On September 7th, filming wrapped up on my film, “The Hard Sale” and currently the film is in the post-production status. Unlike my previous film, “Lessons”, “The Hard Sale” wasn’t a film riddled with stress and production hold-ups. I can proudly say that I walked away from “The Hard Sale” incredibly proud of the work that everyone involved put in. I can proudly say that it is my best film. Am I biased in saying that? I would like to think that I’m not. Whereas I loved “Lessons” and still think it’s a solid debut for me, “The Hard Sale” feels like a major evolution in every imaginable facet I can think of.
The genesis of “The Hard Sale” came to me around 2010 or so when I was watching a Twilight Zone marathon with my (now ex) girlfriend and for whatever reason, random story ideas started percolating in my brain. I was a huge fan of The Twilight Zone when I was a growing up (I still am for that matter) and I always loved the stylish and terrifying morality plays that they offered. I envisioned Good and Evil in a giant sales game with one side trying to damn souls and the other side trying to save them. I began to imagine the consequences of half-truths and I focused on how far a mother would go to protect her child.
In many ways, the character of Elizabeth Matthews in the film was inspired by my own grandmother. My grandmother used to take her maternal instincts to the extreme and would go to any length to fight for her children and grandchildren. I took this trait and applied it to Elizabeth’s character.
How far would a mother go to protect her child? What sacrifices could she bear making?
The theme of sacrifice is one that looms large in my work. In “Lessons”, the character of Matt sacrificed his dignity, love and manhood by trying to give up his own girlfriend to save himself (which resulted in a bullet in his head as punishment). The character of The Thin Man sacrificed his own life to prove a point in making the protagonist Courtney kill him. And Courtney sacrificed her own humanity by taking a life and accepting that she is a monster.
In “The Hard Sale”, Elizabeth Matthews has to make an important decision that has serious implications for the future. She is a woman caught between the light and the dark- a well meaning (but tough as nails) wife who will do anything to protect her child. A child she wasn’t to be able to conceive. What she decides (or doesn’t decide to do for that matter) affects all characters involved.
Structurally, “The Hard Sale” is a much simpler film to shoot compared to “Lessons”. After filming a movie in a car for three days in 2012, I made a point not to go down the same road and just shoot a movie inside a house. After difficulty initially raising the funds for the movie, I was able to secure the money needed, and off to the races we went.
I needed a cast. I called J.D. Driskill immediately after working with him in “Lessons” (he played Matt in that film). I asked him to do a brief appearance at the end as the character, Sam. He did it and it was fun catching up with him and shooting with him again. He always gets it.
I also reached out to Santio East who played the villainous The Thin Man in “Lessons”. In “The Hard Sale”, Santio would play the salesman of Old Scratch himself- Gregory Enfer (which enfer is a French word for hell). I felt nervous asking Santio to play a villain again because I didn’t want him to think I was typecasting him. Never the one to care about such things, Santio read the script and nailed the character. I don’t know why I fret- he should always be villains in my work. He’s so awesome to work with.
With two returning faces, I needed some new blood to work with. Enter Erin Michelle Conroy, who auditioned for the part of Courtney in “Lessons”. She made quite the impression on me and I knew I was going to work with her somewhere down the road. When the opportunity came for the short, I was going to email her but she beat me to the punch by letting me know she was interested in the part. Without a doubt in my mind, I knew she got the part of Elizabeth. She had all the qualities I was looking for. There was a strength in her performance that roars out but there is also an understated elegance as well. By the time we got on set, she knew more about the character than I did. There was an old time Hollywood starlet quality about her. She had it and she was the perfect choice for Elizabeth.
My good friend Elizabeth Colunga, who portrayed Courtney in “Lessons” recommended Jose Rosete for the part of John Matthews. The guy nailed the role and brought something that I never envisioned when I wrote the damn script. He made John sympathetic- and when he shot his final scene, every single person in the room was in awe of the juggernaut performance he gave. Watching him and Santio brawl and be intense together in a scene was such a reward to watch.
Technically, this movie was on another level. I was so blessed to have Jared Black be the director of photography for my film. I don’t have enough adjectives to describe how gifted he is. I told him what I envisioned and he (and our amazingly talented AD and sound guy, Ben Shani) brought it to life. Without Jared’s technical savvy and cinematic brain, this movie would not be as good as it turned out to be. PERIOD. I know what how damn talented he and Ben are- and they are absolute wizards of their craft. I would gladly work with them on any project and they are just champions to me. I just love what they did.
We shot at my good friend, Kristin’s house and she was such a gracious host that she practically quarantined her kids, her husband and herself for the weekend as we shot. She didn’t have to do that. She did it because she rocks and is an amazing friend. She’s one of my absolute favorite people on this planet.
The shoot went very well with most of the footage being shot in one day (which made me feel triumphant when I recalled not working with a producer who said that we needed three days to shoot). The only difficulties was dealing with the traffic and neighbors for the exterior scenes and Kristin’s rock band neighbors. Thankfully, Ben and Erin (wearing her pregnant belly bump) convinced the neighbors to lay off for a bit- because she needs to do shoot fast for the baby.
Talk about being method.
There was going to be a shot of a crucified Jesus on the cross but as we used gaffer’s tape to hold up the cross- the cross fell when the camera rolled. We placed Jesus back on the cross but the cross fell again, leaving Jesus in shambles. The arms and legs of Jesus were broken and scattered across the floor. I like to tell people that Jesus made the biggest sacrifice when he physically boycotted the film.
After shooting commenced, the cast and crew felt proud and happy about the work that was done. This film is going to be fantastic and I can’t wait to show it off.
To everyone who worked on it with me- THANK YOU. You guys were my soldiers and just kicked ass. You deserve every accolade I shower upon you and that you will receive for this movie.
To everyone who stuck with me and believed in me- THANK YOU. I think you will be very happy with the final results. In the meantime, as the film is being edited, I hope these screencaps of the film will suffice.
I’m never a star. I’ll never be a star. Other people might think I’m a star, but I’m just Alfred. I’ve been the same way since way back and I’m not going to change. I’m still going to be the same guy that walked in and nobody knew who I was. I’m still going to be that guy. I couldn’t change even if I tried.~ Alfred Morris (via burgundyblog)