Thursday, June 23, 2016

Blayne Weaver on "Cut to the Chase"

What was your filmmaking background before making Cut to the Chase?

BLAYNE: I started my indie film career when I co-wrote and acted in the film Manic starring Don Cheadle, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. My relationship with the director was... let's say... strained. I didn't like him or the way he ran a set and I felt confident that I could do it better. Because of him I became a director.

I owned a small home in Los Angeles that I had bought with money from acting. I sold it in order to finance Outside Sales, my first film as a writer/director. That film led to getting Weather Girl made starring Tricia O'Kelley, Mark Harmon and Patrick J. Adams.

I followed that up with 6 Month Rule starring myself, Martin Starr, Natalie Morales and John Michael Higgins. Cut To The Chase is the fourth film I've written and directed.

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

BLAYNE: My last three films were romantic comedies and I wanted to do something gritty and exciting and something on a smaller budget than my last two films. 

I decided to shoot a thriller in my hometown of Shreveport, LA. I pulled my team together and we made a list of assets: Locations we had access to, great actors, vehicles, etc. I had worked with Erin Cahill (Power Rangers Time Force) previously on 6 Month Rule and I always thought that she and I shared a certain look and way about ourselves and that we should play siblings. 

The story came out of that. Writing specifically for actors that I wanted to work with in locations I wanted to shoot.

What's the upside of directing yourself in your own script? The downside?

BLAYNE: In a micro budget action-thriller, the biggest upside of directing myself is that I'm not endangering other actors.  All the stunts are done by myself or my stunt coordinator (Luke Sexton) who also plays a part in the film. I'm not asking someone else to punish their body over and over again. I do it because I know the film will be better for it.

The downside is the time-suck. Watching the monitor after takes slows down the process. That's why it's key to have a team you trust that is not afraid to question or criticize. Our rule was that if you had a problem with something I was doing whether it be performance or something technical you had to speak up immediately. I didn't want to hear about any misgivings in the editing room when it would be too late to make changes.

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

BLAYNE: Cut To The Chase began as a Kickstarter campaign. I raised a little over $20,000 on that platform which was then matched by Capital Arts, a production company in Los Angeles. I then went to independent investors, mostly in the Shreveport-Bossier area, and raised an additional $60,000.

We are currently playing the festival circuit and are planning on a limited theatrical release timed with a digital and VOD roll out.

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

BLAYNE: We shot with the RED Scarlet. My DP Rob Senska is the pro in this area so I asked his thoughts: 

"I love the weight of the image it captures, almost emulating film. It's nice and compact for quick and dirty shooting. The only thing I didn't like, it can be a noisy camera when the fan kicks on after getting too hot and it can get HOT in Louisiana".

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

BLAYNE: The film is a mystery, so the biggest changes were removing the moments where I over explain in the dialogue. I wanted to make sure that all questions were answered so there is lots of exposition and restating of clues... But in the actual film, it felt TOO explained.  We were able to pull out the unnecessary information and stick with the characters journey, which is what the audience cares about anyway.

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

BLAYNE: The smartest thing we did was really put the script through its paces. Feedback and notes from colleagues along with a read through where the team could question logistics, story points, etc. It saved a lot of time on set and in the editing room because all of the players knew the story and what we were trying to create. 

The dumbest thing I did was run around for 12 hours on city streets in cowboy boots. Messing up your feet is a bad deal. 

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

BLAYNE: I learned Dr. Scholl's Insoles are an excellent investment. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Rebecca Weaver on "June Falling Down"

What was your filmmaking background before making June Falling Down?

REBECCA: I made two short films previously called Winter Guest and Cam Companion.  They were both extremely indie, like June, just my partner Chris Irwin and I with a camera and microphone and a couple friends acting for free.  That was my film school, Chris and I studying cameras and mics online and learning on the spot - and, really, making June Falling Down was not too different. 

Otherwise, the only real hands-on film school experience I've had was a summer filmmaking program at NYU that I attended when I was seventeen.  I ended up eventually studying theatre for two years and dramatic literature in college - so my basis for film really comes from a writing and acting standpoint.  I thought I was going to be a playwright for a while, but film kept calling me back.

