As part of a collaborative group of filmmakers working hard under the name No Coast Artists, Andrew Schneider sees the world of cinema as a place where movies are art made by and for everyone. When the Fort Collins-based group set out to create its first major film production, Whensday, premiering this Friday, August 9 at Lyric Cinema Cafe, the quartet had the experience, equipment and location in mind -- but that was about it.
The result was a film that stars a town and a bicycle as its main characters, helped along by a wonderful cast that assembled out of an open call for parties interested in making a film -- no experience necessary. In advance of the first screening of Whensday, Schneider spoke with Westword about creating a film with no script but plenty of energetic participants, what is is like to collaborate with great friends, and the importance of indie filmmaking in a modern-day digital Hollywood world.
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Westword: Can you talk a little bit about who you are in relationship to this film?
Andrew Schneider: I am one of four friends and collaborators who, a year ago in May, sat down and said, let's stop talking about the movies we want to make and start making them together. I have a BFA in theater -- I've produced opera and done digital marketing for about ten years. Then I got into television, where I worked for Current TV in San Francisco -- and then got laid off in one of their infamous mass layoffs and moved back to Colorado four years ago.
I got wrapped up in the Fort Collins creative scene, especially the music scene. I befriended Ben Mozer, who owns the Lyric Cinema Cafe, and Tomas Herrera, who is a local filmmaker, and Doug Usher, who is another local filmmaker who owns a commercial video company here in town called VIA. That's the four of us who sort of drove Whensday through to the finish line.
What is your title in regards to Whensday? Are you a producer or director of the film?
We all assume the title of producer/director. Though we worked on different segments and sometimes there were more of us available than others, everything was sort of shot in our free time over the last year. Certainly, this movie could have been made faster (laughs) but we all also have other things going on. And that's kind of one of the reasons we wanted to do it -- to show people that we've got all the tools we need in terms of technology and talent here; you don't have to long to live in Los Angeles to make movies. You can do it with your friends in your own community.
It's a strange cultural myth, I think, that that has to take place. We really give it a lot of credence and, nobody ever wants to be the one saying the Emperor has no clothes, of course, but I can definitely imagine a much more vibrant creative world if things were more decentralized. And there was a broader appreciation and acknowledgement of community entertainment.
What is it about Fort Collins that works for filmmaking?
When you see Whensday, you'll see that it is a very beautiful place to live. We've been telling people that the real main characters of the movie aren't represented by actors -- they are Fort Collins, and a bicycle. It's just really gorgeous to live here and there's just sort of an easy way of living. There are a lot of creative people living here and working here, especially both in commercial art and fine arts. There's a ton of talent and there is always something happening in town. I think those are the major draws for me.
Personally, I got rid of my car when I moved to San Francisco in 2007 and have been all-bike since then. So, it is super-convenient for me to be in a town the size of Fort Collins because it is a Platinum Bicycle Friendly Community and all of that good stuff. As this movie was a collaborative effort between four people, where did the story or script for Whensday originate?
The process for Whenesday was pretty unusual, in terms of feature filmmaking. Through our network at Lyric Cinema and a gallery I used to help run that is now closed -- GNU Experience Gallery -- we said, "Hey, let's have a gathering of filmmakers and really try to build a community and reach out and see who shows up and wants to make a feature." We didn't have a story, but we knew that biking was sort of the theme to begin with, but that's as clear-cut as it was.
Maybe eight people showed up? All of them were our friends, nobody we didn't know. Several of them were non-filmmakers but interested friends and they, as it turned out, had great ideas. The story and the dialogue was all, more or less, sort of extemporaneously made up on the spot when we needed it. There was a month or two of story development before we started shooting. A lot of that was based on characters that were the actors who came forward and made the time commitment to do this.
We (looked at our cast) and thought, okay -- we've got two short guys, two girls and a tall guy. Tall guy, you stand over here, and you're the romantic lead. It was that kind of central casting experience (laughs). Essentially, as directors we could say, in this scene, you have just done this, and you're doing this, and this is what you're trying to do right now.
