Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sean Melia on "You Don't Know Me"

What was your filmmaking background before beginning You Don't Know Me?

SEAN: I had no formal training in filmmaking.  About five years ago I had an idea for a feature spec and wrote it.  It was kinda terrible but I was hooked.  Nights and weekends were spent writing three more specs over the next four years.  They all had their good points, but overall none of them were producable.  That's when I decided I needed to actually make something to understand what writing for film really meant.  

So I started reading everything I could about filmmaking (including your book Digital Filmmaking 101, which was great, btw) and decided to go for it.  I was already a writer.  I learned how to be a director and producer through the process.   
What was the inspiration for the film?
SEAN: As a kid I was always into horror stories.  My feature specs were all over the place, a comedy, a drama, a sci fi adventure, but when I decided to make a short, horror was the first thing that came to mind.  I woke up one morning with the initial idea...  what would happen if you pretended to be a killer, only to find out one of your best friends was the real thing?  My goal was to make a suspenseful short, but without any blood and guts.  In fact you don't see anything at all, everything is implied or left to the viewer's imagination. To me that's the best kind of scary.   
How did you plan and execute the film?
SEAN: I wanted to make a great looking film but not spend a lot of money doing it, especially since I was financing it myself.  I wrote the script specifically for my apartment, that took care of the location.  I decided early on to shoot on video instead of film to save on materials and post costs, so I looked for a DP who owned an HVX 200.  I'm lucky enough to be friends with a bunch of really good working actors who were gracious enough to do the project for free (we operated under a SAG Indie contract).  

Jon Hokanson, my DP, found our gaffers, camera assistant and grip.  I took care of hiring hair & makeup and sound.  Everyone got paid (except for me and the actors) but it wasn't a lot, so I made sure everyone was happy in other ways, like providing cab fare when needed and better than average craft service.  We managed to shoot 15 pages in two days.  Everyone told me that was unrealistic going in, but we did it, and it came out great. 
What obstacles did you overcome?
SEAN: Honestly, the only major obstacle was finding a new DP seven days before we were scheduled to shoot.  About a month beforehand I was debating whether to go with Jon or this other guy who seemed to have a better resume.  I chose the other guy, who at first seemed really into the project, but then started canceling meetings, then got "sick," and finally told me he had a "family emergency" and couldn't do it.  Luckily Jon was still available.  Best thing that could have happened to the movie.
How have audiences responded?
SEAN: The response has been awesome, especially considering this is my first film.  After screening it for friends and crew, I posted it on (here's the link) to start building an audience.  The reviews and comments I received were extremely encouraging.  Recently it screened as part of the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival (where it went on to win the Audience Choice award).   Hearing the audience get uncomfortable when they see the plastic covering the bathroom floor, followed by the gasps when Michael reveals who he really is... it was pretty cool.
What was your favorite part of the process on You Don't Know Me?
SEAN: When I first started working with the footage with my editor.  Shooting the thing was exhilarating (and exhausting), but I didn't really know what we had until we started to piece it together. 
What did you learn making this film that you've taken to subsequent projects?
SEAN: I learned that if you're going to make a film on a small budget, the more organized you can be going in, the better.  That means putting together detailed story boards, following your shooting schedule, listening to your DP when he says he needs to do something a certain way and keeping your actors and crew happy.  

The experience made me a better writer and gave me the confidence to become a director and producer.  Since completing the film, I've written three more shorts and a draft of a new feature.  My goal is to build on what I accomplished and make two shorts this year (I'm in pre-production on one), find some financing and tackle the feature in 2010.  We'll see... 

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