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Gavin's Underground

Tower Theater's Open Mic Winner: Chris Rodgers

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2008-09-09 -

Two weeks ago the Tower Theater held their 7th Open Mic Night film festival for local filmmakers to showcase their work.  When all was said and done, one film walked away with both awards!  The film “Sam, Roscoe & Her” showed the tale of a man installing security cameras to see his dog at home, and instead got to see a lot more than he bargained for. And at the end of the night the film ended up winning both the Judge’s Selection Award, as well as the Audience Choice Award. I got a chance to chat with the film’s director Chris Rodgers about the film, his experience at Open Mic, his thoughts on filming in general, and a few other things.

Chris Rodgers


Gavin:  Hey Chris.  First off, tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got into filmmaking.

Chris: When I was 16 I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I started writing short stories and even tried writing a novel (which turned out to be ridiculous).  Sometime around 18 I was out of work for a few months and was finding that I couldn't get to sleep until around 4:00 am.  All of my friends were working or in school, or both, so I needed something to do between when they all went home to bed and four in the morning.  I got a membership to Movie Buffs.  In the three months I was out of work, I rented anywhere between 5 and 10 movies a week.  I soon became obsessed.  Specifically with independent film.  I eventually enrolled at Salt Lake Community College to get an associates degree, since I hadn't decided yet what to get my bachelors degree in.  I took some creative writing classes there, but never felt like I was very good at writing pros.  While at SLCC I also took a couple of film classes.  Mainly because I thought it would be cool to get credits for watching movies.  The final assignment in one of the classes was to make a short film less than ten minutes.  I didn't even have a camcorder.  But a guy I grew up with named Ryan Cooper, who I had been seeing around here and there, was into skydiving and had been making some skydiving videos.  I called him up and asked him if he'd help me make a short film for school.  He was more than happy to do it.  In fact he was pretty excited.  Turned out, he was an avid movie buff as well (I have since made 7 short films with him, including “Sam Roscoe & Her”, and he has been the DP and co-producer on all of them).  We quickly came up with an idea and made a film.  When it came time for the class to show their films, it was clear that everybody else in the class was simply responding to an assignment.  Ryan and I really went above and beyond what was expected for the assignment and the class and my teacher really enjoyed it.  After that, I knew what I wanted to do.

Gavin:  Did you go through any education for it, and if you did, what was that like?

Chris: After getting my associates degree, I enrolled in the film program at the U.  It was an interesting experience.  I found it to be a real struggle to make films within the program.  Renting gear from the department to work on a film was a huge hassle, as I felt like I could never get the equipment I needed.  You're also expected to rely on people that aren't always that reliable.  Don't get me wrong.  There were some really great people in the program at the same time as me, and some really great filmmakers.  I just struggled with the system that was in place.  I'm not saying it was a bad system, just one that didn't work for me.  So Ryan and I started slowly accumulating our own gear and crew.  We would make films, and then I would submit them to the department head for class credit.  I really appreciated that they allowed me to do that.  But making films takes a lot of time and I couldn't get a degree by doing that alone.  One of the first classes I took in the program was pros to screenwriting.  It was an adaptation course and the only requirement was to adapt any previously written, published or unpublished, pros work into screenplay format.  I picked one of my own short stories and adapted that for the class.  It ended up being a 30 page screenplay.  I really enjoyed writing it, so I turned my attention to the screenwriting portion of the program.  Paul Larson, the screenwriting teacher at the U, really motivated me to be a productive and good writer.  He's one of the best teachers I've ever had.  My first semester in his class I turned my 30 page screenplay into 96 pages.  I ended up taking his class for 5 semesters and wrote 4 feature length screenplays under his guidance.  It was my favorite part of the program.

Gavin:  Do you think of yourself as more of an independent or do you prefer to work with a group?

Chris: This is a hard question.  You cannot make films without a group of people.  It's pretty much impossible.  So, yeah, I guess you could say I like working with people.  However, I enjoy writing much more than I enjoy making films, because I can do it alone and I don't have to rely on anybody else to do it.

Gavin:  How did the concept of “Sam, Roscoe & Her” come about?

Chris: I had a friend years ago that actually set up a surveillance camera to see what his dog did when he wasn't home.  It turned out, his dog didn't do anything at all and he said it was pretty boring to watch.  I think he took the system down after a couple of days.  I have a dog now (that's him in the movie) and another friend of mine, Jake Martin (Sam), asked me earlier this year if I've ever wondered what my dog does when I'm not home.  Most likely he just lays around all day, but I did kind of wonder.  Then we got talking about other things that could happen if you put a surveillance system up to watch your dog, like, what if your dog was doing weird human things?  We eventually came to the conclusion that if you did something like that, you might see something you don't want to see, and that's when we thought of the ghost.  Jake has been in a lot of my other films and we decided it would be a great idea for a short film.

Gavin:  How long did it take you to film and then edit it up?

Chris: It took two weekends back in April and May to shoot the film. Then some pickups about a month later.  It took me until early August to finish the edit.

Gavin:  Any difficulties come up along the way?

Chris: Not much in the way of difficulties.  Just standard crap that every filmmaker has to deal with.  My dog wouldn't stay put when I asked him to.  Jake didn't want to keep a mustache for two weeks (but he was a good sport).  Super hot lights tipping over.  Camera reflections in the window.

Gavin:  When you finished the film, was Open Mic the first time you showed it to a group, or did you do a private thing? And what was the general reaction to it at first?

