On April 20, 1999, director Andrew Robinson was a personal witness to the tragic school shootings that took place at Colorado’s Columbine High School. Ten years later, he is debuting his first theatrical release feature, April Showers, a fictionalized story based on the true events and aftermath of that day. Robinson hopes to show the audience a perspective that the media couldn’t and to give the movie the personal touch that is necessary for such a film.
April Showers features a promising young cast including Kelly Blatz (Prom Night), Daryl Sabara (Spy Kids), Janel Parrish (Bratz) and Ellen Woglom (7eventy 5ive). The film is innovative in numerous ways from its filming to its distribution. April Showers was shot digitally using Cinema 4K, in hopes of providing audiences with a very realistic feel. Robinson has also gone out of his way to make sure that everybody can have a chance to see his groundbreaking film by making it available on iTunes and IndieFlix as well as releasing it nationwide.
MovieMaker spoke with Robinson as he prepared for the April 24 theatrical release of April Showers to talk about his unique and very personal moviemaking experience.
Mark Hurley (MM): Today marks the 10th anniversary of the tragic Columbine school shootings. How long have you had the idea for this project and what prompted you to make now?
Andrew Robinson (AR): Truthfully, I never intended to make April Showers—let alone any film about my direct experiences at Columbine High School. I was working on another idea I had for a film about doctors dealing with the duality of saving lives while simultaneously losing control of their own. It was during the writing of that story that I realized many of the themes I was attempting to cover and/or address stemmed from my experiences dealing with the tragedy I witnessed at Columbine. The more and more I wrote this other story, the more my personal experiences came to the forefront, ultimately causing me to cease writing the doctor story and go down the road that would eventually lead to April Showers.
MM: How long did it take you to write it?
AR: I wrote the first draft of April Showers in about three to four days. It was somewhat incredible because I had never had something come out me so spontaneously. I spent the next two weeks re-writing and re-tooling the story until I eventually came to a draft that encompassed everything I wanted to say. At that point I put the script away, thinking I had exercised my demons and began working on other projects. I picked up the script a few weeks later to give it a read and realized that there were elements of the story that I was sure had never been addressed publicly when it comes to tragedies like school violence or shootings. I showed the script to a couple of friends, some who work in the industry and others who I simply trust, and the response was shocking to me. Every person came back to me within 24 hours of reading the script and said, “When do you start principal photography?”
It was at this point that I did quite a bit of soul searching with myself and my family about what making this film would entail, not only physically but also emotionally. The emotional aspect of the equation was tough to grapple with because I wasn’t just dealing with my own story and memories but with a collective mindset we all experienced Columbine on some level or another, whether you were there or via television newscasts. I knew that the emotional toll wouldn’t end with wrapping of principal photography—or even the release of the film—for my name was now going to be associated with the tragedy in a very public way, which if I’m honest, was something that I didn’t want and took steps to ensure over the past 10 years.
However, an e-mail from a friend and fellow student at Columbine really put it into perspective for me. She told me if anyone was to make a film about our experiences then it should be one of our own and not some outsider who reads a couple articles and thinks they know something. She went on to say that the mere fact that April Showers focuses on those left alive versus the shooting and the shooter(s) themselves gives it a perspective that the general public isn’t aware of.
It was that e-mail, coupled with the support of friends and family, that tipped the scales for me and got the ball rolling towards making April Showers a reality.
MM: As a personal witness to the events at Columbine, how closely do the characters’ points of view follow your own? Are any of the characters modeled after you?
AR: I want to stress that while April Showers is based on actual events, it is a work of fiction. I used my personal experiences and the timeline of events, as I witnessed them, as a springboard to weave several stories into one film. That being said there are characters in the film that represent either real people or a collection of real people from that day, including myself. In the film, the character of Sean, played by Kelly Blatz, is a pretty truthful representation of my personal experiences and feelings, though I have to admit he (Kelly) is better looking.
MM: What do you hope audiences will take from April Showers?
AR: I really hope audiences come away from the film not taking anything for granted. It’s funny to me that this film has been labeled as a bit of a “downer” due to its intense subject matter. The film is bound to make people cry at some point but a lot of people come away from it changed in a good way. Audiences have been very appreciative and loving, which is a really awesome sight.
