The ups and downs of shooting in Atlanta
Special for CinemATL.com
We want you to know right off the bat that we're moving to New York City early in 2006.
Obviously, we wouldn't be leaving if we felt we could make our strange little films here. Given that Atlanta seems to lose a good portion of its filmmakers to larger markets like New York or Los Angeles, Martin Kelley has assured us that people would be interested in our reasons for moving. Even though he is responsible for us writing this article, please send all hate mail directly to us.
|Producer Tal Harris & Director Kasia Kowalczyk encourage Bread Squeezing. (photo: Tal Harris)|
Rather than saying, "Atlanta sucks, we're outta here!" we thought it would be more constructive to simply compile a short list of the ups and downs of shooting in Atlanta and how it may compare to New York. We will focus our observations around the shooting of our 19-minute short film The Bread Squeezer in May of 2005.
Let's get right to it!
No Glamour in Shorts
As opposed to features with name talent, a lá Robert Redford, shorts have very little sex appeal. Savvy homeowners who are familiar with the industry want mucho dinero, or the opportunity to have a photo-op with a celebrity. Since we had none of the above, some people didn't return our phone calls; in one case, a homeowner just laughed when we told them our budget. Yes, she actually laughed and laughed and laughed. We imagine this will be even worse in New York.
Compassionate Filmmakers & Small-Town Excitement
Lady from Sockholm producer & scribe Lynn Lamousin took pity on us and gave us a location for free. Lynn's friend, wanting to get in on the action, let us shoot in two of her homes and even paint the rooms! The city of Rome was able to help us find free locations, or ones that were cheap ( i.e. $200 per day or less). Following their lead, Suwanee allowed us to shoot on the streets of their historic district for free. In New York, however, we will not be able to get such inexpensive locations. When our friend shot his feature in NYC, he had to pay $1,000 per day for a very nondescript apartment location. He said that New Yorkers are incredibly savvy about film location costs and expect to receive thousands of dollars per day.
Free locations are not always free. We were allowed to shoot in Suwanee for free...but they prefer if you hire an off-duty officer for $35 per hour with a minimum of 4 hours. We had a similar deal with Berry College in Rome, where we were required to use their campus police, which ran us $25 per hour. On the positive side, there is nothing better for traffic and noise control than someone with a badge! At Berry, we were shooting on a small tree-lined street. We had 21 kid extras and a dolly shot that required us to place the dolly in both lanes. Drivers hated that we took up the entire road, and some wanted to use our children as speed bumps. In cases like this, it is amazing how handy a uniformed officer can be.
City Park Fees
We were planning a brief scene in Grant Park and to be on the safe side, we contacted the Atlanta director of parks. He was fine with us shooting there and didn't require a location fee, but wanted proof of insurance. Specifically, the policy had to include $1,000,000 of third party property damage insurance. The good news is that it only cost us $350 for $1,000,000 worth of coverage, which in turn covered all our locations for the entire shoot.
It's hard to get worker's compensation if your production office (i.e. your home) is not in California, Florida, North Carolina, New York or Texas. For us this meant that we had to coerce our homeowner's insurance agent into hooking us up, even though he was getting squat in return. It took several weeks to get this insurance, when it would have only taken an afternoon to get if we lived in NYC. Fortunately, worker's comp costs are based on your payroll, so for our production it was fairly inexpensive (a meager $750) and having it allowed us to cast SAG actors. Also, our gaffer inexplicably came down with Bell's Palsy, a condition of partial facial paralysis, and he spent the rest of our shoot impersonating a pirate. Had he claimed that it was a direct result of working with us, we would have been covered. Thank heavens we fed him well, thus distracting him from any ill feelings concerning us.
Equipment Rental Houses
"There are some wonderful and hardworking filmmakers here dedicated to making independent films."
As a tiny film company, we have little influence in getting discounts from rental houses, because we only bring them business every two years. Furthermore, with the limited number of these companies, it's more difficult to get competitive rates...especially for the small filmmaker. Feature Systems' closing of their Atlanta location has not helped this situation. Given the large number of rental houses in NYC, the chances of finding a company willing to make a deal is definitely much greater there than here.
The Generosity of "Almost" Strangers
For some reason, Atlanta filmmaker Jon Swindall gave us a hand even though we barely knew him at the time. Jon was talking to our DP Bill Burton, and they began discussing our short The Bread Squeezer. Jon remembered our film from the 2004 Southeastern Media Award reading and offered to help in any way he could. Bill mentioned that we could sure use some lighting gear, so Jon called up Dave Ganczewski at Feature Systems and swung us an amazing deal. This is definitely one of the benefits of living in a smaller film town—most people know about your project and will often try to help if they can.
For us, it's been hard to find producers who are experienced in making and promoting low-budget independent films. Yes, there are a few; but among these people we haven't be able to find someone who also believes in our artistic vision. Furthermore, the relatively small size of the independent film industry here makes it hard to establish connections with studios, distributors and more established filmmakers. Thanks to the film festival circuit, we have met and corresponded with a couple of small distributors in New York as well as directors and producers who have had their work in Sundance, Slamdance & Tribeca. Since a lot of filmmaking is about whom you know, it only makes sense for us to go where we have the best connections.
There are some wonderful and hardworking filmmakers here dedicated to making independent films. We have clearly benefited greatly from their energy and enthusiasm. In particular, the lovely folks at Joybean Studios and our co-producer, Susan Neal. That girl Susan found us over 400 loaves of free bread for the squeezin'! These people will be sorely missed.
Tal Harris & Kasia Kowalczyk are the founders of the small film company Tal Kasia Productions. Keep an eye out for their latest short film "The Bread Squeezer" at www.Tal-Kasia.com.
Corin Rogers plays with bread in a vintage 50's kitchen location in Rome, GA. (photo: Holly White)
DP Bill Burton attempts to maneuver the dolly on a historic Suwanee street during The Bread Squeezer shoot. (photo: Holly White)
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