Thursday, August 30, 2012

Owen Elliott on “Bathing Franky”

What was your filmmaking background before making Bathing Franky?

OWEN: Before Bathing Franky, I'd produced and directed a handful of award-winning short films, as well as television commercials, corporate and educational films while starting my own film and video production company 76 Pictures Pty Ltd (

I'd spent two years straight out of University cutting Television commercials (2003) at NBN Television and (2004) at Kookaburra Productions in Sydney. Prior to working in film or TV I'd completed a bachelor of Communication studies at Newcastle University. At Uni I was introduced and exposed to so many wonderfully creative people, films and experiences that all inspired me to make not only one feature film, but to make filmmaking my career!!

How did you get connected to Michael Winchester and his script and what was the process of getting the script ready to shoot?

OWEN: I first met Michael Winchester in my final year at the University of Newcastle (NSW, Australia) where I cast him in my final year student film in 2002. He gave an amazing performance and we struck up a creative friendship and wanted to see if we could put together a feature film script.

After Michael showed me his one-man self devised monologue (stage piece) we began working up a collection of ideas, characters and scenarios with another friend based on Michael's 'Rodney' character.

The script didn't take too long to get into some kind of shape, it did however take many years to finesse and get to a point that we felt we really had the story we wanted to tell and had some solid feedback on the draft where people reading it felt it was ready to shoot. At each re-write we were encouraged from those who read the script to keep going, so we did!!

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

OWEN: Raising a budget was half the battle of getting the film shot, we had a script (that was still being tweaked even during the shoot), we had the bulk of our cast and crew, but as yet no real budget to achieve our goal of shooting a feature.

Michael and I began to really focus on raising a small / nano budget from family, friends, local hunter valley businesses and supporters to realise our dream. We knew we had to get a name, someone from the Australian film / TV / Theatre world that had a background in the industry... of course we thought of Geoffrey Rush, ... and Henri Szeps from the iconic and wildly successful Australian TV Show Mother and Son.

I was able to get the script to Henri and days after receiving it I received a call from Henri saying he was very excited about the film and wanted to meet and discuss with him and his agent to see how we could make it happen. Then things really started to fall into place and the project took on a momentum of its own, including small monetary support.

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

OWEN: We used 2 x Sony EX1 HD video camera's, mainly because myself and the DOP (Gavin Banks) had our own camera's and we could save some money shooting on our own equipment. It also meant we were very familiar with the cameras and saved time working them out as we went.

I did love the durability of the EX1 and also the fact that it was tapeless!!! Gavin also used his (then) recently acquired Letus Adapter which allowed Gavin and I to use his Nikon and Zies lens kit to give the look and feel of the film something special.

What are the advantages of directing a movie that you're editing - - or editing a movie that you directed?

OWEN: We had no budget for an editor, plus I'd always been keen to cut Franky myself, so it worked out well for me to cut the film. I needed some time between the intense four week shoot and the beginning of the edit, we'd made sure our rushes were sorted during the shoot into daily and weekly folders, each folder had a corresponding scene number for quick visual reference in the edit.

It helped me in the edit as I was so familiar with not only the script, but the actual rushes, so once I began editing it all started to rush back to me. The first stage of the edit was fun and exciting, actually seeing the scenes come to life and seeing moments that worked perfectly... then came the hard stuff, making a scene work that was not working or had no real cut-aways or overlay... but we fought through and as usual found creative ways to tell the story using a wide variety of editing techniques.

In the final stages after many rough cuts and trimming, cutting and re-arranging many scenes, Frans Vandenburg came onto the project as our editing consultant and was not only a breathe of fresh air, but his skill and truckloads of experience was invaluable in fine-tuning the edit and improving the overall pace and structure of the edit!!

What was the smartest thing you did during production?

OWEN: I think the smartest thing I did during the production was have complete trust our cast and crew. Trust that we would make the best decisions for the team at any given time, we were presented with many challenges at all hours of the day and any one of those issues had the very real potential of shutting down the production. But we all stayed strong and got through each and every day of those four tough weeks.

The dumbest?

OWEN: The dumbest thing during the production was inexplicably falling down a set of stairs after shooting the scene where Steve arrives at Susie's place after leaving jail and walks by Tommy on her front steps. The main reason I fell over was simple, exhaustion and a drop in adrenaline. As I was falling I thought to myself, 'now why didn't my other foot move' and 'this is going to hurt.' As I crashed out and into the garden bed there was a mixture of reactions, ranging from concern to outright laughter... all of which were completely justified, as it must have seemed pretty funny and or somewhat concerning.

