Making a movie in one place is hard enough—imagine making one from either side of the Atlantic ocean.
Akron co-directors and co-producers Brian O’Donnell and Sasha King had to collaborate from New York City and Dublin, respectively, then shot their feature in Ohio and Florida, to make things even more complicated. We asked them to talk about the innovative methods they employed to stay connected in their transatlantic film journey from pre-production to post.
Akron tells the story of Benny (Matthew Frias) and Christopher (Edmund Donovan), college freshmen who meet playing football and begin to fall in love. As their relationship grows, a past tragic event involving their mothers comes to light, which tests their own love and Benny’s close-knit family.
Brian O’Donnell (BO): I live in New York City and Sasha lives in Dublin, Ireland. And the film had to be shot mainly in Akron and Wooster, Ohio. How could we do this logistically and within the constraints of an ultra-low budget? We quickly realized that we could do the bulk of our pre-production work online or with phone apps, so communication could be virtually free. And when we made a list of all necessary production activities, we could divvy them up according to our skills, not based on where we were.
Sasha King (SK): First we set up a production Gmail account so that we could start corresponding from one email that both of us could access and communicate from—with every contact, department or organization we were connecting to—and have a central location to save the records of all communication.
BO: Then we launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds, which included a short video piece with me, as the writer, explaining what made our story unique. We raised about a third of our full budget that way.
SK: Bill Snodgrass, our post-production manager, and I discussed how we could make this film for a conservative budget and get it completed to the highest possible standard. With all options on the table, knowing Bill had editing, sound design and composing skills, it seemed the most cost-effective way was to equip ourselves with the tools to complete the film. So we set ourselves up with workstations, including laptops and all the software we would need to coordinate with each other and Bill.
BO: We scouted for locations with the help of my sister-in-law in Akron, who sent videos of locations and even facetimed me from inside a club so that I could see the working lighting system on the dance floor. She was also kind enough to bust a few moves for me!
Sasha and I communicated for free using Viber and Skype, so I could easily forward all videos to her, as well.
SK: The first travel expense was when I traveled to Akron and Wooster to meet Brian to research locations, and then to New York for the first main auditions. For the following auditions, when I was back in Dublin, our casting director would send me zip drives and Dropbox files of audition tapes immediately after each audition had been taped in New York. This way Brian and I could share our reactions to each audition, basically in real time.
BO: Out-of-town actors sent in audition tapes. We also held an audition via Skype.
SK: In assembling the crew, I was able to do a lot of research online to find local professionals—lighting, sound, grips in both Ohio and Florida, where we would shoot. After pinpointing the right team I made personal calls to all crew members to discuss the project and solidify their commitment. And I did the same with the equipment rental houses.
BO: Our two lead actors, Matthew Frias and Edmund Donovan, wouldn’t meet until the day before our shoot, and we didn’t have the budget to hold table readings, so we had them connect to each other on Skype on their own time so they could talk about character and scenes, but mostly just get to know each other. This certainly paid off. They felt comfortable with each other from the get-go and helped them create the incredible chemistry you see on screen.
SK: I came into New York a few days in advance of shooting with our DP, Paddy Jordan, also from Dublin, to finalize pre-production, collect the Cooke antique lenses from the rental house in Brooklyn, purchase the hard drives and camera stabilizing gear and prepare all paperwork for the shoot.
BO: A fun, unexpected benefit to being bi-national film partners was our accents. In Ohio we could size up who it was that we were talking to and figure out which of us should approach them. Certain locals were assured by my accent that I was from Ohio and spoke their language. But it turns out that Ohioans have a love for the Irish accent. Sasha and her “thanks a million” could charm a location right out from under someone.
SK: Yes, well, filmmaking really is all about using your best assets, isn’t it!
SK: The majority of the post work was done in Dublin, where Bill could access my workstation for all phases of post, keeping Brian in New York up to speed on all ongoing changes to visuals, audio and music in real time. Then for reviewing footage and listening to compositions, Bill would set up Dropboxes and G-DRIVEs to allow file sharing or quick viewing via email. In this manner, we also easily shared edits with our executive producers in Chicago. And bi-weekly Skype meetings between Dublin, NYC and Chicago helped us hone the movie through the editing process as edits and notes were sent back and forth quite easily. We also had the facility to access each other’s workstations via software in a remote capacity.
BO: I took two trips to Ireland for post-production, to work on the first edit and to work on music live with Bill. With his set-up we could all sit together and watch scenes from the movie, as Bill played his compositions live for us on guitar.
SK: This was a very organic way to work on a soundtrack: with the composer in the room playing along to specific scenes with us giving feedback. It was a dream situation for directors.
BO: While all of this was happening, we also began to think about how to get Akron out into the world. The internet is the best place for free publicity. We created a clean, beautiful website with Squarespace, created a YouTube channel with our trailer, a Facebook page, and Instagram and Twitter accounts. I have no doubt that those sites and the success we had with being selected for film festivals and winning awards helped us to get a distribution deal with the fantastic Wolfe Video.
A note from the moviemakers: An unexpected and amazing thing happened while we were making Akron—a progressive love story between two young men in the Midwest who are both out and happy and accepted by their family and friends: Both the U.S. and Ireland passed marriage equality. We watched this all unfold together. When we started making Akron in March 2014, 17 states had marriage equality, but in June 2015, as we were editing, marriage equality became the law across all 50. Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize it by referendum in May 2015. That is a journey we think about a lot. Akron is part of this progressive movement. MM
Akron is available on VOD and DVD starting February 7, 2017, courtesy of Wolfe Video.