Thursday, December 31, 2009

Carl Bessai on “Cole”

What was your filmmaking background before you made Cole?

CARL: Cole is my 8th feature film, so my filmmaking background has been pretty varied to date. Highlights of my previous films include Emile starring Sir Ian McKellen, and Normal with Carrie Anne Moss - both films got some Genie Nominations.

How did you become involved in the project?

CARL: My producing partner Jason James invited me to participate based on an earlier draft of the script, and we sat down along with two other producers, the writer and the cast and did some workshops, which helped us develop the shooting draft. It all happened very quickly for me...

How did you fund the film?

CARL: 100% private equity.

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

CARL: Smartest:In pre-production, I encouraged the lead actor Richard de Klerk to spend time bonding with Jack Forrester who played Rocket. Their relationship was built before we started shooting and it helped us navigate quite easily with improvisation when young Jack struggled with dialogue in the script.

Dumbest: Took the crew to a location where there was no cell phone service... actually it turned out to be a blessing but it seemed pretty dumb at first.

What are the advantages -- as a director -- of being your own DP? Disadvantages?

CARL: The advantages is I don't have to wait for the camera crew to get ready, and I can speak to the actors from behind the lens which is very close to the action. It makes everything a lot closer and more personal.

The disadvantage is that sometimes my back gets tired, as I love to shoot handheld.

How did the movie change during the editing process?

CARL: The biggest change to the film that came out of editing was the ending. It was scripted that Cole would end the film in the arms of Sarafina, but we felt that his relationship with the town had started to outweigh the significance of his relationship with Sarafina, so it just seemed right that the film should end with the town.

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

CARL: I learned the beauty of the linear narrative: A story that works in an accessible way for the audience - a person can become engaged by the journey of the main character and stay with him from the beginning to the end.

I learned the importance of the specificity of place: By setting the film in a real town in a real place - instead of a fictional town - we brought an enormous amount of authenticity to the story.

I learned the importance of wind and backlight and the mood it can create for the cinematographer.

I learned the beauty of combining improvisation with scripted scenes.

I learned the simplicity of recording images onto a hardrive - there is no limit to the amount of footage you can shoot!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Joe Anderson on “Albino Farm”

What was your filmmaking background before you made Albino Farm?

JOE: The “film bug” got me when I was young kid in the mid-1960s. I “practiced” on Regular 8 and Super-8 film until the mechanics of editing in that medium failed me. I did some 16mm shooting in high school but again the editing was prohibitive and a bit expensive for a teenager. I then did movies in my head and of course watched a ton of movies.

Though I have no formal training, I have read nearly every book there is on the subject. My “library” is insane (thanks to Cinema Books in Seattle) and this became my defacto “film school.” After high school I was lured into the family manufacturing business but got extremely anxiety ridden and fearful I would never be able to pursue filmmaking. I could write a book about that ordeal but I eventually got the nerve up and started helping local indie shoots and met a lot of Hollywood filmmakers along the way (Coppola, Louis Malle, Stanley Kramer).

With some personal funds I got a bit higher on the food-chain and helped producer friends with startup capital on a few 35mm features. The business of filmmaking got more interesting after that and I started to tinker far more and this eventually lead me to initiating projects of my own at an aimed market.

Where did the idea come from?

JOE: Sean McEwen (co-writer, co-director) and I spit-balled about ten stories – one of which was a name of a place he had heard of from his college days in Springfield, MO. The title Albino Farm smelled pretty weird and nasty to me – as did the stories surrounding it – and it was clearly ripe for a horror/thriller. We then mish-mashed various aspects of these stories, did an outline and wrote the screenplay over the course of a year, via travel from LA to Seattle and passing the thing back and forth over email.

What was the writing process like?

JOE: Okay, this is for real… I love it and I totally hate it!

It is not easy for me at all. Left on my own, I tend to think about scenes well before I ever get to the page and then want to do the writing myself. I’m also more into the visuals and like doing descriptions versus dialog. Alas, my own perfectionism eventually gets the best of me, so I have more than a few scripts and ideas hiding in dark places.

As Sean and I were writing Albino Farm together, I had to get into “partner mode” and that proved to be an easy dynamic where I thought it wouldn’t. Let’s be honest, we were writing a genre picture so it wasn’t rocket science. It was more about plot points and getting from scene to scene and hopefully having those scenes be a bit different than the norm, even though you do want to get your own “art” in the thing. Not sure if we achieved that on the whole, it does seem a bit too derivative, but there are some crazy scenes in the movie.

How did you fund the film?

JOE: Oh, I love this part! Movies should be made about this subject alone! Too bad most books about it totally suck!!! Maybe I’ll have to write the definitive tome?

Reality is that it’s mostly “friends and family” and rich people looking for a cocktail conversation starter, but it can also be done by some skilled business people who know the market and can partner with you (though times are tough for that at the moment). With that as the smart method for recouping an investment, I’ve seen low-budget indie movies financed by pot growers, dares from “bucket shop” owners in NYC and trust fund kids blowing cash.

On the other hand, I have seen a really nice person involved in a film whose father was later found out to be a billionaire six times over! It can really be a mind-blower and a downright miracle how it all gets done, but our project’s initial funding was pretty simple compared to those. We tossed ongoing seed money into having our lawyer work up agreements and a legal entity for investment and along with our producing partner, Rachelle Ryan, we found several equity investors willing to give it a spin. One of those investors also went a bit further and loaned us funds against a film incentive program from Missouri that allowed a 50% tax credit for every dime we spent in their State. It worked out quite well and I would love to do that again! Felt like winning the lottery!

