Download the movie here: The Men Who Robbed the Bank

Travis Mills co-founded independent film company Running Wild Films in 2010.  Since then he has produced countless short films, three feature films, and won several awards in the local film community. Travis is known for creating quality films on a micro-budget and is currently producing an impressive 52 Short Films over the course of 52 weeks in 2013.

Interview by Holly Foreman

Where did the inspiration for this project begin?
I was working on a new feature project titled “The Western”. This would have been our third feature. It was fully cast and I even had a location (it was set mostly in one location like “The Men Who Robbed the Bank”). Something was telling me that it wasn’t the right time to make that film.  The concept of what happens after a heist (without seeing the robbery itself) has always intrigued me. It’s been kicking around my wheelhouse for a while and I decided this was the time. I took five of the actors cast in “The Western” and wrote roles specifically for them. I believe I finished the screenplay in a couple days, scrapped “The Western,” and immediately went into pre-production on The Men Who Robbed the Bank.

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What obstacles did you face?
The biggest obstacles on this one were cast dropouts. Two of the lead actors who I had tailored these roles for decided not to be in the project. This was the toughest casting I ever had to do. Thankfully we replaced these two with James Leatherman and Jonathan Medina. Now I can’t envision the film without those guys.

Did you make any changes during filming that you didn’t anticipate?  Why?
This is first time that I really started cutting scenes or parts of scenes on set in a drastic way. It’s more like you’re still writing while you’re filming because you’re always tinkering with the pace and structure. Recently watching the movie, I realized how much we didn’t film because it was cut in production (not in the editing room). That’s a process I hadn’t experienced but continue to develop with the 52 films in 52 weeks project.

What were the unique challenges of shooting ‘in the round’ so to speak?
I assume you mean shooting scenes with five or six characters. Yes, that was challenging because I had never filmed dialog scenes like that before. We were worried about breaking what’s called the “180 rule.” The method can be jarring for the audience but after watching a few films like “Glengarry Glen Ross” we discovered that it’s not as important to obey the rule with so many characters in a scene.

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For the technical filmmakers out there, do you want to share what equipment you used?
We used very little equipment. There was only one light in the room that wasn’t a practical (meaning a lamp or ceiling light that you see). This light was put in the corner of the room by the window. If you’ve got a good eye you can see it a couple times in the film. Other than that, all we used were two cameras, a Canon T3i and Canon T2i. Most often, I love shooting with two cameras to get more coverage of the actor or two actors at once to capture the right reactions.

Who were your biggest supporters?
The biggest supporters on this one were the cast and crew themselves. They were dedicated and worked hard. Other than that, my parents are always very helpful, making meals and bringing them to the set.

Tell me about the first meeting between you and Jonathan.
I met Jonathan at Coffee Rush in Chandler for the first time. He read through a voiceover monologue (which was later cut from the film). It was good but I wasn’t blown away and I think he could tell. I said, “I’ll be in touch.” He asked, “Do you have any more time right now?” “Yes,” I responded. He pulled my chair close to him and put his face right up in mine, a cold stare right in my eyes and said in the grittiest voice I ever heard, “You’re going to give me this role. This is my role…” Honestly, he had my lower lip quivering. He sat back and I think he smiled, at least that’s how I remember it. That moment told me that he was not only the right person for the film but someone that I would continue working with for a long time as long as he wanted to work with me. It takes a lot of guts to do that. You could embarrass yourself, you could scare someone, or turn them off easily. But I feed off that kind of intensity.

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What did you learn during the filming of MEN that you’ll use in the future?
This was the first feature that we didn’t shoot in one big block, meaning that we made The Big Something in 14 straight days and The Detective’s Lover in about a month. This film we shot in 4 straight days and then the rest over several weekends in the next few months. It was too spread out. I learned that I don’t like to work that way; I don’t want production to drag on. I lose momentum. I want to be able to shoot a film in a solid block of time, live in that world completely for that period and then let go. The schedule made it hard to stay in the “world” of the film and therefore I will avoid this way of shooting if possible.

How do you feel about the mixed reviews?
Well. I feel like I need to be careful here. But I also want to be honest. I’ll put it this way: I don’t mind negative reviews but I don’t like inaccurate reviews. I feel that some of the “words” on this film have been very inaccurate, saying that it has a “lack of dialog” when it has more dialog than most films, etc. And not to be a snob, but I wonder sometimes if the critics reviewing this film really have enough of a film background to accurately judge it. For instance, a big reason why there is no musical score for this film was the influence of French director Robert Bresson. I’m curious if any of these local critics have seen a Bresson film, though he is considered by many to be one of the greatest directors of all time. I don’t make movies to pay homage to other directors and their styles but understanding these influences is key to watching film. That’s what separates the critic from the regular moviegoer. Some of these critics feel like regular moviegoers with an “entitled” opinion. Enough said… I don’t look down or disapprove of any opinion of my work.

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When you film on a shoestring budget, what expenses ‘make the cut’ so to speak?
We spend our meager budget on food and a few props. This film was made for less than 1,000 dollars. Anyone in the film industry will tell you that’s ridiculous. We don’t blow the budget on equipment or unnecessary expenses. We solve our problems with creativity, not cash.

How does an indie film company like RWF successfully obtain the resources it needs to keep producing?
We barely do. But I believe the model of a local film company (outside of LA or New York) sustaining itself is very possible. All of the money we make off any screening or sales goes straight back into the next movie. My hope is to build a “sustainable” film company in Arizona that is consistently producing films with moderate budgets and where all members of the company are paid a yearly salary. Something like what Robert Altman attempted with the original Lionsgate.

Considering you have another huge project on the horizon (52) how do you budget your time?
I would hardly call the 52 project on the horizon. We are in week 39 of 52, so if anything we’re out there on the horizon too. I budget our films as conservatively as I can. We raised 10k to make 52 short films; that breaks down to around 200 dollars a film. Again, that is a ridiculous amount to make films for. But we’re proving it’s possible to make quality film at a fast pace with little money. It’s all in the production, and it’s all about trying to find everything for free and only using the budget when you absolutely have to.

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There’s speculation that more of TMWRTB might come out, like with Michael’s role, or delving more into the mysterious Jonny.  Is there more to the story?
Yes, we have joked about sequels and prequels exploring some of these “men.” The short film “Escort Driver” is already a sort of prequel for Frank’s character. The cop Mike plays in “Friday Nights Alone” is cinematic kin to his character here as far as I’m concerned. But as far as an actual continuation, I want the sequels to live in the minds of the audience. However intriguing it is to explore someone like Jonny, I love the mystery (or mysteries) created by the film. I want all of our work to leave some element of mystery in the audience.

What else do you want people to know about TMWRTB?
I want people to go in with an open mind (or as much of one as they can). I really think we made an unconventional movie, at least a very different kind of heist/crime film. When the movie begins, you don’t know who these guys are, you don’t know where they are or why they are. Slowly the pieces start to come together and I think it is worth your time to see that last puzzle piece in place.

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Why should people download the film?
Because I believe if people give local independent films like ours a chance they will discover that these movies are just as entertaining as anything you would see in theaters or Netflix.