Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kickstarts & Pickups at Year's End

Has it been a month since my last post? I guess we've had a lot going on...

The final tally on our Kickstarter campaign was beyond our wildest dreams. After surpassing the initial $3K funding goal, the pledges kept rolling in to the tune of $6360 (for the statistically inclined who want a bit of quantitative analysis in their blog-reading, that's an
achievement of 212%). Our deepest, most humble thanks to our 73 backers, and everyone who helped us spread the word. Which was necessary, because we're speechless.

For those backers who are awaiting thank-you gifts, the first batch is in the mail. For folks who have official Now, Forager t-shirts coming their way, these have been custom-ordered.
I hope to have all the gifts shipped out by the first week of January--thanks for your patience.

Also, we will have a
few extra shirts (all cotton, dark gray with black screenprinting) in various sizes plus cloth shopping bags left over--all featuring our wood-cut morel logo. Shoot me an email if you're interested in making a direct swag purchase in support of the film.

Though the holidays have been creeping up on us, we've stayed pretty darned busy with NF-related business. We shot a day of pickups right before Thanksgiving (when I posted this on Facebook, friends from my hometown in Oregon reminded me that "shooting pickups" has a more literal meaning involving firearms, rusty trucks, and abandoned quarries). We also submitted two lengthy applications for grants to raise some more budget for post-production, and took a meeting for some in-kind post resources. All good stuff.

Julia has also been getting the editing process under way with the help of Assistant Editor, Alec Beard. The raw footage has all been transcoded, the audio synced, and scene assemblies are under way.

The last big item on our plate for 2010 will be a couple last days of production--shooting our winter exterior scenes. Now, Forager takes place over the course of a year--the only way to show this believably is to actually shoot in different seasons. While this sucks in terms of scheduling, continuity, and production momentum, it's really our only choice to make a micro-budget feature with ambitious production value. We couldn't do it without a cast and crew who were committed to the project. (Thanks again guys.)

I'll hopefully post one last production report before 2011 comes a-calling. And I think I'll have some very good post-production news to announce shortly, once it all becomes official. Stay tuned...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kickstarter Update: Minimum goal achieved!

We've made it beyond our minimum goal of $3000, thanks to the generous support of numerous donors. This achievement ensures funding via Kickstarter. To all of our backers who have pledged so far, thank you.

And if you'd still like to show your support for "the mushroom movie"--you have until 6:31pm EST on December 3rd to make your pledge:


Donations $35 and above qualify for cool "forager-friendly" thank you gifts.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Production Report-Week 4

As previously mentioned, we had a week's hiatus before finishing up principal photography on Now, Forager. While a few of the cast and crew members had other job commitments, others would enjoy some well-deserved R & R. And the rest of us would be still working on production logistics non-stop...

Jenny "Queen of Locations" Harkins was hustling to find us our most challenging restaurant interior--an elegantly modern Asian-influenced fine-dining establishment. We needed a kitchen interior, a front-of-the-house interior, and a restaurant exterior. And we needed two full days to shoot all the scenes.

The difficulty: if a restaurant closes at all in New York, it's usually only for one day per week. To get a single location that matched our very specific decor and style needs for two full days--not bloody likely. So we divided the scenes into a back-of-the-house day and a front-of-the-house day. And Jenny scored us a couple of incredible locations...

For our Back-of-the-House/Kitchen, we shot one of the prep kitchens of the Thompson Hotel in Manhattan's Lower East Side. Lots of sleek new stainless steel appliances and equipment. A great layout with plenty of room to shoot. A beauty of a stove. It was everything we needed it to be.

But the Front-of-the-House that Jenny came up with was maybe the biggest location score of the entire shoot. 1 or 8 Atelier of Food in Williamsburg, Brooklyn was beyond our wildest dreams. Owners Maho and Shinji Mizutani have designed a restaurant that exudes brilliance in every facet. Sleek design, decor, and lighting (seen in the photo above); an inventive selection of house-infused cocktails; a full menu that offers top-quality sushi and sashimi plus a rotating selection of French-influenced entrees. They even featured a tasting menu of different mushroom dishes earlier in the fall season. Total simpatico. Julia and I went in for an amazing dinner
a couple days after shooting--the whole experience was beyond superlatives.