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

REBECCA: June Falling Down is about a young woman who is coming upon the one year anniversary of her father's death to cancer, and she is now going home to Wisconsin for her best friend's wedding - a friend she just might be in love with.  I myself grew up in Wisconsin and I also lost my father to cancer about seven years ago now.  And I remember one of the most difficult parts of experiencing that enormous grief was watching my peers continue to grow up while I was very stuck. 

So I eventually tied together a double loss for a lead character - that of losing one's father and that of "losing" your best friend to marriage - and that created all kinds of obstacles and confusing emotions that I could play with.  

The script actually began as a short story I wrote in college in 2010 called Witchay Woman (like The Eagles song - titled in irony back then, though now it's pretty embarrassing).  Even then I knew the story would be better as a scene in a movie and it grew from there. 

I worked on it part-time for years, writing scenes here and there, departing for a while to work on a (still-unfinished) novel, but a couple years ago when my mom decided it was time to tear down our family's beautiful, but very old cottage - where I had always dreamed of filming this script - I decided to finish writing and start shooting the following summer.

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

REBECCA: We definitely have never expected to make any money with June Falling Down - it was always an experiment to see if we could do it and also just a piece of art that had to be made.  We raised money through two separate Indiegogo campaigns ($8,500 for the first to shoot the movie and $5,000 later for help in post), and then threw in some credit cards and a little help from my mom. 

We're now currently looking for distribution - not expecting theatrical necessarily, but definitely VOD.  Our biggest hope financially with this movie was to prove that we could do it with very little money and to be able to raise money for our next feature.  

You wore a lot of hats on this project -- Writer, Director, Producer, Actor, Editor. What's the upside and downside of doing that?

REBECCA: Oh, it's completely insane to do what I did - I wouldn't really recommend it. Though, to contradict myself, in retrospect I'm glad I got all that experience (like I said, this was my film school!). 

One nice thing is that when you're on set, if the writer, director, and producer need to have a meeting, then they literally can have one very easily - in your head.   Because I was the editor, whenever I was setting up a shot as the director, I knew how I was planning to cut it later.  And as the actor I knew the script inside out because I wrote it (and I could edit the lines much easier) and I could also affect the mood of the scene with my fellow actors simply by acting with them.  

That said, wearing this many hats without much help is madness.  I remember days where I had to choose costumes, rehearse with my scene partners, wrangle extras, decorate the set, choose camera angles and lighting, figure out when my mom (craft services!) was going to serve the chili, and then direct and act in the scene.  You have to be really amazing at multi-tasking, and I'm pretty great at it, but this was too much for me. 

But, I will say that I knew exactly what the story was I needed to tell - I always could feel if the tone was correct in a scene, and I could always do something about it.  And it didn't hurt that my partner Chris knew exactly what we needed as well and could pull me aside and keep things on track. 

The tradeoff of doing so much yourself and getting so burnt out is that, in the end, it's your movie through and through.  But, next time, I'd like a much bigger main crew.  Let's get crazy and say five or six people instead of two people.  

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

REBECCA: We used a Canon 5D Mark 3 and honestly, it was what we could afford.  We'd used the 7D in the past, so it was a natural step up. 

One of the nice things about this camera was how light and portable it was.  Once again, we were primarily a two person crew with the occasional friend to hold the boom, so being able to pick up the camera and go was really to our advantage.  Especially when you only have a location for a certain amount of time or when the dog does something hilarious that you can grab on the spot.  It definitely helped us in picking up improvised moments, and, because it's so small, it never really drew much attention in public places like the beach or at open bars (new life goal: never shoot at an open bar again). 

How much did the story change in the editing process and why did you make the changes you did?

REBECCA: The story really didn't change at all.  I cut several scenes that I realized later were not necessary in moving the plot forward, but primarily what you see is what I wrote.

