Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bryan Poyser on “Lovers of Hate”

What was your filmmaking background before making Lovers of Hate?

BRYAN: I went to film school at the University of Texas in the mid-90’s, where we were all very much under the influence of DIY heroes like Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez. I even remember Linklater coming into class once to show us all some of his favorite short films.

While still at film school I co-founded a film festival called Cinematexas with one of my teachers, Rachel Tsangari (who is an exec producer on Lovers of Hate). I did that for about 4 years, then worked at SXSW and now work at the Austin Film Society. So, I’ve always kind of been involved in supporting other filmmakers at the same time I’m trying to make my own.

My first feature, Dear Pillow, I made on a very tiny budget in 2004. It was about a kid who finds out that his neighbor writes for a porn magazine and then wants to “learn the ropes” from him. It has some pretty graphic dialogue in it -- I wanted to make something bold but honest and fortunately, it did really well on the festival circuit, playing about 30 festivals after it got selected to play at Slamdance. Then, it got me a Spirit Award nomination, for the “Someone to Watch” award.

Based on that, I was able to set up a project with this company called Burnt Orange Productions, which partnered with the University of Texas to produce features with students & alumni working on the films. Jake Vaughan, who produced, shot and edited Dear Pillow, directed this new project called The Cassidy Kids, while I co-wrote and produced it. It was a major step up for us, going from a crew of 5 to a crew of 50.

Unfortunately, it didn’t do as well as the last one, only playing a couple festivals but it did end up on IFC, where people have been finding it. I made a couple shorts before embarking on Lovers of Hate, one of which I still have to finish editing.

What was the writing process like?

BRYAN: The writing process was really kicked off by the main location for the film, this giant mansion in Park City, Utah. As part of my job at the Austin Film Society, we throw parties at Sundance every year for filmmakers we’ve supported. One of our board members lets us host these parties at her house in Park City and so that’s how I came to know it. I loved the idea of setting a movie in that place, using its unique architecture to do something small-scale but full of tension and humor. It took me about 4 months to write the first draft, and about 5 months later, we were shooting it.

How did you fund the film?

BRYAN: In November of 2008, we were told we could have the house for 2 weeks right after Sundance, so we basically had 2 months to fundraise, cast, crew up and take care of all the logistical challenges of importing our little production about 1,400 miles away.

I just started telling people we were gonna do it and they amazingly, offered to help us out with money, sometimes without me even asking. The first person to throw their hat in the ring was my friend Rachel, with whom I co-founded Cinematexas. She lives in Greece and had been making good money producing TV ads and large-scale installations like the Opening Ceremonies to the 2004 Olympics. Jay & Mark Duplass (I went to film school) with Jay, also helped me out. It was amazing how generous people were. And, the great thing is that now that we’ve sold the film to IFC, they’re all gonna get their money back, too!

What sort of camera did you use for production and what were the best and worst things about it?

BRYAN: We used the Panasonic DVX200, shooting at 720p, so we had to do an upres when we got the film into Sundance. It was the camera owned by the cinematographer, David Lowery, which he had used on his own film St. Nick about a year prior. We had like 5 lights total, so it was a real challenge to light the film up in Park City, where the sun starts going down around 4pm in the middle of the winter. But, we did have a great time up there, living like a big extended family, cooking and eating together in that beautiful kitchen. It was hard work, even though we were in a beautiful 4-story mansion. The first few days my calves were totally sore and cramped from running up those stairs about 50 times a day.

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

BRYAN: I think the smartest thing was that we didn’t bite off more than we could chew. I purposefully wrote and with the producer Megan Gilbride, we purposefully scheduled a movie that we could do in our time allotted. We had 11 production days in Park City and 8 in Austin. I had 6 more days of production on Dear Pillow, which we got in the can for $4,000!

But, I knew that I wanted to avoid over-reaching with this film – not try to do something so ambitious and logistically challenging that I would lose track of or not have time to concentrate on what was really important – the acting and the writing.

A lot of filmmakers that I see are trying way too hard to do something out of their price range with their first film. Don’t make an action movie with $500 and a video camera, or it’s gonna look silly.

The dumbest – without a doubt, not taking more production stills. It’s even something I counsel other filmmakers about – don’t forget to take stills!

What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of being the writer on a film you've directed?

BRYAN: The advantages are definitely that you can rewrite on the set or in your head before you shoot something. We tried as much as we could to shoot in sequence so we could take advantage of happy accidents or ideas we had. If you’ve written it, you know the story inside and out and will know if you can follow those happy accidents to new places.

The disadvantage, of course, is that you have no-one else to blame if the script isn’t working. And of course you won’t know if the script works until you are watching full cuts of the film in post-production.

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

BRYAN: The main thing I learned was to trust my instincts – there were certain moments where I let circumstances push me in a different direction from where I felt the movie should go, or where I let exhaustion or inconvenience convince me that something was “good enough.”

In the editing stage, you finally find out if something is “good enough,” and there were certain things I had to cut out or cut around because I didn’t follow my gut feeling at first.

Sometimes being a director forces you to be a bit of a tyrant or a bit of a jerk and you can’t be afraid of that. Everyone is there to help you get your vision on screen and you’ve gotta take that responsibility seriously.

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