Pathway Productions paves the way for documentaries in IndianapolisPaul F. P. Pogue
The turning point was five years ago, when Michael Husain, founder of Pathway Productions, and Matt Mays, vice president in charge of production, sat in a room in their Broad Ripple offices and discussed buying their own Avid high-end video editing system.
"That was a big point in my mind," Mays recalls. "I was like, 'We're big enough now to have our own Avid?'"
That big, and more. Pathway Productions, which started out in Husain's basement in 1998, has grown in leaps and bounds over the last several years, and they've established themselves as nationally respected documentary producers with a staff of 24 and a full suite of editing gear. Their downtown offices are a far cry from that room in Broad Ripple where they did freelance editing on documentaries for A&E and the History Channel for shows like American Justice and Biography.
With their reputation secured by eight Emmy Awards for their work on ESPN's SportsCentury - inscribed with the names of Husain, Mays, Sara Snow, Heather Grisham and Jeremy Pinckert - Pathway turns out an ever-increasing slate of work.
"We didn't have any grand vision besides maybe we could do a few more documentaries," Husain says. "It sort of took on a life of its own."
Their relationship with ESPN, established in 1999, was the first major turning point for the burgeoning company.
"We just contacted them and said, 'Do you need any help?'" Husain says. "We wound up getting a three-show contract from them. Before those first three were done, we got two more, and we've grown and nurtured the relationship since then."
The name "Pathway" comes from Husain's father, a microbiologist who used to own a laboratory called Pathway Labs.
Mays, who at 28 is still a young gun, ended up with the company by chance, and inside of a year was directing documentaries.
"I was editing overnight at a place that Mike was using during the day and literally just met him," Mays says. "I figured I was going to leave for the West Coast with a few bucks in my pocket. I literally lucked out. I had no idea that I could do broadcast work out here."
Mays started out doing grunt work, like assembling the tedious rights packages that go into every documentary, and soon moved up the ladder. As VP of production, Mays is now in charge of the creative side of Pathway, including writing, shooting, editing and completion. He and Husain have forged a partnership that continues to succeed.
"We evolved really quickly," Husain says. "I had been in places where they threw me right in the fire and learned a ton that way, and I figured I'd give it a shot, too. We definitely reached a point a couple of years ago where we knew each other's sensibilities so well. We know there are any number of projects that Matt will just take and go with and sign off on. He has earned all that respect and credibility."
The homegrown hero
The latest and greatest challenge for Pathway has been the recently completed SportsCentury: Peyton Manning. It represented their first attempt at profiling an Indianapolis icon, and the highest profile athlete they've ever covered. It was also one of the first ESPN shows to be shot in high definition, which raised the stakes even more.
"We know ultimately we want to get to more of an emotional revelation," Husain says. "But in order to get there you have to be smart about the factual stuff. There's a whole lot of nit and grit and digging around and figuring out, 'Who is this guy? What's he done? Why does everybody think he's so great?'
"So you get the core level that everyone knows and understands. Then you try to figure out why. For Peyton Manning, early on we figured, OK, he's a golden boy, his reputation is so sterling, the NFL and the entire city is sort of building its reputation on him. But no one who is that successful and that driven can always be that nice a guy. It just doesn't compute. So where's the fire, basically? Matt just started chasing that. You look at that SportsCentury, and that's what you get. It could very easily be a one-dimensional figure, but that's not how it turned out. He's more than just a face on a Wheaties box."
"Of all the people that we've dealt with, he, I think, is quite honestly a really good person," Mays says. "But he's complex in the fact that he's extremely competitive and extraordinarily motivated to do great things with his life and his career. So the first thing we wanted to do was learn, where does that stem from? And with him, he had the good fortune of having a fantastic family and a father who was very similar. His father was an all-American quarterback in college and did 14 years in the NFL. In a lot of ways he was groomed to become what he was. That's the obvious thing and what a lot of people write about, and I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to find out what was his.
"He wasn't the most gifted athlete that ever came along. But he's self-motivated. I think that he honestly wanted to do it on his own. So he worked his ass off, he really did, and still continues to, more than your standard professional athlete. He's made his own mistakes, too, in trying to get it sorted out. He strives for perfection, and when it doesn't go perfect it drives him crazy."
