There's no really polite way to put this: When it comes to the film industry, Houston ain't L.A. Heck, it ain't even Austin. Aside from some local commercials and industry films, about the most we can hope for is an occasional big-budget production like Pearl Harborto roll into town and shoot a few seconds at the port. Despite our relatively filmless ways, a couple of guys here, hoping to emulate the success of Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith, put up $50,000 of their own money to fund a little feature called Going Independent.
Considering that even a "low-budget" Hollywood flick costs around $10 million, the quality these guys accomplished on their shoestring allowance is admirable. "I asked [our hired editor] how much she thought we spent on the film, and she said a quarter-million," says director Rob Gladstone, who funded the project with his headhunting business. "That makes you feel good."
The idea for the film came when Gladstone and Jason Fischer, who worked at the same brokerage firm, were visiting area restaurants, trying to hunt down leads. Their technique? Stealing business cards from fishbowls. Someone spotted them heisting cards at Mama's Cafe; the duo tried to flee but got nabbed by HPD officers who happened to be eating there. "We became the heroes of the firm," says Fischer, the star and producer of Going Independent. That scene, of course, appears in the movie, which is about -- what else? -- a broker named Fischer who yearns to become an independent filmmaker.
They shot the film in two weeks, without dailies and often with only one take. They relied on the generosity of real estate owners willing to donate office space, starving actors looking for a break, and local film crews desperate to do something meatier than a TV commercial. One such person is Dionne Jones, who, after becoming one of the original 40 to get her MFA from the school now made famous by Bravo's Inside the Actor's Studio, returned to Houston looking for better parts in a smaller market. After being cast, she got highly involved and even wound up contributing major changes to the script. Every now and then, the cinema gods did their part, too: The day the cast and crew showed up to shoot a street scene, U.S. 59 was closed, saving the time and money needed to edit out traffic noise.
Now that this one's in the bag, the hard work of finding a distributor begins. Fischer has been submitting Independentto festivals and shopping it around as a, ahem, calling card to studios. As Fischer puts it, "This is what we can do with 50 grand. Think of what we could do with $3 million."
But in the end, does it really matter? "Making movies is funner than headhunting," Gladstone says. "You're doing this because you want to connect with people."
Perhaps one day they'll even connect with the right person, the one who could help them transform Houston into the filmmaking center it has always wanted to be.