*This article originally appeared in RVA Mag #36, on the streets now at all your favorite spots.
With a mashup of local idols as its actors and musicians, Richmond-produced indie film Last Call is a River City dream. Spearheaded by Richmond-based production team Aisthesis Productions, the film tells the story of a bartender who endures a tragic quest one night without ever leaving the bar — also named Last Call. The feature-length film was shot over the course of nine months, and its “Twilight Zone-Esque” mood depicts, according to director Tim Moehring, “a relatable theme of regret and what we can do to change our lives.”
Not only was Last Call filmed in Richmond, every aspect of its soundtrack has Richmond connections as well. The soundtrack was assembled by local musician Coldon Martin (Positive No), and features other Richmond acts Mekong Xpress, Sports Bar, and Tim Barry. Local thrash heroes Municipal Waste even grace the film with a live performance.
As a local crew with Richmond roots, it was important to Aisthesis to produce a locally-oriented film. To that end, Last Call’s action was filmed inside a popular Richmond hotspot, The Answer Brewpub. Situated on Broad Street in Richmond’s West End, the bar is renowned by locals and national beer enthusiasts alike. The reason for choosing it for the film was simple. “We wanted the bar to be believable, a bar everyone would go to,” said producer Monica Moehring.
The Moehrings were both born and raised in Richmond, and continue to base their work here. “I’m lucky that my partner in life is also my partner in art,” said Tim Moehring. “Whether we’re writing together or discussing production details, we share an artist’s vision and the insane energy it takes to actually do it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Together, Tim and Monica Moehring lead Aisthesis Productions. However, the company is firmly a group effort; throughout the process of filming, the couple strove to account for each worker’s viewpoint on the results. Understanding that filmmakers tend to butt heads within the industry, the Moehrings want to be sure they do their work surrounded by those they get along with.
For that reason, it’s no surprise that the Aisthesis team consists of the couple’s friends — an extra-localized situation that helps create a friendly and inclusive atmosphere within the production team.
When putting Last Call together, the creators weren’t interested in playing it safe. “For all of the production design and detail we wanted the audience to ‘feel’ things with us, from arousal to nausea,” said Monica Moehring. “The music, the lights, the acting, and everything had to feed into that.”
For Tim Moehring, pacing was of particular importance. Throughout, he strove to make sure that the story unfolded in a manner that would create the mood and tempo he wanted the film to have. For Monica Moehring, this sometimes meant obeying the classic literary advice from William Faulkner: kill your darlings. “The playwright in me is long-winded,” she said. “I think there was more heartbreak in the writer’s room than the editing room.”
To cast the film, the Moehrings turned to local actors that have been working with Aisthesis for years. Indeed, the film was written for the actors who were eventually cast. “Lines are crafted for the specific talent we’ve chosen,” said Monica Moehring. Lee Reynolds plays the bartender in Last Call, a complex character who devolves on screen as the story unravels. According to Tim Moehring, Reynolds “gave us 110%. He truly gave his blood, sweat, and tears bringing this character to life.”
In its Twilight Zone state-of-mind, Last Call largely derives its mood from the 1950’s TV show, suspended somewhere between reality and fantasy. The classic series is best known for its unforgettable shocking moments, but beneath the obvious elements of weird fantasy and horror lies an unexpected, but important, moral vision; one that’s given weight by the series’ particular approach to cinematography. The Moehrings worked to achieve a similar cinematic effect through close collaboration with director of photography Doug Bischoff, who Tim Moehring calls “a master of his craft.” Explaining the atmosphere they sought, Tim Moehring said, “We wanted to transport the audience into another world with this movie — the world of Jason, the bartender who has always been the life of the party.”
Even low-budget independent films take tons of effort and funding to create, and Last Call is no exception. “A film doesn’t just fall into your lap,” said Tim Moehring. “There are a lot of moving pieces and preparation is the key. Luckily we had people like Will Towles and Saskia Price making sure all the moving pieces kept moving! We didn’t settle on any details, and that didn’t come easy. It meant rehearsals, and rewrites, and hours of production meetings.”
“When you’re watching a movie, you’re seeing the puzzle completed,” said Monica Moehring. “You’re not seeing the ten million pieces that had to be put together.”
As yet, Last Call has no set release date; however, its trailer is viewable on YouTube. It’s sure to get local film, music, and craft beer fans chomping at the bit.
Photos by Glenn Cocoa