BENT OVER NEAL - Intervew with Andrew McGreevy
by Mark Schwab
Omaha-based filmmaker Andrew McGreevy embodies the true spirit of being a Diamond in the Rough filmmaker and deserves to be highlighted. He and his production company SkullDuggery Theatre have just made their first feature length film Bent Over Neal which is starting to do the festival circuit. McGreevy wrote the story and stars in the lead role in addition to the multiple other hats he wore which you can read about below. But most of all, Andrew brought the critical passion and determination required to negotiate the difficulties of what true indie feature filmmaking is. He was cool enough to take a minute out of preparing his newest project Endor to answer some questions.
1) You take on a number of big roles in the film, that of writer, co-producer, lead actor and casting. Was that always the original plan?
Simple answer: No. The original plan was to be a producer and actor. Darrick Silkman (Neal) and I had acted in a short play called Penis Dialogues in 2007 which was written by a local playwright Geoff Stienblock (Tom). The 18 minute sketch was just a two man show and is basically the camping trip you see in the film minus the flashbacks. We had performed the staged show several times over the years and Darrick wanted to make it a film. We approached Stienblock about writing a full length script and he loved the idea. Unfortunately, he did not have the time to get it written and so he gave me his blessing to write it. In a low budget debut film scenario that we found ourselves in, it seemed natural to do the casting as part of the producer duties. There were no auditions. Actors were handpicked from talent we had worked with before and knew would be good for the roles.
2) What did Director Aaron Gum bring to the production and why didn't you direct it yourself?
This is a great question. Aaron brought a lot to the production. He was in the audience when we first performed the play Penis Dialogues in 2007 and he was a fan. We approached Gum to direct as he had all the technical experience. A self-taught man, he makes his living off of production. He has worked on other independent films, and he is a commercial and music video director. His work has been reviewed in many reputable arenas. He has worn pretty much every hat under the sun when it comes to production. He is one of the best in Omaha, NE where we shot the film. He was also great at letting me have all the input I wanted on the process. I took care of the story from the creative angle and he took care of it from the technical angle. Not to say that what he shot and edited wasn’t creative in its own right. Many times, I would tell him what I had in my mind when I wrote the scene and he would create an even better vision. We were a team, truly utilizing Auteur Theory. With all the work I put in alongside Gum, I was given an Assistant Director Credit. Basically what it boils down to is that if we didn’t have Aaron, we didn’t have a film.
3) Has "Bent Over Neal" been doing many festivals? How was/is that experience? How is the film being received?
The film was an Official Selection for Prairie Lights Film Fest, a Nebraska Film Festival. We used that as an opportunity to screen in a different city from where we filmed, but still with a local perspective. Those people had no idea who we were, or what the film was about and the audience was an older demographic, so we were worried it would not play well for them. However, they seemed to love it. Then we had three screenings in Omaha that all sold out. The audience was given comment sheets to fill out and remained anonymous so that we could get true feedback. It was overwhelmingly positive. The only reoccurring issue we caught onto was that the tone of the camping trip and the rest of the film seemed too different. This makes sense because the camping trip is Stienblock’s voice and the rest is mine. I have gone in and rewritten the first act of the film and we will be reshooting in Spring 2015. As for now, the original cut has been submitted to 8 festivals and we will hear back from those in the coming months.
4) What were some of the biggest challenges with filming and how did you meet them?
We had to recast our Ariel halfway through shooting because the original actress had health issues and could no longer be in the project. Luckily, we had only shot one scene with her at that point. We did hold auditions for the new Ariel the next day and by the end of the weekend we had the fantastic Andrea Erickson take on the role. Outside of that, filming was fairly smooth. Of course, there are the challenges that come from limitations of a low budget film, but we learned as we filmed and I think you can see our growth as the film progresses since we mostly shot the film in order.
5) Where there any notable influences (visually or otherwise) you can share for "Bent Over Neal"?
Everything the team (Director, writer, actors) have experienced in their personal lives is an influence. Somethings are “what not to do”and others are “hey, I found that really engaging” which then becomes a strong influence. However, whenever someone would say let’s shoot this scene like the scene in that Kevin Smith film, I would say, no, lets shoot this scene like that Bent Over Neal movie. Influences should only be inspiration and not an actual framework of what you are doing. I am not interested in copying, I am interested in creating. That is my “full of myself” answer.
6) Indie filmmaking on a low budget can be a time consuming and stressful affair. What keeps you motivated?
I have severe ADHD which, like most things, can be a hindrance and a powerful tool. I can lose focus easily on many things, but there are certain things I hyper focus on. Sitting at a desk in an office job is hell to me. After 3 hours, I want to pull my hair out as I count the minutes down to when I can leave. It is the exact opposite when it comes to storytelling. Regardless if it is theatre, comedy, writing, or film, I get into a zone and can spend countless hours working at telling that story and it does not wear on me. So, although it may be time consuming, I don’t notice it. The stress in itself is a motivator. I have self-imposed deadlines and I need to get the work done. I think I may have driven Aaron crazy a few times because of this, but in the end we both want the best product we can make. Which is why after going through the production process and having successful screenings, we are back at it again. We found that there was something that wasn’t working for the majority of audiences and we know we can do better, so he we are slated to film a new beginning.
7) Are you working on any other film projects at the moment?
I am currently writing and casting a horror film called Endor. It is scheduled to shoot Summer ’15. I have a story idea for every basic genre of film. I would like to continue to make these ideas a reality. I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I appreciate all genres and would like to dabble in all of them if I can.
8) When not making movies, what do you like to do?
Think about making movies or other various forms of storytelling. I live for it. I watch a ton of films, read lots of books, and write when I can. I love spending time with my family and friends, but I do often get that distant look. If you see that, I am creating a story in my head.
9) Who is your favorite filmmaker(s) and why?
That is an impossible question to answer, too many filmmakers to list and all for different reasons. I appreciate what they all bring to the medium. I also like watching films that are so bad they are good. I find value in them. I am not a snob when it comes to that. Yet, it is rare, when I see a film and think that was perfect. Currently, I would say if Tarantino makes a film, I will see it without needing to know what it’s about. But, see, I hate to say that because its not like I have loved everything he has made either. I have my guilty pleasures; I am a fan boy for Jackson’s Middle Earth and love Star Wars.
10) What are some recent films that have really wowed you?
I was at the edge of my seat when watching Fury. The scene where the tankers find the two women hiding out in their apartment was so intense. The cinematography and the acting really partnered up to make something special. I also found Your Sister’s Sister particularly compelling.
11) Tell us something we don't know about Andrew McGreevy.
Anything I say would be an applicable answer, because I am just starting out and no one knows me outside my circle of friends and family. Maybe someday people will care, maybe not. I will reserve that question for the day when I feel people will actually want to read that, if that day ever comes.
12) Closing thoughts?
NOTE - ***SPOILER ALERT***
(do not read if you plan on seeing the film)
I don’t believe that Bent Over Neal is a gay film any more than it’s a straight film. I think that kind of label can be awfully reductive. People never say, “I saw that straight film, Birdman, the other day.” Does sexuality, gender, and race play a role in the film? Absolutely. However, if you strip those away and there is still a central conflict, then the film really isn’t about those things individually. This movie is about identity as a whole, but it is also about a person who married the sibling of the one he loved and the complications that arise and haunt him from that decision many years later. Being gay as a conflict is never at issue here. Being truthful to who you are and what you want is.