The Joy and Heartbreak of Shooting An Indie Film with Kids and Animals

BRIAN VONSCHMIDT – FILMMAKER

Several years ago, I was working on writing a script about kids being lost in the woods that I thought would be quick and easy to film. I wrote it using locations I knew, and the actors would either b e friends or relatives.  I assumed my wife and I would probably be done with the project in about three months time.  So now, four years and $100,000 later I realize the complexity of  making a feature film.

Our movie, ‘The Incredible Adventures of Jojo (and his annoying sister Avila)’ is about a mother who takes her two children to go visit their Grandma in the woods. On the way home, the mother gets into a brutal car accident and six year old Jojo is forced to take care of his baby sister Avila. They encounter a mangy hobo, wolves, raging rivers and other obstacles in their attempt to make it back safely to Grandma’s house with all their limbs intact. Its basically like ‘Milo and Otis‘, but with toddlers and more death defying stunts.

We shot this entire movie with just two people over the course of a year and a half. Occasionally we could convince people to show up and help us out for a day or two, but for the most part it was just the two of us. I know a lot of other indie films have filmed the entire production with a two man approach, (most notably ‘El Mariachi‘ with Robert Rodriguez), but its different when you have kids involved.  Every single day we had a baby tied to our back while we were lugging heavy film equipment into these gorgeous back canyons and we were constantly popping tires driving through rivers to get to our shooting locations.  When we were shooting, it was always an issue of trying to film one kid while making sure the other didn’t run into a river while trying to catch salamanders. It was fun, but it was brutal.

For all the difficulty there is working with kids, you still get this amazing payoff with these personal acting moments they create or they take the story in a direction that we weren’t intending. Jojo created this entire fight sequence with the hobo in a barrel and even Avila decided to take the story in a more French direction when dealing with a big slimy snail. They made the film fun and helped us to keep going.

Some of the things that helped us complete the film was trying to keep the equipment down to a minimal, shooting with a SI-2k camera and recording audio with a DAT and audio-technica mic, but we still had to lug a car battery around to power everything. At the same time, we still wanted it to look like a big-budgeted action film, so we had to make do with a lot of home made equipment like dollies, rain machines, and even an underwater container for our camera (aka fish tank). The sets we built were pretty time consuming as well. We have this one scene that takes place in the burial ground for old couches, which took us months to build. The set consists of around fifty couches all stacked up over one another in a giant pyramid. We got most of the abandoned couches from craigslist, but we discovered that the only couches people give away are tan colored couches. We didn’t want it to look like a giant ivory temple, so we spent the next several weeks painting them into different colors and nailing the couches together so they wouldn’t collapse on the little kids when they climbed all over it. We also set it on a system of pulleys so that the couches could really fall from the sky for when the wolves chase the kids through them.

We were really shooting for the trifecta of the most difficult things we could film with our first movie. We already had the children, and so it was only natural that we added wolves and water to the mix to try to give us a real challenge.  Even with the difficulty and length of the shoot, we realized it was an entirely different game when it came to post production.  When we were shooting, we could keep the costs down and just take the time to build things ourselves or shoot things until they came out right. We had time to make things look good. Even with our baby daughter Avila aging over the year of filming we could go back and re-shoot some of our earlier work so she didn’t appear to suddenly age over night.

With post-production we had to hunt out and find talented people that could help us finish the film. We were entering the world of the things that we couldn’t do ourselves. We had to do ADR sessions to clear up a long list of audio problems and we needed a sound designer to make this sound like a real movie. We had to hire talented VFX supervisors to help us sell the illusion of the dangerous stunts these toddlers were performing (I know it may seem hard to believe, but Avila wasn’t really mauled by a pack of wild wolves). We needed color correction to make the film look pretty, we needed a composer to make beautiful music, and we still had to pay for song rights as well.

That’s where we are now. We have nearly everything done, and we just need a little bit more to get this overwhelming monstrosity finished. This film has overtaken our lives and we love every moment of it.

If you’d like to see our daughter shill our project on kickstarter, watch the video below. Be forewarned, she’s a good saleswoman.  Check Out The Kickstarter Campaign here.

BIO:

My wife and I spent the last few years living at the end of a long dirt road, scraping by, trying to get this movie together. I studied at CalArts and then worked for a few years to try to save up the money to make this film. My wife studied horticulture at CalPoly, and we used a lot of her knowledge of the backwoods of the Central Coast to make this film.

Connect with Brian:

Incredible Adventures of Jojo – Website

Jojo on Facebook