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

OWEN: Pre-production, Pre-Production and more Pre-Production... so the overall importance of good planning and working through as many potential issues as possible before you press record on set, then it can be too late... and the importance of rehearsing with your actors, not necessarily learning lines and locking in blocking or intentions, but just building that rapport with your actors so that you can all have that time to play and dig a little deeper into the themes and issues, not just learning lines.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

David Zeiger on "Sweet Old World"

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make Sweet Old World?

DAVID: I have been a documentary filmmaker since the early nineties, and it followed several other lives-photographer (and photographic graffiti artist), printer, carpenter, and--yes--revolutionary activist. As a result, it wasn't until I was in my early forties that I made my first film.

 While my films have been about a variety of subjects, they all stem in some way from my own life. In 1996 I made a film about my son's high school, The Band, which I'll talk about with the next question. I followed that up with one of the first reality series (back when the word could really mean "reality"), Senior Year, that followed fifteen seniors at Fairfax High, the most diverse school in Los Angeles, which also happens to be my alma mater (from long before it was the most diverse school in Los Angeles). That series was on PBS in 2002.

 I then made a feature documentary, Sir! No Sir!, my foray into history. It tells the long suppressed story of the tremendous GI movement against the Vietnam War, a movement I was part of as a teenager (I worked in a coffeehouse in Killeen, Texas, where soldiers from Fort Hood met to organize against the war and many aspects of the military.) Sir! No Sir! was also my only theatrical film, playing throughout the U.S. and Canada in 2006. I followed it up with This is Where We Take Our Stand, a film about Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are following in the footsteps of the rebel Vietnam vets. That was on PBS earlier this year.

 I also made a film in 2002 for HBO called Funny Old Guys, about a group of octogenarian comedy writers who had written for every TV show imaginable from the fifties through the eighties. Lifelong friends and all retired, they met for lunch every week to share stories and laughs, and be with each other in their waning years. I had met them through my father, who was not himself a writer but was good friends with all of these guys.

So every film I have made comes from my life, and I hope expands into other people's lives as well.

What was the genesis for the script for Sweet Old World and what was the writing process like?

DAVID: Sweet Old World, my first fiction film, is one of my most personal. As I mentioned, in 1996 I made a documentary about my son Danny's junior year in high school called The Band. The title refers to the marching band at Decatur High School, an Atlanta suburb. I spent a year with Danny and the other kids in the band, and the film is a personal journey into his world as well as a meditation on life eight years after Danny's older brother, Michael, died suddenly when he was nine and Danny was seven. It was a bittersweet process as I watched Danny emerge into adulthood while we both struggled with the terrible reality of leaving Michael behind.

 A few years later, I started writing Sweet Old World, which took me ten years to write. I never went to film school, so for me every film I make is my film school. I try to never repeat myself, to always jump into something new, and Sweet Old World was the newest and biggest jump. I have always loved fiction, both in writing and on the screen, but documentary has, I guess, come easier to me. The fact that it took ten years to write Sweet Old World was a product both of my struggle to find the story and my fears about taking this plunge.

During one period of despair about my ability to write and make this film, and after a long talk with my wife, Maryann, who amazingly never gives up on me, I wrote "The Ten Commandments of Sweet Old World," which helped get me over that chasm. Here they are.

  1. Make this film for yourself.
  2. You are not starting from nowhere.
  3. You are not too old to make a first feature film.
  4. This is a good premise. You can make it a good film.
  5. Stop second guessing.
  6. Your objections have been noted. Tell them to shut up and let you get to work.
  7. If it doesn’t work, fix it.
  8. Get to work.
  9. So what if there are only 8 commandments?
I also discovered while editing the film that I had not yet successfully translated the story I was trying to tell onto the screen. It took six months of agonizing with the material we had shot for me to realize that I had to go back to the script. We stopped editing and I rewrote a good deal of act two. I was fortunate to be able to get the actors back and do two weeks of re-shooting, finally telling the story I had intended.

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

DAVID: The initial impetus came from a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship, which was both a great honor and a nice chunk of change. It gave me and my producer, Vangie Griego, the finances to go into preproduction. With an initial budget of $125,000, we added a Kickstarter campaign and were about half way there when we started production.

