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Kevin G. Schmidt

Deep Focus

Kevin G. Schmidt

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In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with Kevin G. Schmidt, writer, producer and star of the new inspirational indie “Randy’s Canvas” about revisiting a 12-year-old screenplay, gaining valuable real-world insight into his characters, and why the art community is so important.

TrunkSpace: You wrote, produced and starred in “Randy’s Canvas.” Why was this a story you needed to be involved with in such an in-depth way?
Schmidt: That’s a good question. This story came to me in the way that a lot of things I get involved in my life comes to me – through writing. The director and I worked together for the first time when I was 18, so 12 years ago. The original idea for this story was actually crafted into a first draft 13 years ago. Two Aprils ago, Sean (Michael Beyer) hit me up and said, “Hey, we have the resources needed to finance this film, would you act in it? And would you call some friends to see if they would be in the film as well?” I was like, “Yeah, let me read it, it’s been 12 years since I’ve seen the first story.” And as it usually happens with a 12-year-old script, it needs some love and attention. And once you’re writing a project to shoot it, things have to be adapted to budgets and locations. So, we all agreed on packing a new draft together and working on what we would call our “finished” screenplay. Fortunately that attracted some really incredible artists and actors in our network and we all got together and made a film that really exposed us not only to the spectrum, but really a chance for all of us to work together on a cause during a film, which was even more beautiful.

TrunkSpace: Had you already moved on from your original script, thinking that it would never come into fruition and be produced?
Schmidt: No, not necessarily. I think you write stories that are meaningful or, and I’ll speak from my perspective, I write things that are meaningful… messages and themes I think are relevant and timeless. I wrote my first script when I was 15 years old and it still hasn’t been produced to this day. It’s not for any lack of effort, it is that stories and messaging come in waves. Things I’ve written 10 years ago get attention now. Writing is about storytelling and as long as your story is timeless and it focuses on themes that people can relate to as globally and universally as possible, then I believe that there’s always a chance for it to come back around. So, you never give up on a story, but you follow the momentum of your stories.

TrunkSpace: What were the biggest changes that you had to make in terms of updating the script and getting it shoot ready?
Schmidt: The main thing was tightening it all up. I think one of the main things that I went through and really focused on was crafting this film totally from a coming-of-age-story versus these larger than life fictional characters, and one of them happens to have autism. So, an example would be, in the old draft Henry and Randy have this card hustle kind of thing they were doing. They were like small time thieves and the whole opening bit is this five minutes of them hustling people on the boardwalk to earn some cash, and then they get caught and they run from the cops. It’s like this totally different thing. And when I reread that draft, I was like, “First of all, we’re selling a character-driven story that’s going to seem more drama than comedy. We don’t necessarily need this action bit. We don’t have time to shoot this action bit. It’s not really relevant to the core of all these characters and getting people invested into them. So let’s just remove that bit totally.” Then as we started looking at certain cast members to play certain roles, we were able to highlight a lot of their own experiences with the spectrum in their own lives and the things they’ve gone through. I’ve been friends with Scout (Taylor-Compton) since I was like 12 years old. I’ve had the fortune of growing up with her and learning about her. We’ve been friends for a long time, and she’s one of the most incredible actors I know. And when she decided to sign on for Cassie it was like, “Oh, I have this wealth of personal experiences that I have with Scout and with my friendship, and throughout collaborating, and throughout the years that we can put into this character Cassie. And she can have all these different layers to it just by what she’s thinking.” And that’s really what we did is we went through and we fleshed out all the characters and made them as relatable as possible.

A huge part of that as well was when we went into rewriting the screenplay, we worked with the Autism Project in Rhode Island and we called them our panel of experts. There were about 10 kids between the ages of 10 to 25, so some young adults as well – boys and girls – and we had this interview back and forth with them as we crafted the screenplay. The primary conversation was, “How do you feel autism is portrayed in the media?” And almost the 100 percent consensus was you’re either a massive savant, like in “The Good Doctor,” or if we go back a few years, “Rain Man,” or you’re super low functioning on the spectrum and it’s almost like everything is a burden. And I’m looking at these 10 kids who are more savant than they are non-functioning, and everything else in between, and you go, “Wow, we can’t tell a story about autism, we have to tell a coming-of-age story that all of these kids, us, and the broader audience, can experience that happens to be seen through the lens of the character with autism.” So, it reframed how we approached the story instead of telling a story about autism we were telling a coming of age story through a young man experiencing autism.