In the costume department, we also had the generous support of Michael Pittard and Maggie Kleinpeter of Supermaggie (who started their business in Brooklyn, and who recently moved their operations to Austin). They helped us outfit our chefs and restaurant staff in these scenes with their super-cool octopus t-shirts.

And that's a wrap for our interior locations. We still have to get a bit of fall driving footage, a couple more days of winter exteriors in December, some Additional Dialog Recording, some short animated sequences, and some time-lapses. But some of the hardest parts of production are now behind us.

Foragers--cast and crew--you have been amazing. Our deepest gratitude to you all. Now get some rest.
(Photo by Kelly Marsh)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

82% Funded with 23 Days to Go!

In just about a week, we've achieved more than 80% of our funding goal on Kickstarter. We are most humbly grateful for the love and enthusiasm of our friends, family, and supporters across the country. There are no finer communities to have roots in than Austin and Brooklyn.

Our deepest and most heartfelt appreciation to everyone who has helped spread the word, offered encouragement, and pledged a few bucks if they could. Cheers!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Production Report: Week 3

Now, Forager Week 3 started in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn, shooting a restaurant interior at Chestnut on Smith Street.

It was very fortuitous that our intrepid location scout (Jenny Harkins) made contact with Chestnut's chef (Daniel Eardley) soon after his own foray into the woods searching for fall edibles. We had found a like-minded establishment--with a perfect interior for our
scenes. This wouldn't be the last time Jenny saved our bacon with a fantastic place to shoot.

Our next morning would be a venture into doc-style shooting, for scenes of Lucien at his win
ter job working in a bread bakery (located in Astoria, Queens). The afternoon was spent on various restaurant exteriors around Brooklyn--in Park Slope and Sunset Park. Special thanks to the folks at Moutard, Stone Park Cafe, and Hunan Delight.

We spent a full day in Manhattan for (mostly) exteriors. The East Village in the morning (where this photo of our lead characters hawking their wares was taken); Chinatown mid-day; and then a short round-trip train ride to NJ. Boom, boom, boom. We were on fire.

We rounded out the week with two days on Staten Island. I'm not sure how many films shoot in all 5 boroughs of New York, but the scrappy DIY professionals behind Now, Forager made it happen.

(Our Bronx shoot was in Van Cortlandt Park back in May--scenes of Lucien hunting for morels and ramps. 'Can one actually find morels and ramps in Van Cortlandt Park?' you might ask. My lips are sealed...)

Camp Pouch Boyscout Camp on Staten Island was a fantastic and fungi rich location. Jeremy (our sound guru) had his mushroom eyes on--finding a big Chicken-of-the-Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) log. We also spotted a big patch of stinkhorns (Phallus impudicus), a fruiting of shaggy manes (Coprinus comatus) and some blewits (Lepista nuda). I also found several Lactarius and Cortinarius species, as well as a patch of Hebeloma (these are hard to ID to species, but a typical variant has the common name "Poison Pie" if that gives you a clue as to their general edibility).

We also had the full moon working on our side for our Staten Island days--and we took advantage by shooting into dusk one day, and into the night on the next (at Wolfe's Pond Park).

Week 3--wrapped. The Now, Forager crew would get a week's hiatus while our DP Jon and our gaffer Brian went to shoot episodes of Chopped for the Food Network.

It was just the chance I needed to get back into the woods to shoot some more "mushroom porn" and gather a few more stunt fungi for our final scenes. The fall season was hanging on with some nice late hens, plenty more blewits, a late explosion of honey mushrooms (Armillaria gallica), and even some delicious gypsies (Cortinarius caperatus).

Did I mention how much we love this crew? Here's some of the gang on Staten Island at the end of the week.

(The photos in this post were taken by Jon Nastasi...on actual film, no less.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Support NOW, FORAGER on Kickstarter

We just launched a fundraising campaign for Now, Forager via Kickstarter.

Visit our Kickstarter project page to learn more. There are some super cool mushroom-themed rewards to thank you for your donation.

