This post was written by Ed Rampell.

Inspired by an SXSW keynote speech by actor/writer/director Mark Duplass, and imbued with a “do it” spirit, filmmaker Robyn August shot his first full-length movie. Heeding his fellow indie filmmaker’s advice to “be your own cavalry,” August rode to his own rescue and made a micro-budget feature.

Party with Me is an engaging dramedy and ensemble piece about 30-something showbiz aspirants in L.A. that focuses on personal assistant Harper’s (Allison Flanagan) use of drugs, drink, random sex, and frivolity to cope with a family tragedy.

Shot on the URSA Mini from Blackmagic over the course of eight days using cast and crew homes as locations, Party with Me was shot for $7,000 and edited in roughly four months. August did animation for the film himself in Adobe Animate and After Effects. The film went on to win L.A. film fest awards and acquire a distribution deal.

August shares how he parlayed his directorial debut into making a second feature.

How did you get into filmmaking?

In all honesty, my dad bought a VHS-C camera back in the ’80s. I’ve always been an artist at heart, and drew and just loved movies. Eventually, I convinced my father to let me use his camera to shoot my own stuff, and then I started asking my friends to be in these sketch comedies, skits, little horror films, etc. Eventually, my dad had to give me the camera—I was using it more than he was. And I went crazy, making little videos.

How did you get the idea for Party with Me?

My love really is with horror, sci-fi, comedy... I’m a very genre-esque type of person. I knew that in order to make my first film, especially one I have to pay for out of pocket, it’s going to have to be more of a dialogue-driven film. So, I watched online this South by Southwest keynote speech by Mark Duplass, which really inspired me. And he made a great case—if you want to make a movie, just go out and do it. You have to understand there are some movies you can’t do at that level yet. Find the friends you have who are talented and see what locations you have and what you can do for free or cheap. Then go backward—write the story around what you have, instead of a sci-fi movie out in space. I thought that was a really outside-the-box, smart way of creating a feature film.

I realized I couldn’t make that horror film I wanted to do right out of the gate, so let’s make something—maybe a comedy, with a little drama. Along the process, certain things in my life and the lead character Allison Flanagan’s life came to light, and we knew the subject matter we had to talk about was grief, and how to deal with grief. So, we built a character piece on that, along with lots of elements that have to do with L.A., friendships, connections. 

Allison_michael'Party with Me'Credit: Robyn August

Tell us about making Party with Me, starting with the screenwriting.

I took notes during Duplass’ speech. I gathered up friends I knew were talented—they knew it was a passion project coming out of my own pocket and probably not going to make any money. Then I asked the actors if there was a specific character they’ve always wanted to play, and I tried to dig deep into myself to figure out what the theme was.

Once I got that I just sat down and wrote nonstop. I was able to finish the screenplay in two weeks.  

Party is a micro-budget film. In lieu of upfront payments were cast and crew given points?

Yeah. All I really wanted was to make my initial investment back, after that, the deal was everybody gets points. The main goal wasn’t making money. It was about making the damn movie. The actors could also use it to seek representation.   

What was your budget?

Around $7,000. After festival and PR costs, it stands at $10,000.

Most of it went to sound—that was the only crew member who couldn’t work for points, and you never want to compromise good sound!

Allison_noah'Party with Me'Credit: Robyn August

Like with everything else, the pandemic affected Party’s release. But it was screened at the Method Film Festival.

I actually got accepted to a decent amount of L.A. festivals and ended up going with Method Fest because they were so in love with it. I was sad after the pandemic hit that the crew wouldn’t get to experience a premiere. But Don Franken, the festival head, did everything to still make it happen. It was actually one of the only festivals in L.A. to do a drive-in experience. I got up there before the movie started to make a speech, and the actors got to say something.  

Did Party win any awards?

We actually got nominated for eight awards and won two big ones, which we weren’t expecting. We won Best Ensemble Cast from Variety Magazine and Best Film at the festival.

Did this lead to any distribution offers?

We had a couple of people contact us. But I knew there were a couple I really wanted to focus on that were bigger indie distributors, including Gravitas Ventures. I sent them the film. They really liked it and offered a distribution deal.

Pwm_still5'Party with Me'Credit: Robyn August

Tell us about your storyline’s cancer subplot.

It’s a hybrid of my dealing with my mother’s breast cancer scare and also the lead, Allison Flanagan’s, father passing away from cancer very close before we started shooting. She brought a lot of her personal experiences to the film.

What’s next?

I’m preparing to shoot a low-budget horror/comedy/slasher film in October with some private investors. And I’m shopping a script I wrote, a psychological thriller called Cupcake. Having made a feature film was a big calling card—it said to investors, “He’s already done it.” 

Anything you want to add?

If you’re an aspiring filmmaker and debating whether your first screenplay or movie to be made has to be a million-dollar production, get it out of your head. Just make movies, and you’ll eventually be able to make your Citizen Kane. But for right now, just put in the work, get it done, and you’ll find amazing things will come your way.

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/critic.

See more of Robyn August's work at his website.

You can find Party with Me for rent or purchase on YouTube, Amazon, and other VOD platforms.