Official Online Short Film Release: Philip K. Dick’s “Beyond the Door”

22 05 2012

It is with great pleasure that I officially announce the online release of my directorial debut, “Beyond the Door.”  The film was produced by myself and Dan A. R. Kelly, and stars Lisa Sain Odom as Laura, Reid Dalton as Larry and Eljiah Chester as Bob Chambers.

Shot over Labor Day weekend in 2010, the film went through a lengthy post-production phase, largely in part to my hectic schedule at the time.  The film was shot by the very talented Jeff Stepp, had production design by UNCSA alum Antonia DiNardo and the score and sound design was completed by Down Fenix Media, LLC member Jon Fredette.  Without the generous contribution of all these people, the rest of the crew, my brother John Mandrano and many others, I could have never completed this pet project.

The budget was completely out of pocket; if memory serves me, somewhere in the $3,500 range.  For some that’s not much, but for me at the time that was quite an undertaking in congruence with my regular bills.  Though it was a lot out of my pocket, all the wonderful people who helped me complete this film took huge cuts on their usual rates, some helping for no pay at all, and for that I am eternally grateful.  Over the three days of shooting, no day was less than a 12 hour day and our middle day was close to 17 hours, so it definitely wasn’t a cake shoot.

Anyway, I’ve got several posts on here that dig a little deeper into the production of this film if you are interested in checking them out, namely here and here.  So, without any further adieu, rambling or behind-the-scenes dialog, I present you with my directorial debut and the adaptation of the Philip K. Dick public domain short story “Beyond the Door”:

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Take Shelter (2011) Review

19 03 2012

Copyright 2011 Grove Hill Productions

★ ★ ★ ★

Jeff Nichols, a University of North Carolina School of the Arts alumnus, directed this film.  Though I don’t know Jeff, many of my friends and colleagues are graduates of this wonderful program, and its always a good feeling seeing someone from one of the local film schools succeed.

Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a blue collar working man in Ohio with wife, Samantha (the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain) and daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart).  He begins having strange and frightening dreams about a large storm that causes the people around him to become crazed and attack him.  Having a parent who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic at around the same age, he becomes concerned that he might be losing his mind as well.  To cope, he begins seeing a counselor, but his behavior and decisions grow worse with each dream occurrence, ultimately leading him to become obsessed with expanding a storm shelter in their back yard.  Without his wife’s blessing, he takes out a loan from the local bank and begins building his shelter from the impending storm.  As the narrative progresses, his life begins to slowly unravel as his behavior becomes more and more erratic from his visions.

The film, in my opinion, expertly studies the oncoming effects of mental illness and how real the delusions and hallucinations can become, which, in turn, can cause chaos in an otherwise normal life.  The subtle direction and naturalistic cinematography, along with an eery score, give the viewer an impending sense of doom and nicely elucidate the paranoia and fear of the primary character.  Shannon, as Curtis, gives an amazingly well-conceived performance in the leading role, and Chastain plays a grounded foil to his madness.

This is independent filmmaking done right.  Even with a fraction of the budget of many of the major films this year, this film delivers an intriguing story, great performances and a high quality of production value.  I’ll be interested in seeing what’s next for Nichols as a writer/director, and will likely soon rent his debut film, Shotgun Stories.





A Short Recommendation…

18 02 2012

Many apologies for the lack of posts lately, it has been a busy time!  Currently, I own two properties: a new house and the condo we moved out of.  So, I’ve spent the past couple weeks using all of my spare time painting, cleaning, washing and vacuuming trying to get this condo on the market, which I am happy to report will land on the market early next week.  For any of you looking to move to North Carolina, I’ve got a deal for you if you’re looking for a condominium.  Anyway, in regards to my movie/television watching behaviors, I’ve been working diligently through season 2 of Downton Abbey, so I’ll definitely be posting my thoughts on that soon.  Also, I hope to get back into the regular movie watching agenda quite soon as well to get more reviews up here at a regular interval.  In the meantime, however, I’ve decided to leave you guys with a short film to watch.

