A ragtag band of friends, all under 30, from several countries, gathers on the vast lava fields of Iceland to make a feature-length film for $100,000.
It sounds crazy, or like another world—which is exactly apt to the two women behind this actual film project.
“We both like to create other worlds through unusual characters, storylines or settings,” said media production grad Cailin Yatsko ’10.
She met Ani Simon-Kennedy at the Prague Film School. There they worked so well together so often that they were dubbed “the two-headed monster.” They decided to own the appellation.
After Prague they formed Bicephaly Pictures (bi·ceph·a·lous: having two heads) to create visually striking videos in New York City: music videos, fashion films, commercials. At a screening of one of their narrative shorts, a producer from the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) surprised the pair by asking if they had a feature-length film they’d like help making.
All they had was a concept for a longish music video for the Icelandic band Hjaltalin. Not much to go on.
“But at Calvin I realized that the hardest thing is to pull the trigger and just do something you want to do,” Yatsko said.
They pulled the trigger.
They morphed the music video idea into its own story, set a production timeline and a budget.
Their proposal won IFP sponsorship in March 2012, meaning donations to the project were tax deductible. In May they conducted an online crowd-funding campaign that raised $50,000. Besides money, filmmaking friends from far and near—including Kirk Carson ’10—contributed their excitement and talents to the adventure.
By June already, Yatsko, Simon-Kennedy and a crew of 15 were in Iceland to make a film set “so far in the future it seems the past.” Days of Gray is the coming-of-age story of a boy who ventures outside his isolated community into a harsh world where he meets a girl with odd facial mutations, the lone survivor of an event kept secret from them.
All told without words.
“It wasn’t our intention,” Yatsko said, “but we found silence aided the message. With its unknown place, unknown time and silence, it becomes totally global. Anyone can watch it and relate.”
Like the early silent films, Days of Gray does have music: an original score composed by Hjaltalin. The band, too, caught the contagion of Yatsko and Simon-Kennedy’s labor of love and became collaborators. Before the film was finished, their score had been nominated for an Edda Award, the Icelandic Oscars.
And Sagafilm, Iceland’s leading independent production company, signed on as a co-producer, allowing cinematographer Yatsko to use its Arri Alexa—the state-of-the-art camera used to shoot the James Bond movie Skyfall—and other equipment that enhanced the film’s quality.
Harder than making Days of Gray may be finding a way to show it.
“Having made it outside the filmmaking system, it’s hard to break back in—into the festival part of the system, where a distribution company might pick it up,” Yatsko noted.
They’re open to other screening possibilities, too, “because our biggest goal is just to have people see it.”
This is only the latest moment that “the whole project has been on thin ice,” Yatsko said. “At every stage, though, disaster hasn’t happened. Ani and I have realized that if you’re really passionate about something, people sense that and become passionate to help. Passion creates more passion.”