What was your filmmaking background before making The Crimson Mask?
ELIAS: In high school, I was one of those weird kids who had a public access TV show. It was called Fried Cheese. It was basically just a Monty Python rip-off, shot using my Dad's Sony Handycam.
The great thing about it though was that I had the responsibility to write, shoot, edit, and actually be in these sketches. It gave me all the freedom in the world to try different ways to tell a story visually. It set the tone for my career as I've continued to write, shoot, and edit all my projects, from a documentary on the Iceland indie music scene to an award-winning short film about gangsters fighting Native American zombies.
Where did the idea for The Crimson Mask come from?
ELIAS: After college, around 2002, I was living in Manhattan and was fascinated with this credit card culture that was occurring. It was as if everybody was living in the moment. Everywhere I went, people were spending insane amounts of money and always using plastic to pay for it. I wanted to tell a story about these characters who built a fantasy life and were faced with the idea of losing it all. What would they do to get it back? I never thought years later, we, as a nation, would be facing this very issue.
What was the writing process like?
ELIAS: Torture. I was hyper aware that if not successful, this could be my only feature film. So in addition to trying to write a compelling and exciting story, I needed to figure out how to include as many unique genres and characters as I could. This way, if I never got to make a second feature, I at least got a chance to play in all these different worlds filled with eccentric characters. There are not a lot of movies out there that tackle social themes and also have sword fights, gangsters, and secret societies mixed in.Then of course there were the constant re-writes. There must be 200 versions of this film, with budgets that range from 20 million dollars to 2 million. In the end, we took the 2 million dollar version and had to do shoot it for under $200,000.
How did you fund the film?
ELIAS: I was so frustrated with the process of working with investors and production companies that I just took whatever money I had in the bank and could raise from friends, family, and yes... credit cards, and decided to shoot the film over 3 very long weeks. It was a matter of being as resourceful as I could with what I had, and I think our film stands up against a lot films that cost 10 times more.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
ELIAS: I will go on record and say this was probably one of the "dumbest" productions in the history of film. We did everything the wrong way.
Up to that point, I had shot my films as a one man operation with no crew. I didn't understand how a film set worked. So that caused a little chaos. I never used a shot list, I added and lost frustrated crew members daily, and I changed locations at the last minute. The list goes on and on.
I will say, I strongly believe that a film set that is too organized is anything but creative. Those on set who joined me and embraced the chaos, were able to do some of their best work and have won awards and accolades.
I think a key to success is inspiring those around you to do their best and in turn they inspire you to do your best.
What kind of camera did you shoot with and what did you like and not like about it?
ELIAS: We shot on the Panasonic HDX-900 and HVX-200 with 35mm lens adapters. I love the DVC-Pro HD workflow and the fact that everything is archived on tape. A major drawback is that the cameras are bulky and require a lot of light when you use those lens adapters.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?
ELIAS: The most important lesson was that there is indeed a middle ground between my previous one man show productions and the creatively empty / over-regimented production styles. You just need the right group of people at your side.