Last Friday, at the behest of Atlanta Public Library Director
Bill Thomas, a producer of the movie, Dan Kolen, traveled from
Chicago to Atlanta to give a dinner lecture about his duties as
one of the producers of the movie. A sizeable crowd attended the
Atlanta Public Library/Palms Grill Café lecture.
An Iowa native, Dan Kolen brought extensive experience in the
movie industry to the production of “Dead Draw.”
In college Kolen designed his own major, which was called
independent documentary production. It was clear early on that
film was his passion.
After college while living in Chicago, he was having a drink one
evening in a bar trying to figure out how to get financing for a
documentary he wanted to make about an illegal immigrant who had
been living in Rockford. The immigrant had been apprehended and
deported back to Mexico. Kolen tried the usual sources to obtain
the $10,000 he needed to produce the film. Quite by accident, a
former classmate of his wandered into the bar and as they caught
up, Dan mentioned his financing woes for the movie, including
the fact that he had hit up his parents to help out. They
declined. The friend thought about it for a few minutes, and
then was so taken with the concept of the project he agreed to
secure the money. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Dan Kolen made his documentary about the deportee, including
going to Mexico for filming and interviews. The movie was sold
and appeared on CNBC. He has since made documentaries about
organized crime in Chicago, street gangs in the city, and a
death row inmate. All of these movies have made it on CNBC and
the Public Broadcasting System for nationwide viewing.
Kolen got the financing for his first documentary seemingly by
accident after encountering a former classmate in a bar. How he
became involved with an independent movie called “Dead Draw”
follows a similar arc. Kolen lives and works in Chicago. It is a
small market for movie making and projects are few, unlike Los
Angeles and New York. So he supplements his movie making income
by working as an independent director for Chicago ad agencies.
One day Kolen went to begin a job with a Chicago company as a
director when he encountered another acquaintance who was a full
time employee. The friend mentioned he had a movie idea about a
bank robbery gone terribly wrong. He asked Dan if he would be
interested in becoming part of the project as a producer. Once
again, a member of his Chicago network presented Dan Kolen with
Kolen explained to the gathered audience at the Palms dinner
that most large movie projects from major studios have many
producers, each of whom specializes in one area, usually taking
that focused area of expertise from movie to movie, never
getting the opportunity to try something different.
The producers who are gathered together for an independent movie
like “Dead Draw” are fewer in number and have to use skills that
cover many areas. The reason for this is that “Dead Draw,” an
independent film with no major studio backing, had to be made on
a limited budget.
“Dead Draw” is known in the movie trade as a Screen Actors Guild
low budget film, one that will be made with a budget of less
than $200,000. SAG is the union that represents those who work
in the industry. “With a limited budget every penny counts,”
said Kolen. Kolen, considered an associate producer on the
project, had to wear several hats, as did the other eight
producers, who represent a fraction of those who would work on a
major studio backed film.
talking about making “Dead Draw.”
“It was a fun experience for me. I got to do all sorts of jobs as
a producer to help get the film made. I was fully engaged during the
entire production process,” Kolen said.
When the term “low budget film” is used all sorts of negative
connotations may come to mind including amateur scripts, actors with
no talent , and hand held cameras purchased at the local big box
store. All of this could not be further from the truth concerning
The script, which was completed in August 2013, was done by a first
rate screenwriter. The crew of forty in charge of filming, sound,
special effects, make-up, and wardrobe were all experienced, very
talented and sought after members of the movie making community with
lots of serious film projects behind them. The eleven cast members
have had major roles in movies and on television, and are very busy
with their careers.
The Palms Grill Café lecture series drew
a large audience Friday evening.
So how could a limited budget movie like “Dead Draw” attract to
Atlanta and Lincoln, small towns in the heart of the country, the
very best talent that is available nationally to work for much less
than their normal compensation?
Dan Kolen had a surprising and enlightening answer to that question.
It comes down to one word, ‘fun.’ It seems that the movie industry
slows down at the beginning of the year, and very talented
professionals have some time on their hands to take on projects that
they want to do, not work they have to do. “These small budget
movies are their passion projects, movies that intrigue them, and
they want to do regardless of the pay. The scripts are fascinating
and the filming locations just draw them in,” said Kolen.
So when the word went out about “Dead Draw,” that asked the best
young professionals in the industry if they would want to
participate in a low budget movie to be filmed on location in
central Illinois during January, a January that would prove to be
one of the most bitter months in memory, the producers of the movie
received a resounding “YES” from the selected cast and crew! Many of
them lived in warm and sunny southern California, and yet they were
willing to travel to Illinois during the heart of winter.
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Kolen then went on to discuss the three segments of producing a
movie, pre-production, production, and post-production.
Pre-production involves coming up with a concept, writing a
screenplay, gathering a cast and crew, finding a location to film,
and most important, securing funding. The producers of “Dead Draw”
went about funding their movie with a combination of private
sources: those who believed in the project, and also crowd funding
on the internet. The producers circulated a Power Point story board
to the money people to get the story line of “Dead Draw” out.