The majority of my production work, at least in a narrative regard, has been on short films.  Yet, I rarely ever mention much about short films outside of when I complete one of my personal projects.  So, being a lover of the medium, I’ve decided to start occasionally giving recommendations for short films that have left a lasting impression on me.  The short is a very different beast from a feature, there is less time to develop character, less time to incite plot and usually a much smaller budget than is available for feature productions, as shorts are usually independently funded.  Many young filmmakers cut their teeth on shorts, but there are still a plethora of seasoned feature film directors who will still produce shorts in between their larger productions.  For instance, a favorite director of mine, Terry Gilliam’s, most recently released production was a short film shot in Italy called The Wholly Family.

For our first short recommendation I want to present one of my favorite shorts that I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  For you fans of Groundhog Day, you will find much to like in this one, and remember, that this short came out before that film, so if you draw any conclusions keep that in mind.  The film is titled 12:01 p.m. and stars a familiar face to fans of That 70s Show, Kurtwood Smith.  It was produced in 1990 by Chanticleer Films, which used to be a wonderful production company that funded short films specifically.  I’m not sure whether Chanticleer is even still running, but if they are, their output has definitely slowed down.  Directed by Jonathan Heap, who I’m surprised has not really had a great career following this amazing debut, the film focuses on elements of time, space and human consciousness.  The film runs about 25 minutes, but I think you’ll be glad you watched it, and feel free to post your thoughts below!  Also, it’s worth noting that, though this film didn’t win, it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 1991.  I don’t want to spoil any of the fun, so without further adieu, enjoy:





Scarecrow (1973) Review

30 07 2011

Copyright 1973 Warner Brothers Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Since Doctor Who has been on hiatus for the summer after their mid season break, we’ve been watching the spin-off series Torchwood to bridge the gap.  With the new job, it’s a bit difficult to watch features in addition to a series, so I’m going to pull a little known film that I am very fond of from the back log to review: Scarecrow.

It’s been a few years since I’ve seen this film, so I’m not sure how hard the film is to find these days.  However, about 10 years ago when I first viewed this movie, it was almost impossible to locate.  In one of my cinema history books I saw a picture from the film with a young Al Pacino and Gene Hackman.  Being a huge fan of both of these incredible actors, I was immediately interested in finding a copy of this film.  This was before Netflix, so I had to make the rounds to all the local video stores; none of the stores had the film.  Months went on with no success until I came to a Movie Gallery a few towns away.  This was around the time that VHS was being fully phased out to DVDs, so they were having a huge sale on VHS movies.  The store literally had hundreds of movies for sale for about $3 a piece.  I bought properly 500 movies that summer that were hard to find, rare or foreign, of course all VHS, but still it was some way to view these films at the time.  Deep within the droves of cassette stacks, I found a lone copy of Scarecrow.  I still have it in my collection today and feel it is one of the most underrated films of the 1970s.

Directed by Jerry Schatzberg, Hackman plays an ex-convict named Max Milian and Al Pacino plays Francis Lionel “Lion” Delbuchi, an ex-sailor.  They meet on a path in California near the beginning of the film and form a partnership as friends, with plans to go into business together when they get to Pittsburgh.  Hackman’s character has a plan to open a car wash which he is sure will be a success.  Francis agrees to be his partner in business, but first wants to stop by Detroit and make well with his wife, Annie, and the child he left behind and never saw.  Essentially, the film is a road movie between these two opposite personalities and their weird friendship that develops in their travels from California to Pittsburgh.  Max is quick tempered and aggressive in many situations; whereas, Francis is calm, conservative and child-like.  Along the way, they visit several different places, get put in a work camp for awhile and go through both personal injury and triumph.

What really works with this film is the true-to-life dichotomy between the characters of Max and Francis’s relationship.  They are complete opposites, but in some strange way need each other to survive.  They learn from the other and find the only support they have ever known in life in their friendship.  The story is shot in a gritty, realist nature which only adds to the believability of the characters and their complex relationship.  Needless to say, Pacino and Hackman are absolutely brilliant in this film.  It was at the height of both of their professional abilities and the casting choices for their respective roles couldn’t have been better.

The film won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973 and has been generally well-regarded by critics since it came out.  In looking on Netflix, it seems this film is still hard to locate all these years later.  However, if you can find a copy, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this 1970s gem.





