There’s only one rule in Rondo: “stay on the plastic” and Paul’s about to break it.
In the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Brian De Palma’s Body Double, Drew Barnhardt's Rondo is a sexy, funny, and distinctly modern update to the suspense thriller.
DREW BARNHARDT grew up in Denver, Colorado. His short film Herbie! played festivals and won five Best Short Film Awards. He also wrote and directed the horror film Murder Loves Killers Too which Fangoria magazine called "an imaginative piece that crackles with energy and wit."
GUY CLARK created the hit web series Midwest Teen Sex Show which the Wall Street Journal described as “frank, funny, and controversial.” He later developed the series into a television pilot for Comedy Central. He previously worked with Mr. Barnhardt on Murder Loves Killers Too.
SCOTT NICKOLEY has scored numerous television shows and feature films. He co-composed the score to over 100 episodes of the hit series South Park, and provided scores for other shows such as The Osbournes, Newlyweds, Clone High, and History’s Mysteries.
I wanted Rondo to be a fun, twisted movie that folks talk about after they see it. And I wanted it to be aggressively cinema-literate.
For better and for worse, Rondo is definitely "me." (my bad). It was also shot on location in my hometown of Denver, Colorado.
Rondo is a product of a few elements: My own frustration with the struggles to get other movies made. My personal shame at compromising myself in that process. And my desire to implement all my crazy disparate filmic influences into something that was all my own.
I consider this my four quadrant flick: 1) Bunuel 2) De Palma 3) Peckinpah 4) Pornhub. And then Kubrick, Verhoeven and Hitchcock snuck in there as well.
We all hate to get up early. So, for me, to get up at the crack of dawn to take on a task as difficult as making a movie, I feel that task better mean something to me and better be something that I care about.
Rondo... I got up early to make this movie. And I think it's the folks who stay up late that are going to like watching it.
Can you explain the significance of the title for Rondo?
Number one... As you see in the movie, "Rondo" is used as the password that gains our protagonist admittance into the messed up situation that lands him in this dangerous/kinky underworld scenario that informs everything to come.
Number two... As you can tell by watching the flick, Hitchcock is a major inspiration and influence of mine and, yes, that extends to titles. I love the mysterious simplicity of his one word titles, whether it be Vertigo, Psycho, Frenzy, Notorious, Spellbound, Topaz, Suspicion, Rope and so on. I thought that Rondo had that mysterious Hitchcock ring to it.
Number three... Max Ophuls' La Ronde. I like Max Ophuls.
Number four... The musical term 'Rondo.' Ryan (composer) and I had plenty of talks about this form, but rather than butchering his words, I'll go straight to wikipedia: in rondo form, a principal theme alternates with one or more contrasting themes, generally called "episodes", but also occasionally referred to as "digressions" or "couplets". This seemed to apply at the writing stage to the structure of this movie.
Number five... I'm a basketball fan and I enjoy Rajon Rondo. Seemed like a good password for our criminals.
Number Six... Fidelio was taken.
Last, but not least, Number seven... "Rondo" is a fun word to say.
Attending film festivals and by just being huge movie fans, Drew and I were eager to make a film that aimed to entertain late-night audiences.
We were also interested in making a film that spoke to our love for classic Hitchcock and De Palma thrillers, but updated with Drew's own modern sensibilities. Because we would not have a big movie star in the film, we put all our efforts into making a film that people will love for its suspense and stylistic choices. Rondo isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for a film that mixes humor, graphic violence, nudity, and the formal visual style of a Hitchockian thriller, then Rondo is the perfect movie for you.
Rondo is the type of movie people discover and share with their friends late on a Friday night. We hope people relish the unusual tone and twisted humor. We didn't want predictable plotting. We wanted the other thing.
How did the film get made?
We had been frustrated with efforts to get productions going through the traditional Hollywood channels. We had been roommates in college and had each grown up making no-budget movies in our backyards. Rondo was a chance to get back to that purity of filmmaking while capitalizing on lessons learned from our more professional ventures. Certainly we had to make compromises for budgetary and technical reasons, as one does on any production, but creatively we did not have anybody over our shoulder.