Now, I know that independent films never go over budget, right? But weirdly, this one ended up costing $250,000 and I'm deep in debt. Financial plan? If I had a financial plan, I probably would never have made this film!

Seriously, our financial plan is pretty much in line with our outreach strategy. Along with festivals (we had a wonderful premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival), we are reaching out to schools and organizations that focus on family issues and dealing with trauma. We hope that through this, the film will have a lively DVD and VOD life.

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

DAVID: We used the Canon 5D. I loved it. It's certainly the closest to 35 mm film quality of any video format I have seen. It also gave us tremendous flexibility in shooting. Sweet Old World is set in a documentary context. Much of it was filmed in the midst of the South Pasadena High School Marching Band. We combined scripted scenes set in that world with a good deal of documentary footage, which gives the film a genuine feel I think is missing from most films about high school kids. We could seamlessly move from scripted to documentary scenes. It also, by the way, makes it easy to steal shots. You just look like you're taking still photographs.

What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of writing and directing a movie that is drawn so closely from your own life?

DAVID: My struggle with Sweet Old World was to take the story out of the confines of the real circumstances that gave birth to it, and to allow my characters to develop their own lives. That was, it turns out, very difficult on two fronts--first, because the story is so close to mine, and second because of my documentary background. I had to find ways for my imagination to take over, particularly to let my characters drive the story in whatever direction they would take it.

The advantages are of course that I was able to draw on a deep well of experience, not only my own but that of other people who have lived through the death of a child. I have to say, most American films I have seen on this subject are melodramatic and, frankly, unreal. I've looked to Europe for films that inspired me. The film that I found most true to life is The Son by the Dardenne brothers.

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

DAVID: The smartest thing I did was to put full faith in my producer, Vangie Griego, my consulting producer, Eric Mofford, and the great crew that they hired. Along with that, I studied for over a year with Judith Weston, a wonderful directing coach in Los Angeles. With her guidance, I was able to do a good deal of preparation for working with the actors, the aspect of directing I believe to be the most pivotal to any film.

The dumbest thing was once--just once--I yelled at a grip out of frustration. I still feel guilty about that.

What did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

DAVID: It's hard to specify that. I learned a tremendous amount about the process of creating fiction. I have always shaped my documentaries with a narrative structure, and came into this film believing that because of that it would be an easy transition to pure narrative. Not so. The rules may be the same, but the process is quite different, far more collaborative.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chopper Bernet on "The Twenty"

What drove your decision to add producing and directing to your skill set as an actor?
CHOPPER: I have been working with a few people over the years, JP Allen mainly, on small feature film projects and have been impressed with the whole process.  As compared to huge projects which are fun in their own way but, to put it bluntly, a lot less creative. For me. 

JP encouraged me to take on a project of my own and see if I could make it fly. This encouragement made me step back and look at the situation I was in as an actor living in LA.  You stand around on a street corner, of sorts, and try to peddle your wears. You continually try to convince people, usually skeptical and jaded, that you are the one they need. You are the person who can pull this role off.  You don’t get project after project and you get desperate because you want to work.

In my case, I have little desire to be famous. I simply love to do the work of acting. All of it. Every step is interesting and challenging and inspiring.  And yet, you are always beholden to others to let you do this thing you love.

I have a sister, Meg Bernet, who is a painter. She always laughs at me because she says I have to have an audience to do what I love. She, on the other hand, can simply go in the next room and paint. And she is right. 

I have had an amazingly successful run as a voice actor and yet I still feel this burning desire to tell stories. Mainly through acting but as the acting became harder to pull off in this environment of LA, I started to feel the pull of stories within my own head. The desire to tell them. And I also started to flash back to college where I had done some required directing and remembered feeling really empowered.  And I guess that was the real breaking point of sorts.

I produced a play, with Stephanie Niznik who is also in The Twenty, as well as acted in it and the experience was really great. Then I produced, directed, and acted in a two-weekend set of ten-minute plays where I didn’t charge for entrance and got some really good feedback.  It was a blast. 

So with JP’s encouragement and guidance, and my frustration with the acting word, I decided to jump in and take on a film.  And I decided that a short didn’t really rate on my list of things to do. If I was going to fail, I wanted to fail big!  It’s the actor in me. So, I took on as much as I could and set a date for the start of production. And we stuck to it.

We started when I said and we finished when I said. And as tired as I was at the end, I would have turned around and done it all over again right then and there. It was one of the best experiences of my life.  And I am craving to do it again as soon as possible. 

