THE FILM

Donna, the owner of an upscale massage parlor, Healing Touch Massage, is unexpectedly visited by a corrupt cop who threatens to her expose the true nature of her business. In order to keep her business and her girl’s safe, she offers to pay him off, and now has the trial of having to raise over $200,000 in six weeks.

Donna immediately plans an event that is sure to raise the money to help keep her business and employees under the scope, However, during those weeks, each of the women at Healing Touch are confronted with a series of obstacles challenging their line of work and their lives. They all must make a difficult decision.

No matter the choice, they each have to give up something, whether it is family, friends, lovers or themselves.

Tricks is an urban tale about five prostitutes, their enterprising madam and the struggles of each to not only survive, but thrive in a business that’s deemed immoral and taboo.

THE PRODUCTION

Rod and DeAara

“Tricks.” was shot in the very, very hot summer of 2006. This was my second film, but first feature film and surprisingly, I wasn’t too nervous. By divine intervention, I had put together a core team of dedicated people. We set the intent to have a smooth shoot and that was the goal for which we aimed. There were definitely some bumps along the road, but me managed them.

One of the most daunting and most triumphant obstacles we faced is when we showed up to a location we had been shooting at for a few weeks and the walls were painted a different color! We had to get wallpaper to try to make it match up and looking back, I now realize that it really wasn’t that necessary since it was only us who knew the layout of the room.

Rod and DeAara

Sound was always an issue, but we had an awesome sound engineer. Shooting a project independently on a miniscule budget, One doesn’t have access to a sound stage, so we have to make to due. The parlor scenes were the toughest because that's where we had the least amount of control for sound.

We started shooting “Tricks.” in July and officially wrapped it in October of that year. We only had to replace two minor cast members out of a cast of over fifty people who were only being fed as paymentand that was a miracle!

THE FILMMAKERS

Rod and DeAara

The idea to write “Tricks.” came while watching a news story (I used to work in news). After watching a segment about an undercover prostitution sting, something just hit me. I thought how interesting it would be to tell the stories of these women from their own perspectives; and not the perspectives of people and entities with their own biases and agendas.

Shortly after I started writing the first of draft of the film, I placed an ad on Craig’s List looking for a Director of Photography who understood cinematic lighting. I made this very clear in the ad so I wouldn’t be contacted by a lot of videographers whose lighting knowledge was limited to that of only news or amateur productions. Rod Pitts emailed me about the job and it took about five missed calls before we finally connected to set up a meeting.

When Rod and I met, we had instant filmmaking chemistry. I didn’t realize I had already seen his work a couple of years ago at a student film festival or that we both attended the same college. Rod was very dedicated and tenacious. I nervously shared with him my idea about writing a story about the lives of “working girls” from their own perspective and waited for the discomfort and hesitation I had grown used to whenever the subject came up. However, he didn’t respond that way at all. He actually became very intrigued and when I saw how nonjudgemental he was at my tackling this subject, I relaxed even more and we just vibed.

Rod and DeAara

After our initial meeting, it would be three or four months before I would see him again and when I did, he had already drawn a poster for the film! That day, Rod told me not only that he read the script, but really enjoyed it. This was the last bolt of reassurance I needed to dive all the way in and move forward.

Throughout the years, our friendship went from strictly professional to truly close friends who shared a love of filmmaking and storytelling.

When he became ill, my drive to want to promote “Tricks.” or even make movies seemed lost. It just felt so wrong without him being a part of it and it still feels weird at times. Rod finally did pass away after a year and a half of fighting the strange autoimmune disease that interrupted his life and it was one of the saddest days of my life.

As grief still burdened me, I realized how much time had passed with me not actively promoting the film because I was coping with and trying to make sense of Rod’s illness. Other obstalces entered my life as well. I had just recently ended a tumultuous relationship which greatly impacted my health, my finances were in extreme disarray and since much of my income came from my real estate investments, I was forced to file bankruptcy when the market crashed. Overwhelmed, bitter and lost, I wasn’t even sure if "Tricks." was still relevant.

