By Jessica Skelton
The mainstream film industry has yet to meet Isaac Pingree, but the third-year film major has already finished filming his first full-length film.
Pingree started Lagoonside Pictures the summer after graduating high school. By then he had already completed a 16mm short-which later became the first scene for Blood Loss-that he used to pitch the film to investors.
The plot of Blood Loss takes place in the backcountry town of Covelo, CA and follows the conflict between two brothers-one a local sheriff, the other a thief. Their lives are interrupted by Jake Reed, who returns to to his hometown of Covelo to try and unravel the story of the robbery that led to his father’s death 15 years prior.
After finishing the short during his first year at UC Santa Cruz, Pingree turned his attention to securing a business license, drafting contracts, and seeking out prospective investors.
Out of both necessity and homage, Pingree modeled Blood Loss on popular low-budget cult films like Evil Dead.
Two of the biggest expenditures for any movie are costumes and props. Because Pingree was working with an extremely limited budget, he had to be resourceful to put everything together.
"Most of the costumes were bought at Goodwill," Pingree said. "We scrambled around to find used pieces here and there. With the sheriff and the deputy, it got a little expensive even as we put it together a piece at a time."
To tie the costumes together and to create a more authentic look, Pingree was able to get three actual Covelo sheriff badges created-with "prop" written on them, as per the rules. According to Pingree, they were well worth the $50 price tag.
To continue the trend of authenticity, some of the guns seen in the movie were also real; working guns were used in some of the scenes since renting prop guns from a costume house in Los Angeles proved to be costly.
"There was one guy in town who played a small role in the movie," Pingree said. "Anything we needed from his collection of rifles and shotguns he gave us."
A couple of live bullets were fired during the making of the film, but only after the film crew made sure that the safety of everyone present (and any possible bystanders) came first, of course.
"There is this scene in the movie when the girl who lives in the town teaches the protagonist how to shoot a gun," Pingree said. "We had a big open field and beer bottles set up, and there were quite a few takes before she actually hit one."
Along with his cousin Mike Foodman, UCSC alumnus Sebastian Passanisi, and current students Perry Wexelberg and Matt Uddenberg, Pingree raised close to $43,000 by urging family, friends, and friends of friends to invest in the funding of the film. The total budget of Blood Loss exceeded $47,000-perhaps not much for a major film, but quite a chunk of change for a student to put together.
According to Pingree, most people would invest somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000, knowing that if the film were to make money then they would get about one percent of the cut per thousand dollars invested once all the expenses were recouped.
According to the contract’s language, Lagoonside Pictures will not receive any of the profits from the film (assuming there are any) until all of the investors are fully reimbursed. And if the film fails to turn a profit, the investors are out of luck.
Lagoonside Pictures already owned a majority of the equipment required to shoot the film, which saved them quite a bit of money. A significant portion of the budget-about $20,000-went to the super sixteen film used to shoot the movie. The crew worked for no pay.
Of the roughly 20 speaking roles in the film, the majority were cast through websites such as bayareacasting.net. Because most of the actors were from San Francisco, Pingree had to arrange transportation to and from the shoot, which was three and a half hours outside the city.
The only paid actors-David Fine, Larry Laverty, and Stu Klitsner-belong to the Screen Actors Guild, meaning that union rules kicked in during their shoots. Due to the film’s low budget, the actors settled for a salary of $100 a day.
The rest of the actors varied in experience. Pingree held auditions in Covelo, CA to fill various roles, and employed a number of locals as extras. Many older and more experienced actors would be weary of joining a project run by students a year shy of graduating for college, but Tony Summers, who played the role of the town sheriff, was impressed with Pingree’s work ethic.
"A lot of time in film you work with people who are used to [the industry], which can make them jaded," Summers said. "It was refreshing to work with a younger crew because they were more enthusiastic and committed."
Summers also praised the script for its character developent.
"Character-wise, Isaac knew what he wanted," Summers said. "I’ve worked with other directors in the past and I have had to come up with [my character’s personality] out of thin air," Summers said.
Larry Laverty, who played the outlaw Frank, agreed that the characters in the film were very well-developed. "I liked playing a bad guy. Now-a-days other characters are somewhat one-dimensional," Laverty said. "Also, there is that impulse to be a bad guy because [Frank] is not perfect and doesn’t conform."
Pingree and his crew spent about six weeks shooting in Mendocino County, in the small town of Covelo. In the true spirit of low-budget film-making, most of the sets were secured free of charge, although some were easier to get permission for than others.
Indoor scenes in the bar and a home and barn of a local resident were easy enough to secure, but in order to secure a schoolhouse on a Round Valley Indian reservation, Pingree had to appear before a tribal council to ask permission.
"Covelo is one of the most amazing places I’ve been to," said Matt Uddenberg, who was in charge of the sound recording. "There is still some tension between the white settlers and the Native Americans. You can sense the weird dynamics between the two cultures. The whole valley was Native American land but now only about half [of the land is], so I understand why there are weary feelings."
In Covelo, the entire cast worked under difficult conditions, including great heat and cramped sleeping arrangements.
"Filming the movie was awesome, but it was hard, too," Pingree said. "It was not easy getting up everyday, but it was something everyone there wanted to do. We were getting angry and yelling at each other because it was hard to make a movie in 110-degree weather."
Cinematographer Mike Foodman agreed that the conditions were less than ideal, but the overall experience was invaluable.
"A couple of locations we had to hike a quarter of a mile to the river and then cross the river with the camera equipment," Foodman said. "[It was] was especially frightening because we had no insurance."
A few days after shooting at the river, a few locals found the crew’s slate, which had been left by mistake on the side of the river.
"Everyone in the town knew us as the movie people," Foodman laughed.
Pingree is hoping that post-production on Blood Loss will be finished by the summer, as he has just begun the editing process. The tentative completion date is set for September.
After the film is completed, Pingree intends to sell Blood Loss to direct-to-video/television distributors in both domestic and foreign markets. Lagoonside Pictures intends to take the film to Silicon Valley Film Ventures, which will hopefully represent the film for sales to foreign markets, while Pingree and Foodman plan to market the film to domestic distributors personally.
A short version of Blood Loss has already made it into two film festivals, and was an official selection in the Queens International Film Festival as well as the Alameda International Film Festival. The film was also rejected from a number of festival, as well. But on the whole, the future looks bright for Pingree and Lagoonside.
After viewing an advance copy of the film, San Francisco Chronicle film critic Peter Hartlaub replied to Pingree, praising the quality of the work and saying that Pingree had "great promise as a filmmaker."
Actor Larry Laverty had nothing but positive words for Pingree.
"I admire Isaac," Laverty said. "I have worked with so many filmmakers, but he stands out and has a unique understanding of humanity."