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 www.halfaperson.com.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jordan Galland on “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead”

What was your filmmaking background before making Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead?

JORDAN: Since the age of 12 I was always writing dialogue for one act plays and screenplays, being a big fan of Woody Allen and Eric Bogosian. At NYU I took film classes and animation classes, and also began my first venture into the film "business" by optioning and adapting Coin Locker Babies - a post apocalyptic Japanese fantasy novel by Ryu Murakami - with friends Michele Civetta and Sean Lennon.

That led to a lot of meetings with producers for more screenplays, and eventually I wrote and directed my first short film, Smile for the Camera. Sean helped with me with the music and screenplay for that, and I cast all friends and shot in the woods. It was shot on Panasonic dvx100 a. I did everything myself using a suitcase filled with lights and microphones and duct tape. The only person who had acting experience is Erika Thormhalen who had been on a TV show in Vancouver. Another bit of trivia: Mila Jovotitch is in the film with a box on her head.

Here's a link to the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVPV6RjSS3k

Where did the idea come from? What was the writing process like?

JORDAN: When I was eleven I read Dracula and decided that one day, I wanted to make a vampire film. I read everything about vampires I could get my hands on.

When I was fourteen I played Rosencrantz in a high school version of Stoppard’s play, and became fascinated with the idea that old literature could be explored in new ways. I became extremely drawn to the play of Hamlet in high school and college when I found all my favorite novels alluding to it: from Moby Dick to Ulysses to Ada.

One day I thought of the title Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead and began seeing that the supernatural evil of vampires resonated within the story and language of Hamlet. I was compelled to explain these connections. The Holy Grail conspiracy was also something that intrigued me throughout my childhood, and added another exciting layer to the historical elements of my script.

It started as a period piece about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern themselves coming back as vampires. But now it's almost the opposite of that. I wanted to ground this strange concept in something I could relate to on a personal level. So I decided to make it a surreal romantic comedy about a guy (Jake Hoffman) who is in a rut: living in his dad’s office, unemployed and still in love with a gorgeous ex-girlfriend, a would-be actress, who has moved on to dating a rich older man.

When his dad forces him to go for a job interview directing an off Broadway adaptation of Hamlet called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead he finds renewed self-esteem, but his problems don’t go away. His best friend, who is playing Hamlet, starts to think the other actors are vampires, and the author / star of the play, a pale creepy dude (John Ventimiglia) starts hitting on his ex-friend and casts her as Ophelia. By the time the hero realizes they are all in danger of being turned into vampires, it’s too late. With help from a secret society, the hero learns that the Holy Grail is somewhere near by, and that it is their only chance of survival. Not gonna give away the ending.

How did you fund the film?

JORDAN: I showed the script to a number of different production companies and small studios, who wanted the film to fit a specific formula, not combine different genres. I needed to find people who were hungry enough and willing to take a chance on a romantic comedy involving Shakespeare, vampires and the Holy Grail. After teaming up with Mike Landry, and talking to multiple investors, I found one that liked the project and believe in me, and he founded the whole thing.

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

JORDAN: I chose the red camera because the budget was so small, and the red offered the diverse range I wanted to tell a story that’s a romantic comedy with some pretty dark and intricate back story, involving Shakespeare, vampires and the holy grail. Every other camera we looked at which fit our budget cheapened the experience of those epic and expansive themes.

Using the red camera more than just a positive experience, like taking a really good poetry class and bonding with the professor. It’s like finding out that the poem you wrote is magically channeling creatures from other dimensions. Imagine how exciting that is! I would watch the dailies and think: this looks and feels like I imagined it. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the movie is never gonna be as good as it is in your head before you set out to make it… and it’s probably mostly true, but this camera makes it a little less true.

You wore a couple of hats on the production -- Writer, director, producer. What's the upside and the downside to doing that?

JORDAN: You have more creativity and freedom when you write, direct and produce.

But like everything in the universe, it's a trade off, because after you make the movie, you're all on your own. We found great people to work with after, like Maren Olson at
Traction who became our sales rep, and then Indican who became our distributor, but still, there's no money for proper advertising and promotion.

