Thursday, October 29, 2009

the videomakers: stranger than fiction

Part THREE of our exclusive interview with Walter Gottlieb, creator of The Videomakers, a new web series set in Silver Spring. (see part ONE part TWO part THREE part FOUR) Above: the third episode.

The Videomakers is the first time Walter Gottlieb had done fiction since studying film at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. The intervening years had been spent working on documentaries. Anyone who's been here for more than a couple years knows his documentaries of local history, Silver Spring: Story of an American Suburb and Next Stop: Silver Spring, which premiered on PBS in 2002 and 2007, respectively. Even works that weren't about Silver Spring ended up getting filmed here. Heart and Soul, a biography of Broadway composer Frank Loesser, was partially shot at the Tastee Diner. "That was good preparation for totally fictional works," Gottlieb says. "We'd had experience with directing actors, costumes, props."

By last spring, Gottlieb had cast an ensemble of all local "theatre or film commmunity people," he says, hailing from the Baltimore-Washington area - though Jake Koenig, who plays production assistant Joel, would take the bus down from New York to shoot. The first season's ten episodes were filmed over a series of weekends between April and June to accommodate the cast's busy schedules. To meet their time constraints, they had to work fast.

"We shot several episodes at a time. Lots of economies of scale," Gottlieb says. "In Hollywood, to shoot seven pages of script in a day would be a lot. We've shot twenty." He estimates that he spends about a week writing and two weeks with the crew editing each episode, which have been released once every three weeks since August.

The castmembers have "lives, children, other projects," says Gottlieb. Four have had major film roles. Co-star Lee Ordeman, who plays Kevin, will play Gregor Samsa in a D.C. production of Metamorphosis this fall. Even Gottlieb's daughter Arielle, who plays pint-sized intern Jessica, has done TV work. All of the cast and crew members either donated or took discounted rates for their work on the project, keeping costs down on an already low-budget production in the hopes that the series will eventually turn a profit.

The shooting locations, most of which are in or near Downtown Silver Spring, came through friends and connections. Much of the show was filmed at Silver Spring Studios on Wayne Avenue, where Gottlieb used to work. His former trainer offered space at Tactical Airsoft Arena in Rockville as a stand-in for Lowball's production facilities. Some castmembers offered up their apartments for bedroom scenes. And the entire cast and crew spent a weekend in Jessup shooting at the Maryland Correctional Center. "The Maryland Film Office steered us there," says Gottlieb. "They have an entire building they shut down a few years ago after some guards were killed. We camped out there for two full days."

Businesses were surprisingly nice" about letting them shoot there, Gottlieb says. "We'd come in with actors, crew, catering, equipment. But we'd always clean up our toys and leave the place the way we found it."

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