Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Colin Rich: I grew up in New England. I was born and lived in Connecticut until I moved to New Hampshire in 6th grade. My parents were divorced so I lived with my mother and visited my father every other weekend. Home life was pretty good; my younger brother Scott and I got along. We always had a big yard to play in and plenty of positive support from our mom. I was probably spoiled. I had a lot of action figures… A LOT.
Film Courage: Which of your parents do you resemble most?
Colin: I’m basically a carbon copy of my father, except for my eyes, which come from my mother’s mother.
Film Courage: Did your parents lend support toward creativity or encourage another type of career/focus?
Colin: I started drawing monsters and dinosaurs very young, by kindergarten, so my parents always wanted me to follow that path. I think it was always assumed I would go to art school for illustration.
Colin: I went to Massachusetts College of Art and Design, which has a film/video program. MassArt is the only state-funded art school in the country, and I had an additional discount for living in New England, so for me it was the only option since it cost maybe 20% of what it would’ve cost me to go to an official ‘film school’. I think it worked out, because they were all about experimentation, pushing the medium, and just generally treating filmmaking as a form of expression.
Film Courage: For your new movie RENFREE, did you come up with a film budget first (based on your resources available) before coming up with idea? Or was it the other way around of having the idea first?
Colin: I had worked on several projects before embarking on RENFREE. I DP’d a few of my friends movies and was working on small projects here and there, and it just wasn’t opening any doors for me. So I had the idea to shoot a feature-length project. I brainstormed for months and wrote up a rough 80-page script, but I realized after trying to do some networking that the resources weren’t there; I couldn’t get anybody to do something like that for free, or for pizza. So I took a character from the script, RENFREE, a dark and violent character, and decided to tell his story. RENFREE e was based on my brother originally, and we grew up making movies together, so I knew that with his collaboration we could pull a short film off for pretty cheap.
Film Courage: How did you calculate what the budget was going to be?
Colin: Well, I don’t know that I ever really sat down with a calculator and added it up. I just had a sense of what I could and couldn’t pull off. I knew that I could never afford a zombie horde, or a huge cast. I wrote the story in a way that I knew I was going to be able to afford to pay for it myself. My house is right next to a nature preserve; so I thought, “shoot some scenes in the woods!” I was living at home and I didn’t have to pay rent, so that money just went towards the movie. It happened gradually; I bought the cameras and lenses my first year after college, and then the second year I set out on the movie. I bought the costumes and scouted locations and connected with friends who I thought might be interested in helping. The people involved knew that they weren’t going to get paid; they just wanted to take part. If I had to pay them out of my own pocket… the movie would not exist.
Film Courage: You mentioned that you delivered pizzas and worked odd jobs to fund the film yourself. How long did it take to obtain the budget?
Colin: Much of the movie consists of just my brother, so with me as the crew and him as the cast we were able to get a lot done, essentially for free. There is a scene in RENFREE where he floats on a river on his back; the river runs right next to my house, and he’s the only actor, and I’m the cinematographer/director, so that scene was just a freebie. I only really had to pay for a few weekends where I coordinated everyone together and did marathon shoots and paid for food and beer and gas. Then of course I did the entirety of the postproduction by myself, which cost me nothing… except about 1,500 hours of my free time. So to answer your question, it took me a year and a half to pay for the production myself, and then post-production was basically free.
Film Courage: What’s the best and worst survival job you’ve held?
Colin: Hmm….well, as far as best jobs go, delivering pizzas was probably my favorite. I worked with the owners, I made decent money and I got to drive around and listen to music all day. Every other job has been a bureaucratic nightmare by comparison. Worst… I worked at a franchise coffee/donut shop when I was 16. They only gave me weekend hours, 7am-1pm. So I was waking up for school at 6am every morning, and then working Saturdays and Sundays and waking up at the same time. And I was paid $6.25 an hour. The environment wasn’t terrible, but the lack of sleep was doing bad things to my mind. I also had a summer job when I was 15 at a campground where I was paid farm’s wages ($5.25/hour) to work 7 days a week. It was actually really fun, but we were basically always on-call and they charged me room and board so I walked away with maybe $250 for a full months work. On top of that, the septic tank broke once, and my co-worker and I had to both get down into the septic tank and replace the pump. That was pretty… CRAPPY!
Film Courage: What inspired the story for RENFREE?