What sort of camera did you use? What was good about it? What was not so good?

JOE: We shot with two Sony CineAlta HDCAM rigs with some fancy Zeiss lenses and a whole host of “techie toys.” Our DP, Rene Jung, supplied these from his production firm, JuriFilm in LA, and we lucked out in getting a kickass Steadicam operator, Dave Rutherford, out of St. Louis to work some magic for us.

The use of two cameras was a must! We would have been screwed if we didn’t do that. Rene and Dave, along with gaffer Hanuman Brown-Eagle shared duties on both “A” and “B” cameras and we were able to do multiple setups to save time. When “A” camera was with Dave on Steadicam or we were on a dolly, Rene or Hanuman could be on sticks and pop off shots easily from complimentary angles.

Though I like the look of film, HD has a place and it served us well. I like the ability to dump into Final Cut Pro with the HD tapes at the end of the day or have the ability to look at an HD monitor while shooting, but there are a few things about HD that require knowledgeable people to work the system. I can sometimes see the video a bit too much in some scenes whereas it has a film look in others. The motion of a subject has something to do with it but overall I would certainly shoot HD again just due to the immediacy of the image.

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

JOE: We hired some great people in LA and Missouri that made the difference in getting the movie in the can. Without them, we would have been hurting along the way. We hired an experienced Line Producer and that was golden.

The dumbest? There were some lame things that happened on the shoot that were out of our control but next time I would allow far more prep time to help in that. We had a hard date to hit due to the Missouri incentive program, so things got a bit rushed at the last minute. Making a movie is a bitch in a lot of ways. Sometimes you get to the set and everything you planned gets shot the hell. There were some disappointments in that regard but more than a few were saved by the smart crew and craftspeople.

How long did it take you to post the movie and how did it change during the editing process?

JOE: We had a really long post-production process. I think it was a tad over one year. This was due mainly to availability of certain people we wanted to work with. We had a great editor in Dan O’Brien, colorist in Jeff Skinner, VFX supervisor Brett Bolton, sound designer Jamey Scott, composer Scott Rockenfield and many others who were bounced around in a nonlinear process that came about.

The editing started off with Dan O’Brien doing a decent rough cut and then we got involved in seeing where it went from there. I am a firm believer that a new set of eyes is needed as this notion that you (as a director) are infallible is pretty ridiculous. There is a certain ego to be stroked when you bully your way through and you cannot allow that to happen. I prefer to work with smart people – hopefully smarter than I am – and therefore achieve something extra. From this, we had some scenes tweaked into a different direction and broke the story down into a basis that we had not planned, but it worked for us in the final analysis. You also have to take a step away from a cut and take a fresh look later. The learning curve is pretty damn gnarly in any case, but I always love the editing process much more than the shoot.

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

JOE: I see this a lot and it’s worth mentioning… forgo any idea that you have an ego to be fed. If you are of that kind, your crew can smell that a million miles away and you will look like a supreme dumbass! That doesn’t mean you can’t be firm or even pitch a fit once in awhile, but don’t do it with an air of entitlement. There are people that you work with that are so astounding in what they do that you should hug them at the end of each day and thank them for making you look so good. This is what gets the best stuff on the screen.

Other than that bit of advice, my biggest discovery was in how the smallest thing can become the best or worst moment in a scene. Pay serious attention when you are watching the monitor. In fact, next time I will plant myself next to camera and let others watch the monitor. The immediacy of “being there” can be more important than sitting in video village eating Pop Tarts. All-in-all, hope everyone finds a way to go forth and create!!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Matthew Osterman on “Phasma Ex Machina”

What was your filmmaking background before you made Phasma Ex Machina?

MATT: I come from a very small town in the Midwest, so filmmaking seemed like such a distant and unchartered career path. It wasn’t until I moved away to college that I discovered my passion for storytelling and soon thereafter the impossible option became the inevitable one. After writing a bunch of bad scripts, I began directing a handful of bad shorts. This was my film school.

Eventually, through a somewhat circuitous path, I helped produce a documentary that had the distinction of being executive produced by Jon Stewart. That experience really gave me the confidence and credibility that I could build a feature from the ground up.

Where did the idea come from?

MATT: I’ve always been keenly interested in both science and the supernatural, so actual supernatural science didn’t seem like a big stretch to explore. I also came across a true story about Thomas Edison and how he had tried to build a real device to communicate with the dead. It was near the end of his life, so we’re not really sure if he was losing his marbles or if he was actually onto something, but his machine is now relegated to myth and history. I thought it would be fun to dust off Mr. Edison’s old idea and give it a run.

The ghost and the sci-fi aspects of the film are incredibly intriguing to me, but it was my number one priority to make sure I had complex believable characters and a story that kept you interested.

What was the writing process like?

MATT: I love writing and it was helpful that I was passionate about the story, but to do it right you really have to put a ton of time into it. Having a 9-5 and finding the energy to be creative was a constant struggle. I’m not sure how many drafts I went through, but it was a good two years of writing and re-writing right up until principal photography started. Then, of course, we kept it loose on set and would change lines or improvise. I also edited the film, which is where a ton of writing actually takes place. I learned firsthand that good editors don’t get enough credit in terms of their contributions to overall story.

How did you fund the film?

MATT: We passed the hat and also found a few brave souls to invest. My producer, Jennifer Kramer, really hit the pavement and turned over every stone. We were really smart about how we spent our money, so I’m very pleased with what were able to accomplish with our budget.

What sort of camera did you use? What was good about it? What was not so good?

