character, Brent, a scrawny, awkward little fella whose beyond-his-years wisdom leaves him as an outcast among his parents and peers. It isn’t until a gypsy, played by the one and only JOETTE WATERS (a Chicago legend), comes along and curses his favorite stuffed toy to seek vengeance on those that have done Brent wrong. A horror/comedy/revenge movie. My favorite!
The film would be shot partially on a film stage that Columbia College owns downtown, while the rest would be shot on location in Woodstock, IL at my personal residence. I had set up for my Director of Photography, Nathan “T-Bone” Gregory to stay for a weekend while we plan, shoot and edit the film. I had even purchased a Sony HDR-FX1 to capture it. Friday rolled around and as I picked up the cargo van to retrieve all of the equipment from the school downtown, my mother fell very ill.
We thought nothing of it. In fact, she was born with Type 1 diabetes, survived her first heart attack when she was 35 (I was 9 at the time) AND a triple bypass surgery in 2004. After all of that, how could we possibly worry about what seemed to just be a bad flu?
But I did worry. After expressing my concerns and desire to cancel the film shoot in favor of bringing her to the hospital, my mom, Pamela, insisted that I continue on with my plans to shoot the film. She said she would be fine and it would pass. The rest of the day would see me drive down to Chicago, pick up T-Bone and storyboard the shoot. When I arrived back home I knew she was doing worse. It was such a whirlwind, however, with the impending end of college, my last short film that I was super excited to complete. Everything happened so fast that before you know it, it was over.
That night as T-Bone and I finished the storyboards and I rest my head on my pillow, my worst fears had been realized. Right around 1 AM the racing thoughts of pre-production were instantly drowned out by helpless screams. In that moment, all was lost. Pamela Jean Koerber Montgomery passed away on April 26th, 2008. Only 4 days after my 23rd birthday, 2 weeks before I was to graduate college and a month before I was to move to Los Angeles.
Needless to say, the short was postponed. But only to that following weekend. So many people came together to make it happen. I had friends and family watching on, who were in town for the funeral. It was a surreal experience. We managed to complete the whole thing and the result was always something I was extremely proud of. But all of the sudden I was faced with college graduation, relocating across the country to Los Angeles AND my Mother’s funeral. I wasn’t really in shape to take all of that on and even though I made it through and successfully transitioned to L.A., sometimes I don’t feel like I ever properly grieved. Maybe none of us did, my dad, sister and I. Everything happened so fast that it was very difficult for me to go back to the film and re-visit those final moments of the person whom I was more close to than anyone in my life.
The film sat on a hard drive and HDV tapes for years, barely edited. I kept trying to go back to it, but there was always an issue. Sometimes an emotional one. But more often my computer wasn’t fast enough, would crash, the files wouldn’t load correctly, tapes were all over the place. While struggling to get ahead in Los Angeles, I was unable to purchase a computer that could handle the work load. It wasn’t until a good friend of mine, Michael Mertes built me a machine that had the specs capable of handling the HD footage. This was just last year.
Now, the media is online, the picture lock in Avid is complete and sound design and color-correction are under way! It is only fair that this film gets a solid release, for my own piece of mind and for everyone on the cast and crew that dedicated a lot of time and effort to get it made. It’s been a real emotional journey over the past six years, so what better way to remember it than by laughing and crying at a short film?
Oh, and if you think you’re just getting a YouTube link once it is done, think again. It needs to be an experience. I’m talking Full HD, with extras including storyboards, the original script, concept art, trailer, and the original footage from high school where it all began. All of this and more coming in a nice package – potentially on Blu Ray, DVD and (TBA) online outlets. Stay tuned here, on Twitter and Facebook for updates and an inside-look into the process.