The great American bromance

A group of amateur filmmakers brave rising gas prices, the Highway Patrol, and bug splatters on the windshield to bring “Box Elder” to a theater near you.

For the past few weeks, four men in their early 20s have been riding around the American heartland in a smelly van. Every night or two, they stop in a college town, find the venue, then wait for the audience to show up. They sleep on friends’ couches. They travel light: no roadies, no groupies, no amps or guitars.

Box Elder

Starring: Alex Rennie, Nick Renkoski, Chad Haas
PLAYING AT: Oak Street Cinema, 309 Oak St. SE, Minneapolis
SHOWTIMES: 7:30 p.m., April 4, 6-8, 11-13, 15

These men are not musicians. In fact, they can hardly carry a tune. They’re part of the new breed of amateur filmmakers, showcasing their new comedic bromance “Box Elder” in an old-fashioned, do-it-yourself manner. Their adventure, one that brings to mind the quintessential struggling-musician-or-rock band on their premier tour,= is ushering in a new era of indie-film promotion: an era that’s crass, original, and according to director/producer/writer/actor Todd Sklar, “f—ing awesome.”

I spoke with Mr. Sklar via cellular while on his way – in said van – to a screening in Denver. Maury Steinman, his marketing and P.R. man, Alex Rennie, the film’s comedic supernova, and fellow actor Brian Sturgill were all along for the ride. They appeared to be in high spirits – excited and refreshed after another round of sandwiches (for significance, see movie) and another day of promoting “Box Elder” on the open road. He gave me the skinny on the film, the adventure and the future of Todd Sklar.

What is “Box Elder” all about?

Youth cycles, college, growing up. It’s about being ambivalent and figuring things out for yourself. It’s about taking a risk, a direction, and rock-and-rolling with it.

What about the title, “Box Elder?”

It’s from the insect, which to me represents dudes and chicks from our generation. Box elder bugs are loud, cool-looking, harmless and hard to get rid of. They don’t actually do anything, they just hang around. They don’t bite. They’re just there. That is kind of how I see our generation. Most kids are just there: loud, harmless, but not really doing a whole lot.

How has the road been so far?

So far, so good. We opened at Mizzou (University of Missouri), sold out the first few shows, and got the film to play an extra week. Nebraska was not quite as successful, but nothing is in Nebraska.

What obstacles or mishaps have you encountered on the tour?

Dirt piles in the middle of the road in Nebraska, riding around in a fart factory fueled by four smelly dudes, and the fact that I feel like a jackass trying to get people to spend their time with me and my film. The hardest part is the pace, the grueling pace of running around all day in a city marketing the film, distributing flyers, making copies, putting up posters, then racing over the screening, having a Q&A session, then getting back in the van and driving all night to the next town.

Tell me about the process of creating and distributing a film yourself.

I wrote the script while still in college and shopped around the idea to different investment groups. I shot the film on campus on nights and weekends over a two-and-a-half-month period. I brought a trailer with me to the Sundance Institute. It got a great response there and I met many people willing to help out. Then I went back to Missouri to reshoot the entire film with a new crew. I had planned to have it done in time to submit it to the Sundance Film Festival, but missed the deadline. After this, I decided to do it my way and take it on the road.

What has been the most enjoyable part of distributing your film this way?

Not to sound corny, but getting to connect with fans. It’s one thing to put your film in a theater – that’s always a great feeling. But it’s a better feeling knowing full-on 100 percent that if you had not brought it there, they never would have seen it.

What’s next for Todd Sklar?

I’ll be distributing films through my production company called Range Life Entertainment. Then I have another script that I wrote before “Box Elder” called “Four Days in the American Dream” that I’d like to film. Then I might go get a sandwich.