What influenced your approach to the production?
Drew and I had noticed a trend in independent films that depended on lazy handheld camera techniques and non-sensical fast-cutting as a replacement for good visual storytelling.
The visual grammar of the Rondo is thought out to elicit specific responses from the audience. Rondo was not discovered in the editing room. Every element was carefully planned and considered through the entire production process.
How long did it take to shoot?
The film was shot over 18 days with a small crew of Colorado professionals. It was an ambitious schedule, but Drew had done a detailed shot list for every setup, so there was never a question of what was needed. Cinematographer John Bourbonais brought with him an amazingly tight-knit crew that delivered every day.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot?
The climax was the most challenging, because it required several company moves, much of the cast to be present, a transition from day to night shooting, as well as expensive practical effects. We spent the first fifteen days of production shooting eighty-three pages of the script. During the last three days of production we shot a page a day. Up until the last moment, it wasn’t clear if we were going to be able to pull it off. We had lost our key location, an effects house had blown us off in favor of working on a Fast & Furious movie, and some of the cast had to leave a day earlier than planned. Fortunately it all came together in the end.
What is your favorite scene in the film?
The most satisfying sequence to film was the scene on the balcony in the third act that involves an intricate camera zoom from characters on the twelfth floor of a high-rise to a character on an eighth floor terrace, and then finally to a character down on the street below. The shot required careful coordination between all the actors and crew to pull it off, and it’s a great moment of suspense and humor for the audience when it plays out in the film.
Who composed the score?
Ryan Franks wrote the music with Scott Nickoley. Ryan is also from Denver and went to high school with Drew. They have been collaborating on projects for many years. Often when it comes time for the music to be written for an independent film, the producers have run out of time or money and the score suffers. We knew the music would be integral to Rondo, and that we could not compromise. Ryan and Drew spent over a year working on the score until every note was perfect.
Where was it shot?
The film was shot on location in Denver, Colorado. Extensive filming took place in the Washington Park neighborhood as well as lower downtown. The script was written specifically for locations that were available to the production. As the script was being written, we would walk the locations and discuss camera shots. The main house in the film is Drew's childhood home. The high-rise condo was lent to us by one of our producers along with the therapist’s office. We were particularly fortuitous with some of the exteriors that were shot guerilla-style. A perfectly timed plane passed overhead for one such shot near the high-rise.
What was it shot on?
When talking with would-be filmmakers, this always seems to be a common question. Much like the type of knives a chef uses, the camera a filmmaker employs does not ensure quality. However, I am pleased to report we used the Ettinauer 226XL. Made in Holland. Only six of these cameras were ever made. Only five of them ever worked. We had one of them.
Who's in it?
For two of the leads, we called upon two actors we had worked with in the past. Reggie De Morton and Gena Shaw both starred in Drew’s short Herbie! Reggie has a wonderful dry comedic style that fit the character of Lurdell. And Gena Shaw is just damn funny. Gena really brought the therapist character to life.
Brenna Otts and Luke Sorge were both cast locally in Colorado. We were nervous that some of the extremely frank sexual talk in the script might scare away talent, but the actors immediately understood the humor and sunk their teeth into the material.
You can find the entire cast and crew list on our IMDB page.
What's the running time?
A lean 88 minutes or one half of an Interstellar.
When and where can I see it?
The film is being submitted to film festivals. Soon...
After Murder Loves Killers Too and even going back to Herbie!, we learned that we love doing at least 1 or 2 songs that are generally as much for our own amusement as for the sake of the film. With MLKT it was "Naughty Mittens" and "Let's Hole", in Rondo it's "This is My Violence" and "It's a Crime". 'Crime' was particularly fun because we got to write some ridiculous lyrics that also described what we're seeing on screen, Never Ending Story-style. We had the pleasure of working with a fabulous French singer-songwriter named Laure Zaehringer to transliterate the ideas into something that made sense for her to sing in French.
