Update–Where Have We Been??

By L. Tanner Smith

Hello! I’m so sorry this blog has been MIA for the past…year…I should apologize a second time. BUT a lot’s happened with Millennial With a Cane and a lot continues to happen! Where do I begin?

First of all, the film is 88 minutes long–which is good, because I personally love short movies.

It had its world premiere on September 30, 2021 in Shawnee, Kansas. The turnout was excellent, with more than half the auditorium filled! You can check out the highlight video for the event here:

Then came time to submit to many festivals…it got rejected by many–BUT it did get into three very good ones so far: the Sunny Side Up Film Festival (in Miami, Oklahoma), the Bare Bones Film & Music Festival (in Muskogee, Oklahoma), and the Kansas City Film Festival International (in KCMO).

At the Sunny Side Up festival, which took place March 18th-20th, 2022, MWAC was nominated for many awards, including Best Feature Film–it took home 3 honors: Best Comedy Feature, Best Inspirational Film, and Best Supporting Actor (for KC actor Jamie Campbell, who played Joel, the therapy group leader).

The Bare Bones festival will kick off on April 29th. MWAC will screen Saturday, April 30th–more info can be found here. It’s currently nominated for Best Comedy/Dramedy and I myself am nominated for the festival’s Indie Auteur Filmmaker of the Year award!

The KC FilmFest acceptance was a blessing to me. Since I live near the KC film scene and work with so many of the people within it, I hoped a feature film of mine would be accepted by this festival, which is also considered a high-ranking festival in the country. (I did have a microshort in the festival in 2020: the MWAC vignette Barista. That festival was virtual–a big plus for having a feature in the festival in 2022 is that it’s in-person.)

MWAC screens for the KCFFI on Monday, April 25th–more info can be found here.

That’s what’s happening now with MWAC, and the next time I post on here won’t take another year. (Perhaps I should apologize a third time?)

It’s a Wrap!

By L. Tanner Smith

First of all, so sorry I haven’t posted about Production Days 11-18–but this post about Day 19 (the final day of principal photography) should make up for it.

This was a very stressful day for me. For one thing, it was rescheduled due to a COVID-19 scare. (It was negative, thank God–but who could tell in the moment?) For another thing, it was the last day of production. Two weeks after the original planned date, I was bracing myself for something–ANYTHING–to go wrong.

But let me make it clear–whatever it was that would go wrong, I would find a way to work around. If there’s anything this production has taught me, it’s to be as resourceful as possible. Here I was at this point. I had thrown out the budget. I had changed a few scenes for convenience’s sake. And even I didn’t think my team and I could make it this far making this movie in this crazy, CRAZY time in modern society. Whatever it took…I was going to finish this thing on December 5, 2020!

My lead actress Heather was all in, as I knew she would be. And I knew she had better be on her A-game, because this was the day she was going to have to do some stunts–her character, Delilah, was going to fall to the ground numerous times to demonstrate part of her unfortunate MS-relapse effects. These “falls” were based on my personal experience, so I could tell her what they feel like for me…but we needed to practice safety, obviously. So, I called in a favor: Naomi Chaffee, a young stunt choreographer who would teach Heather how to fall forward/sideways without getting hurt. (We also had mats for Heather to land on.) Good thing she was there–Naomi’s instruction for Heather to fall on her forearms instead of her wrists was an important safety tip I might have overlooked otherwise!

Stunt coordinator Naomi Chaffee

We spent the afternoon working on the falls and a few little things here or there (including a reshoot for one of the support-group scenes). I bought everyone dinner at Five Guys before we headed to the hotel where we would spend the evening doing some guerrilla filmmaking. Heather would dress as a hotel employee (someone to check stock, clean restrooms, things like that) and I’d have her walk the halls of this Embassy Suites to get candid shots of her pretending to “work.” (I also let Naomi act in a little cameo performance, as a “thank-you” for her help earlier.)

