Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ali Selim on "Sweet Land"


The purpose of these interviews is to help demystify the filmmaking process ...

ALI SELIM: First, let me tell you, I can't help you de-mystify it. It's the most mysterious thing I've ever done, still to this day.

Had you ever written a screenplay before this?

ALI SELIM: No. I dabbled. I took a screenwriting class from Tom Pope in 1984, and I churned out something to get a grade. I can't even remember what it was. Then we had this idea when I was at Departure Films in 1989 that we were going to try and make a movie and I think I cranked something out then as well. But again, I don't even remember what it was. I just didn't know any better. I thought you slap some words on a page, got the camera out and that was that.

This was really my first effort at telling a story that was structured and constructed. But had I put words on a page before? Yeah. Had I ever done anything seriously or taken myself seriously? I think this was the first time.

Did you think about budget at all while you were writing Sweet Land?

ALI SELIM: No, I guess I didn't. If I had thought about that, I think the script would look very different. No, I just let it rip and left it up to (producer) Jim Bigham to make it happen. He was great. He's an old friend and he really connected with the script for a lot of reasons. He wasn't just a Line Producer, he was a guy who really wanted to see it made.

He was the one guy who would go through the script with me and say, "If we get rid of this, it will make that better." He was great about hanging on to the parts of the story that would drive it forward, and yet getting rid of the things that were a little too big. He was more budget conscious, and that caused me to re-write, I guess, but while I was writing I didn't really think about it.

Was there anything you were sorry to lose because of budget restraints?

ALI SELIM: There was nothing I was sorry to lose. I learned a lot from Jim Bigham about how to be efficient, not how to be cheap or just say no -- let's be efficient and talk about what the story is. When you don't have millions and millions of dollars and tons of days, I think you just naturally give up some of those shots that you would see in King Kong, which are great -- those big, wide street scenes of New York -- but I don't know that we need them in a film like this.

There were a lot of those little things along the way where, if we'd had the money, yeah, we'd get the train pulling away from the station as she was walking away, but you don't necessarily need it.

Did you re-write it at all after it was cast, to fit the actors you cast?

ALI SELIM: A little bit. I think I did a lot of re-writing for Ned Beatty, who was interested and willing to be a little more terse and mean. The character wasn't originally that way, and I like what he brought to it. And so I re-wrote a lot of his dialogue to reflect that.

I re-wrote Frandsen, too. My grandparents had a friend like that character, an immigrant living hand to mouth on a farm in Minnesota, and yet he was more influenced by what he heard of vaudeville and what he saw at the movies than what his real life was. It took Alan (Cumming) a little while, but when he got that, we re-wrote Frandsen to make him more fun in that way.

Do you think you wrote it any differently because you knew you would be directing it?

ALI SELIM: I don't think so. I don't know what writing another kind of script is like, so I don't know if I adapted this to the fact that I was going to be directing.

I do know that my writing is vastly more sparse or suggestive than most screenwriters. My Assistant Director was pulling his hair out, saying "It's not in the script, it's not in the script!" And I think, actually, that's what attracted the actors to it. It doesn't have the kind of screen direction that says, "She raises her left hand and puts it on the cool granite counter." There's none of that in there. It's more just a kind of rumbling suggestion, and I think the actors really seemed to appreciate that, because they all talked about not only the sparseness of the dialogue, which is as sparse as the script.

I'm writing another script now and I'm finding that it really isn't just the taciturn Scandinavian farmers that caused me to write that way, it's really more my writing style.

Are there any lessons from Sweet Land that you'll take to future projects?

ALI SELIM: I think I learned some lessons about dialogue -- how much actors really bring to the show. We did a couple rehearsal readings in Montevideo, once all the actors arrived. And immediately following those readings, I think I went through and cut about half of the dialogue. Just watching their faces I thought, Boy, they don't even need to memorize this stuff in Norwegian or German or whatever it is, they just need to act and look and work between the lines.

