In the bowels of the old Louisville Paper Factory, now re-purposed as an art studio called The Mammoth, J Derek Howard and his crew set up for the first day of shooting for his new short film. He’s chosen a location that could aptly be described as the dankest basement of all dank basements. It’s been pouring, and there is standing water everywhere. Before filming can begin, one of the crew has to sweep water away with a push-broom, and massive fans are set up to dry the floor. It’s dark, cold, covered in cobwebs and smells of ancient industrial space - dust, metal and wood mix in the air to create something that isn’t just a smell. It’s a feeling, and it’s the perfect place to set up the laboratory of a mad scientist.
Titled Tea Time, it’s a steampunk-themed comedy following a young inventor spurned by the preeminent institution of Howard’s Victorian sci-fi world: The Inventor’s Institute. Just as Elizabeth begins to gather her thoughts after her rejection, she’s called to tea by her Aunt Judith, who refuses to take no for an answer: she has a suitor waiting upstairs for her wayward niece. In the course of seven minutes there are ray-guns, incredibly fast wardrobe changes, wonderful set locations and some amazing costumes.
For those of you not familiar with the Steampunk genre, think Jules Verne: what kind of future would the Victorians imagine? No computers or fossil fuels - lace, corsets, steam-powered flying machines, overly-complicated contraptions that perform simple tasks, brass and hardwood everything - that’s steampunk. Tea Time takes place in this world, and Howard has always wanted to make a film with the setting. Howard began writing Tea Time in February before deciding to seek funding through Kickstarter in late July, which successfully ended up meeting his $3,000 goal. One anonymous donor even started at $100, and kept upping their contribution to around $1,000 - Howard was amazed, he said - he’s sending the donor a pair of goggles used by Elizabeth in the film as a thanks.
Howard moved to Louisville from Minneapolis a couple years ago, where he won Minnesota’s 24-Hour Film Race in 2011 for his short film Humans Like Ourselves. “I’ve always wanted to be filmmaker,” he told me. But he’s never wanted to go the traditional routes; “I don’t want to go to Hollywood, be a PA for years and hope to get my shot. The digital revolution has made equipment cheap and accessible, so I’m free to do it my own way,” he added. Noble Knight Media, Howard’s production company, was formed as a one-man act when he moved to town. He’s managed to recruit his wife and some friends from his work at Amazon as a film editor, and this is their first project together.
“I’ve spent most of this year working on this project,” Howard said, and one of the most important elements to him was finding filming locations that really set the scene for the film. Luckily we have a number of historic homes and buildings in Louisville - there are no shortage of places that look the part of a late-1800’s home. He found the perfect match for the parlor scenes with the Culbertson Mansion in Old Louisville. Not only is it right from the period the film takes place, but it’s also a bed and breakfast and not a museum, meaning they have much more access to the house, something that Howard said was a must. “It’s gorgeous, and you can’t fake that. Another great thing is that a lot of the furnishings are replicas, so we can move them around and use them - we don’t have that luxury in a museum.”
Not only did Howard use local sites for settings, he also had a cast of local actors, wigs from Custom Wig Company, and a local hair and makeup artist, making this a solidly Louisville-made film. He’s already been invited to show it at Steampunk-themed festivals in Oregon and Norway, and expects the film to be done sometime in February - keep an eye out for it here on Louisville.com once it’s completed! Tea Time was filmed on the 17th and 18th of November, and is now in post-production. It stars Erin Heckel as Elizabeth, Adrielle Perkins as Aunt Judith and Will Gantt as George.
Check out some photos from the production below!