Thursday, September 3, 2009

Brooke P. Anderson on "Off the Ledge"

What was your filmmaking background before you made the film?

BROOKE: Ahhh where to start ;)

The short version is I grew up as an actress in Australia, having started when I was 4 years-old. As my Dad was working in the US, I’d go back and forth between the two countries a lot. I remember working on a series in Australia and becoming interested in the director's role on the project, so I ended up avidly watching him set up shots and was constantly perusing his storyboards.

After graduating high school in South Carolina, I decided I wanted to study “behind the scenes” and learn all I could about writing, producing, directing and everything in between about filmmaking. I took numerous courses at UCLA from Business Accounting and Law, to setting up Production Companies; Lighting and Cinematography; Writing a Screenplay etc… to broaden my knowledge on the industry.

In 2005 I decided to utilize what I had learned and shot my first short film, “Forced Entry.” Initially done as a directing exercise, I figured “why not try the festival route” in an attempt to learn a little more. I was fortunate that it did relatively well on the circuit and was accepted into a bunch of fests and won numerous awards. I also got to travel to some places I had never been, and be introduced to other film communities around the US and Canada, which was pretty cool.

Where did the idea come from to make Off the Ledge?

BROOKE: After I 1st AD’d an indie feature shooting in Vegas a few years ago (Diamonds & Guns), not only did I meet my best friends on this project, but I also met my future Producing Partner - Dawn Higginbotham. Dawn and I ended up clicking and formed our Production Company, CORDOVA PICTURES, which at the time was to pitch a beautiful project that Dawn had written.

Unfortunately, the timing and cycle of the market was off as the Studios all wanted Snakes on a Plane – (this was prior to its release) VERY different to our humble Little Miss Sunshine-esq film.

While waiting at a fancy restaurant for a meeting regarding this other project, Dawn was telling me about a short film idea she had and wanted to make about two different side of the tracks people stuck in a bathroom at a club. After the meeting, I was driving home and couldn’t stop thinking about the idea. That evening, I had a friend over for dinner (Andrew Piñon), and told him about Dawn’s idea, and although I loved shorts, it was time for us to shoot a feature. And to be honest… it all started over a bottle of wine ;)

Andy and I started hashing out Dawn’s short to carry through into a feature. Every 10 minutes I’d leave a message on Dawn’s cell: “Hurry up and come over to my place,” and Andy and I would continue to embellish the story, and the ideas kept intensifying. Eventually Dawn made it over and questioned the abundance of voice messages, we in turn pitched her short idea expanded by 80 minutes. She looked stunned, and silent… then suddenly the wheels started turning in her head, and she jumped right on board. It was time to make a low budget indie feature and prove ourselves as filmmakers, no longer talkers, but doers. We all sat down and hashed out a plan, and by the time the sun rose, we had the framework for Off the Ledge.

What was the process for writing the script? How did you work with your co-writers?

BROOKE: Writing Off the Ledge was interesting. None of us had ever co-written before, yet all had individual screenplays between us and were familiar with one another’s work. Although our strengths in particular genres differed, our common bond was our need and want for strong, three-dimensional characters; as we all believed no matter how great a concept was, it was negligible if you didn’t care about the characters taking you on that journey.

We initially started out with development meetings, just hashing out the story and the characters and tossing ideas at each other, all centering around Dawn’s original concept of the two characters in the bathroom. The club transformed into a New Years Eve Party as we all felt it was a great night for the characters to unravel; that night has so many expectations as it’s about resolutions and new beginnings etc…

So we worked on who these people at the party were? What were their strengths and weaknesses? What makes them tick? What do they all think of each other etc… And we all had to take the budget into account, which obviously puts restrictions on what you can and can’t feasibly pull off on screen to a certain extent.

Once we had an idea of who the characters were, and why they were all at the party, and how they eventually end up by the end of the night, it was time for the first draft. Our plan was to give it to Dawn to write the 1st draft. Then Andy and I would read it, compile our notes and sit down for another meeting and throw all of our thoughts on the table. Dawn went back and incorporated our notes, then we did it all again and gave it to Andy to write his draft. After Dawn and I gave notes to Andy, it was my turn to write the draft. After the three of us had dived into the script, we ripped it all apart again and worked on another draft.

Each of us as writers brought a different element to the project. We all brought our different experiences to the story and it turned out to be a script we’re all really proud of. Even through the brainstorming with resulted from numerous heavy discussions, I believe it really pushed us all to make it a very strong story, and we’re all still friends which is always good, no deaths at the writing table ;)

Within a month we had gone through 6 drafts and had started pre-production.

How did you fund the film?

BROOKE: Short answer is private equity. As we all know, getting money to fund a passion project is bloody hard. Dawn and I put a formal proposal together for Off The Ledge, with a very detailed breakdown of our plans for the film. We knew our whole budget was less than someone’s paycheck, and we were all talking a massive risk with it; our budget shooting schedule was in there, comparable films and the budget verses what they grossed etc… there was a risk page an overview of the indie filmmaking industry an estimated best and worst case scenario.

