One important scene takes place in a bar at a pool table. I knew that there could be no worthy substitute for a bar, so I went in search of the right one early in my locations scouting process. What I was looking for was a downscale place with either a single pool table, or one that was fairly isolated from others. I wanted something a bit cozy, but also with enough room to enable good camera work.
After visiting several dozen places, I found two good prospects and asked in each for the bar owners’ contact information. I made the phone calls and left messages about what I wanted. No one returned the calls, so I tried again. Same result.
When Angel came to Dallas on his first visit, I took him by the two bars. We talked to the managers on duty. They took my number and promised to have someone call me. Again, no one did. This was going nowhere fast.
Another place that Angel and I considered was a big cavernous bar on a highway well outside of town. He liked it a lot because it was a down-trodden place of the sort the movie’s character would visit. I was worried about it because of acoustics issues and the fact that it was open 7 days a week, morning to night, so we’d have to contend with patrons’ noise.
After Angel left, I reinitiated the search and found another prospect, a bar in the Lakewood section of Dallas. This one was good because the guy behind the bar at noon, when the place opened, said he was the owner of the business. He was eager to have the film at his bar and agreed to the sum I was offering. He signed the Location Agreement.
Something about the man made me uneasy. He had hard, unfeeling eyes and a snide attitude. I decided that I would look for a backup bar in case he changed his mind, although I had no inkling of why he would.
The next bar I found was equally good, Belzie’s Bar. It had an isolated pool table and sufficient room. And, like the Lakewood place, the business owner was there. He also agreed to the sum I offered and said he would sign the agreement after his attorney looked at it.
I went back to Belzie’s several times over the next three months trying to get a signed agreement, but was unable to close the deal. Lakewood looked like it would be the film site.
During pre-production, only a couple of days before we were to begin filming—with the first scene scheduled to be at the bar—I took some crew to Lakewood to do some measurements. I had been unable to reach the owner to tell him we were coming by, but thought it should be no problem to go by during the bar’s open hours.
When we entered, the crew began looking for electric sockets near the pool table. The woman behind the bar asked what the hell was going on. I was outside and was called in to talk with her.
It is hard to describe the level of animosity she projected when I told her that the owner had agreed to let us film at the bar. She said, “No way. I am joint owner and I agreed to absolutely nothing.” No amount of kind words would warm her up. She didn’t say the deal was off, but I was worried.
I tried to call the man who’d signed the agreement, but still couldn’t get through to him. Very worried, I scrambled to reconnect with my alternative, Belzie’s Bar.
Fortunately, I reached the owner’s assistant, who said that, yes, the film could still be done at Belzie’s starting on Sunday morning. I made arrangements for the bar to be opened for us at 5 am, with a promise that we would have it to ourselves until 2 pm, the normal opening time on Sundays.
I was really, really on edge Saturday night before filming started for a host of reasons. Among them was worry that no one would really show up to open Belzie’s and that they would not answer the phone at 4:30 in the morning to get them to do so. And, that evening, 12 hours before we were to being filming, the guy from Lakewood finally contacted me. He emailed one sentence saying that I was no longer welcome to film at his bar. That was no surprise and I’d already shifted to Belzie’s, so it didn’t matter. I speculate that he’d intended not telling his partner about the film and pocketing the location fee himself, but couldn’t get away with it.
At 4:30 am I was standing in the dark outside Belzie’s when the equipment truck pulled up. My heart soared as I realized that now my filming was to begin. And at the same time, I was gripped with fear that we’d still be standing outside hours from now, waiting to get in. But just then, the door opened. Elation!
Inside, I saw no one I recognized, not the owner, his manager, nor any of the bar personnel. An entirely new guy was having a drink already at the bar, claiming that he was the new owner. I gulped hard and went to talk to him about doing a Location Agreement and was wondering whether I had to pay a second location fee, as the first one had already been paid to the “first owner.”
After I had got agreement from the second owner, the first owner arrived. He sat at the other end of the bar to have a drink and was glowering at the new owner. When the manager came, I asked her what was going on with the ownership. She explained that the bar had been sold to pay a debt between the two and the closing of the sale wouldn’t take place until the next day, Monday, so I was still okay with the first location agreement. She went on to say that the two men were enemies and would best be kept apart. Oh, great, I thought, just what we need—two guys who hate each other drinking at 5:00 am.
Soon filming got underway and I no longer thought about the bar owners. Not, at least, until we neared noon. Suddenly I noticed that there were patrons coming in, which not only messed up the lighting with sunlight every time the door opened, but caused noise and disruption. I asked the owners what was going on.
I learned that the new owner had decided that he would change the Sunday hours from opening at 2:00 to opening at 12:00 to allow patrons to see the Cowboys’ game on TV. We were nearing a wrap on this scene, so I negotiated for them to keep the TV on mute another 45 minutes. I told Roger we had to put it in high gear, as we needed to get out and get on with the next location anyway.
As we left Belzie’s, I was so very glad the scene was done and fervently hoped that no other locations would be as problematic. More importantly, I was grateful that I had a backup plan for the bar. And I vowed that from now on, I would check the ownership question more carefully.
