Filmmaking | Interviews

Catch of the Day

1 Jun , 2006  

Written by Pamela Coleman | Posted by:

Producer Shirley Wolf describes how a responsible business model, the new short film Bootful of Fish, and an upcoming feature, all have Bulkhead Pictures reeling it in... in NH.

"Are You a Nice Person?" was the title of the ad Shirley Wolf answered in the local Portsmouth, NH Wire in July 2005. "It was a casting call, [placed by Bulkhead Pictures] but they were also looking for people to work behind the scenes. I was looking for something different," Wolf recalls, "so I sent my head shot and my resume." Wolf laughs. "I found out later I was the only person to answer that ad!"

In her mid-40s with a quick and genuine smile, Shirley Wolf is an enthusiastic ambassador for Bulkhead Pictures, LLC, an independent film production company based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Bulkhead had just wrapped up shooting its most recent project, the short film Bootful of Fish, when Wolf sat down for an interview on a recent Saturday morning, during a torrential downpour.

"For 13 years, I helped my now ex-husband start up and run several ‘mom & pop’ radio stations in New England. After the divorce, I moved to Portsmouth and was getting into video production to help my own marketing consulting business expand," Wolf explained. After "lots of research," Wolf bought "the best 3CCD camera I could afford at the time, a Panasonic PV-GS400 for $1700." After finding she enjoyed the process of video, Wolf decided to explore opportunities in the independent film world. Her initiative landed her a position with Bulkhead Pictures. "I basically did a little bit of everything, from administrative work, to graphic design, to marketing." Bulkhead founders director Michael Gillis, screenwriter Lars Trodson, and director of photography Jonathan Millman liked what they saw and asked Wolf to become a principal.

"Michael, Lars, and Jonathan are all more on the creative side," Wolf says, while "I have an extensive business background." When asked what role she plays in the Bulkhead mix, Wolf humbly explains, "I guess with my business background, and attention to detail, I’m the glue that brings it all together. That’s what my partners would say."

Before the musical comedy Bootful of Fish, Bulkhead’s founders, Gillis, Trodson, and Millman collaborated on the critically acclaimed 16-minute short The Listeners, a dramatic character study with three speaking roles, that won Best Short Film in the New Hampshire Film Expo and won the judges’ competition award at the Filmstream Short Film Festival in Rochester last fall. Wolf says that The Listeners was also recently selected as just one of 11 narrative shorts to be screened at the Memphis Film Festival.

As for any artistic similarities between Bulkhead’s two shorts, Wolf is quoted in a recent Bulkhead press release: "Bootful is a 180 degree turn away from The Listeners. While it is also a short film, Bootful is a joyous musical comedy. It’s a celebration of not only that wonderful film genre, but of theater life and of family."

The seemingly diametrically opposed projects were calculated to be so. "We don’t necessarily expect to make any money with these projects," says Wolf. "[Our intent with these shorts is to] gain skills and the respect of the Northern New England film community. That will only help us as we go forward." As for making money, however, the Bulkhead team does expect to do so in the future, with the release of its first feature film. "We don’t expect to make any real money on the shorts except to possibly recoup some of the expenses," Wolf says. "Mostly, we want to become as experienced as possible as independent filmmakers."

Wolf would not provide any details as to the content of the feature, except to say it was conceived of as a thriller ‘whodunit’ with great characters, twists and turns, a surprise ending, and, of course, a wish list of Hollywood talent to participate. With a million dollar proposed budget, the team is a long way from the $14,000 just spent to shoot Bootful.

The budget doesn’t intimidate Wolf, however. While The Listeners was entirely self-funded by Gillis, Trodson, and Millman, the Bulkhead team raised all $14,000 to shoot Bootful of Fish from local donors and investors. At a series of cocktail parties at small Portsmouth area restaurants, The Listeners was screened to potential investors, as was the new Robert Cray music video, on which Millman was director of photography. The strategy worked.

Wolf says that through an "innovative donation scheme," individuals were asked to invest in the Bootful of Fish project. Those donating from $100 to $999 were designated "Angel Donors" and were promised a personal thank you in the credits. Those investing $1000 or more were called "investors" and offered a "donor share." Under this scenario, the investor was promised an on screen thank you, invited to participate as an extra in Bootful, and guaranteed a one percent share of net income (up to one million dollars) of the future feature film. Thus, said Wolf, a $1,000 investment could potentially earn an investor $10,000. Bulkhead’s first party for Bootful took place in January 2006. All of the money was raised in a matter of months.

For the feature film, which, Wolf says, Bulkhead hopes to start shooting in October 2006 the team will continue its grassroots effort by staging house parties, and networking with individual investors in the area. They also have the assistance of several local lawyers who will help them navigate the film financing waters, and… avoid the sharks.

Bootful of Fish will premier at the Rochester Opera House this summer, where most of the film was shot. Wolf says it will also play at area theaters and be submitted to festivals. When asked what the team will do if their feature becomes a runaway hit and makes some serious money, Wolf dreamily sighed, and answered "become full-time filmmakers." As for the pull of Hollywood, Wolf adamantly replied, "We’re not slicked up. We are storytellers who want to give moviegoers the chance to escape in a great story that’s beautifully photographed. New England is the nicest place there is. Plus, there is so much talent here with people who have escaped the urban environment. Why would we want to make movies anywhere else?"

For more information on Bootful of Fish, visit www.bulkheadpictures .com/Bootful-Of-Fish.htm and for more information on Bulkhead Pictures, visit www.bulkheadpictures .com/.

For more information on Bootful of Fish, visit www.bulkheadpictures .com/Bootful-Of-Fish.htm and for more information on Bulkhead Pictures, visit www.bulkheadpictures .com/.

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