Michael J. Hickey got squarely into character and tried to climb the smeared walls of his confinement cell in a backyard near Harlem Avenue. His handlers looked on with approval.
But before you call the cops, understand this is Hollywood, Niles-style. Hickey’s T-shirt looked blood-smeared, and so did the walls of his plain, empty room. But Hickey, of Morton Grove, is an actor and the dried-blood color on the walls was comprised of cocoa powder and red food coloring.
He's the sole performer in Michael Kosciesza’s and Tomasz Wysocki’s film debut, “White Walls.” Acting as producer and jack-of-all-trades, Kosciesza aims to follow a path well-trodden by the likes of Steven Spielberg and other movie auteurs who began in their back yards or on neighborhood streets.
Constructing their own studio
In this case, Kosciesza’s “studio” is the room he and director Wysocki built themselves next to Kosciesza’s garage in back of his home in the 7200 block of Lill Street. Their crew and talent are all twenty-somethings, and all former classmates at ; their budget for the 10-minute film is just $3,000. The compensation of crew and talent is “food, water and a lot of love,” Kosciesza said.
“I told my dad (Adam Kosciesza) this is an investment for my future,” he added. “He wanted me to have a 9-to-5 (job), make money. I’d rather follow my passion now. I couldn’t do it without my crew.”
Wrapping up filming this week, Kosciesza and company worked late at night to avoid the heat of the afternoon in the unventilated studio, covererd by a blue tarp. He and Wysocki began construction after the worst of the mid-summer storms, so they avoided a potentially huge headache.
So how'd he get into the white room?
“White Walls” is just the type of story film festivals world-wide would expose, a goal of Kosciesza’s after editing finishes at year’s end. The character played by Hickey is trapped in solitary confinement in a white room he decides to paint red. As to how he got into the room or where he got the paint, well, watch the movie.
While all the others have their jobs in creating the film, a lot hangs on Hickey's performance.
“It’s definitely takes a lot of weird mental preparation,” Hickey said. “My whole angle of acting is observation, concentration, relaxation. When you focus on all three of those, it’s easy to get into the mindset, the facial expressions, the little things you do.”
He's the one charged with interpreting the words that Kosciesza teamed with Wysocki to write.
“We kept developing the story of ‘White Walls’ so much that we decided to write a short script,” Kosciesza said. “After months of revisions and changes, we saw the summer of 2011 as a perfect opportunity for us to start production.”
The producer, who also performs some free-lance work via his company, Motion in Stills, shopped on Craiglist for much of his construction material. He further saved on equipment costs because he already owned the camera and most of the sound and lighting equipment.
A dedicated crew
The labor is one of love so far. Donating their time in exchange for experience and exposure are production manager Erdem Ertal, cinematographer Arthur Swidzinski, script supervisor Chris McDonald, first assistant camera/gaffer Josh Romero, camera assistant/grip Daniel Bragiel and audio specialists Derek Kuehn and Sarah Carlson.
But Hickey might just work the hardest. He gets the dirtiest.
“I like it (messy),” he said. “It makes me feel like an artist. I’ve become a painter in my own little world. Lot of nights after being on set so long, I go home and stay up till 5 or 6, then sleep a little while. It’s kind of altered my whole daily pattern. It takes a little toll on me, but it’s something I can handle.”
Kosciesza likes the adrenaline of the project, too.
He grew up admiring filmmakers George Romero, the zombie-master, and Sam Raimi, along with the Coen brothers. He knows patience is required for his big break.
He may not have much money, but he has the producer’s attitude as he waits to see if he can build his reputation in the upcoming film festivals.
“This is a professional film site,” he said.
Stay tuned to Patch for photos of the film set, coming Wednesday.