Thursday, September 22, 2016

Neal McLaughlin on "I Was a Teenage Wereskunk"

What was your filmmaking background before making I Was a Teenage Wereskunk?

NEAL: Minimal. I went through a phase when I was about 19 where I fancied myself a "director." I made a few short movies with a crappy VHS camcorder, edited by connecting two VCRs. But those were more for myself and my friends.

When I moved to LA my focus was on screenwriting. But it's ridiculously hard to break in, so I decided to go around the system and just make my own movie. I made a short to get a bit of experience and then was just like, "Okay, I'm ready. Time to make a feature." In retrospect it was pretty foolish and arrogant. 

Where did the idea come from and what was your process for getting the script ready to shoot?

NEAL: I love Leave it to Beaver. I also love slasher movies. I thought, "Wow, how cool would it be to set a slasher in wholesome, goody-goody 1950s suburbia?!" What an idea! Unfortunately, I couldn't get it to work. The juxtaposition that originally drew me to the idea just seemed weird in practice. But I liked working in that world with that type of dialogue. So I changed the serial killer to a monster and that made all the difference. I toyed with all kinds of were-things: weremole, weresquirrel, weresloth, etc. until settling on a wereskunk. That seemed to have the most comic potential. 

As for getting it ready to shoot, just constant tinkering. Going over it again and again and again trying to make sure every single word is the best possible word.

And once I knew what my actual budget was going to be, I had to go back through and adjust for that. There were certain things I just couldn't afford, so I had to go back and rewrite them in a way that I could (reducing characters, changing locations, scaling down fight sequences, etc.).

What was your Kickstarter experience like and what would you recommend that other filmmakers do (or don't do) if they are going down that funding path?

NEAL: That's too big a question to answer here. Suffice to say it was the worst month of my life. Begging for money is just a gross experience. And you don't just set up the campaign and sit back and watch the money pour in. You have to work super hard. It's called a "campaign" for a reason. I hated it. 

Would I recommend other filmmakers do it? Tough to say. It depends on what type of person you are and what kind of network you have. I also worry crowdfunding might be becoming overcrowded (pardon the pun). When I did it there were still a lot of people who hadn't even heard of Kickstarter. Nowadays I feel like I'm asked to donate to something every other week. 

What was your casting process like and did you adjust the script at all to fit the cast?

NEAL: Most of my cast were offered their roles without even an audition. I knew a lot of people and - being in LA - a ton of actors. Most of casting was simply, "Okay, let's see, Officer Maggie?... Hmm, Officer Maggie... Ooh! Amy Heidt would be PERFECT to play that part!"

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

NEAL: I intend to self distribute. I think the whole business of distribution right now is in major flux, especially for tiny indies like mine. I'd rather keep total control and do it my way rather than sign my movie over to some little distro company that might be irrelevant next year.

The internet makes it possible for anybody anywhere in the world to access the movie either directly from me or through Amazon, iTunes, etc. Plus, with social media, blogs, websites, podcasts, etc. I can do all my own advertising as well. So why do I even need a distribution company? Maybe it'll prove to be a mistake down the road, I don't know, but this has been a grassroots project all along and I intend to keep it that way.

What type of camera did you use and what did you love (and hate) about it?

NEAL: I can't speak much to that. We used two Black Magics, a go-pro, and - no kidding - iPhones. The monitor on the Black Magic was impossible to see outside in the sunlight, so a lot of the stuff we were just shooting blind and hoping for the best. But to really answer this question you'd have to ask my DP Craig. I'm camera illiterate. 

Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, why did you make the changes?

NEAL: Absolutely. I'd always heard that the movie really finds itself in editing but I never quite understood how that worked. Write a good script, shoot it, cut it together. Done. Right?

I didn't realize just how much happens in editing. A joke that worked great in the script might not be working on film. But just add one single extra frame of a character's reaction and all of a sudden it's the funniest joke in the movie. Universes open up at the editing deck.

Eventually I just had to say to my editor, "Okay, that's it! This cut is the final cut." Otherwise we might still be tweaking it.

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

NEAL: The smartest and dumbest might actually be the same thing. And that was taking the blind leap to make the movie in the first place.

I had very little experience. I had to start a company. Employ people. I was in charge of a large chunk of money (by my humble financial standards), much of which was generously donated by family and friends. I was asking people to dedicate weeks of their time and energy for free - or at least far less than what they were worth.

There were thousands of details that needed to be tended to, all of which were on my shoulders. On top of that, I had to quit my day job - and live on my meager savings and two high-interest credit cards - in order to free up the time to do it. It was an insane decision and quite frankly very stupid and irresponsible.

But I was extremely fortunate. No disasters occurred and the movie actually got completed. But any number of things could have derailed this thing. I shudder to think where that would have left me. Not in a good place.

