Monday, May 29, 2017

Harvey's Last Night on the Avenue

Over the course of the past year and a half, I’ve been doing everything I can to make my latest film, which I first wrote in September of 2015. I wanted my friend and collaborator Mike Wesolowski, who played the lead role in my thesis film You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory, to not only star in the film, but also to help me re-write and refine the piece. Together, we embarked upon the creation of my sixth film, Harvey’s Last Night on the Avenue.

Last summer, after going through dozens of drafts with Mike – meeting together in all corners of New York City to get the script right – I launched an IndieGoGo campaign and officially announced pre-production on the film, with the intention of shooting in October 2016. You can view our promo video below.

As hard as I’ve tried to stay in the ‘short film’ arena these last few years, I’ve reached a point where the themes I want to explore no longer fit within the confines of a twenty-minute-or-less story. Thus, Harvey’s Last Night On The Avenue is my largest scale project to date. A five-part web-series, the story takes place over the course of one long night, as we follow a sensitive young man named Harvey, who joins a group of his friends on a bar crawl the night before he moves from New York back to his hometown in Texas. The picture follows him and this ever-growing group as they hop from bar-to-bar in Brooklyn.

Harvey, an obsessive and socially awkward person, ruminates over many of his minor social faux pas that he perceives as huge errors. As the night goes on, he accrues more and more faults in his mind, and becomes increasingly unable to connect with the people around him. He even keeps a tape recorder in his backpack, and frequently retreats to the bathroom to confess his ill-advised behavior into the recorder.

But Harvey’s Last Night on the Avenue isn’t only about the outcast – it’s about the dynamic of the entire group. Each character has his or her own unique set of goals — we have fun watching the whims and aspirations of a large number of twenty-somethings out on the town, struggling to function in their own way.

Stylistically, this film has the feel of hang-out movies such as Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused (1993) and Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) – films that are built around a large number of vivid supporting characters, rely on a small number of varied settings, and take place over a short span of time (in this case, one night). Despite these influences, Harvey’s Last Night on the Avenue is unique in that it’s a story told from the perspective of someone on the outside of the fun. As the film goes on, we fall further away from connecting with the charismatic supporting characters. And as Harvey becomes increasingly removed from the situation, we gain more and more insight into the psychological factors behind his behavior.

In many ways, this series is a continuation and expansion of the character from my thesis film - someone who feels so bad about every single action he takes, he can only survive by confessing to another person (that film concerns a young man who compulsively confesses every detail of his anti-social behavior to his mother).

I think Mike and I both responded to the intense morality of the character he played in my last film. Naturally, we wanted to return to this character and explore him beyond the confines of a twenty-minute short film – and in particular explore why this person feels the necessity to confess his behavior. Where did this compulsion come from? What psychological factors are present when someone can’t get through an evening with friends without obsessing over their sometimes harmless and sometimes inappropriate social errors? Whereas my thesis film took place largely in an apartment with Charlie and his mother, Mike and I thought we should put our new character out in the wild for the entirety of this project. Let it all take place in social settings, where this character feels deeply anxious and trapped – which is why we ended up with a bar-crawl script.

So there's this tension the whole movie - between wanting to be part of the fun, and needing to reckon with the part of ourselves that questions each and every decision on a deeply moral, micro level.

And we felt strongly that a web-series was the right format for this idea. Because the screenplay moves from bar to bar throughout the course of one night, we realized that the story breaks up very nicely into individual episodes. And we weren't familiar with a web series in which each episode returns to the same, long painful night again and again. We felt this could be a very unique way of telling this particular story, especially as our lead character continues to return in his mind to events from the same ongoing night.

Originally, my producer, cinematographer and I estimated that the film would cost close to $30,000.00. We were planning to shoot over a period of two weeks in October, with ten shooting days and two rest days. But even though the shoot was planned in a relatively inexpensive way, it was clear I couldn’t quite raise enough money to make it happen. The IndieGoGo campaign brought in over $5000.00, but I was trying to raise as much as $15,000.00. Much of the budget came from the sheer length of the shoot – renting camera gear, grip/electric equipment, and production vehicles adds up significantly over the course of two weeks. And that doesn’t include food, which, for a crew of more than ten people and a cast of fifteen, is a significant expense. And then there were the locations – seven of our ten shooting days were at bars.

Despite our limited budget, I wanted this series to feel energetic and alive, and pulse with the intensity of the lead character's emotions. What we lack in resources, we will make up for in pure energy – that was my motto. Even as an October shoot date seemed foolhardy, I soldiered on – thinking that somehow we would be able to do it.

Before long, it became clear that we would be better served and prepared by shooting in the spring, and so I made the decision to move our dates. This would allow us a little more time to find the proper locations and to plan the logistics of the shoot – and, ideally, find more money.