We gave this proposal to some investors that were interested in our prior project, but at the time felt it was a little too high of an investment considering we hadn’t had a feature under our belts. With this ultra low budget film, they were right on board.

How long did it take you to shoot the film? And how long did it take to edit it?

BROOKE: Our initial schedule was 10 days. We tacked on an extra day at the end of the film, and a ½ pick-up day while we were in editing to grab some insert shots etc… Not a hell of a lot of time for a cast of 20 and to shoot a 100-page script. Everything was go go go… and Dawn and I didn’t sleep (If we’d shot a Zombie film we would have fit right in ;)

Our 1st assembly took 3 weeks. Harvey Rosenstock agreed to edit our first cut, and we were honored to have him on board, (he even came with a referral from Martin Scorsese which was pretty cool) We gave Harvey our notes, and he polished his edit into a first cut, then unfortunately had to leave us for another project.

We worked with Harvey’s assistant tweaking and polishing the film for a bit, then ultimately brought on Todd Fulkerson as an additional editor to lock the film. I guess Todd had it for about 2 weeks… but he was doing our project on the side, so we’d get to work with him for 2-4 hours every few nights at like crazy midnight hours. It was all pretty insane, but we were grateful to have the help and support. It’s a tough way to edit a film however.

What obstacles did you have to overcome to make the film?

BROOKE: I think the biggest challenge was lack of hands on deck. In terms of pulling the project together, it was pretty much Dawn and I doing everything. From Location permits and insurance, to casting and pulling together the crew for the actual shoot, to budgeting and scheduling and even drafting all the contracts. We became accountants and lawyers and music supervisors (pulling together over 40 tracks for the soundtrack). We didn’t even have an assistant to field calls…

The first time we had a “team” was the day we walked on set. It was a pretty cool feeling; but our other issue was some of our crew were fresh out of film school, so they may have had the knowledge, but not experience, which made it tough for us as we were only learning ourselves, and therefore never had the chance to relax and let everyone do their jobs.

When Dawn, Andy and myself wrote Off the Ledge, and Dawn and I decided to produce the project, I was never supposed to direct it. We went out to our first choice for Director, and were stoked that he really liked the project; our only disparity was the ending, which unfortunately was the reason we wanted to make the film and ironically what attracted many of our cast to the project. At this point we were either going to make the project or shelve it, as we were in the midst of casting and had already set the production date etc… so Dawn and Andy nominated me as the director like 2 weeks before shooting. As a producer on the film, and as I was playing one of the characters, this was a really tough situation. Not only would Dawn be sole producer while working on set, but I had the added hat of director.

Our location was a nightmare, 2 weeks prior to shooting (those dreaded 2 weeks) our initial location was pulled from us, and we had written our shooting script around this location. So everything had to change and we scrambled to get another location. The only one we could find within our budget was a WHITE house. There was NO color in this place, floor to ceiling white walls, which is not good for film.

Our DP Brett Anderson (who thankfully agreed to come from OZ and shoot my first feature) and our Production Designer Lauren Clifton had to work together to make this house work. With one prep-day, Lauren had to wall paper the entire house, and my Dad and Lauren ended up building faux walls in the Master Bathroom to make it more camera friendly. Brett lit the home very specifically to try and help Lauren’s design and it was just a team effort to make it all work.

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

BROOKE: We’ve definitely learned what “not” to do. We’re a lot wiser and less naïve. I know I’ve learned to trust my instincts more and not second guess myself as much as I did. I’ve also learned how important it is to surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing and hopefully know a lot more than you so they can catch your falls.

Dawn and I were very green when it came to making a feature, it was our first, and although we knew a fair bit between us, this was the best experience either one of us could have had. In actually doing it, and being responsible for every aspect along the way, it taught us an immense amount, and we’re now armed for the next projects. Even though we’ll have pros in our team supporting us, we’ll be in a better position of being able to communicate better with our future team as we’ve had hands on experience with it all.

I’ve always know this is a film BUSINESS, and although it was a juggle with the creative and business aspects of making the film, there is so much more business than I had ever imagined. It’s not just the workings of the business in terms of shooting on set and the business of getting distribution etc… but Dawn and I initially set out to do everything “the right way” and “by the book” as it was our first project under our production companies (Cordova and Gala Films) and we wanted to be reputable. But having a Production Company is not only expensive, but a lot of work. The taxes, the licenses, the payroll etc… and it’s ongoing - every year. We learned the hard way about a few of them as there was no-one to tell us point blank “this is what you have to do”.

So I’m now a firm believer that you learn the best by doing. It’s also great to talk to fellow filmmakers who have done it before, because you can learn from their mistakes and therefore be aware of those and potentially avoid them. Even though your sure enough going to have your own ones, it’s better to be forewarned.

I’ve also learned we need sleep… It’s hard to give 100% when sleep deprivation sets in on set. ;)

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