Thursday, December 8, 2011

Barry Canty on “L.A. Proper”

What was your filmmaking background before making L.A. Proper?

BARRY: I did not go to film school, and although it obviously isn’t necessary, I feel it is a shortcoming of mine and limits me as a filmmaker. I chose to go to Wake Forest University for the basketball scholarship they offered, and when my interest in filmmaking was sparked during my junior year, I was disappointed to find out that not only was there no film school, there weren’t even any filmmaking classes. However, I minored in theatre and began writing one act plays my senior year.

A few years out of college, while working as a model in New York and Miami, I wrote my first screenplay, a drama called Brevard. The script was about a group of kids who run away from a small town in the North Carolina mountains and make a suicide pact to never return, and is an homage to one of my favorite films, Badlands.

Brevard was optioned by indie producer Richard Harding, who went on make the 2010 movie The First Grader, starring Naomie Harris. A funny tidbit: A pre-DUI/cocaine/shoplifting Lindsey Lohan was attached to play the lead. Unfortunately, Brevard was never made.

After that, I created and co-starred in the web series Net Profits. Net Profits is about a group of hard-partying college kids in L.A. who sell drugs online and get mixed up with organized crime.

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

BARRY: I am a huge fan of Woody Allen, Kevin Smith and Ed Burns, and self-referential art has always appealed to me. The idea for L.A. Proper was born out of the contrast between the way Los Angeles is depicted in films and on television, with the reality of the city I was experiencing on a daily basis.

There is a notion that many who have never lived in Los Angeles have about the city, and it is that L.A. is mostly populated by people trying to make it in the entertainment industry...and gangbangers. That ain’t exactly an accurate assessment, and when I first moved here I found a lot of humor in the clumsy interactions I witnessed between people from various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and, unlike in the movie Crash - which I find to be one of the more unintentionally funny movies ever made about Los Angeles - I wanted to examine this through humor.

The lives of the eclectic group of friends I had assembled provided points of view that were not generally taken into consideration by filmmakers who set their movies in L.A., so I decided to tell a story that works as a sort of tour of a more accurate depiction of Los Angeles...with jokes about sex, race, immigration and unemployment.

One of my favorite movies about L.A. is Swingers, so I decided to steal ideas from the development process used on that project. I heard about the live readings Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn did around Hollywood to draw the attention of potential investors, so I held auditions and set up a staged reading of the script at a performance space in Santa Monica.

Many of the actors in the film were part of that reading and it gave me confidence that the material didn’t suck completely and that my characters were at least relatable.

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

BARRY: I quickly came to the realization that there was no way I would ever be able to raise enough money to make the movie as it was written in its original form. Luckily, the story isn’t plot driven and the humor is mostly in the dialogue, so I came up with the idea of placing the characters primarily in places that could serve as multiple movie locations that I knew I could get for free or at minimal cost (we actually ended up only paying for two locations).

I used my apartment, the homes of friends and exterior locations throughout Los Angeles and Orange County that we could steal. We did have permits for some scenes, but it was surprisingly easy to shoot guerilla-style when needed. The budget for L.A. Proper was a combination of my own cash, credit cards and money from friends and family.

In terms of recouping the budget, in May 2010, the movie was purchased by a small east coast distributor. I had never heard of the company prior to being contacted by them, but they offered an advance and guarantee equal to 60% of the budget. Unfortunately, after only receiving the advance, due to a breach of contract caused by their failure to release the movie as scheduled in May 2011, I am now in the process of suing the company.

After considering how lucky I was to get ANY money from my ultra low budget movie with a no name cast, I decided to make L.A. Proper available for free on Youtube and Facebook in August of this year. Unfortunately, due to Youtube’s file size restrictions on my account, I’m not able to present it in full HD, but if something’s funny, it should work no matter the resolution.

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

BARRY: L.A. Proper was shot with the Canon HVX200. I can’t really say I hated anything about it. Our cinematographer, Valentina Caniglia, has a lot of experience shooting documentaries in HD and she was able to adapt to all of the shooting situations we were in.

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

BARRY: My smartest act as a director on L.A. Proper actually took place during post production. Once I came to grips with the fact that my limitations and lack of experience as a filmmaker prevented me from executing some of my more ambitious goals, I embraced how the editing process could conceal some of my failures.

The original cut was bracketed by two overly long sequences that didn’t work and are no longer part of the movie. I decided to take the approach of first removing anything that I felt was weak - scenes, moments, bits of dialogue - no matter how strong my emotional attachment to it was.

I then worked on figuring out a way to tell a coherent story - even though it’s very different from my original script - with the pieces that were left over. I mercilessly trimmed almost 30 minutes, and I think I now have a comedy that makes you laugh while you’re watching, but subtly suggests that I have more on my mind than just jokes...and then ends before you get sick of it. In my opinion, that is what a humorist should always attempt to do.

The dumbest thing was to failing to recognize how superfluous some scenes were. Due to the brief shooting schedule (12 days) and my duties as director and co-star, I was unable to watch dailies, and I actually didn’t start seeing footage until halfway through the shoot.

In the final cut of the movie, many of the most difficult to film scenes are nowhere to be found. This is time that I wish I had used for the most important sequences to create more options for my editor to play with. We have many scenes in the movie, with multiple actors, where we only shot one take!

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

BARRY: Writing: Less is more, more or less.

Directing: I come from a sports background, and while some aspects of the communication style used in that arena can be applied to filmmaking, plenty others cannot. Athletes are taught to adjust to their coach, but when you’re a nobody director, co-starring in a low budget movie that you wrote, the smartest and most efficient thing to do is quickly figure out how each cast member ticks, what communication style they prefer, and do whatever you have to do to get the performance you want out of them.

Marketing: I can’t overemphasize the importance of marketing your film and yourself. L.A. Proper won the Heineken Red Star Filmmaker Award and I was profiled in Variety and on IFC.com, but due to the fact this all happened after my first time having a movie at a film festival, I wasn’t ready, nor did I know, how to capitalize on the exposure. I now appreciate the value of marketing a project during pre-production, production and post production, and I plan to do that for the web series I’ll be creating based on L.A. Proper (see, I just did it!).


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