RETRACT and GRINDING DOUBT: Inside Indie Film Company East End Productions’ Two Award-Winning Stories of Life’s Dramatic Contrasts

An indie film production company is nothing without the people who work to make it a successful enterprise in all phases of its projects. The team involved in New York City-based East End Productions — actors/filmmakers Bobby Liga, Stephanie Hogan and Alex Spieth — have emphatically proven their talents while achieving critical success through two of their studio’s latest films: the timely sexual harassment drama Retract, and the wacky ensemble comedy web series pilot Grinding Doubt.

Both award-winning productions, Retract is now streaming on the subscription platform Xerb (link below, $6.95 a month to subscribe following a 7-day free trial), while the first episode of Grinding Doubt continues its run on the film festival circuit. That episode will premiere online at year’s end, with production on further episodes of the series planned should adequate funding be achieved.

Directed by Spieth, written by Hogan and filmed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Retract is the story of a young woman (Cleo, played by Hogan) attempting to recover from her latest failed relationship. Aside from that problem, Cleo also faces relentless taunting and leering from the oversexed males who populate her neighborhood.

Egged on by her best friend Bailey (Kristen Doscher), Cleo attends an eventful party where her meeting with a charming but ultimately aggressive guest (Brian, played by Liga) soon leads to a life-changing tragedy.

On the sillier side of the spectrum is Grinding Doubt, also directed by Spieth and revolving around an obnoxious assemblage of stardom-seeking lowlifes who overshadow their young nephew Tibby (Eamonn McElfresh)’s religious confirmation celebration by going to outrageous lengths to attract the eye of a would-be Hollywood player (Bryce, played by Liga).

Despite the questionable talents shared by this group — community theater starlet/karaoke crooner Jackie (Hogan), Jackie’s half-brother, delusional auteur/marijuana peddler Danny (Daniel Boyd) and brash beauty Emerson (Ciarah Amaani) — they’re determined to make a name for themselves in show business even if they wreak plenty of havoc along the way. The first episode of Grinding Doubt was filmed last August, with production closely adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines (more on that ahead).

With Retract and Grinding Doubt as but two examples of the growing level of first-rate output generated by their partnership in East End Productions, Liga, Hogan and Spieth are dedicated to making projects that explore both society’s biggest challenges and life’s most fascinating moments.

Hogan and Liga recently talked to me about how Retract, Grinding Doubt, and East End’s future productions For Marie and Trade (the former currently seeking funding via IndieGoGo, campaign page link below) is helping their company to accomplish that mission.

CH: What (and/or who) inspired Stephanie to make Retract?

Bobby Liga: Stephanie Hogan was inspired to write Retract after her experiences of being harassed on the street by strangers. She wanted to show how uncomfortable it can be to be a woman in New York City dealing with catcalling and harassment.

CH: Tell me more about the character you play in Retract, Brian, and the connection he has to the film’s protagonist (Cleo, played by Stephanie Hogan, who also wrote Retract).

BL: Brian’s character in Retract was incredibly interesting. He was sweet and charming until he wanted to engage sexually with Cleo. It’s a great depiction of how modern men act poorly in social situations. Men can be manipulative and aggressive and we wanted to show that through the character of Bryan.

CH: You worked on both Retract and Grinding Doubt with your partners in East End Productions — director/creative producer Alex Spieth and actor/executive producer Stephanie Hogan (who co-stars with you in Retract and Grinding Doubt). What was it like to work with them on both projects, and how has that partnership helped to make your on and off-camera efforts for those projects even better?

BL: Working with 2 CMU (Carnegie Mellon University) grads (Spieth and Hogan) was an incredible experience. Filmmaking, acting and directing was an obvious trait that these CMU grads brought to East End Productions. While Alex helped on the directorial side with Retract to make it a visual masterpiece, Stephanie developed both Retract and Grinding Doubt and brought an artistic eye to both projects. I can’t wait to continue to work with them and (to) create groundbreaking films.

CH: What was the production process like for Retract?

BL: The production process for Retract was very intense with drone shots, a stabbing sequence, a penthouse shoot and (sequences shot in) various streets, parks, bars and restaurants throughout New York City. We used high-def lenses to help capture an incredible picture for our audience.

We also brought on a very experienced sound engineer who also helped in post-production with composition and sound design. The process was very smooth, organized and efficient. As a producer, I am learning a lot as we continue to make films.

CH: What (and/or who) inspired you, Stephanie, Alex and Mike Corey (series writer) to create Grinding Doubt?