And then when we started editing, I bet we lost another half of what was left. And I'm finding that it's really helpful in writing the next script. Write it for the actor, don't write it for the producer who's reading it.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Watch "Ghost Light" for free

Thanks to all the readers who continue to make this site a pleasure to curate.

As a special thank-you, here's my last feature, "Ghost Light," which you can watch here for free.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Jason Chaet on "Putzel"


What was your filmmaking background before making Putzel?

JASON: In addition to making films, I am a theater director and acting teacher based in NYC. I got into independent film when I became involved in the early stages of the film Kissing Jessica Stein, when it was moving from being a play to becoming the film.  I directed workshops of the screenplay in both NY and L.A., then served as Creative Consultant when it went into production.  It was a great experience. I learned a ton and fell in love with indie film.  

After that, I started developing film projects while continuing to direct theater. I directed a couple short films, and worked on feature scripts at the same time. Putzel is my first feature film credited as director, but I had the luxury of having directed hundreds of different types of projects (mostly theater) before I did Putzel.  

Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like? 

JASON: Screenwriter Rick Moore and I were throwing ideas around one day when I realized that I hadn't left the upper west side of Manhattan in months. I was working there, living there, and most of my friends were still there (and it was before my daughter was born).  It was a very strange realization and as soon as I said it Rick said “that's a movie.”  

It took us a while to figure out what the movie would be, going through many different incarnations. It really took off when Rick had the very good idea to move it into the smoked fish/appetizing store world (which is a very upper west side type of business). Once we had that, the story built itself quickly. The process was great, Rick is a tremendous writer, a real craftsman and we collaborated very well in developing the story and script. 

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

JASON: We started trying to finance the film in the fall of 2008, which may have been the worst timing in history!  The initial budget was 1.6 million, but because of the economy we had to shrink it several times. We found creative ways to lower the budget, finally settling on a budget a little under 200K.

Once we secured our hero location (the fish store) we were able to raise the money through private investors and shoot the movie in 18 days, for a little under $200K. Even though the budget was significantly lower than we hoped, we didn't sacrifice much in terms of the look and feel of the film. 

Our plan for recouping costs is a combination of the VOD, DVD, Special theatrical engagements and The Jewish festival circuit.  The film plays very well mainstream, but because the film is about a Jewish family, we've been lucky to do well on that circuit. We continue to play those fests into next year along with the international VOD and DVD release.  


How did you cast the film and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?

JASON: We worked with Barden/Schnee casting who were incredible. Paul, Kerry, along with Allison Estrin gave us great advice and helped find an amazing cast.  Some of the actors we were able to get with an offer, some auditioned, and a few of them were actors I had worked with during my time In NY. 

The script didn't change much once we were cast, although we did add a scene for Susie Essman’s character Gilda to help complete her arc. It's the last scene between her and John Pankow where she finally tells him off.  She's great in the scene, as is John. Other than that there were the typical changes to scenes you make during editing, but no major changes.  

Where did you shoot and how did your location help and hinder your process?

JASON: We shot the whole movie in NYC, and with the exception of one interior on the upper west side of Manhattan.  There is no better backlot in the world than NYC, but of course it can be a challenging place to shoot.  Crowds are tough, noise is very tough but you get these wonderful visuals.  We really wanted to capture the small town elements of big city life, and we had to shoot on the upper west side to do that.  There were a number of locations that we had very little time to shoot at (both interior and exterior), so that was a little bit of a hindrance, but for the most part the locations were worth it. 


What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

JASON: We shot on the Red One, with the exception of one sequence (the subway) that was shot on a 7D.  Our cinematographer Ryan Samul is a genius and I would work with him again anytime. He really made the film look beautiful and we were lucky to have him. 

