Tonight, at Riverdale, "Slumberland," a buzzy feature film made by three dudes you've probably seen around town or at Pizza Cafe (all work there) — John Schafer, Rhett Brinkley and Zach Turner — debuts before what's sure to be a packed house. In advance of the debut, director Schafer talked to me about influences, shooting a movie on the cheap and working with friends. "Slumberland" screens at Riverdale 7:45 p.m., Thu. and 6:30 p.m. Sat.
How long has the project existed? Where’d it start?
It took about two years exactly. We were just kind of bored and started filming Rhett [Brinkley] and Zach Turner, who had some ideas they’d kind of developed on their own. We put together a little story arc and chipped away.
So this a just slightly fictionalized version of the real Rhett and Zach’s lives?
It’s loosely fictionalized. The emotions are real. Rhett’s relationship really had ended and that’s where his character was coming from. And Zach’s run-in with the law happened and gave him something to work from.
At least from the trailer, it seems like it fits in with the sort of films that Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski are making, something from the so-called “mumblecore” movement.
Honestly, I’ve never seen any of those movies. Zach saw “Funny Ha-Ha” several months into filming and that kind of burst our bubble. We were kind of naïve. We thought we were doing something new. But as far as young people making movies with no budget, yeah, it fits in.
Another unifying thing about those films is that they’re all about post-collegiate, young-ish folks who can’t communicate at all.
That’s kind of central to our plot. Rhett and Dirty not really getting to the core of their problems with each other.
If not mumblecore, what were some other stylistic influences?
When we were beginning to put it together, I was watching films by the Maysles brothers and D.A. Pennebaker. I was watching “Don’t Look Back” almost every day. Films like “Salesmen,” “Grey Gardens.” I really wanted to make a ’60s documentary about my friends. I knew that it might be boring, so I wanted to give it some stylistic flourish.
Did you shoot with film or digitally?
On a digital camera. My parents got it for almost as “a we’re sorry” gift for sending me to UALR. It’s several years old. One of those 24P cameras. What about editing?
I edited the whole thing on Mac Mini, using Sony Vegas, and for the most part, I edited as we shot, so we finished filming and editing just about the same time. What about financing? Or was there any budget at all?
We only spent whatever money it cost for mini DV tapes. And I had to get a hard drive for editing. Was it hard to convince your friends, beyond Rhett and Zach, to appear?
Everyone that was in it we had some kind of relationship. Luke Hunsicker’s been making movies with us for a while. Laura Fleishauer only had like three or four days before she was moving to Austin, so we had to do her scenes quickly, and we only had one take. The only thing we really worried about was wasting our friends’ time. Because we didn’t really know what we were doing. Did you have a script, or more of a story outline?
That’s pretty much the way it was. We had a three-act structure. And we would get together between shooting and decide, “This is what’s happening.” “This is where this is going to go in the movie.” And Rhett and Dirty would think about their lines between shoots and write things down. So does the finished product meet your expectations?
It’s really what we thought it would be. We knew it wasn’t going to look as good as we wanted. And we knew it wasn’t going to sound that great. We knew that we were making a low budget, homemade movie. But I feel like it’s entertaining enough and moves at a quick enough pace that people will sit through it and hopefully be entertained. Are you hoping that this is something you can do as a career?
Isn’t that what everyone wants? We didn’t go all in for this movie. But going through this process, we’ve learned how to make a better movie.