Friday, August 1, 2014

Independent Film Spotlight - Red 42 Strikes A Home Run

How does a group of independent filmmakers produce, edit, and submit a 9-minute period film in just one week with almost no budget - and scoop up four awards for their efforts?

With a lot of grit, tenacity, determination and ingenuity. The creative force is strong, and when it hits - nothing stands in its way.
Kathryn Robinson and her father accepting awards at the No Film Film Festival
A group of friends I have had the privilege to associate with over the years, The Geeks of New England, recently produced Red 42 that chronicles the Jackie Robinson story from the point of view of Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Walter (Red) Barber. Submitted to the No Film Film Festival held annually in Vermont, Red 42 scooped up numerous awards, including Second Place, Best Music, Best Press (local press choice) and Best Visual Style.

Watching the film, it's clear to see why - it is a real slice of American history brought to life. The camera angles are varied and subtle, the period clothing is spot on, and the original music suits the compelling story of one man overcoming his personal prejudices to pave the way for a new era in American baseball. The sound mixing is excellent as well, with crisp dialogue and seamless transitions from the past into the present.

Watch the film, and then scroll down to read the interview I conducted with the executive producer/director Kathryn Robinson about the extraordinary journey of bringing this film to life in a matter of days, from start to finish. 

What made you choose to do the Jackie Robinson story? 

The criteria of the No Film Film Festival is the reason we choose to do this extension of the film 42. Also, it's a great last name! 

The festival wanted to feature third string actors who usually play small character parts such as John C McGinly (who played Red Barber in 42), Luis Guzm├ín and Steve Buscemi. One of these three actors where chosen at random and assigned to a team. Once your were assigned an actor there was a small list of movies you could choose from. Then you needed to come up with a story that either told the story before the character appeared in the movie or after the character appeared in the movie. 

The list for John C. McGinly include a lot office spaces, cop uniforms or army uniforms. Since my team didn't even have a toy gun to use it narrowed the field a bit. What did we have? A closet of fedoras, access to an old armory and some old timey radios. 42 it is! Only after we choose it did we realize Red Barber was a real person and had a pretty good back story. Sometimes the best drama comes from real life. It was the perfect setup, this man almost quit his job because of his upbringing with prejudice against African Americans. You can't write a better conflict. We watched interviews on of Red Barber and read small biographies. Most of what we portrayed in the film really did happen. The scene where he is having martinis with his wife was real. More importantly the speech Branch Ricky gave was a real story. It practically wrote itself. Fun fact: We wrangled my father (Michael Robinson Jr.) to play Branch Ricky and this was is first time acting. I'm a very proud daughter.

How did you manage to make this movie in one week?

It was, actually, one week on the dot. We almost didn't make it to due to a failing Internet connection. Lots of drama on my end. The kick-off was on a Friday evening. We used Saturday to write, cast and build sets. Sunday was going to be our marathon shoot day. Most of our crew/actors had other professional commitments and some with late work shifts so Sunday was the only option. We did have complications on Sunday and ended up doing some re-shoots during the week. They were very late at night or early in the morning. One we had to shoot the pouring rain but we made it work. Rain can make the actor seem more pensive, right?!

What were some difficulties you ran into?

Well firstly was casting problems - we had trouble finding another elderly gentleman to play old Red Barber. Also there were a bunch of personal medical problems that occurred on Sunday that put us really behind. We opted to give old Red Barber some very visible stage makeup  - we had to go with it. Showing up with nothing is far worse than showing up with heavy makeup.

Also trying to make a period piece in on week in 2014 was a challenge. But we figured if the audience gets where we are going with it they'll be forgiving. We did have a lovely time creating our character's (period appropriate) living room - a handy skill. We had some serious technical difficulties that brought our editing time to near crawl. Director/producer Chris Hanley and I lived in my room for days working on this in order to make the deadline; it was super stressful and we almost didn't think we were going to make it.

What makes all the hard work worth it to you?
I love telling a story. I want to convey the emotion to the audience. It's a reaction I'm aiming for. I can see the film start to coalesce in my head. If you are lucky and it starts to come out in real life, there is nothing better.   

Toby Sez: A mini masterpiece and a true testament to the power of independent filmmaking and teamwork! Ol' Red would be proud. 


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