PRODUCTION NOTES

"2 wks, 1 yr" is a film that ends on New Year's Day. In reality,
it began on New Year's Day.

Producer Carrie Holt met Writer/Director Chris McKay on New Year's Day 1999 at a brunch thrown by a mutual friend. Holt was involved in producing a short film at the time and McKay had edited several films, so the two had a lot to talk about.

Two months later, they got together for lunch when Holt asked
McKay for some advice on the short film she was working on. Over the next several months, the two found they had similar production problems: a short supply of both money and dedicated co-conspirators.

“I had never met anyone who could actually meet me half-way and follow through on stuff,” Holt recalled.

In August, the two talked about the possibility of collaborating
on a feature.

“And then, next thing I know, he’s like, ‘OK, find me actors,’
” said Holt.

Following the advice of filmmaker Robert Rodriquez, the two analyzed what resources they had and what plan would gel best with those resources. In McKay, they had a key: unlimited after-hours access to an Avid at McKay's job, and a lot of experience editing. In Holt they had the gift of knowing half of Chicago.

There were a couple of ideas for films McKay had, but there was one in particular that was always the most practical and attractive. He wanted to write a script about a relationship, but he wanted to capture the flattering as well as the unflattering feelings, emotions and experiences that are evoked in real life. And while a script could capture some of both, the goal was to truly duplicate the experience of being in that relationship.

“Everyone’s been in a relationship like that,” McKay said. But
not everyone writes about it or shoots a movie about it, often
because it’s too painful or too short-lived,” he added.

In September he wrote the script. While many things he wrote
he wanted reproduced very closely, he realized that to get a
natural feel and accurately capture the stages of the relationship, he’d have to give the actors wide berth to improvise and bring their own experiences to the film.

“I think there’s a lack of freedom sometimes … in acting, with
directors and writers trying to control an actor’s performance
as opposed to liberating them,” says McKay.

His format, digital video, was also chosen with that freedom
in mind. Cheaper to shoot than film, it allowed for more takes
and, thus, more improvisation by the actors. It also allowed
for more footage, which played to McKay’s strength: editing.
Confident in his editing skills, he purposely went for leaving
himself more choices in post-production.

“It was very exciting for me … knowing that I would get to partake in that improv in the editing suite,” McKay said.

In actors and crew, McKay and Holt sought passion first and foremost. Experience was nice, but with a projected six-month weekend shooting schedule and just speculation for payment, it was going to be dedication that mattered most.

A mutual acquaintance suggested they talk to Michael Gilio, an
actor and a director who had filmed his own movie, “Kwik Stop”.
His audition sold them on his acting abilities, and McKay’s professionalism and experimental concept intrigued Gilio.

“I also heard that he had an Avid, so I decided to go for it,”
said Gilio, who had shot “Kwik Stop”, but didn’t have a way to
edit it. Over the course of time, the two would work out an arrangement where McKay would edit Gilio’s film in exchange for Gilio acting in “2wks, 1yr”.

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when Holt and McKay
found Krissy Shields, an actress with extensive stage credits,
eager to star in her first feature-length film.

While McKay was confident in his editing ability, he worried
about the cinematographic quality. Here, both passion and experience was needed. They found the perfect combination in Scott Stearns, a DP with lots of experience. He had filmed a documentary and some industrial films, but had never worked on a full-length feature and was eager to do so. He helped them through the nuts and bolts of insurance and lighting and even brought some equipment into the mix.

By early December, they were all set except for a sound man,
but time was ticking. The script called for some Christmas decoration shots and winter shots, so they knocked off a few scenes before their first big challenge: The dénouement of the film called for a climactic scene in New Orleans shot on Bourbon Street as the new millennium dawned.

Without a sound man, the two cast members and a crew headed down to the Big Easy on December 28. McKay, the cast and two production assistants rode in a rented van and Holt and Stearns rode with the equipment in her Explorer.

They arrived to find their hotel had suffered a fire the night
before. Because everything else was booked, they sucked it up
and walked past the charred portions of the hotel to get to their
still-functional rooms. Then they headed out to find locations,
get permission forms signed and a few last minute camera supplies. Their next trial was losing their P.A.s, one of whom suddenly developed a fear of the end of end of the world occurring on New Year's Eve.

But they struck gold with locations. An Internet radio station
right on Bourbon street let them film on their balcony after
turning down CNN and many other television crews. The independent nature of their production was the key, and the radio station even interviewed McKay, Gilio and Shields on the air.

They had chosen New Orleans for it's festive atmosphere, and
the city didn't disappoint. On New Year's Eve, they happened
upon and filmed a funeral parade being staged for the old millennium. On New Year's Eve, concerns about the security of the cast and crew amidst a mob of thousands of drunk revelers were high, but they soon discovered how much slack a little booze and some 10-cent beads will buy you.

For the time-lapse shot, McKay wanted the first minute of every
hour on tape of the morning of January 1st, 2000. He stayed with the locked-down camera all night to make it happen.

The last shot of the film takes place after the two characters
had been out all night partying. Striving for reality filmmaking
and a good party, Holt took it upon herself to keep the cast
out dancing until 3 a.m. Stearns took it upon himself to make
sure they made it to their 5 a.m. call time.

The fight scene was the next challenge. They started early Sunday morning to avoid the crowds. A couple of people stopped and checked to make sure it was not real. Chris both directed and acted as boom operator for that scene.

Back in Chicago, the film took a three-week break while Chris
did some tinkering with the script. Besides changing a few details, he also rewrote some of the dialogue to tailor it to the speaking patterns of Gilio and Shields for added naturalness.

Turning lemons into lemonade, he also used the extending shooting schedule – which they quickly realized was going to take more than six months – into an advantage. The time spread gave him the chance to show the couple over the course of the year in different seasons and moods.

