Pulling No Punches

Eau Claire filmmaker delves into absurdist, comedic work

Lauren Fisher, photos by Kyle Lehman

“Basically, two girls rob a gas station … poorly.” That’s Eau Claire filmmaker Tim Schwagel’s synopsis of Punch Me, his biggest little film to date, starring Reanna Madson and Lauren May, with supporting acting by Alex Raney and Ben Hinz. With the help of friends and fellow filmmakers, Schwagel shot this roughly eight-minute, darkly absurdist story over the course of two nights in a gas station in Weyerhaeuser.

Schwagel has been writing, directing, and filming short films since his freshman year at Memorial High School. His works include “Za,” “Zapped,” and “Paranoia,” and he was part of the crew for Ben Kreibich’s 2018 project, “Fragments.”

“I wanted to make something that I felt good enough putting into festivals, instead of just putting it out on the Internet,” Schwagel said. Many of his previous films were made for 24-hour festivals, or ones with slightly longer production timelines. This time, the process had more room to breathe. He began the scripting process in late February, and the shooting took place in late May.

With 11 people on set during the biggest day, this was the largest crew Schwagel has worked with yet. The production required great actors, makeup, photography, and even some stunts. Schwagel also needed to find the right gas station for filming. It had to have authentic character, it had to be up for the project, and it had to close at some point for the crew to come in and work its magic. Eau Claire photographer Kyle Lehman snagged the Weyerhaeuser spot in the nick of time.

Working in a small town so far from where crew members live put on the pressure, said Mack Hastings, producer and assistant director for the film. He, Kreibich, and Schwagel have been shooting together for years in Eau Claire and Minneapolis, where they can always jet home or to Best Buy if they forget a battery or if equipment fails. In Weyerhaeuser, if a cable was damaged or forgotten, they would have to go without. Thankfully, they had no issues in that department.

Both nights, the crew drove an hour to Weyerhaeuser (some further, from Minneapolis), to start shooting at 9pm. They didn’t finish until 2am or later.

“Shooting that late and having people drive, because we didn’t get back to town until four, is a lot to ask of people, even if they’re your friends,” Schwagel said. But cast members were happy to do it. The drive, and the shooting process, had a great sense of camaraderie, Hastings said.

“We’re all trying to help each other be the best we can be,” said Kreibich, who worked the cameras those two nights.

 “(Tim) teaches me a lot, and he’ll quiz me as we’re going,” he said.

“Of the crew of the three of us, Tim has been doing this for such a long time, and in many ways is a great teacher to me and Ben,” Hastings added.

Hastings and Kreibich, who live in Minneapolis now, are both working on their own shorts as well. When Hastings’ “Pawn,” and Kreibich’s “Speed Cinema,” two stories just as dark as “Punch Me” is bound to be, are finished, the trio plans to organize a screening in Eau Claire so that locals, cast, and crew can see the finished products before they hit the festival circuit.

See more of Schwagel’s work at https://bit.ly/2K3Ch1y.