We all make movies for different reasons. For some, film may be the only way to express how they feel about a certain idea. Others may just be so in love with the medium that they can’t help but to try it out for themselves. All filmmakers, however, make films because they have to. There’s something in each of us that won’t allow us to rest until we’ve told our story. But making a movie is difficult and expensive and these barriers are often what stops aspiring artists from creating. Fear holds them back. The fear of failure, of rejection, embarrassment, disappointment… These are all valid reasons not to make a film. Luckily, you only need one reason to make a film. In the case of The Buskers + Lou, Alex Cassun’s one reason was “Why not?”
The year is 2011. The place is Portland Oregon. Alex has just raised $3,500 on Kickstarter for his film. The actors are cast, the crew has been hired, the script is nonexistent. These are perfect conditions for an independent film – but wait… No Script?!
“We had a loose script,” Alex told me as we sat in the back corner of Biddle’s Escape (The year is 2019 now). “…loosely inspired by my own life.” Alex wrote the over-arching story of a man returning to his hometown looking for a change, but left it up to the creativity of his cast and crew to fill in the missing pieces. He wanted the film to be a collaborative effort where he put most of his focus on the characters, performances, and maintaining a consistent story, leaving the visuals up to the cinematographers (and the 6 camera operators!) and the dialogue up to the actors. This might not be the easiest way to make a movie, but it’s effective in making everyone involved feel like they’re making serious contributions.
“[I had to] make compromises for the people who wanted to be there.” That meant putting the ego aside and letting the artists do their thing. And in a city like Portland, I’m not sure making this film would have been possible any other way.
The people of Portland are skeptical of outsiders. Especially the film-types that fly up from LAX. Which was unfortunate for Alex, because he moved to Portland directly from LA with almost no connections to the film community of the Pacific North West. He wanted to get the city involved in his project and now views it as a time capsule for his experiences there. Portland itself plays an important role in the film, but nothing about it feels exaggerated or forced. It’s easy to believe the buskers live there, because they actually do. They’re the last of a dying breed, yet they seem to thrive in the simple and happy lifestyle 2011’s Portland could provide them.
When we first meet Lou, we learn he’s returned to Portland after some time away at “Suit Camp” and has decided to turn his life around. He wants a job and to make some money so he can move out of his friend’s van and grow up a little bit. The busking life style of the people he used to know is beneath him now and their attempts to bring Lou back into their carefree lifestyle are met with contempt and stifled anger. Lou wants society to accept him, but won’t accept the acceptance of his friends. He hates his new job counting inventory at the mall for a slimy boss while everyone he knows has found happiness in playing music on the street, selling old clothes out of a bus, and living together in a house they’ve appropriately named “Free Pile”. The Buskers + Lou is a story about a person trying to figure out who they are and what they want out of life. And upon second viewing, the movie feels like Alex figuring out who he is and what he wants as a filmmaker.
“This was the best film school I could have had,” Alex told me. He learned from his mistakes: “We spent way too much money on coffee and food.” He learned the importance of thinking about the theme of your story and the potential audience it may reach from Day One. Having this in mind helps influence every decision you make on set and in the cutting room. He learned to keep his expectations in check, to not make promises he can’t keep, and the value of limiting locations. But most importantly, he learned everything it takes to get a film distributed, which brings us to today!
The Buskers + Lou is a true indie feature. From its production – 23 shooting days over the course of 2 ½ years (with pick-ups) – to its distribution – which only took an additional 4 years after the 2015 premiere – this film was made with enthusiasm, patience, and a ton of hard work, proving that all it takes to make a film is the desire to do so. Alex lived in the van used in the film, he stole locations, doubled extras, shot footage with a cell phone… whatever it took to finish it. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the production of The Buskers + Lou, but first you gotta watch it!