Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bing Bailey on "Portrait of a Zombie"

What was your filmmaking background before making Portrait of a Zombie?

BING: I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Dublin, Ireland. I'd like to tell you I was running around my backyard shooting toy soldiers on a 16mm camera, but my family would not have been able to afford a video or film camera at that time. Movies were a window out of my world and my imagination was fueled by films from filmmakers like Hitchcock, Spielberg, Scorsese, Carpenter, Friedkin, Capra, Coppola, and Donner.

Working at a local video store at age 16 gave me free access to other filmmakers like Renoir, Truffaut, and Cassavetes. It was the movie War Games that got me interested in Technology and Computers. After technical college, I moved to the United States in 1999 and started working as an information technology engineer at the World Trade Center. I never thought making movies was something I could do. It was too far outside my zone as a kid from Dublin.

The fall of the World Trade Center which, I managed to escape due to jetlag and blind luck, changed my perspective on life and made me want to pursue something more creative and fulfilling. My entry into filmmaking started with a technical fascination with cameras themselves and what they were capable of, and it was only later that I let my creative guard down and I realized then that I'd been making movies my whole life, I just called it day dreaming. My confidence as a storyteller increased with every project. Over the past 9 years, I have been creating shorts, music videos, documentary, and narrative projects. Portrait of a Zombie is my second full feature film.

Where did the idea come from?

BING: Portrait of a Zombie is a mix of aspects of my own life growing up in Dublin and about how far Irish families will go to protect their children given really harsh circumstances. I admired George A. Romero's social commentary in his Zombie films and I hoped to reflect some of what families in Ireland are facing including economic and social stigma in my film.

What was the writing process like?

BING: The writing process was very swift. I started with an outline of what I wanted and over a period of about 6 weeks wrote the film with my wife, Laura Morand Bailey, who has been my writing and producing partner on all my projects.

How did you fund the film?

BING: Working in the technology field has allowed me to fund all my projects to date, which does not come without sacrifices. You have to give up every comfort imaginable to get the kind of money even low and micro budget films require to do them justice. I am no stranger to living on the Ramen noodles diet for 6 months so I can feed my cast and crew during production and afford a better camera system at the same time.

BING: After consulting with my cinematographer, Clayton Haskell, we decided to use the Red One camera with 35mm Lenses. The images it produces are organic, striking, filmic, and not video-like or too sharp like some HD cameras can be. If these are the kind of images I can create I'm not going to complain over the odd camera crash or reboot.

The only thing I would change about the Red Camera would be to make it lighter. The whole film was pretty much shot handheld. The system weighs in about 20 lbs+ when you add accessories. The last thing you want is to put your cinematographer's back out or give them shoulder damage from prolonged use. Thankfully Clayton was a trooper. I believe the next versions of the camera, "Epic & Scarlet," will go a long way towards making it lighter. I'm hoping to use these on my next project.

What was the biggest lesson you took away from shooting the movie?

BING: I think the biggest lesson is always write and direct what you know and use what you have access to if you want to create authentic stories. Don't wait for anyone's permission to make a movie. The film production went very smoothly because of the lessons I had learned on previous projects through making mistakes and having failures. Doing your homework on pre production can really save your neck during shooting and post production.

What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of being your own editor?

BING: The advantages are obviously cost. Anyone with fairly standard equipment can now edit a film cheaply. If you understand the technology, you can create a film for very little and with the Internet you have access to a wide array of technical resources. If you want to learn editing software or post-production effects or sound applications, it can be done on sites like lynda.com for $25 a month. The process and knowledge of how to do this is no longer expensive or a mystery. Telling a story through editing on the other hand is either something you have a feel for or something you don't.

The disadvantage is you may be too close to the material or unable to figure out solutions to story problems on your own. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes is what you really need. It really does depend on the director. Some directors want to be involved in every aspect of their films and some want to drop their footage off with an editor and see what he or she comes back with. I've done it both ways and I'm comfortable with either depending on the project. I've worked with many fine editors and learned a great deal from them.

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

BING: I learned that we are very quickly coming to a place were almost anything is possible with low cost technology. If you can dream it and visualize it, you can create it. You do not need multi-million dollar budgets or access to large studios to tell good stories and image quality is no longer a barrier to good movie making.

