Don Ford talks about Blue Lines

posted Oct 24, 2010, 8:17 AM by MKE Short Film Fest
1.) Where did the idea for the film come from?

Growing up I always loved cop films and westerns. Those two genres definitely influenced "Blue Lines". I grew up watching the westerns of Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone and John Ford as well as cop films like "Dirty Harry", "Bullitt" and anything of Michael Mann's. These influences culminated with "Blue Lines". The story for "Blue Lines" was originally a short I did the previous year(in 2007) in school called "Safehouse". The basic plot points were there for "Blue Lines". It was cops protecting an innocent witness from fellow corrupt cops. That film lacked in almost every area with the exception of style perhaps. It had the look of a gritty cop film. There was not much of character development or acting performances, but that was mostly due to me being a novice as a director as well as working with non-actors. It also was a script based more on trying to homage the films it was inspired by and lost it's own identity as a film.
"Blue Lines" became my senior thesis project(in 2008). Originally I had no intention of making another cop film. I wanted to try to do something outside of the cop/crime genres, but my failures on "Safehouse" crept back up on me. So in a last minute decision I decided to tackle that story again only to expand it to feature length and make it a character driven film with central themes of corruption and redemption. This proved to be a bit too ambitious though. By Christmas break I had an unfinished 45 page script and less than 4 months left to go through the pre-production processes of completing the screenplay, casting the film, putting together props and locations, the production process of shooting the film and finally all the post-production including editing, VFX's and sound/music scoring. On top of that I still had to take my other classes at MIAD and prepare for graduation. I quickly realized that there was no way I could take on producing and shooting a feature film in only four months by myself and decided it would need to be a short.

As I was writing I had already begun the casting process. The first two cast were Madison actor Kevin Croak and second city improve actor Ty Sutherland. This was my first time casting actors and I basically cast everyone on their look and resume. I had no proper auditions for the film and got lucky because everyone I did cast were not only good actors, but great to work with on my first professional directing experience. Speaking of casting one of the biggest questions I get is how Mark Metcalf got involved. Fortunately for me my friend Jessica Bayliss who was a MIAD alumni from the previous year had worked with Mark on her animation project. She was helping me with proofing my screenplay and I asked her if she knew anyone else who could help and give me a professional opinion of my writing. She suggested Mark. We corresponded a few times via email with a few variations on the screenplay and one day Mark asked me if I had any intention of having him play a role in the film. I originally had not. I was just grateful he was helping me with the writing, but when he asked I basically sent back, "sure, if you want to" and the rest is history. Kevin Croak, Ty Sutherland and Mark Metcalf were the only actors to see the 45 page draft of the script. Kevin and Mark both were integral in helping to shape the script. I also had help from my friend Jessica Bayliss and her screenwriter friend in L.A. and numerous classmates at MIAD. There input was especially helpful once I had to cut the script down. The original draft had an entire back story for the witness and there was originally two hero cops. One who had a bad past and one who looked the other way in regards to corruption. I ended up molding the two roles into one anti-hero character which became Madison actor Tom Lodewyck's role. Tom Lodewyck responded to my second or third craig's list posting and at the time thought the film was a feature. He wasn't doing many shorts at the time, but when he got the script he loved it so much he decided to do it. I think he was originally interested in playing one of the villains, but I wanted him to play the morally tortured Detective Tommie Maloteck. As it turned out he ended up owning the role. Tom was responsible for helping me fill out the rest of the cast. He helped get Madison theater actor Gary Kriesel to play opposite Kevin Croak as the two corrupt narcotics Detectives out to snuff out the witness. And I called upon some friends I had cast in earlier student work to fill out the smaller parts. All in all everyone ended up rising to the occasion and I think that the performances in "Blue Lines" are one of it's stronger points.
2.)How much did the project change from concept to final edit?

