Steven W. Eckles is the co-writer, producer and co-star of the zero-budget superhero epic DEFECTIVE MAN! (Check out my review HERE) which features the talents of such B-movie luminaries as Trent Haaga (DEADGIRL, BONNIE & CLYDE VS DRACULA), Elske McCain (GIMME SKELTER, JESSICKA RABID), Kurly Tlapoyawa (GAMER, CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE) and Billy Garberina (NECROVILLE, DOZERS).
DEFECTIVE MAN! was his first experience creating a film and, alongside director/co-writer D. Ryan Mowry, Steven received a crash course in filmmaking on the fly. Read on for the inimitable story of the making of DEFECTIVE MAN!
How I Stopped Stuttering: Notes from a First-time Indie Film Producer
My name is Steve. I’m 51 years old, married (no kids), and I work full time as an electrical engineer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have worked in this “day job” for 25 years.
Around 6 years ago, my engineering desk job, lucrative as it is, had become so rote and dehumanizing that I had to do SOMETHING to keep from going insane. I began drawing little cartoon caricatures; imaginary, composite mash-ups of my co-workers. The first of these characters was a fake, delusional, spandex-wearing, office superhero named “Defective Man!”. Defective Man had an oversexed sidekick named “Sexual Man”, who accessorized his work clothes with lots of sex toys (dildos, etc.).
I shared my rough sketches and twisted fantasies with friends and coworkers, and one of my friends (Kurly Tlapoyawa – local actor/stunt man and owner of the Burning Paradise Video store) told me, “You should write a script about it.”. So I did. I called it “Defective Man!”, and I tagged it as “the OVER-thinking man’s screwball superhero comedy”.
L-R: D.Ryan Mowry, Steve Eckles, Paul Alsing (Defective Man)
At the time, I had no idea how to bring my script to any kind of life. Aside from one stint as a Zombie extra in a local microbudget movie, I had no filmmaking knowledge or experience; and I knew that my little script was not exactly mainstream, agent-friendly material. Therefore, I decided to hit some local indie film festivals to meet some local filmmakers. That was where I first met my future filmmaking partner, D. Ryan Mowry. I had watched a panel discussion of local filmmakers with Ryan as one of the participants, and I was impressed with Ryan’s candor and character. I had the feeling that he would be a good guy to direct “Defective Man!”, and I turned out to be 100% correct about that!
I contacted Ryan shortly thereafter, and he agreed to direct “Defective Man!” if I would produce it, and if he could rewrite the script to make it more filmable on a microbudget level. I said “Sure.”, and the two of us hashed out 2 or 3 more drafts of the script over the next year-and-a-half. Ryan added some scenes, deleted some scenes, and punched up the dialogue and action to make it appeal to a wider audience.
Then came the hard part: Pre-production. For starters, it was hard for me because I am not an “extrovert” by nature. I was deathly afraid of crowds, public speaking, and tattooed intellectuals. Walking into a room full of worldly (albeit poor), bohemian movie types would send me into a panic/stuttering attack. And I didn’t have a clue how to raise funds, especially in this economy. Our raunchy script didn’t fit the mold for politically correct grants or artistic “endowments”.
Fortunately, around that time, I had auditioned for a speaking part in a local Horror/comedy film (Shawn Darling’s “Grave Mistake”); and to my surprise I got the part. Working on this film over the next year (on nights and weekends) helped me overcome a lot of my fear and social anxiety. Simultaneously, on the funding front, my wife – who is a financial wizard – found a way that we (her and I) could come up with the majority of funds for the budget. I won’t say exactly how much money we were eventually able to come up with, but it would not be enough to buy a used Mini Cooper.
After nearly 2 years of planning, Ryan and I were ready to audition actors and officially start production. Or pre-production, I don’t know. It was all a blur. Since we had very little in the way of production assistance at the time (we got more help LATER), I began making costumes, buying/making props, and scouting locations. All the while, Ryan was storyboarding, hosting rehearsals, drumming up publicity, recruiting musicians for the soundtrack, composing graphics (He’s a MAC wizard!), and helping me out whenever he could with props and costumes. We bought our camera, light/sound equipment (much of it USED) and numerous props on ebay, craigslist, amazon.com, and other websites; and I spent many a lunch hour scavenging materials for our costumes and props at every thrift store in Albuquerque.
During the course of our rehearsals, which took place on several weekends over several months time, we lost many of our lead actors to PAYING roles. (We would have liked to have paid them, but we still wish them all the best.) The same was true of several locations.
