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UNTHINKABLE 10/04/2013

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What’s Unthinkable – the Government shutdown? Yes, but we have something else in mind. Unthinkable is the title of the new independent film coming from Movies On A Mission. We’ve been in pre-production for the past three weeks and have assembled a kick-ass cast of Portland actors, including Randall Paul (“Eyes Wide Shut”), Dennis Fitzpatrick, Michael Biesanz, Drew Barrios, Deone Jennings and a ton more.
The script is based on actual events – a “murder suicide” according to local police, but possibly a professional assassination according to a well respected investigative journalist.
Want to know more? I’m producing and directing the film, but will jump in when time permits. In the meantime, stand by for updates from filmmaker and Unthinkable participant Laurie Gabriel straight from the trenches.

Peace…

Eric

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PURPLE MIND – TEN TIPS 07/20/2012

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With the constant stream of articles in publications big and small across the U.S. about soldiers dealing with PTSD, I’m hopeful that more people will wake up to the fact that PTSD is something that affects not just returning soldiers, but all of those around them as well.  How does that work, you ask?  Consider two recent stories.

A recent article in the LA Times described Ruth Moore, once a “vivacious” 18-year-old serving in the Navy who was raped by a superior outside a club in Europe.  The result of the rape was that Ruth attempted suicide and was discharged, diagnosed by the Navy with borderline personality disorder, an ailment she says she did not have.

Moore applied for disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs but was denied multiple times — despite submitting witness testimony that she had been raped. Finally, after decades, Moore won 70% compensation for the post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, and depression that had made her unemployable.  The process took Moore 23 years to resolve and she counts herself as one of the “fortunate ones.”

Another recent article in the LA Times describes the real life nightmare of Staff Sgt. Joshua Eisenhauer, who woke early one morning to shouts and footsteps in the darkness, then a banging on his door.  As Eisenhauer rose from the mattress on the floor of his apartment in Fayetteville, N.C., he reached under the bedding for his Glock 19 pistol and fired into the darkness.

What Eisenhauer didn’t know was that the noises weren’t insurgents storming his position in Afghanistan, but firefighters responding to a minor fire on Jan. 13. Eisenhauer, a veteran of two Afghanistan combat tours diagnosed with severepost-traumatic stress disorder, suddenly became the target of an ensuing gun battle with police.  Eisenhauer was shot in the face, chest and thigh, finally passing out from blood loss. When he was first able to speak in a hospital two days later, according to his lawyer, he asked a nurse: “Who’s got the roof?”

Now Eisenhauer is inmate No. 1304704 in Raleigh’s Central Prison. He faces 17 counts of attempted murder of firefighters and police officers, nine counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and other charges. No firefighters or police were hit.

Just two examples of ex-military dealing with PTSD in a country filled with communities and families living with 500,000 veterans also dealing with PTSD.  As Sgt. Eisenhauer’s case demonstrates, it is becoming increasingly important that we all become aware of the potential of everyday situations with the potential to trigger flashbacks in someone wrestling with symptoms.

We originally made our independent feature film,  “Purple Mind,” to encourage veterans dealing with PTSD to seek help, but it has also become clear that our film might also benefit others as well.  We are all closer than we might think to a possible encounter with someone experiencing a flashback.

With the VA able only to treat a fraction of those suffering from PTSD, the Wounded Warriors Project has published a list of ten tips to help those dealing with PTSD and to help others understand that PTSD can be treated and is a normal human reaction to abnormally stressful situations.

TEN TIPS FOR HELPING SOMEONE WITH PTSD

1. Let the veteran determine what they are comfortable talking about and don’t push.

2. Deep breathing exercises or getting to a quiet place can help them cope when stress seems overwhelming.

3. Writing about experiences can help the veteran clarify what is bothering them and help them think of solutions.

4. Alcohol and drugs may seem to help in the short run, but make things worse in the long run.

5. Crowds, trash on the side of the road, fireworks and certain smells can be difficult for veterans coping with PTSD.

6. Be a good listener and don’t say things like, “I know how you felt,” or, “That’s just like when I…” Even if you also served in a combat zone. Everyone’s feelings are unique.

7. http://www.restorewarriors.org is a website where warriors and their families can find tools on how to work through combat stress and PTSD issues. Learn about more mental health support resources that ease symptoms of combat stress.

8. Remind warriors they are not alone and many others have personal stories they can share about their readjustment. Talking to other warriors can help them cope.