So you become a slave to your own creation, and you stand outside the theater handing out flyers and wearing a sandwich board, just to get the word out that the film is playing.

That actually got the film extended in NYC.

I'm currently in the process of working with other writers to direct their scripts and
selling my original scripts to companies for other directors to work. And I think either way, I'm thrilled.

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

JORDAN: The smartest thing I did - besides hand-picking the cast and crew, and often playing chicken with deadlines and waiting till beyond the last minute to get the person I knew I wanted - the smartest thing was getting Dan Schector to come on at the eleventh hour and do another editorial pass with fresh eyes.

This is not to discredit Conner Kalista's amazing work as an editor. But the truth is, a film goes through so many different processes, that you owe it the film to have two editors, one to start and put the film together, one to come in with fresh eyes and hack away and remodel. When Dan Schecter came in to edit the film, it was three weeks before the premiere at Slamdance, which means it was literally over Christmas holiday, which means we had a working edit of the film locked for six months already, which means I had to reconform the sound edit myself, and redo the color correct all before our premiere. It was literally the hardest part of the process, but definitely the smartest thing I did.

The stupidest thing I did. Ahh, there were so many stupid things. Some of them turned into lucky accidents. But to name one: thinking that the play within the movie was going to play out "dramatically" in real time. As you see, it's now a funny montage. Again, editing saved the day. So it worked out in the end.

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

JORDAN: Always hire two editors, at least.

Always try to hire a musician to score the film who can get the soundtrack released (Sean was awesome and I was lucky!)

Always fight more than you feel comfortable doing to get a recognizable cast, and don't let your friends with no credits under their belt guilt you into casting them in your film (unless they are perfect for the role.)

Storyboard everything.

Watch True Romance with the Tony Scott's director's commentary on before entering pre-production.

Work with people who you trust to challenge you in the right way, because you will think you are done with writing, or editing, or something, and they will remind you you're only half done.

Now I feel like I'm giving advice, but this is advice I need to take myself. I want to constantly be reminded to work harder. So that means picking people who demand that of me.



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: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3134641/. 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.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Katie Aselton on "The Freebie"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Freebie?

KATIE: Honestly, my only background in filmmaking was watching and collaborating with Mark and Jay Duplass. I acted in their short films, Scrapple and The Intervention, and went on to not only act in, but also co-produce their feature film, The Puffy Chair. And I have been present for all their films since. Being close to them and watching their process from the moment of conception to the moment of completion was and still is an incredible education.

What was the genesis of this movie -- how was it developed and written?

KATIE: This movie was born out of unemployment! I was an actor who wasn't booking anything and when you're married to Mark Duplass, you realize that, if you have the idea and you have the passion, there's no excuse to not execute it.

The truth of the matter is that I am surrounded by an incredibly talented safety net that I knew and respected and trusted to not let me fall on my ass. So once the idea of this seemingly fine couple giving themselves the freedom of one night with someone else came to me, it all happened very quickly from there.

I wrote the outline that we shot from (the movie was 100% improvised) and a number of people from the aforementioned safety net jumped on board - Ben Kasulke (our d.p.), Nat Sanders (our editor) - and through them, we were introduced to other amazing people - Adele Romanski (our producer), Hillary Spera (our 2nd shooter), Sean O'Malley (sound) -- and we created this awesome collaborative team who loved this story and shared a vision of how to tell it.
Were you always planning to both act and direct it?

KATIE: Yup

How did you fund the film?

KATIE: We paid for it out of Mark's and my own bank account... couch cushion money, really. And then we cut some serious corners shooting in our house, cooking our own meals, begging many favors from many friends, etc.

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

KATIE: We shot on two Sony EX3s and I was really happy with the look of the film... I think it's incredibly cinematic for video. I have a hard time thinking of the "worst thing" about it, really.

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

KATIE: I fired our lead actor 3 days into shooting, which could have been the dumbest thing I could have ever done, except for the fact that we ended up with Dax Shepard, which was by far the smartest thing I could have ever done for this movie! He and his performance just blew me out of the water! I was so pleased.

