What was your filmmaking background before making Love Stalker?
MATT: Aside from being a lifelong fan of movies and an avid study of cinema in general, most of my forays into actual movie making have been self-produced shorts and independent music videos.
I realized that I wanted to be a filmmaker in my freshman year of high school, so I started making short videos with my friends and sibs around our home and in our neighborhood in the suburbs of Chicago. Usually they would involve us pretending to be ruthless gangsters or renegade FBI agents running around the burbs, though one of the highlights from my early works was a 25-minute hyper violent, surrealist short I made called The Pubic Muffin. Somehow, and I’m still not clear on how this happened, it ended up somehow getting me a scholarship for film school! With that, I enrolled at Columbia College in Chicago where I learned more of the craft and made plenty more short films in the process.
On a whim in 1998, I moved to New York City to start a rock band - who says you can't live the dream?! Anyway, when that dream ended and the band broke up in 2003, I began working in the film and video industry in earnest - starting out as a PA for Mo'nique for the show Live at the Apollo and seeking out whatever jobs I could land before finally settling into a steady career as a freelance video and TV editor.
But make no mistake, making a feature film was always something that I felt I needed to accomplish at some point in my lifetime; it was just a matter of waiting for the right set of circumstances to present itself, and Love Stalker was just that - seizing an opportunity to carve a feature film out of the tools and resources we had at our disposal.
Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?
MATT: The story of Love Stalker begins in June of 2009 when my partner Bowls MacLean invited to fly me out from NYC to St. Louis for a long weekend to help him make a 48 Hour Film Project. The short that resulted from that was a musical (we pulled the dreaded "musical or western" genre card when the contest started) and it was called Love Stalker.
It was about a creepy guy who is in love with a female bartender who could care less for his affections and the ending (SPOILER ALERT) kind of jumps off the rails in terms of portraying his warped, jumbled perception of reality. The lead guy - this Steve Buscemi lookalike from St. Louis named Pete Kruchowski - ended up winning an award for "best actor" and the short was nominated for "Best of 48 Hour Film Project, St. Louis."
After it was over, Bowls and I both felt really encouraged by the fact that we pulled off something we were both happy with and within such a short time period. So as he was dropping me off at the airport, I said to him, "We should do a feature together" and he responds, "Sounds good."
Over the next few weeks, we talked on the phone and explored a few different leftover ideas but something was telling me that there was more grist in the mill based on the concept and title of Love Stalker. And so I pitched the idea of following a player, really kind of a douchebag, who exploits women left and right in his quest to get laid, but then he falls in love when he meets “the one,” and then in the third act, he loses her and becomes a creepy stalker while trying to win her back.
It was always meant to be some sort of twist on the conventions of the romantic comedy, or "rom-com" genre. I knocked out a first draft by the end of that July (and believe me, as first drafts go, it's something I hope no one ever has the displeasure of reading) and then Bowls started to work on his own draft of the screenplay. Eventually, he sent me his draft and I began to copy, paste and merge the two together.
Once we had that second draft in place, we organized a table reading out here in New York, which was really helpful in terms of getting feedback and setting the course for the movie. After that, we continued to re-write and hone the script up until the first day of shooting in September of the following year.
How did you and Bowls share duties in producing and directing?
MATT: With the writing, Bowls and I had to work together by sharing our versions of the screenplay via email. Oftentimes, he would write a scene or work on some of the dialogue, send it back to me as a standalone section and then I'd re-incorporate it into the "final" version of the script that we would share with each other or with other colleagues for feedback. The end result is a true 50/50 collaboration in terms of our contribution to the screenplay, and I think it ended up being like eight official drafts before we stopped tweaking it.
As far as co-producing and co-directing, those roles would often get blurred during the production of the film due to our limited resources, not to mention the fact that I was doing triple-duty as an actor/producer/director. With the way we structured the film for this particular story, my character is in nearly every shot of the movie, so I was constantly having to focus on my role as an actor, and so Bowls would often serve as a second set of eyes on the camerawork and give me feedback as a performer. It was a relationship built on a lot of trust that both of us would hold up our end of the bargain and do everything within our power to make the film as good as it could possibly be.
Also, in terms of producing, it's only right that I should bring up our third producing partner in the making of the film: David Ohliger. Dave is a friend I met about 10 years ago out here in New York, and we recently began co-producing some films together including Love Stalker. While his day job as a construction manager prohibited him from being on set daily, he did fly out to St. Louis for a few days to meet everyone and lend some support. Dave is also a musician, so in the post-production, he composed the score for the film, which we all feel he did an absolutely fantastic job on - his analog style of recording music and some of his sonic experimentation really suited the mood of the film perfectly.
Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your plan for recouping your costs?
MATT: Before we began writing the film, we had a number in mind that we thought we could do the movie for, and that number was $25,000. Fortunately, we had a lot of things already covered for the production: I owned the camera and most of the lenses we shot with, and Bowls was able to borrow several lights and some sound gear from local filmmaker friend Bill Streeter in St. Louis. We were also luck in that we were able to obtain nearly all of the shooting locations for next to nothing.
