On The Cheap

Hungry independent filmmakers Art Hall and Chris Walls plot creatively to overcome a tight budget, deserting actors and overheated `studios.'

July 30, 2002|By Tori Campion | Tori Campion,SUN STAFF

"Without dollar signs, people don't think you are serious."

- Art Hall, independent movie director

What does $9,000 get you these days? A weekend in the Presidential Suite of the Beverly Hills Hotel, a Concorde flight to London and back, about two-days'-worth of catering on the average movie set, maybe a feature film.

That last item might sound unlikely, given that most movies have production budgets that run in the millions-of-dollars. But two Anne Arundel Community College students, Art Hall and Chris Walls, have more modest aspirations: They figure $9,000 will be enough to pay for the movie they have been filming since last month.

For one thing, making a movie is a blast, Hall says. "You can't find anything better."

Hall and Walls' foul-mouthed comedy, The Money Shot, follows two amateur filmmakers who set out to make a porn film with an actual plot and chronicles the hodgepodge of characters they encounter on the way. Hall insists there is no nudity in the movie, which doubtless presents a problem: making a film about porn without actually showing any skin.

But perhaps that is the least of their worries.

For one thing, they realize the odds are against them. All over Maryland and throughout the country, budding producers and directors are scraping together financing and shooting movies they hope will be their springboard to careers behind the camera.

If they're lucky, their completed films might end up available for rental at some well-stocked video stores - like Baltimorean Lowry Brooks Jr., whose Mala Voodoo hit the shelves back in 1994. The really fortunate few might have their movies picked up by a cable network. Some might get shown at a film festival or two, might even find their way to a major studio and pique some executive's interest. That hardly ever happens, but it could.

Still, that's not what fuels people like Hall and Walls. Hall said that he began scripts a few times in the past without completing them, but this time, "I wanted to take it from page to full script to final product." Obviously, these guys are committed. They have to be, given what they put up with on a daily basis.

While shooting on a not-quite-Hollywood set - a ship repair shop in Brooklyn Park - on a boiling July afternoon, with a volunteer cast and crew, Hall and Walls recount the litany of difficulties: cast members who come and go with little warning, external sounds that constantly ruin shots, securing locations that can be had for free, making-do with jerry-rigged cameras that mimic the capabilities of equipment too expensive for them to buy.

The trick is finding creative and unique ways to stretch their modest budget. "The level of creativity just sky rockets," said Dale Boyer of Millersville, the movie's sound technician.

To pay for their film, the pair borrowed money from Hall's parents, dipped into their savings and stored away money from their part-time jobs (Hall is a Domino's delivery guy, Walls a data entry clerk). They've also worn a lot of hats on the set: they are co-producers, co-writers - the film is loosely based on their own lives - and co-lead actors.

Plus, Hall adds, "The crew acts and the actors do crew stuff."

Money hasn't been the only hurdle. Hall, from Pasadena, complains about not being taken seriously. "If they don't see 20 light rigs and a massive camera, they think you are making a porno," he says. Of course, the plotline might not help.

Finding locations for filming has also presented a problem. Director Hall and assistant director Walls, who hails from Columbia, asked friends and family to help out with locations. They borrowed an RV from one friend and the location on which they are shooting on this day from another.

Hall recalls a time when they were shooting in downtown Baltimore and a homeless man walked right into the shot. Despite the unwanted invasion of their filming space, Hall said it made for a great shot that they would have used, except that Walls couldn't stop laughing. Even today, they make frequent stops to wait out inconsiderate overhead planes, rumbling cars or ringing telephones.

Walls, who is slightly rounded, and Hall, who is tall and broad-shouldered, engage in friendly banter about everything from forgetting lines to the various bizarre props. They complement each other well; Walls tends to get excited, while Hall stays relaxed. Off-camera, the duo are all jokes and laughs, but point a camera in their direction, or tell them it's time to set up a shot, and professionalism takes over.

In the beginning, a couple of actors dropped out, which wasn't unexpected or terribly hard to work around, Hall said. But as the production moved along, a couple more actors dropped out, causing extensive re-writing and re-casting - a process that became more and more burdensome.

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