MATT: We used the Panasonic HPX-500. It worked great for us because it had everything we needed within our budget range. Big chips, nice lenses, cheap storage, etc. I think my DP Adam Honzl, could make any camera image look great, but he pulled out some stunning stuff with this. We also used the HVX-200 for some additional stuff, but there wasn’t a huge difference in quality for us.

How did you find your crew?

MATT: The Twin Cities has a really amazing production community so it wasn’t really hard to find talented people. The trick for us, however, was finding the right crew before they got too experienced and thus expensive. This means hiring younger folks who don’t have the demands (money, family, etc) that someone twice their age might. Everybody wants to work on cool feature films, so we were just honest with people regarding expectations and strategy.

How long did it take you to post the movie and how did it change during the editing process?

MATT: Post-production took about a year. I was editing on nights and weekends, so speed was certainly sacrificed, but I learned that taking your time and occasionally finding some aesthetic distance is totally in the best interest of the movie. I had a good rough cut after three months, but really worked with it until I couldn’t take it any further.

The difference between the first rough cut and finished cut is simultaneously huge and minor. It’s still the same movie with the same scenes and shots, but the details are all polished and much more well developed. My co-producer, Jon Thomas, came onboard after principal was finished and really was able to view the movie with a critical and unbiased eye. Finding creative people willing to give you honest an opinion is absolutely the best decision a filmmaker can make – especially when the writer/director is also the editor.

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

MATT: I learned so much it’s hard to even know where to begin. The first obvious couple that come to mind are: always treat everyone with respect and honesty, embrace collaboration/don’t do everything yourself, keep the set fun, try to hire a good lawyer right away, keep good books, stay true to your vision at all times, a high-concept idea makes your job easier, and take all the time you need to get it right.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Phillip Hullquist on "The Hitchhiking Movie"

What was your filmmaking background before you made The Hitchhiking Movie?

PHILLIP: The Hitchhiking Movie is my first feature-length film project. I graduated with a degree in Communications from Southern Adventist University, but had always wanted to work on a large project of my own instead of just doing smaller commercial video production. An amateur filmmaker from New York reminded me the best way to learn is to go out there and make something.

Where did the idea come from?

PHILLIP: I met Ryan Jeanes in Texas who is the host & main protagonist for this real-life adventure. We were talking at a bar in South Padre Island and began swapping stories about some personal hitchhiking experiences.

Ryan was the first to vocalize the idea for the hitchhiking storyline, and it was a great match because I had the necessary video knowledge and he had on-camera experience from acting and television commercial work. It also seemed like a great first project because it's the kind of story that wouldn't be too expensive to personally finance. Just three months later, we met up again and hit the road to begin shooting.

How did you think the trip would go compared to how it actually went?

PHILLIP: Hitchhiking is an inherently unpredictable form of travel but in order to make a stronger plot for the story, we created an artificial deadline of just seven days to complete the trip by purchasing two return plane tickets from Los Angeles.

I had previously hitchhiked from Little Rock to Los Angeles in the fall of 2006, and Ryan had several shorter hitchhiking trips of his own. We were not positive how long it would take to travel the nearly 2300-mile route, but seven days seemed short enough to give us a real challenge.

I originally suspected we might have some serious police encounters or even possibly be arrested during the trip due to the dubious legal status of hitchhiking in several states. However, in general the police didn't bother us much and there was only one who suggested he would arrest us. Near the end, there were some genuine doubts as to whether we would make it to Los Angeles or end up stuck in the desert without a ride home. You'll see which of those happens when you watch the movie.

What sort of camera did you use? What was good about it? What was not so good?

PHILLIP: Originally, we were going to use my Sony HC1 camcorder, which was then stolen prior to the journey. A second JVC DV failed the night before we were to leave from New York City and therefore we ended up with an inexpensive Canon DV camera purchased on-location at B&H's New York superstore.

The decision to use a cheaper camera was made in order to save on initial cost while also reducing our loses should we experience another theft during the journey.

Fortunately, we didn't experience any situation where our gear was in any danger. The cheap Canon camera turned out to work well for our purposes and was unobtrusive enough as to not distract our subjects while taping. Some people freeze up when they are too conscious of a camera in their face, so its small size helped us get material we would probably not have gotten with a larger camera. Its primary downsides were a complete lack of manual controls, which is common for video equipment at this price point.

How long did it take you to edit the movie and how did it change during the editing process?

PHILLIP: Because we didn't start with a script, the creation of the story took place in the editing room.

Ryan and I sat down and watched the nearly 15 hours of raw footage and discussed what parts would be most interesting. We worked together for several weeks to create the initial rough cut before he returned to Texas.

Some of the characters initially had much more screen time in the early cuts of the film. One in particular was a Native American truck driver who had some very interesting perspectives about the world. We initially included nearly 15 minutes of him in the film only to cut most of it out later as it wasn't necessary to really capture the essence of who he was.

Like many video projects, the editing process took far longer than expected. The original estimate of six months turned into 18 months with much of the delay due to having other full-time work. The final six months was mostly delays in getting proper licensing for all the music we had used. Originally, we had temporary scored scenes to popular music, which couldn't be used in the final DVD so all of had to be replaced with other songs, which required some scenes to be slightly re-edited. A few artists, however, did allow us to use their original songs in the final cut so there is some really quality music included as well.

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

PHILLIP: This entire project was a learning experience being that it was my first film. The biggest learning experiences were in the storytelling element of it.