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

JASON: Smartest Things: Working hard to be on location and getting the most bang for our (very small) buck from shooting on the upper west side. In my early days working off-off-off Broadway I managed a kosher dairy restaurant at night, and I knew that all the kosher bagel places had to close every year for ten days during Passover. So (producer/actress) Allegra Cohen and I went around the upper west side of Manhattan and asked a bunch of those places if we could shoot there when they were closed.  One place said yes and we were set.  Since one third of the film takes place in the store, this was a huge get and made making the movie at this budget possible. Also, I think getting permits for Columbus Circle, the very small park we shot a comically edgy scene in, and Riverside Park were critical moves.  

Additionally, we did six-day weeks but gave cast and crew two days off between each week which was a great idea that (producer) Sheri Davani had.  

Finally, we hired a great cast that even on this small budget made working very easy. That went a long way in making it easy for me to set a tone that was creative and easygoing.  Which I believe is always the best way to work. 
  
Dumbest things:  Because of location constraints, we had shoots on sixth floor walk ups two days in a row. And of course those were the two hottest days of the year to that point. No way to anticipate that, but if I could do that over I would.

I think it’s par for the course on this kind of film, but we didn't have nearly enough pre-production.  Didn’t hurt us too much, but it’s not ideal.

Didn't do alternate takes for some of the edgier moments in the movie. In hindsight, it would have been nice to have options for alternate cuts of the movie that could play to wider audiences.  But, of course, hindsight is always 20/20...right?


And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

JASON: So much from each phase of the process.  Every time I develop and direct any kind of project (theater or film) I learn a ton of new things.  Different ways to work, different techniques, different ways to be ambitious.  

In particular on this project I learned so much from watching our D.P. Ryan Samul, then working with our two tremendous editors Federico Rosenzvit and Joel Plotch during post-production. We had some challenging days in the edit bay, but their work was incredible and I’m grateful to have collaborated with them.  Because of budgetary constraints I had to be the editor for the last half of post-production.  But this was only possible because of the tremendous work Federico and Joel did.  Plus I learned a ton about editing just watching them!

Also, I learned a lot about achieving clarity in the story in the first ten or so minutes of a film.  When we started letting people look at rough cuts, we were pleasantly surprised by how much people enjoyed the film. But the complaint we heard over and over again was about their confusion in the first ten minutes. Until we started showing other people, we hadn’t realized how complex the goal of our hero Walter was, and what we needed to do to exposit it.  Adding the prologue (with the Robert Klein v.o.) was something we resisted for a while, but we finally gave in when we realized how much clarity it brought to the exposition, and how it allowed the audience to relax since they knew more about what was going on. 

Finally, one of the best notes we got in this area was from our Exec Producer Mary Jane Skalski.  She told us not to worry about laughs in the first ten minutes, even though it’s a comedy.  She wanted us to make things clear and get people to invest as much as possible.  It was a great note that I’ll never forget.

Finally, I have learned so much about the fest circuit and distribution.  Enough to probably fill up another interview!  One thing I’ve loved on the fest circuit is meeting other filmmakers, especially those I’ve seen at multiple fests.  I’ve stayed close with a number of them and we try to help each other out in any way we can.  Indie financing, production, and distribution is tough and we need all the help and support we can get. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Joel Allen Schroeder on "Dear Mr. Watterson"


What was your filmmaking background before making Dear Mr. Watterson?

JOEL: I attended the University of Southern California’s Cinematic Arts program, and found myself working on a lot of documentary content after graduation.  I’ve cut countless short-form nonfiction pieces, and I’ve shot a lot of behind-the-scenes content.  It isn’t that I’ve never been interested in narrative filmmaking, but my skill set sort of led me to documentaries.

Where did the idea come from?

JOEL: The real genesis goes back to a script I was writing many years ago, in which I wanted to reference a Calvin & Hobbes strip.  The script wasn’t really working well-enough, though, and I gave up on it.  It did spark the idea for a documentary about Calvin & Hobbes though.  

