Local Comedy People With Issues Takes the Long Path
Third time's the charm for writer-director Dan Siegelstein
Austin comedy People With Issues was always meant to be a film. But in the last five years, it's been an award-winning short, and a web series, before it arrived on home release last month in its original, as-intended feature form. Writer-director Dan Siegelstein said, "The thing that kept me going was a very, very stubborn can-do attitude."
It's the story of three immediately identifiable Austin twentysomethings – lovelorn librarian Jack (Tanner Kalina), underachieving receptionist Aaron (Adam Mengesha), and conflicted cartoonist Darren (Dano Colón) – sat at the bottom of a drained swimming pool, asking themselves, "Well, how did I get here?" Aside from one shot of the Downtown skyline, there's no real blinding signposts that People With Issues was shot in Austin, and that was a deliberate decision about showing the realities of life here (hint: no one goes to the Capitol unless they have to). In his day job as a grip, Siegelstein said he worked on plenty of films where shooting schedules read like a tourism guide. But like many Austinites post-graduation, his slackers are too old to hang out on the Drag, and can't be bothered with the parking on South Congress. Siegelstein said, "I remember when I was at UT, it was all about getting drunk on Sixth Street, but barely a year out of college, I was going, 'Gah, Sixth Street's kind of lame, what else is there?'"
Siegelstein originally wrote the script as a low-budget rom-com ("$50,000 isn't a lot to make a movie," he said) but when your low budget would still buy a sports car, that's a big ask. First, he made a proof-of-concept short in 2013, with Mengesha, Colón, and J.M. Specht as Jack, and shot it like a TV sitcom before the first commercial break. "That invites people to ask what happens next, and we would use that as a lure to go, 'Funny you should ask; give us 80 grand and you find out.'"
Sadly, an award-winning festival run still didn't produce enough investors, so in 2014 Siegelstein raised $11,000 via Indiegogo, put Kalina in the role of Jack, and rewrote Act I of the film script as an eight-episode web series. Then Kalina got cast in Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!!, and Siegelstein could leverage his actor's new profile to get new backers to shoot "what we referred to as season 2." In fact, that was really the rest of the film script, "and then we played with it, and rejigged it in the editing room."
That meant converting five years of shoots into one narrative, with a cast that changed over time (two actors – Kalina and Josephine McAdam, who plays Aaron's co-worker and frenemy Amber – had even moved to Los Angeles). Some scenes were completely re-edited, to account for the differences between film and web storytelling, and Siegelstein built a new structure. Separate to the intersecting stories of the three leads, he broke the narrative into three timelines – "The present, set in the party; the flashback in color; and then the flash sideways, in black and white." Those monochrome sequences were fully repurposed from the web series, and Siegelstein used them to highlight the leads' good-natured banter. "It created a cinematic space where we could just be with the characters, and let their camaraderie come through."
People With Issues is available on VOD and DVD now. Visit www.keymasterfilms.com for more info.