And then came the most important part of this final shoot…the scene in which Del gets fired from her job by her cranky boss, Bill (played by Wayde Bowser). Jackie Jarvis, my actress friend who was previously in the MWAC vignette What Not To Say To People With MS, also appeared in this scene as Del’s friendly supervisor Andrea. Also appearing was my co-producer (and fiancee) Kelly Woodruff in a bit part as an employee who snitches on Delilah to Bill about Del’s habit of sneaking into hotel rooms and sleeping on the beds, thus sparking a heated conversation that ends with Del getting fired…and then telling Bill off before she leaves (that’s all I’ll say about it for now).

Wayde couldn’t make it in person this night, but I knew he had waited too long to be recast. This is an example of how resourceful no-budget filmmakers need to be: I had him video-call his entire role through Zoom. And give Wayde his due credit: even though he was literally “phoning in” his performance, he came through! (His character was based on a boss I didn’t like–and right as I called “cut,” I knew I didn’t like HIM. Just kidding!!)

Wayde Bowser with me, Jackie Jarvis, Heather Elaine, and Kelly Woodruff via Zoom

And then after numerous takes of this long, dialogue-heavy scene…that was it. The end of production for Millennial With a Cane. It was bittersweet to say the least.

I remember it was about a year and 3 months ago when I wanted to write a funny (but honest) story about living with MS. (It’s not autobiographical–while some of the things that happened to the main character happened to me in real life, the story itself is its own thing.) So I wrote MWAC–immediately after finishing the first draft of the screenplay, I knew I wanted to make it into a feature film. I wanted it to be “different” from my usual work. I did so many things I thought I was supposed to do because I thought I needed the fanciest equipment, a larger crew, lots of money, etc….and then COVID-19 happened and my attitude sort of changed. I learned that it’s not about what you have–it’s about what you do with it. So I had minimal resources…and that just made me more resourceful!

It’s been a wild journey to say the least. And I have to give a special thank you to everyone who cheered us on from the beginning of production (July 6th) to the end (December 5th). We definitely couldn’t have done it without your support.

Now begins the post-production process. What will happen to MWAC when it’s ready to be shown to the world? Well…I don’t know–but I do know that it will be a journey I can’t wait to embark upon.

Delilah “Del” Stone–the Millennial With a Cane!

MWAC Production Days 5-10

By L. Tanner Smith

From left to right: Liam (Benjamin Gipson), Meadow (Elissa Schrader), and Delilah (Heather Elaine)

If I had to choose a percentage that describes how close we are to finishing the production process, I’d say we’re about 65-70% completed with filming. And considering how messy things were at the start of production, that’s a real good place to be.

We have only a few “urgent” scenes left to shoot, followed by some smaller (but still important) material–so, it’s just a matter of how much we can get done in the time we have.

Cinematographer Keenan Capps gets a shot with Heather and Elissa.

These recent days of shooting have been the best so far. I mentioned in the previous post that “when we shoot, we make really good progress.” As it turned out, I hadn’t seen anything yet. For days 5-10, we were shooting probably the more intriguing scenes from the script.

Safety first! Underneath these masks are (from left to right) Heather Elaine, Kelly Woodruff (production designer), Christie Courville, Ashley Moreland, L. Tanner Smith, Megan Hitchcock Smith, Jamie Campbell, Elissas Schrader, and Benjamin Gipson.

Day 5 (August 18)–we shot the first half of the “MS support-group” scenes. In this scene, our main character Delilah goes to her first group meeting and meets Liam and Meadow, who would become her new best friends, and also hears stories from other MS patients in the group. It was a very long scene with numerous characters and numerous setups. But with a minimal crew (just myself, cinematographer Keenan Capps, and production designer/sound operator Kelly Woodruff), we made good time getting it done. In addition to regular actors like Heather Elaine (“Delilah”), Benjamin Gipson (“Liam”), and Elissa Schrader (“Meadow”), we had many newcomers to the shoot: Jamie Campbell (“Joel”), Christie Courville (“Blair”), Ashley Moreland (“Lynn”), and Megan Hitchcock Smith (“Misti”). I also put myself in a role in the support group–a silent jock named “Finn.” Neither Misti nor Finn were in the script, but the characters were included because it would give the group meetings more dimensions than they would if it were just these few people–and also, Misti and Finn are played by two real-life MS patients (myself and Megan Hitchcock Smith). Megan and I improvised a scene together and I think it turned out really well–if edited right, it may be one of the funnier moments of the film.

