Local short film ‘One Foot In’ wraps up shooting, raises over $54,000

Staring two APT actors, the film features ornate language and beautiful Wisconsin scenery.
One Foot In Header
Photo courtesy of Jack Whaley
Marcus Truschinski (right) and James DeVita (left) play two 19th-century graverobbers.

A lone man in suspenders stands in front of the ominous Wisconsin woods, issuing a warning about the oncoming night, and so the fundraising pitch video for the locally produced short film “One Foot In” begins.

Featuring 19th century costume design and smoky scenes of campfires, the pitch by all accounts worked. The three-minute video created by writer and first-time director Eric Schabla raised more than $50,000 in just a few months to tell the story of an eccentric grave-robbing duo in search of the score of a lifetime.

“One Foot In” stars American Players Theater veterans James DeVita and Marcus Truschinski, who play two grave-robbers, Tammany and Greer, respectively. The team wrapped up a six-day shoot on Oct. 17 after raising $54,506 through donations, grants and corporate sponsorships according to the online fundraising page.

The money was raised to pay a more than 30-person team. The core creative team, Schabla; Jack Whaley, director of photography and executive producer; and Madalina Zimmerman, producer, have not taken a cut to prioritize hiring local professionals. If the three see any money, Schabla says, it will be whatever is left over.

Two men huddle behind a camera in winter jackets during the filming of "One Foot In."

Photo courtesy of Jack Whaley

The film was born, in part, from necessity. Once the pandemic hit, Schabla and Truschinski realized that without a season at APT, local artists might be at a loss for creative projects and feeling the financial brunt of the pandemic.

“That was another big part of this project from the get go: How can we get our incredibly talented friends something creative to work on during this time?” Truschinski says. “I feel like people in our industry are underpaid for the amount of work that goes into these creative projects, but we wanted to make sure that we got many talented people employed.”

For the initial script, Schabla describes a feverish writing process, finishing a draft in just three days. The coronavirus was not a direct inspiration, but ruminations on mortality that Schabla confronted because of the pandemic were definitely a factor. The pandemic was certainly built into the filming process; they shot scenes exclusively outside, required the crew to wear masks, eliminated common spaces, remained physically distant for meals and frequently hand sanitized.

Schabla wrote the project with Truschinski and DeVita in mind, and Truschinski was excited from the start. In his living room at home, Truschinski first read a draft of the piece. And then he read it again, immediately drawn to the script because of the dynamic between the two characters and the distinct use of language.

“It was this beautiful marriage between the two worlds; theatrical and cinematic,” says Truschinski. “This kind of muscular, dense language is what I love about being in classical plays. You have to do a kind of detective work to figure out what it means for yourself, but then also the work of making it make sense to an audience.”

Marcus Truschinski (left) and James DeVita (right) stand amidst the lush Wisconsin woods.

Photo courtesy of Jack Whaley

Marcus Truschinski (left) and James DeVita (right) play two 19th-century grave robbers in "One Foot In."

Schabla didn’t want the movie to sound like a traditional western or a film of “gruff dudes who are men of few words for the sake of looking cool.” He wanted the language to be more stylized, and worked to create a vernacular that combines the high status of ornate Victorian dialogue with a rough sound, like one would hear in rural Wisconsin.

“It’s this kind of rustic poetry that’s very connected to the land and is always kind of straining against itself,” Schabla says. “Language in this [film] is a tool and it’s a weapon and it’s a means of survival.”

The short film is local not only because of its cast and crew, but because of its shooting locations. It features Wisconsin scenery including Devil’s Lake State Park, Otter Creek Boat Landing and the stone ruins in Indian Lake County Park. The natural setting made each scene feel exciting, says Truschinski.

“I felt like a kid a little bit playing imagination games on the set quite often,” Truschinski says. “Jimmy [DeVita] and I kept saying at the end of a lot of the takes [that] it’s just like two kids, playing in the mud — which was sometimes literal,” he jokes.

The silhouettes of two men carrying lanterns are just visible above a hilltop.

Photo courtesy of Jack Whaley

The two grave robbers ascend a hilltop in the dead of night.

One of Schabla’s favorite moments in filming was recording a scene at 2 a.m. in 30-degree weather. The shot was technically demanding — the camera was literally being dug out of a grave. It was one of the final shots in the piece, and Schabla said it was a huge relief to go home with the final moments of the film that evening, and not just because of the chilly twilight weather.

Now that the crew has wrapped up shooting, Schabla hopes that the 15- to 20-minute film will be available in spring next year. The script-memorizing, prop-making and late-night shooting is over, and the team has moved on to the post-production process, grueling in a different way than running through the Wisconsin woods in the dead of night with two adventurous graverobbers.