And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?

NEAL: Everything. I knew nothing going in. This was my entire filmmaking education. Every second of the Wereskunk experience was a lesson I will bring to the next one.

Where can people go to learn more about the film?

NEAL: A simple Google search for "teenage wereskunk" should send you in the right direction. There's not a lot of other "werskunk" material out there (although surprisingly there are a few things). 

But specifically, if you go to all the relevant links are there. There's a Facebook page. iMDB page. Twitter is wereskunk1. Instagram is teenagewereskunk. 

Or if anybody would like to contact me directly they're welcome to do so at I think that about covers it.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Debra Eisenstadt on"Before the Sun Explodes"

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

DEBRA: The idea for Before The Sun Explodes came out of necessity for me. After spending more than a year trying to get another film made that I had written  (this was a project that was at the mercy of other people) I was beyond frustrated.

Finally, I decided to take control and make something independently. I was looking for a small world story that I could produce and direct for very little money. I approached my friend Zeke Farrow, who gave me a script he’d written many years ago to read. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but a conversation sparked between us that lead to us writing a new script together.

From the beginning our goal was to make what we were writing- I would direct and we would produce this project together. I knew I wanted this to be a drama about a stand up comedian that involved a stalker. Our conversation started with these two elements in mind, as well as what locations we had available to us. This set the writing process in motion.

After many long conversations, we outlined our ideas. To begin our process, we’d each take on different scenes from our outline and then we’d swap scenes and edit each other’s work.

This continued (talking, writing, editing) until we had our first draft.

What was it about these characters that made you want to make this movie?

DEBRA: When I try to sum this movie up into a word, what comes to mind is “longing”… every character in this film is longing for something they don’t have and desperately think they need to be happy.

No matter who you are, or how successful you become, it is only natural to yearn for the things you don’t have; success, connection, autonomy, understanding, respect, love, etc. Every character in this film wants at least one of these things and how they each go about getting what they want, although well-intentioned- leads them into chaos. Each character (except the children) are deeply flawed, so ultimately relatable.

So, what really made me want to make this film was getting inside these complicated characters and trying to understand them and the world they all come together and clash in. There’s also nothing better than collaborating with a group of people who are all talented and focused on accomplishing the same goal and who are all willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

At what point were the actors involved and did they have an impact on the final script?

DEBRA: As soon as we had our first draft, Zeke and I had a reading of the script. We had thought of the comedian Bill Dawes for the lead role while we were writing the script (Bill didn’t know this)…  he happened to be in town when we were doing this reading so it was a great opportunity to see if he fit the role the way we hoped he would.

This first reading was pretty magical and we ended up casting many of the actors. The notes we took from this initial reading and just hearing the script out loud helped our rewrites immensely. We were really very lucky to have this opportunity… So yes, actors were involved early on.

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

DEBRA: We had investors who loved the script, and more investors came on when we had a first cut to show them. We hope to recoup our costs with some distribution.

What are the positives and negatives of shooting a low-budget movie in the Los Angeles area?

DEBRA: The positives- getting great talent who want to work locally and not having to relocate. The LA setting was integral to the script. Shooting in LA made things authentic and kept the stakes high. Getting an iconic location like The Laugh Factory was amazing.

All these positives outweighed any of the negatives we faced, which aren’t necessarily exclusive to LA anyway…

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

DEBRA: We used a version of The Red camera that our DP owned. There are much newer and more technically advanced cameras that I wished we could have used…  but given our budget, we made the best of what we had- there’s no hate, only love.

What was the visual plan that you worked out with DP Sean Webley?

DEBRA: I wanted a gritty, natural feel for this film. For each of the worlds our main character is straddling, I wanted there to be a stark contrast.

Sean and I came up with a visual plan for both of these “worlds”; looks, colors, overall “feel”… I sent Sean many images from many different sources. We discussed each set up, selected our palettes and found inspiration from films like Dallas Buyers Club, Biutiful and Blue Valentine.

We used as much natural light as we could, but most of this film takes place at night- so we had to be crafty. I wanted a spontaneous feel and I wanted to give the actors a lot of freedom, so the majority of the film is shot hand held.

Did the movie change much in the editing and what drove those changes?

DEBRA: There are always changes made when I’m editing, it’s part of the writing process for me and why I’ve edited the films I’ve made. It’s a great opportunity to keep improving the story. It’s important to create a pace and tell the story as concisely and as visually as possible. The scripts I write and/or co-write are purposely overwritten. Having more footage gives you more options.

Once I’m editing my mantra is Less is More.

What was your process for working with your composers?

DEBRA: I found some music in the Public Domain by Erik Satie that worked perfectly as well as a couple of songs from this really talented musician and comedian J Chris Newberg who was kind enough to let use a couple of his songs.