Jamie, Christie, and Ashley each get a moment to shine in the film, and this night was Christie’s. She plays Blair, an MS patient with spasmodic dysphonia, roughly defined as “interruptions in the voice” due to muscle spasms. And she was absolutely heartbreaking. I actually showed some of my creative consultants her footage from this scene, and they all asked the same question: “Does she really talk like that?” That’s when you know a performance works.

Jamie and Ashley did well this night too–I can’t wait to see how well they handle their “big” moments in the near future.

Heather had to do some of her most subtle acting in this scene, as the listener/observer. Her character Delilah is taking it all in and you can see in her facial expression that she feels both pity and respect for these people.

Lily (Lily Gojcevic) won’t stand for her best friend’s excuses this time.

Day 6 (August 29) was the first time we had worked with Lily Gojcevic as one of the key characters in the whole film: Lily Stevens, the best friend of Delilah. This was the day I was both nervous and excited about, because we were shooting Scene 32 aka “the argument scene.” This is the moment that brings forth the emotional conflict of the story, so it’s the most emotional scene in the whole film–an argument that threatens to destroy a loving friendship between Del and Lily.

I told everyone that if we could get this scene done right, I would have all possible faith in the rest of the shoot. And thankfully…not only did we do it right, but I don’t think it could be done better. Both these actresses were AMAZING! Heather of course killed it as Del (she’s been playing the part for a while now) and she’s always a definite pleasure to work with. Today, I got to see what Lily Gojcevic could do with the complex role of Lily Stevens, who doesn’t understand why Del doesn’t feel well enough to go out on Friday nights anymore, thus sparking the debate about what it means to deal with MS. Not only did Lily share great chemistry with Heather (on camera AND off), but she BECAME Lily Stevens. There’s one shot of her in closeup in which she had to exhibit several emotions in scene 32 alone–giddiness, sadness, regret, frustration, and anger. It’s like magic.

Day 7 (August 31) was the day in which we shot two other important scenes: the “bonding” moments between Del, Liam, and Meadow as they get to know each other and become good friends. I actually got a permit to film in a shelter at Shawnee Mission Park (good scenery there)…….but maybe we didn’t need it after all, because no one asked us any questions and we did whatever we wanted. But oh well. It was nice to have it. (I’m keeping it as a souvenir.)

Between the support-group scene, Scene 32, and these two bonding moments, I think I have enough good material for scenes to include in the film’s press junket!

Day 8 (September 6), we went to Ironwoods Park in Leawood, KS…the shots were good, the performances were good, the environment…in the end, the environment just wasn’t working for us. I think I knew before one of the actors messaged me, saying they didn’t believe we were at our best this day, that we would have to reshoot.

Day 9 (September 8), we didn’t do much–just a couple of pickup shots and voice recordings (for cellphone conversations) with Lily–but every bit helps.

Day 10 was what I called the evening of September 12 and the morning of September 13.

Brent Custer as Gus

On the 12th, we brought back talented young actor Brent Custer as “Gus,” Lily’s arrogant, repulsive date, and everyone else who was there for the scenes we shot the week before. Now I think we can safely say that the previous shoot was a dress rehearsal for the real thing, because everything felt so RIGHT this time. (Even the technical difficulties that couldn’t be avoided can be fixed in post.)

Then, after very little sleep (I hate morning shoots), we shot the “brunch” scene on the morning of the 13th in the living room of Keenan’s house. This day, we brought in Drew Smith to play Liam’s father, Paul Jacobs.

Drew Smith as Paul

Paul serves as the anti-Lily, in a sense that he too isn’t fully understanding about chronic illness; but because it’s happening with someone he loves (his son), he’s open to asking questions about it, even if it slightly embarrasses Liam. And this actor played it perfectly–very funny and very real.

Also, because I had a feeling everyone else hated morning shoots as much as I do, I brought two dozen doughnuts and a big box of coffee for everyone to enjoy. Don’t say I’m not a generous director!

And that’s where we are now. We’re getting there! We may be moving slowly during this process, but it’s better than standing still.

Kelly Woodruff and her design for the MS Strong support group posterboard.