The Peyton Manning project is Pathway's biggest work to date, but far from the last plateau for a group that tends to grow at a geometric rate.
"Things move at a very rapid pace around here," Husain says. "We just basically woke up one day and realized, 'Holy shit, we've been doing the work of 12 people with five or six.' We came close to doubling in size."
"We bought an Avid, we got an extra room to put it in, and got three or four people," Mays says. "And then we're sitting in the same room again six months later and saying, 'We gotta buy another Avid! And hire more people.' And that's when it started getting really crazy and it hasn't stopped since. Now it's this crazy place with lots of people running around. It's a fairly young environment. It's very vibrant, it's very fun."
"I'm the old man at 39," Husain says.
"The stuff that we've done, the stuff that we're doing now, the promise of what's to come," Mays continues. "I think everybody feels fortunate to have this kind of environment."
With their reputation as documentarians securely in place, Pathway is looking into branching out into film, comedy, music videos and interactive media.
"You're sort of constantly out pitching the usual suspects who need documentary programming and trying to develop new things. I don't want us to stay stagnant so we're just a documentary company," Husain says. "We want to develop films, we want to develop comedy series. We want to develop this talent, all these bright minds and technical expertise and these machines and combine them all to do visual media in any kind of entertaining form you'd like."
"That's where we've arrived after being in that room five years ago," Mays says. "It's great. There wasn't any grand plan to get here, but now that we are here, hopefully all that sweat affords us the opportunity. We're not expecting a home run first time out. It would be great, it would be nice, but it would be a fluke. Right now the point is to get us a reputation."
Way too good
Mays is the company's chief globetrotter; he has a world map in his office with stickpins showing where he's been. In just one 10-week period he shot in South Africa, Cuba, Costa Rica, England, Alaska and Canada.
"I never expected anything like this," Mays says. "The bottom line was that I hoped to end up somewhere I could do all the things I wanted to do as a kid. I didn't expect to be this lucky this early. To be in a town that's close to my family and work for this guy. After the first year of being here, I had a moment where I wondered if I wanted to go somewhere else, and realized I had no reason to leave. I'm doing things that I wouldn't have a chance to do unless I was much older. It was three people, we were moving, moving, moving and now here we are. I wasn't interested in going out and starting over."
Along the way, Pathway has also proven that one doesn't need to move out to Los Angeles or New York to make it in the TV and film business, as they've firmly established themselves in what's usually known as "flyover country."
"That's been one of the really neat things about this whole thing," Husain says. "We could create this place HERE, where very interesting work could be done as a creative outlet. You wouldn't necessarily have to go away. It's nice to think that maybe you could just stay here."
And in the process, Mays and the Pathway crew have learned that Indianapolis is not only on its way to becoming viable filmmaking territory - it might already have arrived and we just don't know it yet.
"All the traveling has been good for two reasons: It gets this wanderlust out of my system, and I realize how good I have it here," Mays says. "I've shot in New York, Chicago and everywhere in between, and this is a great place. And when I go out and work with crews in L.A. and I tell them what I'm doing, they say, 'You're doing WHAT? And where?' They tell me, 'Don't come out here. You have it way too good.'"
A selection of Web sites to find out more about Indianapolis filmmaking
AnCmovies.com: the four-person crew behind Him Her Roland and Embolism, currently working on a series of shorts for next year
BunkFilms.com: creators of the action film Hair Trigger and comedies such as The Comedy Bunker and Witness Jehovah
Geminifilms.biz: Home of GemInI Films, creators of numerous shorts
In.gov/film: the Film Commission, government coordinators and communications point for Indiana filmmaking, including a massive resource listing and the Indiana Production Sourcebook
IndianapolisFilm.net: a clearinghouse of information, forums and contact points for Indianapolis filmmakers, with links to virtually every Indiana-based film site
TheFilmCommune.com: the comrades of The Film Commune, a conglomeration of local film directors and producers
JDigitalProduction.com: information on Jason Jolliff's ongoing I Am DB project, plus an online store for numerous local films, including Deadline, Bussed and Oh No! Zombies!!
