Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jim Townsend on “Attack of the Vegan Zombies!”

What was your filmmaking background before making Attack of the Vegan Zombies?

JIM: Before I made Attack of the Vegan Zombies! I worked in news production and on independent films in New York City. While I did a little of everything, I ultimately gravitated toward Locations and Production Management. One of my highlights was being the Production Manager on Jay Lee's Noon Blue Apples. That was a great project and it went to Sundance in 2002.

Mostly the work was difficult. Every job had long hours, lousy food and Manhattan is a crowded place to shoot. But there's nothing else like it. Maybe someday I'll have a chance to go back there and make another movie. It's just frustrating to spend so much time, energy and resources toward figuring out how you are going to park a bunch of trucks in Manhattan every day.

For a complete list of my credits, go to: While you're there, find Attack of the Vegan Zombies! and vote!

What was the writing process like?

JIM: Writing is fun and terrifying at the same time. Looking down at a blank page and knowing you have to fill it and about a hundred more just like it with a story is intimidating.

Here's how I did it. I got a very broad idea of the beginning, middle and end of my story. I came up with most of the characters and mapped out all three acts. Then I started to write. I forced myself to sit down at the computer (I use Final Draft software and supplement it with the legal pad & pencil) at about nine o'clock every night. I would write for about three hours and go to bed. By then I was tired and fell right to sleep.

For me, writing at the same time and place every day was crucial. My son Emmet was a toddler at the time so the only available time I had was after he went to bed. I averaged two to three pages per day and was done in a few months. It's not as hard as you think. After a while, the characters begin to talk to you and all you have to do as a writer is transcribe.

How did you fund the film?

JIM: We funded the film with a $30,000 second mortgage on our house. I've probably spent about $5K more since then.

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

JIM: We shot Attack of the Vegan Zombies! with a Panasonic DVX100A.

The best thing about it is that it looks pretty good, even when you project it on a good screen. It's also cheap and so are the tapes you use with it (mini dv). It is also a light camera, easy to use and has nice, built in audio inputs.

On the bad side, you are limited to the format of mini-dv. It can look very nice, but can't rise above itself. A $3,000 camera can't compete with a $100,000 camera. Some distributors and festivals are averse to mini-dv as well.

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

JIM: I enjoyed doing a lot of things on my movie because I felt it made it belong to me more. Besides, I cheated. The first thing I did for this project was secure a great location with many sets on site. There was very little pre-production involved. All we had to do, was show up and shoot. So I wrote the script to take place almost entirely at one location. They also had a catering service. so we ate breakfast and lunch on site every day. So a lot of production headaches were taken off the page.

The downside is that after a week or two of shooting, my brain began to get even mushier than normal. Thoughts like, "OK.... what scene am I about to shoot now and am I in it?" started to creep into my head. Acting is a lot like plumbing. Sure you look at your bathroom and think "I can tear up that lamination and put in the tiles myself" but it's best left to the pros.

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

JIM: The smartest thing I did was hire Max Fischer to be the Director of Photography. Being new to the Richmond, VA area, I didn't know anyone in the film business. Max knows everyone. He was an invaluable source of contacts. His level of enthusiasm was off the charts and he really got into the project.

I think if there was one thing I could do over it would be to edit here in Richmond. We have the facilities. While I'm thrilled with the final cut, I edited by sending the tapes to my friend Jay Lee in Los Angeles. He did a great job but it was a ton of work for him and I shouldn't have put him in that position. It's also very awkward to try and discuss the changes over the phone with the time zone difference and our schedule differences. I should have spent the extra cash to find a place in Richmond where I could sit down with the editor and go over everything together. Simpler is better.

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

JIM: What did I learn from this project? I learned that I can write, produce and direct my own movie. And if I can do it, anyone can.

1 comment:

Billy Hahn said...

Hey, this blog deserves such an award...