An Interview with Jason Schaver and Ken Gayton – By Duane L. Martin

Early last year, I had the chance to review a great indie romantic comedy called, The Truth About Average Guys, from film makers Jason Schaver and Ken Gayon. Now they’re back with a new crime film with comedy elements called S.O.L.. In this interview, I asked Jason and Ken all about their new film, and they had a lot of great stuff to say!

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DLM: It’s been a while since we last talked. Let’s start out like I always do by having you tell everyone a little about yourself.

JASON – Hello, we are Adjusted Gratuity. We are a Chicago based independent film company. We started off as an improv troupe doing shows in and around the Chicagoland area. Started filming some sketches and then went on to do a couple feature length comedies, "The Truth About Average Guys" (2009) and "S.O.L." (2010).

DLM: The last time we talked, I had just reviewed your 2009 film, The Truth About Average Guys. What all happened with that film as far as festivals, showings, reviews, etc…? Was it well received all around?

JASON – It screened at about a half dozen festivals, took home 6 awards. Got rejected from quite a few as well. All the reviews we’ve received have been very positive. You can check those out by going to www.adjustedgratuity.com and then clicking on the "critic’s review" page, which includes two nice reviews from RogueCinema (one for TTAAG and one for S.O.L.). "TTAAG" has been very well received by audiences. Not so much by film festival panels. "The Truth About Average Guys" is not a film festival "film". I think we were like 6 for 27 film festival acceptance wise. Which I’m told is about average. I wish we would have done a bit more research before submitting though. Truth is, most festivals are looking for shorts so they can cram more "movies" into the program and brag about how they showed over 100 films at their festival. Feature comedies have two strikes against them right off the bat. However, most of the time when we did get into a festival we ended up winning an award or two. So the ones that liked us LOVED us and the ones that didn’t like us hated us.

DLM: Your new film S.O.L., while still having comedic elements to it, is sort of a departure from your first film in that this one has some action and drama elements to it as well. Did you find it hard to balance those elements so that it didn’t become too much one thing or the other?

KEN – The hardest thing to do is describe what kind of movie it is. We say it’s a comedy, but like you said, it’s got more elements to it than that. Comedy is our thing so having that element in there was never hard. The action was just a biproduct of the story really, bank robbery and guns lends itself to some action. And Jason and I fought about the drama. At first I didn’t want Allison to be a part of the story because I thought it was forced. Originally Allison and Zach had been broken up a year, he goes to her place one night drunk and they flirt while her boyfriend Tony is in the back. Then they have zero interaction until the end of the film when he stumbles to her drunk again, but this time she is single so they get back together. So to me, we either had to make her a bigger part of the story or lose her completely. I think if we had lost the love story in the movie, we would’ve made it more screwball/goofy. I’m glad we didn’t go that way because I think this film showcases our versatility more.

JASON – I defintely have a hard time describing "S.O.L." I can’t really call it a romantic comedy b/c there isn’t quite enough romance in there to call it that. True, there is a love story, and I think it’s a really good love story, it’s just not the focal point of the film, although it kinda is (see, what I mean? I DO have a hard time describing it!). There’s some action, but not enough to call it an action film. So in the end I just call it a comedy.

DLM: When you initially started writing the film, how did you envision it being, and how much did it change from that initial idea once really got into writing and developing the characters and the various scenes?

JASON – When I wrote the original draft back in early 2001, I always envisioned Jessica Alba playing "Jenna". This was around the time that "Dark Angel" was really popular. Actually, the fake TV show in "S.O.L." (Superfreak) is loosely based on "Dark Angel". I just figured I’d write the script, sell it to Hollywood, and there you go. Unfortunately it’s not that easy. The script pretty much stayed the same until 2009 when Ken and I rewrote it. We expanded the role of "Allison" somewhat. Added "Ryan" to the mix so Ken would have someone to play. He was too young to be Uncle Kevin and I already had someone in mind for "Michael" (which I’ll discuss a couple questions down). So instead of Uncle Kevin being involved from the beginning we had him at the cabin.

DLM: What kind of a budget did you have for the film, and how was it financed?