Nevertheless, we wanted to pay our crew and actors something for their time so that's what most of the production budget went for. The film ended up costing just around $10,000 to get in the can - half of our production budget was covered by friends and family and then we raised another $5K using the crowdfunding website IndieGoGo.
We've been fortunate in that we were able to raise some additional money in post-production, so the final budget did end up being pretty close to that $25,000 number.
Going forward, we have just now started to sell DVD's at our screenings and on our website - www.lovestalker.com. In addition, we're going to be booking several theatrical screenings over the next several months and try to engage our audience as best we can in the hopes that the film gains enough traction to warrant a "bigger fish" to come in and either buy the film outright or at least put it on the track to get it to the next level of exposure.
And while it is a priority for us to pay back our investors and to do whatever we can to generate revenue with the film, if any of us should get the chance to make another feature film, I think that will be a major win in and of itself.
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
MATT: Like a lot of microbudget indies out there, we shot on the Canon 5D Mark II and mostly I'd say there are only things that I love about the camera: it's portable, affordable and the footage looks really great right off the card. As someone who has worked with a lot of different "prosumer" cameras over the years in shooting my own work, in many ways the 5D represents the perfect camera for a first-time-feature filmmaker like myself.
This is not to say the 5D doesn't have its limitations: some of the image compression can be distracting if you obsess over details in the shadows of images, for example, but for the most part: it's a godsend - a truly wondrous camera that has granted many lower budget filmmakers out there the opportunity to make something look respectable at a fraction of the cost it would take to shoot on the RED.
That said, I hope my next feature is shot on the RED or, even better, on film itself! I guess we'll have to see if and when I'm lucky enough to make another one.
You wore a lot of hats on the production -- acting, writing, directing, editing. What's the upside and downside of doing that?
MATT: Wearing this many hats ensures that you have creative control at every stage of the game: Bowls and I co-wrote, co-produced, and co-directed, but then add to the mix that I'm in front of the camera acting the entire time and it gets more complicated to juggle all these things at the same time.
In post-production, where I really excel as an editor, we had complete control over picture, music supervision and lastly color correction and final audio mix. There was never anyone to say, “No, you CAN’T have that scene in there…” so we just went for it.
If anything went wrong in the filmmaking process or if something wasn't measuring up to the standard we aimed to set for the production, I would know about it and could fix it or would find someone who could fix it. On the downside, of course, if everyone hates the finished film or if it's universally ignored, then I'm the guy who takes credit for that, too.
The other caveat I would say with respect to being a multiple-hat-wearer is that it's difficult to ensure the level of quality you expect from yourself at every step of the process since your responsibilities are so many and it's easy to fall into the trap of spreading yourself too thin. Again, it required a leap of faith to some extent in giving a lot of trust to the people that I was working with to make sure that the picture, sound and music were all getting done to the standard we were striving for while making the film.
Would I say that taking this much on simultaneously compromised certain aspects of the production? Absolutely. I wouldn't want to do a film this way again, but we also saw the multiple responsibilities as a necessary concession given the limitations of our budget. I’d also add that I think acting in my own film was a challenge that I enjoyed stepping up for: I really immersed myself in the role as best I could, but for my next film I will make it a point to remain strictly behind the camera.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
MATT: The cliché is true in that making a film - especially a feature - is a lot like going into war: you need to establish your mission (write a screenplay), strategize how you will accomplish it (pre-production/fundraising) and then ally yourself with a good team so you are ready to accomplish that mission when you finally do set foot on the battlefield (during the production itself).
I would say that my experience as an editor was really invaluable when we were shooting, as I always try to anticipate what an editor is going to need or wish they had when they're coming up against it in post. We were literally running around up until 4 AM the night before I was due to fly back from St. Louis to New York, shooting as many little pick-up shots of myself in character before I headed out of town.
Amazingly, I was happy to discover that I had everything I needed as an editor to piece together a complete feature when I got back and never had to re-shoot anything of myself in character (a good thing, too, because I'm about twenty pounds heavier now and I'm not about to go on a diet and die my hair black again anytime soon!).
Now, as it often happens, there were a number of personality conflicts within the crew when the film first went into production that could have probably been handled better, but sometimes emotions can take center stage when so much is on the line. Still, at the end of the day, the priority for us was always to make sure that we were going to get the film made no matter what, and sometimes that required a very delicate sense of diplomacy.
So if I do have any regrets, I would say not nipping certain personality issues in the bud once those issues arose gave us some headaches down the line, but everything happens for a reason and, ultimately, we prevailed over any negativity we encountered during production and got the thing made!
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?
MATT: Always have all your scenes numbered and come to set with a shot list.
Billy Baxter presents an UNromantic Double-Feature…
Love Stalker @ 8 PM*
Love & Anarchy @ 10 PM
The Portage Theater
4050 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60641
*Directors in attendance for Q&A following the film
$10 at the door/Advance tickets at http://lovestalkerpremiere.eventbrite.com/
Little Rock Horror Picture Show Festival