The process of making a short film is anything but short. So says local filmmaker Bob Walters, whose Crisp Bills debuted Nov. 15, at the first Open Screen Video Incubator series at the Rosslyn Spectrum in Arlington. Walters’ short was one of five screened during the event, which was called “An Evening of Obsession.” All of the films shown revolved around the theme of compulsion.
Filmmaking can become a compulsion all its own. And if Walters isn’t obsessed with his avocation, he’s certainly passionate about it. It helps that his day job and his art overlap to an extent: During the day, Walters works for public-access Arlington Community Television (ACT); he also teaches music part time at a high school in Centreville. On his own time, he helps out with the Rosebud Film and Video Festival (which is coordinated through ACT) and makes his own short films.
When it comes to “the Incubator,” as participants call it, Walters is just another filmmaker who saw the screening as an opportunity to “incubate ideas and get feedback” from a knowledgeable audience. The screening was also the official debut of Crisp Bills. “A lot of people had seen rough cuts of the film, but this was its real premiere,” he says. “After a year’s worth of work, this was the test.”
The road to Crisp Bills was a long one. It started with Walters’ discovery of “Crispy Notes,” British novelist Nicholas Royle’s suspenseful short story about a man obsessed with neatness. Walters wrote the screenplay adaptation and the film’s score, and served as producer and directorbut he notes that this was not a one-person show.
“I worked with a big crewa lot of friendsto get this done,” Walters says. “I cycled in a lot of people and rotated them between working as a [production assistant], doing lights, or running sound. These are jobs in the film industry that you get shut out of unless you know someone. By rotating the crew, everyone could see the entire filmmaking process and have a great learning experience.”
Walters says he spent months in preproduction for Crisp Bills. He shot the film in Pizza de Resistance, a restaurant in Arlington’s Courthouse neighborhood, over four consecutive Sundays. The strict shooting schedule allowed only two hours at a time before the restaurant openeda constraint nearly unheard of for on-location shootingfor Walters and his crew to go in, set up, tape two scenes, break down, and get out. “It was hectic,” he recalls, “but we got the job done.”
And for less money than you might thinkWalters spent just under $1,000. “I love making movies,” he explains. “If I loved bowling, I’d probably spend at least a couple of thousand a year on it.”
When the night of Crisp Bills’ debut finally arrived, Walters appeared to be more than ready for his close-up. Dressed in a matching mustard-colored jacket and shirt and olive-hued pants, his hair tossed carefully off his face, the up-and-coming filmmaker shook the hands of people attending the event and answered their questions. He greeted the four other filmmakers whose shorts were being screened. And he waited for the ultimate reaction of the audience.
“This was my formal premiere,” Walters says with an audible smile, days after the screening. “The audience seemed to really enjoy it.” And although he calls himself his own worst critic, the filmmaker allows that Crisp Bills is a very strong work. “Next, I’m going to hit the festival circuit and competitions over the next year and see what comes of it.” James Williams