The Defective Four L-R: Captain Orange-Piss, Defective Man, Horndog and Bill Gill
Finally – after two years of rehearsals, auditions, location scouting, costume/prop design, and buying equipment – we were ready to start filming. By this time Ryan and I were both worn to a frazzle, since both of us had full-time jobs and families. All of our principal cast/crew members were in the same boat (with jobs and families), and we ended up losing even MORE principal cast members after filming began. They could only wait so long for us to get our sorry asses in gear!
With everyone’s conflicting work/family schedules and our “iffy” locations, it took us yet ANOTHER two years to complete principal photography. When we finally wrapped shooting in April of 2009, we couldn’t believe it. It seemed like a miracle. It was bittersweet, because there were some KILLER additional scenes that we were unable to film because we just ran out of time, money, cast, and/or locations. Ryan also had to cut some scenes that we DID film, because the first rough edit of the film was just too damn LONG for a comedy. He got the overall length down to 1:33 (approximately), which is something that we could live with.
Over the next year, while Ryan was busily editing the footage and recruiting soundtrack musicians, I was recording some of my own original music and trying to recruit some additional musicians for the soundtrack. Ryan and our assistant Director, Arthur Black, also contributed some of their original music for the soundtrack. With our original music, but more importantly with some of the PROFESSIONAL musicians that Ryan was able to recruit, I have to say that our soundtrack totally ROCKS! (Ryan was more successful than I was at recruiting musicians.)
The award ceremony with the President of New Mexico (Billy Garberina)
So, all in all, roughly six years from start to finish. Six years with very little sleep! Was it worth it? Goddamn right it was! We did it for the right reasons, I believe, knowing full well that it will be a million-to-one shot that we’ll ever see a profit from it. I can’t speak for the others, but I’m just grateful that I was finally able to do something INTERESTING in my life before I get too old and crippled up with arthritis, or dementia, or whatever.
We had our local art house premiere in May of 2010, and right now it seems that there is only a tiny handful of people who give a rat’s ass about our movie. That hurts a little, but it’s okay. I’m just glad to be done with it, because it damn near cost me my marriage and my day job. (Much better on both fronts now, Thanks!). As T.S. Eliot said, “For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.”
So, what were the hardest things (for me) about the whole process? Location scouting, budgeting, scheduling, re-scheduling, re-re-scheduling, re-re-re-scheduling, promotion, advertising, etc. All of these activities involve people skills, and people skills do NOT come naturally to me. Location scouting was the worst, with no money or credentials to wave around.
What did I enjoy the MOST about indie film production? Making the costumes, scavenging thrift stores on my lunch hour (Thrift stores RULE!!), rehearsals, surfing the web for props/equipment, and auditions. But most of all… FILMING. I’ll never forget the fun times that we had filming; wearing our ridiculous costumes, fending off angry truck drivers and street gangs, telling dirty jokes, changing costumes in alleyways, climbing up rusty ladders. I will always treasure the friends that I made … even though most of them seem to want very little to do with me now. (They’re just busy, I know.)
The official DEFECTIVE MAN! dressing room facilities
I also have to admit that, while this was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, it forced me to face down many of my worst fears — and to conquer them once and for all. It also appears that I’ve stopped stuttering. Yay!. After surviving this ordeal, there’s not a whole lot that scares me anymore — except for sharks, of course. Now I feel that I can handle almost any situation, at work or at play, and THAT is all of the reward that I need.
I am completely blown away by the fact that Ryan and our devoted cast/crew stuck with it for all of these years, and that they worked for FREE. If I were to die tomorrow, I would at least have that to comfort me as I pass to the other side. And we owe a huge debt to many the local heavy hitters in the New Mexico indie film “industry” for their mentorship and, in some cases, for appearing in our film! I’m talking about guys like Scott Phillips, Trent Haaga, Billy Garberina, Kurly Tlapoyawa, Craig Butler, Shawn Darling, Keif Henley, and Adam Brown.
My advice for anyone else who wants to try this? Do it while you’re young! And don’t let anyone (parents, co-workers, etc.) discourage you. But if you go through with it, try not to cross the line where you severely neglect your family.
I’ll close by saying that I am VERY proud of what we accomplished on our microbudget! Like the Defective Dude himself (our main character) , who is a “low impact enforcer”, our entire project had to be low-impact — on our lives, that is — because that was the only way that it was ever going to get done. So LONG LIVE low budget, low impact, lowbrow, lowlife filmmaking!
I owe a huge debt to my beautiful wife, who supported me in this foolish dream. As payback for this, I will have to watch a lot of Lifetime TV movies with her, but bring ‘em on!
One last thing. We’re still looking for a DVD distribution deal. So if you’re a distributor, give us a call! We’ll make it worth your while. And everyone must check out our website è SB-Films presents Defective Man!
Click the poster to go to the Red Band trailer for DEFECTIVE MAN!