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

REBECCA: I think the best thing we did while shooting was that we tried to really keep the shoot relaxed and fun.  Nobody got paid to make this movie, so I wanted the experience to be worth everyone's while.  We definitely got stressed at times, but I think having a good sense of humor about how indie we were was really helpful.  The laughs that you see on camera are real - and I think that that lightness on set really contributed to the humor sprinkled throughout this movie. 

The dumbest thing we did during production was shooting a crying scene in the back of an open bar - that ended up taking several nights due to some drunk guys walking through the shot. That was pretty rough (and in retrospect kind of hilarious), but we made it through.  

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

REBECCA: I'm tempted to say "everything"!  I certainly learned that I want at the very least a producer, a professional sound mixer, a DP, and an assistant on set at all times for the next movie.  You know, some basic help! 

But I also really learned a lot about community.  I don't think I ever could have foreseen how much people would be willing to help us make this little movie - just by us asking.  Door County, Wisconsin, where 95% percent of this movie was filmed, is an incredible place full of artists and art lovers.  I've worked on my own a lot in my life as a writer and as an actor, and in retrospect, I have no idea how we got so many wonderful people to come on board and be a part of this movie. 

I think it has to do with being kind, with keeping it as light as possible, and with putting your heart out there with a story that really, truly means something to you. 

June Falling Down teaser trailer from Silver Leaf Films on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Marcie Hume and Christoph Baaden on "Magicians: Life in the Impossible"

What was your filmmaking background before making Magicians?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We made a feature documentary that was released theatrically across the US in 2011 called Hood to Coast – another character-driven film following people pursuing a difficult goal and ultimately persevering.

Our work lives are in production but are a bit different: Marcie works as a development executive in television, and Christoph directs commercials and short content. We’ve been hustling in this industry for a very long time!

Where did the idea for a documentary about magicians come from?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We wanted to reveal something of what it is to be a magician. Magic can be so incredible and profound, but somehow magicians are often disparaged in pop culture. We wanted to show something of the other side of that coin, and the extraordinary effort and sacrifice it takes to create the real experience of magic for people.

At its core the film asks what you’re willing to give up for your passion, a theme we hope will speak to a wide audience.

How did you go about selecting the magicians featured in the film?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We spoke with and filmed many people simultaneously.

We ultimately chose subjects that not only had extraordinary skill in magic, but personalities, stories or ambitions that we thought would make compelling characters on screen and give us a strong journey.

Did you go into the shooting with a point of view, or were you exploring the subject and letting the POV rise up out of the interviews?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We went into production hoping to explore the depths of magic and what it says about our minds and our experience of the world. Along the way the stories of the subjects in our film were far more compelling than a documentary that involved talking heads to speak about magic and the mind – we were filming incredible moments and experiences, and we decided to let these lead the way.

So the film became more about the experience of striving to be a great magician and chasing your greatest ambitions, rather than about magic itself. 

But from the start we were certainly intent on a fly-on-the-wall approach, which also meant that all the interviews were done in the context of the scenes rather than master interviews.

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

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We shot across four years, so we can track the film in camera gear! We started with our old trusty Sony EX3, then bought a Canon 5D, and eventually added a Canon C300.

Marcie loves the 5D for intimacy (which we used for some of the more intimate moments of the film) but we both love the cinematic look the C300 gives. The C300 become the main camera for most scenes, especially in low-light situations (which there are quite a few of in a film about magic). 

With the exception of a few scenes, we shot the film on our own without a large or rotation crew to be able to stay incredibly flexible and establish trust and closeness with our magicians.

Can you talk about how you funded the project and your plans for distribution?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We funded the film through a mix of a successful Kickstarter campaign, small investments, and our own money… along with labor-of-love production favors, and lots of them. We are talking with distributors now and like many filmmakers, just want the film to reach a lot of people. 
What was your process for shaping and editing the finished movie?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: With four characters, editing was very tricky – moving one scene inevitable affected the entire structure.

The goal was to interweave characters, story points, themes and moods so that the film felt like one cohesive experience. We had many moments along the way when the structure wasn’t working and we had to blow up large parts and restructure the entire film.

Ultimately we kept hammering away for almost 2 years until we broke through to the phase when it started feeling like a compelling story all the way through.

