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How long did it take?

By Wesley Boyd Ellenwood

Sitting at my keyboard this cold January morning I’m reflecting on the long journey that has been my film.  First, I should mention it is done.  I’m grateful for that.  Secondly, I’m thankful to the scores of people who have helped along the way. 

In the beginning, when the script was being written, there were Sam and Greg, Kaylee and Tyler, Dave and Jack.  After the script was finished Carly, Caleb, and Jon joined the effort.  Though it didn’t happen overnight, it felt like almost instantaneously the cast and crew were in place.  We filmed it.  I edited it.  And during the past year Chrystal and Larry have lent their support for its distribution.

Even though no one has asked, “How long did it take to make No Blood Of Mine?”  I think it’s a worthwhile question to answer.

Now keep in mind this is no studio picture.  There wasn’t an industry insider providing anyone with insight or an experienced professional guiding the process.  Mostly it was my blind ambition and the help of my friends.

Many have described the process of making a film in technical ways.  Some have called it the most devious amalgam of art and business ever devised by man.  I liken it to running a marathon while dragging a dead horse barefoot.

To chronicle the time it takes to make a film it’s best to examine the entire process in steps.  The First Step is a script and not just an idea for a script; it needs to be a finished script.  A Hollywood Rule of Thumb says one page of script will translate into one minute of finished film.  So if you’re looking to make a feature film 90 minutes long, then you need a script 90 pages long. 

Two things to note here, if you are basing your script on someone else’s novel, short story, play, or another film then you will likely be infringing on copyrighted material and you should expect to be sued.  Saying copyright infringement is a bad thing is an understatement.  To avoid this, a filmmaker (who is poor) needs to come up with an original idea and then turn it into a script.  Oh and then expect rewrites.  No Blood Of Mine went through 15 rewrites. 

If the first version of the script had been used as the basis for the film, it would have been a disaster.  Thank You Sam, Greg, Kaylee, Tyler, Dave, and Jack. 

It’s difficult to pin down exactly when the scripting process began for NBOM because alcohol was involved.  When I pitched the initial idea to my friends in June of 2014 we were seated in a bar near the eastern bank of the Mississippi River enjoying an average night out.  I calculate the script took a little more 12 months to complete with a fair amount of water passing by that bar. 

The Second Step is incorporation.  Making a film is a business.   And all businesses need to be incorporated and funded.  Can’t make a movie without money. 

I thought about writing grants and soliciting investors but after several months of inquiry and frustration gave up on those approaches and drained my savings instead.  I asked myself if not now, when?  So I answered when.  I’d dreamed of making a feature since I was in college and I saw no reason to wait any longer. 

The Second Step really took off when Carly read the script and said she wanted to produce it.  Along with Carly came Caleb and Jon.  Auditions were held, locations were scouted, and a crew was assembled.  Soon thereafter the planning for the shoot geared up. 

One of the best decisions I made during this entire process was to shoot in Duluth, Minnesota.  The city was welcoming and provided a variety of great locations.  Riki, the MN Film Board coordinator in Duluth, was the ‘patron saint’ of the film.  She connected us in the city and made introductions that proved to be crucial for the film’s success.  Thank You Riki.

With all of the planning activity or pre-production running at full steam there was one glaring problem that needed to be solved and if it wasn’t it would shut down the film.  In the script there was a major character by the name of Rennie Dupree.  He was the Police Detective hunting for the killer and was written as Native American.  Though we had auditioned several Native American actors not one had demonstrated the where-with-all to take on this role. 

The Creative Team had a short conversation.  We concluded that if a Native American actor could not be found for Rennie, we would not cast a white guy in the role.  Everyone agreed the misrepresentation of such a character would ruin the film and everyone’s reputation with it.  With one last audition weekend approaching, I faced the prospect of shutting down a film I’d spent much of my life hoping to make.  Then Larry walked in.

Larry was from Iowa though I didn’t hold that against him.  (Humor)  He was Native American and from his first read appeared capable and more importantly willing to take direction.  The role was offered to him.  He accepted.  I took a deep breath and exhaled. 

Funny story about Larry, he and I had exchanged emails for several weeks prior to this time but his schedule never matched up with our weekend auditions.  About this same time, he and his manager Christal attended an Actors Expo.  After walking around the booths they decided to leave via the stairs.  When they did they bumped into Bill, an acting coach and a friend of the film who was funneling actors into our auditions.  Bill suggested Larry should get in touch with me.  Larry did and the rest is now history.  Thank You Bill.