And like I say in the film, the thing that really interests me about Calvin & Hobbes is how perfect a legacy the strip has.  There’s the mythology surrounding Bill Watterson and his reclusiveness and all that, but the most brilliant thing about it to me is how he’s had an impact on millions of readers with his pen and ink and paper.  Many other ideas for films had come and gone, but this idea stuck.


At what point in the process did you decide to not only narrate but also to appear in the movie?

JOEL: I think I knew from early on that we’d need narration, but I didn’t plan to be in the film.  However, it became apparent that we sort of needed a bit of a tour guide since we wouldn’t have Watterson himself.  Finding someone else to fill that role would have been complicated, as we had essentially no budget, no serious schedule, and plenty of limitations at the beginning.  And the other members of the team—Chris Browne, Matt McUsic, and Andrew Waruszewski—encouraged me to take on a bigger role.

If the tag at the end of the movie is to be believed, you never attempted to contact Mr. Watterson. Was that your plan going in?

JOEL: The end tag is completely true.  I wanted to respect Watterson’s privacy.  Nevin Martell’s book Looking for Calvin & Hobbes had come out a couple years after we began the film, and Watterson had turned down Nevin for an interview.  That was a 100% confirmation that we would not have him for our film, as we knew he wouldn’t participate in a film about his strip if he wouldn’t participate in a book about his strip.  

The last thing I wanted to do was make a film about Calvin & Hobbes that would annoy Bill Watterson.


Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs? How much of your budget was raised via Kickstarter?

JOEL: I put in about 10-15% of the budget and countless hours of unpaid time.  The rest was raised via Kickstarter, about $121,000.  By raising most of our budget through Kickstarter, we not only found evidence that Calvin & Hobbes had a tremendous cultural impact, but it meant we didn’t have to worry about recouping costs to pay back an investor or loans.  We could just focus on making the film.

Any tips for a filmmaker thinking of using Kickstarter?

JOEL: I could talk for hours with a filmmaker who is thinking about using Kickstarter to raise funds.  I love the concept of Kickstarter for so many reasons, and obviously I love it even more because of how we were able to find success via Kickstarter.  

Since every project is different, I’ll just say this: your Backers (I always like to capitalize Backers) are putting their trust in you that you’ll complete your film, and films take time. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver, and keep your Backers informed.  Be open and honest, and let your Backers get to know you.  Respect that your Backers have contributed their hard-earned cash to your project, and don’t take them for granted.  Do not think of them as simply regular retail customers who are buying your product.  They are helping you to make it in the first place.

How did you go about getting the rights to all the comic strip images in the movie and what did you learn from that process?

JOEL: More than a year before the film was complete, we began to seek advice regarding Fair Use for most of the images in the film.  It was a big learning experience, as there are guidelines you need to follow in terms of when and why and how much of images and video you can legally use.  Luckily, there are great resources for learning about Fair Use for documentary filmmakers.


What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

JOEL: Our earliest interviews were shot on a DVX-100b, a camera I absolutely love, but one that is standard definition (this was in 2007).  We quickly realized we needed to go HD, and began borrowing a Sony EX1.  I have no complaints about the EX1, but we wanted to have our own camera that would be at our disposal at any moment.  

We bought a Canon 7D, which is a great option for budget-conscious filmmakers, but it does have one major flaw: you’re going back to dual-system when it comes to audio and video.  It isn’t the end of the world—especially for narrative filmmakers, but it definitely makes things a bit more complicated when you’re shooting a documentary.  

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

JOEL: Smartest?  Jeez.  You’d have to ask somebody else that question.  I’m not sure I have the perspective to name the smartest thing—although convincing some really talented collaborators to be a part of it was a good move.  

But I can tell you the dumbest.  We lost about 90% of the video from our interview with Andrew Farago, curator at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco.  Somehow one of the cards wasn’t transferred or backed up or something…  But there’s maybe a nice thing about dual-system…we still had the audio.