RacsoFilms.com: creators of the action thriller A Certain Justice and the upcoming In My Life
SavingStarWars.com: the locally produced tale of Star Wars fandom gone awry, starring David "Darth Vader" Prowse, soon to be available on DVD
PenGinProductions.com: the guys behind Hearts It Is and the upcoming Someone For Everyone
Midwestern cheeseJoel Umbaugh resurrects the adventure-gone-awry teen genre
If you ask Joel Umbaugh, co-founder of The Film Commune and director of the upcoming Fake ID, regional arts like filmmaking are like France and cheese.
"Now, stay with me here, this'll make sense," Umbaugh says. "There's all these different cheeses that come from different regions. They all have distinct nuances because of the type of vegetation and input that goes into different areas. And I think you get the same with the arts. I think in the Midwest, we need to sell our cheese here. We need to have our style, our sign. I think that can be seen within different major art movements in different areas. They're distinct. And I hope that I and the other filmmakers around here now can keep striving towards that."
For the last few years, Umbaugh has definitely been making and selling his Midwestern cheese. In addition to helping start up The Film Commune and directing the WRTV series Indie Scene TV, he was co-director of one of the area's most anticipated projects, QT-1, based on a story from I, Robot, which is currently tied up in legal rights issues. He's also producer on Catherine Crouch's horror film Metamora and director/co-writer of Fake ID, premiering Dec. 14.
The story of Fake ID follows three teen-age girls who sneak into a nightclub for an evening of wild adventure just before their high school graduation. Mistaken identity ensues, and things go wildly awry.
"What we were going for was we wanted to get back to the genre of movies that you used to see in the 1980s a lot, where everything happens in one night," Umbaugh says. "We wanted to tell the story of small town girls who go into the city and get sucked into this world of events, and their main objective is just to get out of there and get home. It's essentially a teen movie, and it ended up coming across pretty dark for that kind of thing. I'm pretty happy with the tone of the movie."
The 120-minute feature is his biggest project so far, and the experience left him enthused for future projects.
"You walk away and you can't wait to get into your next go-around because you have so many more tools at hand, from dealing with people to conceptual ideas for your next project, all that you've figured out from doing something this sprawling," Umbaugh says.
In the meantime, he plans to continue pushing the envelope in locally produced Indiana film.
"My family is all out in Los Angeles," Umbaugh says. "And I'm always kind of like, 'Should I go? Should I stay?' But I think there's something really important about making a movie about where you're from."
What: Fake ID premiere
When: Tuesday, Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Indiana Historical Society, 450 W. Ohio St.
For more information: UmbaughFilmworks.com
In addition to Fake ID, the screening will include Chad Richards' short Coming To My Senses, produced by Umbaugh and based on the short story by Carolyn Steele Agosta. "It's a cute little story about this woman breaking out of her middle-class complacency," Umbaugh said. "She wakes up with a newfound sense of smell. She starts to notice all these little scents in her life, all these little things, and it starts to change all her actions and things, right down to her sex life with her husband. It ends up becoming an obsession, almost, her newfound world of scent."
Matt Mays directs the shooting of the video for Devil To Pay's 'Tractor Fuckin' Trailer' in the Melody Inn. The video can be downloaded at deviltopay.net.
Matt MaysNot as sane as he looks
The first time I met Matt Mays, he was one of four student filmmakers at Ball State working on The Way Out, an insanely ambitious two-hour film project, under the tutelage of teacher and Emmy Award-winning director Jim Shasky, possibly the only person at Ball State crazier than they were. With next to no budget and a desire to do things as professionally as possible, Mays and company would come up with highly dubious workarounds, such as the time they did a high-speed "dolly shot" of cars on the highway, with Mays holding a $10,000 university camera in a death grip as he hung out the back of a speeding truck with someone else holding onto his belt.
He takes fewer risks with equipment these days, but Mays is just as dedicated to doing more with less. In his spare time away from Pathway Productions, he works on solo projects, as varied as directing local music videos or creating complex video birthday cards for friends.
"That's kind of how I got my start," Mays says. "I started making ridiculous videos in my parents' basement when I was 10 years old. That's how I learned how to be in this business, to shoot and to write and to edit and to come up with concepts that help me when I'm doing straight projects as well ... Music is such an important part of everything I do that it gives me an opportunity to meld these two things, whether it's a video for a band or a crazy thing for a friend. It's a nice release. While I enjoy doing those projects for work, this is a lot of fun."
