Local director Ross Bigley is no stranger to getting things done on the film scene. In addition to his 2007 feature film, "Disembodied," Bigley has made close to 60 short films since the early 1990s. He is the current president of the Milwaukee Independent Film Society, and has 16 years of experience working with the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
With this year's festival set for Oct. 29 and 30 and his established track record of multiple accomplishments, it comes as no surprise that Bigley would have yet another project up his sleeve.
Currently in post-production and set to premiere on the final day of the Milwaukee Short Film Festival, "Petty Cash" is Bigley's second feature film. Part black comedy and part thriller, it follows an ensemble cast through intertwining plot lines of love, crime, money and murder. The story itself is so action-packed, in fact, that it couldn't even fit into a synopsis.
"There are so many storylines, it ended up being a page long," said Bigley. "We decided to just condense the summary and center it around what a life of crime does to a person and the people around them. Everything comes together at the end, but a full synopsis can't do it justice."
The plot is driven largely by the character of CoCo, played by international film star Bai Ling, who gets involved with the shady dealings of Jimmie, her boss and strip club owner, played by Robert W.C. Kennedy. Ling, a late addition to the cast, was brought in to pique outside interest in the film.
"In order to get this film seen, we needed to get a name in there," said Bigley. "Originally, her character was supposed to die, but with an ensemble script it was much easier to give her more scenes. She has a lot of heavy-duty stuff to do, but she knew where to take this character and was probably more planned out than we were."
It's this kind of flexibility that is so fundamental to Bigley's film process, both from a technical as well as an artistic standpoint.
"The key is to know what you're doing beforehand, but to plan and talk with everyone about how you see the scenes when you get there," said Bigley. "If you rehearse too much, the other actors are going to know exactly what you're going to do. I prefer a little spontaneity to keep it more genuine. If something happens, you're able to conform to that idea without having to change everything. It becomes more fluid."
Truly, the method seems to work. Filming ran from February to July of this year, with crews shooting in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago approximately every other weekend.
"This whole process has been such a breeze, more so for the cast and crew. I happened to pick a great bunch of people who were very knowledgeable and experienced," said Bigley, who also expressed gratitude for his collaborators. "None of the locations we shot at charged anything for filming. We even used the office at Bryant's Cocktail Lounge for a three-day shoot."
Moreover, Bigley also found ample support from local filmmakers, both in production and through the assessments of his peers.
"A lot of people came out to get involved," he said. "I knew we had a good film. That was the general consensus from everyone who saw it."
With the overwhelmingly positive response from those involved, it makes sense that everyone is already geared up for another installment. Indeed, "Petty Cash 2: Lady Luck" is already in production. What anticipating film-goers can expect from it, however, is still very much under wraps.
"I don't think I'm giving much away when I say a lot of people die in this first one," laughed Bigley. "Some of the survivors do play a hand in the second one. I don't want to give away too much, but it's a natural progression for the characters."
"Petty Cash," presented by the Milwaukee Independent Film Society, premieres at 9:15 p.m. in the Milwaukee Art Museum's Lubar Auditorium. Afterward, Bigley says the full cast and crew will be on-hand for a Q&A session prior to an after-party at MOCT Bar.
Tickets for "Petty Cash" are on sale for $10 on the Milwaukee Independent Film Society's Web site.
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.