What was your filmmaking background before making Always Learning?
ROBERT: Prior to making Always Learning, I wrote and directed 6-7 award-winning short films, along with several commercials and PSA’s for corporations in the California Bay Area such as Hewlett Packard and Team San Jose.
Several short films that I directed and/or produced including Bobby’s House, Bus, Vigorade, and Elliot Kane won national awards several years in a row at the film festival ‘Campus MovieFest’ at San Jose State University and were official selections for Cinequest. All of these films collectively developed my ability to tell a proper and well-structured story and prepped me for the undertaking that Always Learning was.
Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?
ROBERT: The story of Always Learning came from my personal experience as a homeschooler and what I either experienced first hand or had learned through the experiences of others who had been homeschooled most of their lives.
Parents who 'homeschool' their children are not always overbearing individuals as portrayed in my film. However it does require someone who is an individualistic thinker to say “I do not want my child in the public/private school system, I can and will do a better job’ and that is the kind family dynamic I wanted to identify in my film: an overbearing, but caring mother who wants the best for her child but never considered developing her child’s freewill.
After outlining the entire film in a screenwriting class and writing the first 30 pages, I wrote (and re-wrote several times) the entire film over the course of roughly 4 months between January 2011-April 2011.
I was very fortunate to have my producer, Jon Magram, a lifelong friend, filmmaker, and former homeschooler, nearby to keep me honest and help with script notes and story whenever I needed additional guidance.
Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?
ROBERT: Because the film was made through San Jose State University (SJSU), the film had a non-profit status, which benefited donors and also opened the door to reach out to numerous potential donors from the school. This is where we got the majority of the funding for the project. Beyond that, it was the kindness of family members and our own pockets.
On the topic of recouping costs, any return on investment will remain to be seen. Currently the film is in the final stages of having corrections made and will be sent to distributors soon.
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
ROBERT: The film was shot on the Sony F3L with the Aja Mini Pro. Overall, it was terrific for a post workflow, because the Aja Mini transcoded on the fly to ProRes 422 which, for our on-set post team who was on FCP7, was a dream come true.
The downside to the live transcoding was that the Aja Mini got hot enough to cook an egg and would stop recording without notice, which we sometimes would not realize until viewing dailies. Additionally, the internal fans would sometimes go on full blast during a take, which could ruin a shot.
What was your casting process like and how did that impact the production?
ROBERT: Our casting process was very straight forward. Because our production was facilitated through the University, we held student-only auditions first, then open auditions.
Something I focused on was ensuring that all auditions were completed well in advanced of production, so we had ample time to rehearse scenes in the weeks prior to production and develop characters with the actors. I believe that rehearsals are tremendously important for actors to have before coming to set. It will save you a massive amount of time on set.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
ROBERT: The smartest thing I did was likely doing as many rehearsals as I did, it saved us a massive amount of time on set.
The dumbest thing that I did on set was rush through things. I should have let scenes breathe more. Give more time after the scene ends before calling cut. On that same note, getting more coverage as well, you can never have too much coverage.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?
ROBERT: Definitely learning from my dumbest mistake, taking more time and allowing actors to feel through the scenes at the end of the take. Also looking for more coverage and not sticking to storyboards.
Storyboards are a great outline for before you arrive on set so you’re in the right headspace. However when you arrive on set, if you’re really alive and really living in the moment, you’re going to leave your boards behind and fly by the seat of your pants.
Official Always Learning Trailer from Robert Krakower on Vimeo.