Thursday, January 28, 2010

Matthew William Jordan on “My Sweet Misery”

What was your filmmaking background before you made My Sweet Misery?

MATTHEW: After pursuing a Masters degree in English at the University of South Carolina, I became a recluse for many years. During this time, I became obsessed with films and filmmaking. Ultimately, I emerged to write, direct, and edit My Sweet Misery, but I'm still a bit of a recluse.

Where did you get the idea for the film?

MATTHEW: I know that the traditional route for films is that the story idea comes first, and that the characters are essentially plugged into the story. The process works in reverse for me, for whatever reason. The characters begin to take shape in my head first, and the story actually comes out of the characters.

How did you script the film and how did that script change during the shooting?

MATTHEW: I wrote my first draft with pen and paper, in a large and now weathered notebook, obsessing over each scene and shaping each scene until I was ready to move on and transition to the next. So when I actually typed a draft into a computer, it was essentially a third or fourth draft, and it didn't change much from there, aside from a minor tweak or two. The final film is remarkably similar to the script.

What technology did you employ to shoot the film and what did you like about it?

MATTHEW: We shot it on Super 16mm film, and we even shot a few brief sequences on Super 8mm for effect. I love the aesthetic of film, and I think it's worth all of the intrinsic hassles in order to capture that aesthetic.

How did you fund the film?

MATTHEW: It was raised, bit by bit, through private investors, almost all of whom we knew on some personal level. The budget is very small. It's probably the lowest budget conceivable to shoot a feature-length movie on film with.

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

MATTHEW: I'll tell you what, I'll answer the same thing for both: I chose to shoot on film. It was smart to stick to my guns with that, because the aesthetic is important to the movie. It was dumb in that it made post-production 1,000 times trickier. At the end of a long road, I'm still happy with the choice, but there's nothing easy about using film on a micro-budget.

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

MATTHEW: I learned so much that it's difficult to narrow down here. Most importantly, I learned the areas in which I can compromise just a little, without it damaging movie, and the areas in which I absolutely cannot compromise and cannot give an inch, ever. That's important stuff to know.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Regina Crosby on “Teenage Dirtbag”

What was your filmmaking background before you made Teenage Dirtbag?

REGINA: Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Bubkus. Take your pick of any of those. I have been writing in some form or fashion (TV, commercials, my diary) since as long as I can remember, but Teenage Dirtbag is my first script, and the first time I have directed anything.

I have been enthralled with the magic of movies since I was a little girl, specifically when my parents took me to see any of Steven Speilberg's masterpieces. Those are the first films I remember that really registered. Now I frequently dream in movie format. Sometimes I think in my dream, "this movie is awful" and wake myself up.

Where did you get the idea for the film?

REGINA: It is inspired by my experiences in high school, which for most of us wasn't a glorious time at all. Life in general can feel like such a battlefield, and we all have our war stories. Teenage Dirtbag is about what we do with our past, and how the smallest actions in life really matter.

How did you script the film and how did that script change during the shooting?

REGINA: That's a great question that I don't often get asked. It changed in all the right ways, because it helps to have both the writer and director housed in one brain. When lines would feel unnatural or forced, I would quickly change them on the fly. Sometimes I would throw them out all together and replace them with an action or an expression. Sure, I argued with myself on set, but I always worked it out before it came to fisticuffs.

What technology did you employ to shoot the film and what did you like about it?

REGINA: We shot in HD, but used film lenses. It provided me the essential technology I needed, with the film look and feel I wanted. We couldn't afford film anyway, so I was lucky the technology was there.

How did you fund the film?

REGINA: I was offered financing for the script right out of the gate by a foreign company. After about six months, I started having serious reservations. I backed out with them and decided I'd rather do it myself on a shoestring, than have it get ruined by having too many chefs in the kitchen. Along with my own investment, a close circle of investors funded the film. It was a lean and mean production.

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

REGINA: I had written the script in a very A,B,C,D order, and it read nicely. Then, the producers and I hired a director (I hadn't originally planned on directing the film) who explained that even if script that reads well, it doesn't always come across as interesting on film. As a novice, I figured other people knew more than I did, so I complied.

He worked with me for months scrambling the scenes around, trying to create an interesting "weave" of story lines and make it more "cinematic." In the end, my editor, Andrea Trillo, told me it was too confusing, and she unknowingly put everything in order almost exactly how it was first written. It's important to try and learn from those around you, but it is also important to trust your instincts. The smartest decisions I made every step of the way, were usually the opposite of what someone was pushing me to do.

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

REGINA: Here’s my Top Ten.

1. Less is more.

2. Never, ever skimp on sound during filming.

3. Give your editor the creative freedom to make changes. You can always change it back.

4. Go ahead and get drunk with your crew.

5. Post-production will cost twice as much as you think it will and take four-times as long.

6. Be appreciative.

7. Don't be afraid to hold your actors' feet to the fire. Make sure you're getting what you need, even if that means giving line-readings.

8. Remember who you are making the movie for.

9. Fight for what you want.

10. Trust your gut


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bruce Reisman on "The House That Jack Built"

Where did the idea for The House That Jack Built come from?

BRUCE: I was walking through a mansion that was half-done at sunset. It was being built by a friend of mine and it felt very creepy. I thought to myself, “Hey, this is a movie… scary movie.” It was that simple. I called my writing partner, Kris, and told him the idea and together we wrote what ended up being The House That Jack Built.

What was the co-writing process like? How were duties divided up?

