I’ve been a fan of the Coatwolf gang ever since my dear friend Alexandra Boylan introduced me to Evan Glodell’s Bellflower back in 2011. This filmmaking group is innovative, fearless, and unlike anything or anyone making movies today.
I became a Patreon supporter a while back and was floored by everything they are doing, and I knew instantly that I wanted to put a spotlight on their incredible female producers Chelsea St. John and Jet Kauffman. So here we go. I introduce to you the brilliant women of Coatwolf.
How did you both start out in the film business?
Chelsea: For me it was something that I sort of fell into. I’ve known Evan Glodell since high school. Around the age of 20 he decided he was going to be a filmmaker and he started where most aspiring filmmakers do, making these simple short films with just a couple people in his house. As time progressed, the projects started getting bigger and more complex and while Evan is a creative and technical genius he has never been good at logistics and organization. You see this a lot in the world though, that whole left brain/right brain thing. Anyway, the places where he needed help are where my strong suits lie, and I just started to see places where I could step in and help him.
I didn’t even know what the traditional film jobs were – like what an Assistant Director did or what it meant if you were a Production Coordinator – I was just jumping around from department to department figuring out how I could help. In the beginning, I think I lacked the confidence in myself to truly believe that I could be successful as a filmmaker so I thought of it more as a hobby than a career. But then I fell in love with making movies and being a part of that creative process. I realized that it didn’t matter to me anymore if I was what some people might consider successful or not. It just mattered that I was spending my life doing something I was passionate about. As I started to gain more experience, I found my place as a producer and never looked back.
Jet: It definitely wasn’t a conscious effort. I sort of fell into it. When I think back far enough, I’m pretty sure it started with my obsession with reading books. I’ve been an avid reader since I was 3 years old and always enjoyed falling into an alternate universe that a good book could provide. I would write my own stories, and when on a really good roll, full novellas or books.
Movies served the same sort of purpose, just on a different level. At the core, both movies and books fall into this vein of storytelling, and I’ve always gravitated to the creative side of things.
When I graduated high school in 2001 I went to Emerson College in Boston to study Writing, Literature, and Publishing. I attended for a year and a half and during that time met a lot of other people my age studying film and television production. I participated a lot in helping out with my friend’s student films during this time and found that I really enjoyed it, whether it was being an extra or holding a boom or bounce. I loved the teamwork aspect of it, and to be able to make a product that you feel proud of, you know, like… “Hey guys, we made that. How cool!”
How did you get involved with the Coatwolf filmmaking family, and for those who aren’t familiar, can you explain what that is and what you are all about?
Jet: I met Evan Glodell, Jonathan Keevil, and Paul Edwardson at a local bar in Ventura called Billy O’s. I think that was around 2008. I believe Evan and I struck up a conversation outside about filmmaking, and I mentioned that I was into writing. It kind of evolved from there. They were in pre-production of Bellflower and were looking for locations. As I became friends with the rest of the Coatwolf gang, I started helping them out with Bellflower as much as I could. It started with providing the house that I lived in as a main location, and from there I took on more responsibility. When we were shooting on the fly, I found that I had a knack for talking to and approaching people who owned the properties that we wanted to shoot on. I could explain what we wanted to do, where we wanted to shoot, get them excited about the project. Most of the time I would be able to get permission to shoot wherever we wanted to. Having a focus on locations can be very difficult and time consuming, but it’s also rewarding to me. I really enjoy meeting new people and traveling to scout locations.
Chelsea: As Evan continued to make more short films, music videos and small projects we started slowly building a team of passionate filmmakers who cared about making movies more than anything. I think it was around 2006 or 2007 when we started calling ourselves Coatwolf but the heart and soul was there long before that. Since then we’ve grown into this make-shift family.
We refer to Coatwolf as a film collective dedicated to making movies for the right reasons. Our focus is putting films out that will change lives and make the world a better place. I don’t know if that sounds hokey or cliché but we have this belief that films should be educational and inspirational in a way to show people how to deal with the dark times in their lives, whether that’s going through a death or break-up, dealing with loneliness, figuring out what your purpose is, etc. I think most human beings have a hard time learning deep, emotionally complex things through someone just telling them what they need to know out-right. Films give us a way to tell you something that your heart intrinsically understands as truth even if it takes your brain a little longer to process. If we are doing our jobs, as the audience goes on this emotional journey with our characters they will come out the other side hopefully seeing things in a new light or with a deeper understanding.
What has it been like documenting everything on Patreon about the making of your upcoming film Canary?
Jet: Really cool. Cinematographer Joel Hodge has such a focus on documenting everything going on. He’s been doing it since he was a kid, sticking a camcorder in everyone’s business, but I’m glad he does. It’s fun to make a show on the side about the making of a film that we’re doing. I hope that people enjoy it as well. It’s giving everyone an honest behind the scenes look of how we do things, mistakes & triumphs alike. I think Movies and Machines will be something that we will always be able to look back on and be proud of.
Chelsea: Patreon has been an amazing for us. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Patreon, it’s this service where for a monthly subscription people are able to support starving artists. It’s essentially crowdfunding but in a more meaningful way and it allows you to really connect with the people who care about what you’re doing. The documentary series Movies and Machines is exclusively for our patrons. The show follows every step of our journey as we go through production on our new feature film Canary, post-production on Chuck Hank and the San Diego Twins and all the ups and downs of working in the low-budget indie world. And the really special thing is we are shooting, editing and putting this show out as we go. So our viewers get to truly go through this whole process with us. Our aim is to make Movies and Machines educational, entertaining and 100% authentic. Whether you’re a fan of our work, an aspiring filmmaker or just a movie lover there’s something in there for everyone.
