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!!!

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