Julian Schwartz is nervous. It’s minutes before the start time for a test screening of “Let Me Down Slowly,” a movie he produced, and the DVD isn’t working with the computer. In show business this is referred to as “technical difficulties.” There is a brief whispered discussion in which the word “cancel” can be heard followed by a tense cell phone call. Fifteen minutes later Christopher Kelley, the movie’s writer/director, arrives with a new DVD; Schwartz breathes a sigh of relief. But, wait, that DVD isn’t working either. Finally, 30 minutes late, the lights dim and the movie starts.
Hey, Tinseltown’s most famous directors probably experienced similar scenarios when they screened their debut movies…. you gotta start somewhere.
Kelley, a 2012 Mt. Lebanon High School grad, began writing the script for his first feature film, “Let Me Down Slowly,” in June of 2010. It started as a zombie movie then morphed into what he calls horror/black comedy in which four high school students deal with sex, drugs, death and some unidentified scary thing lurking outside the house. To help make his vision a reality, Kelley brought in 2010 Lebo grads Jaymes R. Jennings and Julian Schwartz as cinematographer and producer respectively. Kelley’s grandmother Dorothy Dale Sherwood, Moffett Street, also got a co-producer credit.
Kelley recruited the cast—Caroline Connell, Craig James Ketchum, Tory Pasternak and Quinn Kobelak—at school; only Pasternak, however, was a friend before shooting began. In the fall and winter of 2011, Kelley and his crew used a Canon HD camera to film at his grandmother’s house and locations in Castle Shannon and Mt. Washington with the $10,000 budget coming from Kelley’s dad and grandmother with Schwartz contributing the rest. Postproduction took the first half of 2012, and Schwartz, a media arts student at Robert Morris University, says the opportunity to make a film and learn the ins and out of the process firsthand was of the most educationally valuable experiences he’s had.
Just a few days after the film’s debut, Schwartz, who runs a freelance videography company called JJW Productions, headed back to Robert Morris while Kelley was off to Ithaca College for his freshman year in cinema and photography.
“I have a couple of scripts written for a second project,” Kelley says, “however I really want to enjoy the college experience without adding too much to my already full plate. I plan to take a year or two off before starting production on another film.” His dream is to one day adapt the Virginia Woolf novel “Mrs. Dalloway.”
Although their attentions might now be diverted, this is not the end of “Let Me Down Slowly”—the duo, who hope to work together in the future, plan to submit the 70-minute film to the Sundance and Slamdance festivals. Seeing that Sundance receives nearly 10,000 submissions and Slamdance more than 5,000 annually (and only screens a fraction of those), it’s a gamble. But it’s a gamble that now Oscar-winning directors Joel and Ethan Coen took back in 1985 and that seems to have paid off. Yes, you gotta start somewhere.