I guess the simple answer, and one I have heard from all levels of actors, it was about empowerment. 

How did you get connected to Walter Spring and his script and what was the process of getting the script ready to shoot?

CHOPPER: I have a confession to make. I am Walter Spring.  I decided to use a different name because I was sick of seeing my own name in the title sequence. I don’t believe in or like to toot my own horn so I thought it would just be better to give the writing credit to someone else. I didn’t care if I got credit. 

The process for writing it was pretty straightforward. I had the idea in my head for about two years and then talked with some friends about it. They said they would be interested in writing it and I so we sat down and talked about it.  They had their ideas and I had mine. And then I just realized I needed to write it myself. It’s a very personal story for me and I felt like there were parts I needed to tell.

It’s funny because one of the friends I met with told me about a week later that the other writer had told him there was no way I was going to let them write it. He knew it was something I felt I had to birth.  I talked some more with JP and he gave me some guidelines for writing and I just jumped in. I had made fitful starts years before so I went back to those writings and also notes I had jotted down for myself and they helped propel things forward. 

When I would get stuck or unsure, I would call JP and we would just talk and something would click and off I would go again.  I have three kids and a full time job so I wrote mostly late at night listening to music I thought would be right for the story. 

The first draft was 170 pages long.  JP and I come from a background of theatre so we are not afraid of dialogue. And we don’t think, like a lot of people do, that film has to be only about the image. I love dialogue heavy stories. But obviously, babies had to die. So again, I went back to JP, who, god bless his soul, had read all 170 pages, and he walked me through the process of cutting things down on one scene and then I took it from there.

In the end I cut it down to 90 pages, and still there were a bunch of scenes that ended up in the delete box.  All in all it was a pretty painless process although time consuming.  Which is something I am in short supply of.

I read the book The War of Art and I have to agree with the guy, you just have to go do it. No other way around it.  As of now, I am having huge trouble finding the time to write anything new.  For a ton of reasons. Some of them valid, most of them not!

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

CHOPPER: As I said before, I have been blessed with a pretty successful voice over career. I saved money and put it aside and waited for the rainy day.

I was very na├»ve about the production side of things. I just had a chunk of change and wanted to throw it at the project.  My father-in-law, who is a businessman, said he would help me try and raise some of the money so I wouldn’t have to spend all of mine.  He did this, bless his heart, and so I used that for funding and my own money as back up for cost over runs.  I have to say this had two countering impacts on the whole.  One was that it gave me financial support, obviously.  But it also made me, being the failed Catholic that I am, feel guilty about taking people’s money on such a risky endeavor. Which meant I had to think about the end product and how I was going to try and pay these people, all of whom I knew, back.  So the whole thing changed in a big way when this happened. 

I hadn’t really thought about the post end of things. I was going to do it all myself. I had edited some stuff over the years, the film was in my head, especially after shooting it, and so I just figured the post cost was going to be my time.  But after shooting was done, and I had made my own cut and added some music from friends, which is kind of the way JP had done things, my guilt started to take over. And my proximity to Hollywood did too.

I got opinions from a lot of people about “the right way to do things.”  Meaning if you want it to sell and be marketable.  To be honest, I had dreams of the Sundance fairy tale and other festival magic but really, in the end, I was making this for myself. As my DP, Alison Kelly, had said to me, and saved my proverbial ass I might add, she was amazing and wonderful, “you do this for the process, not what happens afterwards.” 

But those outside pressures come hard and fast and you bend to them.  You think, being a first timer, that others know better.  My first cut was 120 minutes with no scenes cut. I liked it. Was proud of it.  But I started pushing for the brass ring in my head. I got and paid for an outside editor and she cut it down to 90.  That cost. I went the next step and finished the sound. That cost. I did color correction. That cost.  I got a producers rep. That cost.  I got a DVD distribution. That cost. 

How much have I “made” on the film?  Zero.  Will I ever see any money? I doubt it. Do I feel bad for the people who gave me their money? Incredibly, on a daily basis.  Could I, would I do it differently?  There are different options today that weren’t there before.  So yes.

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

CHOPPER: Alison and I talked a lot about cameras.  The HVX with P2 cards had just come out and she was interested in using it.  So was I. But she said that would entail hiring a media manager.  Which, based on the schedule we had devised, made her worried about chewing up time.  It was all rather new to her and pretty much everyone else. 