BRUCE: Kris Black and I write every script the same way. Rarely in the same room once we’ve both worked out the story outline together. He does a draft, then I follow him as he writes. He is good at linear story telling, I am more experienced and proficient (and he would admit it so) at dialogue. He’s great at detail and visuals. Me, I’d essentially rather write a play.

How did you fund the film?

BRUCE: We funded the movie independently from a single source, and got some extra post -production investors to finish up when it was done filming. Very simple… once the money “drops.” Getting the money is ALWAYS a nightmare on Indie movies.

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

BRUCE: Ha, the smartest thing was really the “luckiest” thing. Gail O’Grady. Casting her early on was a really smart move but she ended up being a dynamic force behind the scenes as an uncredited producer. We had never met, but she was a huge fan of the script and Indie movies in general. When our original location fell through, Gail allowed us to shoot the movie at her home. She is a true hero and one of the great talents and “mensches” of the business. We have remained good friends.

The dumbest?

BRUCE: Well, I made several dumb moves, but who doesn’t in movie making? It’s impossible to be smart all of the time. I should never, ever, have allowed my money people to force me into using a particular actor in the movie. The decision snow-balled into a situation that lingered on and on and on. It was the single costliest decision I made, not artistically, just financially.

How did the movie change during the editing process?

BRUCE: Wow. Do you have a week? Again, I was bamboozled into starting with an editor I had no chemistry with, and who, basically, had no respect for me as a director; even though he had NEVER produced or directed a movie on his own and I had been in the business for 40 years. It was unpleasant for both of us, I think… just two very different people. But I did trust him for a short while, and then when I saw the cut we had done together, I wanted to shoot myself. And I share the blame for not telling him exactly what I wanted and that it was his job to tell MY story.

So, when I went to finish the post at another studio, I found a new editor, a kid just starting out, named Sevan Markoosian. HE was a Godsend. We actually started from scratch, found a lot of footage the previous editor may or may not have buried from me, and assembled the movie as if it were the first time doing so. It was fun, magical, and worth every bit of extra time and money; and believe me, it cost me… it cost me my guts. But the movie turned out to be very close to my original vision and I’m very proud of it.

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

BRUCE: Get enough money for post-production before you start.

If you are the director, meet as many Cinematographers as possible. Pick one who has your best interests at heart and who respects you. My cameraman was enormously gifted, but I don’t think he or I would ever want to be on the same set together again.

Get the money… all of it. And when you open your LLC account, make sure it takes (2) signatures to write a check or to make a withdrawal. Sounds simple, but when you are caught up in the excitement of getting your movie funded, the obvious just floats by.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Alan Cumming on "The Anniversary Party"

What was your inspiration to do this movie?

ALAN CUMMING: Well, first of all, Jennifer and I both wanted to work together. We were in Cabaret together on Broadway, but we didn't really do anything together in the show. But we just got on and wanted to do something. We knew we wanted to explore working together, so it came from that.

And we wanted to write something about how we felt about relationships at that point in our lives -- something that was very current for ourselves and something that was honest and open. And also we wanted to use elements of ourselves, or experiences, and put that into a story.

How did you divide up chores of writing and directing?

ALAN CUMMING: We didn't, really. People understand the notion that you can write together. I think people have more trouble with the idea of directing together. But it wasn't divided up; it was quite smooth. We both would talk. I would do of the shouting and general announcements.

But there were certain actors where we said, 'You talk to him,' or, 'I'll talk to her.' We were very aware that we get better results with one of us talking to someone rather than the other.

It's not difficult to direct with someone else; it's actually really nice.

In a way the whole film, with it's theme about openness, and it's very much an ensemble thing, and we were using everybody who were our friends and we were using elements of them in the story as well. And the crew, they were all doing it for, obviously, very little money.

It was very sort of democratic, with the crew and everyone. There were no trailers. We all ate together. If someone wasn't working, they'd just lie on the lawn. We tried to open out, ask people's opinion. It's easy to make people feel good about coming to work. You just have to make them feel involved and that you respect their opinion and it's not an autocracy. When you have that attitude, it makes it very easy to have two directors.

Were the actors nervous about doing a digital feature?

ALAN CUMMING: No, I don't think so. If anything, they were nervous that they would look bad. We all rightly think of video as making you look hideous, shiny and awful. So that was why we got an incredible DP. We wanted to make sure that the film looked good, that was our main concern. As exciting as it can be to shoot on video and have that eavesdropping feel, the films that we had seen prior to making ours were ghastly. The technology, the process of transferring from video to film was still in its infancy, and it wasn't looking good.

The scene where the guests give out their presents is a pretty interesting scene. How much of it was written?

ALAN CUMMING: For that scene, we asked the actors to make up their own speeches for that or to make their own things. We guided them about what perhaps their character might say, what their character's angle might be, but we left it up to them to make up their thing. It was really fascinating.

We shot their stuff and our reactions at the same time. We were hearing it for the first time, which was really exciting. And also, they were really nervous, like you would be really nervous standing up and doing that, because they were actually having to perform something that they had written for the first time, too. It was good -- it worked.

What was the biggest lesson you took away from the experience?

ALAN CUMMING: Biggest lesson; Treat people respectfully. There's a sort of vogue, and there has been for decades now, that the director is god and the director is all knowing.

But when you say to someone, 'I don't understand this and I'm asking your advice because you're better at it than me,' by doing that and involving people and making the film truly a collaborative process, you get much better results. You get a better film and you get happier people and get an atmosphere on the set that is truly creative.