Tales from the Trenches is MovieMaker’s latest weekly feature where we hear how independent moviemakers of all stripes overcame seemingly insurmountable circumstances to get their movies made. Think you’ve got a war story that can top this one? Send it (less than 1,000 words) to {encode=”[email protected]” title=”[email protected]”}.

“How did you do it?”

It’s the most common question producer Sophia Raab Downs and I are asked about the making of Racing Daylight. How did we push past nothing to something? It’s hard to say when you know it’s gonna really go. There are all of the false starts, the naiveté; those promises of financing designed to bathe the giver (and receiver) in the glow of possibility, until it comes time to write the check and you hear, “We overbooked our slate…” or “First, we want to see a draft where you boost the love story and lose the three act structure and make her a babe and…” And my favorite: “Can’t you get one A-list star?”

The crew came to work with David Strathairn, Melissa Leo and Giancarlo Esposito. They certainly didn’t come for the money, almost all deferred, and not to work with me, an unknown writer and never-directed director. How did we do it? We walked off a cliff and found earth under our feet.

February 2006: We offered David Strathairn the part. I gave David the script when he was in A Winter’s Tale, and two years later made him an offer just as Good Night, and Good Luck. was gathering steam. He liked the script, the everyman-ness of it, and set about working us into his post-nomination schedule.

Melissa, Sophia and I are in a theater company together. We’re friends. When I wrote the character of Sadie, I wrote it with Melissa in mind and was delighted when she fell for the part(s). Both actors stayed loyal for years.

June 2006: We had assembled a crew and opened our production office and design departments financed by credit cards and small investors against the dates scheduled and the production company monies promised. My dad, friend Catherine Rush, my husband Paul and I scratched together the rest.

We lost our funding three weeks out, for a variety of reasons which I have come to understand as the way it is in this indie arena. We had about $50,000 in the bank with no expectation of more. It was the moment of truth.

We contacted the cast. What’s the point of going on and reconceiving the whole artistic side if we weren’t gonna have people? The change meant a cut in pay for the actors, from the SAG low-budget agreement to the even lower ultra-low budget contract. David and Melissa nodded and smiled; it wasn’t about the money for

We called the crew together and told them the truth and asked anyone who could afford to take this risk with us to please stay on, and apologized for wasting the time of others. We had decided that if we rewrote the script to locations we already owned (production office, our homes/land, donated garages) with everything doubling as work spaces/sets, then we could make this film the way we had originally thought about it: “I have a barn, let’s make a movie.” Regional
moviemaking at its best; a scaled down, found set/costume kind of film focusing on the performances, the story and making something out of nothing instead of something out of never enough.

Now that we had actors, this new script, free locations and costumes—some of which the brilliant Ingrid Price and Abigail Gullo had already built—it was time to re-crew. Here’s where the “reel”‘ magic happens. We stopped asking people for money and started asking moviemakers to come take a risk with us. They came,
deferred and back-end. They came to work with David and Melissa. There were other last-minute crises that came and went; losing Mary Louise Wilson to a high-paying movie shooting in California. I panicked for about 15 minutes before remembering LeClanche Durand lived close. She said “yes” on very short notice, and tragedy once again became serendipity.

Tim Guinee was to play Edmund/Billy, the third of the love triangle. Shortly after Mary Louise, Tim was offered a role in a Tony Shalhoub film. I wondered which
direction I ought to search for Edmund, certain that there was an Edmund close by. We had so far not lost anything without its replacement being close at hand.
That’s when Jason Downs e-mailed me. Jason’s married to my producing partner, Sophia. Once we thought about it, we all agreed that he was completely the right choice, and Jason became the missing puzzle piece. We were now ready… and the shooting began.

Twenty-four 12-hour days. That’s what we had scheduled with no cover set. The month of June it rained. August was brutally hot. Those 24 days in July were
glorious. Melissa served coffee, David fixed plumbing and painted walls, Giancarlo showed up to play the specter/guardian angel of the man who’d killed him.
Stephen Harris shot beautiful pictures with found light and Scott Kyger, 1st AD, gave me a crash course in directing and infinite support.

Sandi Zinamen, caterer, gave us an amazing deal of $5-a-head to feed the crew and, with donations from local farms/restaurants, she fed our crew sumptuous
harvest meals. We called it Camp Daylight. We had no industry representation, no money, but we had dreams, faith and amazing actors who gave generously of

We had many small investors and in-kind donors who gave along the way (thank you so very much). Donn Gobin showed up on set to visit friends, to see what we
were doing up here in the woods. When he left he’d given us another $50,000. All in, we made the film for about $176,000 and once we’ve paid our deferrals, $476,000. We released on DVD through Vanguard December 23, 2008 and now Vanguard has offered to distribute our next regionally made film, Slap and Tickle, shooting in Ulster County, NY, June 2009! It’s another cliff. The film trenches are brutal, but if you push through to the other side, there’s no feeling quite like it.

For more information on Racing Daylight visit www.racingdaylightthemovie.com.

Nicole Quinn has written for Jodie Foster, John Singleton, HBO, Showtime and network television. She and business partner/producer Sophia Raab Downs (21 Below, Gospel Hill, Racing Daylight) are opening Chick Flick Studios in Upstate New York, where they plan to shoot Slap and Tickle, directed by Quinn and starring Gloria Reuben, Linda Powell, Adam Lefevre, Giancarlo Esposito, Melissa Leo and introducing Caitlin Quinn, in July of 2009.