It’s been really fun making the show. It’s something we are very proud of and are excited to share with the world. Making a movie is so complex. There are so many small successes and failures every single day and then you wake up the next day and start working on a new set of challenges. For me, watching the show back it’s like a little time capsule where you can look at all you’ve accomplished and everything you’ve survived. And the response that we’ve received is so encouraging it just makes it all a very rewarding experience.
What do you love about being producers?
Jet: I love being the support for the more creative side of our group. It feels good to be part of a team working towards a common goal and to know that in your own way, you’re a piece of the entire puzzle to pull everything forward.
Chelsea: What I love about being a producer is that I get to be involved in every aspect of a project and be instrumental in bringing a story to life. You get to shepherd an idea into to reality and I just think that’s really special. It’s a challenging job, especially working on low budget projects, but to me that makes it even more worth-while.
Producing Coatwolf projects is incredible. The amount of passion, blood, sweat and tears that every single member of our crew is so willing to sacrifice is a beautiful and humbling experience.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced in the world of independent film and how did you overcome those obstacles?
Chelsea: Money is always the biggest obstacle. Generally I am always challenging myself to think outside of the box. When you work on low budget you can’t just throw money at problems like you can on multi-million dollar projects. You have to get creative and not be fearful to venture off the beaten path and explore less traditional approaches.
Our projects tend to be large in scope and complexity so it makes it even more challenging. In my experience, our DIY approach to filmmaking has been really affective to save money. People’s time adds up to being one of the most expensive costs in production so if there are things that we can do ourselves without sacrificing quality we generally do.
Another way that we are able to save money is by shooting outside of Los Angeles. Because the movie business is so prevalent in LA I feel that many locals see filmmakers as an annoyance and the vast majority of businesses charge hefty location fees. Our home base is in Ventura, CA and I tell you, even being just an hour away from LA people treat filmmaking so differently. People get excited out here and they want to be a part of what we are doing so often times that translates into savings on locations, permits, rentals, and there’s never a shortage of eager volunteers to lend a hand.
Jet: We all discuss money issues as a team now, which is nice. Prioritizing and honest communication is key. We also have to be creative about having side ways to drum money up. For instance, after Bellflower came out in 2011 I thought how great it would be to launch a Coatwolf store. From there we designed T-shirts to sell on the website, using a local business here in Ventura. After it showed to be successful, we had many requests for the Medusa Chainsaw Necklaces featured in Bellflower (the scene where Woodrow gives Milly a custom made necklace to embrace her into the Mother Medusa “gang”). We started making those en masse. We use the same caster and engraver that was used to make the original Medusa Chainsaw Necklace in the Movie, and I spray paint them personally, box them and ship them out. We wanted to be authentic every step of the way, and I really think that our fans appreciate the care we put into our products.
Knowing Evan’s awesome antics and the way he makes all of these machines and cars and random props for your productions, I’m sure you have tons of great stories!
Any fun things that you can share with us about the DIY nature of anything on Canary?
Jet: Oh my gosh! So many things. One of my best memories is when Evan and I decided we had to drive to North Carolina to pick up mercury arc rectifiers for a super important prop. He found a seller all the way out there, and due to the nature of these rectifiers being filled with mercury, they weren’t allowed to be shipped out to California. So, he and I took a week off at the end of January in 2016, packed my Prius up, and drove to North Carolina in 48 hours. I even took my dog, Sebastian. No joke. We took shifts. If anyone doesn’t know, a Prius is an excellent car for going far on a full tank, and also sleeping in. The back seats fold down. While one of us drove, the other would sleep.
Now, I’ve done a lot of roadtrips around the US with just myself and my dog, the longest one being a month, but I have never made mileage that quickly in that amount of time. Also, if anyone recalls the storm on the East Coast during January 2016, you’ll remember how it was basically an ice storm. It started brewing right as we picked up the rectifiers and left North Carolina. It was below freezing and sleeting. We hightailed it south as quickly as we could and didn’t sleep til we got to Florida. It was a torrential downpour of rain but as least the temperature was above twenty degrees Fahrenheit. From there we cruised the rest of the way back to California along the 10 freeway. It was quite an adventure.
Chelsea: Evan is a very unique filmmaker. He has always been an inventor for as far back as I’ve known him. When he conceptualizes and writes his stories he will come up with these ideas for things that he wants to build. Things like building a one-of-a-kind camera so he can achieve a certain look or a special effects rig that will spray blood at crazy speed and volume. Most notably he got a lot of attention for the flamethrower and the car that he built for Bellflower. He genuinely gets just as excited to build and invent as he does to make the movie. It’s another creative outlet for him and I think it really adds something special to our films.
On Canary, he definitely has some fun ones up his sleeve. Right now we can’t talk in too much detail but we are giving our viewers on Patreon some sneak peaks on some of these projects.
Any advice for people interested in producing independent feature films that you think is vital for them to know?
Chelsea: I think the most important lesson that I have learned in all these years working on low budget films is to never put limits on what you can accomplish and never let money dictate the scope of your film.
I look back and sometimes I can’t even believe all the crazy things we’ve pulled off; getting incredibly expensive cameras for free, clearing music that should have been impossible to get the rights for, renting helicopters, getting dream locations at no cost, etc. And we were able to accomplish all of this through sheer will-power and being unafraid to go after what we wanted. I’ve found that putting in the effort and reaching for the stars works out way more often than you would believe. Refuse to take no for an answer. That’s the best advice I have.
Jet: Don’t lose sight of your passion. It is what will drive you during the times you want to give up, because sometimes it can be extraordinarily hard… however, the things that are most difficult are often the most rewarding.
For more information on Coatwolf check out their Patreon where you can get exclusive access to Movies and Machines.