Small Steps to Big Time Films

Small Steps to Big Time Films

At Fairfax Public Access Television studios, Megahit Movies will begin wrapping up the filming of "Henry Dodd Meets the Man," a local independent film (indy) featuring a local cast, a professional producer and the classic story format of plot, climax and resolution.

It's a romantic comedy, with the main character, Henry Dodd, as a Forrest Gump-type who goes through a personal transition.

"He's not very bright, but he means well," said Alan Riddle, a member of Fairfax Cable Public Access, who is involved with the film.

"The movie concerns what it is to be a real man," Riddle said. "That's a very classic story line. It's very funny, we know a lot of people that are into comedy."

The Fairfax area is emerging as a film area, and independent movies like "Henry Dodd" could put Fairfax on the map. However, even Riddle knows that it's all a gamble. For the participants, the payoff may just be self-expression and recognition.

"Ideally, we'd like to make a living at it, but some people do it because it's fulfilling," Riddle said. "Some people are indeed able to move on to careers [in movies]."

So far, 100 people have participated in the film, which they hope will get air time on the Fairfax Cable Public Access channel as well as a local theater. The schedule still includes postproduction, where they will put music on the soundtrack and edit it before releasing it in early July.

"It's a big community effort," Riddle said. "We're going to be taping until the first weekend in May."

Some of the scenes were shot at area locations, including the Pan Am Shopping Center and AK Auto in Fairfax and a comedy club in Vienna. People on the street were surprised to see the cameras, boom mikes and makeup artists.

"In some cases, we did get a lot of attention," Riddle said. "Crews can be pretty big, it gets people’s attention."

For Riddle, the best scenario is to have a distribution company pick up "Henry Dodd," transfer it to 35 mm, where it can be copied easily, and distribute it nationwide. Another option is to have the movie aired on a lesser level, where the participants can then use it as a "calling card," said Riddle.

"You're more likely to get a deal with your next movie," he said. "We're hoping this effort with 'Henry Dodd' will give us some exposure."

Riddle is doing a documentary on the set of "Henry Dodd" with the DVD release in mind.

"I'm taping the behind-the-scenes material. DVD is a popular way to distribute low-budget movies," he said.

AT ANOTHER LOCATION, local actors are breaking onto the silver screen with a public service announcement (PSA). On the porch of a house in Alexandria, Cynthia Lin and Harry Kraeter pretended to wave at the crowd of well-wishers, while director Richard Jaimeyfield manned the digital video camera. The trio were filming a PSA on predatory lending for a housing finance agency in Washington, D.C.

Liob Media, a multimedia and marketing company based in Georgetown, was filming the spot, with director Chima Obioha overseeing the day's shoot. In the 30- to 45-second PSA, the public service announcement examined the hazards of lending in general, the basics to taking out a loan, and the promoted attorney general as an information source before taking a loan out.

"Hopefully, this PSA will get national coverage," said Obioha.

Obioha is a resident of Alexandria but hopes his experience at Liob is a stepping stone to more commercials or independent films.

"We're trying to get into that genre, but we're not there yet," Obioha said. "I want to do independent movies. It's a stepping stone. It's everybody's dream to do a big-budget movie."

Fulfillment and exposure are what motivate Lake Braddock alumni Tim Vogel with his independent film "Chasing the Rabbit." The film concerns a college graduate who returns home to find his friends still in the same place as when he left. Vogel has shot a few flashback scenes with a handful of children, but now he's having trouble coordinating schedules, weather and locations to finish it.

"Scheduling has probably been the hardest. I needed outdoor shots," Vogel said, including a fight scene where one guy gets his thumb shot off.

In addition, Vogel needs permission to do specific location shots. He also needs a few props like a baby, a Volkswagen Beetle and a rabbit. He has a rabbit in mind that's his wife's aunt's, but it's moody.

"You can't just buy a rabbit for one day," Vogel said. "Her aunt has a rabbit, but no one will be able to touch it."

Vogel has connections at the Georgetown Film Festival and hopes to show it there, as well as other film festivals around the country. Time is running out, though.

"That's where it's going to be shown," said Vogel, who has set the last two weekends in May for filming. "It has to be in by June 21. It's important to film it soon. The summer, that's a really important time for films."

Vogel initially thought up the idea for "Chasing the Rabbit" as a college student in 1998, wrote the script, and got the cast.

"I waited until the time was right, and that's now," he said.

BACK AT THE PSA SHOOT, Jaimeyfield was running around, getting the bride and groom into the mood.

"This is a lower- to middle-income couple," he said. "You're coming out of the house. What I see in the shots may not be what ends up on the film. We can see in slow motion, the birdseed flying over your head," he said.

The house is an Alexandria fireman's house in a middle-class neighborhood off Little River Turnpike. Obioha chose the house of fireman Jay Green because it looked "middle America," he said. Green was a friend of a friend.

"I knew the neighborhood," Obioha said. "We're trying to get a feel of middle America. We looked in D.C. and also Maryland,"

Liob uses area locations to shoot PSAs all the time. Lin is a singer-songwriter from Falls Church, and Kraeter is an actor from Fairfax. Washington, D.C., resident Michelle Smith was the associate producer running around, tending to the details.

"The three major cities for documentary films are New York, Los Angeles and D.C.," Smith said. "D.C.'s hot because of Discovery and National Geographic." Both Discovery, parent organization of the Discovery Channel, and National Geographic are heavily into the film genre. Jaimeyfield and Smith work full time at National Geographic.

Next week, the final installment of this series addresses filmmaking in schools.