Chris: We did show it to a group of our friends a couple of weeks before Open Mic.  They all said they really enjoyed it and they are an honest bunch and would have told the truth if they didn't.  But at the same time, they were watching a film that had people they new in it, and that took place in locations they were familiar with, so it didn't have nearly the reaction we got at Open Mic.

Gavin:  How did you hear about Open Mic Night?

Chris: I'm not entirely sure how I heard of Open Mic.  We played a couple of our films there when they first got it going.  A year ago?  Two years ago?  I think I heard about it on the Salt Lake Film Society's website when I was checking show times.  I think it's a really great thing Salt Lake Film Society is doing.  I try to support them as much as possible.

Gavin:  What was your reaction to seeing it there and hearing the audience reaction?

Chris: It was incredible.  Honestly, I have not had an experience like that with one of my films, ever.  We made a 45 minute film back in 2004 and showed it to an audience of over 150 people.  That was a great experience.  But it was a straight drama, so there wasn't a lot of audience reaction.  Showing something that is meant to be funny and scary, and hearing people laugh, then seeing them jump (the girl sitting next to me jumped) was a really exciting experience for me.  I couldn't sleep that night.

Gavin:  You won both the Judge’s Selection and the Audience Choice, a first for any film entered in these festivals.  How did it feel knowing you won both?

Chris: I had been driving my wife crazy, pacing back and forth, that same week as I waited for a response from the Austin Film Festival regarding a screenplay I entered into their screenplay competition.  I got the e-mail from Open Mic that I had won both the Audience Selection and the Critics Selection and I yelled, "I won both!"  She thought I was talking about Austin from how excited I was.

Gavin:  What’s your opinion of the local film scene, both good and bad?

Chris: Hmmm.  Are you talking about the local film scene, as in, the films that play at the Tower for Open Mic?  Or are you talking about the local film scene, as in, the LDS films that are being made?  There are some great short filmmakers that show up with their films at the Tower every other month.  I particularly like the ones by the A.V. Club.  Hilarious.  They haven't let me down yet.  Somebody should give those guys a show on Comedy Central.   As far as the LDS film scene is concerned, I think it's great that there's a niche market for these types of films.  But, and this goes for all filmmakers, not just LDS filmmakers, I think if you're given the opportunity to make a film, you have an obligation to the audience and the investors to make a quality product.  It doesn't mean that everybody is going to love it.  It just means that you know exactly what you're doing and you put your heart and soul into it.  I just don't get the sense that that respect is there in some of these films.  Not all of them, of course.  But a good percentage.  I had the opportunity a while back to help (my filmmaking partner Ryan Cooper) document the production of one of these films.  I was really infuriated with what I saw.  The director had never directed ANYTHING in his life.  Not even a short film.  The screenplay was horribly written and full of embarrassing typos.  It was a first or second draft that had not been through the ringer enough times.  As I sat in on their pre-production meetings, I got a real sense that most of the people didn't want to be there.  Their attitude was that they just wanted to make the movie already, not sit in a room planning for the production.  But they had somehow managed to raise a lot of money.  The investors were on board.  The production did end up falling through, but for entirely different reasons.  It was a really frustrating experience for me.  I asked myself, who is giving these people money?  Then I realized who was giving them money, and realized they didn't care either.  They just wanted a film delivered for their niche, built in audience.

Gavin:  Anything you think could be done to make it bigger or better?

Chris: I'd like to see more investment into non-LDS films.  I know that there are more than just those films being made, but the scales are tipped.  A lot of good talent has come out of Utah and I'm sure there will be more to come, but a lot of other places are building up serious independent film markets.  Austin is one of them.  It really surprises me that the state with one of the biggest film festivals in the world isn't producing more nationally recognized independent film.

Gavin:  Any local directors you feel are at the top of their game?

Chris: I don't know.  I'm not familiar with very many local filmmakers.  I love Neil Labute, but I wouldn't necessarily call him a local filmmaker.  I thought Napoleon Dynamite was hilarious, and am hoping Jared Hess will go back to his roots and make something independent again.  I'm pretty excited to see Richard Dutcher's new films, if they're ever released.  I went to film school with a guy named Lee Isaac Chung that seems to be doing well getting his films made.  I think that's great.

Gavin:  Putting you on the spot, what would you say are the top films that have had an influence on you?

Chris: “Fargo”, “The Usual Suspects”, and “Pulp Fiction” are three films that really got me into film right off the bat.  I hate bringing up “Pulp Fiction” because it's such a cliché, but it's hard to deny what an incredible film it is.  When I went to film school, I really enjoyed films from the French New Wave movement.  I feel a lot of my films have been influenced by that movement.  I also love classic film noir.  Every single one of David Gordon Green's films (“Pineapple Express” excluded) have inspired me to want to be a great filmmaker.  I loved what Gus Van Sant did with “Gerry” and “Elephant.”  I think it's great that he's at a place as a filmmaker where he can make those types of films.

Gavin:  If you had to pick an influential director, who would you say is the most influential on you?

Chris: The Coen Brothers.

Gavin:  Do you know what you’re doing for your next film, and what can we expect from you the rest of the year?

Chris: I'm going to try and focus my time on my writing for a while and try getting a film produced.  I have one screenplay that is currently under option, but they are still trying to put financing together.  I really enjoy making these short films, but I'm ready to make a feature.  I want to put all of my energy into that.

Gavin:  Anything you’d like to plug or any final thoughts you wanna voice?

Chris: Anybody want to finance a low budget feature film?

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