Check out the film’s websites: http://www.portraitofazombie.com and facebook.com/portraitofazombie

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Aron Campisano on “The Master Plan”







What was your filmmaking background before you made the film?

ARON: I went to NYU film school with guys who are now a lot more famous than me. I was a Film/TV and Cinema Studies double major, and I actually enjoyed Cinema Studies more than production. But I love both, of course.

After NYU, I became involved in multimedia and Internet video, eventually working as a producer with Disney Interactive and CNET. I then founded Filmspeed, a pre-YouTube online video distributor, which I ran for about 5 years. We were way ahead of our time and eventually went poof like many other online video companies in that era.

Where did the idea come from to make The Master Plan?

ARON: After I lost everything working 80-hour weeks at Filmspeed, making a feature film by myself seemed like a vacation. (It wasn’t a vacation.)

I wrote the first version of The Master Plan in college. It was a teen drama set in Santa Clarita, CA, a northern suburb of Los Angeles, a very orderly master planned community that always fascinated me. I spent a month there at CalArts the summer after I graduated high school.

When I was revising my original script, I stumbled across the stories of Rachel Joy Scott and Cassie Bernall, two of the kids killed at Columbine. They had become iconic, mythical figures in the evangelical Christian teen community. Their surreal, cultish teen culture was everywhere in Colorado it seemed, and I also discovered it in my backyard in L.A.

What was the process for writing the script?

ARON: It started that summer at CalArts when I would take long walks alone at night in the new neighborhoods, listening to my old Smiths CDs.

I’ve been told I’m always taking pictures, whether I have a camera in my hands or not, and I found myself incorporating these suburban images into the story that was swimming around in my head. I liked the idea of making the suburban city itself the bad guy, in a world where nothing particularly bad happened at all.

I eventually combined elements of my first script with evangelical teen themes. The suburbs, then, became the secular world, the ultimate Christian antagonist. I was raised a liberal Catholic, but I like to say I’m a practicing Atheist, so this also involved a lot of research. Evangelical teen books, music, “educational” materials, videos, etc.

I wish I found this process enlightening, but it was, in fact, very disturbing. It’s absolutely terrible what evangelical teens go through to try to survive the “real” American world and also please their wild-eyed religious parents. On the other hand, it’s not surprising that evangelicals thrive in this environment. Both are authoritarian cultures with smiling faces. Each desperate dreams.

How did you fund the film?

ARON: After Filmspeed I was totally broke, so my Dad let me borrow his credit card to shoot it. Assuming my time and others is worth nothing, I made The Master Plan for a stupefyingly small amount of money in film terms. Of course, to Dad, a Gynecologist, it was like putting a small car on a credit card, and he thought I was out of my mind.

I realize this sounds easy, but I can assure you it wasn’t. If you knew my Dad, you’d understand.

What camera did you use and what did you like or dislike about it?

ARON: The movie looks nice, and everyone assumes I shot HD, but I didn’t. HDV cameras were too expensive and unruly at the time, and the workflow was also quite pricey.

So, I used a Panasonic DVX-100e. It’s a standard-def camera and the “e” is the European PAL version of the DVX. The DVX-100e shoots 25p and is higher-res than the 24p DVX-100. It also has a 4:2:0 color space, which is noticeably better than 4:1:1 24p.

Bottom line, I color-corrected and Magic Bulleted the whole movie at 25p, and it looks much better than standard-def 24p. My point is, if you can only get your hands on a standard-def video camera, you can still make a nice little movie.

Of course, the DVX is small and light, and I took it everywhere. The “crew” was often just myself and Nicole Mosbacher, and we could be incredibly mobile, efficient and totally stealthy. I hoped to make a very small movie look big, and I think we accomplished that.

What I didn’t like about the camera is that I dropped it and snapped off the lens assembly. I had it “fixed” by some dude at a camera store because I didn’t have the time to ship it to Panasonic, and I shot the rest of the movie with a broken camera!

If I shot The Master Plan today, I’d probably use a Canon 7D DSLR (and not drop it).

What are the advantages to wearing multiple hats (director, writer, editor, etc.) on the film?