Slacker (1991) Review

19 05 2011

Copyright 1991 Detour Filmproduction

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but great characters are really what make a great film.  Slacker is a perfect example of this concept.  Why?  Because it is essentially a plotless film with an ensemble cast that is really, really good.

Made on a $23,000 budget on 16mm, this was Richard Linklater’s (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, Scanner Darkly) first well-received feature on a large scale.  It was shot in and around Austin, Tx., and is largely just a series of vignettes centered around various 20-somethings.  Some of the various characters include a man who has just run over his mother, a crazy old conspiracy theorist who assaults people verbally with his views, a JFK assassination enthusiast, some guys who work on cars all day long, a girl trying to sell Madonna’s pap smear, etc.  It’s definitely a bizarre mix of characters, but the film manages to keep you intrigued throughout.  Early musings on later concepts explored in Linklater’s Waking Life also seem to be taking root in this early film with several pontifications on dreams.

The direction is very straight forward with minimal cuts; this, most likely, is due to budget constraints.  However, it works for the type of film being told.  The story, though plotless, has extremely sharp dialog that, in my opinion, is what makes the movie so damn entertaining.  A lot of the actors are obviously amateur, but bring a level of naturalism to the parts that really sell the roles.  Even Linklater himself makes an appearance as the main character in one of the vignettes at the beginning of the movie.

I really enjoyed Slacker.  It’s bizarre, comedic and witty, all elements of comedy that intrigue me the most in this genre of film.





Blue Valentine (2010) Review

10 05 2011

Copyright 2010 Hunting Lane Films and Silverwood Films

★ ★ ★ ★

So, this movie was kind of what I was expecting in a lot of ways, but in a lot of other ways a lot different than I would have imagined.  I knew it was going to be a low-budget indie flick, but I was not expecting the level of emotion presented in the film.  Based on the ads, it seemed like it was being marketed as a light romantic comedy; that assessment couldn’t be further from the truth.  This film is definitely an emotionally charged drama in every sense of the definition.

The premise is fairly simple: Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are a couple; their relationship is told in a series of flash forwards to the present day and flash backs from when they first met.  Honestly, that’s exactly what the logline of this film would have to be; it’s that simple.  In present day, Dean, a painter with no education and sort of “from the streets”, and Cindy, a nurse who once had aspired to be a doctor, live a fairly normal lower-middle to middle class life.  They have a kid, Frankie (Faith Wladyka), between them and seem to have a very stressed relationship together, though they both very much love their daughter.  In the flash back sequences, we see student, Cindy, and mover, Dean, falling in love.  The two characters are vastly different from their past selves to their present selves in how they behave in general and towards each other.  Essentially, this film is the tale of Dean and Cindy falling in love and, much later, falling out of love.

Like I said, this is a very straight forward plot.  Story-wise, direction-wise and cinematography-wise, there isn’t really anything stand out about this film from any other well-made indie drama/romance.  What sets this film apart and what makes it so well revered by critics, in my opinion, are the performances by Gosling and Williams.  They truly make this film; each of them portray the characters with such vital realism that you truly feel like you are experiencing the emotions they are going through on screen.  By the time the film was done, both Maddie and I were literally mentally and physically exhausted.

This is not a perfect film, but definitely a jewel of independent cinema.  It’s films like these that come along and make the careers of some young director, this time Derek Cianfrance, that keep all the rest of us in the game, constantly forcing ourselves to create a better and better product to compete.





Calling Final Cut on My Film

25 04 2011

So, for of those you who didn’t know, I began the process of producing/directing my first short film (well, at least first one of actual substance and production value) last summer.  The film, entitled Beyond the Door, is based on a Philip K. Dick short story of the same name.  Being a huge fan of Dick’s work, I was elated to find that this particular short story was in the public domain and that no serious effort had yet been put forth to make it into a short film.

The story plays out like an old Twilight Zone episode and is confined to one primary location and three actors: perfect for a short film.  I began adapting the story into a screenplay in April of last year, finalizing a draft in July.  I then began the process of getting locations, cast and crew secured for the production.  Being new to the whole producing/directing side of filmmaking, I got many pointers and help from longtime collaborator Dan A. R. Kelly (www.danarkelly.com), who ended up coming on board as my co-producer and first assistant director.  I’ve had the pleasure to shoot the last six shorts Dan has directed and will say there’s no one better than Dan for help in getting a short made; he’s one of the best at producing great product on tight budgets and constrained timelines.  Keep an eye out for his latest film Banks of the Vltava, which is currently in the festival route.  Next screening for it is 10 p.m., April 30, 2011, at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival in Wilmington, N.C.

