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Confessions of a Working Director - Sept 1st, 2009

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On Saturday morning, Aug 22nd, I drove east, away from St. Louis, and toward Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where the first portion of production on the film Stake Land is taking place.  My friend Aaron Crozier put me in communication with the producers making Stake Land, the new movie from director Jim Mickle (Mulberry Street).  Aaron is the 1st assistant director on Stake Land

I am actually a huge fan of MULBERRY STREET, so I was quite happy when the STAKE LAND producers asked me to join in the fun and offered me a tiny cameo part in the movie.

Before the fun could begin, however, there was 15 hours of driving to do.  I was working non-stop, mostly to square away all the details for the Cinema Edge Awards, right up until I left for the Stake Land shoot, so on the morning of the 22nd, I hit the road on only two hours of sleep.  I drove 10 hours to New Stanton, Pennsylvania, where I stopped for the night.  The last two or three hours of the drive were riddled with sleep deprivation discombobulation.  For my St. Louis to New Stanton trek, I stayed awake by blaring Nine Inch Nails, Kiss, and Melvins.

I arrived in New Stanton (which is south-east of Pittsburgh, I believe) looking forward to hitting the hotel room bed.  I snagged some food, watched some Myth Busters, and slowly drifted off to sleep.  Unfortunately, the hotel was very full, and full of noisy people.  Yelling and banging from the next room, and lots of stomping around and what sounded like furniture moving in the room above me woke me up several times.  Dammit, now my drive across Pennsylvania was gonna be riddled with sleep deprivation too!

The next day, I hit the good ol' PA Turnpike and continued east.  I was not nearly as sleepy as I thought I'd be.  Instead of blaring the music again, I just drove in silence.  It was a beautiful day, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike is a pretty drive, so I just admired the scenery as it went by.

Jason Christ and I had just made this journey a few months ago to shoot the opening credit sequence of Ratline.  That trip was much worse because it involved even less sleep.  Also, our time on the Turnpike was at night, so we saw none of the beautiful scenery. 

After five hours on the road, drinking lots of coffee, eating a terrible chicken sandwich purchased at one of those turnpike service islands, and paying my toll, I arrived at the production HQ for Stake Land, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.  I felt awkward meeting everyone on the shoot, but that was just because 15 hours of the inside of my car had driven me slightly insane and my social skills were less than sharp.  I recovered quickly, though.

I soon felt right at home, as everyone on the production was very nice and greeted me warmly.  The director, Jim, was very friendly and oddly relaxed for a guy who was going to start shooting his second feature the next morning.  He thanked me for making the trip, and like everyone else, made me feel very welcome.

One sort of surreal aspect of this shoot is the crew - there are quite a few people here from the St. Louis area in addition to me and Aaron, specifically St. Louis crew people who worked with us on Vengenza Azteca.  Very odd to drive 15 hours to work with St. Louis neighbors.  We should have banded together and made them move the shoot to St. Louis, instead of making us travel all this way!

The first few days of shooting indicated that Stake Land is going to be a very interesting movie - a very grimy, moody post-apocalyptic flick.  The first days also revealed that the entire crew here is amazing.  Looking at the monitors during takes, I could see that this movie is gonna look awesome, thanks to cinematographer Ryan Samul and the top-notch camera, grip, electric, and art department teams.  I've had some time to chat it up with the leading actors, Connor Paolo (Mystic River, Alexander, and TV's Gossip Girl) and Nick Damici (In the Cut, Mulberry StreetWorld Trade Center).  Nineteen-year-old Connor is an impressively focused and intelligent actor, as well as a very nice guy.  Nick is an amazingly dedicated actor, willing to go through anything, no matter how grueling or uncomfortable, if it benefits the movie.  During one long, tough day under a blazing sun, he was preparing for a difficult shot, and Nick was asked if he was uncomfortable.  "I get paid to be uncomfortable," he responded, in his gruff East coast tough guy accent.  Nick also happens to be a great guy - extremely friendly and easy to talk to.

As I joined this production late in pre-production, I’m just pitching in wherever and however I can, in addition to playing my tiny cameo part (and hoping I don't end up on the cutting room floor).

More Stake Land info in the next blog.

Thanks for reading.

- Eric Stanze

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