For once in my life Monday came on a Tuesday. That was the day filmmaker Alejandro Montoya Marin (Leslie (Short), Low/Fi (Short)) arranged to have a screener sent to me of Monday, his debut feature.
Monday follows Jim, played by Jamie H Jung (Slow Wallet (Short), Sierra Burgess Is A Loser (Short)) on the day he gets fired from a menial desk job, dumped by his girlfriend and inadvertently caught in the middle of a drug war. Talk about a bad case of the Mondays.
There are some movies that are more than just the stories they tell, the nature of the production is highly publicized and takes on a life of its own, Monday is one of those movies.
Monday resulted from the premier season of a reality show called Rebel Without a Crew. Alejandro Montoya Marin and four other filmmakers earned a chance to be in the show which documents them directing their first feature film.
The show is like the indie version of Project Greenlight. Rebel Without a Crew is based on the book of same name, which details the making of Robert Rodriquez’s 1992 debut film El Mariachi.
The catch is these five indie hopefuls had to make their movies with the same limitations Rodriquez did. Each filmmaker was given a budget of $7,000 and only 14 days to shoot the movie.
They were allowed to bring on one crew member from their prior work and they were given other resources to help them maximize their budget. For example, they had their pick of wardrobe and up to seven props from Robert Rodriquez’s Austin, Texas based Troublemaker Studios.
They were also permitted to shoot for free in the house they were living at while making the reality show. All of the applicants for the show, around 2,000 in all, had to have a feature script ready to go and they were not eligible if they made a feature length film already.
Thankfully for Alejandro, these applicants could have short films on their resumes. In 2016 Alejandro made a short version of Monday. The short also starred Jamie H. Jung as Jim.
Jung did a stellar job at playing this buttoned down underachiever who is transformed into a man of action. This change is not sudden, it happens organically over the course of the story with the help of Jim’s best friend and record store owner Paul, who was played at perfect pitch by Kenneth McGlothin (The Virus, Big Mistake).
In the spirit of the reality show, this review will now also serve as a crash course in how to make a gun toting action movie on such a strapped budget. In fact, I was impressed that he chose to make an action film on a low budget, usually genres like Science Fiction and Action are thought of as stories that cannot be made on a dime.
Monday, much like El Mariachi, are proof that it can be done. After all, these limitations must be considered while you evaluate a movie, because as an indie filmmaker myself, I know what an uphill battle it can be to achieve your vision on what would be the craft services budget of a Hollywood production.
Once you watch Monday from that perspective, it is clear that Alejandro Montoya Marin achieved a lot by being creative and resourceful, which is exactly what Rebel Without a Crew aimed to spotlight.
RULE # 1 – Make the best out of everything you have access to.
As Robert Rodriquez has famously said, while writing the script for El Mariachi, I could get a turtle, a guitar and a school bus, so I knew all of those things would be in the movie.
Several other low budget indies have inspired other filmmakers based on the production value they squeezed up on the screen, such as The FP, Primer and Bellflower.
An example of how this was put into practice on Monday was when a fire cannon setup was reused a second time to give two characters a trailer moment. They were smart to place these two shots far apart in the edit to stretch out the impact of this special effect.
One of those shots, the one of Jim diving away from a fiery blaze, actually made the cut of the trailer and for good reason. When the action is taken to the closed record store Paul owns, I was impressed with this unique setting and feel that this was based on the store being a location they could get for little to no money.
The lighting of that record store scene, as with most of the scenes in Monday made great use out of the space available and fit the tone of the story. In a similar fashion, Alejandro Montoya Marin and his crew made wise decisions by saving the complex, multiple camera setups for the key action scenes.
That way the action feels fast paced and stands out from the more character driven scenes. It was clear that the cast and crew gave all they had to make Monday as good as it could be.
Many of the camera angles play into the action genre in fun and interesting ways. It must be noted that, much like Robert Rodriquez, Alejandro ended up doing many jobs on and off set in order to bring his movie in on a budget. Alejandro Montoya Marin is the Writer, Director, a Camera Operator and one of the Editors of Monday.
RULE # 2 – Turn your problems and production setbacks into an opportunity.
A marvelous example of this in Monday is the casting choice of Anna Schatte (Agenda: Payback, Circle) as The Hitwoman. In the story, The Hitwoman and Sofia Embid (Life Goes Up (Short), Saudade (Short)) as Sam, her partner in crime are the ones that set the action into motion.
These lethal ladies are hired by a local drug lord to eliminate a rival crime boss. The thing is, they have strict orders to make a third party be the person to do the deed, as a way to distance themselves from the murder.
The stranger they pick to make a killer overnight is Jim, of course, but this story element feels natural and does make sense in the movie, for reasons I will not spoil here. In the short of Monday, The Hitwoman…. was actually a Hitman.
During the casting process for the feature Alejandro Montoya Marin tried to hire the same actor, but he was unavailable. This put Alejandro in a difficult situation since he had to cast the part quickly and did not find a suitable male actor during the casting call.
Some filmmakers might have panicked, others might get dejected and decide to take this character out of the story somehow. What Alejandro did was turn this predicament into a new opportunity, he remembered the audition Anna Schatte gave and realized she had the right presence to play this role.
This was documented quite well in the TV show. The dynamic between the characters of Sam and the Hitwoman clearly illustrate that he made the right call. It is fun to see these two strong, capable women tear through anyone who stands in their way.
While, on the other hand, the more quieter scenes where these girls interact show that they have different philosophies on life and how they should get the job done.
The Hitwoman is cold, direct and quick to react, while Sam is more calculating and has an emotional side to her. It would have been nice to get more backstory on Sam and The Hitwoman, but this character work was done for our protagonist Jim, which is the main thing.
Both women do a great job riding this delicate balance and to me, it seems like a more interesting choice having these two distinct women chasing after two guys, Jim and Paul long into the dead of one Texas night.
RULE # 3 – Run time and how every minute counts.
As stated earlier Monday was shot in only 14 days, to put this into perspective many high budget studio level action films are shot in over 40 days. Final run time, and the need to shoot only scenes that will make the final cut, come into play when you are making a low budget indie movie.
Monday came in at a total run time of about 60 minutes, which is a welcome change from many of the 120 minute features that frequent the cineplexes these days.
Monday does not waste any time or hold the viewers hand, it powers through and threatens to blow it off! With that being said, there is definitely a story here, it is just delivered in a concise and fun way.
Elements of comedy and heart crept into the action narrative of Monday. I was laughing out loud at a few moments when Jim has to deal with passive-aggressive phone calls from an employee at a store where Jim made the mistake of buying an entertainment system on credit.
During another scene Jim and Paul had to whisper to avoid detection by Sam, who was hot on their trail. In that scene we get their dialogue in subtitles which was an inspired choice and added to the comedy by giving us these lines in a different way. The post credit sequence of Monday also gives us one last comedic beat, so please stick around until the final frame.
Monday is enjoying a festival run now, one of these screenings will be at the SOHO International Film Festival in New York, June 15th. Fans of the genre and indie film alike should give Monday a shot.
When it does come out, grab a drink and sit back because Monday is sure to rock your weekend. Monday is pure indie action for the fast paced world we live in.
I urge you to watch the accompanying TV show as well, Rebel Without a Crew is currently streaming for free on go90.com and will eventually air on the El Rey Network, the Robert Rodriquez owned TV channel. If you are an aspiring filmmaker this should be required viewing, because who knows, this might be the final push you need.
Curt Wiser is the Writer, Director of the Suspense movie Cam-Girl. As a filmmaker and artist he is happy to say a kind word about other movies and share them with the world, even on a Monday.