Having made my own short about teens investigating an urban legend, I was drawn to “Lady Dead”, a 16-minute short film written, shot and edited by Brad Podowski and directed by Dan Gremley. “Lady Dead” tells the story of Eileen, one of those poor middle school girls who gets teased for being smart. Eileen is curious about a strange old lady who walks around the neighborhood dressed in a black gown and pushing a baby carriage. Rumor says she poisoned three kids one Halloween night long ago. Henceforth, all the local kids know her as “Lady Dead”.
I love in the film how Eileen is both curious about Lady Dead — perhaps sympathizing with a fellow outsider — and also terrified of her. Will she overcome her fear, get Lady Dead’s side of the story and earn the grudging respect of the kids who tease her? Or will she become just another victim of Lady Dead, the subject of her own local legend?
I won’t spoil the story. Instead, enjoy this interview with filmmaker Brad Podowski about how he produced the film…
Brad Podowski: Several years ago the image of Lady Dead, along with her name and the baby buggy popped into my head. I knew a tragedy that involved kids would center around this woman’s story but that was about it. For about a year I tried cracking the story but I could never get the pieces of the puzzle to fit. About a year and a half ago I revisited the project. Once the character of Eileen came to be, her struggles and desire for acceptance and truth, then everything else in the story seemed to fall into place.
How did the director, Dan Gremley, become involved?
Dan is a long-time collaborator and friend. He has a real knack for teaching and storytelling; he’s good with kids and he has a great sense of humor.
The budget on imdb is listed as $600. What were your biggest expenditures?
The biggest expenditure was craft service. About half of our budget was food. I think it’s really important to feed the cast and crew well. The remainder of the budget was props, costumes, tape stock and permits.
How many days did you you shoot? How much time was spent editing?
We shot a total of five 8-hour days. Editing took a few months.
We shot with the Sony HVR-A1U (HDV). I used a very light pro-mist-type filter to reduce the sharpness of the high def picture. I built a DIY camera dolly and lens hood from plans I found on the internet. For sound, we had a 4-channel mixer and boom mic. For lighting I had three 1,000-watt tungsten lights with soft boxes and a few clamp lights from the hardware store.
How did you cast the film?
For casting, I sent out ads to a couple of casting websites and on Craigslist. All of this was free of course. The cast was selected from a pool of actors from across the Midwest. The auditions took place over the course of two full days. I was very pleased with the response.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during shooting? Was there anything you had to change or cut at the last minute?
Most people who’ve seen the movie, including most of the cast and some of the crew don’t even know this. One of the disadvantages of wearing so many hats on set is that some things get overlooked. After we shot the scenes of Eileen going to Lady Dead’s house to interview Lady Dead, we realized that Eileen didn’t have the notebook with her that she did in a previous scene that was already shot. So we had a decision to make. Do we reshoot half of a days work or do we make it work as is? After reviewing the footage, we found that Eileen drops the notebook at the end of the previous scene, after she yells at the boys on the bikes. We decided to go with what we had, especially since the notebook wasn’t crucial to the plot.
Talk about working with composer Casimer Kolasa. How did the original score come together?
Casimer, like Dan the director, is a long time friend and collaborator. We work really well together. I would send Casimer notes about the style and mood I wanted and he would create it. Then I’d make a few more notes to refine what he did and after only a few iterations we had what you hear in the film. Most of our work was done via email. For a couple of pivotal, complex scenes, I sent him low resolution versions of the scene for him to score to.
What is something you learned on this project which you will take into future projects?
I was the cinematographer for “Lady Dead”. Next time, I will get a more talented DP and I will shoot with either a DSLR or some camera that has a shallower depth of field. That is my only regret with the project, visually speaking. Although, this project for me was about using the equipment that was available to me and going out and making a movie instead of talking about it.
What is next for you as a filmmaker? Any other projects in the works?
I’ve been writing quite a bit. I recently finished the second draft of a feature film that I’m really excited about. It’s called Courting Megan Cook. It’s a John Hughes-esque high school dramedy about a socially-inept kid named Trace who is going through the motions of high school when a classmate of his dies tragically. After revisiting the pain and regret of his father’s death, Trace vows to live life to the fullest by asking the girl of his dreams to prom. I’m hoping to produce this as my debut feature, so if any one out there is interested in investing in a project like this, please contact me.
What advice to you have for filmmakers who are just starting out?
Go out and make a movie with what you have. But first, make sure you have the best possible version of your story before you shoot. Don’t rush into production. Study the craft of screenwriting and get feedback from experienced filmmakers, not just your family and friends.
Where should people go if they want to find out more about “Lady Dead”?
Check out our website, www.ladydeadmovie.blogspot.com for more info including, a synopsis, the trailer, reviews and to purchase the DVD. You can also check us out on facebook at www.facebook.com/ladydeadmovie.
Photos courtesy Brad Podowski.