When Andy Steinman and Anders Anderson set out to make a feature film with no prior experience, they knew there would be obstacles. It wasn't that Steinman and Anderson were entirely unfamiliar with the process -- Steinman had previously been a cinematographer and Anderson had been an actor -- but to assemble and manage all the moving parts that create a feature-length film, the pair knew they had their work cut out for them.
The first and biggest challenge, however, was creating a partnership that could endure the creative process. Steinman and Anderson met in 2004 while working on a short film called Back East and it was there that the idea to collaborate on a feature film first came to be.
"We started collaborating and making sure that our partnership was going to be the way we wanted to be," says Steinman. "We just knew that we had similar passions, not only in the kinds of movies (we wanted) to work on but to (also) actually become filmmakers ourselves. And after so much talk about what our next project would be, we decided that the best next step was to create our own project and tell the stories that we wanted to tell."
Which is not to say the project got off the ground overnight. What started in 2004 with an idea required years of work, with both Steinman and Anderson gaining as much knowledge about their next step as anyone reasonably can do. Anderson, having never directed, took a job with indie director Sandy Tung as an assistant on a kid's film called Alice Upside Down (2007).
"I (thought), 'Well I need to get onto the set of a feature film to see how that works," says Anderson. "And Sandy was kind enough to say, 'Sure you can follow me around and help me out on this feature.'"
For his part, Steinman relied on his professional experiences as a cinematographer to help him learn how to sit in the producer's chair. "On set I was always interested in that process, (in) working (with) and learning from producers on what it would take to get through post and (have) a finished film," he says.
To get there, though, Steinman and Anderson would have to convince a lot of people that they could pull off what they'd set out to accomplish. After forming their production company, A2 Entertainment Group, and finding a project they thought they could work with, (in the form of Glenn Taranto's script originally called Boy In the Box) the pair set out restructuring elements of the story, further developing the character (played by James Van Der Beek) that haunts the two fathers at the center of the crime drama (played by Jon Hamm and Josh Lucas). In the end, Boy In The Box became their first feature film Stolen (2009) and as Steinman and Anderson set out to find their cast, they encountered the first of many lucky breaks
"The process of getting actors is different for everybody, and in independent film (there's) always (the question of) what comes first: the money or the actor?" recalls Steinman. "We still hadn't played that game ourselves but luckily enough, we knew somebody who said, 'I have Josh Lucas's phone number. I can make a phone call for you and send the script to him. That's all I can do, it's up to you after that.'"
So they did and a few days later, along with a montage of photographs and film clips that Steinman and Anderson thought would bolster their case as first-time filmmakers that an actor should take a chance on.
"That was the only thing we could show," elaborates Steinman. "Because we had nothing else, since we were first timers."
A few days later, Lucas picked up the phone.
"Josh is a very personable guy and he got it right away," recalls Anderson. "We were open, in a sense, for Josh to participate however he wanted in the movie. And when he came to us and (said in) the first conversation, 'I want to play this Matthew Wakefield character,' we were just like, 'Perfect.'"
Independent film is a hard world, but for any producer it is always made easier by having recognizable talent attached to their project. After Lucas came on board, the rest fell into place as Jon Hamm, Rhona Mitra, Van Der Beek and others came on board.
And then their luck ran a bit thin as the Malibu fires of 2007 forced their hand on the first day of shooting.
"The one (incident) that probably was the kick off was showing up the first day and finding out (our) location was closed because of the fires in Malibu," Anderson recounts. "(We had) to re-scout the entire location for this big set up-- (redo) everything and (I remember) thinking, 'Ok we're going to remake everything. The art department has to redo how they're going to dress the entire set. And oh, by the way, you have to shoot all day too while trying to figure this out."
But 23 days of principal photography and a few days of pick-up shooting later, the pair had their first film shot. Stolen is a story about two fathers, one in 2008 (Hamm) and another in 1958 (Lucas), who are haunted by the connected disappearance of their respective sons. And while neither Steinman nor Anderson would say that everything went according to plan, they still have something to show for an experience neither could truly believe was happening.
"The biggest thing was the first take when we were in old town Orange and we call action," Anderson remembers. "(I heard) Josh's voice and the bass in his voice--that movie star quality of his voice. I (thought), 'Oh wow, we're working on a movie. Brace yourself here we go. Who's directing this? Me? Oh my gosh, this is really crazy."
Stolen, released by IFC Films, premiered yesterday at the Chelsea Clearview Cinema in New York, and opens on March 19th in Los Angeles at the Sunset 5. It is also available for streaming through IFC Film's VOD service.