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Celluloid Adventures


October 2012

"Oconomowoc" cast and crew: Brendan Marshall-Rashid, Andy Gillies, Cindy Pinzon, Alex Walzak and Joe Haas.

If anybody can spell "Oconomowoc," it has to be Andy Gillies and Joe Haas, two rising young Wisconsin filmmakers. The reason why their spelling is on target is obvious. Their most recent production is a comedy of the same name as the Waukesha County community. The venerable resort town was once tagged "the Newport of the West" for its pristine landscape; it was regularly visited by vacationing United States presidents.

So what’s this about a film featuring a city that the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk nations initially called "Coo-no-mo-wauk," or "Where the waters meet?"

"I wanted to make a comedy about inflated self-image," says writer/director Gillies, who initially produced a short story about three idealistic lowlifes who were self-proclaimed professional sledders. "Needless to say, that idea was horrible, so I transitioned to a comedy about practical delusion, inflexible identity and my hesitance for adulthood," he laughs.

In the final version, the film tells of a confused adult who moves back in with his mother and reluctantly signs on with his friend’s mishandled T-shirt business, hoping to find some direction in life.

So what does the title mean? Several things, according to Gillies. "Few people can actually pronounce the city. It’s a weird word and we thought it played into the ambiguity of the film. Additionally, we liked naming it after a city because we felt on some level it reminded us of any other city we’d been to — where people are just trying to make sense of shit gone wrong the best they can."

Haas says the name was chosen because of its unique characteristics and sound — and because they felt it was intriguing. "The film is in no way a portrayal of the city itself or any residents thereof. Any similarity is purely coincidental," Haas says. He’s the one who can actually rapidly say "Oconomowoc" more than four times without tripping up.

Gillies met Haas through a mutual friend while they were both still in school and living in Oconomowoc. "We have a similar sense of humor, which makes working together quite easy," he says.

Haas, director of photography, editor and co-producer, agrees it was an instant click. "Andy and I have worked on several short films and sketches together in the past several years. They were all comedic, minus a couple of corporate pieces," he says.

The script itself was revised over several years. "Once we decided to move forward with shooting the film, we had to make additional revisions due to budgetary and scheduling restraints, in order to successfully pull off this ever-changing escapade," Gillies says.

Total time from the start of production to final cut was about six-plus months, pulling off the principal photography in 14 days. Post-production took substantially longer, he explains. They’d all try to hit the hay by 11 p.m. to be fresh for the next day’s grind. Yet there was still substantial late-night garage pingponging, Haas points out.

After hours, the partners also admit to indulging in "some quaffable elation from time to time." Yet Gillies clarifies, "Perhaps it was due to exhaustion and madness. Either way, it did the trick. We had to keep an unpaid cast and crew happy somehow. Thankfully, we were dealing with the highest crop of professionals. No, we had fun, unfortunately never too much," he says. They worked with a crew of 40 with no assistants in 12 different locations and throughout mixed weather — a volatile combination always making for challenges. Yet everything generally went smoothly.

All the final techie work was done at Joe Haas Media, a national level high-grade video production and photography businesses. The sound design was done in Oconomowoc by Matt Trifilo, with audio by Alex Walzak. The film’s score is original, performed by either Haas, Brendan Marshall-Rashid or Gillies.

As with many indies, the film’s budget was always a dicey issue. "Credit cards," Gillies says, adding that, fortunately, they raised supplementary funding through donations.

Local businesses also stepped in and offered support, from securing shooting sites, to providing food and offering backup hands. After hours, many of the group crashed in a friend’s loaned house. "We could not have pulled the project off the way we did without the community’s help," Gillies adds.

After finishing the last scene, Gillies admits it was strangely unsettling. "Like drones, we stood on the porch in silence, exchanged a few hugs and high-fives, then went to bed," he recalls. In the end, "we got to make a really funny movie. And we were able to see words and ideas take on a completely new form. The experience of multitiered collaboration is where it’s at," he says.

The film has been submitted to a long list of festivals and the producers are eagerly awaiting a positive word for showings. Keep an anticipatory eye out for updates at

To view the movie’s trailer, scan here:


This story ran in the October 2012 issue of: