Thursday, May 28, 2015

Stephen David Brooks on "Flytrap"

What was your filmmaking background before making Flytrap!?

STEPHEN: I come from a visual effects background and I learned that craft from double Oscar winner John Dykstra and Oscar nominee Harrison Ellenshaw. They were my VFX mentors. I mean I was always writing but my day job was in visual effects.

I supervised the effects for a Tobe Hooper movie called Spontaneous Combustion. Tobe also let me direct 2nd unit on that project. That’s how I became a 2nd unit director and my first experience directing professional actors.

Then years later Tobe hired me to adapt the Stephen King short story The Mangler. Stephen King had script approval so that was a tough first assignment. We shot the film in South Africa and that is when I started wearing three hats: I was the screenwriter, 2nd unit director and VFX Supervisor. I did this for a couple of movies for Avi Lerner/Nu Image then decided it was time to just go and direct.

So I made my feature debut with the dark crime comedy Heads N TailZ. More recently I had a short called Binky on the festival circuit. Binky won best screenplay and best actress for Lucy Jenner at the Monaco International Film Festival. And now…Flytrap.

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

STEPHEN: I have always loved the phrase “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t really after you.” I love the paranoia of 1950’s Sci Fi where alien invasions seemed to be a common theme. So I combined the two.

Once I had the concept, the writing process of the first draft was fairly straight forward. Once I’ve hammered out the logline all I had to do was determine the two genres for the piece. (In this case Sci-Fi and Love Story.)

But for the shooting draft I had to dig deeper into the characters. That’s when I worked with the amazing Jeff Lyons of Storygeeks, who uses this process called The Enneagram. The Enneagram is the most powerful system available today that describes the nine-core personality drives underlying all human behavior. Each of the nine drives is rooted in thoughts, feelings, and actions that largely determine how we interact with the world, for good or ill.

The Enneagram is not your personality, but it is the crankshaft of your personality; it is the thing that drives us through our personhood and through our lives. Everyone has an Enneagram type, including fictional characters and even stories themselves. Writers have been using the Enneagram for thirty years to develop multi-dimensional characters, but we used it on Flytrap in a whole new way, using something called Rapid Story Development.

Storygeeks’s Rapid Story Development™ combines the two most powerful story development tools available to writers today: the Enneagram system and the basic story structure principles. Most writers have never heard of the Enneagram, let alone story structure, but both systems are essential tools for developing a story.

As I said, writers, including screenwriters, have used the Enneagram for a long time, but they’ve never combined the Enneagram with story structure together to create a process for full development of a script.  That’s what Jeff Lyon’s Rapid Story Development does; it uses the Enneagram-Story Connection to reveal the structure of any movie or novel—and it happens fast. 

I worked directly with Jeff Lyons on Flytrap, and together we figured out all the script’s weaknesses and uncovered the strongest character lines in under an hour—no joke.  Blew us away.

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

STEPHEN: An attorney I know in New York connected me to some Wall Street money. We do have a marketing and sales plan in place. In today’s market you can’t just think about one revenue stream. You have to consider all the options and all the ways to get the film seen.

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

STEPHEN: I worked with Jeremy Crutchley on The Mangler. At that time I knew I wanted him to star in something for me one day. Amazing actor. He moved to LA from Cape Town to support his role in Black Sails. So the timing was perfect. I gave him the script. He loved it and that was that.

Ina-Alice Kopp is attached to another project of mine so I reached out to her for the role of Mary Ann. And Billy ‘Sly’ Williams is in everything I do. He was the lead in Heads N TailZ, he was in Binky and now Flytrap. Billy and I are like DeNiro and Scorcese. We have a shorthand way of working.

The rest of the cast was assembled by my casting director, Stanzi Stokes. Stanzi has a great eye for talent. She brought me Jonah Blechman who is just creepy brilliant in Flytrap. He’s the guy whistling at the end of the teaser.

There were some script changes, of course. I always seek the input of my actors. I don’t always make the change but I do solicit opinions and field ideas from the cast. I think it is crucial to listen to their instincts. Particularly when it comes to the motivation of the characters.

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

STEPHEN: We were the first feature to use the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera shooting CinemaDNG Raw Compressed. The camera was great. Small. Easy to use. And amazing picture quality. Nothing to hate about that.

How did you and DP David Hardberger decide on the look of the movie and what steps did you take to execute that?

STEPHEN: David and I have known each other for years. We both have a vast film vocabulary. So we started by throwing out examples from other films. The shower scene is like The Shining. The dinner scene is Barry Lyndon. That was our starting point for both lighting and composition.  There is a lot of Kubrick influence in Flytrap.

Execution on set was up to him. He has a great gaffer and crew and they did their thing. We always planned to do a lot of the work in post. So a lot of the look has been created in the color grade. Shooting Raw made that possible.

What was the smartest thing you did during production?

STEPHEN: The smartest thing is that I surrounded myself with professionals who know what they are doing.

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

STEPHEN: I think next time I won’t be a producer. That was somewhat distracting. Next time I’ll just concentrate on directing and let others handle the production chores.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Michael Peterson on "Insectula!"

What was your filmmaking background before making Insectula!?

MICHAEL: As a child, practically all I did was watch 8mm versions of the horror or Sci-Fi movies that I could get my hands on and read Famous Monsters of Filmland, as that was pretty much all there was.

I then went to Art college for filmmaking and studied film theory and some of the more artistic directors. After college, I worked at several companies making commercials and industrials for several years before getting interested in computers and teaching myself programming. After the consumer cameras came out that could hold up to theatrical screening I decided to make Insectula.

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

MICHAEL: I always loved B-movies and the Toho pictures and I was looking for a sub-genre that wasn’t overdone with microbudget indies and realized very few giant creature-features had been made.

So with this nucleus I decided to utilize the lake I lived on as that was visually interesting and accessible. I pretty much developed the script in my head and carried that around while shooting until a sales agent we were working with wanted to see the script. Then it was just a matter of transposing what was in my head to paper and went very fast.

The effects in the movie are wonderful. Did you write to what you could do ... or write it first and worry about how to do it later?

MICHAEL: I had no idea how to do the monster or what it should look like. I looked at all the methods of making it: stop motion, marionette or puppet (like The Giant Claw or Reptilicus) and CGI. Stop motion would be too expensive and time consuming, the puppet idea was more of a silly creature and I didn’t know how to do 3D rendering for CGI.

I settled on CGI and tried to find someone to help me for cheap but had no luck, so I decided I have to learn it myself, and that turned out to be very useful. For complete scenes I just had lines in the script like “Creature attacks St. Paul and the military fights to no avail.”

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

MICHAEL: My original intention was to shoot a few scenes and put together a compelling trailer to help get financing. We did that and got over a million web hits but we still found we couldn’t raise money without major strings attached. We did get a Jerome grant but most was just waiting until I had enough money to shoot another scene.

We are submitting to many festivals but we are looking at distributing the DVD and VOD ourselves through Amazon and see what happens along with four walling it in some college towns.

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

MICHAEL: There were a few scenes that needed to be cut as we over shot. I was going with the rule of thumb of one page equaling one minute, but not factoring it’s one page of DIALOG, so we have some great extra scenes that will be in the DVD but had to be cut because of length.

As for actors I used local talent that I had seen in other productions. The big exception is our daughter, who is an actress and model in Europe and looks like a movie star. That was a no brainer.

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

MICHAEL: Initially the Canon 7D and then switched to the Canon 60D when it came out. I love that it is so small and the image is very nice.

The problems I had with it were moire (which was solved purchasing an internal filter), and degradation problems due to the extreme color grading I was doing. I would love to work with RAW, but when I started cameras that could do it weren’t affordable like they are now, and I decided not to switch cameras in midstream. The Canons are also a bit soft for my tastes.

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

MICHAEL: Learning VFX and CGI and utilizing it in scenes that you wouldn’t expect it to be in. It can really make things look like we had more budget and enhance shots that could have used more work at the time of shooting. Sometimes because we were using free locations, we had very limited time to shoot in and would like to have spent more time during setup. In these instances computers can help give it something extra that can turn an OK shot into something really nice.

Dumbest might be some of my crew choices that turned out to be problematic.

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

MICHAEL: I learned how to stretch a dollar to its limit. I never thought about what I could do while coming up with the script, I just put in what I would want to see and then would figure out how to do it.

If you worry about budget then you are going to have a less interesting film. I always found a way to do it even if it seemed impossible for the money.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Darren Scales on "The Drift"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Drift?

DARREN: I had been making movies, shorts and documentaries since 1992. I started out with my brother and a local friend to create Backyard Productions. In

1994 we made our first movie, Geriatric Park, a spoof on Spielberg’s dinosaur spectacular. That was shot on VHSC and edited using 2 video recorders. From then on we focused a lot on spoofs.

As video, editing and VFX became more accessible, we made more adventurous spoofs including 2 Star Wars parodies and an Indiana Jones called Doom Raiders. Around 2005, after our last Star Wars movie, The Emperor’s New Clones, I began to want to make something original yet familiar.

Our Fan films had exposed us to some connections on TV and Pinewood Studios, so I decided to look at branching out beyond the parody. We made a test short called Cinders, A kind of extended trailer, which was shot at Pinewood and a theme park.  From there I was able to really get stuck in to creating my own Sci Fi. With the lessons learned from our parodies combined with the industry practises picked up along the way, I was ready to make The Drift.

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

DARREN: I had been working on a much bigger story called Starlight that focused on a future universe where mankind loses the power of light speed travel in an instant. I developed how that universe would become, where the impacts would lie and how the authorities would maintain order.

The set up was huge and my story just as big. I decided to look at expanding one location where the impact would be felt, a starship convoy that was now stranded in Space. The Drift is set 20 years after this event so things would have moved on, probably for the worse.

Working with Sue, was a blast! We had worked together before on the Cinders project. As well as the screenplay writer, Sue was a kind of “Story Midwife.” Whilst I created, developed and delivered the story, Sue was always there to ask me the difficult questions about plot, points, structure, authenticity and credibility.

When I completed the story, in some ways the roles were reversed. Now I was asking Sue about the same things in the script. Throughout the whole process it was an open-door arrangement, where both of us could and would suggest options, style and content; it worked very well, especially that the story and script was produced in less than 3 months.

The effects in the movie are wonderful. Did you two write to what you could do ... or write it first and worry about how to do it later?

DARREN: Making The Drift as a zero budget movie means that in order to move the production forward you sometimes have to simply “leave it for post.” The key is to know what you want to leave and what you can do to mitigate the pain that is going to come later.

We left a lot of the VFX decisions until well after we filmed. Our lead VFX artist Jon Carling, was already maxed out making all the Computer screen displays you see in the movie (yes they all real and there on set with the cast!).

But our experience working on our Star Wars parodies, had informed us as to what we needed. There are 2 min CGI sequences in The Drift. We ensure that we had plenty of dialogue to cover the yet undocumented story arc. We also made the crew wear headsets which whilst was an artistic choice, also allowed for much more authentic ADR later.  

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

DARREN: Backyard Productions has been around longer than the Internet. When we started, there were no crowd-funding websites and access to media funding opportunities was also extremely limited (especially when you are making a spoof!).

We would raise our funds through monthly contributions from the company members. We would raise around £100 a month; making a movie every 3-4 years meant it soon added up.  Each of our productions also raises money for charity through sales or suggested donations on premiere nights; The Drift is no different – It is this model that enables us to make the film for less money. For example, by raising money for charity, we were able to secure a large room for 6 months to build the sets.

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

DARREN: Having made several films before we were lucky enough to be able to secure many of them for The Drift. It was not easy as most were located in London and we were shooting 150 miles north.

We did have some new and welcome additions, Jonny Black who played the Captain and Lee Grantina (Astra). The cast attended several read-throughs and as Sue knew the actors from previous productions, the changes were small.  There was some improvisation on Set; many of Reg’s lines (the Captain’s pit bull) were suggested on set (“Oy! Tossers!”, “Happy Days!”)

You wore a lot of hats on this project -- Director, Editor, Sound Design, Visual Effects Supervisor. What's the upside and the downside of that approach?

DARREN: As a small production it was easier for me to take on a lot of these roles. We did try to push some of them out to others, but making a feature is a huge commitment and most could not give the time needed - even though they wanted to. 

The upside, was that as the creator and director, it was very quick for me to edit the picture (6 weeks). I have been making sound effects since the 1980’s so for me, that was a joy. Producing, managing, leading is what I did in my (previous) day job as an Officer in the Royal Air Force, so whilst frustrating at times, it was something I was able to do well.

The downside was adding all those tasks together and putting them into one brain, meant that from time to time, mistakes were made and the production took longer to complete.

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

DARREN: We filmed on the cameras that we owned: a couple of DSLRs and a Sony EX1 Documentary camera. The Sony was great as a safe camera – easy to grade and captured the sounds well too. The Canon DSLR’s captured a more instantly rewarding shot and provided a nice shallow depth of field. However many shots lost focus when the actors moved too quickly and grading was not so simple with more degradation afterwards.

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

DARREN: The smartest thing we did was plan everything… and I mean everything!  It allowed us to make the big ship sets feel big by reconfiguring them, redressing them and change the shape. Once we struck the set configuration, there was no going back to that set up. We had to know we got everything – and we did. Make up, costume, props all had to be prepared and ready – it was like a military operation, but it worked.

The dumbest thing? More difficult as we made lots of deliberate “mistakes” such as the chroma key backdrop was too close to the set (but we wanted the set to be as big as it was so we rolled with it). I suppose not giving lighting the priority it deserved; there were a lot of shots that were just too dark.

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

DARREN: Without trying to sound too negative, I learned that this will probably be the last time I make a movie on a zero budget. Making a movie set in Space is hard, even when you have a budget and full crew – we were insane! I am so proud of my cast and crew; it was never reasonable to expect to be able to make a movie like this with £5000 and a team of motivated but relatively inexperienced crew.

But we did, you can’t buy that type of loyalty, energy and dedication.  However, for me? I think after more than 20 years of working my butt off just to make a movie that looks cool given the budget, I want to work my butt off to make a movie that looks cool, period! That means investment.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

William Greaves and Steven Soderbergh on "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm"

What was your background before becoming a filmmaker?

WILLIAM GREAVES: I taught acting for quite a while in Canada, from the Actors Studio in New York. I went up to Canada and worked on the National Film Board of Canada, on the production staff. I also, concurrently, opened up a studio that was modeled on the New York Actor's Studio, and taught acting.

One of my actors became very wealthy in the real estate business in Miami, Florida. He said, 'Listen, you're a very talented fellow and you have a lot of ideas. You're just as good a director as anyone coming out of Hollywood. Why don't you do a feature?'

And I said, 'These things cost money.' And he said, 'What does it cost?' And I told him and he said, 'Do it. I'll back it.'

So I asked him what sort of subject he wanted me to concentrate on -- a whodunit or a romance, or what?

And he said, 'Anything you like. Whatever you want to do, Bill, you do.'

So, with that blank check I reflected on a lot of things that that I had been thinking about over the years. One of them is the creative process, as it relates to the actor and the director. Having been a product of the Actor's Studio and Lee Strasberg, Kazan, Stanislavsky and those people, as well as having been involved in psycho drama, by way of J.L. Moreno, who was the pioneer of psycho drama, it came to me that it would be interesting to shoot a film that had some of these elements.

I thought it would be interesting to do several screen tests and to look at the creative process that actors undergo, in conjunction with the director, to show their talents at the highest level.

That's how it all got started, initially, but then other elements came into play. For example, the Heisenberg Principal of Uncertainty, for which the analog to the electron microscope is the motion picture camera, which is looking down into the psyche and soul of the actor while the actor is performing, and often times it tends to stiffen and destroy the spontaneity and truthful feelings of the actor as the character they're trying to portray. I thought that would be an interesting element to think about, artistically, creatively.

One of the hallmarks of the Stanislavsky system is to try to be as honest in what you're doing, in performance, as possible. One of the things that kept bothering me about a lot Hollywood movies was that the acting was very stiff and lacking in spontaneity. Having challenged myself as an actor to be more realistic in my acting, and having looked at the work of people like Marlon Brando and Julie Harris -- people at the Actor's Studio who's work was very spontaneous.

It came to me that this was a wonderful opportunity to test the limits of my credibility as a person in front of a camera, pursuing this particular screen test with these actors, but trying to not act for the camera.

The director in the film is definitely a character -- a character that, at times, drives the crew and the cast a little crazy. Was that intentional?

WILLIAM GREAVES: One of the elements of my characterization was my inscrutability. Try and try as much as they could, they couldn't decode my motives. That was calculated to elicit a degree of tension and angry and anxiety in the crew. They couldn't decode my motives, and I didn't want them to decode my motives, because I wanted to see if it would be possible to generate as much conflict in front of the camera as possible. Conflict being the hallmark of a really good drama.

I was hoping to have any conflict to what I was doing played out in front of the camera by the crew challenging me in what I was doing or criticize me or whatever. But this did not happen until the last scene in the movie, of the crew on the grass, screaming and shouting and shrieking at me because I was doing a lot of what they considered to be bizarre and unorthodox things that were not in lock step with traditional Hollywood feature filmmaking.

I didn't think that they were challenging me enough during the course of the shooting, but then they gave me the footage that they shot on their own. I didn't know that they had done this palace revolt, it was something that they surreptitiously stole away and did at the end of a day of shooting after I went home.

They had this closet revolt and it was terribly exciting to me, because I was afraid that the film was not going to work out well, because it didn't have enough conflict.

But when I saw this material I was just elated and I knew that we had a very good film on our hands -- something that would be very fresh and delight audiences, particularly those who were reasonably conversant with the filmmaking process.

I was surprised that in the midst of all this chaos, the crew had the presence of mind to get a release form from the man who wanders into the shoot.

WILLIAM GREAVES: That's very conventional behavior. It was obvious that this was a very risqué situation, but we had to have this man sign on to what we were doing. We didn't know how conscious he was, or how inebriated he was, but we weren't taking any chances. We knew we had to have him give us the clearance.

He says, 'What is this, a movie? Who's moving who?'

That's the way life is. Life is full of a lot of lucky moment, as well as tragic moments. And our mission was to capture as many lucky moments as possible.

Can you explain the genesis of the title?

WILLIAM GREAVES: The title is, for me, a very attractive title. I tend to be in love with scientific thinking of one kind or another, and I came across a book called Inquiry Into Inquiries;: Essays In Social Theory, which was written by a very knowledgeable social scientist named Arthur Bentley.

He conceived of the milieu that human beings find themselves as the symbiotaxiplasm. And this symbiotaxiplasm represents those events that transpire in the course of anyone's life that have an impact on the consciousness and the psyche of the average human being, and how that human being also controls or effects changes or has an impact on the environment.

So there's a dialectic or a dialogue that goes on between the action and behavior and thinking of human beings as they move through the events in their lives.

I had the arrogance, the temerity, to introduce the term 'psycho' in the middle of symbiotaxiplasm, making symbiopsychotaxiplasm.

Symbio represents the existence of similarities of one kind or another. Psycho is the mind. Taxi is how the mind reacts and responds to arrangement of reality. And Plasm being the human being. I'm over-simplifying it; you'll have to read the book yourself.

How did Steven Soderbergh get involved in the project?

WILLIAM GREAVES: Steve Soderbergh came out of the blue to find me, because he had heard about Take One, and he was very curious about it and finally caught up with me. We would never had done Take 2 1/2 if it weren't for him.

Where did you first hear about Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One?

STEVEN SODERBERGH: I first heard about it through my colleague, Larry Blake, who does post-production sound on all of my films. He went to Sundance in 1992, and when he came back he said he saw this really crazy movie. In the middle of the movie screening, in Park City, the projector broke and the director walked up the front of the theater and said, 'This may or may not be part of the film.' Larry said, 'You have to se this movie, it's really amazing.'

I didn't see it until four years later, finally. I managed to track down the tape. As you can imagine, I just thought it was one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe how great it was and that it wasn't famous, I mean really famous. Even then, almost ten years ago, I felt maybe it's still, even now, too far ahead of its time.

It's the ultimate "reality" piece.

The difference being, in this case, that nobody was in on the joke. And that's what makes it so brilliant. When you do a reality show on TV today, you know you're part of a show and that they're going to start creating obstacles for you or trying to complicate the situation purposefully and consciously. Here, you're just watching a situation where people are absolutely convinced that Bill is out of control, doesn't know what he's doing, and you're a fly on the wall. And then the ultimate mutiny takes place. It's really incredible.

I think when he was presented with that material, he must have felt like the cinema gods were smiling on him.

It's unprecedented nature is even evident when you see the second film. I found the second film really interesting for completely different reasons. In cultural terms, it's a very melancholy film to me, because something's been lost. There's a spirit that I think is gone and it's not just because you can't go home again; I think it's bigger than that.

I think we live in a time now where people don't feel as free with themselves and their ideas, at least in the context of film shoot, but also in general. We live in a culture now where people who dissent vocally are attacked. And that wasn't the case then. That was a time where you were attacked for not speaking up. I think when you watch the two films back-to-back you can feel it, you can feel it. There's a freedom and a looseness in the first one, just in the way people are behaving, that's not at all present in the second one.

It's also amazing to see the same actors, 25 years later.

STEVEN SODERBERGH: It's because we look in the mirror every morning and so we don't notice the changes as much as we do when we see these two films. There's something incredibly compelling about it. It's an undiluted dose of mortality.

The genie's out of the bottle now. It's beyond the fourth wall, it just took it to another level.

Why did the first film take so long to come to light?

STEVEN SODERBERGH: I don't know if there's a good explanation for it, other than bad fortune. Or, perhaps, good fortune now that people are starting to see it. It's conceivable the film might never have been noticed or remembered. But certainly, during that period, I mean people were going to see El Topo at midnight, this is a more accessible movie than that. I don't understand it.

I'm stunned that I'd never heard of it before Larry mentioned it to me. I scoured magazines and quarterlies and was certainly paying attention to alternative cinema and the history of alternative and independent cinema, and I'd never heard of it.

It's one of the pluses of being in this situation, is that every once in a while you can lend a hand to somebody who just needs a little sugar.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Laurie Agard on “Frog and Wombat”

When did you first become interested in being a filmmaker?

LAURIE: Well, I had a huge gap. I was really interested in film for a number of reasons when I was little kid. But as an adult, not until after I graduated. I went to school in the Midwest and never really contemplated being in Hollywood and working on films. My degree was in writing and I was writing computer manuals. Then I suddenly decided one day that I wanted to write a screenplay. That screenplay got optioned, and that is how I got into filmmaking.

As a kid, what got you interested in film?

LAURIE: I got perfect attendance in school. I lived in a really small town in Colorado.  I was the only kid that year that got perfect attendance, and so I got a free movie pass. I actually got that every summer.

So I spent every summer literally seeing movies over and over and over. Which was actually pretty good, because my parents went through a divorce, we didn’t have a lot of money, and so it really ended up being pretty awesome. I got to watch Grease and Star Wars, sometimes hundreds of times in a movie theater, often all by myself.  

But the idea that, ‘oh, I’m going to go make a movie,’ never occurred to me.

How did you gravitate toward writing a screenplay, instead of something else, like a novel?

LAURIE: I was writing poetry, and I think there was something about the condensed form of writing. I remember I was in a bookstore in Santa Cruz and I saw a book about how to write a screenplay. I can’t remember the name of the book or what it was. But I sat down and literally read it in the bookstore.

I wrote the screenplay in about three months. I sent it away and got an agent within a month. And it was optioned by the company that was handling the Olsen twins back then, when they were little.

That all happened pretty quickly, to write a script, get an agent and get it optioned.

LAURIE: I know, it was crazy. Sometimes there is an advantage to being a little bit naïve about something. And I was lucky because it was a bit of a hobby, and I was making my income and paying my mortgage doing something else.

It was actually just a way for me to escape my job. Now that I live in Los Angeles, I realize that it’s a little bit scarier for people, when it is their job. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on you to do something.

Do you remember where the idea for the screenplay, Frog and Wombat, came from?

LAURIE: Yes, my best friend and I, when we were kids back in Durango Colorado, had walkie-talkie names. I think our walkie-talkie names were Frog and French Fry. But it was two FRs and it looked confusing on the script. So somehow one of them became Wombat.

It was just about us in the summer and riding our bikes around and having walkie-talkies. That’s not what the script is about, but I think the budding relationship and walkie-talkies is where it started.

How did you make the move from having written a script to directing the movie?

LAURIE: Well this is another weird story. I knew nothing about Hollywood or anything, but the notes I was getting back made me confused. The story is about two girls who are opposite--the story is about friendship and what happens when you grow apart. It’s a sad part of life I think. So it did not really make sense to me to have twins playing those roles. But I thought it was cool, hey, it got optioned.

And then it became clear to me, as I talked to more and more people, about how many billions of scripts get optioned and never made.

The other thing that happened, was that it was really fun to write scripts, but I was missing the collaboration. I played basketball at University on the scholarship. At that point, I had been out of college for a while. Having played in a team environment, where often, one plus one equals three, I was sort of lonely working as a writer.

So I decided not to renew the option.

Also, I started taking a class at UC Santa Cruz on videography and film. Through that a bulletin came by about a film, Mad City, that was shooting in San José.  And they needed videographers for that, because the plot of the film was about reporters. So they needed people who knew how to operate a Betacam camera.

It was the first movie set I have ever been on. I was basically a prop. Just a bunch of us running through the shot with cameras. We just had to know how to hold a Betacam camera.

I just absolutely fell in love with the process. And I met a lot of other people on the set, like assistant casting directors and production assistants, people who have Masters degrees. But we were sort of in the Bay Area, where not a lot of productions come. So they get people from all different walks of life, filling in for different spots.

By the end of that week I had determined that I wanted to form my own production company and direct and produce that script. So there were a handful of women on Mad City that came on as producers and production assistants and we found, I think, 52 investors. And we made the film. And we ended up making the film within three months of that.

That’s really amazing.

 LAURIE: It’s kind of crazy. But when I look back on it, it was one of those magical things that happens when you’ve got one plus one equals three. When there is a spark of creativity and a lot of people come on board, you build on that energy. Everyone came in with their own strengths and backgrounds. And none of us had ever produced.

The whole film was shot on short ends, getting just one or two takes. With two 11-year-old kids starring, who had never done anything. And it went onto HBO and Showtime and was sold to a number of different countries. It was a little piece of magic I think, to get it done.

It is a very sweet film.

LAURIE: Well thank you. I think it’s very sweet, but it embarrasses me a little bit, because I can’t go around while people watch it and say, “We only had one take.”

It was what it was. Now that I’m working on these giant budget films, I’m like wow. These are the resources other people have. It makes me laugh even more. Had I known that, I never would’ve been crazy enough to try to do what I did.

So on the first day of shooting Frog and Wombat, with the exception of watching Costa-Gavras direct Mad City, you had never been on a film set, right?

LAURIE: That is correct, except as a little kid, in Durango, there was a movie called Avalanche starring Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow. And I was on that set for a week. But that was when I was in the sixth grade.

So how did you prepare for your first day?

LAURIE: I think people come into it completely differently. There were three things that I came in, feeling very confident about.

First was teamwork and how important it was for everyone to have their own function and to do their own function. And to understand that.

Second was to inspire people to do as well or better than they can do. I think that is definitely what my sports background brought into it.

And the third part was telling the story.

Most this movie was shot in master shots. So the question always was, ‘how does this serve the big story and how does this serve the little story we’re trying to tell?’ And I think I knew that, because I had written it.

So, looking back on the experience, what are your thoughts?

LAURIE: If I knew then what I knew now, I would’ve been more terrified. But I was just really excited and felt very confident. It never occurred to me that the film wouldn’t be finished or wouldn’t be released. But I had a lot of people who were stressed, who were coming to me crying and just afraid. And I remember just thinking, why are they worried?

Was your technical team more experienced than you?

LAURIE: The technical team definitely had more experience. I have been reading a lot and I had driven down to Los Angeles and taken a couple of weekend workshops.

But the crew was fabulous. When we started, I did not have an editor and we did not have post-production money raised. That would have been really helpful. We ended up having a fabulous editor who I have worked with a number of times since.

If I were to say anything to a first-time director, it would be to surround yourself with a really great technical team. And listen to them. You know what you know, and if you can communicate your story, they can do their craft.

Did you get any resistance from the crew because you’re a woman?

LAURIE: It was a non-issue. That may be because I was also producing and I interviewed everyone and hired everyone. I think I probably would not have hired someone had I felt that might be an issue.

After making the movie, you moved to LA and worked in television. What has that experience been like?

LAURIE: My experience in Los Angeles in television is that you get hired as a director and it’s a moving bus and you just jump on. You really are the guest. The crew works long hours, sometimes six days a week, sometimes for years on a series. And you are coming into their home. And although it’s their home, you are telling them what to do, which is sort of strange.

It’s a very different experience from creating something all on your own. You’re not a guest, you’re not jumping on a moving bus. You are the one creating the momentum.

In a way, there is not much similarity between television and making a low-budget independent film.

Now that I’ve done the few independent films that I’ve done, just by going out and doing it, Now I’ve sort of created my own film school and am watching some of the best people that I can do it from beginning to end and see how it is different. And then see how I can apply that to what I want to do.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Conversation with Editor Dody Dorn

How did you get interested in film? Was editing what you always intended to do?

DODY: No. It wasn’t. I grew up in LA and my father worked in the film industry.  All of the female role models that I had were schoolteachers.  So, I just thought, I’ll be a schoolteacher.  It never occurred to me that I could do something other than that.

Aside from my father, everyone else in my family was the scientist of some sort.  When I got out of high school, I actually went to City College where I was taking math classes.  As a product of my times, I got interested in being in the workforce and not going to school.  So I started looking around for work.  And it became apparent that the film industry was a place where I could get a job without a formal education.

So, I did a lot … a lot … a lot of odd jobs in film. I was in extra, I was an assistant to props, I was a production coordinator, I did some scripts supervising, I was the location manager, a lot of things.

It sounds like a great way to learn how movies are made.

DODY: Yes it was.  It was great. I was the assistant to the producer and the assistant location manager on a movie of the week for Dick Clark productions call Elvis that was directed by John Carpenter, starring Kurt Russell.

When the film was over, they decided to make a theatrical version of the film and they brought in a different editor. The producer asked me if I was interested in staying on and working in post-production. I thought, sure. I’m curious. I’m just a curious person. So I said sure.

So I said yes to that and I self taught myself all of the things needed for being an assistant editor. From there I never looked back, because I really liked having such clearly defined skills. It was a very concrete skill set and it was marketable.

I wasn’t into film as a kid, I didn’t go see a million movies. But once I started working in film and seeing the alchemy, I fell in love with film and then I started to teach myself film history. Seeing classic movies. I’m still an avid classic film watcher. Most of the movies I watch are classics or art movies or foreign films.

I became fascinated by film and the magic of editing. And I took it from there.

You say you were self-taught as an assistant editor. How did you do that?

DODY: I called a friend and I said I’m getting this job as an assistant film editor, what do I need to know? And I learned over the phone the difference between the emulsion and base, how many perfs per frame, how many feet per second, etc.

I called the rental houses and learned all the names of the pieces of equipment that were used.  In those days, it was a pretty straightforward mechanical process, in terms of the gear.

The job of being the assistant editor, especially in a film that has already been cut--it was a recut basically--was that of being a librarian, along with distributing the materials to the other departments that they needed for completing their parts of the recut.

I learned the names of every last single part of every piece of equipment, probably in a couple of hours. I know it sounds very mundane, but that was what I needed to know, so I learned it.

And I was very active, going and talking to all the people in all the facilities where we were working. I learned all about the lab and what was in the lab and how things were done there. I just had really good communication skills with the providers of the services. Whatever communication I could have, I did have, and learned that way.

Did you have any union issues?

DODY: No, because I got into a union on my very first job.

How did you do that? When I talked to Carol Littleton, about half of our conversation was about how tough it was for her to get into the union.

DODY: I don’t even know how much of this is legitimate or not legitimate, but I was working for union company and I was gathering my days. I worked for long enough that I got my days and I went to the union and I got my checkbook out and I said, “Here are my days.”

I met with the field rep at the time and I said I’m ready to sign-up. And it went from there, I signed up and I was in the union. Because I was so forthright, just standing there with my checkbook open, maybe the field rep just thought, “Ah, she’s just a good kid.” I don’t know.

You said you self taught yourself film history. Do remember what you found to be the most useful?

