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FreeLance - the MOVIE

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Making FreeLance With Misfits & Misdemeanors

Touting misfits and misdemeanors, Drew Sawyer’s directorial debut FreeLance developed out of struggles against the amateur and the technically limited. Shoot over a period of eight days in Sawyer’s childhood hometown Rome, GA and produced for less than $3,000, the absurdist feature film delves into the world of hopeless, aspiring journalist Elliot Guillespse. As his attempts to scoop stories in his suburban neighborhood progressively fail and his home life moves from mundane to bleak, Elliot, under the guise of alter-ego Lance Windchaser, falls prey to his own desire for fame and consequently mixes himself into a murder controversy of newsworthy proportions. It’s a humorous film without delusions of grandeur and in such keeps itself light-hearted and silly.

Yet, the production stories are all ones of hard work, forethought and pre-planning and are little tempered by the light-hearted air of its films’ narrative.

Crafting the Script

College buddies, screenwriters Sean Mann and Joe Coleman brainstormed the original concept for FreeLance at random moments or in free time. The original premise was simply to watch a character fail even as he fought against insurmountable odds.

In crafting the story though, Mann, who took on the responsibility as full-time writer, didn’t want to fall into character clichés, specifically not in writing Elliot. “He’s not somebody that anybody sympathizes with. He’s pathetic and unlikable at the same time,” Mann admits.

Elliot’s arc, moreover, adds Mann is not one of the typical morality play comedy: “When I first started writing, I kept thinking about these Adam Sandler movies, about how they are so generic, how they kind of had the same (structure) where there’s this character that came along and then there’s this moral that was being told, “Hey, now I’m a better guy.” I kept thinking of Big Daddy where it’s like, “I’m kind of a bum, and then I had this kid. Now because of this I’m a better person,” at the end. I thought it would be funny to have this character who is building towards that, and (the film) makes you think he’ll change, but really it’s set in stone.”

The initial drafts of the film were at best rough, in fact borderline awful, Mann says. As he began to think more in-depth about character and pulled director Drew Sawyer into the scripting process, Mann felt the feature focus, pulling energy from collaboration.

“I really like having someone to bounce ideas off of—whether it’s every bit my words or not. That to me helps me be creative, especially with comedy. I find it’s very hard to find something funny when you’re sitting by yourself in front of a computer in the middle of the night. You might find it funny then later look at it and say, “Woah, what was I thinking?” It made it much better to have Drew read over it and bounce it back,” Mann says.

In what Mann describes as a process of “functional cooperation,” the screenplay locked in Summer 2006 after which the production process gears immediately turned.

On Set

“I don’t even want to relive this,” Sawyer says as he sits on the back porch of his Atlanta home. Sitting next to Mann, who is now one of his housemates, Sawyer smokes a cigarette and relates his memory the eight days in Rome.

“Since it was such a small production, we had to train the crew a week in advance on how to actually run cables, teach them the jargon, “When I call for this, grab this.” Nobody had any experience running a set. So I was just trying to teach them little bit by little bit so that they could function on set when I called for things frantically,” Sawyer says. “Every day one of our crew members went to jail, and we never got them back. We had the ne’er-do-well crowd of Rome, the misfits of Rome who didn’t have jobs, who just wanted to show up, do something cool for free food, free coffee.”

With only six permanent crew at a time and several complicated scenes to shoot in multiple locations around the city, the production days stretched out from dawn to twilight. Beyond the technical pressure of each day, Sawyer also contended with lead actor Bob Kunkel’s propensity toward improvisation and distraction, both qualities that enhanced the Elliot character—if only, that is, they focused for the time the camera rolled.

“It was like trying to harness almost a hurricane in some ways,” Mann says. “He’d be too big, or he’d miss lines, and the humor was in those.”

For Sawyer, the challenge was not so much directing Kunkel but rather just controlling him. Keeping Kunkel from the Rome nightlife was one in the list of challenges. At the same time though, as a director Sawyer had to let Kunkel fall apart, a necessary method acting quirk that could reflect onto the Elliot character. “We’d get (Bob) drunk, keep him up, and the more drunk and less sleep he got, the better of an actor he’d be,” Sawyer explains.

Fortunately, working with the other actors was not nearly as difficult, though unexpectedly the post-production process would be.