ARON: There’s one enormous advantage. If you have the skills to pull it off, you can make exactly the film you want to make, like an author writing a novel. Everyone refers to the cinematic “democratization” that digital technologies enable today, but what’s much more important is that they also enable film totalitarianism.

Film is a “collaborative art” if you’re just a director, or if you’re just a writer, or if you’re just an editor. Are movies really better when they’re made by a committee? Look around. The collaboration machine keeps telling the same stories, and worse, they make films that tell us what we already know. Independent film needs dictators.

What was the smartest decision you made during production? The dumbest?

ARON: I’m almost always over-prepared. I spend a lot of time location scouting and pre-visualizing scenes, especially run-and-gun permit-less exteriors, so I know exactly where to put the camera, how to frame the shot, and what time of day to shoot before I have actors present. At the same time I shoot a lot of B-roll so I can cut to the skyline if needed (and believe me, it’s needed). I shot more than 20 hours of B-roll “stuff” to cover all the locations in the movie.

It’s important to set goals in post-production, but I think the dumbest thing I did was to set unnecessary deadlines for finishing this or that scene, and eventually the completion of the movie. Editing, color correcting, visual effects, sound mixing… it’s brutal, terribly time consuming work. I always seemed to miss deadlines by a mile, then disappoint myself and others. I told Sarah Mahoney I thought it would take me six months to finish The Master Plan, and it took four years!

Eventually, I threw the film fest calendar out the window. When you watch your film for the thousandth time, and you know you really can’t make it better, it’s done. Then start thinking about submitting it. You need a completed film that you’re proud of first.

Final thought here: don’t submit a rough cut unless your last name is Eisner. Or, unless there’s a movie star in your film. Finish it first!

What did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?

ARON: I learned to trust my creative instincts, and realized the most important trait a film director can possess is self-belief. I grew more confident as I wrote the film, and as I made it I started to trust my intuition even when I didn’t necessarily understand certain ideas or images that I found meaningful.

I can be very literal-minded so this felt like a risky way to proceed, but the process of making The Master Plan revealed to me, if you will, what those abstractions and images meant. I was on the right track all along, and the film changed me.

As I like to say, The Master Plan had its own mind. In a strange way, it made itself.

The Master Plan (Entire Film) from Aron Campisano on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Justin Hilliard on “The Other Side of Paradise”

What was your filmmaking background before you made the film?

JUSTIN: I've been telling stories and making films since I was about eight years old. As part of Striped Socks Productions, I have written, produced, and directed two feature films, Wednesday and The Other Side of Paradise.

Where did the idea come from to make The Other Side of Paradise?

JUSTIN: We had originally planned on shooting three features back to back to back; however, as it often does, funding fell through on those films. Our production creative team was put in a position to either start over and spend another year to year and half trying to raise full funding for those films, or reassess what we could make that summer on a much lower and immediately possible budget.

We decided to go forward with the recession era filmmaking. I grabbed a few loglines, several from quite a few years ago, and pitched them to my co-producers and co-writers Arianne Martin and Ryan Hartsell. We decided on one that faintly resembles the story for The Other Side of Paradise. With that, the writing process began, and Arianne and I began to infuse a lot more of our personal relationship and history into the story. This also included a lot of Arianne's childhood experiences as an outline for the lead character, Rose.

What was the process for writing the script? How did you work with your co-writers?

JUSTIN: Once we had the idea, I locked myself away for a few nights and hammered out the main outline. Then we all got together and shaped and finalized it. After that, again, I'd lock myself away and write a couple of the scenes. I'd show Arianne first, and she'd give me her notes, then I'd show both Arianne and Ryan after I did some touch-ups. I'd apply these notes and ideas and keep writing.

This continued until the script was done. It was a lot of wine and a lot of discussion. Having your wife as one of the co-writers, co-producers, and the lead actress is a great asset for immediate notes and ideas. On the other hand, it also made for some challenging discussions, which in the end only helped the final script. Arianne and Ryan each brought very different and brilliant ideas to the table. I loved the experience.

How did you fund the film?

JUSTIN: We funded the film by selling investment units. Since, we had quite a low budget, a lot of these were able to be purchased by friends and family. We also had some outside investors that had seen our work in some capacity. In addition, we've spent a lot out of our own pockets as well. We've done all of the pre-production, production, post, distribution, and publicity on our own, while still maintaining full-time jobs.