In one noteworthy incident, he did a completely straight-faced video of Billy Ocean's "Suddenly," filmed with himself in a mullet and a polyester suit lip-synching to Ocean's vocals. It felt exactly like a 1980s video, right down to the slow fades, dramatic lighting and slow-motion guitar solo. Another time he and old college buddy Dave Boyd did "The Girl Is Mine" dressed as Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. Amazing what you can get away with when you've got access to all the video equipment you could ever need.
"We usually pull favors and grab stuff. I've got a box of quality costumes I've got at home on standby. You never know when you're gonna need them," Mays says. "Eighty percent of those things are based on inside jokes, but they're so generically weird that anybody can get the joke."
At 28, he's come far further than he ever expected at this point in his life, and he keeps on moving.
"Now to me it's like the next step," Mays said. "I'm just trying to do as much as I possibly can with the time I've got and the opportunity I've got. I'm really fortunate to work for a guy like Michael, who says, if you've got an idea, do it! As long as we're keeping up with everything else that's coming in the door, he lets us get away with pretty much anything we want. Plus, they're just fun! How else would I be able to walk into the Melody Inn and stand on a chair and have a room full of metalheads listen to what I have to say? It's surreal!"
(left) Writer/director Catherine Crouch and writer/actress Guinevere Turner, sitting outside Crouch's Indianapolis offices. (above) An early promotional shot for 'Metamora' of Turner being menaced by The Thing Out There. Photo courtesy of Cotton Lover Films
Psychosexual mayhemCatherine Crouch & Guinevere Turner upset traditional gender roles
Guinevere Turner has one of the more unusual resumes in Hollywood. Her experiences range from being co-writer of American Psycho and the upcoming The Bettie Page Story to writing and guest-starring in Showtime's The L Word and being the inspiration for Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy (a film on which she describes her work as "lesbian consultant").
Four years ago, Turner worked with independent film director Catherine Crouch, a current Indianapolis resident, on the feature Stray Dogs, and this spring they'll be reuniting for a low-budget horror-on-the-farm film, Metamora, which will be filming in Indianapolis and Southern Indiana. With work between them like Stray Dogs, The L Word and Chasing Amy, they've become well-known figures on the GLBT filmmaking scene, and Metamora looks to be no exception.
NUVO: Tell us about Metamora.
Crouch: We're in Indiana! It's a horror movie about cows and corn and gender. Psychosexual mayhem! It's about a fear of gender fluidity, rigid gender roles, fear of bisexuality. It's upsetting sometimes when things don't fall into the established roles. It's a little frightening sometimes ... It's a modern-day transgender Jekyll and Hyde. It's a woman farmer who's drinking a potion and turns into her "brother" at night. The lead is Kay, a bisexual woman who blows into town like Janet Leigh in Psycho and starts up with the farmer and never gets to see her at night. And that starts to bother her. It's like a love triangle with two people. It's about female body issues and genetic engineering and science gone awry.
Turner: And then there's a monster in the woods killing cows. Cows gotta die when all that comes together! It's a really fun part for me, because Kay is sassy, she doesn't take shit, she's looking for trouble and gets into it. She's the classic monster movie girl who stumbles across the horror. It's all fun for me. And a whole lot of sex scenes! Which is not my favorite part of acting, but I know it's a crowd pleaser. I come from the 16mm cornfield-in-Indiana school of filmmaking, so that's where I'm at home. On something that's big budget, you're sitting in a trailer for three hours. In low budget film, you're always involved. You're always there. I like it like that, where everyone seems really connected and is doing it for a reason.
Crouch: And I love her because she's not just an actress, she's a filmmaker. She's a collaborator. She'd cook for us on her days off!
NUVO: What are your separate writing styles like?
Turner: There's two me writers: the collaborator, which entails me and Mary [Herron, co-writer of American Psycho] sitting around for hours gossiping until we say, "OK, time to get to work." We hand the computer back and forth. There's no ego there. And then when I'm writing alone it consists of blowing it off and blowing it off until it's absolutely career-threatening if I don't get it done. The only thing that ever gets me to finish a screenplay is a looming deadline after I've been blowing it off for four weeks.