JASON – $15,000 Ken put in some, one of his brother’s put in some, and a couple of his friends put in some as well. After seeing what we did with $5000 for "The Truth About Average Guys" they wanted to help us make our 2nd film.

DLM: When it came time to cast the film, we see some familiar faces from The Truth About Average Guys, but we also see some new faces. Tell us about the cast and where you found them.

KEN – We always saw Adam Breske as Michael. I had worked with him on some shorts and Jason was a huge fan of his from those so picking him for Michael was a no-brainer. I worked with Emily Wolf (Jenna), and we had talked about acting but I had no idea if she was any good. She fit the look of the character so I asked her to audition and she knocked it out of the park. We’ve been really fortunate to find such great leading ladies in our films. Bethany Carol (Allison) I was in a play with while we were having auditions. I knew she could act and she definitely fit the part. I had to at least tape her audition though to get the okay from Jason. Within about 15 seconds of watching her audition he called me up to say, “Offer her the part.” I actually had a few people in the film whom I had worked with in plays. We held auditions that produced a few new faces. And of course we had to bring back Jon Biver. One of these days we’ll actually have a bigger role for him. If our TV show gets picked up he’ll be one of the main characters in that.

JASON – I don’t want Bethany to get a big head, it was actually 39 seconds into her audition video, not 15. I wanted Adam Breske to play "Michael" from the beginning. In fact, I told Ken if we didn’t get Adam I didn’t even really want to make the film. Luckily for us he was on board. Loved Jon Biver as the Motel Clerk. He’s really talented. I feel bad b/c he’s only played bit parts in our films. Hopefully at some point we’ll have a larger role for him. But every part he’d be great at is a part I’m already playing. And I’m not stepping aside unless I get paid.

DLM: Tell us about the locations you used. Were any of them problematic to shoot at?

KEN – They were all pretty stressful to shoot at. Except for my brothers place which we used for Allison’s house. We had a time limit on all the locations and had to cram so much in because of the break neck pace we were shooting at. The cabin was in Wisconsin and we shot there for three nights and four days. The hotel and gas station were right next to each other, we also squeezed in the bank that weekend. The woods were out by the Cabin in Wisconsin as well as behind my old house in the suburbs of Chicago. Every location seemed to offer it’s own problems, some were with sound others were with people. The bar/comedy club kind of screwed us because they booked another party there when we were supposed to have it the whole day.

DLM: Speaking of shooting, what equipment did you use to shoot this film (camera, audio, editing, etc…), and how did what you used on this film, differ from what you used on your previous film, if it did at all?

KEN – This film we shot on a Canon 7D whereas the last film we shot on a JVC HD1100. Audio, I have no idea to tell you the truth. We were able to use an ADR studio for some parts so that was new. Last time we couldn’t do any ADR because our actress was from Canada and couldn’t really fly her in to do that. Editing we used Final Cut Pro like last time.

DLM: How long did the production take from start to finish, and did you hit any snags that caused unexpected delays?

KEN – I feel like we always hit snags. Let’s see if I can remember most of them. The key to our equipment truck got locked in the car, our means to get equipment ended with two weeks left to shoot, Rain, our original director of photography dropped out three weeks before the shoot, one actor quit, the jerks that held a party at the bar went over their allotted time and then tried to blame us for some damage caused at the bar, our gaffer got food poisoning ….oh wait, that was on the last film. There was more, but I’ve repressed it as much as possible.

JASON – Ken touched on the actor that quit. That really threw a monkey wrench into things. Thankfully we had enough of that guy’s scenes filmed to where we could just give the rest of his lines to Ken’s character (which we did). This guy also knew about the shoot for several weeks and wanted until the day before to tell us he was bringing his dog to the shoot. So we had to find a hotel that was "pet friendly". That’s not really something you should be dealing with the day before a shoot. That should have been mentioned weeks prior. Then when we had trouble getting a pet friendly room he acted as though that was somehow our faults. That was a long frustrating weekend (which also happened to be the first weekend of the shoot, so it was nice to get that knocked out right off the bat. Things got a little easier after that, but not much. There was also an actor that hadn’t read the script and said "Hey, when did this bank robbery stuff get added? You can’t just give me changes like this 10 minutes before we start shooting!" FUN FACT – The bank robbery "stuff" had been in there since 2001.

