A small independent film made in Boston on a $500 budget with an all volunteer cast is winning awards at film festivals around the country, including most recently a “Merit of Awareness” award at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles, California. Skin and Bone, by Milk and Cookie Productions, is only the second film by the two person movie-making team, Philip Magcalas and Lucy Harrison. Magcalas served as writer and director of the short film, based on the real-life trials and tribulations of a cardiac catheterization laboratory. We spoke to Magcalas and Harrison, who are both current medical students, about their experiences with the filmmaking process, and their thoughts on the seemingly paradox between science and the arts, and what happens when you combine the two.
HEC: What inspired you to make this movie?
Philip Magcalas: Lucy and I are both medical students, and for a time, I was working in the same type of place that the movie takes place in. I thought it was very interesting, and could make for a very interesting film without having to change anything. The people that work in these cath labs deal with heart attack patients every day, as well as people with congenetal heart defects, and are also dealing with families whose loved ones have had heart attacks, and have never been in that situation before. I wanted to explore the dynamic that goes on between the doctors and their patients, but also between the doctors themselves. Most of the film came from my experience here.
HEC: What was it like working with an all-volunteer cast? Where did you find them?
PM: We were really lucky, as I was in a local comedy troupe where we found a lot of the actors. Even though its a drama, there’s actually a lot of comedic talent in the film. There’s a lot of talented people in Boston who are looking for something interesting to do, and I think this project enabled them to learn something.
Lucy Harrison: Every single person who was behind the scenes, with the exception of the make-up artist, also served as on-camera talent. Everyone was a multi-tasker. I think Boston is an ideal place to make a film. We used postings on Craigslist to find people. A lot of actors in Boston are looking for opportunities to be in something interesting. A lot of cast and crew in Skin and Bone have day jobs as a bio engineers, computer engineers, and scientists, and were also very helpful behind the scenes. This film gave them an outlet to explore their more creative side.
HEC: How long did the script-writing process take, and overall, how long did it take to make the movie from start to finish?
LH: From our starting film date, it took 15-16 days over the course of a year
PM: From starting the writing process to the finished product, it took about a year and a half total.
HEC: What was the hardest part of each of your jobs?
LH: It was hard keeping everyone on time. I’m good at it, but I don’t like who I have to be. I have to make sure everyone is sticking to their time schedules.
PM: I like pretty much everything, up until it comes time to find an audience for the film. You send things out to festivals, and talk to your friends, and hope people will receive it. Luckily with this film we kind of have a built in audience in New England because of the strong medical community that’s here.
HEC: This is only your second film, and its already won a number of awards. Have you been surprised by how its been received?
LH: I like our movie, its interesting, and I think people should like it. Its really exciting every time we get some sort of recognition, it means people get what you are trying to put out there, and that’s very gratifying.
PM: This film has been a step up for us, we’ve been able learn more about how to do things. In Skin and Bone, we had a wide variety of characters, who were really true to life, so a lot of people were able to find someone to relate to, something that hooks them. I believe it’s at some point a combination of luck and what you’ve put into it.
HEC: Any current plans for future projects?
LH: We’re working on plans for a film right now that focuses on the work and process that goes into our medical education.
PM: I have a couple scripts I’m working on right now; a couple for me to make, and couple for someone else to make.
Skin and Bone has also won a “Best Comedy Drama Over 30 Minutes” at the 2009 COMMFFEST (Global) Community Film Festival in Toronto and was an official selection of the 2009 Rainier Independent Film Festival. Their first film, The Quarter-Life Crisis, was an official selection of BridgeFest International Film Festival 2007 and has screened in Grenada, Vancouver, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia, as well as Boston. The name “Milk and Cookie Productions” was chosen by Philip and Lucy because they liked the idea of a naming a company after “something which people almost universally enjoy”. It seems as if, at least with their latest film, they’ve found a combination that satisfies even the critics. Their film is available on DVD through their website, with a portion of the proceeds to go towards Partners In Health’s relief work in Haiti.