Crouch: I don't think you're really off. You are working up here, in your head. If there weren't the four weeks, there's not time for the teapot to build, the pressure to get going up until it screams. Even if it doesn't look like it's happening, it's happening. It's not about the amount of time, it's about the end result. It's not like we sit down and beautiful prose comes out. We're tortured. We struggle, we write and refine over and over. It's hard. It's not easy, and to act like it's easy is doing a disservice to people about how hard it is.
Turner: Every day is different, and that's what I love about my life. The writer always has the excuse that experience is feeding your ideas and creativity. I could stay home and write this episode of The L Word, or I could go out to a lesbian club and see what lesbians are doing and saying!
Crouch: We're from here and we want it to be from here and we want to continue making films here. There's a very strong community. I've been very impressed by it. There are amazing films here considering that they're working without a net, no film school, no instruction. Everyone is very supportive. They're not competitive like they are in other big cities.
For more information on Crouch's work and upcoming productions, check out www.CatherineCrouch.com.
Local filmmaker Don Boner, who graduated from short films to features last year
Around the block someDon Boner applies life experience to film work
Over the last few years, writer/director Don Boner established himself as a prolific presence in the Indianapolis film scene with such shorts as Ripple and The Bumbling Detective. His first feature, the noirish Loser's Lounge, was released to great acclaim at film festivals, and this Friday he'll be premiering his latest feature, Somewhere in Indiana, at the Indiana Historical Society.
Somewhere in Indiana is a quest tale with a fictional setup loosely based on actor James Dean and the cult of followers who treat his hometown of Fairmount, Ind., as a sort of Mecca.
"The basic theme is that it's a journey," Boner says. "You have four people from different parts of the country, coming from different parts of the country to 'Fairview' to pay tribute to the late Eddie Ray, and they meet a mysterious stranger who helps them resolve parts of their trauma. We never resolve who it is. Is it Eddie Ray? An apparition? A crazy person? The audience will have to form their own conclusions. And it has a very strong undercurrent, the same as all of my works, about the meaning of life and death and the greater scheme of things."
At 60, Boner is an odd man out, an elder statesman in a film scene dominated by young people.
"I have this whole theme about life and death, and maybe that's because as you get older and approach the checkout counter you start thinking about these things. The filmmakers here in Indianapolis, they're all young and have all kinds of energy to stay out till 3 or 4 in the morning and do their thing. I don't have that kind of energy anymore. All my crew members are in their 20s and 30s. I really like their ideas. It's interesting to have talented kids."
Indeed, he finds his age and experience to be advantages when he's working.
"I've been around the block some," Boner said. "I grew up in the 1960s. Drugs, sex, rock and roll, not necessarily in that order. I was real active in the peace and civil rights movements when I was growing up. I think life experience is things you can draw on as you develop stories. I don't know where they come from really, but they come quickly. I tend to bang out a screenplay in a couple of weeks after I've come up with it. The more you've done, the more you can draw from while telling a story."
He's picked up a wide support system to help with some of the challenges his health has placed in the way of filmmaking, such as attention span disorder and dyslexia.
"Three years ago, if anyone had told me you're going to write two feature screenplays, I'd have said you're crazy. I can barely write my name," Boner said. "The main thing is I don't worry about it. I just bang the crap out, because if I worry about it, it impedes me. I have plenty of time afterwards to fix it."
He has several different treatment ideas in mind for his next project, including redoing Ripple as a feature or a film about Nashville disc jockeys of the 1950s and 1960s who played late-night R&B and gospel. In the meantime, he's focused on releasing Somewhere in Indiana and continuing to collaborate with local filmmakers.
"I'm happy to be around so many talented filmmakers," Boner said. "We tend to fight a lot, unfortunately, but I think getting through that there's still a real talented group of filmmakers who mostly support each other. I'm happy to support other people's movies and be part of that whole scene."
What: Somewhere in Indiana premiere
Where: Indiana Historical Society, 450 W. Ohio St.
When: Dec. 3, 8:45 p.m.
Cost: $5 in advance, $8 at the door
For more information: sii-movie.com