Thursday, July 28, 2011

Brian Douglas on “I’m Just Saying”

What was your filmmaking background before making I'm Just Saying?

BRIAN: I actually did not really have a filmmaking background prior to making I’m Just Saying. I am what you might call someone who just gets something in his head and goes and does it. And, I wanted to make a movie. However, I did have an entertainment background. I had worked in Programming at the Hallmark Channel and On Air Promotions at FX Networks as well as International Publicity for A&M Records.

The bulk of what I knew about film I definitely learned at the Hallmark Channel where I was extremely lucky to be trained by some of the best in TV. I was part of a team who created the master on-air movie schedule and helped decide what movies Hallmark Channel would air, so I experienced first-hand how decisions were made behind the scenes and learned what truly made a good movie and what may hurt a movie.

As part of original programming, I was also fortunate enough to see how movies were created from the early stages of writing all the way through the marketing and on-air promotion planning. This experience definitely helped me when I decided to launch the I’m Just Saying project.

Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?

BRIAN: I originally came up with the idea when I was in undergrad, but it took years for the story to materialize in a way I felt comfortable sharing. Over time, I realized that some of my initial thoughts did not work well and felt that some of them were too “in your-face,” which was not my goal. I wanted something that would be genuine, honest and fair for all audiences. It wasn’t until I actually began writing that the story-line was fully conceived.

My goal was to treat the audience as intelligent while taking on issues such as politics, religion, and sexuality. It was important to me to focus on using non-preachy dialogue in the movie because nobody wants to be preached to or told what to think. At the same time, I wanted to bring humor to the conversations in a way that challenges without offending and keeps people talking about the movie long after they have watched it, which from the feedback I have heard, is happening…so that makes me extremely happy.

The writing process was actually pretty exciting, though difficult. After playing around with my writing for years, (and after reading the book Story by Robert McKee) I decided to follow his advice and write my screenplay as a book first, all the while, knowing that the plan was to actually turn the book back into a screenplay in the end.

After I completed the book, turning it back into a screenplay was challenging at times, as it was difficult to cut out all of the thoughts and emotions I had written into the story. But, at the same time, it was nice to be able to cut parts out of the book that I felt needed to be cut for one reason or another.

Did you use any improvisation -- either in the writing process with the actors, or actually on-camera?

BRIAN: Yes, I used improvisation in both the writing process and parts of the filming. After choosing the actors, one of the things that was very important to me was that the actors make the characters their own. I felt this would allow them to be more genuine and believable. So, I told the actors that if there were lines they felt did not fit, or maybe they had some lines of their own they believed their character might say, let me know, and as long as it did not conflict directly with anything in the story, I was all for the writing adaptations.

In addition, we also shot three scenes which were almost completely improvised. I knew what I wanted and what I needed for the story, so I just told the actors to hit on a few major points while digging more into their characters; and, just have fun with it. We let the camera roll and they started exploring and it worked perfectly. They were fantastic! I was so happy with how it turned out.

Editing the improv was especially enjoyable, because I was able to create mini-stories from their improv. I ended up using parts from two of the three improv scenes in the movie and the only reason I did not use parts of the third scene was because I wanted to keep the movie around 90 minutes in length.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

BRIAN: Our film was a micro-budget picture, so I used my savings, some of my retirement, and credit cards to finance the movie. I figure we only live once, and I had a fantastic opportunity to make a movie and just could not pass it up. My friend Michael Morris (our Director of Photography) had some time in between his other projects and basically said to me, “Brian, if you want to do it, now’s the time”…so, we did it.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

BRIAN: We used the JVC HD-100U, a versatile camera they first started using as a B-camera on "24" a few years ago. It is one of the first professional instances they started using digital to be intercut with 35mm footage. However, due to budget constraints on our movie, we were unable to afford the various shallow focus lenses which give that fashion photography look to a lot of features.

Instead, we made strategic use of the Fujinon stock zoom lens, being careful to shoot actors' close-ups with a specific focal length to gain a similar depth of field effect (when the background falls out of focus). The other great thing is that we were able to shoot all of the exterior night stuff with just construction work lights and china balls, thanks to the camera's optical chip light sensitivity.

Did the movie change much during the editing process, and if so, how?

BRIAN: The biggest change to the movie during the editing process was the addition of the soundtrack, which definitely enhanced the final product. From the very beginning, I had music in mind and actually wrote music into the storyline of the screenplay. I love music and truly believe that the right music is like an additional character in the movie. It can make you happy, sad, intense, etc, etc and choosing the right music was as important as choosing the right cast member for each part.

I was extremely lucky to have such phenomenal musicians/bands in my movie. From the very beginning of the movie, the music takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions from start to finish. Forty Marshas (Goo Goo Dolls’ Mike Malinin), Rene Reyes (Ruby James, Katrina Carlson), The Green Car Motel (featured in Collateral, Seven Pounds, Next), Into The Obscure, Pedraum Pardehpoosh, Charm the Moon, Josh Postler, and Tara Hill provided the music to the movie.

The film itself only changed a little bit here and there once we hit post-production. A few times I felt that the dialogue needed to be tweaked, so I was able to cut different lines out here or there, or sometimes I would move a line around to keep the timing the way I needed it and to shorten a couple of scenes.

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

BRIAN: The smartest thing I did was read as many books as possible prior to shooting, especially books that were directly relevant to what I was trying to do, such as Rebel Without A Crew by Robert Rodriguez. I also listened to as many DVD special features sections as I could to understand what the different directors were doing and thinking when they made their movies. I especially remember listening to Edward Burns’ commentary from his film Brothers McMullen.

One of reasons I felt this was smart was that these books and special features helped me to understand how important it is to get the right cast. We looked through hundreds if not thousands of headshots and brought in somewhere around 75-100 people to read for our five main characters. By doing that we were able to get five amazing actors who really strengthened the final product. The number of lines they were able to memorize and deliver with truly awesome performances makes the movie. They were wonderful. I would hire all of them again in a minute.

To add to that, I trusted the advice of those around me. If Michael, our DP, had a suggestion, I trusted his expertise and let him do whatever he thought was best. Actually, I would go so far as to say that the smartest thing I did was trust all of those around me to do what they were there to do and what they did best.

My one regret was that I should have hired more crew to help out, such as a full-time sound man to help the DP, and more people to help with lighting and set arrangements. Our days were long and we were worn out by the end of each day. As a first-time director, I simply did not realize how many people it would take and I took on too much at times, and sometimes asked too much of those around me. In the end, everyone around just helped where they could and worked incredibly hard, especially Michael, our DP; Tara, our line producer; Josh, our boom operator; and, the cast.

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

BRIAN: I learned how important it is to rehearse the dialogue out loud in front of an eclectic audience. This is critical because it is not until you hear a line play out loud that you will fully understand how it is heard and responded to by an audience. I applied this concept to my current screenplay, which I am in the process of shopping.

SPECIAL OFFER: The first ten (10) readers who email Brian will get a free copy of the the DVD for "I'm Just Saying." Send an email to:, along with your mailing address and he'll send you the DVD. (Sorry, this offer is only available to folks with mailing addresses in the U.S.)

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