Thursday, June 30, 2011

Manuel Da Silva on “The Unleashed”

What was your filmmaking background before making The Unleashed?

MANNY: I took some courses in the mid 90's regarding film technique, but I’ve always felt that working on set and with actors to be very intrinsic. It’s about practice and having a clear vision of what you’re looking for. Watching a lot of movies also helps! To this day however, I have always come back to three books as being very useful in the creative process: Acting for the Camera by Tony Barr, Film Directing: Shot by Shot by Steven D. Katz, and Directing by Michael Rabiger.

How did you work with the screenwriter to get the script ready to shoot?

MANNY: I like to be involved in all aspects of the creation process, so I worked very closely with the screenwriter on The Unleashed. Even before starting the writing process, I had a clear vision for a scene I liked to call “The Piano Scene,” and this provided grounding for the writers and me. We shaped the story together. Ultimately, I had them on set everyday in order to have the film remain as faithful to our original vision as possible.

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

MANNY: Haha… a good director never reveals all his secrets! I will tell you this though: having a great team who is willing to work hard and work together is invaluable.

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

MANNY: The entire film was shot on the Red-One Camera. It’s the same camera that was used to shoot the new Pirates of the Caribbean film and others like Wanted and The Social Network. I love the quality of the camera. It has five times the resolution of an HD camera, and in my opinion, is right up there with 35mm. The only downside I found about using it was that the lens and light setup is a lot longer.

Can you talk about the sound design for the movie and how you achieved it?

MANNY: A company called Eggplant Music and Sound Design here in Toronto did all the sound design. It was a rigorous process to get all the sound right, with the producers and myself getting together to add and test different sound layers. In the end though, this is the work that needs to be put into a film to make sure everything is as it should be. We started around January 2011 and finished late April, early May.

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

MANNY: I always tell everyone who asks, the smartest thing a director can do on set is to keep a fun atmosphere and make sure the cast and crew are having a good time. It makes for a great experience, and if everyone is happy, the project will ultimately turn out better. I would have to say the biggest mistake I made on set was keeping everyone working 27 hours straight one day. I’ll never do that again… haha.

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

MANNY: Always fight to make the film as good as it possibly can be. Never settle became the motto for this project, and I feel that it definitely shows having watched the end result.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Joseph Dorman on "Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness"

What was your filmmaking background before making Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness?

JOE: I’ve been in the business for a bit more than 25 years, first working in public television(which I continue to do). In 1998, I completed my first theatrically released documentary, Arguing the World, about the tumultuous and influential careers of four New York political intellectuals. Since then I’ve split my time between producing and writing films for others and my own work.

What attracted you to this project?

JOE: The project really fell into my lap. A friend, the Yiddish scholar Jeffrey Shandler suggested making a movie about Sholem Aleichem’s failed immigration to America (he came twice and died here; both experiences were disastrous for him). I really didn’t know much about the writer, except that his Tevye stories had been made into Fiddler on the Roof. To the degree I had any idea about him, I thought he was a musty Jewish humorist.

But the more I read his stories, the more I realized just how ignorant I had been. His stories are brilliant and powerful pieces of literature, using humor to examine to explore both the follies and tragedies of life. They’re also perhaps the single greatest witness to the Jewish transition from the traditional to the modern world. Of course that’s a disorienting journey that all cultures have made or are making even today. That’s why Fiddler proved to be an international hit and that’s why Sholem Aleichem’s life and work remains enormously relevant today for Jews and non-Jews alike.

And of course there’s the fact that his stories are side-splittingly hilarious and he’s probably the father of American Jewish humor, which has given us everyone from Henny Youngman and George Burns to Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld.

What was your process for finding and securing archival footage?

JOE: Locating archival material is always a process of discovery which is both anxiety-provoking and incredibly exciting. One always starts with certain archives and libraries that are in plain sight. And then there are those collections and their treasures that spring up from nowhere. There are moments of great despair when you can’t find the kind of images you need and then those thrilling moments when you come across photos or pieces of footage that open a lost world. I was finding new material almost to the last day of making the film.

How did you budget for securing archival footage?

JOE: There’s no magic formula. There are ranges of rates for footage and photos. You make an educated guess as to how many minutes or images you’ll need, do a bit of multiplying and then stand back in shock as the number of dollars emerge. Sometimes that number grows as you make the film, sometimes it turns out to decrease. Along the way, you negotiate, and plead and ultimately beg.
What tips would you offer to a filmmaker thinking of tackling an historical subject?

JOE: This is a hard one. I don’t think the rules are actually so different for historical films as they are for contemporary ones. Assuming that one has good archival material to illustrate, or a convincing approach toward visual recreations if necessary, the key is finding people to interview who don’t just know the topic, but feel passionately connected to it. Films are about conveying emotions, not just ideas.