And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

JOEL: I think I’ve probably learned a million little things that are too many to name.

Going through the whole process has been an education.  We had such a small team involved in the film, and I was a part of every single little miniscule piece of the project.  

This has been a big confidence-builder.  It was my first feature film, but now I have no doubt I can repeat the process.  I know what it takes to finish.  

And one thing I know for sure is I’ll never have an HDcam-SR master made of any future film unless I am told I definitely need it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

David Burton Morris on "Patti Rocks"


We really can't talk about Patti Rocks without talking about the film that came before, Loose Ends. How did that film come about?

MORRIS: I saw Memories of Underdevelopment, a Cuban Film, at the Walker Art Center, and I rushed home to my wife, Victoria, and I said, 'You know, we can make a movie really cheap. I just saw this great movie, it was black and white. If we can scrape together $20,000, we can make a movie.' And so we did. She wrote it. And it shot for two weeks, Loose Ends. That was sort of a calling card. We went to 20-25 film festivals, didn't win anything really, but Roger Ebert discovered us and Vincent Canby and Andrew Sarris and we got all these great notices.

Finally got enough money, in the early 80s, to do a movie called Purple Haze, and that did very well. It won Sundance, and that was our first real movie. It was 35mm, color, we actually a shooting schedule and a budget. And that did very well. And we looked like we were on our way.

I then, subsequently, got fired from two studio pictures and was very unhappy -- we're now talking mid-80s -- and I was thinking about quitting, I was thinking about getting out of the business because I was really unhappy. And I thought back to the only time I had a really good time making a movie was my first film, Loose Ends. And I thought, maybe I should think about writing something for those guys and making it back in Minnesota and sort of re-creating my enthusiasm for making movies.

How did you and the actors create the script?

MORRIS: We did a lot of just riffs on sex. We had another movie in mind. And I had all these long cassette tapes filled with Mulkey and Jenkins riffing on women, and I thought, this is interesting. Somehow I got the idea of putting them in the car, driving all night to see Patti to talk her into having an abortion. I did a first draft and I'd give it to them and we'd tinker with it and do some more improvs. Jenkins lived in Chicago, so we flew there a couple times and do some more improvs, and I'd type that up.

How did you come up with the title?

MORRIS: The way I got the title was interesting. I was at the Chicago Film Festival, on a panel. I was dinner with a group of people from the festival and this woman was sitting next to me. I said, 'What do you do?' She said, 'I sing in a band.' I said, 'What's the name of the band?' She said, 'Patti Rocks.' And I said, 'Oh, that's a really good title.'"

How did you get the financing?

MORRIS: I'd known Sam Grogg, because he was head of the USA Film Festival in Dallas. And he'd started a film company called Film Dallas. So I gave him the script and said, 'What do you think?' He said, 'We'll make it.' It was the easiest thing I've ever done. I wrote it and within a month they'd given me $400,000 to make this movie.

He had very few notes. He just said, 'They have to get out of the car midway through this movie.' I said, 'What do you want them to do? See a flying saucer?' He said, 'I don't know, you'll think of something.'

Did you make any big changes to the script once you got the money?

MORRIS: I wrote it for the summer, because Mulkey's running around in his underwear. But we couldn't get it all together, and we got the money in November, and I said, 'We're going to make the movie. We've got the money, we're going.' And it actually turned into a more interesting film, just because of the look of the snow and Mulkey running around in his underwear in 23 degrees below zero.

I had a lot of fun making the film. We had our problems, obviously, because of the money and the cold, but it just re-enthused me for making movies again.

Did you worry about the subject matter at all?

MORRIS: I thought it was risky, in terms of the subject matter. I didn't know until after it was done how people would react to the language in the picture. The ratings board first gave us an X for language, and that had never happened before. I guess I was just so used to it. Not that I talk that way, but certainly I hear that. I was kind of surprised by the reaction.