What camera did you use and what did you like or dislike about it?

JUSTIN: We shot HD on the Panasonic HVX-200 with the Redrock Microsystems 35mm simulator adapter so we could also use prime lenses. I loved the shoot, work flow, and the final product. The only issues I had with the camera was with the adapter, it made it difficult to shoot in low light settings. We would either have to blast the scene with light or remove the adapter. It's a great system though.

What are the advantages to wearing multiple hats (director, writer, editor) on the film?

JUSTIN: On a lower budget project that is a personal passion piece, I think it is very necessary to follow your vision from conception to distribution. This lets me continually plan for the next step and phase of the filmmaking process. Most importantly, it allows for the maximum amount of planning to go into the overall marketing and distribution process for the film.

What was the smartest decision you made during production? The dumbest?

JUSTIN: The smartest decision was casting my wife, Arianne Martin, as the lead and listening to all of her casting suggestions for the film. I cast several of the leads and supporting characters based on her word alone, some even without auditions. The dumbest decision was to shoot in Texas in the summer. It was hot! But it did absolutely fit the project.

What did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?

JUSTIN: Well, we've chronicled a lot of the process in our feature documentary still in production, called 3 Thumbs Up. With each film, new lessons, ideas, and short cuts become invaluable information for your next project.

We will take this new knowledge as we continue to learn into our next feature film, the drama/sci-fi just announced called Swallow. We're very excited about this project and will shoot in early spring.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stuart Gordon on "Re-Animator"

Why did you decide to do a horror film as your first film?

STUART GORDON: First of all, I like horror films. I've always liked them. But it was also because I was told by a friend that they were the easiest kinds of movies to find financing for. The wisdom, and I think it's still true, is that no matter how badly a horror film turns out, you can always sell it to somebody and the investors will get their money back.

Why did you decide to work with the Lovecraft stories in the first place?

STUART GORDON: It began with a conversation I had with a friend. This was in the early 1980s and there were all these vampire and Dracula movies being made. I said, "I wish someone would make Frankenstein movie," because I always liked Frankenstein better. This friend said, "Have you ever read
Herbert West, Re-Animator by Lovecraft?" I had read a considerable amount of Lovecraft and I had never heard of this story.

It piqued my curiosity so I started looking for it and found that it was out of print. I eventually ended up going to the Chicago Public Library and found that they had a copy of it in their special collection. I had to fill out a postcard requesting it. A few months later they sent me a note saying I could come to the library and read it there, but I would not be able to take it out of the library. When I got there, they handed me what was essentially a pulp magazine that contained the stories. The pages were literally crumbling as I was turning them, so I asked if I could photocopy it and they allowed me to do that. The stories had been out of print for many years.

Were the stories in the public domain?

STUART GORDON: They were. All of Lovecraft's work is now public domain. This was something we didn't know at the time. We believed that we had to get the rights through Arkham House, which was the publisher of the stories.

What you usually do when you're working on something based on existing material, you do a copyright search, just to make sure that the people you're dealing with do indeed have the rights to it. We discovered that the material was public domain and that Arkham House did not have the rights. When we confronted them with this, this just sort of said, "Oh, well." They didn't argue about it at all. They knew that they had been trying to pull something.

Was one of the attractions of the piece was that it was in the public domain?

STUART GORDON: That made things a lot easier for us. We were prepared to pay something for the story. If they had asked for a lot of money, that would have been difficult, because our budget was small. Finding out that it was public domain was great, it was one less thing to worry about.

How conscious were you of budget limitations as you were writing?

STUART GORDON: With low budget, it really has to be minimalist. You have to have as few sets and locations as possible and as few characters as possible. You really have to determine what's really essential and what do I really need to tell this story. If it isn't essential, it usually will get cut.

Was there anything you learned while working on that script that you took to future writing projects?

STUART GORDON: One of the things was that when you're working on a horror film, every single scene should have some tension in it. That was one of the things we really worked on with
Re-Animator. You really can't have any scenes with people just sort of sitting around and relaxed. You have to really find the tension in each scene. There needs to be something scary about every single scene in the film, otherwise you're letting the audience off the hook. What you really want to do is to keep people on the edge of their seats all the way through.