I slowly started to pick up the pieces and get my life back on track and as I did, the idea of leaving the film in a such a stagnant place just didn't sit well with me. I've never liked leaving anything undone, no matter how long it takes me to complete it.

Ironically, my Mother called me that same day and told me that one of her friend’s boyfriends remarked how “Tricks.” was one his favorite films. This blew me away! My target audience did not fit his description at all (he’s a middle aged white man). I then began receiveing Facebook messages from strangers asking me when the film was going to be available again or was I going to do anymore screenings. And then a random waitress recognized my sister and I from the film. Things like this kept happening and that’s when I decided that my not continuing to get “Tricks.” out to the world would go against everything Rod put into helping me create it.

THE RELEASE

Rod and DeAara

It tooks us a year and half to edit "Tricks." This was mainly due to money and both Rod and I having to work to support ourselves. “Tricks” debuted in our hometown of Memphis, TN at the Indie Memphis Film Festival to a sold-out, standing room only audience on a rainy Monday night. That Monday night, we learned a few things about how NOT to screen a film.

Although we were very much against screening the film on DVD, we did it anyway and it was a total disaster. The sound dropped out but the festival graciously re-scheduled the film for the following night. We put the film on a digital tape and played it from our camera and the reception from the audience was amazing!

Hollywood Premiere

Also during that time, I spent a lot of hours consulting with a lot of people to determine the best way to go about releasing “Tricks.” In 2006, Youtube was just catching steam and the idea of releasing “Tricks” online outside of a basic brochure-type website was out of the question (closed-minded, I know).

The biggest mistake we made with the release of “Tricks.” was not exploring the online options more to use along side of any traditional type deal we got offered.

Independent distribution was always the plan. I have a major entrepreneur spirit and just wanted to see if it could be done. Over the next couple of years, I explored other options. I talked to independent film consultant Peter Broderick, attended his “Distribution U” seminar and got a lot of feedback and “how-to” from other filmmakers.

I then decided to do another release and marketed it as a DVD release party. We used radio and television as the primary advertising venues. The budget for television went very quickly, but I got a couple of interviews on radio. One of the interviewers was with a highly controversial shock jock in the city and he even came to the release party resulting in us later cutting an advertisement deal. That deal taught me a lot about the power of influential marketing – getting influencers on board to promote a product.

The advertisment deal we cut with that disc jokey resulted in “Tricks” repeatedly sold-out at a local music store where we set up distribution. It also sold very well online in the initial push.

I was again reminded of the power of the internet and social media when we did a survey of everyone who came to the DVD release party and over 95% heard about it on Facebook. Only 2% responded from those expensive television commercials.

My feet were now wet and I had more of an idea of what to expect with advertising and marketing. I began volunteering my time to help other artists and groups promote their products to test out what worked and what did not.

After receiving an email case-study of how a number of films that didn’t get traditional distribution were able to find a supportive audience online, I knew it was time for “Tricks.” to make it’s official “online debut.”

THE MUSIC

The music for “Tricks.” was one of my favorite parts of the filmmaking experience. Many of the cast and crew contributed to the “Tricks.” music and soundtrack in some form. Rod did some of the scoring and I contributed a little to it myself. I was also able to bring family in on much of music elements. My nephew, who is an up and coming music producer and rap lyricist handled much of the remaining scoring and also produced the theme song for the film, “I Got That Healing Touch.”

I actually got the idea to write the song when I decided to take the theme of “Tricks.” an edgier direction. I’m a huge fan of funk music and one of my favorite songs is “I’d Rather Be with You” by Bootsie Collins. I always liked the fast, repetitive beat of that song and began singing a hook I had been playing around with in my head. A friend of mine really liked it and encouraged me to write a full song to it.

My nephew agreed to produce a track around the hook and I brought he and my sisters in to help write and arrange the rest of the song. My sisters and I did the background vocals with my oldest singing lead. My god-brother and good friend did the rap verses and we shot a video for it to go on the DVD. We also did a straight R&B cut of the same song which we will probably shoot a video for just to add to the collector’s addition of “Tricks.”

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