Personally, I was 17 years old when Columbine happened and prior to April 20 I was, for lack of a better word, bulletproof. My friends and I, we were going to concur the world and to hell with the rules. We didn’t care. April 20, 1999 gave a lot of people the world over a moment of pause. For me I had to grow up pretty fast, which is its own type of violence in a way. Ultimately, I had a tough time early on in my grieving process—not because of what I had been through or seen, but because of the things I left unsaid between myself and very close friends who didn’t make it out.
I don’t know why these things happen and I’m not sure there is one definitive answer. Sadly it appears to be a part of the world we live in now. I just know that over the past 10 years I’ve come to understand that tomorrow is a gift and the past is the past and it’s what you do with today that can make a difference. Don’t take anything for granted.
MM: Do you plan on continuing to make movies, and, if so, do you have any ideas or projects in mind?
AR: I love movies, I really do. I consider them the most powerful form of communication we have these days. I will absolutely make more films, in fact my producer, Jenna Edwards, and I have begun work on our next project entitled Dancing Carl. Dancing Carl is an adaptation of the popular young adult book by the same name written by three-time Newbery Award Winning author Gary Paulsen. We’ll be teaming up with many of the same crewmembers from April Showers, as well as a few of the lead actors, when we gear up to shoot later this year. Dancing Carl is scheduled for release in December 2010.
MM: To film this movie you used the Dalsa Origin II camera system, making April Showers the first feature film shot and finished exclusively in Cinema 4K. Tell us a bit about this system and what you hope it will help create for the audience.
AR: Filming in 4K, or digitally in general, made a lot of sense to me from the get-go because I found it to be a tool/format that was more in league with how our core audience (teens) were used to seeing content. I’m not sure that filming in 4K creates an altogether “new” viewing experience for the audience for at the end of the day, whether you’re shooting in 4K or Super8, the story has to be there. That being said, 4K—specifically the Dalsa camera package—allowed us to do things visually that no other digital format has been able to do in terms of image manipulation, control and lighting. The Dalsa cameras really do away with the age-old argument over film versus digital for the image they capture is next to impossible to define as either digital or film when utilized correctly. Scanned 35mm film is pretty much equivalent to 4K however projected film is more in league with 2K, so 4K has its benefits to the viewing public in that they’re going to have a consistency in image quality that 35mm can not match over the long haul.
There’s a lot of buzz about 4K right now, mainly due to the RED One camera, and for good reason. While I endorse 4K filming—we’ll be shooting Dancing Carl in 4K as well—the story, not the tool must come first. 4K is not the easiest format to finish a movie in, in fact to do it right takes a fair amount of equipment, know-how and money. We tested a number of supposed 4K finishing tools that we simply destroyed for they couldn’t handle the bandwidth needed to tackle a 4K project. There is a big difference between being able to read 4K files and playing them back in real time, which is a bit of the fine print some of these finishing devices try to keep from the general public. We ultimately needed to down grade the film to 2K in order to finish the film then proxy it back to the 4K files for the 4K render out, which we’re still doing. Quantel makes a finishing suite that can work with 4K in real time that we are now looking into purchasing for April Showers and beyond but it is costly to say the least. However, by owning it, we’ll be able to offer true real time 4K finishing services to other indie filmmakers, which is very exciting for my producer and I.
Another thing to consider with 4K is exhibition, be it a 35mm transfer or digital projection. Doing a film out on 4K is costly and time consuming where as projecting it digitally requires proprietary encoding and usually a 2K down convert. In time 4K will get easier and more cost-effective and we hope to be on the forefront of that movement for once you see 4K work and in all its glory it’s a pretty awesome sight. Overall, it was the image quality and allure of being essentially future-proof, in the theatrical and home markets, for years to come that cemented my decision to shoot in 4K.
MM: Tell us about your generous decision to donate all of the movie’s first week proceeds to schools who are a part of a district that the movie is showing in and to donate a percentage of the following proceeds to local schools.
AR: It’s no secret that schools and educators across this country are hurting. I was fortunate enough in many instances to go to schools that had fairly decent funding all around, keep in mind this was some years ago, that allowed me to set off down a path that eventually lead me to where I am today. That being said, I’ve been to many schools and talked to educators during the process of making April Showers and found that seemingly every day, budgets are being cut and programs terminated. Worse still, is the news of mass teacher layoffs and swelling class sizes that is just crippling to the true future of our country.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for some of the teachers in my life and programs in my school. That’s a fact, and I couldn’t bear the thought of another young person being deprived of valuable life lessons taught by teachers purely because our educational institutions are out of money. With an economy in turmoil I decided to do what I could to curb this growing trend in our schools by donating what I could from the screening of April Showers back to those who need it most. Will April Showers fix the problem? No, probably not. But it can’t hurt.