DLM: What kind of reviews has the film been getting, and what festivals have you sent it out to?

JASON – Much like "TTAAG" it’s getting great reviews, audiences are loving it, but it’s getting no festival love what so ever. It’s played at 2 festivals and has won "Audience Choice" at the 2011 Trail Dance Film Festival and has won a "Golden Ace Award" at the 2011 Las Vegas Film Festival. Still waiting to hear back from about 15-20 more festivals, but honestly, we’ve come to the realization that we just don’t make "film festival films" and shouldn’t waste the money on entering. Put that money towards marketing.

DLM: How can people see the film if they want to check it out?

JASON – If you want to view either film you can visit http://www.adjustedgratuity.com and see the trailers for both films on the "feature films" page. You can also purchase TTAAG for $8.99 or SOL for $10. Or you can rent SOL from Amazon VOD. For $1.99 you can watch it as many times as you want instantly on your computer for one full week.

DLM: You’ve started up a fund raising effort for your next film. Tell us about the film and how people can contribute to it if they want to help out.

JASON – Actually it’s for a TV pilot. We have an opportunity to pitch some television shows to a well known studio and are trying to raise funds to cover the expenses involved. We’re about 30 days into our Kickstarter campaign and have already raised over $600 of our $1000 goal. As it stands now we have about 30 days left to raise the remaining $400. If we reach our goal the money will be used to buy some of our own equipment so we can film the tv pilot as well as many other projects (more sketches, investment trailers for feature films we’d like to shoot in the not too distant future, ect…) Initially we were just going to use the $1000 to cover expenses for the pilot, but then Ken suggested buying our own equipment with it to shoot the pilot and our other projects. Securing equipment has been by far the most time consuming & most expensive part of making films. It’s been such a headache for us. So with our own equipment won’t have to deal with that headache anymore and can get down to the business of making people laugh. Please go to our website http://www.adjustedgratuity.com and donate what you can. Also, while you are there you should sign up for our newsletter. We put one out the 1st of every month.

DLM: How soon would you be ready to go into production once the funding is in place?

JASON – The Kickstarter Campaign ends on August 2nd. They hold the money for two weeks before it will be transferred into my account. Give us two weeks to get the equipment and do some pre-production and we should be ready to shoot by the beginning of September. Most of what we’ll be doing (atleast in the beginning) is shooting comedy sketches for the TV pilot. Setting up sketches doesn’t take too long so we should be ready to go almost immediately.

DLM: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from the films you’ve made that will help you to make your next one better?

KEN – I’m not sure if you really learn anything concrete, as in “I should do X the next time” I think it’s just practice makes perfect. Since neither one of us went to film school we are pretty much learning on the fly here. I learned a few “set rules”, but those don’t help you make a great film. They just help you not look like a jack ass on set. You get more comfortable acting, writing, directing, communicatiing, planning each time you do it. Every set, every movie is going to bring with it new problems that you can’t prepare for or really forsee based on past experiences.

JASON – I would say that no matter how well you think you’re prepared for things to go smoothly something will come out of nowhere that you never even thought of (actors quitting) and you’ll have to think fast. When you are on set and the clock is ticking you need to think fast and be creative to get problems solved. And as soon as you solve one problem something else will pop up that you’ll have to deal with. Just do the best you can.

DLM: What advice would you give to someone who’s just about to make their first film? What should they make absolutely sure that they do before or during production, and what should they avoid at all costs?

KEN – Don’t do it yourself. By this I mean you need at least one other person on set that is just as passionate as you are about the project. That loves it and wants it to succeed. That will push you when times are tough and you are about to break. Oh, and get millions of dollars to spend. That helps.

JASON – If people are working for free be nice to them. There’s a reason they are working for free. It’s b/c you can’t afford to pay them. So don’t act like you are above them. They are doing YOU a favor. (that’s not really a lesson I learned, it’s just common sense)

DLM: Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?

JASON – I just want to touch on the Kickstarter Campaign one last time. Every dollar helps. Even if it’s just $1 or $5. Every dollar donated is greatly appreciated. Some cool rewards are offered as well. If we made you laugh please give us a dollar. If we made you horny, then give us atleast $10. 😉