At the last minute she called me and said she felt we should just shoot on mini DV tape and use a film lens adaptor so she could shoot with primes.  I am forgetting the name of the adaptor, it was not a Red Rock, but it had some problems. One of them was that the glass in it spun and for some reason the spinning made an awful lot of sound and our sound man was about ready to kill me after just the first hour.  We had no budget or choice for replacing it so we just rode it out.

The end product I think is fantastic. Allison is my God. She made the whole thing look amazing. I even had a festival showing here in LA where the projectionist asked me if it was 35 or 16.  And that was blown up on a big screen. There are problems here and there but in the end, she made it look amazing. I even had to go buy an HVX a year later so I could shoot some insert stuff and we didn’t use an adaptor, my sister and I shot the stuff hand held, and I have not heard anyone mention it.

I think the camera did a great job, adaptor grinding sound not withstanding, but it seems to me there are so many more options now that are way better.  Small, faster, cheaper.  That’s what micro budget filmmakers need.  And there are a ton of cameras out there that fit the bill.  I sold my HVX to JP and he made a couple of films on it and they look really good.  So it still has its place as well I think but the world is getting so much bigger. 

What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of directing a movie that you're acting in - - or acting in a movie that you're directing?

CHOPPER: I can’t think of many advantages to directing yourself while acting. It is tough. Especially on a budget. 

This may shock people but I did not view one mm of footage till after the movie was done shooting and I was back in my office.  There were a lot of reasons but the main one was time. I just didn’t have time to move behind the camera, rewind the tape, and watch what had just happened.  I had to trust what I had seen as the actor living in front of the camera and trust Allison to let me know if she had gotten what we wanted.

She and I would talk about upcoming scenes and I would tell her the little things I was looking for and after each take she would nod her head yes or no with regards to what she saw and I would base my choices on her response and my own experience. 

As an actor I went into the project, having written it, knowing a lot about each character and I had even written some of the characters for the actors playing them. But my personal goal was just staying present and being simple and letting myself listen to them talk to me.  And in doing that, I could also be aware of what I hoped we were catching on tape. 

When I got home and started watching I went through a lot of different emotions but in the end I was pretty pleased with everyone’s work.  Except mine of course! 

I don’t know that there are any real disadvantages either though to directing yourself.  I love to direct and I love to act. I don’t have much choice. Or didn’t in this one.

I will say it does create some peculiar moments.  Stephanie Niznik said after one particular take, “I can’t tell if the character is mad at me or the director.”  So for other actors, I learned that there are some odd moments to acting with your director.  But so much of directing comes down to communicating, as does acting.  They’re different boats in the same lake I guess. 

I would do it again no problem.  Although it might be fun to take a smaller role and just concentrate on directing.  Or I might take a big role and have a co-director along to help me with an outside set of eyes. That would be fun.

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

CHOPPER: The smartest thing I did was hire the people who could do their jobs. All of which I was not well versed in.  They all knew what they were doing and they got it done as fast as they could. 

I also made the decision to pay for good food. Hands down on a film of this size the food is the breaking point or the savor.  I have been on enough films, big and small, to have learned that if you don’t feed people well, you are asking for trouble.

One of my biggest regrets actually was that I could not have paid people more. I still regret it.  They all worked very hard for this little film and they traveled far from home to support it. I just wish I could have made it more financially rewarding for them. 

The dumbest thing?  I feel like the list is too long to write out here.  But in truth, they weren’t really dumb, just little things that could have helped make things run more smoothly but that I could not have foreseen since I had never been in those situations before. You learn best through experience.  Now, I think I could run the show a bit more smoothly. Though I do feel things went pretty well all things considered. 

A big part of that was turning things as much I could to David Japka who was my line producer.  He did a great job of keeping things moving.  I always hear filmmakers say making a film is the hardest thing you can do. And I like to say, wrong, having kids is the hardest thing you can do.  Have kids first, then make a movie.  It won’t seem so hard! 

I guess the one thing I wish I could do over is that I would have had a bit more time for shooting with people.  And I think I could have gotten that by cutting things from the script that ended up being cut from the final film.  After cutting the film I could see where I could have cut the script and it now influences my editing while writing.  It just makes things leaner.  Which, during production, counts towards more takes, more acting choices and more time for the camera to do its job. 

Over all though, I feel pretty good about how things went.  Not much I would change really. 

