At a time when the economics of the film industry are more uncertain than ever, independent filmmakers continue to find creative ways to finance their films. Here in North Texas, producers of a local independent film just wrapped shooting on a project called The Playroom. KERA’s Rob Tranchin has the story.
Inside an older home located on a quiet block in northeast Dallas, a small army of filmmakers has turned a tiny bathroom into an impossibly crowded film set.
The camera’s in the bathtub, along with the director of photography and an assistant. The boom operator pokes a microphone in from the hall. Crew members pick their way around light stands, cables, cords and monitors, racing against the clock to get the last shot of the day.
JULIA DYER: “Hold that one, and we’re going to roll. Here we go. And action!”
That’s the director, local filmmaker Julia Dyer.
DYER: “It’s amazing to see this come to life. It’s like what I always imagined and yet completely fresh and new to me.”
The movie is called The Playroom, starring Academy Award nominee John Hawkes, Canadian actor Molly Parker and local newcomer Olivia Harris. Set in the 1970s, the film tells the story of Maggie, a teenager with troubled parents and a home life that forces her to grow up quickly.
The script is by Julia Dyer’s sister, Gretchen, a writer and women’s rights activist who died in 2009 after a long battle with heart disease.
DYER: “Well, Gretchen definitely wrote Maggie from her perspective of her life as a teenager, and she was a fierce and intelligent and willful teenager, and she was pretty intimidating and awesome. Unforgettable, really.”
Producing the film is Julia and Gretchen’s brother, Stephen.
STEPHEN DYER: “My sister who wrote the script always said that it was not autobiographical. However, that was a harder sell to the rest of us. It sort of rhymes with things that happened in our childhood. Mark Twain famously said that about history, that it doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes. It’s familiar, but it’s not the same.”
Dyer says the quality of his sister’s script attracted name talent like Hawkes and Parker, which helped secure funding. And a rapidly changing marketplace may be creating more opportunity for independent films. Even so, Dyer says that raising the money was hard.
STEPHEN DYER: “It’s never easy to sell a film. I think that the prospects for independent filmmakers to own their own rights and to exploit their own rights through things like video on demand and their own websites and even changes in licensing agreements and contracts has the potential to be an extremely interesting and fruitful thing for independent filmmakers. I think anytime you have hope, sometimes you can convince people to go with you.”
Despite the long odds, loccal support for the project is strong. Area production service companies MPS and Post Asylum came on as in-kind investors to keep cash costs low. And when the production needed an extra day of shooting, a social media campaign raised more than $5,000 on the Internet in less than seven hours.
Julia says this kind of homegrown support was crucial.
JULIA DYER: “This film would never have happened without this community. I’ve experienced that as a respect and passion for this story and this script, but I’ve also experienced it as an outpouring of love for Gretchen, for my sister, and a serious group effort to realize her most personal and most poetic story. And I’ll always be grateful.”
The Playroom is now in post-production and is expected to be ready to seek distribution later this year.