BL: Stephanie Hogan, Alex Spieth, writer Mike Corey and myself developed the storyline for Grinding Doubt. It started with us storyboarding in our apartment with ripped-out pieces of notebook paper taped on the walls. We wanted to create a pilot about a group of degenerates who don’t fit into their small town clicks and want to make their delusional dreams happen by any means necessary. We created ridiculous characters and it was so fun to develop and shoot. (We had) a lot of laughs!

A lot of us grew up in suburban areas where the norm was to stay close to family, get married and have kids after college. We didn’t choose that path in life. We chose to pursue a difficult career in the entertainment industry and you can see that in the characters in Grinding Doubt.

CH: Tell me about the character you play in Grinding Doubt.

BL: The character I play in Grinding Doubt, Bryce, is the obnoxious indie film producer who thinks he’s a hot shot. My connection with Daniel Boyd (who plays Danny Chambers) in real life as a best friend helped create some hilarious comedic moments in the pilot. We have incredible chemistry and (we) had a blast improving on set. It was very natural for us to step into these characters together.

CH: The pilot episode of Grinding Doubt was filmed last August during the pandemic, and your production company (East End Productions) took great care in ensuring a safe environment for the series’ cast and crew alike. What steps did you all take to accomplish that?

BL: The production process for Grinding Doubt was more efficient and organized than any of our past productions. We spent almost 8 months developing the script and having non-stop Zoom production meetings due to COVID-19.

We hired an infectious disease doctor who worked with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Penguins to ensure everyone was safe on set. We enforced masks and social distancing strictly as well as prepared pre-packaged catering. We took every possible measure (to make the production safe), and as a result not one person on our set contracted COVID-19.

CH: Are there any other projects in development at East End Productions, and if so, what’s the status of them production-wise?

BL: East End is currently in production for a short film called For Marie, (which will be) shooting in May. It’s about a pianist who uses his music to cope with the recent death of his wife. We hired an expert pianist and talented actor Phil Kadet, to play the lead. I will be playing opposite of him. East End will also be producing another short film simultaneously in June, called Trade, about how a casual hookup between two men reveals deeply embedded internalized homophobia.

CH: What do you hope audiences take away from seeing both Retract and Grinding Doubt (the latter especially given its subject matter)?

Stephanie Hogan (actor/executive producer, Retract/Grinding Doubt, writer, Retract): I want people to laugh out loud and escape a little with Grinding Doubt. It’s a raunchy comedy about a group of people who don’t fit in in a very traditional society. Being an actress, I know I’ve felt that way at times. So, we wrote it for those people who are taking a less conventional route in life and are following their heart while having some crazy fun along the way.

With Retract, I had had some specific experiences in my early 20s, when I first moved to the city, that I felt compelled to write about. I would talk about street harassment with female friends and we all shared so many stories, it felt good to connect and see that we weren’t alone. But when I shared with my male friends they were surprised and worried. They had an idea of what this harassment was but couldn’t really understand the weight of it.

I would be afraid to leave my house during certain hours of the day or when I saw groups of men outside my window. The fear would dictate when and where I could go at times. I decided to make a short film about this feeling so that people could see how serious it can get. I wanted men to watch so they could understand and I wanted women to watch so they could feel understood.

CH: What are your hopes for the success of Retract and Grinding Doubt — both in terms of how it will benefit you, Alex, Stephanie and all the talent involved in both projects, as well as East End Productions overall?

Hogan/Liga: Our hope is that East End Productions becomes a full-fledged profitable production company. We are trying to make feature films and series in the long run, which will give us exposure and, ultimately, funding for more diverse and unique projects in the future.

We all believe in telling stories that feel urgent and universal. We hope to continue to collaborate with our core group while growing and adding new, different voices with each project. I’ve seen how much we have grown in three years and know we have the talent and drive to become successful independent filmmakers.

NOTE: Regarding the addition of closed-captioning and subtitles for both Retract and Grinding Doubt, Hogan and Liga say: “We will work to get closed captioning and subtitles on both projects!”

Watch Retract via the indie film subscription streaming service Xerb:

https://xerb.tv/channel/isa/video/7570

Find out more about East End Productions on the company’s official web site:

https://eastendproductions.net/

See behind-the-scenes photos from East End Productions’ most recent projects on Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/eastend.productions/

Help contribute to East End’s IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign for Marie:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/marie-a-short-film-working-title

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Chris Hadley

Writer, @SnobbyRobot, @FSMOnlineMag, Writer/Creator, @LateLateNewsTV