Because I was present when all the material was originally taped, early on I made some assumptions that the audience would understand certain things I believed were implied. However, after several test screenings of the movie, we had to simplify elements of the story so there wouldn't be any future confusion. With the character of Sarah, for example, we originally had a long explanation of the death of her first husband. It turned out to be too difficult of a story to communicate in the short amount of time we had; so, though it was compelling, we had to drop it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Amy Holden Jones on "Slumber Party Massacre"

How did Slumber Party Massacre come about?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Well that was kind of interesting. I had come out of documentary films and couldn't make a living in them. In those days, it was not the big scene it is now. I had won the AFI student film festival with a documentary. Martin Scorsese was one of the judges of that festival, and he used me as his assistant on Taxi Driver and then introduced me to Corman.

I had no money and I had to make a living, so I became a film editor. I worked for a while as a film editor and was beginning to get successful at it. I realized that if I keep this up, I'm going to be typed as a film editor. I did several smaller movies, one for MGM and a small Hal Ashby movie, and I was going to do E.T. for Spielberg. I thought, 'I'll be a film editor unless I make a movie,' so I went back to Roger Corman, who I had edited a film for when I was 22 years old.

So I went back and said, “What would I have to do to be a director?” And Roger looked at the documentary, and it didn't show him enough about what he wanted, because it was an art documentary in a way. He said, “You have to show me that you can do what I do.”

I had never written anything, so I was looking for an existing script. I went into his library of scripts, scripts that he hadn't made, and I took several of them. I read one called Don't Open the Door, by Rita Mae Brown. And it had a prologue that was about eight pages long. It had a dialogue scene, a suspense scene and an action scene.

I rewrote the scenes somewhat to make it better, and then I got short ends from shooting projects -- my husband was a cinematographer. My neighbor was a soundman. We borrowed some lights, used our own house. I did the special effects, and I got UCLA theater students to act in it.

We spent three days and shot those first eight pages. Then I put them together at night on Joe Dante's system -- he was doing The Howling. I would work at night, after hours, on his Movieola and he gave me some temp music cues.

Then I dropped off this nine-minute reel for Roger that had a dialogue scene, a suspense scene and an action/horror scene, to show him that I could do those three different kinds of things which make up an exploitation movie.

He called me up and had me come in and asked me how much it had cost me to do it. And I said it cost about $2,000, which is what it had cost. He said, “You have a future in the business,” and asked me how much I would need to direct the rest of the script. The truth was, I had never read the rest of the script, all I had read was the first eight pages. So I just, out of the air, said “$200,000.” And he said, “Let's do it, you're directing this movie.”

I then finished reading the script and it was a complete mess.

I just took a leap. I called Spielberg and told him the situation and he was kind enough to release me fro editing E.T. I rewrote Slumber Party Massacre in about four weeks as I cast it. And, indeed, we made if for $200,000.

What steps did you take to re-write it?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: I rewrote it to be makeable. Once I knew how little money we had, and what the situation was before re-writing it, that focuses your mind -- a lot. You don't go writing scenes at a football game with thousands of extras.

You start to think very logically -- when you know you're going to be going out there and doing those scenes -- about what you can do and what amount of time you can do it in. And my background as a film editor and a documentary filmmaker certainly helped.

Did you end up using any of the prologue that you shot on your own?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: No, we never did, because none of the actors were SAG, and in the end we had to have SAG actors, so we had to toss it, which was too bad. But we didn't really need it, as it turned out.

Any advice to writers who are working in the low-budget universe?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Well, it's a different market in this day and age. It's a good era, in a way, for writers starting out on a low-budget project, because you can actually make a movie for almost nothing.

I wish that I'd had the technology that young writers have now, because you can take all kinds of risks without risking all that money, if you are bold enough to write and start shooting.

I think the main thing that is still true today that was true then is that as you write you have to both tap into your heart but you also have to be aware of the very practical side of what it all costs and also what sells. It's an interesting mix.

The world is full of festival movies that never get out or go anywhere. If people are trying to break into Hollywood movies and bigger movies, not make something personal that they're going to put up on the Internet, they have to look at the commerciality of their subject matter and they have to fit what they're trying to say into a framework that is in some form entertaining for people. It has to be meaningful or moving or exciting or funny or dramatic. It can't just be what you'd tell your shrink, you know what I mean?

If they're trying to break into Hollywood, they have to be aware of something commercial in the project. Take a look at some of the things that have sold out of festivals. For example, Hustle & Flow. It's about a pimp. It's about sex. And money. That’s an easy sell.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tom DiCillo on "Living in Oblivion"

What was going on before you made Living In Oblivion?

TOM DICILLO: My first feature was film called Johnny Suede, starring Brad Pitt. I busted my ass on that one for at least four years to get it made. Although the film reached a certain sort of audience, it never quite found an audience, and the distribution of it was, frankly, really disappointing. It made making my second film really, really difficult.

I had written a screenplay called Box of Moonlight, and could not get the money for it. Years and years went by, two, three, four, five, and I just reached a point of such maniacal desperation that I said, "I have to do something, no matter what." It was out of that intense frustration that Living in Oblivion was born.

It wasn't born out of, "Hey, let me make a funny movie." It really came out of one of the most intense periods of anger and frustration in my career. And, ironically, it turned out to be the funniest movie I've ever made. I think in some way that is part of what makes my humor my humor. It is humor based upon real, human intensity, desperation, foolishness.

One of the things that makes the script so strong is that all the obstacles that you put in Nick's way are real obstacles that you've experienced in that position.

TOM DICILLO: Whatever you write, you have to tap into something personal for yourself. I used to have an acting teacher who said to me, "If it ain't personal, it ain't no good." There's something to be said for that. Even if you're talking about a character, someone who's not you, you have to find something that is you that you really do believe and that you've really experienced and you have real feelings about, and put it in that character's mouth and in their hearts and minds.