What were the happy accidents (if any) that you stumbled into while making the movie?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: In documentary it’s all unknown, so there were many happy accidents.

There are always instances that jump through the camera at you, and as you’re filming you imagine it as a stunning character moment on screen… you race back to the office to dump the card and make sure the footage is all there.

The first moment like that was when we were filming Brian Gillis and the dogs descended on the bed – we were trying to stay still and silent because it was such a perfect documentary moment. Same with Jon Armstrong on the bed in the Motel 6.

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

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: The smartest thing was mustering up the energy to film any potential story points and keep at it for almost 4 years, even when it seemed unlikely that they’d play out in a useful way. We were rewarded with incredible and deeply personal moments such as Jon’s wedding and Brian’s move from his castle.

The dumbest was projecting to crowd-funding backers – most of whom are not filmmakers – that it would only take us a year to cut the film. 

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

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: That building relationships over a long period of time, though taxing on resources, is crucial to getting depth of trust and storytelling that we want to achieve.

#AskADocFilmmaker: THE MAGICIANS: LIFE IN THE IMPOSSIBLE from HotDocsFest on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Dan Futterman on "Capote"

Where did the idea to write Capote come from?

DAN FUTTERMAN: I got interested in Truman Capote in sort of an oblique way, and it was almost incidental that it ended up being specifically about Truman Capote.

There was a book that my Mom, who's a shrink, gave me called
The Journalist and The Murderer, by Janet Malcolm. It's about a case in California where a doctor named Jeffrey MacDonald was eventually convicted of killing his wife and children. Joe McGinniss was writing a book about him and eventually, when the book came out -- it was called Fatal Vision -- Jeffrey MacDonald sued Joe McGinniss for fraud and breach of contract.

Malcolm’s book is sort of a meditation on how could this happen. How could a convicted triple murderer sue the writer who's writing about his life? How could he convince himself that the writer was going to write something good about him? It dealt with the fact that the journalist is posing as a friend to get the subject to talk, and that the subject has hopes that he's going to be portrayed in a good light, and that the journalist is always playing off of that desire. The relationship is premised on a basic lie that's it's a natural relationship, and it's not, it's a transactional relationship.

That seemed interesting to me, and had there not been a TV movie made about that incident, I might have written about that.

Some years later I picked it up again and read it -- it's a pretty short book and I recommend it -- and just on the heals of reading that I read Gerald Clarke's biography of Capote, called
Capote, and there are two or three chapters that deal with the period in his life where he was writing In Cold Blood and his relationship with Perry Smith.

I wanted to write about that kind of relationship and deal with those kinds of questions. The fact that it was Truman Capote was an extremely lucky accident, because he's fascinating in so many ways and he's so verbal and also was a man who was struggling with some real demons, I think, and that made the work I was doing that much more interesting and deeper.

You had the distinct advantage, as a beginning writer, of being married to a working writer. How did she help you in this process?

DAN FUTTERMAN: Although it doesn't seem like there's a lot of plot in the movie -- it's about a guy writing a book about an event that already happened -- but it is quite plotty when you get down to it. And she was clear and strict with me, saying "If there are any scenes where people are just talking about something that you think is going to be interesting, cut it, because if it's not moving the plot forward it doesn't belong in the script." And that was important to learn. And it was something that I had never considered.

I did an outline, somewhere between twenty and twenty-five pages with a paragraph for each scene, with dialogue suggestions. And the script came out probably 80% tied to that outline.

Did you take any classes or read any books on screenwriting before you sat down and wrote the outline?

DAN FUTTERMAN: No, I didn't take any classes. I read the Robert McKee book (
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting) that I guess everybody reads, and I found that pretty helpful --- his clarity about story. I think that was an important lesson for me to learn over and over again, that story is primary. Clever dialogue is not what it's about. It's got to ride on the story, and then you can hang stuff off of that.

And then it was just a matter of trial and error. And the lucky fact of having a subject who has been quoted as having said a lot of funny things, of which I put as many as possible into the screenplay.