When I first started putting this together, I thought people are either going to love or hate this. I had no idea I was going to divide audiences, and it did. And it did. People loved the movie or hated the movie. More people loved it, thank god, than hated it.

At the very few personal appearances I made before the movie, I'd say, 'Some of you people might get uncomfortable during the first two acts of this movie. Just wait, okay?'

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kevin Yeboah on "Traces"

What was your filmmaking background before making Traces?

KEVIN: Before making Traces, I started a production group called BoahVille Productions with my friends. We were all in the Media Communications program at August Martin High School and just gravitated toward each other. This was around 2008.

We started by making two short films titled Just Business 1 and 2 and a documentary for our media production class. Once we graduated from High School we went on to create several projects including a web series titled For Colored Brothers and several music videos. I have served as director and editor on many of these projects and have my own documentary series.

During this time I also studied Film & Cinematography at The City College of New York where I earned my Bachelors in Fine Arts.


Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?

KEVIN: Traces was actually conceived all the way in 2010 after we finished filming Just Business 2.  Though I love the Just Business films (mostly because they were our first attempts at telling a story), I felt that they were very amateurish and lacked character depth. With Traces I wanted to reach for something big and create an interesting story with interesting characters.

One day while bouncing ideas off of Ebony Ruth (another BoahVille member), we realized that a mystery drama would create numerous possibilities for an interesting story and from there we just ran with it.

At the time I was watching a lot of film noir and that really influenced the lighting style of Traces. The memory loss aspect was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s film Memento.

The writing process was very interesting because the plot of the film morphed greatly from the original draft. We always had the same premise, but each character’s actions and motivations greatly evolved throughout the writing process.

This is because I never felt satisfied with the story. When I finished the third draft of the film, I felt that while the plot was great, the characters fell flat and were not interesting.  So during the fourth and final drafts I focused heavily on enhancing the characters and their interactions. I’m really satisfied with how it came out because each of the main characters, for selfish and selfless reasons, have something on the line or something to protect in this film.


Can you talk about how you raised your budget, how you managed your Kickstarter campaign and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

KEVIN: Our budget was primarily raised through the Kickstarter campaign. The rest of the budget actually came from scholarship money that I received from school.

The Kickstarter campaign was a fun project because it gave us the opportunity to really bring a lot of attention to BoahVille and Traces. I was constantly updating and spreading the word about my Kickstarter campaign. From blog sites to social media, I used everything I could to promote and bring attention to it.

I’m really happy the campaign was successful because the equipment that we purchased truly added to the quality of the film.


What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

KEVIN: We used a Canon 60D DSLR camera with a shotgun Rode mic mounted on it. I love this camera for several reasons. It has great quality, shoots well in low light, and is very convenient when it comes to shooting in small spaces.

There are some drawbacks though; the camera lacks several things that would greatly help when filming. For instance the LCD display does not have a sound monitor. So instead of just shooting a given scene, we would have to do a practice run of the scene while monitoring the sound to make sure the levels were good, and then film the actual scene after that.  This is a great waste of time on any set.

Luckily we found ways around that and were able to seamlessly film while monitoring the sound.


What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

KEVIN: I believe the smartest thing I did during production was figuring out how to continue the story of the film while omitting what I considered to be a major part of the plot. We needed a location for an important scene but the cost of the location was way out of my budget. So in the middle of production I had to figure out how I would be able to continue the story without this scene in a way that made sense.

So I spoke to David Cole (Michael in the film) and we found a very unique way to make the story work despite the absence of that scene. Unfortunately I can’t go into detail about the solution we came up with (don’t want to spoil the story) but I believe we did a great job of finding an organic way to get the point across without that scene.

The dumbest thing I did was to rely on the LCD screen to make sure my lighting was good. This led to me filming a whole scene and believing that the lighting was perfect. When I reviewed the footage later I noticed the entire scene was dark and we had to shoot it all over. Never made that mistake again.