This is another retrospective look the search for filming locations. It concerns finding a place for a scene that is supposed to take place in a pathology lab where autopsies are conducted. In my imagination, it was starkly lit, had several stainless steel tables, and equipment that was genuine. But my phone calls to locate such a facility that would let us film were fruitless. So, we started looking at places that were not actually morgues, but which might be suitable with tweaking.
One of the facilities Angel and I went to was a rather strange one. It is a company that prepares dead bodies for shipment. There were a couple of sloped tables with buckets below and hoses to them. Bodies would be put there and drained of their fluids and then double-bagged, hermetically sealed, and placed in containers for shipping. The place was poorly lit, with scarred and dirty flooring, and the equipment was not at all right. Angel proposed that we pay to paint the floors, rent the right equipment, and do our best to make it work. I was not game for spending the money and time for a location that I didn’t think could be made to work.
Sometimes you have to give up your preconceived notions and revamp the scene, especially if it is not one integral to the plot. The pathology lab was such an example. Although it would have added great production value to have a real pathology lab, the amount of time being devoted to the search was out of kilter with the short length and importance of the scene. I decided that I would change the scene to be one which takes place in a hallway outside of the lab.
James Mack, Manager of the City of Mesquite Arts Center, was someone I knew because I worked with him with on a few exhibits at the Arts Center in the past and I had an upcoming show of my photography there in the fall of 2016. After the fiasco with the TFC, I emailed Jim to ask if we might speak with him regarding the potential to using the Arts Center as a base for the film. He agreed.
Jim is very practical and businesslike, and is a strong supporter of all the arts. When Angel and I met with him, he was open not only to our using a large room at the Center for our base of operations for 6 weeks, but also to using sites within the Center for filming. This was absolutely the break we needed, but there were hurdles yet to overcome.
Getting a film permit from the City of Mesquite was not easy. It required filling out a detailed form, providing a precise list of film sites and times, checking of our references, and meeting stringent insurance requirements. Accomplishing all of this took about 6 weeks. The joy I felt when that permit was finally in hand was over the moon. We had a headquarters as well as a location for filming more than half of the scenes.
Not only were we being allowed to use the Arts Center in Mesquite, but also the City Building (a gorgeous structure with great production value) both inside and out, and city streets. My gratitude to the City of Mesquite knows no bounds. Without their support, Revenge In Kind would not be the quality it is, and perhaps might not even have been made.
One of the most challenging locations to find for the film was for the hospital scene. While you can fake it with a bed in a small room, there are things like oxygen spigots on the wall, vital signs monitors and, well, just the look—almost the sterile aroma—of a true hospital room.
Angel and I scoured Dallas, looking for any site that would work, but came up with nothing. After he’d left in May, I continued to visit many hospitals, both large and small, then started checking nursing homes, going to more than a dozen. For varying reasons, no one wanted a film made at their facility.
One day while in Mesquite, I revisited the Dallas Regional Medical Center (DRMC), which had previously been a scratch. Luck was with me and I got to speak with the Director of Emergency, Lisa Fox, who was open-minded to the idea of using the facility for the film. She asked for a presentation that she could submit to her administration to seek approval. I delivered a PowerPoint with supporting documentation in record time. Then began the wait. I kept looking for alternatives, but the DRMC was my only hope. I was on pins and needles for 4 months until we finally got a Location Agreement signed with DMRC in early August.
Our good fortune with the City of Mesquite continued into the filming. Jumping ahead with my story a bit, here is a vignette. We’d been assigned a point of contact with the city, Carol Abbott, who was diligent and enthusiastic about the project. She helped us overcome little obstacles continuously, but one day, there was a really big problem. We were scheduled to shoot some scenes in the City Building, including in one of the two large conference rooms. We confirmed the schedule with Carol several times because changing it would not only mess up the filming schedule for other locations, but also wreck havoc on logistics.
We were due to film on a Monday, but received word just before the weekend that the City Council had decided suddenly that they would meet in the room that Monday and we would be bumped. I nearly had a melt down, but Carol came to the rescue. She offered to come in on Sunday to allow us to film. Not only was that okay, it was superb. We would have the building to ourselves and not have to worry about people walking onto our scene or uncontrollable noises messing up our audio. This was just one example of the above-and-beyond attitude of Carol and the City of Mesquite.
The Texas Film Commission (TFC) has a program that offers about 10% back of money spent in Texas for films that employ Texas residents as 70% of their cast and crew. This would have a huge beneficial impact on the budget of RIK, so I wanted to make sure that we qualified and applied for it.
Angel and made an appointment with the head of the Dallas office of the TFC and I sent a copy of the screenplay to the director of the office in advance, along with a list of what we’d like in the way of specific help. We wanted not only to qualify for and obtain the incentive, but also wanted help with film locations, a point of contact with local police (to help with authenticity), and contacts to get necessary permits. We knew that there were others who had filmed in Dallas and wanted to make use of what we assumed were well-known procedures and contacts.
We arrived at the TFC and were greeted by two very somber young men who showed us to a conference room. They sat and made polite conversation with us, but wouldn’t answer many questions, telling us to await their boss, who was running late.