But at the same time, I don't want to ever make it seem like when I write that it's just me. I'm not interested in that. Even with my first film, Johnny Suede -- sure, I put a lot of myself into that character -- but I also was very clearly trying to find a way to make it more objective, more universal, something that other people could relate to.

I absolutely believe that if you can find a way to tap into something that's very personal, and then make a creative leap from there, that's the best way to do it. Anger by itself is not enough. You have to have the creative imagination coming into play as well.

How much rehearsal did you have?

TOM DICILLO: None. Absolutely none.

I don't like to rehearse, anyway. My style of working is to just talk to people, get the costumes correct, talk a little bit about the character, and then just find it as the camera is rolling. What was so fascinating to me was that none of these actors auditioned and they were almost instantaneously their parts. But everyone knew the lines, I'm very disciplined in terms of that.

Most people think Living In Oblivion is completely improvised, but there's only one scene that was improvised, and that's the scene where Steve erupts at the crew at the end of Part One. Everything else was completely scripted.

Were there any things you learned writing that script that you still use today?

TOM DICILLO: Yeah. I have a tendency, if I'm going to write a joke, I set it up with a one, two, three punch. But I realized that most of the time, when I get in the editing room, I usually only end up using the one or the two, never the one, two, three. That's kind of an interesting lesson to learn: if you're going to tell a joke, just tell the joke. Don't do three jokes.

I also learned the idea of setting in motion something that, once it's in motion has a life of its own and people are really are almost instantaneously eager to find out what's going to happen. That's a crucial thing. Many screenwriting teachers will talk to you about a screenplay and say that it's all about tension and conflict. And, in some ways, that absolutely true.

But if that tension and conflict doesn't arouse enough interest to have people really want to know what's going to happen next, then you're screwed. I think Johnny Suede suffered from that a bit. It was my first screenplay and there's very little real dramatic tension in it.

I like the idea of setting something in motion -- like a cart rolling down a hill -- that once it's going, you can't stop it.

What's your favorite memory of working on Living In Oblivion?

TOM DICILLO: Oh, man, there are millions. I think I would have to say that it was the look on people's faces the first time Peter Dinklage, who plays Tito, erupted into his tirade against the director. Most of the crew that we had hired had not read the script, because we weren't paying anybody. And so we were getting people working for free, and they might work one or two days a week.

And so this crew was just standing by the lights, doing whatever they were doing, and all of a sudden Peter Dinklage, during a take, says, "I'm sick of this crap." He just erupted and everybody just turned and looked with their jaws open. They really thought he was saying it.

Then the laughter that erupted when they realized that it was just part of the movie, it was a fantastic feeling. It made me really feel that I had stumbled upon something and it was working.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jamin Winans on "Ink"

What was your filmmaking background before you made Ink?

JAMIN: I grew up with a video camera in my hand and learned filmmaking mostly by doing it. I joke that Ink is actually my 4th feature film because I made two feature length films by shooting on VHS and cutting on two VCRs when I was a kid. I went to film school for a year, but dropped out realizing my time was best spent just doing it. I made my "first" feature, 11:59, in 2003-2004.

Where did the idea come from?

JAMIN: When I was a kid I was in love with Snow White. Consequently I was terrified of the witch in old woman form. I used to believe she would sneak into my room and try to steal me out of bed to take me to some place terrible. That image stuck with me a long time. It's not just coincidence that Ink looks a lot like the witch from Snow White. And that's where the movie started from. I had the scene of a monster stealing a kid out of bed and angels trying to stop him. The story just kept building from there.

What was your process for writing the script?

JAMIN: I outline heavily. My scripts are usually complicated and involved so I'll often spend months, if not years, outlining. The actual script writing is quick. I tend to not write a single page until I'm absolutely certain I have everything worked out. In the case of Ink I finished the script and then made several revisions over the course of pre-production. There were probably at least a half-dozen revisions. During that time I got feedback from trusted people whose opinions and taste I respect.

How did you finance the film and what did you learn in that process?

JAMIN: We've been building a fan base over the past 10 years or so. During that time we've found some supporters who have been willing to invest in projects. With Ink, Kiowa (my wife and producer) and I really wanted to be investors ourselves. So we mortgaged our house to be the first investors. We then we started to talk to our friends and supporters and gave them a fairly elaborate and visual business plan. The fact that we were investing ourselves certainly helped others feel more comfortable. We raised the financing we needed over about 8 months.

The thing I've learned about financing both our films is that it just takes time. It takes time and leg work to get to the right people and ultimately convince them that this is a project worth supporting.

What sort of camera did you use? What was good about it? What was not so good?

JAMIN: We shot entirely on the Sony V1U. It was the smallest HD camera available at the time (weighing about 3 lbs). Originally we were going to shoot with the Sony CineAlta, but realized it was just too big for the situations we were shooting in. We needed a camera that was light and could fit in small spaces. We were shooting an enormous amount of setups a day and having that small camera was a saving grace.

On the other hand, the issue with the V1U is that the latitude is pretty weak. When shooting night exteriors, we needed to pump out a lot of light to register on that camera. It made night scenes really rough. The Sony EX came out immediately after we wrapped. It's not much bigger than the V1U, but has a much better latitude. If we shot Ink today we would use that camera.

You wore a lot of hats on the film -- writer, director, editor, composer, producer. What's the benefit of doing that? The downside?