“Recasting” Announcement–Lily Gojcevic as “Lily Stevens”

By L. Tanner Smith

I’m very pleased to announce that Lily Gojcevic will be taking the role of Lily Stevens in “Millennial With a Cane.”

Lily Gojcevic

The role was originally given to actress Liz Hackworth, but due to scheduling conflicts, I had to recast. (But it’s OK–she’s a talented singer-songwriter; if Liz and my music composer Josh Rousseau put their heads together, they can surely come up with something good!)

But now we have Lily Gojcevic. Looking back at her audition footage (all three of them: original, callback, and second-callback–yeah, the role of Lily was hard to cast!!), she definitely has the right attitude and I have no doubt that she will do a great job and make all of us at MWAC very proud!

Lily Stevens–Delilah’s tall, conservative best friend who still lives with her middle-class suburban parents. Lily has an uneasy outlook on Del’s illness, which only surfaces as Del’s symptoms get worse. This character goes through one of the most important arcs of the story.

And now, Lily G.’s interview:

  1. What originally drew you to this project and/or the role of Lily?

I thought it was a very unique script, and it talked about MS, which I had never seen a story about before. And Lily’s character was really interesting because I think a lot of people can relate to the struggle of someone trying to understand the illness, and using a character to help speak for it is really important. 

2. Why do you want to participate in this project?

This project’s actually really personal to me, because my aunt has scleroderma which is an autoimmune disorder. And I’ve watched her struggle through it at work and not understand what was happening. Anything that helps bring awareness to something like that is very important. 

3. Who do you think “MWAC” will speak to? Why should people be interested in it?

I definitely think it’ll speak to anyone who has MS or any people who are close to someone who has something like that. And I really hope it does reach as many people as possible because it is a real illness and I think when people have a better understanding of it, it makes it easier for patients to feel accepted. 

4. Are you excited for your first filming date?

Oh hell yeah!!!

Keep up with more MWAC announcements by following us on our blog and on Facebook!

Elissa Schrader as “Meadow Keaton”

By L. Tanner Smith

NOTE: Yes, I am aware this post is really late, as we’re well into production. But I have another recasting announcement to make soon, and I realized I forgot to interview Elissa for the blog, so…better late than never, right?

Back in April, there was a scheduling conflict that caused me to recast the role of Meadow Keaton in “Millennial With a Cane.” (Thankfully, the original actress, McKenzie Stell, is fine with it…as long as I cast her in a future film project. Fair enough!) I needed to find someone that would A) capture the perky, energetic essence of the character…and B) be brave enough to shave her head bald. Along came KC actress Elissa Schrader!

Elissa Schrader

At first, I wanted to try our luck with a bald cap. I reached out to a local makeup business who specialized in makeup/effects for KC independent film. But I have a certain bias against skin caps–very rarely do they look real in movies/shows. (Seeing a particularly unconvincing one in an episode of the TV show “Malcolm in the Middle” was the thing that made me think otherwise. I mean, we don’t even have 25% of the same budget as “Malcolm”!) So, I reached out to a friend in KC…she said no; but she knew somebody who would!

Elissa was the answer to my prayers when she agreed to play Meadow. I’ve filmed with her for two days so far, and she’s nailing the role! She’s quirky, enthusiastic, cheerful, and funny, but with a strict, motherly side to her as well–that’s Meadow!!

And now, the interview:

  1. What drew you to the project and/or the part of Meadow?

I think it might be more accurate to say the project was drawn to me. You guys were looking for an actress who was flexible with her appearance, and just happened to ask a friend of mine who knew I’d be down for a head shaving.

2. Why do you want to participate in this project?

I’m happy to get to be doing any acting with what is going on right now. But it always nice to work on projects that focus on educating, not just entertaining.

3. Who do you think “Millennial With a Cane” will speak to? Why should people be interested in it?

We all want our audience to enjoy watching, but it’s nice that we also are giving them the chance to learn about a condition and its obstacles that they might not otherwise be exposed to.

And now, here’s a behind-the-scenes video showing Elissa’s first steps at getting into character: by having her head shaven.

MWAC Production Days 2-4

By L. Tanner Smith

In my previous post, I mentioned that we’ve had some scheduling difficulties…it got worse.