TrunkSpace: Just from that experience of sitting down with that group of 10 kids and young adults, that must have given you such a different perspective on how to approach some of those coming-of-age scenes.
Schmidt: Totally. I think something that was unexpected for me that came out of it was, we’re in such a PC culture right now, right? Everything is politically correct and people feel like they’re walking on eggshells, but when you’re dealing with an experience that somebody has had their entire life, there’s no alternate reality that they experience. It’s just like, “Hey, I am on the spectrum and this is my life. I’m still a person and that’s not who I am. It’s just a part of who I am. I don’t need to talk about it too much. I just do things a bit differently than you. Life is good.” It kind of made me go, “Whoa.” We spend so much time focusing on these minute differences within each other instead of these almost massive similarities that we have with each other. It allowed us to speak more freely and discover the intricacies of the spectrum through our panel of experts than we would have if we were so nervous every step of the way about doing something wrong. We were able to take risks.

Schmidt in “Randy’s Canvas.”

The boys and girls and young adults were all involved in making this film as well, so they were on set with us and we were always connected to the message behind the story. And that was unexpected to me, to be able to not only dive into something where from the outside if you’re not familiar with people with the spectrum, or close to somebody on the spectrum, you kind of feel like, “Oh, I’ve got to be careful what I say.” Well no, we’re really trying to highlight the individuality and the uniqueness of all these wonderful individuals who we were able to share time with and create art with along this journey.

TrunkSpace: You just mentioned how we as people need to look at the massive similarities we all have as opposed to the small differences, and in that, isn’t that the beauty of art and film? Regardless of where you come from, what your beliefs are or what side of the aisle you’re sitting on… art can bring us all together and we can find common ground within it, even when we don’t realize it.
Schmidt: I agree with that. That’s the whole reason I got into the arts. That’s the whole reason I started writing. It’s not necessarily the majority of the current environment. I also think that also means there’s more of an opportunity to tell stories that bring people together, versus polarization. So I hear you, man. Art, dance and singing… the arts are some of the most important tools to bring people together and create a sense of community. I’m always skeptical and a bit turned off when art is used as a weapon to marginalize one group or another.

TrunkSpace: There’s that same sense of community when you go and see a live concert. You’re all standing in this room together focused on the same thing… enjoying the same thing. That’s powerful.
Schmidt: Truly. And hopefully as this becomes the topic of conversation, so much about the important things about us like our experiences, our upbringing, sex, religion, politics… all the stuff we’re not supposed to talk about are actually the small minute differences that we can learn a lot from, as long as we’re not always trying to change people’s minds or be right. And I enjoy that. I’m the middle brother of three. I’ve kind of always been in the middle of things and listening to different perspectives. I’ve got a background in the arts. I love writing. Business is interesting to me too. So, I hope that as time goes on and as these years kind of play out, we get more community and conversation versus the current climate, which isn’t so conducive to that.

Randy’s Canvas” is available on on digital HD.

Check out our interviews with director Sean Michael Beyer and star Adam Carbone as well.

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The Featured Presentation

Adam Carbone

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This week we’re taking an extended look at the inspirational indie “Randy’s Canvas,” a moving tale about a young man with autism who is on a journey of love and self-acceptance. Starring Adam Carbone, Kevin G. Schmidt, Scout Taylor-Compton, Massi Furlan, Michael Emery, Richard Riehle and Marycarmen Lopez, the film is available now on digital HD.

Next up we’re chatting with star Adam Carbone to discuss fighting for the role, proving through his performance that he was the right choice, and why he’s hoping “Randy’s Canvas” will serve as a multi-layered calling card.

TrunkSpace: You began working on “Randy’s Canvas years ago.” Why was it important for you to be a part of this film and get the story out into the world?
Carbone: I think it is very important because, at least to me, it gives more of a mass understanding of autism in general. Even myself, before I started the movie, I didn’t really know too much about it. I knew friends who had it, but I just never understood it. Once I started researching for the film and studying with kids from the Autism Project, I really started to grasp what it was and really understood what it’s like to have autism, or to be anywhere on the spectrum. It’s very different. It’s not just a broad stroke, which is what I thought before. It’s individuality with autism sprinkled on top, and at all different levels and with all different capabilities. I think it’s important for the world to know that these kids, or anybody with autism, can still function and have a normal life. I think that’s the main point of the movie for me, to educate people.