JAMIN: Yes, and Kiowa was the producer, production designer, costume designer, and sound designer. The benefit is absolute creative control. I'm able to make the decisions I want without encumbrance. The other advantage is that there's less time wasted on communicating between "departments." So it can be really efficient. The downside is that there are only so many hours in the day. I can only work so fast when I'm doing everything. It can also be nice to have other collaborators throwing in their two cents. You don't get that when you're working on your own.

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

JAMIN: More than anything I've learned how powerful fans can be. We've had a fan base that's carried us and Ink for the past several months as we've taken it out theater by theater. Because of the time we're living in, we're able to connect with a lot of our fans personally through our social networks. They've become friends, advocates, and have really kept our spirits high as we fight to get Ink released. More now than ever, I suspect our fans will be a big part of the ongoing filmmaking process.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Paul Solet on "Grace"

What was your filmmaking background before you made "Grace"?

PAUL: I've been running around with a camera since I was a little kid, making short films and writing stories, and I was lucky enough to have parents who were really supportive of the arts, so they always encouraged that stuff. I started making shorts seriously in film school, and kept it up afterwards, but "Grace"is the first feature I've directed.

Where did the idea come from?

PAUL: The basic idea came from the medical science involved. I was having a conversation with someone and it came up that it's actual medical science that if you're pregnant and you lose your child and labor isn't induced, you can actually carry a baby to term, and that this is a decision that women make more frequently than we talk about in polite company. To me, that was such a powerful idea, it was a perfect jumping off place for a genre story. I've always been fascinated about the power of the mother child bond, so "Grace"was born from that.

What was your process for writing the script?

PAUL: I'm a very thorough outliner. I spend a lot of time working out the acts, then the sequences, then the scenes, then the beats, and while I'm doing that I'm working on the characters, who they are and what they want. I never jump into writing until I have an extremely thorough outline. The same was true of "Grace". Even still, the script grew and changed a great deal over the years. I probably wrote 75 drafts of it.

Did you write it with the idea that you'd direct it ... and, if so, did that change how you wrote it?

PAUL: I wrote it with the idea that I'd probably direct it, but if someone had come to me who I thought had a real vision for the script and would make a great film, I'd have let them. The people I met with just weren't those people, and I believe in the story enough to see it done right. I always write with the goal of having it down on paper in a way that anyone can understand without further explanation, even if the intention is for me to direct it. The goal is always to come up with a perfect reading script.

How did you get the film funded and what were the challenges in doing that?

PAUL: A lot of people were interested in purchasing or optioning the script, but they weren't going to let me direct it because I hadn't done a feature before, and they weren't coming up with anyone good to do the job, so that was a challenge.

It wasn't until Adam Green saw the short and solicited the feature - at the urging of our friends at -- that "Grace" was born. And even once Adam and Ariescope had optioned the script, we had a hell of a time landing the dough. In the end, Adam took the project to Anchor Bay, and they loved it so much they offered to finance it. But it was a long road. Lots of footwork, and lots of faith were required....

What did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?

PAUL: Treating people right really is the best policy. I encouraged this crew and this cast to take ownership over the project and let it be a show that reminds them why they're in this business, and then I focused on creating an environment in which everyone could do their best work and be respected and appreciated for it. That's the only way to do a movie as ambitious as this in the amount of time we had to shoot.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Kelley Baker: The Angry Filmmaker

First things first: Why are you angry?

KELLEY: I'm angry for a lot of reasons. I'm pissed that good films can't get distributors because they don't have stars. I am angry that all sorts of Hollywood 5 and 10 million dollar pictures are called "independent" when they're not. I'm angry because a lot of doors have been closed to Real Independent Filmmakers and very few filmmakers seem to care. I see filmmakers give their movies to distributors for nothing, no advance. If you don't get an advance you'll probably never see any money!

I see too many people wanting to be filmmakers for the wrong reasons, to make lots of money and to be famous. And filmmakers aren’t working together to help each other. So many independent filmmakers from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were going to change the system, and now they are part of it. They are more interested in money and being critical darlings then fighting the system the way they once were. They have been sucked in to the system and most went down without a fight.

What's wrong with independent film today?

KELLEY: The independent film industry is no longer even remotely independent. It's been mainstreamed by Hollywood and is now simply another over-hyped product. Like commercial radio, pop music and Starbucks coffee, the industry has become a homogenized mess of conglomerates owned by a handful of extremely powerful corporations. It begs the question: Independent from what? We need to take the word "Independent" back!

Indie has become a marketing phrase. I have a tough time sitting through a ten million dollar "indie" movie. I want people to recognize that "indie" doesn't mean stars and all of that other crap. WE are Independent Filmmakers and WE make movies whether WE have a deal or not. I want to see more theaters and media art centers providing places for us to show our work, instead of just giving us lip service about how they support independent film. I am fed up with these "independent" film festivals that show all these movies with big names in them.

Real Independent Films are still being made; they just don’t have access to audiences. I always say that independent filmmaking is a live and well, it’s independent distribution that is dead. You have to play by the industry’s rules to get your film seen if you want a decent sized audience.

I opt to do things differently. Like early punk bands, we have to find our audiences and cultivate them. That’s why I spend half the year on the road touring and showing my films.

I've told filmmakers forever to never put their films on credit cards. Give me your best argument against that habit.

KELLEY: I’ll use my own experience for this one.

I spent a ton of money on my first feature, Birddog. A lot of people told me they would help me get distribution when I made my first feature. I believed them and I probably shouldn't have. I was the Sound Designer on films like Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho, Far From Heaven and Finding Forrester. I had my "indie street cred" but that didn't seem to matter ultimately. I had a screening for friends in LA and everyone liked the movie, then they told me how hard it was to get a distributor and they all walked away.

