When writing a script for a film you plan on shooting, a film you know will be made, comparatively, on the cheap you would be wise to write something low on location changes and utilizing locations that provide: 1) ease of access 2) nearby washroom facilities for cast and crew 3) areas with low visibility so as to cut down on the looky-loo factor. If you can manage to avoid public spaces, all the better as once you choose a public space you enter an entirely more complicated and expensive scenario. With regards to Moderngrumble, I was keen from the outset to utilize the under-used beauty of my home state, Arkansas and the majestic Ozark Mountains and many rivers that run through it and as such many of the locations in the film are stretches of those rivers and forests. A generlaly cheaper propostion for a location but one that amplifies the need for 1) ease of access and 2) washroom facilities.
Early last year, an opportunity came about that looked like we would be able to finance the picture in one fell swoop if we were willing to shoot in California, using the many acres owned by the finaciers, so they could realize a nice little tax shelter. We were so excited about the possibility that we were willing to migrate West and attempt to realize a very unusual and very Southern film in the very familiar California landscape. What a mistake that would have been! If that opportunity had come to fruition, I am absolutely sure that the film would have been only half of what I intended, no matter the budget made available to us. The reason for that is that Arkansas doesn’t really look like any other place in America as far as it’s forests and foilage are concerned. There is something ancient, primitive even about our landscape that I have not found elsewhere. Perhaps it’s the limestone bluffs lining our rivers or mess of vines and underbrush that cover nearly every inch of our forests and mountains. It manages to be ugly and beautiful at the same time, a dichotomy central to Moderngrumble. Add to this the role that nature plays in the script for Moderngrumble and the role it’s taking on as we talk more and more about the visual execution of the script and it’s ideas and I can only give thanks to the Investment Gods for letting that opportunity fall apart.
After that adventure we returned to the project with a renewed interest in making the Ozarks central to the project and made a decision to never again let money tempt us away from it. In fact, this experience was intergral in forming the core idea at the heart of Lotushead Productions; we are now dedicated to the matching up of regional filmmakers and crew with out of town talent for Arkansas based projects only but that’s another blog entry entirely.
There are essentially twelve locations in Moderngrumble. 3 of them are houses. 1 is a restaurant. 1 is a junkyard and the rest are exterior locations such as forests, highways, rivers and caves. So while I didn’t manage to keep my locations to a minimum, they are for the most part locations that will be cheap, private and abundant. The real challenges were and are the houses and the restaurant. The main location in the script is a farmhouse, something we have plenty of. The problem is that it’s very hard to find one with ease of access and that doesn’t have a busy road running nearby which presents a significant problem for recording audio. Thankfully there is not much dialogue in the film, especially during it’s exterior scenes but it still presents a challenge that we cannot ignore.
Of all the houses we have seen and considered the most intriguing is the Tottey House in Combs, AR, a forty-five minute drive from our base of operations. The Tottey House is over 100 years old and solid as the day it was built. It’s quite striking really, iconic even if presented right but the inside is the real draw. The owner met us the first day we discovered the site. He just happened to be walking down the road and saw us standing in awe in front of his childhood home. He graciously allowed us inside where we discovered literally a hundred years of dust and the cultural deritus of the last century. Mr. Tottey explained that his mother had been a shut-in and had lived in the house up until the previous year when it had been necessary to move her to a nursing home and the house had not been touched since. The treasures were many: an upright piano littered with Church hymnals. An old jukebox. Wall to wall stacks of books and National Geographic from the 1940’s. An Addams Family Board Game. A Charlie's Angels tin lunchbox, creepy dolls, a hodgepodge of furniture seemingly from every decade. It was as if the interior of the farmhouse from my script had exploded into the real world. Here was almost literally the perfect location; empty, available and already set dressed and art designed to a tee. I had been worried about the amount of set dressing and props that would have to be purchased and moved into the location we ultimately found but here was everything I needed and the Owner was more than willing to let us shoot and make any changes needed. The only problem? The road that had been built practically right through their front yard, a road used by logging trucks!