DODY: There are so many great books out there about cinema, and I just went back to the early ones. Eisenstein and his theories about editing are fascinating. I was just voracious, watching and reading what I could. But that was later, by the way. The first two or three years, I was just doing my job and feeling good about having a marketable skill.

And then once I knew it inside and out, it became kind of boring, and I started to look deeper. And then I started working in sound, and when I was working sound I was examining the film in a different way. Because as an assistant film editor, you’re not really examining the film. You’re really more of a librarian.

Now it is easier to examine the film in its progressions. It wasn’t so easy in the days of 35mm. Because you’re handling the film with such kid gloves. You were just popping it up on the Movieola and watching the cut as it progressed. You, as the assistant editor, were cleaning it and repairing splices and making sure it didn’t get damaged. You weren’t necessarily in dailies, you weren’t necessarily in the discussions between the director and the editor. And that was the thing that kind of bummed me out. I was very appreciated as an assistant, but that is what I did. I was an assistant. I wanted to do more.

And so I went over to sound. At the time, a lot of people said, why you moving into sound? It was looked upon as a step down. For me, I am just curious by nature, I like to learn new things. So I felt I had learned as much as I could as an assistant editor, and I didn’t see myself getting into the room with the film editor and learning about cutting from that.

So I became a sound assistant. And very shortly thereafter, I was cutting sound. When you’re cutting sound, you see the editor’s version come through and then the new version comes through and you see what’s different and you begin to understand what the impact is.

My main things that I cut were dialog and Foley. And cutting Foley was very instrumental in teaching about editing because it’s all about rhythms. And again, because you’re watching the same material over and over and over again.

When cutting dialogue you also learn about rhythm, because you see how the cuts are made. Sometimes because they made them in the middle of the sentence. You saw which parts of which sentences could go together, and where you can make those joins. And what the impact of those things was.

So this lateral move was a very conscious choice on your part?

DODY: You know, I’m not all that sure that it was. I’m not sure that it was conscious. Mainly it was a form of appetite, more than a maneuver. I think of myself as a naïve person. In terms of politics and how to get ahead. Positioning has never been one of the things that I wanted to do. I figured I should just do what I do as well as I can. And see what happens.

But because I’m so curious, and so willing to go sideways or down or up or around, I learn a lot more.

So how did you move into the position of editor?

DODY: The same way. I was a sound editor, and then I was a supervising sound editor, and then I started a company. At some point, again, it became kind of boring, because I was doing the same thing, doing it by rote.

And then I wanted to move back into the picture department. I had been a sound editor and a supervising sound editor, by then, for 10 years. I couldn’t go and be an assistant editor. So I started to look for work as an editor. And I found that I couldn’t get arrested. So I went back down to the bottom, and started working for free. As a picture editor.

I worked on shorts and low budget features. I did something in Germany that was not for free, but for low pay. If it needed editing and I found it interesting, I would edit it. I was not making the salary important. That wasn’t important to me. It was important that it was interesting to me.

Do you feel that you were not getting opportunities that guys were getting?

DODY: I have to say I did not perceive that, if that was true. I did hear, once in a while, someone would say, “Oh we’ll hire him, he’s got a wife and kids.” And that would gall me. Because I did not feel that should be a criteria for filling a position. Especially a creative position.

And I have to say, I struggled quite a bit to become an editor. By struggle, I mean I worked a long time for low or no pay. And it was difficult to get into a position where I was considered.

By then, with all my work on sound, I had worked with some great directors. But those directors were not interested in giving me a shot as a picture editor. So that was frustrating, but I understand it – you need to know that someone can do what you need them to do. It’s a really important position.

What was the first movie you worked on as an editor?

DODY: I did a movie called Floundering. Peter McCarthy directed. He was a producer. He produced Sid and Nancy. And that was a no pay job. After that I did an extended cut of Terminator 2 for Jim Cameron.

And then I did Guinevere with Sarah Polly and Stephen Rea.

Looking back on it now, do you recommend the approach you took, the whole process of learning?

DODY: I do recommend it. I have recommended it to quite a few people. One thing about life is that it is not a thing where you just work and you arrive. It is a series of ups and downs. It’s a journey. To look at the goal as an endpoint, I think can cut you off from a lot of opportunities. If that makes sense.

Have you seen the results of that advice?

DODY: One guy in particular, Matt Clark, who has cut several films for Kirby Dick. And Matt is a guy came to me with a question that most people have, maybe not expressed this naïvely. He called me up and he said, “I want you to tell me how I can get work at the Studios.”

And I thought oh no. And I said, “Are you sitting down? Have you got a pencil and a piece of paper? Never ever ever ever ever call anyone ever again and ask ‘How do you get a job at the studio?’”

And then I gave him my recipe. It’s not really a recipe, it’s my advice. And I was very forthright about it. And he followed it pretty aggressively. And he became a film editor.

One of the things that I said--and I learned this from somebody else--when I was fresh out of high school or looking for work, I had one of those very similar conversations. I was meeting somebody that I’ve known from my father’s business. And I said, “I’m thinking of working in film.”

And he said, “What do you want to do?” And I said, “Oh I’ll do anything.”

And he said, “Never say you’ll do anything. Say you are a this or you are a that.”

And that is something that I took forward and I take seriously. I am a film editor.

With Matt I said, “You want to be a film editor, do you have any money? Do you have enough money to live for a year without working? Will your parents help you out?” It was that kind of conversation.

Because what you need to do is, you need to edit. You need to edit whatever you can. You just keep editing.

I wasn’t just editing anything that came along when I was working for no money. I always made sure that it was something that I would be proud to have on my resume. If at all possible.

