Thursday, September 22, 2011

Frazer Bradshaw on "Everything Strange and New"

Where did the idea for the script from and what was the writing process like? As primarily a cinematographer, do you think you approached the writing differently than a non-cinematographer might have?

FRAZER: I'm going to answer these first two question together: Because I'm a cinematographer, by trade, and because I spent three years in a fine arts high school and five years at the San Francisco Art Institute, I'm very steeped in the visual. That being the case, I don't so much write, as much as visualize.

The film came to me in visual cinematic moments; not so much as pieces that helped flesh out a treatment, but just as pieces that I had to figure out what to do with. It was like a puzzle that I didn't have the box cover for, in a way. It was really a bunch of cinematic moments that just felt right and I figured out how to fit them together.

I wrote without a treatment and didn't see the climax coming until I was almost to the end, and the other pivotal moment came, very much as I wrote it; I was almost as surprised as it I typed it out as the audience is when they see it on the screen.

How did you juggle your two on-set roles -- director and DP?

FRAZER: First, I'll say that I had to be my own DP. For me, the story and the visual storytelling are so intertwined that to not shoot it would have meant a major compromise (or driving my DP completely insane because I was making 90% of the decisions for him/her).

There's definitely a notion that one shouldn't be one's own DP, and it's definitely true of people who aren't DPs and don't have that skill set. And I imagine that it would be true on a large scale project with lots of levels of middle management. But for me, on this particular film, it was obvious and really quite easy.

I had a crew of about 11, so I had personal contact with everyone on set, and there was a distinct family feel because of that. I hired my best people from productions I shoot, so I had a team of highly skilled technicians, but also people who were genuinely good people and who had my and the film's best interest at heart.

That being the case, it was a well-oiled machine. Everyone had my back. And I never argued with the DP about anything :-) I very much knew what I wanted, going in, and we pretty much shot what we went in for and got out.

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

FRAZER: I had $40K in the bank and I decided to make the film for $40K if it came to that. Luckily, it didn't (that would have been very tough and probably would have shown up on the screen), and in the 11th hour, a producer friend introduced me to Steve Bannatyne at Lucky Hat Entertainment. Steve came on for the money I needed to get though production, comfortably, plus the money to get me though post. It was still an exceedingly small budget, but it was designed to be, from the start, and we were able to work comfortably within the low budget confines, since it was a lot more than $40K

As for getting my money back, well…it's going to take 10 years, and maybe we'll never see all of it. People often come to me, now, and say: you made a successful indie film, it played Sundance, won prizes, got a Spirit nomination and more, what direction can you give me to make my film successful. My reply is something like this: If you want to be successful, DO NOT MAKE A MOVIE!

If you have something to say, and saying it is so important that ending up on your death bed without having made this movie will mean having failed, then you HAVE to make your movie. But if you want to be successful and be famous and get rich and laid by hottie chicks, then please go back to your day job at the financial services company.

If you're making a truly indie film, you have to make it with as much sincerity and honesty as you can. You've got to be vulnerable and pull no punches. If you make a film that is truly honest, then you have a good shot at real success (the kind that is deeply gratifying), but don't bother with the fake success, because the odds are 1000:1, at best (and that's no exaggeration).

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

FRAZER: I shot it in Super 16 with my Aaton. I'd been shooting on my Aaton for close to ten years at that point (fall of 2007), and I knew it well and loved it dearly. At the time, there was no digital camera that I would have considered. The RED and the Silicon Imaging cameras were both barely out and very dysfunctional technologies, not to mention still very expensive to rent. If I were shooting it again, today, I'd be shooting it on my RED, but in that moment, film was the only viable option.

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

FRAZER: During post, we moved some scenes around, but the heart of the project didn't change. Things shifted to help develop characters or pace things better, but the meaning is still intact and not much ended up on the cutting room floor. I didn't feel my way though it, I knew what I wanted going in, so that meant that I more or less had what I'd set out to get, once I was in post.

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

FRAZER: The smartest is easy, and also my very best advice: Hire the best people you can find. And I don't mean just the best at their craft, I mean the best people; people who's heart is in helping you make a great film.

I have to say that I didn't do anything very dumb. The privilege of working as a DP on indie projects for 12 years before making my own film was that I got to watch a lot of people make a lot of dumb decisions and also to make a lot of smart decisions. I went into production knowing what the consequences would be of most of the decisions I was making, so there were no disasters.

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

FRAZER: I learned how important character development is and how critical it is for the characters to be authentic, recognizable and likable. In my work, at least, everything hinges on the depth of the character development, and I'd underestimated how critical that would be. Luckily, I had the material to get the characters to where they needed to be, but in the first editorial pass, it was missing and I was afraid I might have sunk my own ship. On the new project, I'm writing, I've been very cognizant of my characters’ development and particularly of their introductions (because movies are like life in that the first impression really matters).

The other thing I learned is that I have to trust myself. Feedback is indispensable, and no one can really make a good film without a bunch of good feedback, but there are certain decisions and approaches that people tried to talk me out of, but I knew, in my gut, were right for the film, and I kept those elements against the better judgment of others. Some of those choices were quite unorthodox, and were risky, but making them and standing by them has a lot to do with why the film has had the reception it has (mostly good, sometimes really bad).

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