It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just a crazy year for everyone. Things kept coming up, whether it was sickness or personal issues or something else that just couldn’t be helped. And it’s a small indie project anyway, which gives everyone their own personal leeway.

Not to mention, we’re making this film while in the middle of a pandemic. You do what you can do. (And safety first!)

With that said, when we shoot, we make really good progress.

Heather Elaine as Delilah “Del” Stone

Day 2 was exactly one week after Day 1: July 13th. I shot more individual scenes with lead actress Heather Elaine–a lonely day in the life of “Delilah ‘Del’ Stone.”

Day 3…was 17 days later: July 30th. As you can probably imagine, I was excited to finally get back to filming but also incredibly nervous something was going to go wrong that day too. And something did: we had no crew that night! We had Heather and two key supporting actors (Benjamin Gipson as “Liam Jacobs” and Elissa Schrader as “Meadow Keaton”), but my cinematographer was held up, my co-producer had to work, my executive producer planned on coming (from Arkansas, no less) but was unable to make it due to sickness, and since we had do a different set of scenes due to rain, we missed out on having a couple potential crew members too.

Just because it’s a small indie film doesn’t make things any less stressful. But it also makes the good parts all the better.

Naturally, I was like “UH-OH!!!” BUT…I still had the equipment…I still had the actors…together we had shared ingenuity…and we were gonna get it done anyway!

(Eat your heart out, Robert Rodriguez…I mean that with utmost respect.)

From left to right: alopecia-stricken Meadow (Elissa Schrader) and MS patients Delilah (Heather Elaine) & Liam (Benjamin Gipson)

And so, we did! It was a great time. Heather, Benjamin, and Elissa got along so well and were also able to improvise together on-camera, which made my job even easier. This was also the night that the scenes we shot were what I like to call “hangout scenes.” The characters are a trio of friends hanging out, watching movies, eating dinner together, and lightheartedly joking with each other, while also establishing plot/character development. As a director, this is personally my favorite type of scene to shoot.

By the end of the shoot, I had a huge smile on my face. This was what I was waiting for after so many setbacks and delays that kept getting in the way the past couple weeks.

Director L. Tanner Smith and Cinematographer Keenan Capps with face masks

And then after another schedule delay, Day 4 came nine days later: August 8th, with Heather, Benjamin, and Elissa again. This time, we did have help: we got our cinematographer Keenan Capps back, and co-producer Kelly Woodruff was our boom operator. And this was an all-day shoot, from noon to 9:00pm. Let’s do this…

For starters, WE FINALLY LEFT THE APARTMENT!! Haha, but seriously the first two scenes, set in a moving car, put us to a good start. People (and critics) will say that acting while driving isn’t easy, but in the case of Heather, I don’t think it’s that hard. (It was a little hard for Keenan to be curled up in the passenger seat to get the shot. All I did was hide in the back with my mic and makeshift boom pole.)

And then, it was back to the apartment, where Kelly took over as boom op (and also became a second camera operator in a truly effective way–I won’t go into it here, but it was really good stuff), Benjamin brought his chops for what was meant to be a simple setup-for-final-act scene, and Heather…wow, Heather…I’m still trying to find the right words to express my utmost gratitude towards her dedication towards this project, but trust me when I say she is becoming this movie!

And last but not least, after a dinner break, Elissa joined us for the last part of the day. This part of the shoot was simply in good fun, as I had both her and Benjamin improvise scenes as part of a montage for late in the film. (Who knew you could get great jokes from a wig?)

Elissa Schrader and wig

And that was the end of a day that reminded me that while we at Millennial With a Cane may be moving slowly, we make great progress as we keep going! There will be more errors, of course, but it will all be worth it in the end.

Oh, and yes, Elissa did have her head shaven to play the part of Meadow. Here’s a fun behind-the-scenes video from that event:

MWAC Production–Day 1

By L. Tanner Smith

Despite a scheduled three days for the first week of production for Millennial With a Cane, we were only able shoot for one day this week…but what a day it was!

