We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Fred Zara. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Fred below.
Fred, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today We’d love to hear about a project that you’ve worked on that’s meant a lot to you.
I’ve been creating one thing or another for as long as I can remember. Music, video skits, films. I always felt like creating things was the best way to get my voice out there, let people know who I am, tell my story. However over the past couple of years I began to see my motivations changing. I am starting to find myself in a place where I want to help other people get their voices out there. I want to see the people I care about get a chance to do what I’ve done. Tell their stories. My friends, my children. It’s becoming less about me.
Fred, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
I have been making films for over 20 years. I’ve made 3 feature films and several short films. My feature films, Average Community (2010), Read Me (2016) and The Suicide of James Rider (2019) I am extremely proud of. Making a feature film with only the money raised through crowdfunding is not easy. I have to cut a lot of corners and I can’t afford recognizable actors, which I know will make my films less appealing to distributors. However I also know that I can spend years trying to find proper funding to make a film with all the bells and whistles of a studio film but I may never get the money, so the film may never be made. Or I can scrape some money together and just get it done. I usually go with the latter. I’ve never been the kind of writer that can write something with the hope that someday it might be made into something. If I am going to take the time to write it, I’m going to make sure it becomes something.
In the last few years I have been enjoying switching my focus from my own work to working with creative people I admire. By working on other film projects that I didn’t write myself and producing a theatre event that brings new works to the stage, I’ve really been enjoying seeing so many people get a chance to see their work come to life.
We’d love to hear a story of resilience from your journey.
The final day of shooting for my latest feature film, The Suicide of James Rider, was also the biggest day of shooting. The day required nearly the entire cast to be present and the whole day was to be shoot outdoors. If these scenes were not shot with everyone in place, the film simply wouldn’t make sense.
Leading up to that day it was becoming clear that there was a storm front coming in and that day was going to see the worst of it. Every day leading up to this huge shoot day I would see the rain chances increase. They went from 50% chance of rain, to 70% chance of rain, to literary 100% chance of rain. That’s right, within the last couple of days before the shoot, the weather forecast for that day was 100% chance of rain.
My producer began to ask me if we should set up an alternative shoot day, to ask everyone involved what their availability for the coming weeks. The problem was there were more than one cast member that was moving out of town immediately after our shoot, so I would have to accept that these characters that I wrote into this scene would just be mysteriously absent. I wouldn’t do that, I couldn’t. This was a very personal film and I had a vision for the ending scene. The film centered around a tight group of friends and if even one of the friends wasn’t in this scene, the entire film would hold the same weight for me. I said no, we are not moving this shoot day. I don’t care that the weather say 100% chance of rain all day long, it will work out. Of course inside I wasn’t as confident that that was true.
I hoped for the best, continued to prepare for that day as if nothing was going to go wrong, and prayed… a lot. The morning came, the clouds rolled in but at least at first, no rain. I arrived at the location at about 5am, no rain. We got set up to shoot the sunset around 6:30, no rain. We got the first shot. 7am, then 8am. We now have two scenes shot, still no rain. Anyone that is a photographer or filmmaker knows that cloud cover and overcast is your best friend. Bright sunlight doesn’t work great for trying to expose shots for film, so this was actually working out quite well.
Fast forward to around 4pm that day, and despite heavy dark clouds the entire day, it hadn’t rain at all. Until we were set up for the very last shot of the shoot, which would be the very last shot in the film. The skies opened up and finally the rain came. It was that heavy Florida rain that soaks you from head to toe in seconds. Everyone grabbed whatever equipment they could and ran for cover. My assistant director looked at the weather radar and confirmed that a storm had rolled in and it was looking like heavy rain the rest of the night.
But what about my last shot? I mean, I got the rest of the day shot, I somehow beat the odds and the rain to get the final scene in the can for that day. Surely I could just pack it up and not get this one shot. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t come this close and not get it all. Now once again this last shot require all the characters to be in the shot together one last time. It was late in the day, everyone was tired from a long day and a long shoot. The rain was heavy and didn’t look like it was going to stop. However I said loudly for anyone to hear, “I’m not leaving. I’m getting this shot. If anyone wants to go, go, but I’m not going anywhere until I get this shot”.
I honestly don’t know if anyone except for my sound engineer and assistant director heard me, however no one moved. No one left. We all just huddled together under a little picnic area and watched the rain come down. Spirits were actually pretty high. I mean for the most part, we did it. The rest is icing on the cake.
About 45 minutes later the rain lighted up. We had a window. Everyone once again grabbed some equipment and ran back to where we were set up for the last shot. We set up again and quickly got in place. Action! We ran two takes and that was it… cut! We had it. Every last shot I envisioned for this film was now shot, it was over.
My Director of Photography looked at me to make sure I was happy with the second take. I nodded to him and said, “yep, we got it”. The only thing left was to shout, “that’s a wrap”, officially announcing to the entire cast and crew that we were done shooting the film. It was silent. I could feel everyone waiting for my call. My wife looked at me and said, “call it baby”. But I couldn’t. I still don’t know why but I couldn’t get it out. So much had lead up to this moment and there was a part of me that didn’t believe I would get it done. I guess I didn’t want to admit that it was over.
I looked at my Director of Photography, Ryan, once again and said, “you call it”. And he did. “That’s a wrap”. I nearly collapse with exhaustion. On a day that was supposed to be nothing but rain and the biggest, most complicated day of filmmaking of my career was a success. Just then, for the first time all day, just a hint of sun peaked out from the clouds. I’d like to think it was a little wink from God.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
In 2019 I lost my job as a Studio Manager when the company I was working for had to downsize. It was at the tail end of my festival run for, The Suicide of James Rider, so a lot in my life was changing. Now my steady paycheck was gone. I didn’t exactly know what to do next. I really didn’t want to jump into a 9 to 5 job that I would end up hating in a year, so I decided to do something different. I decided to not just do one thing, but to do many things.
I started playing drums again professionally. It’s something I really enjoy, however the life of a working musician is not something I’d love all the time, so I only wanted to play out part-time. I was fortunate to get that opportunity through some members of my church band, which also all played out regularly. It was good side money, and coupled with my freelance video editing things were going OK. I needed one more reliable source of income. So I turned to cabinet refinishing. Seem like a logic step right?
My best friend and creative collaborator, Erin Laine, ran a wood refinishing business and could use a part time worker. As she went on to start her own business, Resurrect Wood Refinishing, she needed some good reliable people to work for her. In my late 40s I didn’t think I would be going back to manual labor but it ended up being a good fit. I could be part of a small family owned business, get some dirt under my nails, help my friend Erin and make a few bucks. It’s the perfect compliment to sitting behind a computer for hours editing video.