In Donald Cried Jesse Wakeman plays Peter Latang, a slick Wall Street mover and shaker who returns home to working-class Rhode Island for 24 hours to settle his dead grandmother’s affairs. When Peter loses his wallet on the bus, he turns to his next door neighbor and childhood best friend for help, the eccentric Donald, portrayed by writer-director Kris Avedisian.
Donald lives with his mother, works at a bowling alley, and hasn’t changed a bit since high school. As the old friends reconnect, they agitate dormant tensions that climax with a twist in this dark buddy comedy. Earlier this month, I caught up with Avedisian and asked him a few questions about his film.
FS: Donald Cried was originally a short film. What were some of the complications of adapting a short into a feature?
KA: The toughest part was trying to maintain the reality of a 24 hour experience. The short had a nice little arc that felt true to what someone could go through in a day’s time. And the abbreviated format forced us to build a story that allows the audience to fill in the blanks of this relationship, which I liked. We wanted to keep that same feeling for the feature. The trick was balancing that fun ride you get to go on in a movie world while still keeping the story believable and grounded in reality.
FS: How did the characters and story evolve?
KA: What you end up getting in the feature is more of a peek into how this relationship worked in the past and why. As we peel back the layers on Peter and Donald, your empathy/sympathy switches between these two guys until the end where we see they’re really one and the same.
FS: How many production days were scheduled to shoot the short? The feature?
KA: We shot the short over a weekend. We shot the feature in 14 days.
FS: How much did you rehearse?
KA: We spent a lot of time on the script. Jesse and I knew the material inside and out. For our scenes we didn’t want to rehearse. We wanted to work scenes out as the cameras rolled. That way there is a bit of uncertainty, some room for surprises and discovery. But the process was always anchored by what was on the page.
FS: Was there much improvisation on set?
KA: There are only a few moments in the movie that were completely made up on the spot. We would shoot some improv while driving from one location to another. If I stopped for gas or whatever, we would try and make something happen. For example, when Donald pulls the van out of the parking lot and complains about how they plow the snow, that was completely off the cuff.
FS: What were the advantages of filming in your home state? Any disadvantages?
KA: There were certainly no disadvantages. The advantages were with locations, extras and general support. Being so familiar with the area, you can find the locations that much easier, and you know where they are in relationship to one another. That cuts down on the travel time. I also knew who to ask for help if we ran into problems.
FS: Did you put your friends and family in the movie?
KA: For the Cancer benefit, we held an actual benefit and invited everyone we knew. That would have been a tough space to fill otherwise. Overall, I think Warwick has kind of a small town vibe, so even the people I didn’t know were generally enthusiastic about supporting a small film like ours.
FS: You raised over $20,000 on Kickstarter for post-production. Any crowdfunding tips?
KA: I wish I could offer some tips. We just cast a wide net out to family and friends. I can’t thank those enough who took the time to spread the word and/or made a contribution. It’s really humbling and uncomfortable to see so many people come together and give something of their own for your work. Truly grateful for that.
FS: What was the production budget? How did you finance Donald Cried?
KA: We shot the movie for $45,000 with two initial investors: Matt Anthony and Steve Skoly. During post, Sean Lamb, our third EP, got involved. I can’t thank those guys enough for believing in the project, especially Matt Anthony. He is my good friend and wife’s cousin. He was the first to get involved. I owe him one.
FS: What was the total cost in the end?
KA: When it was all said and done, the movie cost just under $200,000, though, these kind of numbers can be a little misleading. I had a talented and professional crew, who signed on for next to nothing because of my producer Kyle Martin’s relationship with them. If people were paid their usual rate, that number would be a lot higher.
FS: How did your participation in the IFP Independent Filmmaker Labs shape the film?
KA: IFP was wonderful. Fortunately, the movie was already in a good place at that point, so it was less about shaping the film. That said, it was no doubt an invaluable experience to get so many professional and objective eyes on it. Their feedback helped inform some of the edits that can be seen in the film now.
FS: What was the IFP experience like as a first time filmmaker?
KA: For me, as an outsider and first time filmmaker, IFP was a crash course on what happens to a movie during its entire life cycle. They cover everything and connect you to other folks in the industry. Regardless of where it all leads, it is their support and support system that I found so special.
FS: How did you approach the distribution process? What was your strategy?
KA: We were really fortunate with this part of the process. Cinetic got involved just before SXSW. From there we met The Orchard and felt like it was a good fit. At one point we thought about self-distribution, but it didn’t make sense.
FS: What has it been like partnering with Rough House? How did you hook up?
KA: David Gordon Green was shown the film through connections, not mine, and dug it. He reached out as a fan and was super supportive. I can’t say enough about Rough House. I’ve been such a huge fan of their work over the years. It’s truly an honor to have their support on Donald. I hope to get something going with them in the future.
FS: How / where can people see Donald?
KA: Donald will be available for download at the end of May. ITunes, Cable on Demand, Xbox etc.
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Rory Owen Delaney is a writer, filmmaker and the founder of Man Bites Dog Films. Delaney directed the sports documentary The Rivalry: Red V. Blue as seen on ESPN Classic, and he co-produced the world graffiti doc Bomb It 2. Among other publications, Rory has written for MovieMaker Magazine and Crave Online. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Maya Meinert and their two pugs.