for ZOOEY took place over the course of two weeks in the winter of 2003 on
a budget of $20,000. The crew
of 20 and cast of over 40 had to survive single digit temperatures, a
dozen locations and hundreds of problems to complete the feature film. The filmmakers called in on favors and borrowed against
credit cards to finance the project.
With a bit of luck, ingenuity and tireless hours, the production
team got the most out of every dollar.
production utilized a myriad of New York City locations including,
Bushwick, DUMBO, Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Tribeca and the East Village.
The team shot around noisy radiators during
interior locations to news helicopters flying overhead covering the MTA
Transit Strike during the exterior shots.
The project started after writer/director,
Sherman Lau discovered the true story of a NYC prostitute who was married.
“Her husband would drive her to work and would watch over her
from their car. I thought
that was such an incredible bizarre love story” says Sherman Lau.
From there the characters of Zooey and Angel were born.
The writer/director then spent almost a year interviewing NYC
prostitutes and drug addicts while writing the script.
“Almost every scene is inspired from an actual story.
And what I found is that these people aren’t very different from
you or I, which is what the film is about.”
After a two month casting process, the
filmmakers were seeing their project come to life.
“Once we had our leads, it was like this is for real, “ says
Lau. The actors then
rehearsed for three months. “We
knew we didn’t have time to figure things out on the set so I wanted
everyone to be on the same page before we started shooting.”
The actors also found this time to be incredible helpful.
“The way Sherman works is that he allows the actors to develop
their own dialogue, he never said you have to say exactly this. He feels the script is just a blue print and that we should
become the characters and speak in way that is comfortable and natural,”
says Sarah Louise Lilley who plays Zooey.
The cast was coming together and there was
less than two weeks till the start of production, yet there was still one
problem. The role of Jake,
the 10 year old child that Zooey and Angel look after, was not cast.
Lau says “we had dozens of kids read, but we couldn’t find
Jake. It was frustrating
since he was such an important part of the film.” After several failed calls to local acting schools, the
filmmakers got a glimmer of hope. “We
spoke to one school who doesn’t even have child actors and they said
they knew of a kid named Jordan Burt.
It turned out that kid not only had the right look, but he could
act.” In fact, Jordan will
be seen this summer in M. Night Shymalan’s “The Village.”
Now that the cast was set, pre-production
was able to move forward. To
make sure the look was authentic, costume designer, Leigh Ridpath
researched and observed actual prostitutes.
“We went to the same stores that they went to and then added
items I found at thrift stores and the Fredericks of Hollywood catalog.”
Ridpath also created some original designs for the film.
“The character, Zooey is suppose to make some of her own clothes,
so I created several tops. One shirt became a crew favorite, The Brooklyn Bridge shirt,
which Zooey wears during the interviews.
Everyone wanted me to make one for them. They were like you could sell that at Barneys for $300.”
In fact you can order one on the film’s web site
Director, Sherman Lau and Director of
Photography, Brett Albright spent weeks finding the right locations and
discussing the look of the film. “We
shot a lot of tests, using different lighting techniques and camera
moves,” say Albright. “We
even practiced the moves in the actual locations.
We knew we had the actors well rehearsed, we wanted the crew to be
as well.” Still the cinematographer knew his team was limited, which
they say worked to their advantage. “There
is only so much you can do if you don’t have a lot of resources.
We didn’t have many lights, most of the film is lit with a couple
of China Balls and an HMI.” In fact most of the production equipment, from lights,
batteries to extension cords were bought at Wholesale Liquidators, a local
The filmmakers worked around a very
limited budget, but were still able to be on schedule.
“There were very few days that went over. Mostly 12 to 14 hour days as oppose to usual 18 to 20 hour
days like most indie shoots,” says co-producer, Sandra Kuhn.
Still the shoot did have its challenges.
“We shot a lot of our exteriors in DUMBO
which is experiencing an incredible change.
Most of the locations we used are no longer there or they’ve been
changed so much you wouldn’t even recognize it.
This use to be a place where the mob would dump bodies and now
it’s become SoHo. So there
was a lot of construction going on during the shoot.
Fortunately most of the film takes place at night, so we’d wait
for the bulldozers to stop before we would start” says co-prodcuer, Toni
Judkins. “I feel we were
truly blessed. Everything
just seemed to work out. Radiators
would stop clanking just enough to record some dialogue and it never
rained during our exteriors.”
“When you have no money, you have to be
creative. We couldn’t
afford a crane or a dolly so we bought a $300 porta-jib and used a wide
lens. We called in favors and
got a great deal on a camera package.
We needed a hair salon, it just happens that my mother owns a hair
salon. We also saved a ton of
money because our director is also an editor.
So Sherman edited the entire film on an AVID DV Express system at
his apartment,” says Judkins.