I worked with Mel Elias on the rest. By the time I started working with Mel, I’d already laid in an entire temp track. He watched the rough cut and seemed to understand exactly what I was going for. He was incredibly flexible and just gave me really great options to choose from. Thankfully, Mel understood exactly what I wanted and he was really easy to collaborate with.

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The least smart?

DEBRA: I think the “smartest thing” was to cast the film the way we did… Especially our leads- veteran comedian (Bill Dawes) plays a veteran comedian. He brought the authenticity of the comedy world to the film. He used many of his connections to help produce the film with us.

After an exhaustive and failed search to find a female comedienne to play the role of a female comedienne- I ended up casting a scream queen (Sarah Butler) as a our female comedienne- this was an unpredictable and ultimately really smart choice for the film.

The “least smart” has more to do with the limitations I was faced given our budget.

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

DEBRA: Many things I’m sure- but it’s too soon to properly respond to this question (sorry)…. Hopefully I’ve learned more than I even realize I’ve learned. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Sarah Hawkins on Busted Buggy Entertainment

What was the genesis of Busted Buggy Entertainment?

SARAH: Busted Buggy Entertainment (BBE) founder Courtney Daniels moved to Los Angeles right after the writer’s strike. Work was hard to find and Daniels started putting pitch pilots together with some of her industry contacts. BBE partnered with Emmy Award Winner, Dave Thomas, to successfully develop and sell a pilot to a major cable network, which was a huge first step for the production company and happened within its first year of business!

Can you describe your services?

SARAH: We are a leading innovator on defining, quantifying, and targeting niche audiences to champion around independent films. Our team of experts are well-versed in all stages of filmmaking from development & packaging, to investment, to physical production, all the way through delivery and distribution. Our personalized and tailored PMD service package comes with a variety of levels and most important, an assigned Producer of Marketing & Distribution to advise on every step of your filmmaking process to help ensure it will be a success with its target audience.

What is the company’s operating philosophy?

SARAH: Our background from the investment world gives us a unique perspective on filmmaking, allowing us to see and capitalize on opportunities that are often overlooked.

We believe filmmaking can be sustainable, but it’s about arming independent filmmakers with a mindset and tools that often feel foreign to them: the business and financial side of filmmaking. As producers, we live in the long-term. We see how every detail dominoes into an end result. We want to set up those filmmakers, those films, those dominoes with precision and in an order that services both investors and audiences equally.

What can you provide independent filmmakers that they might not find anywhere else?

SARAH: Our risk-managed filmmaking strategies and PMD services set us apart from other production and distribution companies.

By approaching projects not only creatively, but also from the investment side, we are able to guide a project to success from as early as development, all the way through finding a project’s home with our distribution partners.

Through our PMD services, we’ll strategize, execute, and deliver the assets needed to effectively reach and attract a project’s niche audience.  So many “consultants” or “advisors” are not actively producing. They’re trading on a project or two they did 5-10 years ago when the market was completely different, and that is if they have ever been on set, in the trenches at all. We’re not only participating today, in the trenches, we’re helping define where the opportunities will be tomorrow.

How did the Rescue Dogs project come to you?

SARAH: Courtney Daniels has always been a huge rescue animal advocate, and even has six rescue pets of her own! When she received the offer to play “Bridgette” in Rescue Dogs The Movie, she was excited to combine her interests of acting and producing while raising awareness about rescue animals.

What have you learned from past productions that you brought to Rescue Dogs?

SARAH: Community is everything. Filmmaking is a lot like building a village. You assemble a team to champion around a project to bring a story to life in production; but that can also be said about the story that is being produced as it pertains to an audience.

We’ve learned to look for films that have direct causes or communities that an audience can support. Rescue Dogs is evidence of just that.

Was the tie-in with rescue organizations always part of the distribution plan?

SARAH: The rescue community is a strong, humble group of individuals that sacrifice so much of their own time, energy, and finances to see that animals find safe and loving homes. We wanted to support these groups by giving rescue organizations a unique opportunity to communicate with their audience through our film.

In an effort to get more animals adopted and find a way to creatively and financially support these organizations, we partnered with some of the top rescue groups across the country to host adoption events in coordination with opening weekend. A good majority of these events happened at the theaters.

Over 150 animals were adopted through this effort, and we’re excited to continue to give back through select TVOD sales and press and awareness.

What is the company’s future plans?

SARAH: We’re excited about several projects we currently have in development, and a few slated for production this fall! Through the overwhelming interest in our services, we’ve been exposed to some great new projects we are considering acquiring, developing, and/or distributing. There’s something new every day!

How can filmmakers get in touch with you?

