Many indie filmmakers cite distribution as a common concern. For “Rotten Mangos” director/writer/and actor Michael Eldon Lobsinger, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The enthusiastic director and one of his co-stars, actress Catherine Windecker, sat down with Art Film File to talk about the elation and blues of low-budget filmmaking.
The career of an independent filmmaker is not altogether lacking in challenges. Not having the economic support of a big name studio or the gargantuan large budget that accompanies such productions, “indie” directors have to occupy many times different placements inside their production in order to keep costs down and the project moving forward. Director Michael Eldon Lobsinger (better known to his cohorts as MEL) is no exception to this unspoken rule, and certainly no stranger to the difficult situation of having to do more than one job on the set. His latest project, Rotten Mangos, is the story of two antagonizing brothers who reunite in the confines of an alley, which lays ensconced in the historic district of Lake Worth, Florida.
The fifty-four year old director/writer/actor is teaming up a second time with actress Catherine Windecker, the first time being a music video titled “A Musical Heartache” for musician Bobby Gugliuzza. In Rotten Mangos, Windecker gives life to Spirit, an aspiring actress with a genuinely innocent soul who doesn’t seem to acknowledge the dangerous world that surrounds her. “She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body” Windecker reflects on her character “But I don’t want her confused with society’s stereotype of a dumb female. She’s not like that. She’s childlike and positive, she’s the light of this film”. Windecker, whose experience is abundant in the world of improv and theater, smiles brightly when asked how long she has been acting. “We all act in a way, when we’re children” she muses “But I clearly remember starting to act when I was ten. I was very into writing plays, comedies and things like that. I went to college for theater, but ended up with a psychology degree. But I have always acted” she states.
Like many performers, Windecker has a day job as a Library Associate for the Palm Beach County Library System, which gets the bills paid. However, the combination of library associate/actress has its complexities. “It’s pretty complicated” she affirms. “Most of my co-workers are married, have a car and all that is wonderful. But I like to converse about the creative process, and they don’t always understand what I’m talking about”. Rotten Mangos is Windecker’s first short film, and for her it differs wildly from the world of the stage. “I get to think about it a lot more for sure. It’s very different. Rather than a whole room full of eyes, I have a camera on me and that makes me think of the people who are gonna be watching it, which projects me into the future somehow as opposed to working in front of a live audience.”
For Lobsinger, the journey of independent filmmaking has been somewhat different. “I began making films in 2007, I was forty-six years old and I quit my day job in soil and concrete engineering and later enrolled in the Palm Beach Film School. When I graduated, I knew I was on the right track. I said “Alright Lobsinger, you’re a filmmaker”. MEL remembers, being “lost, dead, making a ton of money and going nowhere”. “I did theater for six years which got me into the elements of acting, Later, I remember walking somewhere, looking up to the blue sky and thinking: I think I want to be a film director. How do I get there? A friend handed me a card for the Palm Beach Film School, and eventually I made the call. It was easy once I figured out what I wanted to do.”
Rotten Mangos is Lobsinger’s ninth project. “I knew I wasn’t gonna be a Spielberg or go to Hollywood, so I did a lot of free shots and production management for the film school I graduated from. I wanted to help others who were going through the same process I went through when I started out”. Lobsinger says. He goes on to explain how Rotten Mangos was born, and what inspired the story. “It came as a reconnection with actor John Zambito, who came to the theater one day to see a play Catherine (Windecker) was in, and I told him: “We need to work together on something”. I started to write Rotten Mangos while living in Georgia, where I moved to for a job that they never called me back for” he remembers. “I knew it had to be a kind of brothers-type story because that’s the connection I feel with him (Zambito). I wanted the story to be a mix of betrayal between brothers, sleeping with someone else’s wife, and a couple of twists which will be revealed later in the story”. Regarding the unusual title of the film, Lobsinger admits that the inspiration was his childhood in Lake Worth, growing up surrounded by a plethora of mango trees. “It must have been in my subconscious all along” he muses carefully “My dad used to get me to rake up mangos all the time, and now here I am, shooting a film called Rotten Mangos in Lake Worth. Go figure”.
Most of the film is shot in a distinct alleyway, which is situated between a comic book store and a coffee shop, and directly in back of the Lakeworth Playhouse. The alleyway is a confining feel. When asked if this is the intended purpose of the location, Lobsinger says: ‘I’m always thinking when I look at a scene, how can it be better? I thought of bars and other places, but then one day we went to Lake Worth, and I saw the alleyway, and it is a stinky, claustrophobic, extremely cinematic alley; it was perfect. We can only film from 10:00 o’clock at night to 7:00 o’clock in the morning, limited to Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday night. But it just works”.
“I don’t think it could be any other alleyway” Windecker jumps in. “It’s just perfect. Everybody that looks at the stills recognizes it instantly”.
Rotten Mangos, Lobsinger’s biggest project up to date, has proved to be an unexpected challenge. As it frequently happens with low-budget films, not many things have gone as planned. “I know that once a shoot starts, there will be obstacles; sound issues, trying to get the drunks off the road, weather conditions, of course. I had planned a five-day shoot but if we’re lucky it will actually be a nine-day shoot. It’s just taking much longer. A forty-five second scene, took eight hours the other day. And this is what I tell film students all the time. Be prepared for delays”.
Lobsinger ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, securing the funds for the insurance policy needed to commence the pre-production process, and police security for the nights of the shoot. However, a second campaign on Indiegogo has not gone so well. “Funding has been like taking blood from a stone” he says. “I’m lucky and blessed for what I could get with the Kickstarter campaign, but we’re coming up short. Thank goodness I have a crew who is eager to get the film in the can and for funding to come later. When it’s a volunteer situation, I have to revolve around their schedule, not the other way around”.
MEL and Windecker apart from being fellow artists and co-workers on Rotten Mangos, have also been involved in a personal relationship for several years. Referring to their experience on working together and having to maintain a director-actress status, while having a personal relationship outside the set, both Lobsinger and Windecker agree that it’s not as difficult as people may think. “It’s been a blast” Lobsinger says. “There’s nothing bad or different about working with Catherine. We feed off each other, and we learn from each other. When we get together and rehearse, that’s some of our best times”. MEL admits that when on set, they try to avoid pet names like “babe”, and respect each other that way. “For me, that’s important”. Windecker agrees: “We both have respect for each other as fellow artists. I have immense respect for him, and I would respect him even if we weren’t in a personal relationship. We see eye to eye on a lot of things, and we work well together”.
Regarding what advice they would give to aspiring actors and filmmakers, both Lobsinger and Windecker agreed almost in unison: “Work hard, keep at it, and make sure it’s what you want. If you’re not committed to it, then don’t do it. When you know what you’re passion is, then you know what you’re going for. If you don’t then don’t waste your time”. Considering that these words come from an artist, who dared to follow his passion after spending a long stretch of his life in a job that made him unhappy, forthcoming filmmakers would do well to take this advice to heart.