The Third Step is principle photography.  On July 1st, 2015 we assembled to begin the whirlwind that is filming.  We traveled from the Twin Cities to Duluth, moved onto a floor of a U of MN dorm, spent only three days in formal pre-production, enjoyed a day off for the 4th of July, then plunged head first into 22 days of 12 hour shoots.  We filmed six days a week (with Sundays off), and wrapped up July 30th of 2015. 

There is much for me to chronicle about my experiences directing the talented cast and crew of this film.  Instead of launching into those details here I’ll save them for another journal entry but at this time offer up three special memories.

One. The ‘warehouse scenes’ turned out almost exactly as I had envisioned them.  They were all filmed during the second week of the shoot and by that time we were all tuned to the same wavelength.  We didn’t rush and ‘the moment’ just happened in front of the camera almost like magic.  These were my favorite scenes and easiest to edit.  They cut together ‘like butter’.

Two. The story required the location of a police station.  We contacted the Police Department of Proctor, Minnesota.  The Chief of Police had some prior filming experience and pitched our request to the City Council.  They agreed and allowed us the opportunity to use the exterior of the building, their squad room, and a cruiser.  Their graciousness was unbelievable. 

While setting up a wide shot in the squad room I offered a cameo to Chief Wobig.  He was to simply walk in, open a door, and exit the room.  On the rehearsal everything looked great.  Then on the first take the Chief walked through the room and then stopped at the door.  I called, “Cut.”  I explained to the Chief he needed to walk through the door.  The second take of the shot was perfect. 

Months later when I was editing the scene I took the time to watch the first take and observed the Chief stopping at the door, falling out of character, and then standing there observing everyone.  His face displayed awe for the spectacle in front of him; the actors, the crew, the camera, the lights, the talent, the dedication.  The look on his face reminded me why I’m addicted to this thing called filmmaking.

The third moment happened during Second Unit filming in August near Bemidji, Minnesota.  J.C., Thomas, Jake, and I had traveled north to shoot several crucial shots required for the film’s opening.  On the western side of town we found a perfectly flat wide landscape with a two lane country road next to a field of beans.  The shot called for the Thunderbird to roll down the road at dusk in the direction of Duluth. 

We returned just as the sun was about to set.  With the camera in place and a rehearsal finished, suddenly two Bemidji Police cruisers came roaring toward us with flashing lights.  They approached asking what we were doing in the field.  I explained we were making a film.  They told us a local farmer had alerted them to our presence because of a recent series of thefts.  

No joke, the county had been invaded by thieves who were stealing beans in the middle of the night.  It wasn’t difficult to convince the officers we were not bean thieves.  We, or rather I was admonished for not contacting them prior to filming on their county road.  I apologized.  They nodded, took note of our expensive camera equipment, and left. 

We finished the shot but it lacked the fading light of the setting sun illuminating the endless beauty of that flat and expansive landscape.  Nor could you see the beans.

The Fourth Step is editing.  This step is no more important than the other three but it is the final opportunity for the film to be shaped.  I began this task by moving and organizing more than 5 terabytes of picture and sound or about 10 hours of files onto my computer.  I also made a backup copy of everything for safekeeping.  I waited diligently for my dependable but slow computer to complete the transfer.  It took a weekend for the drives to stop flashing.

Next I started assembling each of the scenes in their proper order.  My first effort was a rough-cut that followed the script line for line.  It was completed on September 15th, 2015.  It was painful to watch because it was almost 3 hours long.  I invited the cast and crew to watch it.  I asked for their feedback and most replied, “Wesley it’s too long.”  Now I knew this to be the case but chose to screen the rough cut for them so they might see the edit in progress.  I suspect a few thought I was showing them my near finished cut. 

This screening may not have been a wise choice on my part but I like feedback, it’s apart of my creative process.  Through their eyes I could clearly see what parts needed to be cut.

The rough-cut screening happened Thanksgiving weekend.  By February of 2016 the run time of the film had shrunk down to 113 minutes.   

At this point the film still needed visual special effects, color correction, music, titles, credits, sound effects, and sound mixing.  All of the above falls under what’s called post-production.  Each element is farmed out to others and needs to be managed and then approved.  Nine months later all the elements were delivered. 

After working on the edit for months (sic) I decided my last tweak on the film would occur before the first day of the New Year.  On December 31st, 2016 around 11:30 pm I turned off my computer.  From start to finish No Blood Of Mine had taken two and one half years to complete.