"Finding Heroes" is a short comedy about a team of not-so-super heroes struggle to stand out in a capitalistic world full of heroes as a Reality TV Producer shows them to use their powers for the one thing that truly matters: gold stars. The film is directed by Austin Crowley and it is written by Scott Schultz. It was our pleasure to interview both of them for Chicago Movie Magazine.
What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language?
Austin: Happiness. I grew up with movies, it was a very regular event for me and my dad to watch movies together and talk about what we liked and what we would change. I remember I got ahold of his vhs camera when I was young and couldn't get enough of it, years later when I was 12, I was gifted a small tape camera and started making movies with my friends. Throughout middle school, we made a list of documentaries, action films, dramas and even stop motion pieces. So in a way I feel like it's a part of me, it's hard to explain. I guess in short you could say that I wanted to pick a career that made me happy to go to work every day, low pay or not, and the movies I made growing up led me to make this movie with my new friends as a grown 25 year old child.
Scott: I love that filmmaking is a visual medium. I grew up watching films, and the cinematic language is something that I’ve been learning for years. I remember reading once that Martin Scorsese’s editing process involves him leaving films on silent in the background of the editing room. And whenever he hit a wall, he would look to the cinematic language for inspiration. That’s why we made a film with a half-naked man terrorizing the community. We want to inspire Marty the way he inspired us.
Do you believe in film schools or does making a film teach you more than film school?
Austin: As someone that went to film school and enjoyed it, I'm going to have to say Film School can be worth it. That being said, without a doubt, you get out what you put in. For me, I hungout with as many people that could stand being around me, I tried to work on a shoot every weekend, I asked questions, I read outside of class, I watched youtube videos and asked teachers their opinions of films and movies they recommend. I got my money's worth. On the other hand, I don't think it was worth it for the kids that did the bare minimum and cruised through. I graduated with hundreds of film students and could maybe tell you the names of 75. It's not about who you know, but who knows you and that is why filmmaking is important in my book. After I graduated I cold-called a Chicago DP and asked if he needed any help on upcoming shoots, he took my name and then called one of his friends to see if he ever heard of me, that guy he called happened to be one of my old teachers who gave me the recommendation and that gave me my start into the professional word. For Finding Heroes Chicago: The Gold Star Initiative, I met David and Scott (P Wolf and Femanist), John (our DP) and Zach (our sound guy) in film school and wouldn't be the creative I am today without all of our wacky, fun and sometimes terrible movies we made in school together. If someone asked me to my face if Film School is worth it, I would say something like "If you want to meet friends and make movies with them for life, but go into debt: yes film school is for you, BUT if you want to be debt free and find another way, that works too. There is clearly no one path, just believe in yourself and go make it happen."
Scott: Making a film is the ultimate lesson in filmmaking, but that doesn’t mean film school isn’t worth it. I didn’t have access to filmmaking growing up. I mean, I could shoot an out-of-focus movie with no external mic on my smartphone, or watch a bunch of Film School Rejects videos on YouTube. But that doesn’t necessarily teach me how to tell a story. Film school gave me access to a community full of artists and storytellers that I’ve learned so much from. That said, when I finally win a Razzie, I will only thank me, myself, and I. Mama, I made it!
What makes cinema stand out more than the arts for you?
Austin: I love the collaborative process. The film industry is magical, in a way. It brings people together from many backgrounds and ideologies and gives them one solid goal of creating a work of art together. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to become an artist, I just didn't know with what medium. I used to want to become an architect, then a painter, then a sculpter, then an illustrator, but most of those seemed a bit lonely, and I love people! I had this feeling that if I worked in the film industry, I'd be happy because I would work on my feet with cool people and go to new places and do cool things all while still getting to tell a story visually.
Scott: I stink at singing.
Did you choose a certain directing style for making "Finding Heroes Chicago: The Gold Star Initiative" based on the script?
Austin: I chose the slightly improved mockumentary style for this film and here's why: Back in the day I used to watch a lot of trashy reality shows, which led to my love for mockumentaries. I found immense joy in watching The Office, Arrested Development, What We Do In The Shadows and of course Nathan For You. I toyed with the mockumentary style a couple times in film school, but it didn't really bloom until I found myself working on some reality shows in Chicago. There I learned the harsh realities and absolute ridiculousness of reality production and it got me thinking "what if I made a movie about this?" and then a few months later the script for Finding Heroes Chicago: The Gold Star Initiative was born.
How did you choose the cast and the crew of your film?