9. Allow and encourage warriors and their family members to express their feelings and thoughts to those who care about them.

10. Let them know that acknowledging they may have PTSD says they’re strong, not weak.

VOTE FOR BEST TRAILER 06/20/2012

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We’re going to post a trailer for Purple Mind every day – today, tomorrow and Thursday.  Please let us know which is the best from your POV.  Thanks, the Purple Mind Team.

MOVIES ARE EXPENSIVE 06/19/2012

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Movies are expensive to make.  Any producer setting out to make a movie needs to have a good idea who the audience is and how much the film is likely to earn.  In other words, it wouldn’t be very smart to spend ten million dollars on a film that was only going to earn half a million.

A good example of this would be Brian DePalma’s “fictional documentary,” REDACTED, which was produced with a budget of $5,000,000 but earned only $65,000 at the box office.  Personally, I thought “Redacted” was a damn good film, but not everyone agreed.

DVD cover for “Redacted”

Redacted:  The soldiers of Alfa Company are manning a checkpoint. A car speeds past. They open fire, and a pregnant woman and her unborn child are killed. Two more hearts and minds not won over. In retribution, one of the company’s members is killed by local militia. In response, the two men who fired on the car, Flake & Rush, lead a nighttime raid during which a 15-year-old girl is raped, her family is murdered and their house set afire. Company members are informed by Flake and Rush that if they don’t keep quiet, they will die. They’re serious.

Rotten Tomatoes is a great place to check on how movies do with both critics and audiences alike.  For Redacted, 44% of critics liked the film and 45% of audiences liked it as well.  Thus, the majority of 107 reviewers gave the film a less than glowing review and audiences responded almost equally.  So, even though I was one who thought the film was quite good, a brave effort at telling a true story thru the eyes of soldiers played by no-name actors, critics and the public didn’t entirely agree and the film lost a lot of money.

Because our film, “Purple Mind,” was also a story based on real experiences of “Winter Soldiers,” to be played by a no-name but talented actor (Will Shepherd), common wisdom said it would be foolish to invest much more than “Redacted” had earned at the box office.  Thus, we set the budget for “Purple Mind’ mid-way between $25,000 and $50,000 for direct costs and knew from he start that we wouldn’t be able to pay anyone until the film started earning some money via “deferred salaries.”

Films in the budget range of “Purple Mind” are considered by many to be “no-budget films.”  But this didn’t mean we had no chance of earning the cost of the film back or of paying cast and crew their deferred salary.  Another film I’d been following, “Facing The Giants,“ the first film from the Brothers Kindrick, cost somewhere between $10,000 and $50,000 (with locations, extras, food, etc. pitched in by a large church community) and found its way to distribution with Samuel Goldwyn and Sony, grossing in the neighborhood of $10 million dollars!!!!

Facing the Giants poster

Facing the Giants poster

Facing the Giants:  A failing high-school football coach finds that in order to succeed he must convince his team that there’s more to sports than fame and glory in an inspirational tale of courage on the gridiron and the power of God’s word. Grant Taylor (Alex Kendrick) has been coaching the Shiloh Eagles for six years, and he has yet to realize his dream of a winning season. When the team’s star player transfers schools, the first three games of the new season show no promise for improvement, troubles at home begin to take their toll, and a plot among the player’s fathers to have the Coach fired finds Coach Taylor’s future in football looking bleak.  Coach Taylor is faced with the prospect of either cutting his losses and admitting defeat or turning his life over to God in an attempt to test the true power of faith. With his job on the line and nothing left to lose, Coach Taylor convinces his determined team of underdogs that there’s nothing they can’t accomplish with a little faith — including the miracle of a winning season when all hope seems lost.

The Christian Spotlight on Entertainment gave “Giants” an Excellent “Moral Rating” and five stars for the film.    Rotten Tomatoes, however, gave “Giants a 13% for critics who liked the film vs. an 84% for the evangelical Christian audience members who liked the film.

So, what was the take-away from the “Giants” story?  One might be, “With God All Things Are Possible.”  I liked the promise of a little film overcoming the odds by offering a positive, life-affirming message.  If “Giants “ could gain traction with a Christian audience, perhaps “Purple Mind” could find traction with a few of the two million soldiers returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and their families.  After all, both are stories about families in crisis.  Both show hallmarks of a “no-budget” production.  But both had positive messages and an upbeat ending – one via faith in God and the other via  faith in psychology – healing comes from overcoming the reluctance to talking about the traumatic experiences of war.