The one location needed for the film was a suburban house setting.  Luckily, my eldest brother, John Mandrano, is a landlord in Greensboro, N.C.  He owns many historic properties in the Aycock district which he rents at greensborohistoricrentalhomes.com.  One home he has on East Hendrix Street is currently not in rental because my nephew, Art, is living there while attending college.  I talked with John and explained that we were hoping to film over Labor Day weekend.  He had no problems with allowing me to film there and even helped along with my brother, Patrick, to move furniture he had in storage into the location which definitely helped the production design!

Cast and crew were the next order of business.  To me, the most important decision, was who was going to shoot my film.  With producing and directing (in addition to the writing and editing) I knew I didn’t want to try and shoot the film myself.  So, I asked Jeff Stepp (steppfilms.com), a very talented DP whom I’ve worked with on several occasions to shoot the film for me and he agreed.  I think’s Stepp’s photography on the film, which we shot in black and white and in HD (we wanted film, but budgets are always a consideration), looks amazing.  Between Jeff, Dan and myself, we rounded out the crew with some University of North Carolina School of the Arts students, graduates, UNC-Greensboro grads and some of my co-workers.  I couldn’t have asked for a better crew on my first film as a director; I hope to work with all of them again in the future.

As for cast, I needed two men and one woman; two principals and one supporting.  I held auditions and knew immediately from her first read that Lisa Sain Odom out of Greenville, S.C. would play the part of Laura.  She had an amazing audition and elicited exactly what I was looking for in the character of Laura.  However, after the auditions, which took place over a weekend at Altair Casting in Winston-Salem, I still hadn’t found the perfect fits for the characters of Larry or Bob.  I had remembered Reid Dalton’s audition from an audition several years prior for a project that never came to fruition and had been impressed with Elijah Chester’s performance in a spec piece I shot for Dan for Massify.  I contacted both of these actors; I met with Reid at Greensboro’s Cultural Arts Center and Elijah sent in an audition video.  I had Larry and Bob – the cast was in place, the crew was in place, the locations were in place – the ball was definitely rolling!

We shot the film completely over Labor Day weekend 2010.  The first day was a 13-hour day, the second a 16-hour day and third was a 15-hour day.  Everyone was working for minimal pay, funded out of my own pocket, but all gave it 110%.  Outside of badly spraining my ankle falling down some steps outside on the first day before the first shot, everything overall was very smooth and we got some great footage to take into post.

Once in post production, I decided to edit the film myself.  It took some time syncing all the video and audio because, though we shot HD, we were using double system sound with slate.  Once everything was transcoded and synced, I began the process of actually cutting the film together.  Picture was more or less locked by November.  From there, the multi-talented Jon Fredette took over for sound design and scoring.  The sound design was completed for the most part by late-December.  Being state employees, we got off for Christmas break, so we took a break from the grind of post-production over Christmas and got back to work in early January.

The sound from set was, for the most part, useable.  There were a couple lines, however, as with any film that needed to be ADRed (automatic dialogue replacement).  So, Jon went through the process of scoring the film and we brought in each actor for an ADR session when available.  All parts were complete by late February.  Since then, it has been tightening up, working with sync, lowering levels, raising levels, adding bits of sound, cutting some picture, etc.  I can’t thank Jon enough for the many hours of time he has put into this project.  If you live in North Carolina, you should definitely check Jon out if you need a sound guy at jonfredette.com.

Finally, last weekend, I had a DVD burn that worked for me with no glitches, problems, sync issues or needed changes.  I called a final cut and began the process of submitting the 17-minute film to festivals.  The first batch of submissions went out last weekend and, though there are still some credits to add, we have our IMDB page up at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1907623/.

I have, admittedly, left out information about the plot itself because I hope you will get a chance to watch the film when available.  Hopefully, more posts on the film will follow.  Also, please, please check out some of the Web sites I’ve listed in this posting.  If it weren’t for these wonderful, talented people, my film would not have been able to be made.








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