There was a time in my life where I could call up a couple of friends with a wild idea, grab my handheld camcorder and make a short film in an evening or a weekend. It was a freewheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style of filmmaking that prioritized creative freedom over everything else — including scripts, plot, lighting, sound — and it’s what allowed Obscure Studios, the film company I founded and ran with a few friends, to rack up well over 100 videos in just two years.
After moving from Arizona to Washington and away from my cadre of usual collaborators, filmmaking took a backseat to my writing and other creative pursuits. Last year, with the 10th anniversary of our minor hit, Reilly’s Dorm, looming, I had the chance to travel back to Northern Arizona. There, I carved out a couple of hours with my go-to partner in crime, the incomparable Will McDonald, to write and shoot a brand new short film.
We were a little rusty, but five years between short films can do that. We cooked up a story outline at my favorite coffee shop and the next morning, filmed the opening and closing scenes of the film in the Airbnb where we were staying and the woods behind Will’s house. That afternoon, we set up shop in the basement of Theatrikos, Flagstaff’s community theater and a longtime support of Obscure Studios. We rigged up a lighting setup, cobbled together a campy alien costume for me to wear, and filmed the scenes that make up the heart of the film, as well as a quick promo video.
And that’s all we had time for. We left straight from the theater to catch our flight back to the PNW and dove into a remodel of our house a few days later. It wasn’t until January that I remembered the footage that was waiting on my iPhone’s hard drive.
Over the course of a few weeks, I pieced together the shots we’d captured that summer day. I was pleasantly surprised to see how good most of it was and how well the pieces fit into place. I played around with audio effects to give my voice an unearthly quality, tossed in a couple of visual and lighting effects, and added a 1914 public domain recording of “Stay Down Where You Belong” by Arthur Fields, slowed down to 10% of its regular speed as the soundtrack (I had originally planned to perform my own synthesizer music, but I quickly remembered that I’m not very musically talented, so only a few notes made it into the final cut).
Overall, I’m really happy with how “As Seen On TV” turned out. Much of the credit goes to Will, a fantastic actor who’s immediately likeable on screen and blessed with impeccable comedic timing. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my inspiration: my lovely wife who said, “You and Will should really make a movie while we’re in town” and provided both an unplanned cameo and makeup/special effects assistance with the alien goo (aka dish soap).
Filmmaking is one of those things that demands so much time and attention to detail that you always feel exhausted at the end of a day of filming or editing. But, as soon as you see the final product, a dose of endorphins convince you that the sweat and tears were all worth it and all you want to do is make another and another. Making “As Seen On TV” makes me want to break out my camera and tell more stories, so don’t be surprised if you see more in the coming months and years. I feel a renaissance coming.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer and filmmaker in Tacoma, WA. Incidentally, Tacoma would be an amazing setting for a noir thriller, don’t you think? When not engaged in cinematic plotting, you can find him on Twitter. Learn more about Obscure Studios on our fancy website.