On the surface, Four Color Eulogy is a film about friends, family, and comic books but in reality, it is about much more.
Jason Contini and his father, John Contini, are icons in the St. Louis Theatre community, having both been professional actors in town for decades.
“The initial concept of Four Color Eulogy originally came about in 2011,” Jason Contini explains. “They say to write what you know, and at the time I was self-publishing my own comic book, so I decided to write a story about three very good friends who were going to write their own comic book.”
“The secret origin of the film,” chimes in John, “is rather twofold. The idea for the screenplay that Jason came up with dealt with the world of comic books, and he was looking for something to add to humanize it. I had the idea for a play that took place in South St. Louis about two neighboring families and the inter-relationship between the families. So adding that concept to the comic book storyline, we came up with Four Color Eulogy.”
Once Jason and John had a first draft, Jason reached out to his long-time writing partner and fellow Archlight Studios comic book geek, Nicholas J. Hearne, who helped to add some of the humor to the script; and writer/director Wyatt Weed, who Jason had previously worked with as an actor on the film Shadowland. Wyatt’s years of experience in filmmaking in Hollywood brought a professionalism to the script.
“I think we went back and forth writing the script for a good six months,” Wyatt says of the creative process. “There were basically five cooks in the kitchen, and you would think that would make for a horrible situation, but it’s amazing how well everyone clicked creatively. It was a process, but the writers and the creative talents gelled so well. Sometimes you get people together on a project and they zig and zag at the wrong times. This team zigged and zagged in unison. They say ‘lightning in a bottle’ – we caught lightning in a bottle.
Four Color Eulogy is about Chris, a 30-something aspiring comic book creator, who grew up the son of a single mother. Chris and his girlfriend, Anne, return to the Midwest when his mother, Carol, is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Chris is forced to face his mother’s mortality and that nagging childhood question: Who was his father, and why wasn’t he around? With the help of his buddy Brian (a pop-culture geek) and family friend/mentor Rich (a bartender with a creative secret), Chris will have to determine what is more important: the hero’s origin, or his ongoing journey.
Once the script was fleshed out, Wyatt brought on the rest of his team, the St. Charles-based film production company Pirate Pictures, including lighting and computer tech Robert Clark and producer Gayle Gallagher.
“Once we got the script green-lit, the production team met every week for about six months, sorting out all of the details of what would be needed to create this film – locations, actors, props, and financing,” explained Gayle.
“To fund this film, we decided to test the waters of crowdfunding, and see how much money we could raise. We were blown away by how many people were willing to donate money to this project. They were so supportive. Despite that, we still had a very low budget to work with, and it was amazing to know that many local people and businesses were willing to help us out with donations of equipment and with letting us use their homes and offices for free.”
The film takes place in South St. Louis, and the city is practically a character in the film itself, but several of the locations were in different parts of the St. Louis area and ‘cheated’ as being in the neighborhood where the family in the film lives.
“We used Melrose Bar in South City, New Castle Comics in Maryland Heights, and a U-Gas station in Wentzville. But we were most blown away by the fact that we were allowed to use SSM St. Joseph Hospital in Lake St. Louis. The story involves a woman with cancer, so the fact that SSM was so willing to help us and show us how a cancer patient would be treated was fantastic.”
“Casting was also key to this film. One of the great things about Jason and John co-writing this story is that they were also going to be acting in the film together, Jason playing Chris and John playing Rich. Although they had been in several stage plays together (the first time when Jason was only three years old), they had never actually been on screen together in a film. Nick, who in real life is one of Jason’s best friends, was cast as the buddy (Brian) in the film.”
Of the casting process, Weed said, “The next step was to find actors for the other roles. With Jason and John being so tied into the theatre community in St. Louis, they knew a lot of great actors in town, invited them to audition, and it worked great – we ended up with a cast of professional actors who played the roles perfectly.”
The cast was filled with award-winning actors who have been on the stage professionally for years, including Jessica Winingham (Anne), Amy Loui (Carol), Taylor Pietz (Katie), Zachary Farmer (Kirby), Dean Christopher (Jerry), Whit Reichert (Bud), and Jon Hey (Jack King Fan).
“Film actors really have the technical side down,” explained Weed. “They know how to move in a certain way for camera, speak at a certain volume, find their light. But man, nobody knows their lines and nobody comes to set more prepared than a stage actor.”
“The fact that most of these actors have also known each other and worked together for years also made their relationships on screen as people who have known each other forever much more realistic.”