Colin: I once read a book called “The Lucifer Effect” by Philip Zimbardo. It basically posits that all humans have the capacity for evil, that its not just bad apples doing bad things, but that it’s bad circumstances bringing out the worst in good people. In the original script, I had created this character who was a cold-blooded badass; people would immediately perceive him to be a threat onscreen. But I wanted to humanize him, to figure out, what terrible things did this guy see or do that made him turn?
Film Courage: How long was the idea floating around in your head before you started writing RENFREE?
Colin: RENFREE itself was only floating around for a few months. But the universe the story takes place in I had been working on for about a year before I started. And I am still working on it now.
Film Courage: How long did it take you to write the first draft? What about rewrites?
Colin: I had the story itself hashed out pretty quickly, maybe in a month or so, but saved writing the actual dialogue and actions until I knew who was going to be involved. Many of the actors were, well, not actors, so when they agreed to play the role, I would write the scene in a way I thought they could pull it off. I DID have to rewrite the end of the movie; I had a whole crazy third-act planned out, but the people who agreed to play the parts in it couldn’t commit to shooting until I was leaving the state. So when I returned a year later, I had come up with an alternative third act. I think it turned out alright, considering.
“Wish I had known the difficulty involved in getting people to actually watch RENFREE! A problem I’m running into is, nobody wants to watch a 40 minute movie. It’s there, it’s totally free, but it occupies this no man’s land where its not a full length movie but its also not a 5-minute-or-less quick internet video. If it were full length, I could sell it, and if it were a short video, it could go viral, but its neither, so it takes a lot of pestering and spamming to get anybody to sit down and press play. For some reason I thought I could just post it on my Facebook or whatever and that it would just take off. But its a 40 minute film, and theres just way too many other things to do on the internet to commit to stopping everything else for 40 minutes. If I choose to make a large film like this again, I will make a short companion piece to get them on the hook so they want more.”
Film Courage: How many people did you share the script with during the writing process?
Colin: Just my brother Scott.
Film Courage: How long did it take to finish the film?
Colin: 2 1/2 years, just about.
Colin: My brother and I were always shooting crazy, weird stuff from middle-school on, but the first official project that I thought was gonna be a big deal for me was my thesis project senior year of college. It was called “The World is Going To Kill You” and it was 50 minutes long. I only ever finished a rough draft; I made it in Avid Media Composer but never had access to the software again after that. At the same time I DP’d a friend Veronica Wells’ 30 minute movie, Mama V. Then, after college, I flew to Nepal with my friend Ian Clement for 110 days and DP’d his feature-length movie “Mango Pickle”, which in retrospect was totally insane and I can’t believe that we managed to get to the point where he could say “That’s a wrap!”. He’s still putting the finishing touches on that one. Then I DP’d my friend Frankie Symonds’ 35-minute movie “Cat,” which I think was a great dark comedy but may have been a bit too ‘John Waters’ for the festival circuit (haha). But if I become a famous filmmaker, I will call RENFREE my first movie. I can take credit for everything and I’m immensely proud of the finished product.
Film Courage: What’s something you learned from making RENFREE (and maybe didn’t execute as well as you would have liked) that will be an area of emphasis on your next project?
Colin: RENFREE was an opportunity for me to show my sense of rhythm and tone and to show my general filmmaking philosophy, to show the vision that I bring to the table. Basically me being like “HEY STUDIOS, I HAVE SOME COOL IDEAS, CALL ME MAYBE?” But it was a film built on luck and circumstance. It was maybe too big for me to control. I was juggling a lot of roles at once, so I had a hard time focusing on JUST the cinematography or JUST this or that line delivery; I was focusing on everything at once and some parts were weaker because of it. So next time I will make something smaller, more potent. I’m gonna make something 5 minutes or so, plan it out more, push my cinematography, push the story structure, and just try to make something impossible to ignore.
Film Courage: The lead actor in RENFREE is your younger brother Scott Rich, did he audition for the role? How did you offer him the lead?
Colin: The character was written based on him originally, and he has always been keen on acting, so he had the part by default. He grew up on a heathy diet of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis and Jack Bauer. This movie was a collaboration with him, and I never could have done it without him.
Film Courage: Have you thought about expanding the idea for RENFREE into a television series? If yes, what makes this a great fit for TV?
Colin: YES! OK, a little backstory; I was originally inspired by ‘Winter’s Bone’ with Jennifer Lawrence. It was a powerful movie shot on a tiny budget with a great lead actress. I wanted to make that movie with zombies, basically. When that didn’t pan out, I set the idea aside and shot RENFREE. There was 6 months after I had a rough cut of RENFREE and before I could go back to New Hampshire to finish where I didn’t have any work to do on RENFREE, so I started turning my original script into a story. I wrote 72,000 words, just making sure to write a minimum of 1 page a day, before I went back to New Hampshire to finish the movie. So now I have all of this material to work with, this female lead and all these characters and concepts I created.
The voiceover in RENFREE says “The infection killed everyone over the age of 25. Others it drove crazy, stripping their human nature from within their brainstems.” So there are only young people left, and some of them are turning into crazed zombies.
I have a general arc planned out in my head. 5 seasons with a definitive conclusion. It would start off as a zombie show but evolve into something much more complex. I think there are great ideas to explore with ‘the young rebuilding society from scratch’ (what Gods would they worship? What would the social hierarchy look like? What would their views on sex or drugs or music be?) and drama to be mined from the parasite’s effect on everyday living. I think also that there is a huge, basically-untapped market for a show that embraces psychedelic imagery and, for lack of a better term, new-age culture. The purple eyes in RENFREE are just the tip of the iceberg as far as ideas I have for trippy stuff in this story.
Film Courage: Have you been approached by television producers?
Colin: Not yet! But this project is my way of calling out to them as loudly as I can. I don’t know if my ideas would fly on network television, but a premium service like HBO or Netflix…
Film Courage: How do you make them aware of this project?
Colin: Well the first step is to promote this film; submit to websites, film festivals, etc. I have an idea for a 5-minute short in the same universe with some actors already on board. So I’ll make that, and if they don’t call me, I’ll make another one, and another one, until I finally convince somebody to give me money to make these visions real.
Film Courage: Where did you shoot the film/secure the locations?
Colin: In New Hampshire. I knew a guy who had a factory and he let me shoot there. The scene where he runs through the field was shot at my old high school’s football practice field; it hadn’t been used in years, and was all overgrown. A few scenes were shot on my property. Some of the other locations… well, I didn’t see any signs, so I walked up and shot the scene discreetly and left… Then I shot some B-roll while living in Portland, where the moisture gives everything this mossy covering that looks perfectly post-apocalyptic.
Film Courage: You’ve beautifully feature the nature in your outdoor locations. Where does your love for nature come from?
Colin: I remember when I was young, my dad would take Scott and I to a park where there were these three colossal trees. They seemed to be hundreds of feet high back then. Every time we went he’d be like “Hey, before we go, lets check out the trees!” and we would just go look at the trees and marvel at how huge they were. And my mother was an animal lover, always with 3-5 rescued cats and a dog. So I was always taught to respect life, and I always lived next to the woods. But from an artistic point of view… nature is an artist that has been creating for billions of years. The creations that were failures died and rotted and fed the creations that were successful. Every life form today has been fine tuned and whittled down since the dawn of time to be as perfect as it can possibly be at this moment. That is amazing! And many of them only have a brief window to exist, and then they’ll disappear and be gone forever. We should consider ourselves lucky to see them while they’re here. And specifically trees… I like trees because they hint at the fractal nature of reality. The small branches on a tree are the same general shape as the bigger branches, and the bigger branches are the same shape as the overall tree. It’s a pattern repeating at different scales.
Film Courage: What camera(s) did you use? How did you know you had the right camera to film this story?
Colin: Well I really did my research and whittled down my main camera to something A. affordable, B. capable of switching out lenses and C. with the capacity to shoot 24p, which turned out to be the Canon 60d. I bought a 18-55 mm lens, a 55-250 mm lens, and then a very-sexy 10-22mm wide angle. That was the primary camera rig, but I also used a Panasonic TM-900 with an additional wide-angle lens for some stuff and occasionally the Go-Pro Hero 2 for some perspective shots and for stuff where it might get dirty or wet.
Film Courage: Is there anything you haven’t shared yet, that you wish you knew before you made this movie?
Colin: Wish I had known the difficulty involved in getting people to actually watch RENFREE! A problem I’m running into is, nobody wants to watch a 40 minute movie. It’s there, it’s totally free, but it occupies this no man’s land where its not a full length movie but its also not a 5-minute-or-less quick internet video. If it were full length, I could sell it, and if it were a short video, it could go viral, but its neither, so it takes a lot of pestering and spamming to get anybody to sit down and press play. For some reason I thought I could just post it on my Facebook or whatever and that it would just take off. But its a 40 minute film, and there’s just way too many other things to do on the internet to commit to stopping everything else for 40 minutes. If I choose to make a large film like this again, I will make a short companion piece to get them on the hook so they want more.