When the office director entered and sat at the head of the table, she was scowling, clearly a bad sign. We made introductions, then she got right to business. She said she had read the screenplay while she was on an airplane back to Dallas. The look on her face was as if she’d just eaten something that tasted very bad; she actually made a face. She proceeded to tell us that the plot and some of the action in the film are repugnant and that she didn’t think that the film would be something that the City of Dallas would want to be associated with. Then she specifically addressed our request that we be able to film at the police department saying, “I can assure you that the Dallas Police would turn down your request, based on the nature of your screenplay.”
I was shocked. Could it really be that the TFC was exercising censorship, trying to determine what the content should be of films made in Dallas? Would she really deny us help with the film because she objected to the screenplay? As it turned out, the answer was yes.
Early the next morning, we received word from the TFC that the Dallas Police Department (DPD) had, indeed, declined our request to film outside their headquarters, to provide a point of contact for advice, or to help us in any way whatsoever. I found this to be remarkable not only with regard to the speed of the reply, but to its comprehensiveness.
I decided to call the DPD Office of Public Affairs myself. I explained to the representative on the phone what we were doing, the nature of the film, and asked if I might have an appointment with her to discuss DPD help. She was very friendly and agreed readily to see me. However, before that meeting could ever take place, it was inexplicably cancelled and my calls were no longer returned.
Not long after the meeting with the TFC, we were told that there would be absolutely no funds available to us from the Incentive Program. In fact, we were told that we needn’t even file the paperwork because, although the fiscal year in which we’d film was still 6 months away, all monies had been committed to other projects. The only benefit of this was freeing me up from the requirement to hire Texas residents.
Although the TFC would provide us with a little bit of help over the course of the project—most importantly to post our job openings on the TFC website—Angel and I agreed early on that we could not depend upon the TFC for important help. In fact, as we later learned, the TFC Dallas office sought to undermine our project by telling officials at the City of Mesquite, where we received help with the filming, that they should not be associating their city with such a movie as ours.
A fun, creative thing I did to get the film project underway in early March 2016 was to start looking for filming locations. I began with friends and family, asking who’d be willing to let me use their houses. Almost all of them said yes, but few of my friends really meant it. It took me awhile to sort out that they were unwilling because they wouldn’t come right out and tell me. They just kept putting off when I could come by to photograph, or not signing the Location Agreement.
I turned to Air BnBs to fill the gaps. But this presented problems too. Often I would find a place that was ideal, only to that the owner wasn’t willing, usually because they’d already had a negative experience with film crews or because they objected to the nature of Revenge In Kind.
I found one Air BnB that was fabulous. It was located on the second story of what appeared to be a derelict warehouse. To reach the apartment, you climbed a narrow, decaying staircase and entered a very old place with large windows, pipes showing, and just the sort of place you’d expect an evil psychopath to hide out. As I was talking with the owners, they asked me, “Is there anything immoral in the film?” I replied that “immoral” is dependent on one’s point of view and probed further. It turned out that they didn’t want any film that wasn’t “Christian in orientation” or that had any “evil” in it. I had to give up that place with a large measure of disappointment.
One of the lead characters in RIK is an artist, but I hadn’t decided what kind. I was thinking of a metal sculptor, but I had to keep an open mind because the set was more important than the type of art. If I found a really good art studio, it would dictate the type of artist for my character.
It was fun to visit and talk with many artists and see their studios. After going to a number of them, I found a man who had a marvelous backyard studio under a large roof. And he was a metal and wood sculptor. He readily agreed to let me use his studio and we made an agreement for me to pay him a set amount for a single work of art (to be the artwork of the character) and for the filming. I left him with the Location Agreement to sign, as he wanted some time to read it over. Two weeks later, when I called to come by and pick it up, he had changed his mind and now wanted 25 times the price we’d shaken hands on. He said his friend had told him it was the going rate for movies. Rather than argue the point, I moved on.
I finally found an even better studio with a wonderfully creative artist, Rebecca Boatman, who was both genial and a straight-shooter. This time I explained up front that we were a low-budget film and that what I offered would be a final sum, so she should tell me at the outset if it wouldn’t be acceptable. She was enthusiastic about participating in the art of it all, and was willing to sculpt a special piece for the lead character. And her studio was beautiful.
(One of my great regrets is that the film didn’t include a shot of her professional kilns, which would have lent authenticity and value to the scene. I should have been much more assertive with the Director about what to shoot for B Roll.)
Although I located more than half of the filming sites myself, I give Angel credit for finding many as well when he later came to Dallas. And in some cases, we collaborated.
There are not that many gun stores in Dallas that are film worthy. I had visited them all and found 3 that would work and whose owners were open to the idea. When Angel arrived in April, we went together to pick one of them. Angel thought one was too small and located too far away. We liked the second one best, but they wanted several thousand dollars for just part of a day (they’d been previously paid a high sum when Walker Texas Ranger had filmed there). The third was my favorite, so I was glad it worked out.
In all, I drove almost 2000 miles around Dallas to find appropriate locations for filming. I was glad that I started early because it took 5 months to find most of the sites.