No one helped. So I arranged screenings for distributors. I screened in LA, New York, Toronto and London. We also had it at the IFFM. The distributors all said the same thing, "We really like this movie but we can't distribute it because it has no famous stars in it." I told them it was an independent film and they said that was fine, but if you make an "independent" film you still need a big star in it.

Anyway, I ended up owing a ton of money to the IRS... Since all of these people had said they were going to help me find a distributor, I took all of the money I should have paid in taxes and used that to fund the film. When it didn't get picked up ... I still owed the money. It took my lawyer and I seven years of dealing with the IRS to finally get everything straightened out. Ultimately I had to sell my home of twenty years and just about everything I owned. It was hell!

I gambled and I lost. I understand that. I listened to certain people that I shouldn't have trusted. Ultimately it was my fault. I made the decisions and I paid the price. I don't want others to go through what I did.

There is no guarantee you will get a distributor, (if you want one), and most people end up paying off their movies working jobs that they hate at 30% interest.

Don’t use credit cards or go way in to debt; if you do you’ll be one of those people.

What's the smartest thing a filmmaker can do before starting their feature? What's the dumbest?

KELLEY: Spend time in pre-production! Too many filmmakers think if you’re not shooting you’re not making a movie. I spend 3 – 4 months easily in pre-production. I try to work everything out long before I start shooting. I rehearse for weeks, just like I’m doing a play. I want all of the actors to know their parts and their characters long before we start shooting.

I only write for locations I know I can get, and I don’t write scenes I know I can’t shoot, (like car chases).

I continue to write throughout this period as well. On Birddog I started pre-production with draft 11 of my script and still made changes throughout the process. On all of my films I don’t even think about shooting until I have done a ton of drafts. I have people I trust read my scripts and get lots of feedback. Your odds of making a good film increase if you have really worked the script over and over. If you have done the work to have a good script the odds get better that you’ll make a good movie. You can still make a bad movie from a good script though, this isn’t a science.

I think you just really need to take your time in pre-pro, don’t rush it. Since I never have any money, the better organized I am, the more efficiently I work and the smoother my shoots go.

As far as the dumbest, I think that is to hurry up everything so you can start shooting long before you’re ready. And using your credit cards. Using friends who aren’t actors in your films. Your friends aren’t good actors no matter what you think. Get good actors. I think there are lots of dumb things you can do if you don’t take your time.

What's the best advice you ever got about filmmaking?

KELLEY: You need to be a shameless self-promoter and self distribute your work. We always hear those bullshit lines; I make my films by any means necessary! Well why aren't you getting your films out by any means necessary? Why are you sitting on your ass waiting to see if you got in to some film festival? Why aren't you burning DVDs and selling them at screenings? Why aren't you promoting your movie on the Internet?

You gotta get the word out, and you have to do it yourself. It has to do with getting your films seen. If no one sees your movies, how are you going to build an audience? I tour, I teach and I have developed a fan base. One person at a time! Has it been easy? No. It's not supposed to be. At then end of the day all you have is your work and if no one knows about it or you, whose fault is that?

Finally, which current filmmakers (independent or otherwise) inspire you?

KELLEY: I will watch anything that John Sayles does. Same with Jim Jarmusch although I thought that Broken Flowers sucked! I like Danny Boyd’s work, Brian Johnson, Beth Harrington, John deGraff, lots of people that most people have never heard of. Janet McIntyre is a filmmaker to watch, she makes docs.

I watch lots of different types of films so I am inspired by films more than I am by filmmakers. I still try and watch lots of docs and foreign films to get a different point of view of the world.

I actually think I am more inspired by writers and musicians than I am by filmmakers. I am inspired by people who don’t give a shit what others think, they push forward and make the things that they want to make. I like things that are passionate in some way or another.

I don’t have a television, so I read more than most people and I love to visit museums. That is the way I have always been…

Did I answer the question?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Antonio Campos on “Afterschool”

What was your filmmaking background before you made Afterschool?

ANTONIO: I've been making short films since I was about 13. I attended the New York Film Academy when I was 13, but had to lie about my age to be in the program since they didn't have a teen program. I made my first shorts there and then continued to make shorts all through high school. Eventually, I went to NYU for film where I made a short Buy It Now, which was made with a tiny crew on video for no money. That short ended up winning the First Prize in the Cinefondation at Cannes, which ultimately helped open a lot of doors and create a lot of opportunities. After that I made one more short, The Last 15, which was in Official Competition at Cannes in 2007.

Where did the idea for Afterschool come from?

ANTONIO: The seed for the idea came sometime after my last year in high school. That year started off with 9/11 and one of my best friends lost his father that day, and it ended with a close friend of mine dying in a freak accident while traveling through Europe. I really didn't know how to process or deal with these deaths-- I felt very connected and disconnected at the same time.

I had this idea of a boy witnessing the death of two girls by drug overdose. The girls were kids he had seen in the hallways but never had spoken to or been really close to until they died in front of him. Then over the years and through my Residence in the Cannes Residence program, I developed the idea into what the film became.

What was the writing process like?

ANTONIO: It was long. There was a long period of a lot of note taking and brainstorming. When the chance to apply to the Cannes Residence came up, I wrote a formal treatment. I made the top 12 and was flown out to Paris for the interview, but was ultimately rejected.

I went back and reworked the treatment and resubmitted. I was accepted the following year, and it was really while I was in Paris writing that the whole thing came together. It was there that the idea that the boy would be in a video class came to me, and once I had that, it all came together.

How did you fund the film?