SARAH: Anyone looking to submit a project for BBE’s consideration can send a log line, synopsis, and submission release form through our project submission form:

We’re always on the lookout for potential collaborations! Filmmakers can email us at and we’ll direct the inquiry to the appropriate team member. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ryan Schwartz on "Summer of 8"

What was your filmmaking background before making Summer of 8?

RYAN: Like most directors I’ve wanted to make movies as long as I can remember, so I got my first PA job when I was 18.  Then I went to USC film school.  It was great going into film school with a few years of set experience under my belt.  I teach directing now at the New York Film Academy.  As hard as we try, it’s really difficult to explain how a professional set is run.  There really is no substitute for actually being on set.

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

RYAN: I spent many wasted years attached to larger projects that were never going to materialize.  On the very day that one of those projects fell apart, I felt bad for myself for a few minutes, then I called my wife and said, ‘I’m making a feature this summer if I have to shoot it on two iphones for $5 bucks.’  It just hit me with so much clarity that I needed to make a movie.

That very night between the hours of 1 am and 7 am, I outlined the entire film on the notes apps of my iphone.  I wrote the entire script in about one month, not having any idea how I would fund it, cast it, or anything... Which leads perfectly to your next question...

What was the casting process like and did you adjust the script at all to fit the cast?

RYAN: While I was writing my script I saw a really cool little movie at the DGA.  I could tell the movie didn’t have much of a budget, but it was still beautifully made and wonderfully cast.

I sent the casting directors, Lauren and Jordan Bass of Bass Casting, an email introducing myself and asking if they would read my script.  They got right back to me and responded to the material.  That was the point when I really knew somehow, someway I was going to get the movie made.

As usual, the Basses did the first round of auditions and sent me the tapes.  I was blown away by the level of talent reading for each part. I could not be more proud or more grateful for this cast.  It was kind of a miracle.  I really didn’t have to change the script much. Each actor cast had so much in common with the character they played.  It was extraordinary.

Can you talk about how your team raised the budget and the distribution plan for recouping costs?

RYAN: I initially thought of using crowd sourcing, but pretty quickly decided to pursue private equity.  The first call I made was to an incredibly supportive family member, Scott Dixon, who is also a passionate storyteller.  He and I had always talked bigger picture about not just doing a film together, but starting a production company.  We both sort of intuitively knew Summer of 8 was an opportunity to accomplish both.  I’m thrilled to say that we did indeed, start a new company, Object In Motion, and we’re having a blast.

Regarding the distribution plan, we really went the traditional film festival route.  Like so many films we tried to get into Sundance and SXSW, but didn’t.  But we never put our head down.  

We always believed we would land at the right festival, and for us that ended up being The Newport Beach Film Festival. We actually shot half the movie in Newport, and the festival was amazing.  We sold out both nights, and we’re approached by a handful of great sales agents and distributors.  

We couldn’t have been more excited that FilmBuff stepped up to take us on.  We are opening in select theaters and all VOD platforms on Sept. 2.  FilmBuff is also selling the film worldwide.  

What type of camera did you use and what did you love (and hate) about it?

RYAN: Because of incredibly tight schedule – 10 days - we shot with two cameras the entire shoot.  We had an Arri Alexa and an Arri Amira.  

Our DP, Martim Vian, is truly a gifted craftsman.  He and his camera crews moved with such speed and fluidity.  Shooting with these two Arri’s was a dream come true for me.  All love. No hate :)

What is the upside--and the downside--to shooting a movie that happens all in one day?

RYAN: The upsides are fairly obvious.  Minimal locations. “Walk Aways” at the house location. Obviously not at the beach.  

The biggest downside is the lack of variety in backdrops, production design, locations.  The gang spends the entire day at the beach.  In the script they  sort of hang out by their towels/chairs most of the day.  On set, inspired by the beautiful beach, and to resolve the lack of variety, we decided get the actors away from their main area as much as possible.  I think this really helps give the film a sense of really spending a full day with them.

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

RYAN: The smartest thing we did during production was to ask the cast to live together in a beach house while we were filming in Newport.  Not only did this save them from tons of driving/traffic, but way more importantly, our cast formed a bound that absolutely shows in the film.  It’s what I’m most proud of.  A high school movie relies on believing these characters have known each other forever. Of course I’m biased, but I think our cast really nailed that.

The dumbest? Probably thinking we can shoot an entire feature in 10 days to begin with.  But that’s the thrill and exhalation of low budget film making. You really have to jump in head first, trust your gut and stay just naïve enough to actually think you can pull it off.

And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?

RYAN: I learned that my 20+ year struggle to get my first movie made was absolutely worth it.  There is nothing like the privilege of working with amazingly talented and committed people to bring a shared vision to life. That’s what I love most about being a director, and I got to do it for 10 magical days.  

Now it’s time to fight like heck for the opportunity to do it again.