In real life, Amy Loui, who plays Carol (Chris’ mom) and John Contini went to college together and have been close friends ever since. Because of this special history, it was an easy transition to portray their characters, Carol and Rich, as being long-time friends in the film.
“We had known each other for years. It was family coming together. In fact,” John remembers, “Amy was even a babysitter for Jason when he was only three or four years old.”
“Transferring that to the script was so natural,” says Amy Loui. “It happened in a way that wasn’t fabricated, that wasn’t forced. It was very sincere.”
“When I read the script for this film,” says Gallagher, “I immediately liked this story. But when we got on set and the actors became the characters and made them their own, I realized that I loved this story! I’ve produced several feature films in the St. Louis area, and this is the first family comedy/drama that we have done, and I’m really proud of it.
The physical shoot took about 24 days throughout the summer of 2014. The production would shoot for several days in one location, take a few days to regroup, and then move on to the next location. This allowed for a little rest and recovery time in between, and also allowed for actors and crew to continue to work their full-time regular jobs.
Soon after editing began in the fall of 2014, an early milestone was achieved when the film was invited to screen at the prestigious St. Louis International Film Festival – before it was even finished!
“The festival had screened many of our other projects in the past, and they had faith in us, so they invited us to screen sight unseen,” Weed recalled. “It was a real honor, but also scary – from the time we accepted the offer to the day we screened we only had about 6 weeks to finish the film!! In fact, it wasn’t REALLY the final film – we actually cut several more minutes out the film, and did quite a bit more audio work the following year.
Another strong St. Louis connection is the use of many local musicians and recording artists on the film’s soundtrack.
“One of the aspects of the film that was really important to me was the music,” said Gallagher. “We approached some local musicians and were pleased when some other bands in the Midwest area reached out to us to see if we wanted to use their music. Locally, we were thrilled to have music by Abigail Stahlschmidt (who also makes a cameo in the film). Abby then introduced us to the band Clockwork who let us use a couple of their songs. I had recently reconnected with Patrick Conway, who I knew years ago from working in radio, and we included four different tunes by him in the film, including the end credits song, “Bodhi Tree.” The band who has the most music in the film is a group out of Tennessee called Manitoba Rock N Rolla, who approached us and asked if we needed any music for the film. Their style fits perfect in the South City bar scenes. They in turn introduced us to to 14-year old Rhyan Sinclair and her group, All The Little Pieces. And finally, our title track, “Color Me,” which was written for the film and performed by Taylor Pietz, who in the film plays Katie the bartender.”
“I had this idea about using concept of ‘color,’ said Pietz, “and I pulled ideas from the script and made it from the point of view of the main character.”
Once the film was completed, the long and arduous task of distribution began. Always a difficult process for an independent film without “name” actors, Jason Contini and Wyatt Weed finally managed a meeting with local theater chain Wehrenberg Theaters.
“That was an amazing meeting”, Weed explained, recalling the day. “It had taken us months to get in to see them, and we really went for it – we told them that we wanted to screen at Ronnie’s 20, which is their big showplace theater. And they said yes!!”
“We screened Four Color Eulogy for a week at Ronnies, and the opportunity to see it with an audience and to hear their reactions, it was really touching,” remembered Gallagher. “The crowds all laughed when they were supposed to, and they cried when they were supposed to. It was so amazing to have hundreds of people watching our film, and ‘getting’ it!!”
“Now we are finally going to release the movie to digital, streaming, and DVD, and we’re really excited about it. People think you just dump a DVD into the market, but it’s really a process – you have to research the timing, see what else is being released, if it’s the right season, and then you have to put together all the special features. Wyatt, Jason, John and Nick recorded the commentaries, Jason put together an extensive and amazing “behind the scenes” piece, and we pulled together bloopers, alternate takes, trailers, and music videos. You build and produce the DVD, create the packaging, ship and upload to your various distribution outlets – it’s really a huge amount of work that never seems to end!”
With Four Color Eulogy having been released in December of 2017, Archlight and Pirate are looking to the future. “Jason wants to do a proper Western, and has written a script, so the fundraising for that project has begun,” Gallagher explained. “Wyatt has a project that he really wants to do as well, so we should be doing a lot more filming over the next few years, in St. Charles as well as the entire St. Louis area. This is a great place to make films – when it comes to being creative, this is such a supportive community.”
Four Color Eulogy film, soundtrack and behind the scenes clips are available at www.FourColorTheMovie.com as well as Vimeo.com and Amazon.com.