Micro-budget thriller Stray, now on VOD through Indie Rights, brings a powerful new female filmmaker to the masses in Nena Eskridge.
Nena chats wit The Movie Elite about the project.
Can you tell us how you got into filmmaking?
I’ve been fooling around with film since the mid 70’s. I produced an award winning short with filmmaker Bob Garrett all those years ago and haven’t stopped since. Graduated from Ithaca College in the 80’s, moved to NYC where I worked in nearly all areas of production. Ended up in screenwriting and producing. I decided in 2001 to leave NYC and settle in Philadelphia with the hope I could get back into low budget movies, which is where my heart is. This is where and how STRAY was born – right here in my neighborhood of Chestnut Hill.
Are you based in Hollywood?
After film school I had to choose between LA and NYC. I decided on NYC and still feel it was the right move. There’s just too much traffic in LA.
Stray, we’re informed, was shot on a fairly low budget. How did you manage to pull it off?
Excellent question that I’m still asking myself. We shot Stray for well under $100,000. Working on a micro-budget project like this is backbreaking and requires detailed planning and a lot of luck. David Landau, my friend and cinematographer, teaches film at Fairleigh Dickinson University. FDU provided two Sony F3 cameras, tons of equipment, and a bunch of film students. I placed professionals, like David, in all key positions and filled the rest with these savvy students. Needless to say, I was terrified, but these kids turned out to be some of the best I’ve ever worked with.
Was everyone on the film wearing multiple hats?
Not really. It was a professional shoot, so most of the crew only had to deal with their assigned job. And work 15 hour days and sleep on cots. So I was wearing most of the hats through pre-production, but when principal photography began, Line Producer Rachel (Moses) Wolther stepped in and relieved me from those other responsibilities so I could concentrate on directing. Not only did she pull off several miracles, she kept me on time and under budget. She’s brilliant, and so was everyone else on the team.
When did you shoot it?
We began shooting mid May, 2014 and finished 18 days later. We all had a blast I think, I hope, but were excited to see the finish line.
How did you discover Gabrielle Stone?
Funny story (wasn’t at the time). I had a lead actress I was very happy with. She’d stuck with the project for years. But as life would have it, at least in this industry, she received an offer she couldn’t refuse, and I lost her. I was devastated. We were just about to begin shooting, and I had to find a new lead. In complete hysterics, I reached out to casting director Adrienne Stern, and she got on it right away. Soon after, just by chance, sound designer, John Avarese, sent me a clip from another movie he was involved with. It was Gabrielle in a 2 minute fight scene and wham, I knew she was the one. I was SO lucky! I’d found my new Jennifer.
Did the script change much between the initial draft and the shooting script?
Not really. It took me years to write Stray. It had gone through so many revisions. At first I wanted to sell the script. I had offers, but with them came rewrites, which isn’t unusual. But the changes were sending the story in a direction I didn’t want it to go. Fortunately, Kickstarter was born, so I decided to make the film myself. To protect Jennifer from becoming your average crazy lady with a grudge. It’s way more complicated than that.
What’s the feedback been like?
It’s a strange film. The tone is super dark. So is the story. Stray isn’t for everyone and I knew that going in. So to answer your question, feedback is mixed. Mostly good reviews at this point. But the bad ones are REALLY bad. It appears, the film pushes some buttons. I guess that means I did my job. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it…