Post-Post-Post and Then More Post

The first rough cut of FreeLance was lost when Sawyer’s hard drive was stolen. The second working cut wasn’t funny. The third cut got close to hitting Sawyer’s intended vision but without taking professional sound design into consideration. Now, the fourth and last major cut works with all the elements: the humor and the technical combined.

“We sat down on the world’s tiniest lab top and edited in Sean’s kitchen—with no air, it was very hot, and we opened the windows,” Sawyer says of the initial editing process. The two would run scenes by the rest of their housemates, waiting for the laugh that would tell them the cut was working. Many times the laugh simply didn’t sound out.

In a March 2006 Atlanta screening of the film at the Landmark Theater, however, FreeLance began to come into its own, playing for a packed audience. “Sean and I sat down in the seats right next to each other, magically people started to laugh and we were okay,” Sawyer says. “We’d seen the movie so many times that we’d forgotten it was a comedy. When (the audience) started laughing, we didn’t know what was going on. People found things funny that we didn’t even know were funny.”

After the screening, however, comments, both positive and critical poured in, and since then the filmmaking duo has gone back to trim and re-cut sequences. Moving into a picture lock, FreeLance is finally on its last revisions for the film festival circuit, and it will find there, Sawyer hopes, a larger audience to share in its humor.

-written by Nora Fores @Shortend Magazine

CAMERA

Drew Sawyer
Co-Cinematographer/DP

Bob Malin
Co-Cinematographer/DP; Additional Photography; Camera Operator

Sean Wulf
Assistant Camera

Megan Cipollini
Additional Photography, Assistant Camera

Catherine Hale
Assistant Camera; Gaffer

Scott Hale
Additional Photography; 2nd Grip; Cableman

Seth Ingram
Gaffer; Key Grip; Sound Mixer; Boom Operator; Cableman

Brendon Fenton
Grip

Ben Pease
Grip; Cableman

Chase Allen
Grip

Daniel Ericson
Grip

David LeBlanc
Grip; Cableman

Ian Cipollini
2nd Grip; Grip; Boom Operator; Cableman

James Schroeder
Grip; Boom Operator; Cableman

Jason Clairy
Gaffer; Cableman
Real Media

Jon Ingram
Grip; Cableman

Josh Cacey
Grip; Boom Operator; Cableman

Perry Lucas
Grip

Trip Barnes
Grip; Cableman

Will Sawyer
Grip

ART DEPARTMENT

Hillery Sawyer
Set Decorator (1st Project); Art Director (1st Project); Makeup Artist; Makeup Effects; Body Makeup; Hairstylist; Costumer

James Schroder
Wardrobe

Drew Sawyer
Costume Designer

Jason Clairy
Production Designer (1st Feature), Propmaster
Real Media

Specialized

Joe Coleman
Technical Advisor

Jon Ingram
Animal Handler

Trip Barnes
Fluffer

Post Production

POST PRODUCTION
Drew Sawyer
Picture Editor; Digital Effects
Summer Brew Films

Sean Mann
Assistant Editor

Joe Coleman
Digital Effects; Assitant Editor

Roy Clements
Sound Editor, Mixer, Designer

Shot on Location

In beautiful Rome, Ga.

Creators

Written By: Sean Mann
Story By: Joe Coleman and Sean Mann
Directed By: Drew Sawyer
Starring: Bob Kunkel, Jackson Williamson, Sean Mann
Sponsored By: Icon Theater and Real Media Productions
A Summer Brew Film

Synopsis

Elliot Guillespse dreams of being the world’s greatest investigative reporter, a la his idol Rod Reel—a daunting task considering he is both cameraman and reporter, can’t drive, and still lives in his mother’s basement. Further complicating matters is Roy Henry who, as Elliot’s childhood bully, tortured the boy and is now a born again Christian/recovering alcholic seeking forgiveness.

Elliot escapes an unnaceptable home life in the guise of Lance Windchaser, his journalistic alter-ego. He enlists Toby, a suburban taxi driver, to be his cameraman which in turn Toby accepts in an attempt to escape his own hellacious home life. The two become unlikely friends and patrol the streets of their suburban home in search of the big scoop.

Problem is, news in the little city is just hard to come by. This does not dissuade Elliot’s enthusiasm, and he finds great joy in reporting the most mundane of stories. His home life continues to deteriorate as his commitment to the news supercedes all of his other responsibilities. When he receives a letter from his idol ridiculing his efforts, Elliot snaps, falling into a psychotic vandalism and reporting spree with consequences that may very well allow Elliot to truly MAKE the news.