Thursday, October 27, 2011

Travis Mills on “The Big Something”

What was your filmmaking background before making The Big Something?

TRAVIS: I went to film school at ASU and made a few shorts but things didn't really take out till I started Running Wild Films with Gus Edwards in 2010. We threw out tradition and rejected the culture around us. Filmmakers like Godard, Herzog, and Cassavetes were our models, in terms of their passion and their urge to make films without the restrictions of Hollywood structures and techniques. We made shorts fast and cheap, exploring genres and styles.

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

TRAVIS: The idea came from my days working in a record store in Tempe, Arizona. The employees and the customers were bizarre people who left lasting impressions and they had to be fictionalized somehow. With the help of a sketch comedy writer Ryan Gaumont, these characters made their way into a mystery plot.

The writing process went slower than I hoped. I think the best way to write screenplays is very fast, the way I've read the old Studio pros worked back in the 30s and 40s. We worked out the problems and finished but I learned not to over-think a first draft.

Can you talk about how you made the movie for $2,000 -- where did you cut corners and what did you spend the $2,000 on?

TRAVIS: I have to say that everyone I talked to thought I was crazy to make a feature for $2,000. But it had been done before and I knew there were clever ways to get around spending money. I found locations with co-operative owners, restaurants to give us food for free, and actors/crew hungry and passionate enough to work for the experience. You can't go into one of these projects asking how much it's going to cost; you have to think, "how am I going to get it for nothing?" You never know what you'll get as long as you have the guts to ask.

I spent most of the budget we had on our record store location (a beautiful place of the past essential to the movie) and picking up some extra equipment. If I hadn't produced the movie myself, if I'd had some help, we could have done it for cheaper.

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

TRAVIS: We used a Canon T3i. We'd worked with that one once before and others like it a few times. I'm not very technical; I suspend that side of production to my DP and crew so I can focus on story and performance. To be honest, how it looks is the least of my concerns and I think that modern film is dominated by great-looking images and poor stories.

However, I enjoy the size of the camera and how easy it is to use. On the bad side, I think the DSLRs can easily seduce you into focus and depth of field issues that will trap your movie in a visual box.

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

TRAVIS: The smartest: to trust my instincts and not over-analyze my decisions. Often times, we were faced with the possibility of doing something ridiculous in a scene (mostly concerning performance). Some of us might have felt scared because this style of acting was unordinary or outlandish. But my gut said, "go with it." It was instinct filmmaking, not an intellectual process, and that's how I like it.

The dumbest: I scheduled the fourteen days of production pretty well. One of my mistakes came as quite a surprise. I purposely made the last four days of production light and easy on cast and crew. This move produced the opposite effect than I hoped. Instead of appreciation for time to rest, it was greeted with laziness. The set turned lethargic and I struggled to bring the energy back up. I learned not to make things easy; people don't respect easy.

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

TRAVIS: We're just now starting work on our next feature, The Detective's Lover. Like I said before, I've learned to trust my instincts completely, however outlandish the ideas may be. Only this way can we learn to make original movies.

Beyond that, I feel that I don't know my characters well enough and that maybe I haven't pushed my actors to also know them as well as they should. I'm going challenge myself and them to the limit.

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