Thursday, August 25, 2011

Adam Reid on "Hello Lonesome"

What was your filmmaking background before making Hello Lonesome?

ADAM: I didn't go to film school. Or any school really. I was always a terrible student and find the very best way to learn is by doing and then seeking out those who simply know more than me and are willing to share their experiences.

I moved to New York many moons ago for a six-week freelance gig working for the promo department at Comedy Central. This was a big jump for me, as I was living in Los Angeles at the time and didn't even know anyone in New York. That six-week gig turned into several years, and I was given the magical opportunity to write, produce and direct promos for a living. This opened up my eyes to the possibilities, a playground to learn in, and for the first time I felt my dreams were within reach.

I left Comedy Central but continued to work behind the camera as a writer and director, making my first film, a short (available on iTunes) called While the Widow is Away. I'm so proud of this little film. It starred Lynn Cohen and Kamel Boutros, two actors who I wrote juicy roles for in Hello Lonesome and were kind enough to work with me again.

Making the short was a big baptism by fire introduction to filmmaking. The twenty minute short film was basically rejected from over 40 festivals. Then we were accepted to CineQuest and that felt like a huge victory at the time.

Shortly after that, we started winning awards at festivals all over. A road that eventually saw us short-listed for an academy award (but ultimately falling short of the nomination. With ten films selected and only five nominations. Our odds were 50/50!) I was crushed that we didn't get the nod, but the entire experience told me that this was much more than a pipe dream, I could call myself a filmmaker and expand my ambitions to feature length projects.

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

ADAM: My very favorite films are often these character driven stories of an intertwining nature. Stories cut from the cloth of life, featuring the beautiful but messy nature of things and a hopeful vibe. I think of my favorite films from directors like Robert Altman, Alejandro Inarritu or the duo from American Splendor, Shari Springer Bergman and Robert Pulcini. There is a humanity and warmth there behind all the drama, and I wanted to find that line. Early in the development I wanted to try and weave three stories together like a braid. It was a big experiment for me.

From my background in promos and commercials, I have a lot of experience working with voice over artists and that's where I had the idea for the character of Bill Soap. Most of the successful voice over guys work from their idyllic homes where they have sound studios which are tucked away in a closet or basement. I think for a lot of people that kind of life is alluring but it's a double edged sword, if you don't have your shit together and healthy relationships, I can't imagine a more lonely profession.

At the same time, I had just lost my sister to advanced breast cancer and was working through that loss by writing my sister’s story. Less the cancer part and much more the romance that came as a byproduct of that discovery. My sister met a guy online, just like in Hello Lonesome, shortly before she found out she was sick and he stayed with her. Writing Hello Lonesome was in large part a way for me to work through what happened to her. As depressing as it sounds, there's a lot of joy in that story. She was in a bit of denial about the whole thing but at least she wasn't alone.

For the third story, I wanted more than anything to take full advantage of Lynn Cohen again and her huge talent. I wrote this role of a rudderless widow just for her. Lynn is just so saucy and full of life that I wanted to create an unconventional love story for her. This story changed the most as we made the film, I was very lucky to have James Urbaniak (who played Crumb in American Splendor) in the role opposite her. That part was written for a much older actor, but Lynn and James made these parts their own completely. The best I could do was get out of their way and let them chew up the scenery (in a good way.)

I write quickly. It takes me forever to outline and work out the story, just ages, maybe a year or more just thinking about the story and breaking it all down. But when it comes to writing action and dialogue, that happens very fast. About three weeks or so writing the screenplay itself. Then Hello Lonesome went through several distinct drafts and title changes. Then there's so much improv on set that the last rewrite comes in the edit as we piece it together.

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

ADAM: Hello Lonesome was a VERY small movie. Self financed for less than $50,000 and shot in fifteen days with a principle crew that consisted of myself and four other brave souls. With the stakes low, I wasn't as afraid to wear multiple hats. This was a big learning process for me and I got the most out of the experience this way. Writing, producing, directing, shooting, art directing and pretty much working as my own production assistant. Our gaffer was also the DIT tech and camera assistant. Our Make-Up stylist doubled as a script supervisor. Everyone did many jobs, we had a small footprint but it was fun and doable this way. The focus would be on character and story over visuals. Working on this small scale was quite liberating compared to what I'm used to on commercial shoots where we can spend five times our entire film budget in one day.

With such a low investment, I'm hopeful we can make our money back with just the limited theatrical, video on demand (now through November) and future DVD sales. It was very important to me that this first film not need to be profitable in order to be considered a success. It's enough that it exists. A good metaphor would be comparing the budget to Vegas spending money. I only spent what I could afford to lose. I knew I was paying for the experience and joy of the thing. If we walk away with anything in the end, that would be a big bonus. But it's not expected and that makes the ride that much more fun and less stressful.

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

ADAM: In just the few years since I shot Hello Lonesome, all the technology has changed. In the summer of 2008 when we shot, I chose the Panasonic HVX for it's built in Leica zoom lens and tapeless HD recording. Now, with the HD SLR revolution in full effect, the HVX seems primitive and outdated. This is the greatest time to be a low budget filmmaker from a creative standpoint. We could have easily shot with the same budget today, but with the glorious lenses I love and a much richer look overall. Expect my next film to be gorgeous! There's no excuse anymore!

You wore a lot of hats on this project -- director, writer, producer, DP. What's the upside and the downside of working that way?

ADAM: For this film, on this small scale, it was perfect. I can't say that this is a great way to work on all projects but as a learning experience and an intimate creative process was exactly what I needed to do. That said, it's likely never to be repeated, at least not exactly the same way.

I work with some truly uber-talented folks who I can't wait to rope into my next film. And I doubt I'll ever take on the sole responsibility of being the only camera operator. To that end, I doubt I'll ever shoot with only one camera again.

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

ADAM: One smart thing that I plan to do as much as possible from here on out is having the real world stand in for itself. In the case of Hello Lonesome, we didn't even have a production designer or art director. I chose real world locations (which were all donated) as the backdrop in all three stories. This left very little for our tiny production team to fill in, little props here and there, but we never needed to build anything, or make a place look like something it wasn't. We could show up with the actors and get right to work by just placing them in the environment. It helped to cast the locations like I cast actors. When I cast, I look for actors who are as close to the role as humanly possible so we can get to the real work of mining their soul.

I have one scene in the movie that features great dialogue that moves the story forward and utterly horrible picture. I made the mistake of mounting a camera on the hood (for production value) not really understanding at the time that the glare from the front windshield and shake from the moving vehicle would make the resulting footage unusable. I've since learned a ton about car shooting (by shooting car commercials no less) and have a handful of low budget solutions to get beautiful images from actors in car scenes with very simple set-ups. To this day, I wish I reshot that scene but Lynn and James are great and it gets good laughs despite the lousy picture so I decided to live with it. I literally cover my eyes when I get to this scene.

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

ADAM: It's an insanely tough business. But with the right attitude, anything is possible. Refine your dreams, evolve, and make shit happen every day.

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