"Blue Lines" was originally going to be a feature length film. My original goal was to have a film with a running time of just over 60mins. With my senior year schedule at MIAD by Christmas time I realized a feature would be too ambitious for me to take on so I had to shorten it. I ended up taking a story that had all kinds of back stories, double crosses and a bunch of extra characters and condensing the best portions of it into a very streamlined short. It became a claustrophobic story revolving around Tom Lodewyck's character Tommie Maloteck coming to terms with his dark past and seeking redemption. The other characters represented different things in the film. The witness Jimmy Shaw was the innocents in the film and Kevin Croak's Det. Paul Wiley was the corruption. Mark Metcalf playing The Lieutenant more or less represents the wolf in sheep's clothing. Being that he is the highest authoritative power in the film and is almost like a ghost he represents the shady system that the corruption is bred from.

When we finally got to the production process we pretty much shot it page for page. We filmed for four full days in March of 2008, basically over two weekends. There were a few improvised moments during the shoot and a few shots never made the first 32min cut that I premiered at the thesis show in may of 2008, but all in all it was pretty much page for page.

When I completed the first cut which I had only five or so weeks to cut, I always intended on doing a cut for film fests. The first cut had a temporary music score from royalty free libraries and the sound mix was still not 100% perfect. After graduation I tweaked the cut a little and attempted to submit it to 4 or 5 film fests none of which accepted the film. So the film sat for about a year before I started from scratch and re-cut a shorter 23min version. I also had a good friend Todd Umhoefer of Old Earth and his fellow Milwaukee musician Christopher Porterfield of Conrad Plymouth create an original score for the film. They performed the score under the label Lost Lake Orchestration and the score was titled "Score One For The Blue Line". This process was one of my favorites. Todd, Chris and I had one meeting where we watched the cut of the film and discussed the music. We ended up talking about the influences for the film being westerns and cop films and how I saw it as a urban western. That's where we started. Ennio Morricone is definitly an influence on the structure of the score. There are themes or melodies for different characters and the main idea was having the score reflect the feelings of the actors on screen. I wanted the score to complement the visuals rather than carry them. We sited films like "No Country For Old Men", "Heat" and "The Good The Bad and The Ugly" for ideas. These were all different styles of scores, but I think talking out our influences really is what created where Todd and Chris then took the music. Over nights they set up in Todd's apartment and watched the cut of the film and played their instruments along to the visuals reflecting the performances of the actors and really bringing the film to a whole new level. In two weeks they recorded the score, just in time for the films Firestarter Films premier. I was blown away. I think it really adds to the overall tone of the film and really brings the emotion of the scenes out, especially the final act.

3.)Were there any challenges during production?

In filmmaking I found that there are challenges everywhere along the process. Writing was difficult because I often found myself fighting distractions and procrastination. Writing was a difficult thing for me. My ADD had ideas flying all through my brain, but it was really tough to get them on paper. I also had other people who were also giving me input, most was good, but some was like overloading my system. Much of the time I had to lock myself away, turn up some epic film music and get in the mood.

I had never taken on producing a movie in a more professional manner before. That's not to say that I didn't follow the pre-production, production, post-production structure, but most of my student and personal projects had previously been "gorilla" filmmaking. I had never used professional actors in any of my films before and that was something I knew I absolutely had to accomplish with my thesis project. This was my first time casting a film which I did through craig's list. This process also made me face my near phobia of cold calling people. I had to do a lot of that and it was nerve racking for me. I also had to meet with various people to discuss locations. I had to attempt to explain what I was trying to accomplish to strangers who knew little to nothing about movies. I tried to do everything by the book. I tried to get location releases, but I kept running into bureaucratic brick walls so I ended up shooting at some locations without proper permits or permission. We only had one incident where it was a problem in Milwaukee, but thankfully we had a firefighter in the cast who essentially flashed his badge and all the trouble went away.

Editing was a little like repeating the writing process. Again I was fighting procrastination and distractions. Sometimes trying to make an editing decisions took walking away from the project for a day or two and then returning to continue pounding it out.
4.) With the film completed, what has been the most rewarding thing about the whole experience?

For me it was both the educational value I got from the project and the lasting connections I made with my fellow filmmakers and actors. Many of them I have become good friends with and have gone on to work with them on other projects. I am hoping at some point to work with all of them again. I feel that though the film is closing in on 3 years old it will forever be an experience I remember for the people involved that made it special for me.

Blue Lines screens this Friday night, October 29th 7pm during the Opening Night event for the Milwaukee Short Film Festival. The screening will take place at the Lubar Auditorium, Milwaukee Art Museum.