And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

KEVIN: I truly love Traces because it was an experience that taught me so much and helped me grow as a filmmaker. I believe the most valuable lesson I learned from this process is that it is extremely important to pay attention to the ISO when filming. I never knew how much the ISO could affect the quality of the image until I worked on this film.

I also learned how to manage time well and stay organized when creating a film. Everyone has to be on the same page and kept up to date with scheduling, weather, locations, etc. Communication and teamwork are very important.

Even though I love Traces and am certainly proud of it, I find that part of me isn’t satisfied with it. But I believe that is a good thing because it shows that I have grown from this experience.


When I watch Traces now I think to myself “oh I could’ve done this to make the scene better” or “I could have shot this from a better angle.” I like to see the flaws in my films because it makes me a better filmmaker. I learn from these flaws and take these lessons with me to my new projects. And I can certainly see an improvement in my skills with every project I do.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Meredith Edwards on “Imagine I'm Beautiful”

What was your filmmaking background before making Imagine I'm Beautiful?

MEREDITH: I've been involved in film and theatre in one way or another for the past ten years, but it wasn't until I moved to New York in 2008 that I took the reigns and started creating my own career opportunities.  

Before Imagine I'm Beautiful, I co-created, directed, produced and starred in a full length multimedia play entitled Degeneration X that ran over two months at The Living Theatre in Manhattan's lower east side.  The play merged live theatre and film to tell the story of a young man's psyche as he is faced with a rare and degenerative eye condition.  

The film portions represented half of the experience and served as vignettes, transitions and hallucinations caused by the syndrome.  We shot over 13 days in the scorching Brooklyn heat of summer, 2011.  It was juicy guerilla-style filmmaking and the content offered much freedom on set and in the editing room.  It was a wonderful learning experience and playground for me.  I had also made project trailers for both Degeneration X and Imagine I'm Beautiful (then titled, Under Her Skin).  In my gut, I felt ready and confident to tackle a feature film next.  

How did you come to be a film director?

MEREDITH: I'm not a film director just to tell stories nor am I anywhere near a film buff.  I'm a film director when I feel like a story is aching to be told.  Then my vision becomes very clear.  The story not only needs to be meaningful for me, but a message that I deem meaningful, needed, and useful to bring about for others and the world.  

I'm constantly asking myself, "why?" -- why does this particular story need to be told? And if the answer is overwhelming for me, I know I must tell that story.  If not, it's not my story to tell.  I consider myself an empathic and compassionate person.  I think that helps in molding a story and working with a team of collaborators, which is what every filmmaking endeavor is.  


How did you get connected to Naomi McDougall Jones' script and what was your working process to get the script ready to shoot?

MEREDITH: I sat across from Naomi at a mutual friend's dinner party.  We were both talking about our current projects and she mentioned her new screenplay was a psychological drama.  That's when my ears first perked up, as that's kinda my thing.  She followed that by saying they (she and her producing partner, Caitlin Gold) were looking for a director.  

The script ended up in my inbox.  I remember reading it very critically because I was head over heels in another project and had no business sniffing in another script at the time.  But destiny took over and after reading it, I knew this was also my story to tell.  

Over the course of the next two years, the script, the story, and the team continued to evolve, making the film what it is now.  Naomi and I had countless meetings, phone calls, and email exchanges about character and story journeys.  When the director and writer are two different people, which can be rare in indies, the story becomes a shared one.  

After I came on board, there were then two baby mamas.  And since Naomi was also a producer and starring in the film, she still had her hand in the pot versus a screenwriter who flies away once the script is out of their hands.  Naomi was fantastic in allowing me to do my job as the director all the way from pre-production to post.  She trusted me whole-heartedly as her director, and her two producing partners, so that she could engulf herself in the role of Lana, which is what it deserved and frankly the only way it would work.  

