S A B E R F R O G
About the Movie
Ten years ago, Josh was cool. Today, he's just another slacker burnout hitting early middle age. He's lost his job. His friends have scattered. And now he's learned that his favorite author, creator of a sci-fi franchise from his childhood, has died.In this time of need, mysterious voices call to Josh, sending him on an epic quest to find his old gang. Perhaps if he can reunite them, it will somehow bring back the good old days. But time has moved on, and his friends have made their own lives. They don't hear the voices. It will be a challenge to get them to join his quest. The quest will lead Josh and his friends through a world of adventure, horror, laughs and thrills. Along the way, they will face regret, unfilled potential, unrequited love, and underground Canadian porn. Ultimately, they will be forced to confront a buried secret from their shared past, uncovering the strange force that has been drawing them all back together. This is the story of a generation of nerds, rebels and dropouts, searching for purpose in a world without rules. Can they finally get over themselves and take their rightful place in adult society, or are they doomed forever to wallow in their long-lost, misspent youth? Only time - and lots of regular unleaded - will answer this question.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Filmmaker Curt Markham began writing the script for "Saberfrog" in mid-2006. "I wanted to explore the subject of Generation X slackers and rebels reaching early middle age," says Curt. "Throughout the 90s there was so much emphasis on our generation being young, angry and defiant, and this seemed to be quietly forgotten once we hit the 21st century. I thought it was time for a Generation X equivalent of "The Big Chill", but with a difference: Whereas the 60s generation was obsessed with politics, X-ers are much more preoccupied with pop culture. Everyone my age I know is obsessed with science fiction and fantasy, and these epic stories seemed to present the only stable moral framework for a lot of messed-up kids. I wanted to address this in the story."
The story follows Josh, a down-and-out slacker who goes on a quest to find and reunite four of his old college friends: Bert, Aymee, Laurel and Terrance. "It was a challenging script," says Curt, "because it required fleshing out all of the characters' backstories – how they separated, what they'd been up to since then, where they were living now – and finding a way to convey all of this while keeping the plot moving. It also became a more humorous script with each draft. It started out as a dark drama, but this is a story about a gang of immature misfits and that lent itself to comedy."
Casting began in early 2008. In the all-important lead role of Josh, Curt cast J.D. Edmond, a friend whom he'd worked with on the short film "Enter the Dagon" and the low-budget feature "Curse the Darkness". "Jesse brought a lot of charisma to a character that could have been unlikable in lesser hands," says Curt. "I'd only seen him do comedy before, but this performance proves he has real chops as a dramatic actor. He created the right mix of humor and pathos for the part."
Another veteran of Markham's previous films was cult B-movie actor John Karyus. "I first met John at RIT film school," says Curt, "where he quickly established himself as a character actor everyone wanted to work with. For "Saberfrog", I wrote the part of Bert especially for John, hoping that he would be available to play it. He lives and works in LA now, but he was able to clear his schedule for two weeks to return to the East Coast for the shoot."
Wendy Foster was cast as Aymee. "Wendy expressed interest in working on the film and having an acting role," says Curt. "On a no-budget movie, it's important to fill the lead roles with people you know are enthusiastic. Like Jesse, she brought charm and sweetness to a difficult character." Wendy's connections in Rochester's spoken-word community helped with the casting of supporting roles in the film.
Reuben Josephe Tapp plays Terrance, formerly the craziest member of the gang and now the most stable. "I met Reuben through the Rochester Movie Makers organization," says Curt. "I invited him to a table reading of the script, and he nailed both sides of the character immediately. I'm glad he was able to clear his busy acting schedule to play such a large role in the movie."
Finally, Liz Mariani was cast as Laurel. "I had trouble casting the part," says Curt, "until I sent out a casting announcement in the Buffalo area and Liz responded. She had the right look and attitude for the character, and her deadpan humor brought Laurel to life." Mariani also became an assistant producer on "Saberfrog", her knowledge of Buffalo and its arts community allowing her to secure filming locations and cast small roles and extras.
"Saberfrog" was filmed in Rochester and Buffalo in the summer of 2008, from late June to mid-August. "It's a character-driven, dialogue-driven script," says Curt, "which you would think would be easy to shoot. Of course, it wasn't that simple. There were numerous location changes, there were car scenes, there were flashbacks in which the actors had to look several years younger. In hindsight, it's amazing we pulled it all off."
The complex shooting schedule was made possible by the advent of HDV, an increasingly popular hi-definition prosumer format. "The movie was shot with a Canon HV30," says Curt, "which is very small and very portable. All those car scenes would have been very difficult to do with a bulkier camera. I was able to do most of the shooting myself, holding the camera in one hand and the boom – actually a lightweight monopod – in the other. This guerrilla-style filming not only meant we could shoot fast, it meant that the actors could stay in character and keep their performances going, rather than constantly having to stop for technical reasons."
A year of editing followed, with some pickup shooting in late 2009. Curt: "There were various minor characters who never shared the screen with the main cast, such as voices on a telephone or on the evening news. Casting and filming these roles was a low priority during principal photography, but with the rough cut coming together I had the luxury of knowing what holes I needed to fill."
Two big holes in the film remained, though. "Without giving too much of the story away," says Curt, "there is a sort of dream sequence where fantasy and reality combine for Josh, and animation seemed to be the simplest way of conveying this. When I started showing the rough cut to my filmmaker friends for feedback, I had onscreen captions explaining the missing visuals." Franklin Kielar, a local animator, was present at one of these screenings and volunteered his services. "I made animated films as a student," says Curt, "but I'd already worn several hats on this film and didn't really want to do the animation as well. Fortunately Frank was able to take my rough storyboards and other varied suggestions and transform it all into artwork." John Centrone, a local composer, also contributed to the film. "John's music complements the film well. No-budget films are often sparse in their soundtracks, but John delivered an orchestral sound that really captured Josh's otherworldly attitude to life."
"Saberfrog" was a creatively satisfying project, says Curt: "This was a journey I had to go on. I'd taken a break from filmmaking for various reasons, but this was a story I had to tell, and I'm very happy with how it's turned out."