During the winter, Mike and I scaled back the script to fit a more modest budget, and we were ultimately thrilled with the result. Through tightening the script to a leaner thirty pages, we found a way to shoot the series in five days rather than ten. Suddenly, the shoot seemed viable – we could make the series in a more cost-effective way that fit our budget.

But there were further complications ahead. In January, I lost most of my original crew to other jobs and circumstances beyond their control, which was a major setback. Luckily, I had a cast who was dedicated to the script and wasn't going anywhere, and so there was still a team behind this thing pushing it forward, by any means necessary. Along with Mike, we had some of the finest young actors in New York City – including Justin Danforth, Matthew K. Davis, Connor Delves, Aubrey Elenz, Allison Frasca, Taylor Marie Frey, Michael Galligan, Justine Magnusson, Max Pava and Jamie Wolfe. Many of them came directly from the Atlantic School of Acting at NYU, where Mike studied alongside them.

Then, I received some wonderful news in January that helped us immensely - I was one of four recipients of the Richie Jackson Artist Fellowship, which includes a mentorship from the very successful producer Richie Jackson and a $5000.00 stipend, which went straight to this web series. You can view my bio for the Fellowship here, and read more about the fellowship here. Suddenly, the shoot didn’t seem so crazy. My mom, Gretchen Kyser, made a huge contribution to total up the funds needed. I wrote my contributors and let them know we were a full go for our spring shoot! (In case I haven’t said it before, I cannot thank the contributors to my IndieGoGo campaign enough. They helped make the series possible.)

As soon as I could, I found a new team – the extraordinary producer Alex Fofonoff (director of the feature film Blood and Thunder, in which I starred) had already been helping me scout locations during the summer, and his stepping in and taking charge of the project really saved us. Then, the immensely talented cinematographer Kevin Dynia joined the crew, along with assistant director Matthew James Reilly, sound mixer Nick Chirumbolo, and script supervisor Lain Kienzle.

In the months leading up to the shoot, I storyboarded the entire film and met with Kevin consistently to shot list the film. Alex and I locked down locations, insurance and all other logistical challenges – and I rehearsed with our large, magnificent cast (Mike now lives in Chicago, and so we did a large cast rehearsal without him before he arrived, and then individual, smaller rehearsals once he was in town).

In the end, we had a terrific shoot - four different bar locations (Beauty Bar, The Starlight, Phoenix and Syndicated), an extraordinary night of exteriors, and an on-set energy unlike any I've ever seen. We scheduled and planned the film the right way, and the work paid off - it was as smooth a shoot as you could hope for, especially considering the scale and ambition of the series.

I am so deeply honored and humbled by the hard work of our cast and crew members. We had two actors, Mike and Taylor Frey, fly in from Chicago and Los Angeles specifically for the shoot, and we called upon the talents of many local actors and filmmakers to help tell this story. We had two amazing actors who were part of the beloved Austin High theatre department, Aubrey Elenz and Zach Gamble, and renowned filmmakers running the set at a remarkable pace.

I feel confident in saying that this will be the strongest work I've made to date, and I owe so much of it to the extraordinary ensemble of actors in this piece. Every one of them added such vitality to this project, and I find myself cracking up and genuinely moved while watching the dailies.

Mike and I first started working together on this script well over a year ago, and almost exactly a year ago, we embarked upon casting the project. I can’t thank those who stuck with us from the beginning enough. It wasn't an easy road - from postponing our original shoot dates in October, to reassembling much of the team earlier this year - but I wouldn't have changed a thing about the way we pulled off the shoot in the end.

I will start working on editing the picture as soon as possible, and I feel confident, given the effort put into the film, that we will have a fantastic final product. Expect many more updates to come.

In addition to all of this news about Harvey's Last Night on the Avenue, I also want to share some news about my previous film, Jack and Lucas Go To A Wedding. Last year, this short film was named an Official Selection of the 2016 Black Cat Picture Show in Augusta, GA, and the 2016 Hudson Valley International Film Festival in upstate New York. The movie screened at both festivals in August, and Lucas Loredo won Best Supporting Actor in a Short Film at the Hudson Valley International Film Festival!

In June, the film will screen at NewFilmmakers New York at Anthology Film Archives, which is always an amazing place to screen a movie (I screened my film Jake the Cinephile there three years ago on probably the largest screen on which I’ve seen my work).

In addition, a clip from Jack and Lucas Go To A Wedding screened on WJBP NewsChannel 6 in Augusta, Georgia, as part of the promotion for the Black Cat Picture Show. You can see the clip (featuring my co-star and dear friend Lucas and me) here at 0:34!

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