Rollers began as a comedy called Protect & Serve. The idea was to do a buddy-cop comedy and release it episodically, each episode limited to 3 minutes. After shooting the first episode, I realized that comedy wasn’t right for me and the project was scrapped. I spent the next four months researching Philadelphia’s narcotic drug problems and also re-writing the script to be a dark drama based in reality.
The script, locations, and a tentative shoot schedule were finalized. Then everything fell apart.
Actors left last minute. Locations fell through. This led to numerous re-writes. Life got in the way and my small budget rapidly depleted. I was depressed, defeated and I didn’t know what to do.
I met Rob Casmay, who plays Det. Callahan for a beer one night and we talked about putting the film on the back burner and writing something smaller. After some deliberation we both said, screw it. Let’s just make the damn thing no matter what. Rollers was brought back to life
What To Do When Filmmaking Falls Apart
Production on Rollers lasted 1 year and 5 months. Our shoot schedule was 24 days over the course of a year due to people’s schedules, location availability, and the changing seasons. I directed, shot, edited, colored, and did the sound mix. Rob Casmay starred, recorded dialogue and wrote all of the music. Peter Mason acted and produced, getting us locations, cars, people, and anything else we needed.
I didn’t sleep much for months, working a 9-5 day job, then coming home to work on the movie from 6pm to 3am. It really takes a toll on you. I now understand why so many directors fail to finish their first movies and never continue on to their 2nd and 3rd. It’s HARD. It was a monumental effort to complete this film, and it’s something we are all very proud of.
Our Filmmaking Gear
To get the look of the film I shot with what I had: A Canon 60D and my set of old Zeiss primes: 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, and a 135mm. I lit everything with my basic lighting kit and some reflectors. Sound was recorded to a Tascam DR-100 with a Senheisser G3 wireless lav, a studio condenser mic, and an Audio Technica shotgun.
I then synched all of the sound by hand because I didn’t know about Pluraleyes until very late in the game. Not fun, let me tell you.
I liked the look of the bar and wanted to show it off, so I cranked all of the house lights up. To the Chief’s right (screen left) is a 500w light shot through an umbrella to light my 3 actors.The bar scene is probably a good one to talk about. Here’s the scene prior to color correction.
And here’s how it appears in movie. The overhead lights above the actors gave them a little bit of hair and shoulder light.
To Casmay’s left (Screen right) at the end of the bar is a 500w light shot through an umbrella to even out the lighting on the 3 main actors. Back behind Casmay, in the back of the bar is a 750watt light shot bare from the ceiling to give all of the bar patrons a rim light so they popped off the background.
For the color grade I brightened up the shadows considerably, brought up the highlights, and cranked down the mid tones.
What this does is add contrast, but also darkens the image. Then I pushed the shadows a little cooler, the mid tones to a greenish color to bring back the skin tones to normal, and dialed in the highlights to a white.
I should mention that there’s no magic button to make a digital movie look like a film. It comes from the mixture of lighting, camera angle, camera movement, and depth of field. It should also be said that the way I shoot things is just my way, and my personal taste. There are lots of ways to shoot a scene.
All of this mimics a sort of Se7en-ish grading scheme. I used a 35mm film grain I bought online to give the movie a little grit.
Here is another example in daylight.
And here is the same scene after grading.
One thing I do is study the cinematography in movies I think look good. I will slow down the movie and look at entire scenes frame by frame!
I learned a lot making Rollers, most of which were skills needed to become a better director. I learned that collaboration is a great thing, and without the support of everyone involved, this movie would have never been made. Above all else I learned that I love the craft, and that I’ll be making a lot more movies.
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Matt Mahoney is a filmmaker from Philadelphia. After graduating from Kutztown University in 2005 he worked as a professional photographer and filmmaker. His award-winning short films have garnered him attention from industry leaders. In 2012 he started InkWater Motion Pictures, a production company which he and 4 partners launched together. InkWater Motion Pictures has produced 4 films shot in the Philadelphia, and D.C. areas, with a web series and two feature films currently in development. When Matt is not working, he can usually be found watching an NHL game.