For director Richard Bell, a few bucks go a long way
When filmmaker Richard Bell claims that he made “Two Brothers,” his 60-minute directorial debut, for $545, one needs to realize that Bell is a resident of Vancouver, and Canadian dollars don’t directly translate into U.S. dollars.
In good ol’ American greenbacks, then, “Two Brothers” cost Bell something like $300 – enough for a few video tapes and some props.
Bell must have realized that backers were not about to line up to finance a black-and-white film with largely homosexual themes. And he could be sure that being a 25-year-old first-time filmmaker, a graduate of acting school with not a bit of movie experience, couldn’t help either.
So Bell decided his time was better spent actually making “Two Brothers” than trying to find financing for it. He drafted four actors from Studio 58, the well-respected Vancouver acting school from which Bell graduated in 1998, all of whom would work for free.
His editor and music composer both contributed not only their time and talent, but their equipment as well. And Bell drew on his own tenacity and creativity, going so far as to hold a boom mike while he was filming a scene.
“It’s amazing what you can pull off when you have a bunch of like-minded people,” said Bell, who filmed “Two Brothers” in Vancouver from April 1999 to May 2000.
“It’s possible with a lot of friendship and a small number of people,” he said. “There are four actors, one editor, a composer, and that’s it. And me, who did everything else.”
“Two Brothers” has its U.S. premiere today, at 5:30 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House. The program, part of the Aspen Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, also includes director Scott Peehl’s 23-minute short, “Mr. Christie,” about the appearance of Jesus Christ in the apartment of a gay couple.
Much of Bell’s decision to shoot on a threadbare budget, rather than pursue whatever small funding might be out there, was about the desire not to get caught up in the money game.
“I didn’t want money to be an obstacle,” he said. “Money is only an obstacle for people who lack creativity.”
The limits of a $545 budget are apparent in “Two Brothers.” The titles are minimalist. The sound is sometimes sketchy; in some of the outdoor scenes, the sound of wind blowing in the microphone is audible.
But the aspects of filmmaking that have little to do with money are mostly solid. The story, about two estranged brothers who come together after their mother dies, is solid.
Bell does a good job of using the story to explore the pent-up emotions of the two main characters – Chad, the troubled, angry heterosexual; and Riley, an inexperienced, sensitive gay man. The acting is usually strong, though occasionally overblown. On the whole, “Two Brothers” is executed just well enough that the technical shortcomings become a minor issue.
“I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not the prettiest picture,” said Bell, who is scheduled to be in attendance today for the screening of the film. “But the things I could control, the story and the acting, have real integrity. I think people will see that.”
Filmmaking is far from a full-time job for Bell at the moment. His day job is as an assistant to the owner of two of Vancouver’s finest restaurants. But he is at work writing his next film – “Eighteen,” about two 18-year-old men, who live in separate eras. Though he studied theater arts – acting, writing and directing – at Studio 58, he has no interest in doing theater work.
“It’s such a fleeting pursuit. You put on the production for three weeks, and then it’s gone,” said Bell. “With `Two Brothers,’ I can watch that when I’m 75 years old. And what an experience that will be.”
Bell and Peehl will be part of a panel discussion, Filming for Next to Nothing, today at 1 p.m., at the Aspen Community Church. Moderating will be Steve Sayles.
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