There is one film on my resume where I noticed that the director changed the credit to an Alan Smithee film, so that must’ve been one where I needed to pay my rent. But for the most part, I tried to make sure that I was making my decisions based on the project and not on the money.

What project do you think you learned the most from or that provided the most challenge?

DODY: That’s interesting, because I feel like I’m learning all the time. I think I’m in a state of constantly learning.  I’ve learned on every project, so it’s a hard thing for me to answer. It’s like saying which one is your favorite child?

Okay, let me ask this: While you were teaching yourself film history, were there any films that really jumped out at you?

DODY: All That Jazz was really remarkable. Also I would say Bonnie and Clyde is another one. There’s a kind of poetic quality to the editing that I think is really exciting. I think it also took a lot from the French New Wave.

I still see a lot of foreign films, and I see a lot of classics. I’m not, for some reason, all that interested in contemporary films.

Are you an editor or an audience member when you watch these films?

DODY: Oh, I’m an audience member. If I’m watching the technique, I feel that it is self-conscious. On the other hand, in my career when I’m reading a script, I’m always looking for scripts where the editing gets to be a character.

Like in Memento, the editing is a character. I did another film, Guy, where the editing is a character. It’s a point of view film, and the point of view was a cameraperson who is a character. And so that person is a filmmaker and a cameraperson, making a documentary. And the way it is cut has to represent that person’s personality.

Self-conscious editing, if it’s justified, I love. Just to be self-conscious for no good reason is not interesting to me.

Requiem for a Dream was, I thought, self-conscious. I did not enjoy the self-consciousness of that. But I felt they were pushing the envelope for a reason. But it wasn’t something that I responded to.

And now an example of where the self-consciousness worked for you?

DODY: Well, All That Jazz is a great example. The way the editor and the director together placed the sound and the image, it does grab your attention. When the sound drops out during heart attack scene, there’s not a person in the theater who isn’t wondering what happened? What’s going on? They’re suddenly conscious, and thinking that the projector is no longer making sound. At least, that’s what I think happens. That’s the way I felt when I was watching it.

It is certainly a wake up call. It wakes you up. You’re not just rolling along.

You see, there’s this funny thing about editing. It‘s all supposed to be invisible. And I think there is value in that. That’s what the match cut is all about. But it is equally valid to have a strong hard cut that jars you, if it has a narrative purpose.

What were the special challenges you’ve dealt with on Memento?

DODY: Among the things that Chris Nolan and I talked about were, How much of the repeated material needed to be shown in order for you to understand that not only were you seeing the same thing again, but it was the exact same moment again? Because those are the clues that were laid that told you that things were going backwards. Nobody says or announces, there is no subtitle upfront, that says this is going to go backwards.

We did things with sound and music that were very identifiable. So if it was Muzak in the bathroom, it was a very identifiable piece of music. But we also use the exact same pieces of film. They weren’t necessarily the same length. They were often much shorter. And we wanted it to be ever shorter and shorter throughout the course of the film.

And so we were just kind of testing that, to see how little it could be before you to recognize it. And of course once the pattern is set, then there’s a rhythm about how fast we were jumping back-and-forth.

And the other funny thing about it is, that it is not really backwards. It is something that is folded in half. So you are going backwards in the color and forward in the black-and-white. And so the beginning and the end are the starting point of the story and as you are marching forward, you are getting to the middle.

And so just understanding that was fun. It was a very frustrating script to read, because you have to keep flipping pages back-and-forth and back-and-forth, because it’s confusing. But that was enthralling to me.

It was fun. It was really fun. My mother was a mathematician, so I have that in me. It was kind of like a puzzle. Like I was doing my own little puzzle. And it really required a lot of intense focus, but it was very very well laid out in the script stage. We only rearranged one scene. Everything else was exactly as it was structured in the script.

What did you rearrange?

DODY: There was a point in the middle of the script where the jumping back got too frequent. So we join two sections, and dropped one repeat.

Did you do any audience testing with Memento?

DODY: No. We showed it to some people, but it wasn’t really a test. And I think that was the right decision. It is not the kind of film where you could gather a response from the test. People always come out of that film looking like they’ve been hit on the back of the head with a 2 x 4. And I think that’s one of the most gratifying things about it. Because the whole film is a wake up. It wakes you up.

And there are some people who are really irritated by it. And I liken that irritation to something I said to Chris in our first meeting. It reminded me of the book called If On A Winter’s Day A Traveler.

In that book, at I think close to the end of the first chapter, some of the text is repeated. And then the author addresses the reader straight out of the page, saying “Oh, and now you’ve noticed that some of the text is repeated.” And I thought, hey I don’t want to hear this, I just want to read a story. But I wasn’t the editor of that book. Reading the script of Memento and thinking that I might have the opportunity to be the editor of that, that was very exciting.

But as a viewer, I can understand how some people might be irritated by it. It’s a matter of taste, if you want to be played with like that. Many many people just go into the theater and they want to be carried down that stream, they don’t want to be woken up.

Have you had any experience with any of the films you’ve worked on being tested with audiences?

DODY: Yes I have.

How do you like that process?

DODY: I don’t like it.  Things need to be tested to be sure that audiences are following and that they understand. It depends on what kind of the film it is. So if you want people to understand, you might have to test.

I think I don’t like it, because I don’t like all the politics involved. It’s a stressful process.

Any final advice? For someone wanting to get into the business?

DODY: The clearest advice I would give is do your best to find projects that you can believe in and work on those. And the rest may or may not follow. It’s a very tricky business. And it’s a tricky life. On some level, all you have is now. So you better make sure that what you’re doing now is something you enjoy.