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

JOE: Well, I’m still working on that! It’s different for every film. In this case, like most documentary filmmakers, I raised smaller and larger sums over the years from foundations and interested individuals.
Did you create a structure for the film before you shot the interviews ... or did the interviews drive the structure?

JOE: When you’re working on a historical subject, I think its crucial to have a structure. At the same time, you know that things will change along the way as you interview people and learn new things. But I find that over all, if you have a good structure it will probably survive in its essentials through the course of making the film. Without it, one would be lost in the interview process.

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

JOE: Not sure about the smartest, but I’m always kicking myself along the way for one thing or another, forgetting to ask a question of an interview subject, or deciding to shoot some scene or event that’s never used and in the end seemed like a ridiculous idea to begin with. But that’s always hindsight at the end of the process. And for those that really were dumb even at the beginning, well that’s what scotch and self-recrimination are for.

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

JOE: I don’t know if there’s one thing that I could point to. Filmmaking, like anything else, is a constant process of learning from your successes and your mistakes. You try your damnedest to repeat the former and not the latter. Sometimes that actually happens…

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kevin Chenault on "Young Islands"

What was your filmmaking background before making Young Islands?

KEVIN: Skateboarding. This might sound fluffed, but skateboarding introduced me to everything that I find important today. Music, Art, and Filmmaking. We started making skate videos when I was 12, my parents gave us (me and my friends) an RCA Hi8 camcorder that was really nice at the time and we immediately sat it on the ground and tried to ollie over it. My parents were really great about it they just handed me the camcorder and said "have fun" and we took their advice.

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

KEVIN: It is a bit strange and I normally don't remember things like this, but my girlfriend and I were watching Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I stopped the film and ran for a piece of paper. I think it had to do with one of the flashbacks in the film about young Hedwig. The idea was something that happened to me as a kid and the writing was really fun and fast after that first idea.

What kind of camera did you use ... and what did you love about it and hate about it?

KEVIN: Canon xl2, with a ps technic 35mm adapter that allowed us to use prime lenses. I loved the look of the camera and adapter together. We traveled to Nashville to test it out at AC Inc. and it was exactly what I wanted the film to look like. I didn't hate anything about it; I sometimes didn't like my lack of knowledge of the adapter and camera.

What sort of sound system did you record on and why did you choose not go directly into the camera?

KEVIN: We used a Roland r44, I think. I let a friend borrow it for a film he's shooting right now so I don't have it in front of me. We wanted to have more control of the audio and if we hooked it straight into camera we wouldn't have had any of the mixing ability.

Why did you decide on black and white?

KEVIN: Black and white was one of the last things that happened during editing. The film was shot with color in mind. An influence for the film is Stephen Shames (photographer) and especially his black and white photography of inner city kids. There were actually scenes that were staged like some of his photographs that didn't make it in the final cut. Black and white felt right.

What role does music play in the success of the movie and how did you get your score?

KEVIN: I don't know about success, but I love all the bands in the film. The Gizmos, Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers), Angel Corpus Christi, and Bon Vivants. The music that holds everything together is by Jesse Gallamore.

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

KEVIN: The smartest thing was to make films with friends, which isn't a new or original idea.

The dumbest things would probably take up too much time to list and would have to be given by Jill Nellis or Tabitha Timmons (producers) because I seem to have suppressed them.

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

KEVIN: Don't talk as much. We'll see if I can even do that on the next project, Different Drum, which we will begin filming soon.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Billy Clift on “Baby Jane?”

What was your filmmaking background before making Baby Jane?

BILLY: I was a hair and make-up man in the industry, working on Music videos, commercials, runway and print for 20 years..

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

BILLY: I saw a stage play called Christmas with The Crawfords. A silly little farce about Joan Crawford’s radio show on Christmas eve. Matthew Martin was playing the maid as Baby Jane Hudson. I was in awe at his ability to play it real “so to speak” and not over the top. I was sitting in the front row and watching every little nuance he made and quipped to myself, “He should be caught on film”

After a feature film that I had been shopping around Hollywood fell through, I said to myself, “What could I do at a very low budget and have a lot of fun and really get my feet wet with my first feature?”

Writing it came very easy to me. I knew I wanted to make this a very different parody, a dark moody twisted parody. Growing up with directors like Ken Russell and David Lynch as my idols, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with these two twisted sisters.

Did you look into getting the rights to the original, or do you feel protected under the parody/satire protection of the copyright laws?

BILLY: No I didn't, I did a lot of research on the parody law and stayed true to that.

What kind of camera did you use ... and what did you love about it and hate about it?

BILLY: We used an Canon Xl-2. It’s what we had available for no money… and my DP John Lore said its not the camera, it’s how you light it and work with it that makes the film. And so we went forth.