TrunkSpace: Did you gain a better understanding of how Randy saw the world by sitting down with the kids from the Autism Project?
Carbone: Yeah, I did. Actually, a lot of them are still my friends and I do other films with them and stuff now, too. It was really cool, because they all have their own quirky personalities, and they’re all good at something. It’s just really cool to see the differences in them, and really realize that they’re just people who just happen to have autism at different levels of it. That was the eye opener for me, because I just didn’t know too much.

TrunkSpace: Randy is a big character to tackle because of the size and scope of the role. Did you feel pressure carrying the title character of the film?
Carbone: Yeah, definitely, because to me, when I first read the script, it was a lot of dialogue and I always consider myself to have a bad memory. I was like, “Oh, this is gonna be so hard!” (Laughter) But, it actually wasn’t. I kind of got right into it and I just became Randy. I literally just blocked everything outside of my mind, and I just got into it. One of the things that Sean (Michael Beyer), the director, taught me was just to listen to the other people’s lines. “Just listen to them and you’ll react accordingly.”

But still, it was little bit overwhelming because it’s the anchor of this film, and it’s all about Randy. It was very important to me to be accurate with the autism, and not to let the people at the Autism Project down, or anybody with autism, or anybody that wants to learn about autism. But, something deep down inside me knew I had it, and it was almost to prove people wrong, because I’m kind of a newcomer when it comes to drama acting. A lot of people didn’t believe in me. They were like, “Oh…” They were kind of questioning the director. To me, it was like, “Oh, that’s a challenge!”

TrunkSpace: You had a relationship with Sean prior to working on the film together. Did that make it easier for you… more comfortable… to just jump in and hit the ground running?
Carbone: I think that was the key to it. Sean just knew that I was right for the role. I think we both knew that, because I’m kind of quirky and strange like Randy is, in person, as well. Yeah, it definitely helped knowing Sean before. We had a working relationship for years.

Carbone with Richard Riehle in “Randy’s Canvas”

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that a lot of people didn’t believe in your ability to carry the role of Randy, but Sean did and he really fought for you. Was that a confidence boost?
Carbone: Yes, it was, because I felt like the whole world was against me being Randy, and then Sean was like, “Just trust me on this one. He’s got it.” That definitely helped. So that’s deep down when I knew that everything was fine, especially after we did my first scenes. I think the first scene we shot was when I freaked out at the gallery. Just in that scene alone, that was when I even felt it, because I was like, “Wow. Okay, I get who Randy is now. I get how he ticks and how he works.” It was another person and I was almost like a vessel for him – it wasn’t even me. It was like autopilot.

TrunkSpace: You served as producer on the film as well. Is it your hope that “Randy’s Canvas” will serve as a calling card of what you’re capable of, not only as an actor, but behind the scenes as well?
Carbone: Yes, absolutely. I think that would definitely help me in my career, because I definitely want to do more. I come from a comedy world – I do a lot of standup comedy and comedy sketches – so to me, just to prove even to myself, “Look what you did. Look what you can do.” It kind of gives me hope for the future stuff, especially producing. I wear many hats. I produce, I direct, I act, I write, I edit – all that stuff. So it’s exciting just to show the world, “Look, hire me.” (Laughter)

Randy’s Canvas” is available now on digital HD.

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Deep Focus

Sean Michael Beyer

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This week we’re taking an extended look at the inspirational indie “Randy’s Canvas,” a moving tale about a young man with autism who is on a journey of love and self-acceptance. Starring Adam Carbone, Kevin G. Schmidt, Scout Taylor-Compton, Massi Furlan, Michael Emery, Richard Riehle and Marycarmen Lopez, the film is available now on digital HD.

First up we’re chatting with director and producer Sean Michael Beyer to discuss on-set task management, fighting for his star, and why the Hollywood norm is conformity.

TrunkSpace: You wore many hats to bring “Randy’s Canvas” to life. How do you compartmentalize those various jobs and focus on set?
Sean Michael Beyer: A lot of medication, I think, was probably the best way to go about it.