Heather Elaine as Delilah

We started filming MWAC on Monday, July 6th. We shot a few scenes involving our lead actress Heather Elaine as RRMS patient Delilah “Del” Stone. Much of the time, Heather had to act with her facial expressions–whether it was limping up some stairs, injecting herself with a medicinal pen, or struggling to find a new job at her computer, Heather had to communicate with the camera through thought. And then, we ended the day by letting her use her comedic talents for a scene in which Del plays with a newly-purchased folding cane. (You’ll see–those things are indeed fun to play with! Trust me, I know.)

The scenes took place in Del’s apartment…which is actually my apartment redecorated to become Del’s. (Much of the decor is a bunch of posters on the wall for obscure indie short works, many of which I was involved with and got permission to use by the films’ directors. There’s also an “LP bowl,” which is exactly what it sounds like, in the center of the dining table, plus a couple of sunset paintings created by co-producer Kelly Woodruff.)

It was a great first day. I’d be more upset about the scheduling conflicts that arose for the rest of the week, if we didn’t have a great first day of filming. And I look forward to the next day.

Production is Coming!

Yes…we have a clapperboard!

By L. Tanner Smith

Yes, even though we’re in a pandemic, we didn’t reach our funding goal (though, we got enough money to buy more props and feed everybody), I threw out the budget, and we have to take more precautions (such as a skeleton crew, all of whom must wear masks, and lots of hand sanitizer)…we are still pushing forward for production on “Millennial With a Cane” next week, starting July 6th!

Needless to say, a lot has happened since the Covid-19 pandemic turned “normal” into a curse word. Everyone’s been in quarantine, businesses were put on hold (many of them are still in question as of now), and three of our actors even caught the illness (they’ve recovered now). Also, no more MWAC vignettes were filmed–this is what I get for just deciding not to film any the whole month of February. (That doesn’t mean I won’t get to them in the future–who says they all had to be done before production for MWAC? It’s my project; I’ll do whatever I want…to an extent.) And I thought, if I’m still going to shoot MWAC this July, I have to be more creative. Some scenes were rewritten, an actor was replaced*, locations had to be chosen carefully, and we had to have a very small crew for everyone’s safety.

Is that last thing a negative? No way. Why? Because what we lack in resources, we make up for in spirit. (And lucky for us, the cinematographer Keenan Capps also has effective equipment that suit our needs.)

So yeah–we’re doing this! We start shooting for three days next week (July 6th, 8th, and 10th), beginning with actors Heather Elaine and Liz Hackworth. And I’m looking forward to working with them and the rest of the cast.

I’ll post updates every week we’re shooting, so stay tuned!

*McKenzie Stell has been replaced by Elissa Schrader for the role of Meadow Keaton. McKenzie’s fine with this…as long as I cast her in every other film I make from now on.

Casting Announcement–Heather Elaine as “Delilah ‘Del’ Stone”

This is the big one! We’re very happy and excited to announce that Delilah “Del” Stone, the lead role, the titular “Millennial With a Cane,” the main character we’ll be following throughout the feature film, has been given to the very talented Kansas City actress Heather Elaine!

Heather Elaine

Delilah “Del” Stone is an aspiring actress in her mid-20s, sarcastic and witty but possesses a good heart. She’s always used humor as a defense mechanism. While she’s often alone, she never feels lonely because she’s comfortable with herself, even when her Multiple Sclerosis flares up. She’s often tired, even exhausted, but she knows rest is important for energy spent later and doesn’t complain about it. She’s sometimes cocky but she does know when to shut up and focus.

We’ve seen many talented actresses read for the complex role of Del–I was looking for someone who could effortlessly capture Del’s sharp comedic wit and her dramatic vulnerability. Heather presented both qualities to a T. And I look forward to directing her for the feature. I believe she’s more than capable of carrying the film on her shoulders.

And so far, she’s been a ton of fun to work with–check out the latest MWAC vignette, Writer’s Block (aka The Writer & Delilah):

Writer’s Block (aka The Writer & Delilah)

You can check out more of her work in film, theatre & commercials at https://www.heather-elaine.com/.

Heather’s interview will be posted shortly.

Keep up with more MWAC announcements by following us on our blog and on Facebook! Donations are still accepted here on our GoFundMe page!