Film Courage: Why did you decide to release RENFREE online for free? Where is it currently available to watch?
Colin: I believe that every person’s time is valuable. To me, giving RENFREE your time is a form of payment; you are taking a chance on an unknown commodity and maybe your time will be wasted and you can never get it back. It was also just really the only option I had if I wanted somebody to notice. I remember Sam Raimi saw that short robot movie “Panic Attack!” free on Youtube and was impressed enough to offer the director, Fede Alvarez, the job of directing the new Evil Dead. Crossing my fingers that the same could happen to me… Oh, and you can watch it on my Vimeo account!
Film Courage: Are you also submitting it to festivals? Are there any other plans for distribution?
Colin: I will be submitting it to festivals. SXSW’s open submissions is coming up, and then there’s Bendfilm here in Oregon and some others… I hear theres a zombie festival somewhere. RENFREE is getting submitted to that for sure! As far as distribution, not really. RENFREE was always going to be free for all to see.
Film Courage: What do you want audiences to gain from watching RENFREE?
Colin: I want an audience to feel a little conflicted about this character, to struggle to decide if he is good or evil. We’ve got a huge media imbalance in America where angels are praised ceaselessly but where devils are immediately demonized and cast aside. Think about prisoners. You could have one guy in a cell for stealing socks, and the other guy in a cell for murdering his whole family, but we look at them both the same because they’re in prison, and honestly, its just too difficult to be any more discerning than that. We’re too distracted. I want people to be challenged a little bit about their sense of morality. Of course I also want them to also be entertained by the action and in awe of the pretty imagery 🙂
Film Courage: Do you do other creative things aside from filmmaking?
Colin: I used to draw quite a lot, but not much anymore. I do a lot of brainstorming for other ideas I have (I’ve been jotting down notes and sketches for the next Godzilla movie…). I also play guitar, just metal, weird ugly progressive djent-metal that I’ve been working on for years and years. I finally got some gear last year so I might have the resources to record an album, preferably before I turn 30 (I’m 27 now).
Film Courage: Where do you develop your best ideas?
Colin: Sometimes I’m inspired by things I read (Ishmael, Childhood’s End, The Forever War) or things I see (Black Hawk Down, Lord of the Rings… 28 Days Later, anyone?). Sometimes I’ll sit down and force myself to turn on the creative side of my mind. And now that it’s legal in Oregon, I feel quite free to say that the occasional toke of cannabis does wonders for writer’s block.
Film Courage: Biggest supporter in your life?
Colin: In my whole life I’d have to say my mother; she was always facilitating my interests, pushing me to pursue various artistic enterprises. My partner Annie has been huge too. When I first was thinking about making a movie, I was very unsure of whether or not I could succeed. But she just said “That’s a great idea! You could do it!” and that was the push I needed to go for it. And this whole post-production process was very difficult for me because the amount of work was so great, but she would give me so much positive support. I’d be despairing and she’d just say “Don’t worry, you’re doing great, you’ll be fine” and I’d be like “Hey, I’m ok, I got this!” I think we could all do better in positively supporting each other; for some of us its the only thing we’re missing.
Film Courage: Quote or mantra that you live by?
Colin: There’s not a specific quote, but Ghandi said that “God is truth.” What this means to me is that I’ve got to acknowledge the world as it is. Truth doesn’t take sides, it doesn’t care about where you came from or who you are, it doesn’t care about right or wrong. It just is. So I always try to keep an open mind and reevaluate my opinions and beliefs.
Film Courage: What’s next for you creatively?
Colin: Take a vacation. THEN, translate my story into a pilot for my TV show idea, plan out the next 5 minute short film and record some metal. I can’t wait!
Colin Rich earned his degree in film at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2010. In 2011, he traveled to Nepal as cinematographer and co-producer for the independent film Mango Pickle.
In 2012, Colin wrote a full length screenplay for an original film entitled Sitees. While raising funds, Rich translated his work into a novel and in 2013 produced, filmed, directed and edited a short film illuminating Sitees’ coldest character; RENFREE.
RENFREE is now being screened in Colin’s city of residence, Portland, Oregon
Panthalassan Media was created by Colin Rich.
Panthalassan Media is a platform for storytelling. Named for the oceanic partner to Pangaea, Panthalassan utilizes film and music to reflect the spectrum of truths and meaning.
ABOUT THE FILM:
RENFREE follows two brothers struggling to survive a world upended by a parasitic infection, which killed many and turned others into crazed savages. Starring Scott Rich and Jeffrey Power. Written and Directed by Colin Rich