What did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

CHOPPER: All of the above.  I think I have listed lots of things that I would have done or that changed as I went along. 

I think what I got the most of out of the project was confidence.  I can do this. I can do it well. I can trust my own inner voice and instincts to guide me. I can be open to other’s ideas and yet not lose my way.  I can lead a group of people towards the goal I set for us. 

I also learned that I could have done things for cheaper and am now trying to do just that.  It’s a no brainer now to be able to shoot really good footage for a lot less money.  And I plan on taking full advantage of all those options. 

I am proud of going through the whole “old school” way of making a film and finishing it and “selling” it.  But things are different now. Hollywood is not the only path anymore. I can say I made a film and released it but now, just as with acting in the first question, I want to take control of all of it.  And not let any part of the industry tell me how my film should look, or how my characters should act, or what my story should be about to “sell” tickets. 

JP has had some success with some of his films on Amazon and things are only going to keep moving in that direction. TV and film will be about choice for the viewer.  They will follow their own passions and desires and the studios and networks will have to either offer up a very wide array of choices or get the hell out of the way. 

Will the monetary rewards change?  Yes, they will. But that’s fine.  Will there always be theatres?  I think there will.  But there is a huge paradigm shift coming and my experience in making The Twenty only confirms my belief that the democracy of filmmaking is well on its way to becoming the norm, not the lonely step child hiding in the a corner. 

And, finally, how did you get the name Chopper?

CHOPPER: I got my name when I was borne. My mom knew a kid growing up whose nickname was Choppy.  She always liked the name and gave me it when I was borne. It’s not my legal name but I have never been called by my legal name.  Always Chopper. Oh, and the guy my mother knew growing up?  I married his daughter!         

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Zach Lipovsky on Shot Lister

Before we dive into Shot Lister, give me a little of your filmmaking background.

ZACH: I started in the film industry when my mom cast me as free labour in her education programes. I loved it and got an agent and started acting in TV shows and movies. At the same time I was a big geek, using my acting income to buy computers and rise up with the digital revolution.

From learning on sets as I grew and playing around with computers as they became more complex, I grew into making my own films. From an early age I knew that's all I wanted to do and for the first time in history I could with a cheap digital camera and computer.

After high school I volunteered wherever I could, usually adding VFX into other indie filmmakers’ films, racking up a long list of favours for when I got my chance to make some shorts. Eventually made a short called Crazy Late that won some awards and was what I used to get noticed on Spielberg's On the Lot. After that I left the VFX behind and committed to following the dream of being a full time director.

What was your experience On The Lot and what was the impact (positive and negative) of being on that show?

ZACH: On the Lot was a dream come true in a lot of ways. I did my best to keep my dignity while taking part in a reality show, all the while being given creative control to make as many cool films as I could to stay alive.

The biggest impact was being able to practice my craft, gain the confidence to realize I was good at it, and to be given the opportunity to show the world what I had to offer. That show was broadcast around the world and I still get emails from Thailand or India from people who were inspired by my work. The only negative was that the show wasn't as well received for a lot of valid reasons, but I personally got a lot out of it.

Okay, Shot Lister looks like a pretty handy app. Give me the elevator speech about it.

ZACH: Shot listing is overlooked as one of the most important things to making a shoot go to plan, and the current state of the art is a crumbled up piece of paper that is always out of date. Shot Lister is the only digital way to build, track, organize, schedule and share a shot list digitally, so you can keep up with the ever changing decisions on set.

What's the coolest thing about the app?

ZACH: The most revolutionary part of the app is that as you check off, delete or re-organize your shot list while you shoot, the app instantly recalculates your schedule to the minute, not only showing you if your new plan will wrap on time, but how many minutes you have to finish this shot to keep on track.

No longer are the director and AD madly scribbling in the margins of some printed spreadsheet trying to figure out the best course of action. You instantly know how you're doing so you can get back to work.

Are there other apps that you find to be helpful for the DIY filmmaker?

ZACH: I am a full blown Evernote believer. That app has completely changed the way I make films. I can collect, organize and share everything that inspires me. There are films I'm working on now that would not exist unless I saw how many notes on that subject where piling up in Evernote. On my last film I created a notebook for the film and included every bit of inspiration, cast photo, location scout info, script notes... etc. Everything stored in one place, on all my devices and shareable with everyone else on the film. It's amazing and inspires me make Shot Lister as good a service one day.

How is technology like that making it easier/faster/cheaper for filmmakers?

