The making of ‘Uggs for Gaza’
by Brooke Berman
When I was nineteen and a theater student, I ushered for a play starring Morgan Freeman. Cheeky, I told Freeman I was a fan, and after graciously thanking me, he asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I said, “An actress or a filmmaker.” Freeman leaned forward and said, “Be a filmmaker. And hire me.”
After twenty years in the theater and five years as a screenwriter-for-hire, I finally took his advice and made a film, a digital short which recently premiered in Aspen.
Although I’d been working as a writer for years, directing scared me. Of course I wanted to make a film. But was there not a technical language to learn? Would I have to go to film school? “When something of mine gets made,” I told myself, “I will sit next to the director and learn how to make movies. But Freeman’s advice to me was about seizing control of my work and destiny (and hiring him). Why wait?
In 2007, I wrote a short film for a friend, Will Frears, and sat next to him on set while he shot it. Was filmmaking demystified? Not so much. I watched Will work. I watched the production team. When I asked Will what the secret to directing was, he said “Surround yourself with really good people.”
So with Will’s advice and the far-off memory of Morgan Freeman’s blessing, I decided to make a short and see if I had the chops to make one of my feature scripts. I spent a year working on the script, an adaptation of a short story my husband wrote the year we moved to L.A. The story is about Mitch, a guy who’s new to L.A. and unsure of himself. In an attempt to impress a hot girl, he tells a lie, claiming to run a non-profit that sends Ugg boots to the Gaza Strip. She believes him. But his conscience won’t let him rest until he seeks out an Imam (played by the extraordinary Jason Antoon of Bitter Party of Five) and seeks to make things right by turning the lie into truth.
I invited a few actors over to hear my first draft. They were enthusiastic and wanted to work on the film with me. We continued to refine the script over a year of informal meetings and during that time, I kept my eyes open for producers who would agree to make this with me on a micro-budget.
While bemoaning to my next door neighbor, Dani Barkat Turner, that one producer warned I couldn’t make the film for less than $20K, she said, “Why not talk to Amber?” Amber Benson, one of Dani’s best friends, had plenty of experience with low budget indie filmmaking – as a writer, director, actress and producer. Amber asked, “What’s your goal?”
“Honestly,” I said, “I just want to see if I can do it. I want to see it realized.”
“Great,” she said. “Let’s condense locations, make sure we can shoot in three days, and do it for $3K.”
Dani often joked that her circle of friends were unofficially The Angelino Heights Ladies Association – a group of amazing women working in film, all of whom lived on or around the Angelino Heights area. They invited me into this group. And this group produced my film. Dani connected me to Amber, Amber reached out to Sarah Platt, and they both reached out to Danielle Lesniewski, Shannon Hourigan, Kate Mallor and Elizabeth Fischbach (at whose lovely neighborhood bar, 1642, we shot our bar scene). In no time, we were a production company. And an all-female one to boot.
Uggs was made a year ago, in April. We had an almost entirely female crew (the lone male was our “sound guy”). We made the film for less than $7500, raising the entire budget on Indie GoGo. A year later, we premiered the film at the Aspen International Shorts Fest and won an Audience Special Recognition award.
But most important, we had a blast. Everyone involved was generous and kind. There were no tantrums, no divas and no crises. Actors said it was the most welcoming set they’d ever worked on. It was a great adventure, and I can’t wait to do it again.
Mr. Freeman, I am ready to hire you.Tags: Aspen International Film Festival, Brooke Berman, First time director, Follow your dreams, Hollywood, Independent filmmaking, Jason Antoon, Morgan Freeman, Uggs for Gaza, Women and film