(We) sort of gave that to each of the actors and would just start rolling, and more often than not, they surprised us with how great their instincts were for their characters. We didn't rehearse -- though we did spend a long time telling the story and making the movie, so they did get into their characters as time went on. But right out the gate, everyone was really strong and not very shy. It could have gone much worse. It could have been more painful.
It sounds like the perfect storm occurred, in terms of the right people showing up at the right time.
The charming thing about it is that even before that first meeting, we were just having conversations over beers on the patio of the Lyric -- one-on-ones about wanting to make films, and about how independent cinemas are being squeezed out by, first of all, the cost of digital conversion. We saw that the cinemas and the filmmakers have a lot common problems to address, and that there are also a lot of branding and marketing opportunities by highlighting the fact that both communities are under siege from a big corporatization of movies.
Yeah, the switch to DCP -- digital cinema projection -- is pricey and is definitely a threat to the smaller art-house cinemas and filmmakers alike.
It's worth mentioning that we only spent $1,500 on hard drives and probably $3,000 on food and that was essentially it. We were lucky enough to have a couple of camera kits, a steadicam, a gib. We were also lucky enough to have a friend with a plane so we could get some good aerial shots. We had a second steadicam operator so we could get really fancy.
We had a couple of New Belgium employees in the movie too, so that helps with the constant flow of craft beer. (Laughs). New Belgium provided us locations, more than a little bit of beer, and Bryan Simpson -- who is their head of PR -- is in the movie as well. What does the future of Whensday look like? What do you want to do with the film, distribution-wise, outside of Fort Collins and Denver?
The goal is to take it directly to audiences at independently owned cinemas around the state. We have a wish list of places we'd like to show it. I don't think it will be too hard to get into those after they see our box-office reports -- we've already presold close to 300 tickets for the premiere. I imagine that number could get quite a bit bigger because there are a lot of people who will buy tickets in person.
From there, we're talking with Greeley, we've talked with Colorado Springs, we'd like to show it in Grand Junction and some places in the mountains. From there, maybe come back down into Denver for the Bug Theater's Filmmaker series -- but we haven't opened up a dialogue with them yet.
We've decided that if a distributor wants to take it off of our hands, they're going to have to pay a ridiculous amount of money because it's sort of antithetical to the reason we made this movie, to then just turn around and sell it and all move to Hawaii. (Laughs.)
A good festival will get your movie seen by the right person who will buy it or finance your next one -- we kind of want to, in an attempt to break out of the standard modes of financing and producing and slinging movies at festivals, we said, let's make a first-run, direct to audiences ourselves. Hopefully, we'd like to release another movie next winter or fall, and I'm hoping in 2015 we'll do another.
As we go around the state, there will be some beating the drum for making this kind of movie, trying to get other communities to latch on to their cinema in the same way that we are so closely aligned with Lyric, our cinema. From there, open up a distribution ring around the state, where there's just a level of trust. [Where someone can say] I know that a No Coast film is a level of quality that I can book. Right now, we're going through this thing where everyone wants to see [the film first] because we're unknown.
For independent cinemas, the reality is they have three or four distributors who tell them what they're going to get -- the smaller the cinema, the worse that relationship can be. I think given the opportunity, cinema owners would really like to watch every movie and decide what to show. But it's just not a reality. [The way we hope to do it] I think is a way that would allow cinema owners to have a higher quality of life with their indie-owned cinema by being able to tap into a real vibrant filmmaker-base of content.
Who knows a Fort Collins audience better than a Fort Collins filmmaker? Who knows a Denver audience better than a Denver filmmaker, you know? It's just sort of a natural fit -- people who know their audience should be making the movies for them.
Whensday premieres this Friday, August 9, at an outdoor screening at the Lyric Cinema Cafe in Fort Collins. Doors open at 6 p.m. with music from Fierce Bad Rabbit, The Aquatic Lights and more beginning at 6:30 p.m. The film will screen after dark. This is an all-ages, bike-friendly event. For more information on Whensday, visit the film's website; to purchase tickets, go to the Lyric Cinema Cafe's website.
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A Denver screening is also slated for Friday, September 6, at the Sie FilmCenter, in conjunction with Tour de Fat. For more information, visit the Sie's website.