Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dan Poole on “The Photon Effect”

What was your filmmaking background before making The Photon Effect?

DAN POOLE: In an effort to create some kind of reel to land a job I wrote, produced, acted in and edited several Spider-man videos from 1988 − 1993. All on VHS and with no budget whatsoever, these 20 − 50 minute productions taught me a lot about the process of getting a story onto a screen.

Without any formal education in filmmaking, I continued shooting and editing small projects with whatever I had available. In 1998 I began working with a local production company where I finally learned some proper techniques and industry standards. I’ve worked as a freelance producer/videographer since then, working on other projects when inspiration struck.

In 2004 I wrote and produced another “fan film”, this time starring Marvel Comics’ Wolverine. It was after this project that I decided there was no future for me in working with copyrighted characters. It was time to do something original.

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

DAN POOLE: The idea came after a phone call from the producers of a show called, Who Wants To Be A Superhero? They knew me from my Spider-man days and believed that I would be perfect for the show. They sent me a form to fill out wherein I had to create a new superhero. It was extremely detailed as to what the life and abilities to my hero needed to be. With the help of my wife (then girlfriend), I created this character and the ones around him, but then decided I’d rather write a feature about him instead of giving it away to a goofy TV show.

The writing process is one of my favorite times in the creative process. Anything is possible. Anything. How liberating is that?! It’s awesome! I don’t sit there and think about how I’m going to pull it off during production, I concentrate on the most fun I can have with the story and the characters. While many things changed from draft to draft, it was always in an effort to streamline the flow of the story and make it more intriguing and powerful.

In fact, to this day, as proud as I am of the movie itself - I remain most proud of the script. I think it is better than the movie because there were some cool parts in it that just didn’t make it to the screen because we didn’t have the money to pull some things off.

I would also like to point out that there was a time when I thought I was done with the script because I couldn’t think of anything else to do with it, even though I knew it needed some polishing.

That’s when I found Mr. Robert McKee and his STORY book and workshop. I had the opportunity to attend a 3-day workshop in upstate New York where I learned more than I ever thought I would about writing a solid screenplay. It was amazing. It absolutely empowered me to complete this script with the utmost confidence in my characters, plot(s) and flow. I know there are many more resources out there now like Save The Cat, which I’d love to finally read, but this is what worked for me and I’ll always mention it when the topic comes up.

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

DAN POOLE: As someone that has never traveled in the circles of the wealthy or entitled, I have always had to stretch every dollar I could scrounge up to produce any of my projects. At some point I decided on a number and for years I openly crowed about “what I could do for $50,000.” One day a buddy of mine says, “Hey, you know how you’re always saying . . ?” Doug Adams, Executive Producer of The Photon Effect, had been thinking about it for some time, apparently, and presented me the offer of using his capital to get a movie made.

I was in shock. I couldn’t believe we were actually going to get something moving. But it’s funny how the more things change the more they stay the same. As incredible as Doug’s generous offer was, as soon as we got the LLC up and running and began preproduction, we discovered that we were going to need more money. We postponed shooting and made a well thought out Investor Prospectus’ and got in front of as many local business people as we could, but no one ponied up.

We decided to forge on ahead and shoot this thing with the money we had but it only lasted us two weeks into shooting. Dr. Brian Razzino, who plays Dr. Bob Chase in the movie, became a substantial investor in the project once he saw what was taking place. I sought more investors everywhere I went. I asked everybody I met. If I heard someone talking about someone of means I’d ask, “do they like movies?” With the help of friends, family and people associated with the movie in various ways, we raised enough money to get it finished.

As for recouping the costs, my plan has always been to target the genre fans that this kind of movie appeals to. I have somewhat of a fan base through all my years of making Spidey videos, so I need to get the word out to them as well as reach new fans by creating a presence at conventions and on websites. Once we gain enough momentum we will work with a distributor to see where they may be able to sell it further. I know it will take some time, too.

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

DAN POOLE: We rented the Panasonic HVX200 package from Zacuto. What I loved about it was the solid state media, it’s small size and it’s HD image. Not sure I hated anything about it, except maybe the way we had to use it. We shot 720p in order to save space. That kind of sucked.

Can you offer some suggestions to people who want to create great special effects on a low budget?

DAN POOLE: My first suggestion is to find a way to get proficient in a program like After Effects. Take a class, learn online or just ask someone that knows it. With computers and software being so accessible these days, kids in high school are rocking the visual effects. My biggest suggestion, however, is to not attempt an FX driven film on a low budget unless you already have all the tools. It took over TWO YEARS to get all of our effects completed. It was the most difficult part of the entire process.

You wore a lot of hats on the movie -- director, writer, producer, production designer, editor. What's the upside and the downside to taking on all those tasks yourself?

DAN POOLE: The upside for someone as particular as me is that it gets done the way I want it to get done and I don’t have to waste time explaining everything and potentially having to do it myself anyway. (Wow, that doesn’t sound pompous, does it?! Yeesh.)

I suppose that’s just the experience I’m used to. I’ve never had the luxury of the option to delegate certain jobs. I’ve always felt the need to direct and edit whatever I write. Although they are three separate tasks, I have always thought of them as one, which in my opinion is the job of a “filmmaker.”

As for everything in between, I absolutely believe in the collaborative nature of the process. Let the crafts people use their strengths to make your vision that much better.

The downside is that it can drain you to the core. You have to be self-motivating, which can take a toll on you. No one’s picking up the phone and yelling at you to make a deadline or get their project done - it’s all on me.

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

DAN POOLE: The smartest thing I did during production was press on. Had I taken any one of the hundreds of excuses that presented themselves to stop, this thing would have stalled forever and I would probably have never started another one.

The dumbest thing I did was sign something I knew I shouldn’t have in a moment of extreme pressure. I should have just called a ‘timeout’ and figured out the answer before continuing.

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

DAN POOLE: I learned that there is a fine line between ambition and irresponsibility. I love to aim high, shoot big and try amazing things - especially if I’m told it can’t be done. But when it comes to filmmaking, attempting something without the proper resources just isn’t fair, especially to everyone else you involve.


Daniel F. said...

I had the pleasure of reviewing The Photon Effect before it came out and it blew me away. The action and effects are fun but Poole really put a lot of heart and soul in the characters and it stands out from the crowd because of it. I highly recommend everyone reading this article to pick it up on DVD. You won't be sorry.

James Miller said...

Excellent interview! The Photon Effect is a great work of art. I have met Dan Poole personally and he's really a stand up guy. I recommend getting a copy to support his work.