The previous actor just wasn't enjoying the process... he wasn't comfortable improvising and instead of embracing it, he became very guarded and defensive and incredibly hard to work with. And when it comes down to it, when no one is making any money, you all better be having a good experience.

I love doing what we do. What we do is fun! Don't get me wrong... it's hard and exhausting and it takes a toll on every part of your life, but I can promise you, if I’m lucky enough to be running the set, I’m going to do everything within my power to make sure the vibe is great and that the people are good, and they want to come to work everyday!

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

KATIE: I learned I can kinda do this! Which is exciting and terrifying all at the same time... it's a whole new world open to me and I have only dipped my toe in, but I’m excited to go deeper!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Eric Bogosian on "subUrbia"


What point were you at in your career before you started the play version of subUrbia?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: Talk Radio (the play and the film) as well as the solo show Sex, Drugs Rock & Roll had garnered much greater interest in my work. Most importantly, excellent young actors were attracted to my script.

Do you begin with story, character or theme?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I begin with character and theme. The theme dances around in my head, almost like an editing device as I put my characters in motion with a story. But before anything, I think of the people who will populate my stage.

In the case of subUrbia, I began with five student actors in workshop playing the characters. I had them simply hanging out and discussing a variety of topics. There was no plot to speak of in the first set of pages.

How did you create the characters?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: The characters are there within me. They are the archetypes I "need" to conceptualize my inner world. In the case of subUrbia the cast of characters derived almost directly from the cast of characters who, in my mind, represent my friends from my high school days.

In some cases, the characters are transpositions of myself. There are parts of myself in Jeff, Pony, Sooze and Nazeer.

How important is having a theme before you start to write?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I always begin with a theme. It usually morphs as I'm writing but in the long run, the theme must have importance for me in the present, as I'm writing. I need the theme to do my writing, but I don't mind if the audience doesn't see the theme or misunderstands what the theme is.

In the case of subUrbia I don't think many people "got" the theme as I originally conceived it. (And what is that? you might ask. My answer is: Too complicated to explain, that's why I write plays. If I wrote themes, I would be a scholar and write thesisses.)

When it came time to adapt it into a screenplay, were you writing to a specific, pre-determined budget?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I'm sure there was a set budget, but I didn't know what it was. Rick Linklater acted as producer with his company. All I knew was that we would hew closely to the play and that I could "open" up to other locales if I so wished. And I did.

In making the adaptation, were there any moments that you hated to lose?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: No. I look at movies very differently than stage. If a moment is a moment that works on film, I keep it. But film demands that the story continue to unfold. That being the case, I snipped away at some of the longer more static speeches in the play and I don't regret it.

How did you work with Linklater?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: Rick gave me my head, so to speak. He wanted the screenplay to be as close to what I wanted as it could be. We created a script that we liked, that met the needs for length. I did all the cutting of the original.

We ironed out some thematic/action aspects in the last moments, especially when Tim is telling off Jeff in the parking lot, throwing food at the store. It had taken the entire run of the play and another production of the play for me to understand what was really happening there.

Beyond that, we reached a conundrum at the very end, tried different endings, actually shot them and finally decided to stick with what we had.

What did you learn from working on that script that you still use today?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: It's good to have a sense of how the director is going to shoot the film, what sort of style. In this case, Rick used a lot of two-shots and it was constructive to know that in terms of scene rhythm.

Do you think there's really such a thing as an "independent" movie?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I don't know what "independent" means to other people. Having written and acted for film and television studios, I do feel that the corporate presence overloads the writing task at hand with "too many cooks."

My two features (subUrbia and Talk Radio, directed by Oliver Stone) and one TV series (High Incident with Steven Spielberg) were all "independent" of the studio in that the directors acted as producers. As such they were "independent" and as such, they gave me my independence.

Given our track record, I'm for more independence, especially for seasoned directors like Stone and Linklater. Once a director has established himself or herself, I think a studio should let him do his thing.

When that happens, and it does, (Gus Van Sant, Robert Altman, Tim Burton), the result is "independent" cinema.