“People who invest in films do so because they believe in the
project. If they get their money back and something on top of that,
they consider it a good investment. Most private investors are canny
enough to know that they may receive nothing for their investment.
They just want to be part of the project,” said Kolen.
Asked why “Dead Draw” came to Logan County to film, Kolen mentioned
two reasons. The script called for a bank robbery and then an escape
by airplane, so they needed a bank and an airport. After doing some
research and reaching out to Bill Thomas of Atlanta, they found the
perfect spot. The Atlanta National Bank would stand in as the target
of the thieves, and the Logan County Airport would provide the
escape route as the robbers carried their stolen twenty million
dollars on the lam.
Pre-production of the movie? Check!
The actual production of “Dead Draw” on location was another matter.
Because of their limited budget, Dan Kolen and the producers had to
get busy and contact people in Lincoln and Atlanta to see what help
they could expect. “Every penny counted in the production, down to
monitoring every gallon of gas for the budget,” said Kolen. Much to
their pleasure, the movie crew was given the red carpet treatment in
The Atlanta National Bank agreed to be “robbed” one night. The
Heritage-in-Flight Museum hangar at the Logan County Airport was
made available for filming. Use of an airplane was provided by Kevin
Lessen and John Berker. Lincoln College provided a dormitory to
house the cast and crew. “The dorm was a great benefit because we
filmed at night, and when the sun started to come up, we all trooped
back to the dorm sometimes at 4 a.m. to get some sleep. We got in
while folks at a motel would be getting their last few hours of
sleep, so with the dorm we didn’t bother anyone,” said Kolen.
One unique aspect of the production phase of the movie is that it
was filmed almost entirely at night. The script called for the
majority of the action to take place at night. Actually filming at
night was a major cost saver because night scenes filmed on a set
somewhere would have been too costly. “Filming at night outside in
January with snow on the ground made for some fantastic footage,”
said Kolen. “We couldn’t have achieved that effect indoors. It was a
gift,” he added.
But filming at night had its own difficulties. Kolen, as a producer,
had to make sure that the cast and crew were safe given last
January’s frigid temperatures. He also was tasked with wrangling
(his term) the members of the production, getting them where they
needed to be.
The filming went on for eighteen days, with six days of filming and
Sunday off each week during the process. During filming, the
producers also had to insure that everyone was paid on time, and
that the requirements of the Union, the Screen Actors Guild, and the
insurance policy for the film were strictly followed. The production
went off on schedule, and there were no injuries or illness.
Production of “Dead Draw” on location under harsh winter conditions
at night and on budget in Lincoln and Atlanta? Check!
Once the filming was completed, the movie moved into the
post-production phase. “Post-production is where the movie is
actually fixed, meaning no further changes are made,” said Kolen.
The movie was filmed using two cameras running simultaneously in
different locations on the set. In post-production, all of the raw
footage is edited to make the final movie. Along with film editors,
special effects have to be added, audio has to be adjusted, and
finally a score has to be added.
For “Dead Draw”, a nationally recognized composer will write a
unique score for the movie. “We have to give the composer a fixed
movie or parts that are completed for the score to be composed. Even
a change of a half-second in the movie will cause problems with the
sound, special effects, and music,” he said.
Once the movie is completed, ‘in the can’ in movie lingo, it will be
given to another team of producers whose task is to show it to movie
distributors and at film festivals. The movie needs to be seen by
the movie industry in hopes that it will be deemed a marketable
show. The more screens it is shown on, the better the chance of it
moving into the mainstream.
Post-production of a movie about a bank robbery gone terribly wrong,
the murder of the pilot, the robbers then being trapped in a hangar
at an airport by unknown outside forces and filmed in central
Illinois during the winter? A work in progress with a tentative 2015
Dan Kolen was asked two final questions at the Palms Grill lecture.
What was your most frustrating moment while filming, and what has
been your most exciting moment?
When asked the first question, Kolen could not restrain a laugh.
“You only want one frustrating moment? I guess if I had to choose
one, it would be the amount of legal paperwork I had to handle to
get the movie made. No, wait; there was also the stress of keeping
everything on schedule so that what little money we had would take
us through to the end. Oh, and dealing with movie insurance
companies and SAG. I can’t just name one,” he finally admitted.
As to his most exciting moment, well this was an easy one for a
committed movie maker. “I finally got to see the first scene that
was filmed, a tracking shot down the aisle of a church. When I saw
that, I knew we had something special. I got really excited,” he
said. It was in that moment all of the frustration receded and the
real reason for making movies emerged, the excitement of seeing the
tangible evidence of making a movie on screen.
Movie producer Dan Kolen wanted to make one final point about
filming “Dead Draw” in Atlanta and Lincoln, small town middle
America. “One of the things I found fascinating about this
experience was to see the interaction between the movie crew and
actors, many of whom come from Los Angeles and Chicago, and the
people of Atlanta and Lincoln. It was a chance for big city folks to
live and work in small town middle America, and for folks from small
towns to meet and work with big city folks from the movie industry.
It was a wonderful experience for all of us, and could not have gone
better,” he said.