ANTONIO: It was all funded privately, through people my producers, Josh Mond and Sean Durkin, had met and discussed the project with over the years. Our budget was relatively low, but it was still more money than any of us had tried to raise before. There were enough people who believed in us and the project who were willing to take a risk on it. Also, we were able to actually shoot the film on 35 anamorphic because my producers were able to get such good deals from the vendors.

What sort of camera did you use? What was good about it? What was not so good?

ANTONIO: We shot 35mm on an Arri 535 with anamorphic lenses from Joe Dunton. It was a good camera for the shoot since there wasn't a lot of handheld and a lot of static shots, and the lenses for the most part were great.

With anamorphic, you're always going to have vignetting and focus issues on some lenses. We figured out what problems there were with which lenses and then were just always conscious of that as we were shooting, only using them we had to. Some of it we were able to correct in post.

How did you find your crew?

ANTONIO: Everyone on the film for the most part had gone to NYU with me and my producers. And those who didn't go to NYU were people that we had worked with on other projects. It was really comfortable, friendly, and safe environment for me as a director since I had already established a rapport and friendship with almost everyone on the set before we started. As a director, it's the greatest feeling when everyone around you seems to be as committed and excited about the film you are trying to make as you are, and I felt that way about my crew every day.

What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of being your own editor?

ANTONIO: I felt that I knew how I wanted the film to play, and I knew the film better than anyone else that it didn't seem right, especially on my first feature, to not edit myself. Also, I'm not someone who becomes married to anything. I always see myself as a slave to the film; whatever's right for the film is what I'm going to try and do.

That said, there are disadvantages.

Eventually, because you have been with the film for so long, it is hard to distance yourself enough to have any sort of emotional response to it. It all becomes a bit too intellectual, which I don't like. Also, I was handling a lot of things that an assistant editor would normally deal with, like syncing and prepping the film for the negative cut. These things just become tedious, and in terms of dealing with prepping the film for a negative cut or whatever you're going to end up on, it's difficult because it just forces to spend more time in front of the timeline. Not making changes becomes a challenge because there's always something you feel like you can play with a bit more. My negative cutter was definitely not happy with me

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

ANTONIO: There's so much you learn from just making a film, a lot of it isn't even anything you recognize consciously. I feel like anything you do behind or in front of the camera is beneficial and forces you to hone a certain tool or try and learn something knew about yourself and your process.

I like preparing as much as possible, and did so on Afterschool, but I would love to be able to do more tests with stocks and lenses beforehand. To really know the quirks of every lens and the different looks you can achieve with each stock and each process available in the developing and printing. We were able to do this to a certain extent, but just couldn't afford to do as much as my DP or I would have liked.

"Afterschool" is available On Demand. Check your local listings.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sean Baker on "Take Out"

What was your filmmaking background before you made Take Out?

SEAN: I went to NYU and got my bachelors in Film & TV studies. Shortly after graduating, I made a film called Four Letter Words. I raised the money to make it on 35mm by luckily landing a few commercial gigs for a toy manufacturer. It is a look at college age suburban males. I know that sounds trite but my goal at the time (1995) was to tackle the subject in a different way than other films had. I felt that most films went for flat out comedy when covering this topic. I wanted to focus on the realism; drawn out conversation, the awkward moments, etc.

I lost my way in the post-production and it took four long years to find the right cut. Matt Dentler and Bryan Poyser at SXSW championed the film and it made its premiere there in 2000. Vanguard Cinema put in out on DVD shortly after. I'm quite aware of the faults of the film but I'm still glad I made it. I feel I had to get that film out of my system before exploring other subjects.

During post-production on Four Letter Words, a public-access show that I co-created, called Junktape, got picked up by IFC and renamed Greg the Bunny. Greg the Bunny has had several incarnations over the years, going to Fox and then back to IFC. We are currently embarking on a whole new incarnation (but I can't go in to detail on that in fear of jinxing it.)

I met Shih-Ching in 1999 at the New School where she was getting her Masters in Media Studies. We decided to make Take Out in the summer of 2003.

Where did the idea come from?

SEAN: Shih-Ching and I were living above a Chinese restaurant. We watched the deliverymen coming and going all day and wondered about how NYC looked through their eyes. Shih-ching began conversing with them and we soon realized that there was an important story to be told about the daily struggle of one of these individuals.

What was your process for co-writing the script?

SEAN: Shih-Ching and I wrote the script together in English. She then translated the dialogue to Mandarin. We referred to both scripts while shooting. I could follow the actors line by line so both Shih-Ching and I could judge the actor's delivery and the scene's pacing.

How did you finance the film and what did you learn in that process?

SEAN: We were barely paying rent at the time so we paid for things in piecemeal. I was doing freelance editing and Shih-Ching was a freelance graphic artist. As checks came in, we paid out. We learned that it's still possible to beg, borrow and steal.

What sort of camera did you use? What was good about it? What was not so good?

SEAN: We used the Sony PD-150 which was the standard SD miniDV camera being used at that time for indie films. It was an amazing camera for light sensitivity. Besides not being HD, the drawback was that it did not have a 24p mode. So I had to de-interlace the video footage in order to give it a more filmic look.

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

SEAN: First and foremost, Take Out caused me to fall in love with shooting urban-based dramatic realism. It was the catalyst for my follow-up film Prince of Broadway.

Take Out forced us to improvise as filmmakers and accept limitations as blessings. Instead of fearing the unknown, we were excited by it and welcomed it. This led to countless 'happy accidents' that we are so grateful for.

This attitude of accepting chaos with open arms is something that I brought to Prince and will continue to take to other projects no matter how large of a production it may be.