We were also working in the constraints of an extremely low budget, which was a great challenge that I think helped the film in the end.  I remember just weeks before production day 1, myself, Naomi, Caitlin, and our third producer, Joanna Bowzer, had an epic meeting in which we had to face the reality of our budget.  We were forced to cut locations, cut characters, cut story days, and in doing so, we cut the fat and made the story so much clearer and tighter.  Limits and boundaries in this way can be a really good thing.


How did you cast the film and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?

MEREDITH: Being a character study psychological drama, casting was probably the most important part of this film.  We had several casting sessions over months leading up to the production, because we never settled until we knew it was right.  Especially important was the role of Kate, our anti-heroine playing opposite Lana.  Katie Morrison was a Godsend.  As soon as she spoke the words off the page, the story lifted, took form, and it was very clear we had our other leading lady.  

You really have to trust your gut and intuition during casting.  It was important to me to cast actors with a wide range of flexibility and courage, as these roles were no walk in the park.  All our actors were hungry to go deep; they loved rehearsals, they wanted to talk about it, question it, the roles excited them.  To me, that's what makes the work juicy.  

Like any film, I think the vision inevitably changes once your cast is in place.  It's one of the most exciting evolutions in a film's journey; watching the story come off page and out of the mind's eye.  The script was dissected much more once embodied by real human beings and we adapted to whatever came out of that.  I think it's important to allow space for that molding within the infrastructure of the story.


What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

MEREDITH: The smartest thing I did during production was the way in which we handled the more intense and dramatic scenes of the film on set.  We would rehearse the scene all the way through on a closed set (with only myself, the actors, and our DP, Piero Basso), so that the dynamics, levels, and flow were in place.  

Once the set opened and shooting began, we maintained those levels until the scene was wrapped.  You could feel the temperature change and our entire set adapted.  These scenes were physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding of our actors and creatives, and I wanted to respect that. We had an intimate crew and in doing so, this process connected us all so much deeper into the story.  I believe this helped us get the performances and shots we needed.

As for the dumbest; well, I'm reeeeeally into the subtle details.  They can make all the difference.  But, in the editing room, I realized I probably spent way too much time on some of these details.  I had Joanna (who also served as our first assistant director out of the goodness of her producer heart, god bless her soul) arrange the folds of a white blanket on our red couch one too many times between takes.  There was also this little elephant statue that became a constant point of communication between Joanna, myself, and our script supervisor, Patty.  I think we see its little trunk one time in the whole film. Hahah, ahh this makes me laugh.


Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

MEREDITH: The producers raised the budget from an even split between private investors and two crowd-funding campaigns (IndieGoGo) that ran a year apart.  We have been fortunate to now sign with a distribution company, Candy Factory Productions, whose strategy will be ideal for marketing this kind of film.  Because of this deal and because we were able to keep costs very low on this film, we have every expectation that we will recoup our investors' money and then some through a theatrical tour driving online sales.

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

MEREDITH: If you allow some space around your project’s core so that it can breathe, move, and flow as it will, your project will take on a mind and heart of its own and that, to me, is the magic of filmmaking.  

It’s easy to get caught up trying to maintain full control over the project and your vision for it, but that’s where things get convoluted and uninspired.  From pre to post, you will be faced with many surprises, many unforeseen turns.  If you can find a way to embrace rather than resist, you come to realize every step is all a part of your project’s unique growth and journey, ultimately leading to what it is and will be.  That’s kind of an overarching life philosophy that I abide by, but it very much applies here as well.  Why wouldn’t it?  

Also, act off your intuition rather than your instinct, responding vs. reacting.  As a director, you make many decisions, and most of them very quickly, so communication is key.  The more connected you are to your intuitive self, the better you are able to respond rather than react to manage the needs of your project.  

And finally, I’m constantly reminded how finding the right team, the right collaborators, is the most important thing.  If you have that, you have everything you need.