Pretty simple formula, right?  Well, maybe.

Like the Kendricks Brothers did with their first film, we are now reaching out, not to Christian groups, but to groups supporting vets, military families and PTSD support groups, offering….  Well, have you checked out our platform?  Distrify.com.  By putting your film up on Distrify, lots of filmmakers are earning a buck or two from downloads and streaming and the ability to share as many of those dollars as they like with others.  For instance, if a vet support group should embed the “Purple Mind” Distrify player on their website, they would earn half of every rental or download that came through the player.  Pretty cool, says I.  And unlike raising money from say, Kickstarter, this requires little effort, as it comes from a completed film, and all the work is already done.  All supporting groups need do is share the love.  They don’t even have to talk to me.  Just share.  We think that’s really cool.  Maybe you will too.  Check it out!

CASTING CATHERINE JOHNSON 06/15/2012

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I would have no claim to being a real Portlander if I hadn’t done a lot of the casting for our film (“Purple Mind”) from local casting agents and personal recommendations.  One of the very first local actress to get her headshot and resume into my hands was Catherine Johnson, who was interested in the supporting role of MARY, Jenna Matthews mother.  “Cat’s” day job has been selling oncology drugs which takes her all across the country, depending on the season and whether or not she’s doing a movie.  A devoted marathoner, Cat doesn’t feel like the day has even started unless she’s run ten miles before coffee.  And, as dedicated to her acting as to her running, she books dozens of local film and video projects every year.

I first met Cat at a downtown Portland coffee house (World Coffee), where I’d workshopped the screenplay with a core group of local writers in a back room they provide for customers in need of a meeting space.  Cat stands barely five feet tall, but has the energy of half a dozen folks of larger dimension.  Attractive with a Susan Sarandon kind of sensuality, Cat’s look and voice combine to command attention – which always works to an actor’s favor.

Each time we met, Cat would wear amazingly hot short skirts showing off a great pair of (runner’s) legs, the whole Catherine Johnson package starting to fit the image I had of Mary, a mother who had raised her daughter to go off and get pregnant straight out of Junior High.  Also, it didn’t hurt that Cat was a pretty good actress with few inhibitions.  Take a look at this clip from our final read through party…

CASTING BRIGHID FLEMING 06/14/2012

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I found my entire principal cast of three wonderful actors at Backstage West.  Brighid Fleming was the third.  At the time (2009), Brighid, who, because most people can’t pronounce her name properly (Brie-id), goes by the nickname “Fish,” had just turned ten with the role of DELIA, Gerard Butler’s daughter in “GAMER” recently completed.  Imagine yourself as a ten year old surrounded by all these heavy hitters…

Since she first saw actors on a stage at the age of five or so, Brighid has known what she wants to do with her life.  After the untimely death of her father, Brighid’s mother, Carol, decided to dedicate all her resources to supporting Brighid’s dream and the two moved from New Mexico to Los Angeles, where Brighid began appearing on stage and gradually began booking roles in film and TV.

To date (June 2012) Brighid has appeared in sixteen movies/videos and eight television series, including “The Mentalist,” “Awake,” “CSI: Miami,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and “Saving Grace.”  She has the highest IMDB star meter reading of any of the “Purple Mind” cast and was more fun on set than a busload of Cirque du Soleil clowns.

The character Brighid plays is Crystal Matthews, a little girl attempting to understand  a father who has been away at war and who returns as a complete stranger at odds with the world around him and suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which has turned him into some kind of a monster.   I absolutely must compliment Brighid on was her work ethic as an actress.  Every day she was on set, she came in prepared, knew her lines, and when the camera rolled, she was in  character, requiring minimal direction for such an emotionally demanding role.  Brighid was an absolute joy to work with, and I am convinced that one day she will be a star.

CASTING WILL SHEPHERD 06/13/2012

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CASTING WILL SHEPHERD

Here’s where it starts to get weird.  One of the actors who responded to our casting notice in Backstage West was a New York model named Will Shepherd.  The son of a retired country sheriff, Will had been wandering the country, enjoying a nomadic life-style straight out of Jack Kerouac for several years until he made the decision to become an actor and move permanently to New York.  Gutsy, right?

From the “Series 2010” YouTube, you can see that Will has some chops and the looks to go with them.  But what else was he bringing to the table?

