Principal photography Feb 1999
The original idea that evolved into Lithium Springs began as a 23 minute sketch called Down Home Boy that we produced here at Ocean Entertainment Group Inc as a calling card for the motion picture industry in Florida. Even though we had a lot of experience in the film business already under our belts (7 years in film production in New York City in the 1970s and a successful, million dollar, 35 MM feature called THE ENCHANTED, produced in 1983 with a 40 man crew) we had been out of the business for so long that noone knew who we were. So we shot Down Home Boy to show people here what we could do. We shot it on mini DV in two days and finished it a few weeks later.
It was received so enthusiastically that we decided to develop it into a full length screenplay called Limestone Cowboy and sent it to Hollywood as a feature-length production to be shot in 35MM for release through normal distribution channels.
Written in 1997 and budgeted at 2 million dollars, Limestone Cowboy was unable to secure satisfactory financing and so it was decided to change the script to eliminate almost all of the expensive stunts and shoot the picture in mini-DV with a tiny crew on a miniscule budget. We knew that meant we would probably have to release the film in a self-distribution type situation but it also meant total control over every aspect of the production. Plus we could just go ahead and make the movie and not have to wait around. Our projected budget was $20,000. We figured we'd just whip it out in a year or so.
We began filming in April, 1999, shooting mostly on weekends, continued through the summer, and finished principal photography just before Thanksgiving of 1999. Much time was spent on the river, in the river, under the water, in the caves and in the woods, trying to capture the essence of the spectacular natural beauty of Florida. Working with no money and a three-man crew, we were forced to try a lot of different things which, in the end, worked greatly to our advantage. The result was a unique look into the real Florida.
Our three man crew consisted of Carter Lord, Teza Lord and Dennis Jaseau.
Carter directed, co-wrote and financed the picture. He also elected to take on the Evinrude Jones role as he knew the character well, thought he could handle it, knew he would be at the set on time and the cost of his salary to the production was zero. He knew it might be perceived as an ego trip, but thought the benefits outweighed the risk
Teza is a profoundly talented artist, writer, athlete, horticulturist and yoga instructor, whose career began at Harvard University as a botanical illustrator. Not an actress but fearless in her ability to try new things, she was given the role of the Woods Nymph, and is one of the most interesting characters in the movie. Her website is tezalord.com.
Dennis Jaseau is a high-energy, multi-talented artist/businessman/computer geek who grew up at the knee of Ansel Adams and spent his entire life deeply involved in photography, both still and motion. His father Arthur has been an industrial/documentary filmmaker for over 40 years. That Dennis could singlehandedly film the entire movie with only Carter and Teza as backup is a mind-boggling achievement.
We shot the film with a Sony VX1000 mini-DV camera. In 1999, the sync problems were still not worked out by Sony so we elected to transfer all our footage to Beta and time code it to protect sync.
Our great friend and workhorse George Barnes at Take 2 Productions in Miami offered to assist us with this and helped back us up throughout the entire project. He was an immense asset and we will always be indebted to him for his contribution to this project.
George sent us back ½ "VHS copies of all the rolls (70 rolls in all, almost 70 hours of film - Aiieeeeeee) and our original idea was to go through everything, rough the film in on two consumer- variety VHS decks, then take it all back to Take 2 to finish post production. George thought we were out of our minds to attempt such a thing and it turns out he was right. It was nuts. There was no way we could do it. We could not get close enough in our edits to choose the correct shots and it became apparent that massive energy and time would have to spent on George's AVID for that to happen. A very expensive proposition.
George Barnes is a kind and generous man but you can't ask someone to cut your film for you as a favor. It became clear early on that we were going to have to find a better system.
Dennis knew how to set up the Apple G3 with Final Cut Pro, a brand new and inexpensive editing technology that had just come out at the time. The bad news was, it cost $6000 for the whole package and we had already spent most of our $20,000 budget. The good news was, Carter had an aviation parts business that was his main source of income and it was producing significantly more income than he had expected. The decision was made to take the plunge and set up an editing system in Carter's home. So began a long and arduous journey into the innards of computer editing, a complicated new world for a film guy raised working with film.
One short word about the huge ratio of tape we shot. 70 hours is a huge amount of tape to go through. It takes 70 hours just to look at it all ONCE. The reason we shot that much is we were using a lot of inexperienced actors and we had to shoot a lot of tape in order to cover their performances. In the end, we feel all the performances are excellent but we had to shoot a lot of tape to get it done. It is not a recommended way to work but it was what we had to do to get it right.
A lot of time was spent getting the computer set up, learning how to use it, earning the money we needed to keep on going and putting together an eclectic mix of 8 very fine but diverse music groups for the soundtrack. Over time, Carter settled into a 4AM-7AM editing routine (plus weekends), Dennis maintained the computer and Teza did everything else. It went on and on, endlessly working through all the footage until finally, after almost 2 years in the editing room, it came to an end. We finished. It was done. We were ready to go to Miami for the final transfers.
In all filmmaking, as in many other endeavors in life, you have to do whatever it takes to get it done. But with independent filmmaking, the "whatever it takes" always translates into more time. Since there is no money, you just keep going and time becomes the issue. It's OK but that is the reality. If you are young and are Robert Rodriquez (who made El Mariachi), you sell another pint of blood and keep on pounding. In our case, we were older and had family responsibilities, kids and full time jobs. So we only had a few hours a day to work. But that's the way it was and that’s what we did. It was good. It was hard. But we loved the project and it was fun. There's one thing for sure about independent filmmaking. You'd better love what you are doing. I'm happy to say we did.