ZACH: Being able to digitally have everything in one place and easily find it and share it, makes the whole process so much more enjoyable and efficient. The iPad alone has touched every part of filmmaking for me. From showing off concepts in pitch meetings, reading scripts on the go, sending revisions and ideas around to the crew and in the end having every film I've ever made in my pocket ready to show.

I'm a total digital convert and strive to have a paperless existence - not easy in the current old school production workflow. But trust me it's possible. That's one of the main reasons I made shot lists digital; it seemed to me to be the last piece of the puzzle that hadn't been digitized, and now that it is, people are going to wonder how they did it before.

What are you currently working on (film-wise) and are there any other apps in your future?

ZACH: I'm currently finishing post on a Syfy monster film starring Danica Mckellar and Apolo Ohno called Tasmanian Devils as well as producing a mysterious found footage genre film being distributed by CBS films and Sony which is hitting theaters early 2013.

On the books in the future is a comic book styled version of the war of 1812 called The Dogs of War which is being funded by Rhombus Media and Telefilm Canada, premiering in summer 2014 as my theatrical directing debut.

NEW FEATURES: (check them out at
 ✓ New customizable category perfect for actors or anything else
✓ New customizable lens category
✓ New shot number category based on scene order
✓ Ability to customize size category
✓ Ability to delete items from gear list
✓ Option to exclude "i" and "o" from shot numbers
✓ Alert to delete or remove shots from shoot day

Update November, 2013:

ZACH: Since I launched the Shot Lister app for iOS in June of 2012, I've been amazed by the quick uptake, feedback and suggestions for new features that filmmakers started clamoring for right away. I've spent the past 18 months adding and expanding features through regular upgrades, creating the pretty robust app it is today.  

The most asked for feature was storyboards, which I'm happy to say we included in our recent update this September.

Now it's time to answer the call from our Android fans - I get a lot of requests for Android, but as an indie filmmaker, it's just not feasible to start all over again on my own so if enough Android users pre-order the app on Kickstarter right now, then we can all make it happen together and the more users we have on both platforms means I can continue to add new features to both.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chris Kentis on "Open Water"

Why did you decide to do a digital feature?

CHRIS KENTIS: That was the whole reason we wanted to do the film. We were really excited about the technology that was out there, and truthfully, kind of inspired by the Dogme 95 films. We just wanted to get out there and experiment with this new technology.

Right after we made our first feature, Grind, which was made in much more of a traditional way -- we had a crew and shot on 35mm and all -- our daughter was born. So we were excited about trying to make a movie in a very different way. The idea of working without a crew, the idea of being able to take our time (which meant working on weekends and vacation times), being able to include our families. Also the idea of collaborating with actors in a certain kind of way.

We were really anxious to try to make a movie in a different way, to try to stretch and challenge ourselves creatively.

You said that being able to take your time was important. Why? What's the advantage of taking your time?

CHRIS KENTIS: The first advantage of taking our time was that I was able to work full time and help finance the film. Another advantage is that movies tend to be rushed, especially if you look at the things coming out of Hollywood today and the schedules.

Ironically, two of my favorite filmmakers were not very prolific: Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Malick. I think there's a lot to be said for taking the time to get it right, and I think most films don't really have that advantage. It's a process of refinement.

How tough was it to keep the ending the way you wanted it?

CHRIS KENTIS: Not tough at all, because that was the whole point of the project. To not have to answer to anyone. None of the choices were made because they were the most commercial choices; they were made because this was the film we wanted to make.

Because the film was based on a true story, that was going to be the ending from the get-go, from day one. Now the specifics of what happened to her evolved during the course of the process, but there never was going to be any other ending.

To the credit of Lions Gate, and all the distributors that were interested in the film at Sundance, it was never questioned.

I'd say that the majority of people really responded to and loved the ending, and yet there's this perception out there that you always have to have a happy ending. It's interesting how that happens.

In the 70s, I think it was more common for the main character to end up dead, even in a romantic comedy often the main character would end up with a tumor and die. That's the other extreme.

The whole impetuous behind this story was when I read about the true incident, it deeply affected me, and so it was to try to capture that. To have the audience have the same kind of emotional response that I had when I read the story. You can't help but ask, 'What if that were me and Laura? What if it were us?'

Our hope was that when people watch the movie is that, hopefully if the audience is with the movie, they'll ask themselves, 'What if that were me? What would I do in that situation?' and experience it that way.