Will and I connected first by email and then by phone.  He told me of his commitment to acting and how he spent all his money on coaching sessions with Drew Barrymore’s mother, Jaid, who, according to Will was a brilliant acting coach.

It’s embarrassing to admit how badly I wanted to make “Purple Mind,” and even more embarrassing how I ignored every rule in the book when it came to casting Will Shepherd.  Will had no reel.  He had no credits, except for another indie he’d had a lead role in, “1/20.”  But at the time, none of that footage was available.  What was available, in spades, was Will’s tremendous enthusiasm for the role of Roy Matthews.  Will swore up and down how the role was “written for him” and how he would go to any lengths to make Roy come alive.

So, I auditioned him.  Me in Portland and Will in New York – via YouTube.   I could kick myself now for not downloading those audition videos, but I didn’t and Will has long ago taken them off-line.

The first audition scene he did was a long monolog from an interview with a V.A. therapist where he describes why he hadn’t mentioned anything about symptoms of PTSD during his exit processing from the Army.  When I watched Will’s work I thought it was pretty good, but wasn’t as convincing as I’d hoped.  I felt I was watching an actor doing a scene.  What I needed was an actor who had become the character.  So, I asked  Will to do it again and gave him a little direction via email.  Two days later, another YouTube video was waiting for me.  “Take two.”  It was GENIUS.  No kidding.  Will had absolutely nailed the scene and brought Roy Matthews to life right there on the funky YouTube machine.

This was at about the same time that I drove down to L.A. to see Emily and her father on stage at Theatre West performing the play which they’d co-written based on the Richard Boleslavsky book, “Acting: The First Six Lessons.”

Working with her father, Beau Bridges, Emily was sensational.  Exciting in her full range of emotions and nuanced responses.  It was clear that what I was seeing on stage was the result of generations of dedication to the craft of acting.

Afterwards, at a cafe next to Theatre West, I sat down with Emily and we spent a half hour talking about the project, the lack of money, my wearing all the hats and my great discovery of Will Shepherd.

I suppose the only thing that sells a movie is enthusiasm, and mine must have been infectious because not long after meeting Emily, she and Will began a month long phone conversation that eventually led to them sitting across the table from each other at our house in Portland, Oregon, a week before production was to begin on “Purple Mind.”

CASTING EMILY BRIDGES 06/11/2012

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The common wisdom is that if you want to make a successful film, you need to cast actors with recognizable names…  Hoffman, DiNiro, Streep, Sarandon, Bridges.  Bridges?  Why is that familiar?

As I was still working on the screenplay for “Purple Mind,” I was also thinking about casting.  We’d had an offer of $10 million in financing and I’d put together a package which included several BIG names to justify that kind of a budget, but as it turned out, the offer was from a film finance scammer who was running a very clever and dangerous con.

So, when the fantasy of big bucks and big names had turned into smoke and mirrors, I realized we were either not going to make “Purple Mind,” or it was going to be a low budget production, as in next to nothing budget…  and that I was going to have to do what I’d sworn I would never do again, namely everything.

On our earlier film, “Director’s Cut: Metalface,” I’d had very good luck casting excellent LA actors from a service called Backstage West.  Actors from all over the country religiously check for cool projects casting via Backstage West.

The Backstage West website allows users to browse through actors headshots and resumes organized by gender and age, SAG, AFTRA or non-union and whether they’re willing to work on “no budget” projects like mine.  So, as I started through a section of ingenues, I came across a familiar name.  What?  I had barely gotten through the B’s and there it was, staring me straight in the face.  BRIDGES.  But could it be THAT Bridges?

Jeff Bridges had just been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in “Crazy Heart.”  But no, as it turned out, Emily wasn’t one of Jeff’s daughters – she was Jeff’s brother Beau’s daughter, fresh out of Fordham University, the London Academy and the Moscow Art Theatre School.  EUREKA!  Even better, remember the part where actors indicate whether they’re willing to work on “no-budget” productions?  Well, the box marked “Will work for free” had a check mark next to it.  What unbelievable good luck!

Emily Bridges during shooting of “Purple Mind.”

So, how difficult could it be to attach Emily Bridges to our film?  Well, she had provided her contact information and it was a direct email link straight to – not an agent or manager – but direct to Emily herself.  So, I wrote, telling Emily about “Purple Mind” and the role I thought she would be great for.  And a few days later, wonder of wonders, she wrote back and asked to see a script.

More Tomorrow…