When on set, for me, even though I’m a producer as well, I’m really hyper focused on directing at that point. During pre-production, development, and obviously in the writing and all that, then it’s a little bit different, but I really have to focus primarily on the directing part of it. I’m an actor’s director. I came from acting and theater, so that’s sort of my approach to the process. Performances are important, and obviously those have paid off given the accolades we’ve gotten, so that’s a good thing.

TrunkSpace: Does being an actor’s director give you a different point of view than other filmmakers during the casting stage of production because you’re so familiar with performance?
Sean Michael Beyer: I think so. I’ve always understood the Hollywood need for star power – that you need the recognizable actor to make your film. I don’t like that, but I know that it exists and I have to respect it, working in the industry. But I want to find the best actor for the role. That, to me, is what I find important.

I had a lot of resistance casting Adam (Carbone) as Randy because some didn’t feel that he was the right choice. I just knew that he would do this justice and he obviously did, but I did have a lot of resistance and was told, “You’re making a mistake.” I just knew he was going to bring what it took. He did such hard work and research… I was very, very proud of all the time and effort that he put into it and it paid off.

TrunkSpace: With all of the various distribution platforms available now, has the need for star power become less important to getting a movie made?
Sean Michael Beyer: To some degree. I think you have to sort of prove yourself before the people will listen. The caveat always is, are they going to put money into promoting the project? Is the distributor going to get behind it? And Vision Films has been very, very supportive of us. We’re a small movie and I’m very pleased with what they’ve done for this film, but you have to look at it from the standpoint of… Ang Lee was perfectly quoted once. “Either you need the 20 million dollar star or a complete unknown.”

TrunkSpace: And in finding the complete unknown, you’re then creating the 20 million dollar star.
Sean Michael Beyer: Right. Exactly. It’s always the catch 22. You need the big star, but then you need the big budget. We certainly didn’t make this movie for 20 million dollars. Not even close! But there is that issue. Look at “Napoleon Dynamite,” for example. That’s going back a few years, but Jon Heder was nobody. He got paid like a thousand dollars to do that film, but Fox Searchlight got behind that movie and it went gangbusters. It was a very unique film and that certainly helps, but if you can get the support behind your cast, then you can cast that unknown. The audiences want to support that. Hilary Swank is a great example. She had done television and then with “Boys Don’t Cry,” all of a sudden, she’s an Oscar winner.

Carbone in “Randy’s Canvas”

TrunkSpace: How important is a film like this and independent films in general to future filmmakers? It just seems right now, more than ever, everything that we’re seeing in theaters is a remake, reimagining, or based on an existing brand?
Sean Michael Beyer: It’s frustrating, as a filmmaker. The Hollywood norm is conformity. I call it the MBA attitude of, “Well, if this formula works, then if we duplicate that formula, but we change a couple of words, then it should work too.” And it doesn’t always work. Sometimes it does, but I think the independent films that stand out, that get noticed, are finding audiences. Audiences don’t always want explosions and Transformers. Those are fun movies. I call them popcorn flicks like a lot of people do. They are fun, I enjoy them, but I also enjoy a good, well acted film. When you don’t have a lot of money to make a movie… and we didn’t have a lot of money to make “Randy’s Canvas”… we relied on good acting, good storytelling.

And shooting in Rhode Island was just amazing, despite the humidity.

TrunkSpace: Being both the director and the producer, is there ever any internal friction between the creative you and the business you and sort of trying to find a balance between what the director wants and what you know you can give him?
Sean Michael Beyer: There’s always that. There’s always the… I don’t want to deal with paperwork. I want to call action and cut. That’s what I want to do. I’ve always said to people that I’ve worked with, “Just give me my allowance and let me be creative and you’ll be happy.” If you start having me looking through contracts and stuff, it’s gonna get messy.

You always have to think about your budget. You have to think about your schedule. You have your location issues or lack thereof. Okay, is this scene going to be able to be shot the way that I envision it, with our limited resources?” The business side of me does kick in when I do that. And even when I write a script, from a blank page on the screen, from the beginning, I think, “Okay, what budget is this movie going to be?” I have to write with that in mind. I don’t completely limit myself, but you have to be a responsible filmmaker. There’s a lot of directors that just throw caution to the wind and I wish I could do that, but I have to be realistic.

Randy’s Canvas” is available now on digital HD.

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