Austin: When it came to the cast, I had worked with the amazingly talented actor David Stobbe before and knew halfway through the script that I wanted him to be P. Wolf. Since I wrote this script with Scott Schultz and he wrote most of FeMANist's lines, he was the obvious choice even though he had never acted before. The others are where it gets interesting, I happened to work with Laura Petro on a web series when me and Scott finished the script and asked her if she knew any actors for the role of Motherboard, a confident woman not afraid to do what she has to do to become the next big hero. After I pitched the logline, she wanted the role. I almost played the role of Speedy myself, but luckily I asked Laura if she knew anyone who could play a large man child with a heart of gold and she linked me up with Devin Sanclemente. I interviewed him and quickly knew he was the right pick for Speedy. As for crew, I asked my buddies from film school and some of the people I worked with recently if they were interested and built the crew that way. It was a very chill process, almost like if they wanted to be a part of it, I wanted them to be a part of it. This obviously could have turned out bad, but I trusted my gut and I guess it worked out.
Scott: I had such a specific vision of satirizing self-important white feminist men that Austin said one day, “look, nobody else can play this character except for you.” So long story short, I wrote myself in like all good comedy writers do.
How did you fund your film and what were some of the challenges of making this film?
Austin: Our biggest challenges were the short timeline to shoot, scheduling actors and finding the funds. The preproduction phase was a bit chaotic. The day Scott and I finished writing the script, he turned to me and said "I really want to make this movie, but I'm moving to Los Angeles in two weeks, do you think we can make it happen?" I told him "Probably not, but we'll try." After some more planning, I convinced him we needed at least 4 weeks and we busted our asses doing all of the preparing like finding actors, crew, crafty and props. Most of our budget was sent to post, but we needed at least $500 up front for food, props and rentals. Luckily both me and Scott worked on the NHL Media days a couple weeks before our first shoot day and that was our saving grace for our budget. After looking through the footage and Scott being halfway to Los Angeles, I realized some of the shots were not gonna work, and re-shoots were not an option. I put my editing cap on and found a way to tell a story, and to be honest, it's probably funnier now, even if it makes less sense.
Scott: A big challenge was finding the story in post-production. We had a narrative we created, but it didn’t always work like we wanted it to. We had to cut a whole bit about Motherboard turning a cellphone into a trampoline because it was so overexposed, so instead we made an absurd punchline about a trampoline just being there. Just because. And you know what, it worked. Sometimes emotion and humor can trump logic in the editing room.
Do you consider yourself an indie filmmaker and what would be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist?
Austin: I would for sure consider myself an indie filmmaker. What's interesting is where filmmaking seems like it's going. With youtube and vimeo becoming so popular and covid effecting the movie theaters, I don't know how important having a big studio behind you is. I feel like the internet is taking over at a more rapid pace now. An example that comes to the top of my head is Kung Fury on youtube, that movie is awesome and has like 35M views, so it's clearly popular and yet I've only seen it on youtube. All of this being said, I feel like the toughest part of independent filmmaking is finding money. For Finding Heroes Chicago: The Gold Star Initiative, me and Scott worked our butts off to get the extra money we needed to finish the film by taking odd jobs and taking the hit on groceries for a week or two.
Scott: Yes, only so I can be in the same sentence as Chance the Rapper. But in all seriousness, we are absolutely indie filmmakers. We had a story, financed it ourselves, and made it. Making a film can sometimes feel like the biggest undertaking in the world. And I have the utmost respect for anybody that has made a film. The Indie filmmaking community can be wonderful, and we should all support one another.
What is the distribution plan for your film?
Austin: Since this is the first film I've made that was good enough to show, I think I'll keep on sending it to film festivals to show more people that way. I like the idea of using this as a proof of concept to make this short film into a feature or a show, kind of like how the original short film of What We Do In The Shadows turned into a feature which led to the series. So if anybody wants to pick us up, we are looking!
What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a filmmaker?
Austin: I'd like to be a master cinematographer, which is what I usually do. For this project though, I took a very hands off approach when it came to the camera. I trusted my DP and mainly worked with the actors to get the best performances out of them. It was fun directing and I see myself doing it more when I have a story that I want to tell. That being said, I do have a few stories that I'd like to make into feature films in the next 5-10 years, one is a mockumentary and one a sci-fi animation.
Scott: I want to be a writer and continue to tell stories as well as help others tell stories. I love making short films with my friends (especially genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Austin Crowley), so I'll do that until my ego gets too big. I recently got my first job in animation working on "Bless the Harts", and I've learned so much about the animation process. So, I hope to one day make an animated short as well.
What kind of impact would your film have in the world and who is your audience?
Austin: I don't know what kind of an impact my film would have on the world, I just hope it brings people laughs. Instagram says my audience is mostly males from age 18-34, but I think anybody can like this movie as long as you don't take it too seriously, because we sure didn't.
Scott: I really hope our film makes people laugh at the end of the day. There are heavier elements of satire, but there isn’t a direct message per se. We had a goal of making something that made us laugh, and we stayed true to it. So, I guess our audience is ourselves and anybody with similar senses of humor.