The Website by the Bay: Making Medicine for Melancholy

By Mike Jones | April 14, 2009
The Website by the Bay: Making Medicine for Melancholy - LEADPHOTO

In the first of a series of articles about how the movie industry uses the internet, Mike Jones looks at how Barry Jenkins got online help with Medicine for Melancholy.

This is part of a series of articles on FilmInFocus in which Mike Jones examines the role played by the internet in both film production (on Medicine for Melancholy and Taking Woodstock) and film promotion (Bottle Shock, Fast & Furious, Milk and Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.)

Director Barry Jenkins can't imagine how he would have made his debut feature Medicine for Melancholy without the internet. Jenkins' indie film romance follows the day after a one night stand as a couple (Tracey Heggins and “The Daily Show”’s Wyatt Cenac) wander San Francisco getting to know each other. The only problem was that of all the people necessary to make this location-heavy film, Jenkins was the only one who actually lived in San Francisco.

"We were never in the same place until it was time to shoot the film," says Jenkins. "None of us lived in the same city. It was actually kinda crazy the way it all came together." So while they could not share the same city, they could meet on the same web site. For most every key function, Jenkins can point to certain web tools that helped him.

The first step was to create a film website that fit their needs. While studio films use movie sites to advertise a finished or nearly finished film, Jenkins’ site proved vital even before a frame was shot. By selling t-shirts and soliciting donations using PayPal, Jenkins says they raised nearly three thousand dollars in start-up cash.

For casting, Jenkins turned to nowcasting.com, which he describes as a cross between Facebook and Craigslist for actors. After creating a page for the movie that included character descriptions and production information, actors would submit themselves to the film's nowcasting.com profile. Jenkins explains, "Since we were all over the country, we could all go on this website and check the actors that wanted to audition."  Jenkins also streamlined the process by putting downloadable audition materials on the film's website, including pages from the script. "Eventually, I made one trip to LA and that's how we cast our female lead, Tracey Heggins," Jenkins adds.

Now Casting

For the male lead, producer Justin Barber sent Jenkins a YouTube clip, showing the stand-up skills of Wyatt Cenac, before the comedian landed “The Daily Show” correspondent gig. To track him down, Jenkins left a message on Cenac's MySpace page.

Jenkins warns that while tools like backstage.com and video conferencing make it seem otherwise, filmmakers can't cast a film exclusively through the web. "At some point you have to be face to face with people to really communicate," says Jenkins. "Once you've built a rapport with people I think then the web can be great."  Cenac and Jenkins got to meet each other and connect in San Francisco. But after Cenac had to leave, the two continued to work on scenes together by using video conferencing software.

Jenkins relates another way he was able to rehearse and adjust scenes with the actors via the web. "In the screenplay there's this moment where the character plays the Mr. Rogers theme on the piano," says Jenkins  "But we couldn't find a location that had a piano already there. So Wyatt had to figure out how to play it on guitar. So we just got on video iChat. And because we knew each other already, it became okay to use this web interface to work out one of the key moments of the film."

For other music in the film, Jenkins again turned to the internet to tap a friend that he's never met face-to-face, and never spoken with on the phone. "Igor Romanov is this guy in Russia that I've never physically met but we've been friends for about eight years," says Jenkins.  "We met on a message board for a band years ago. Whenever Igor makes music, he'll send them to me through sendspace.com. So Igor has two songs in the film because of the music he sent me through the years."

Mike Jones

Mike Jones is a screenwriter and journalist based in Los Angeles. He’s held staff positions at Filmmaker Magazine, indieWIRE, Variety and currently blogs on the film festival beat at The Circuit. He's written scripts for Columbia, HBO, MGM/UA, among others. Recently The Gotham Group optioned his adaptation of The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break.

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