When it comes to the score, my partner Scott Nickoley and I really follow Drew's lead. With MLKT the direction was quite specific, to the extent of looking at particular songs and scores that we wanted to follow. With Rondo Drew was a little less specific but had more of a general sound in mind that could be summed up as a cross between Pino Donaggio, Cliff Martinez and Alexandre Desplat - specifically when he's working with Roman Polanski. In this case we were both fascinated by the music to Venus in Fur, and some of that sound crept into the main theme in so much as the use of a lot of augmented chords and pitched percussion.
Additionally, like many of the movies scored by the above composers, Drew creates these big moments where we can do some entertaining music features. My favorite in this movie is the B&E and murder of….well, someone. You know who if you've watched the movie. The chase that ensues around the house was shot in a manner that gave us a free range to go nuts with the score, and the mix of noise, thematic elements and big 80s synths was huge fun to play with.
The Colorado Cast That Demanded Satisfaction: Brenna Otts, Luke Sorge, and Ketrick "Jazz" Copeland talk Rondo
My favorite moment while shooting RONDO was one that likely won’t even appear in the final cut of the movie--the long take. We choreographed an entire chase sequence in a single, uninterrupted shot. While John Bourbonais (the superhero DP) followed with the camera, Jazz chased me down the hall before I veered off and ducked into the elevator. John got on with me and we took the elevator to the bottom floor. John then stepped out and Joseph Veals stepped on while I hid. As the elevator doors closed, I attacked Joseph. When they reopened after a moment, John panned down to frame the floor where Joseph lay, knocked out, and I stepped over him and off the elevator (a true moment of movie magic--real me wouldn’t stand a chance against the real Joey Veals).
The joys of independent filmmaking meant that we didn’t have the ability to shut down the elevator for our use only, so a few takes were ruined when residents of the apartment complex got on. But the look on their face when the doors opened to reveal camera-strapped John and strung-out me waiting for them made it all worth it. And that’s to say nothing of the little elevator call-button dance we had to perform in order for it to work. It was a genuinely exciting moment while shooting a genuinely exciting movie.
Later on, our director, Drew, told me that he’d seen an obscure member of the Denver Nuggets on the elevator that morning. Most sane people have never even heard of this player, let alone would recognize him. But Drew did. And most sane people would never have attempted a shot like that in a public elevator. But Drew did. That's how I knew I was working with the right people.
Rondo remains one of the best experiences of my life. It set the bar for every project I’ve worked on since. The crew, the cast, everyone involved had a mutual sense of respect and dedication to the project. I came on to the film fresh-faced and intimidated, but director Drew Barnhardt believed in me. He coached me through everything and was able to pull true horror and emotion from me. The entire experience with Rondo confirmed that this is what I’m supposed to do with my life.
I think Drew, giving me money to buy lingerie was pretty funny. He awkwardly handed me money and said something along the lines of “here, I’m bad at shopping for this stuff so buy something you’re comfortable in,” and then immediately ducked his head and ran away. I also had never smoked before the movie, but I was intent on doing everything for real so in between scenes I went out into the yard and had Drew teach me how to smoke. After I got the hang of it I went in and laid on the couch and chain-smoked cigarettes while we shot the scene. Everyone was worried about me and kept bringing me water and asking if I was alright. I didn’t understand everyone’s concern because I felt fine…until I stood up and almost passed out.
Other fond memories include finding the cubby in the basement and waiting for the scene with Ketrick to begin. Everyone was calling for me and searching for me so we could begin filming, and I had no idea, because I was actually at my start mark, hunkered down in my dark cave like Gollum. I also remember the scene where I smack Ketrick with the bag when he’s about to drug me, at one point I got too into character and actually hit him as hard as I could, and his fall off the bed was real. I felt so bad!
DESHAWN..................................KETRICK "JAZZ" COPELAND
I had a blast filming Rondo. There was never a dull moment on set. The cast/crew were always up to no good and creating some very funny moments. One of my biggest memories was when Joseph Veals came into the scene with a pack of sweet cakes or cupcakes or something. I totally wasn't expecting that. Ever since that day I started calling him Sweetz, and he doesn't seem to mind being called that. It was a blast working with Reggie DeMorton as well. Reggie a true professional and veteran. I'm excited about Rondo and can't wait to show the world.