On a related note, how did you achieve the black and white look and what were the difficulties (if any) that made it a hard look to achieve?

BILLY: It was easy. We lit for black and white and our on-set monitor was in black and white; in post I was able to easily punch up the blacks and make it feel a little like a cross between an old black and white TV show and the original.

How did you get your music score for the movie?

BILLY: The music was all loops that our music guy had. They’re used on such shows as South Park and so many others. He put them together brilliantly to set the tone of the period.

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

BILLY: The smartest thing I did was get some really good actors. This to me is crucial... (don’t use friends… lol). You can only do so much in editing They may have all been mostly stage actors but it was amazing on how they showed up, lines memorized and enthusiastic.

The dumbest was just taking on too much… and being such a perfectionist that I always wanted to get my hands into everything. I don’t know really if it was that dumb because on my second feature (I Want To Get Married), I did the same thing.

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

BILLY: I found that I learned more and more to trust my instincts... It always turned out to be the one that really worked. On my second feature I really honed that and really made stuff up on the fly. When I could tell what I had storyboarded or shot listed wasn’t going to work with this actor or I could feel it needed to go a different direction. To take chances. Don’t always be safe.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jon Favreau on "Swingers"

After you'd written Swingers, why did you decide to try to make the film and not just sell the script?

JON FAVREAU: By keeping the script, you maintain control over every aspect of the movie.

Creativity, you're giving up final cut usually right off the bat. When you're making it yourself, it's up to you and only you what ends up in the movie and what compromises you want to make creatively. So, for some nominal fee, they're really getting a lot of leverage over you, both creatively and financially.

A lot of changes were asked of me: changing certain characters to women, making the characters more likeable, changing things that interfered of what my vision for the piece was.

In defense of those people, they're used to developing scripts, they're looking for clues in the material, they don't know what the overall vision of the piece is, so the best thing to do is to not take any of that upfront money.

Was Swingers based on your life?

JON FAVREAU: It wasn't a true story, but it was definitely based on people and places and inspired by events that I had experienced.

When you write from that, you're incorporating a lot of things that are very real and well understood by you. And the script inherits a certain sincerity and a certain subconscious vision that you might not even be aware of when you're doing your first script, if it's a personal one. It becomes much more difficult later on to do that.

But if you stick to things that you know and understand and people that you know, it allows a very true voice and you tend to come off as a better writer than really are, because you're incorporating so much of reality into your piece.

Did you write it for you and Vince Vaughn?

JON FAVREAU: I wrote things that I knew that they could do well. But at that time, Vince had not really played a character like the persona that was presented in Swingers, even though it was based very closely on him. The characters that he had played never really played into his rapid-fire delivery or his sense of humor. He was always playing it much more straight as an actor. I don't think he saw himself as a comic actor as much as a good-looking, leading man type.

So I was tapping into something I knew he could do, from knowing him so well, but I didn't really know whether or not he could deliver, because he hadn't done it before. It's good to have those touchstones.

What really got us there was that we had done so many staged readings of it, to try and raise money, that it served as almost a rehearsal period. So that by the time we got to the set, where we didn't have a lot of time and we were shooting a lot of pages a day, we had already gone through the material so much and had chemistry from our relationship in our personal life, and that certainly made things easier. There was no learning curve in the relationship by two actors that are cast opposite each other. Everybody already had a level of familiarity that helped to keep the process a little more streamlined.

When did you realize how much fun audiences would have with the phone message scene?

JON FAVREAU: Not on the set. The crew was not very entertained by it. We shot all the apartment stuff in a day and a half, so about a quarter of the movie was shot in a day and a half on paper. So that was one of those things that was crammed into a very crowded day at that location.

And there were concerns. Doug Liman (the director) was concerned that it was too many messages. But I felt pretty strongly about it, having read it in front of audiences live, at staged readings.

It wasn't until the whole movie was cut together and the significance of that moment, where it fell in the story, it was definitely a pivotal point in the film. And because you were so emotionally involved in that moment in the movie, the audience was engaged with the film. And had they not been engaged with the character, that scene would not have been as funny or as poignant. It was because of the work that had been done by everybody involved up until then that it was funny.

Now I think people enjoy it alone, because they remember the movie. But had that just been done as a sketch, it might have been a clever thing, but I don't think it would have had the impact that it does in the context of the film.

It all goes to emotion. If you're emotionally engaged, everything is going to be funnier, more satisfying, scarier, everything. It's that emotional connection that you feel with these guys. And the reason you feel that is because the story was so personal and sincere, and that's a very hard thing to maintain as you do bigger and bigger movies.

It's the one thing that you really have going for you in a small movie, that you're doing something that's so really and usually so personal that you have a level of emotional engagement that you will not get in a high-budget, high-concept movie.