Production Report: Week Two

After a couple well-deserved days off, Now, Forager - Week Two started in New Jersey. First at Julian's Bait Shop in Atlantic Highlands (live eels!); then on to a surf fishing sequence at Sandy Hook where Jon Nastasi, our DP, donned waders and ventured out chest deep into the ocean to get some shots; then on to the pine barrens of Cheesequake State Park (my favorite name for a state park in New Jersey) for more fungi hunting.

These scenes featured some lovely lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum) and a pair of machete-toting Russian mycophiles (played with appropriate linguistic gravitas by Alex Mayzlin and Brandon deSpain). Thanks to to some weather disturbances over Newark, every commercial flight out of NJ was re-routed directly over our production, with planes passing every 90 seconds or so. That Jeremy Fleishman, our sound maestro, didn't slit his own throat with one of the machetes is a testament to his character.

We were back at Cheesequake the next day as well, to shoot the film's opening sequence, including an abundant fruiting of wild Hen-of-the-Woods (Grifola frondosa) mushrooms. I have to offer a very special thanks to local foraging legend George Johanson for loaning our production several of the most beautiful young Grifola specimens I've ever laid eyes on.

The next two days were spent on interiors--in the apartment of our lead characters, Lucien (played by yours-truly) and Regina (played by Tiffany Esteb). Filmmaker Joe Petrilla graciously let us use his Brooklyn apartment as our location. Thanks to Joe for not kicking us out after the first scene we shot, where I gutted and filleted two 20lb. striped bass on his kitchen counter. (Our producer, Kit Bland: "Get those fish out of there as soon as possible, please.")

We rounded out the week in the prep kitchen of the soon-to-reopen Brooklyn Star restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (thanks to chef Quino Baca and his crew for their support). Our good friend and master thespian Eric Dean Scott was back in town from his new home in Slovenia, so we were very glad to put his services to use for the day in a supporting role.

Also new to our crew this week was production assistant Juan Diaz De Lindo--who was on fire keeping our production running and taking amazing set photos in between (both of the photos in this post are his).

And that's pretty much how it happened. Two weeks down, two to go...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Production Report: Week One

Our first week took Now, Forager on location--north of the city, to carefully selected locales on both sides of the Hudson River.

On day one, week one it was immediately clear that we have an amazing crew.
Our Producer (the multi-talented and always entertaining Kit Bland) and our DP (Jon Nastasi) helped us assemble a strike-force of uber-professionals at every position. From our master focus-pulling AC (Borja Campillo Arribas), to our incredibly detail-oriented script supervisor (Erika Sanz), to our local "fixer" PA and stunning set photographer (Kelly Marsh), to the hardest working gaffer in microbudget filmmaking (Brian Harnick), to our oil-on-the-gears Assistant Director (Mike McDermott). And of course, the keystone to our crew from the Keystone State--Pittsburgh's sound recordist of record, Jeremy Fleishman. Plus some kid from Jersey named Bauer. (I love this crew so damn much.)

Days 1 and 2 are probably going to be our most challenging of the entire shoot in terms of production value and logistics. Our biggest feat was transforming a lovely, modern locavore diner in the Hudson Valley (Another Fork in the Road, run by mad genius chef Jamie Parry) into a weathered, backwater Rhode Island greasy spoon.

The set dressing, costumes, lighting, authentic Basque cuisine food styling, and casting would all be at maximum levels of difficulty. Though we had a couple of longish shoot days, we got everything we needed--including a quantity (and quality!) of local background talent to play restaurant patrons at the peak of dinner service. Thank you Milan/Red Hook/Rhinebeck!

Day 3 was a series of exteriors in the woods north of New Paltz, NY--and the weather upstate cooperated. The rain that would be bringing us mushrooms for later scenes halted for a day and we were able to get a complicated Glidecam sequence through the trees, as well as an emotional final sequence set at dusk.

Days 4 and 5 would also be among our more challenging in terms of set dressing, props, and food styling. Thank the powers that be for the arrival of Art Director Bara Jichova, who would help us manage all the moving parts. We had a lovely vacation home to use as a double for a Washington DC area residence, where one of the lead characters takes a catering job for the wife of a conservative strategist, played by the outstanding Gabrielle Maisels.