In November of 2002, then, we had a rough cut with music and scheduled the final edit at Take 2 in Miami with George's great editor, Lorna Chin, for late December. By mid January of 2003, we had a finished product. We were elated!
We sent it out to friends and professionals in the industry with great anticipation. It was not received well. We sent it around again to a wider group of people, friends and industry professionals, assuming the first group was off base. The response was, again, almost unanimously negative. Everyone thought it was corny and slow. We were stunned. We couldn’t believe it. We didn’t know what had happened. This was the 5th film and second feature for Carter and he had never not made a pretty good, strong film. It didn’t make sense for Lithium Springs to be a total disaster, especially after all that work.
After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, we decided the best thing to do was to enlist the help of Hollywood. We knew personally a highly respected screenwriter/story editor named Esther Luttrell who shared the same moral attitude towards filmmaking that we have, i.e. compelling, interesting but morally clean programming that can be viewed by the whole family, especially kids. Esther had an interesting take on our problem.
"This reminds me of a situation involving an acquaintance of mine who had directed a film and realized at some point that it was "unreleasable". I happened to be speaking with him at the time and he told me that his editor had "fooled around with it in the evenings and on the weekends" by himself, and had miraculously turned it into a great movie."
"I think Lithium Springs is like that," she said. "I can see a great little movie in here, but you have just been working on it alone for so long you have lost track of it. I think I can bring the movie out if you'll just send it to me and leave me alone."
We asked her who that director was and had we ever heard of him. She replied, "Probably you have. It was Robert Altman and the film was MASH." MASH???!!!!! We sent her the project.
A little over a year later, Lithium Springs was finished more or less as it stands today. Esther did the unbelievable job of editing the entire film in her head, (!) putting it down on paper shot by shot and sending us specific instructions as to how to make the changes. We were amazed that anyone could do something like that but we put the film back in the machine and cut the entire film in 10 hours to her instructions.
It was astounding! The movie jumped off the screen at us with a whole new attitude and we could clearly see that it was much stronger, much tighter and way more interesting. A number of things had been removed and a lot of things moved around. There were even a few repeat shots in there. A narration was added and there was need for an entire new music track. But in the end, there was really not that much done physically. The changes were subtle ones. It was an incredible experience. The end result, however, was that we now had a very strong picture!
Since we also then had the film successfully in sync and in DV format, we could stay in Lakeland and not impose more on George and Take 2. Luckily there was a very creative guy named Michael Barrett of Barrett Creative in Lakeland who was available to help us redo all the technical work.
As the preciousness of the picture emerged, we decided to invest further in a number of expensive, visual upgrades - color corrections, a number of new graphics - plus a major sound upgrade with a sound engineer in South Florida Michael knew named Eric Thomas.
At our first sneak preview screening at the Appalachian Film Festival in June of 2004, we had an overwhelmingly positive response. Success at last! Since that time we have had nothing but enthusiastic showings everywhere we have been and we have not looked back.
We had a successful run on the film festival circuit, premiering at the Palm Beach International Festival, nominated for best Picture at the Danville International Children's Film Festival in California, showings at the California Independent Film Festival in Livermore, Forest Grove International Film Festival in Oregon and the Jokara Family Film/Video Festival in southwestern Georgia. We were nominated for an Agape Award and still are in the running to win.
We took the film to NATPE and were warmly received by over 25 different distributors - some large, some small, - all of whom liked the film but were not able to figure out a way that they could "make any money" with the film, "given the current reality of the star-driven film and TV distribution system as it exists today"(coupled with the mini-DV format issue).
We were not surprised. There are many excellent independent films out there today that never see the light of day. Competition is fierce, and the fact that we shot the film on mini-DV on a tiny budget with an unknown cast makes it hard to compete with the 2-10 million dollar "independent" features currently on the market.
So we are doing what we always thought we would do. We are making the film available on the internet for direct home DVD sales. We are traveling around the southeastern United States showing the film to any and all groups that want us to come. We are settling in for the long haul to get the word out in as many places as we can and have as much fun as possible along the way. We are enthusiastic about the future, and we really don’t care how long it takes.
We are confident that the movie will live because we know it is a very good film. We know it will bring happiness to others and expect it to inspire people to choose well in important matters. We are confident the movie will encourage people to love the earth, to love the animals and to respect the magic that is there for us all. Above all we are confident that beauty, kindness and right action will win out in the end and that our path here on this earth is to love God, love our neighbor, and to stand for the right, no matter what the cost.
Please call or email us to set up screenings and we will be happy to make arrangements to show you our film. Maybe we can even come there in person. Better yet, buy copies for yourself, your loved ones and your friends. Then sit back and enjoy a profound but lighthearted journey into the heart of one of the most beautiful places left on this earth. Enjoy the adventure! You will be glad you did.
*** In late 2003, Dennis lost control of a Hep C condition he had contracted from a bad blood transfusion as a child. Over the next two years he struggled mightily to overcome the disease, only to succumb to it in November of 2005 while waiting for a liver transplant. This film is dedicated to him, our great friend. God Bless You, Dennis. We love you.