Thursday, September 30, 2010

Adam Santangelo on “Half a Person”

What was your filmmaking background before making Half a Person?

ADAM: Prior to Half a Person, my background was primarily as a writer. I had written Spider-Man comics for Marvel as a teenager (long story), studied Creative Writing at college, and initially focused on putting together a book of short stories. The urge to make films gradually overtook all of that, to the point where I had written a couple unproduced features and shot a number of experimental bits and pieces that I'd never let see the light of day.

Anyway, when it finally came time to get serious and make a film with a few more dollars behind it, I decided -- for better or for worse -- to skip short films and go directly to a micro-budget feature.

What was the writing process like?

ADAM: The writing process was quite protracted and really carried through the editing process and into re-shoots.

I worked on the script for at least a year before shooting. The story went through several iterations; some came about as I developed the story myself, others as I worked with a couple different producing partners to try and get the thing off the ground. The most significant change to the script during this period -- the decision to make the Mark character gay and build the sexual tension between the two male leads -- was inadvertently the smartest commercial decision of the entire project, because the subject matter eventually led to the film being picked-up for DVD distribution.

Anyway, as an inexperienced director with virtually no budget and the tiniest of crews, production became almost a whole other re-write. My editor (Ryan J. Noth) and I re-worked the material quite substantially in post, tossing out loads of material and shooting a few new beats to bring out the story that we thought was most compelling. So yeah, the writing process didn't really end until the final lines of ADR were wrapped.

How did you fund the film?

ADAM: I paid for the film myself. Being in Toronto, I theoretically have access to a number of public funds and grants. I tried applying to a bunch of those, got rejected, and decided I didn't feel like waiting around and making excuses for another year. I had a job and couldn't think of anything better to do with the $10,000 I had saved over the previous couple years, so I worked backwards and budgeted a $10,000 feature.

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

ADAM: We used the Canon XL1S, which was donated to the production by a terrific guy named Robin Crumley. The best thing about the XL1S was that it was really at the high-end of SD prosumer cameras at the time, so my Director of Photography, Matt Lazzarini, was really able to do a lot as a one-man camera department. The glaring downside, however, is that when we shot the film in the fall of 2005, we were right on the edge of the HD boom. If we had shot the movie even six months later, I'm sure we would have gone 1080p.

You wore a lot of hats on the production -- what's the upside and the downside to doing that?

ADAM: This could be a very long answer, but in short, the upside is that the project became a real labour of love for nearly three years of my life, and the sense of accomplishment at each step of the way -- particularly when I did my first festival and then went to DVD -- was tremendous.

The downside is that, at least in my case, wearing the three big hats of writer, producer and director -- all of them for the first time in my life on a project of this scale -- meant that something had to give. I inevitably made mistakes in all three areas. I've had people tell me they quite enjoy Half a Person, but I can't watch it without seeing a whole bunch of my own mistakes. Most of my favourite things about the movie -- particularly the music and a couple standout scenes -- were largely done by other people!

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

ADAM: I was lucky to have a talented cast, and I'd say my smartest move during production was allowing a couple of my more improvisatory actors -- Mike Majeski and Taylor Trowbridge -- to really work with their scenes and bring them to life. The scenes in the hotel room between those two actors (both scenes) are my personal favourites in the movie.

As for dumb things during production, I did many... but probably the dumbest -- and this is a bit of a cheat -- was not having prepared more during pre-production. I thought I had planned and re-written the hell out of this thing, but then the days ran insanely long and I was just burning the candle at both ends to set-up at my locations and get scenes in the can. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would plan meticulously.

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

ADAM: Well, another upside to wearing so many hats is that I learned more from my trial by fire than I could ever possibly summarize. I'll end on a positive note, though, by saying one thing I was very happy to learn is that there really are loads of venues and markets out there for movies of all shapes and size, as long as they hold together and tell a story. Whether it's regional television, niche DVD, festivals or web, I personally think there's plenty of light at the end of the tunnel for an indie filmmaker who emerges from their process with a watchable film.

Making Half a Person was easily the most satisfying and exhausting experience of my life so far, but probably the greatest satisfaction is that I closed the loop and put something out there that some people actually wanted to watch.

You can find it on Amazon, by the way, and learn more at

1 comment:

healy said...

thanks for sharing some hint of this movie. . we really appreciate it as readers! and the video of course=)