I don’t think the educational system in this country is perfect, far from it, but we can’t cut funding or fire good teachers while we try and figure it out. This is also the reason why our giving back aspect of the film doesn’t end with the theatrical release. We’re also giving back portions of the on-line and DVD/Blu-ray sales as well to national organizations and non-profits set up to further the advancement of young people around this country.
Lastly, my other reason behind wanting to give back to the schools was that I wanted to try and turn this dark day in our nation’s history—April 20, 1999—into a positive. I don’t want to pretend that it didn’t happen or to forget those who lost their lives, but instead honor them and honor those who survived by using the event to promote good and positive change in the lives of other young people in the hopes that they don’t have to know the pain to many of us now share.
MM: April Showers will be released not only in theaters, but also on iTunes and IndieFlix.com. How important is it to you that everyone who is interested in this film has a chance to see it?
AR: Very important. I truly believe that we are reaching a tipping point where content is going to be simultaneously cross-platform, regardless of whether you wish to agree with me or not. It’s coming, and our core audience understands and propagates this fact so it seemed a bit asinine to roll April Showers out in the traditional way. As a filmmaker you want your film to be seen so I looked for ways to ensure that happened whether the audience felt like going to the theater on a Friday night or sit at their computer. I believe content should be made available to the public at their convenience not mine and if you’re smart about it you can actually maximize your earning potential and exposure while lowering your overall costs.
What became hugely fascinating and a personal mission of mine was devising a plan that had incentives for the audience to see April Showers regardless of how, where or when they chose to screen it. Distribution is actually a very funny concept to me because no matter where you turn every channel, be it theatrical, online, home video, etc., wants their share of the consumer’s money yet none of the before mentioned platforms talk with one another on how to better maximize their combined overall potential.
Instead they live in fear of one another. It’s just bizarre to me. The nice thing about iTunes and IndieFlix is that they’re progressive in their thinking and view the market(s) largely the way I do. IndieFlix was my first contact when it came to the digital distribution space for I’d been a fan and a follower of theirs for some time and admired their attitude and business model. Because of IndieFlix I got iTunes with other digital platforms to follow after the initial iTunes release.
Getting back to the exhibitors for a moment, the mere mention of online, let alone iTunes, sends many of them around the bend. Yet iTunes, and IndieFlix for that matter, love the theaters and want/need the theaters to be around and be successful in order for their business model to work. April Showers is unique, I guess, in that we want to be everywhere all at once and we’re willing to work equally with whoever is game for everyone to benefit equally. At the end of the day, as a filmmaker, I want the audience to see and respond to my film and being in seemingly every market at the same time allows for that.
MM: Was it difficult for you to write and direct this film, or was it beneficial for your to share your tragic personal experience with an audience? Why is moviemaking a great medium for personal expression—especially as it relates to traumatic events?
AR: I have to admit writing the film wasn’t difficult for me largely because I write alone pretty closed off from the rest of the outside world. It was a very safe environment to work in because unlike the real event, I was able to process as went through it. When I initially started writing I intended the story to be just for me, a sort of final catharsis before moving onto other projects. I never intended for it to go anywhere other than from my memory to the computer screen.
Now, directing the film was a whole other matter and I had my good days and my bad days. My bad days weren’t so much associated with seeing some of my worst nightmares brought back to life as it was having to put the actors and the extras through it on a daily basis. Watching the monitor was a lot like looking back in time through a mirror and at times could be unbearable. There were times when I would be on set and think to myself, no one deserves this. These kids signed up to be extras in a movie not this. It was really hard and you could see it on their faces. I would apologize to them constantly and try to keep the time between setups very light and jovial but when it came time to yell action it was all business.
But everyone, in their own way, made this film very personal to themselves, which helped drive me at times. I talk a lot about the power of film, well it goes beyond watching a film as our set demonstrated that even making movies is a powerful experience that can bond people in ways few things can. I think films that are more geared toward conveying an experience outside of sheer entertainment or a piece of history have a tendency to go deeper into our psyche than a couple of one-liners you share with your buddies on the drive home. They become an experience, and when you get hundreds of people, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people, who have all shared in the same experience, albeit a movie, the effect can be profound.
For more information, visit http://www.aprilshowersmovie.com.