In a time where "indie" movies feature A-list actors and multimillion-dollar production budgets, two brothers in Brooklyn are keeping independent filmmaking true to its name.
Two years ago, Sebastian Conley and his brother Ben set out to make a feature-length film set in New York City. The only obstacle between them and their dream: Money, since they had none.
Well, they had some money, but making a full-length movie with a scrapped-together shoestring budget seems impossible when indie films such as "(500) Days of Summer" have a $7.5 million production budget with popular actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel as the talent.
Not daunted by the indie landscape or the lack of funds, however, Sebastian was confident that the story he had written could be made.
"My theory had always been that if I could just write that script we could raise money and shoot it," said Sebastian, who directed the film as well. "The most basic idea I could come up with was a love story where boy meets girl. How expensive could that be?"
The result of his writing process was "Colin Hearts Kay" – a story about an idealistic cartoonist and the career-driven girl he meets.
"Colin is a sort of immature guy who has these really romantic, fanciful notions of love," Sebastian said. "The cool thing about him is that he’s a cartoonist and we get to see the world through his cartoons. He’s really over the top; he thinks the world is roses and fireworks."
Once the script was set, the Conleys took steps to begin shooting the movie with virtually no funds. It was a trying, intensive and long process. They had to schedule their actors months in advance for weekends that people would be free to cram into a small apartment – including Ben's – for filming.
"We kind of put all our chips in the middle of the table, and it was totally crazy and insane stress for a whole year," Sebastian said. "I can definitely say for myself and my brother that we never had a day off."
"It was non-stop, everyday. It was an obsession," said Ben, who worked as the director of photography and cinematographer on the film.
One of the benefits for the brothers in Brooklyn was shooting the film where they lived, in the Park Slope area of the borough. The brothers said Brooklyn became the third main character in the movie, and all of the music for the film came from young, up-and-coming bands based in Brooklyn.
"Manhattan is beautiful, but it's been shot to death," Sebastian said. "Brooklyn is amazing, it's an amazing place to live, but there haven't been any real movies that highlight it."
After the arduous shooting schedule was completed, Sebastian started the non-trivial task of creating all of the movie's animated elements by himself. The desire to incorporate Colin's profession as a cartoonist into the personality of the film led to a unique look.
"It's a lot of hand-drawn animation in an indie style I don’t think anyone’s ever seen before," Sebastian said.
By the time the film was fully complete both brothers had poured their time, energy and resources into the production, one that Sebastian calls a labor of love.
"I think it’s an indie film about love made with a lot of love. On an incredibly small budget animated by one guy and shot by two brothers."
Now "Colin Hearts Kay" enters the festival circuit, where it has already been accepted by both the Brooklyn International Film Festival (where the film has its world premiere) and the San Francisco United Film Festival.
After the festival circuit, the Conleys will work to get their film in front of as many people as possible by whatever distribution methods they can, even if they don't have the advantages of Hollywood's "independent" features today.
"I don’t know where true indie films really go and live," Sebastian said. "I think we’re gonna find out."