The Removals

While UDM students enjoyed their summer vacation, English professor Nick Rombes was hard at work on his directorial debut, the film “The Removals.”

“The novel that I wrote, ‘The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing,’ was published by Two Dollar Radio press and they were just getting into film,” said Rombes. “The guy who founded the press always wanted it to be more than just a book press … to also be a film company.”

The producer knew that Rombes had experience writing screenplays and was also a film buff. So when Rombes shared the idea with him for the film, he was interested.

Rombes was then given a deadline. Once the producer read the script, he shared it with some other people who gave it the green light.

Interestingly enough, fate would have it that Rombes would become the director.

“It turns out that I ended up directing it because the woman who was going to direct it, another Two Dollar Radio author, got pregnant and couldn’t,” he said. “So I stepped in.”

The 66-minute film follows a group of people who discover that they can replace a version of history, or reality, with another one by re-enacting it, Rombes said.

“So they begin as utopian, like ‘we’re going to take out the bad parts of history,’ but then some of them begin to misuse it,” he said.

Rombes describes himself as a lover of movies that feature big ideas but not a ton of special effects. One model for him was the 1979 hit “Alien,” in which the title creature is seldom seen.

“I wanted to explore this idea of individuality in the age of social networking and the dark side of that,” he said. “So I knew that I could have some really interesting ideas with a minimal, micro budget. Those are the movies that kind of stick with me and I sort of modeled after.”

“The Removals” had a budget of around $20,000, most of which went to paying the actors and actresses.

The film was shot on a Nikon 7100 DSLR, which Rombes described as a digital camera with a rich color source.

“It’s amazing because you can afford a camera that is fairly inexpensive that will make it (film) look, even blown up on the screen, really high quality,” he said.

For Rombes, who always wanted to direct a movie, the summer was a learning experience, especially compared to his writing career.

“I found it was a lot more collaborative,” he said. “That was the most fascinating part of the process and the most enjoyable. Because writing fiction and a novel is so solitary. Making the film was a team effort. You’re working with a group of people every day – actors, the cinematographer, the producer – and you go in as a team and you really collaborate. That was really exciting.”

The film-making process also went a lot smoother than he anticipated once he understood that randomness and chance played a big part in it.

“One day that we were supposed to do most of the outdoor shooting, it rained,” he said. “That led to some beautiful things because we ended up using a really striking red umbrella and some really rich imagery that we wouldn’t have used had it not been raining. I learned that if you go into it saying, ‘Here’s the plan but the plan will be altered’ and then make the most, kind of invent as you go, it’s very satisfying. I liked that.”

The film is finished and has been submitted to film festivals. Now Rombes is just waiting to hear back.

Ideally, the film will have a theatrical release before video on demand and DVD. Rombes said he is hoping for a theatrical release later this year and video on demand release in 2016. (Those interested in pre-ordering the film may do so at

Rombes said waiting for the movie to be released is much like waiting for a book to be published.

“The difference is that the actors and actresses – you want people to see it for them as well,” he said. “There’s more at stake. The book is like your thing. If it doesn’t do well, you’ve let yourself down. But I think that the exciting part of the film is that you’re anxious for it because it’s not only what you did, but it’s what many other people did, too. It’s as much theirs as it is yours. A book – I don’t feel that way about. You feel like you’re really excited for yourself and for them, too.”

With his first novel published last year and now his directorial debut this year, Rombes has two big projects under his belt. Yet, each one was different.

“I would say that the novel is a lot more time consuming,” he said. “That was like five or six years in the making. Once you get everything in place for the film, it goes fast. The shooting goes fast. It’s intense. It was like four weeks of intense shooting every day, eight hours a day, but then it’s over. Once it’s done, its done. It doesn’t go on for years and years.”

Filming locations for “The Removals” included Ann Arbor, Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, where Two Dollar Radio is based.

In order to finish the project, everyone involved essentially cleared their calendars for four weeks.

“You were totally immersed in it. It felt like it was all that was on your mind. I think that was really helpful. There were no distractions, except for when I got poison ivy,” he said, laughing.

Rombes, who has taught a screenwriting course at UDM and is currently teaching a film class, feels that his directorial debut adds to the accomplishments of UDM faculty.

“It’s great because there are so many people here who are also doing creative work, like Professor (Tom) Stanton, Professor (Jason) Roche’s documentary filmmaking and people in architecture,” he said.

As for future projects, Rombes is already working on them.

“We’re now collaborating with the same group to pitch a television series, hopefully, to someplace like Netflix or something like that,” he said. “We’re working on a season-type show.”