They also brought on board a sound man, Robert Aguilar, who was short on experience, but rich in technical knowledge via his degree at Columbia College film school. And they gained some unlikely P.A. replacements. Carrie twisted the arm of an old college friend, Rob Olmstead, who had absolutely no film experience whatsoever. Olmstead, an editor at a local newspaper, was planning to produce a film with another filmmaker friend, but wanted to gain some experience elsewhere before jumping in headfirst on his own.

"I figured I’d screw up somebody else's film before producing
my own," says Olmstead.

Carrie also enlisted the help of her good friend Erin Fahey,
a still photographer who also had no film experience. What she
did have was organization and dedication.

“I had no clue (what I was in for). And you know what, she (Holt)
really didn’t go into it quite as much as she should have,” laughs Fahey. “It was, ‘you wanna help out?’ Not, ‘you’re going to be sacrificing every weekend for the next 6 months -- and probably longer.”

But, that’s exactly what it turned into as Fahey gradually took
over the line producing responsibilities, calling extras, securing
locations, arranging craft services and doing whatever grip duties were required.

As reliable crew members came aboard, McKay began to hit his stride directing. Playing on the improvisational strength of
Shields and Gilio, he would sometimes give the actors secret
directions before the take, surprising the other actor in order
to get a genuine reaction.

He also would tell the actors the intention of the scene, and
let them figure out how they wanted to convey that.

“We’d have beats that we’d hit in the scene, but whatever they
did between the beats was up to them,” McKay said.

The approach was challenging for Gilio, but one that he came
to find rewarding. Although he had resisted digital video as
a director, he came to appreciate it in “2wks, 1yr” because of
the flexibility it gave them with multiple takes. He also liked
McKay’s subtle directing style.

“The script was truly a blueprint, an outline for us to embellish
and improvise,” says Gilio. “He asked more questions (than demands). He wasn’t the kind of guy to tell you what to do -- sometimes to my frustration,” said Gilio.

But while it was sometimes frustrating, the added work on Gilio’s part became rewarding as he put his personal experiences into the film and began to own the role.

“It wasn’t so much about performance as it was about living,”
said Gilio.

“I learned a lot about myself,” says Gilio. “It was very challenging.”

In the end, says Gilio, he found the experience so rewarding
that it changed his entire approach to acting.

“I found I work best when I’m being trusted and being given a
safe environment to work in and (when I’m given the ability)
to take chances and to follow my gut and my instinct,” said Gilio.

And how did Holt feel about the unique approach?

“I didn’t always understand why he (McKay) was doing things the way he did,” admits Holt. “But by watching how he worked with actors in rehearsal, I knew there was a method to the madness.”

“He can really read people really, really well. I have a lot
of trust in him -- a ton of trust in him,” says Holt, who says
she admired the way McKay could get the most out of people, and who had infinite patience in his less-than-experienced crew.

“And he always lets me have a voice and he always listens, even though he might be exhausted,” says Holt.

The free form of the production, however, extended the shooting period of the film.

That long shoot, in turn, provided plenty of scheduling problems as secondary actors married, moved away and disappeared into the mist. The schedule had to be redone several times, and scenes adjusted as snow melted and then fell again, ruining continuity.

Since they had to eat, Gilio and Shields occasionally had to
bow out of filming temporarily when they got paying gigs, causing more scheduling adjustments.

But while the schedule threw up roadblocks, the camaraderie and dedication of those involved worked the other way, smoothing problems and building upon each others strengths to enhance the film and other separate projects. McKay, Holt, Fahey and Stearns provided locations in which to shoot. Holt's connections to two neighborhood bars provided tavern locations. Her friend provided the location for the Halloween party, and another friend, Howard Watkins, Jr. (aka, the Black Bear) cooked the vegetarian chili for the party. Everyone brought friends to the shoot, telling them there was free beer and food as long as they would show up in costume and sign a waiver. Stearns brought in lighting experts he knew who donated their time. McKay brought in an assistant director he knew for one particularly complicated scene.

Once, at a café secured through employees working there, the
owner stormed in and was ready to throw the production out because of large black screens that had been placed over his windows for lighting purposes. He feared customers would think the café was closed. Olmstead just happened to have rented an apartment from the owner years before and talked him off the ledge. Because he liked Olmstead for paying his rent on time – and because Olmstead agreed to stand out front and shill people into the café – the owner let the show go on. While Olmstead helped keep that day moving, he soaked up experience and established a relationship with McKay, who provided lighting equipment and technical expertise for his film later. Olmstead also employed Holt as DP on his film, giving her a new experience in exchange for her labor, and also gaining her experience at producing.

McKay and Gilio became fast friends, and after shooting on “2
wks, 1 yr” stopped, McKay went on to edit Gilio’s film. “Kwik
Stop” went on to critical success at the Chicago International
Film Festival and garnered a Best Director Award at the Buenos Aires Film Festival. In addition, Mike Gilio was nominated as “Someone to Watch” for the Independent Spirit Awards for his writing and directing talents on “Kwik Stop”.

Through Gilio, McKay and Holt also met Craig Lee, who became their sound designer. After shooting was done, for eight months the three worked together on the sound design and soundtrack, with Holt searching out mostly Chicago artists for the music while Chris edited, re-edited and re-re-edited the film until they had a final product.

So – did it turn out like Holt expected?

“No. Not at all. I mean, yes and no. Honestly, I didn’t think
it would take 8 months.” However, she was pleased with the results.

“We didn’t need spec effects, we didn’t need a huge crew…it just seemed like the perfect fit for our first feature.”

And with film festival deadlines looming, Carrie is as busy as
ever.

“That’s another thing that I learned, is that this process never
ends.”

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