And that was Week 1--I'm sure I've forgotten someone important (like Another Fork's Micah Carter, who served as our kitchen master, sous chef, and food stylist for Days 1 & 2). Both Julia and I feel incredibly grateful for our outstanding crew.

(photos by Kelly Marsh)

Monday, September 27, 2010


Finally. I awoke this morning to a magical pitter-patter on my air conditioner. And the forecast for the next 10 days includes 4 or 5 days with increased chances of precipitation. Our NY weather persons haven't been exactly accurate this year, but the sight of several nimbus icons in close succession has taken the edge off my morning at least.

I've just returned from a few days at the NEMF (Northeast Mycological Federation) foray up in the Hudson Valley. Conditions were very dry and the numbers of species collected I'm sure were below average. But still, there were enough edibles found for a very successful mycophagy (mushroom cooking) demonstration (I helped run the fryolators for making deep fried chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sulfureous) and I improvised a successful frittata out of Entoloma abortivum (the shape and texture of these fungi remind me of sweetbreads), bear's tooth (Hericium erinaceous), and about 3 dozen duck eggs.

But today I'm back in pre-production mode, with 7 days left to prepare for our first day of shooting in Milan, NY. There's a lot left to do.

My thanks and deepest appreciation to all the mycologists and fellow "muleskinners" I met at NEMF this year. Your shared knowledge, interest, and encouragement for Now, Forager has been invigorating. ¡Viva Sam Ristich!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Giant Puffball Update

We shot our puffball footage, and as promised, here are a couple of different frame grabs.

This Calvatia gigantea was a real beauty--and it fried up nicely in panko bread-crumbed cutlet (shout out to Gary Lincoff for his preferr
ed culinary application).

A scene from "Lucien and the Giant Puffballs" (with apologies to Roald Dahl).

On our way to shoot, we found another log covered in oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus). The cultivated varieties are nice, but I find the flavor much more intense when they grow in the wild.

Roasted in a hot oven (400-425ยบ) in Spanish olive oil is my preferred cooking method for these.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rehearsing with Giant Puffballs

This post's image will be featured on cloth bags and t-shirts that we'll give away as 'thank you' gifts for our upcoming Kickstarter fundraiser. Stay tuned!

We were in Prospect Park yesterday for a rehearsal--co-director Julia Halperin, co-lead Tiffany Esteb, and myself. We played a game of cribbage (which figures into the narrative) and set out to check some spots in the park where I've seen Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) in past years.

It's still way too dry around NY--the precipitation predicted with Hurricane Earl missed us entirely. So I wasn't too optimistic.

We wandered a bit, checking my spots for other wetter-season mushrooms along the way. Everything was dry and dead. But I had heard reports over the Labor Day weekend of puffball discoveries up in the Palisades and had even spotted a patch alongside a busy NJ highway on Saturday afternoon (never pick puffballs near a roadside--they accumulate lead from exhaust fumes of days gone by).

When we finally got near my sacred puffball grounds, my greatest fears were confirmed. A giant puffball alongside the trail...turned to fluffy white shrapnel by someone's foot. Now, I can understand the temptation--giant puffballs are about the size of a soccer ball. To a kid, it might seem the natural thing to do. But to a mycophile, mushroom kickers are not cool.

I stood there among the fungal carnage, staring down into the shreds and chunks of perfectly white, homogeneous flesh that would have been so nice fried up in crispy Panko cutlets. Then Julia let out a little gasp. A few feet away, just on the other side of a low wire fence, was another perfect puffball--bigger than my head.

We hunted down the trail further, and found another three large and lovely GP specimens to overfill our baskets. Plus a log with about 2 lbs of absolutely fresh and perfect oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus).

After rehearsing, we walked back to Grand Army Plaza with heavy baskets and tired arms. We stopped to watch the West Indian Day Parade with all the beautiful people and flashy costumes going by. But even with all that glitz, our mushrooms caught a few eyes.

I'll post some puffy pics later, after we shoot some B-roll.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Short, Dry Summer

There's a helluva lot to do, and not much summer left to do it all.

Casting supporting roles. Locations. Filling out our crew. Trying to raise a few more production dollars. Rewrites. Production design. Rehearsals. More rewrites. Scheduling. Budgeting. Testing equipment. Meetings...

It might be a blessing that much of New York and New Jersey has been experiencing an unusually warm, dry summer. If it wasn't such a crummy time for foraging, I'd be much more tempted to be out prowling Western New Jersey for chanterelles and black trumpets rather than sitting in front of the A/C in my Brooklyn apartment preparing for an October shoot.

I still get out of the city once a week or so...and I've thankfully been finding just enough edible fungi to stoke the fires. I crossed paths with the chicken mushroom (Laetiporus cincinnatus) pictured above last Sunday. Nothing makes a finer tempura than fresh, young chicken mushroom, in my opinion. It also takes to braising very well. I've also had a pretty good summer for different bolete species, but very few chanties and no lactarius or black trumpets to date. Such is life.

And so, while the Mister Softee trucks are still rolling, we'll be busy laying the groundwork for production...and praying for a massive deluge of rainfall come September. The mushrooms must be ready for their close-ups.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Mushroom Movie

That's what our friends are calling it. And I guess that's fair--but at the end of the day, we're hoping there's a bit more on screen than "mushroom porn".

I started researching the script that would evolve into Now, Forager about 5 years ago. I had read an out-of-print cookbook and memoir (A Basque Story Cookbook by Ann Rogers) about the Basque hotels of early 20th c. San Francisco and found a kinship in both the cooking and the culture. Those Basques were tough cookies, and they liked the same kinds of foods that I liked--peppers, tomatoes, ham, wild mushrooms, squid, salt-cod...what's not to love?

I quickly pored through about a dozen or so other books about Basque cooking, plus Mark Kurlansky's excellent The Basque History of the World. In the summer of 2005, I made a trip from my then-home in Austin, TX to San Francisco to interview Gerald Hirigoyen--heralded chef, author, and restaurateur. He graciously allowed me to spend about 9 hours observing and taking notes in his kitchens at Bocadillos and Piperade. An amazing experience for which I am still extremely grateful. (I'll write a separate post about this trip.)

Out of the research, a character started to take shape. A person with a very non-romantic, literal relationship to finding and preparing food. Someone so resistant to compromise that he had trouble holding down a job. A misfit, a misanthrope, a passionate but misguided soul...

My filmmaking partner (Julia Halperin) and I started discussing the nature of "the food movie." Is it a real genre? What films and narrative elements do we like? Which do we hate? What could we contribute that hasn't been said before? And what kind of aesthetic could we realistically achieve with the scrappy resources available to us?

And that's when the idea of foraging really came to the center of the story. For professional foragers, food is a very literal commodity. It's not a metaphor for something else, but rather an end to very primal basic needs. And it was something I already knew about...

I grew up cooking quite a lot. My family fished (salmon, trout, abalone, crabs, ling cod...), hunted (deer, wild pigs, ducks...), gardened (god bless real tomatoes), and foraged (huckleberries, blackberries, pine nuts...). Wild mushrooms, however, were verboten--my maternal grandfather survived a poisoning before I was born. So, as a good-and-proper rebellious teen, that was something I started exploring after leaving home.

I also did some time prepping and washing dishes in restaurants, and later washing kegs at a brewery. But in the professional food world, I'm admittedly an unabashed amateur--one with proper respect for the folks who bust their asses standing in a cramped swelter every night, keeping vampire hours.

I wrote a first draft of the script at a Centrum Institute residency in December of 2006, about a month before Julia and I moved to New York (Brooklyn, to be precise). Soon after, we both joined the New York Mycological Society (founded by John Cage), and quickly became indoctrinated into the obsessive ways of Northeastern fungi hunters. (I currently also serve as the club's newsletter editor.)

After we had some close calls getting a different, higher-budget project into production, we submitted Now, Forager for the Sundance-administered Sloan Foundation development grant. We made it to the last round of consideration, but sadly were not the sole selected project.

With a some budget already raised, Julia and I started casting the following Winter, and pre-production on Now, Forager switched into gear.

And that almost gets us up to speed, but I'll save more for another post...