Thursday, October 25, 2012

Coley Sohn on “Sassy Pants”

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make Sassy Pants?

COLEY: I used to act so I've been on many sets, and I minored in film in college, but aside from that, I've had no formal training as a filmmaker.  I made a short film called Boutonniere a few years back that Sassy Pants is based on and that was very much my maiden voyage in terms of directing.

What was the genesis of the project and what was your process for writing the script?

COLEY: We were fortunate enough to have Boutonniere accepted into Sundance back in 2009.  When it got in, a filmmaker friend advised me to have a feature script ready for when I'd be asked what was next.  At that time I thought the short was what it was, pretty self contained, and that there wasn't a full length feature there. 

But when I sat down to write something else, I kept harkening back to these characters, the Pruitt family, and all their dysfunction.  I realized there was a lot more there than the 10 minute short and when I sat down to write it, the initial draft sort of poured out.  I know, kinda sick.  And believe me, it rarely comes that easily for me.  But I think because I got to know the character so well from making the short film, they were able to just sort of jump off the page.

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

COLEY: Well I did what everyone advises you not to do and put up the seed money.  We hired a line producer to break down the budget and a casting director to start attaching talent.  My producer Adam got the rest through family and friends.  Also, our post house Cinelicious took a big gamble and donated much of their services in kind.  They won't get paid until we do. 

As far as recouping the $, we are thrilled to have teamed with distributor Phase 4 who will be releasing Sassy Pants in late October.  There's gonna be a small theatrical release, probably New York and LA, that will coincide with a big VOD push on Netflix, Itunes, etc.  We've gotten some tremendous press thus far so fingers crossed, we will all get our money back!

What were your plans when you went into casting?

COLEY: We were extremely fortunate to have worked with the uber talented Eyde Belasco who completely got the tone of the movie, what we were going for, etc.  And everyone in this town really respects and loves her so a lot of doors were opened for us that may not normally have been. 

That said, our shooting schedule was a bit gruesome - a very tight 18 days over the holidays, straddling Christmas and New Years.  Not only was it difficult to find actors willing to sacrifice their holidays to be with us, but Eyde was also working well into the 11th hour, casting some roles on Christmas Eve and Christmas.  It was very much by the seat of our pants and needless to say, extremely stressful at times, but we somehow ended up scoring a stellar cast and I'm beyond grateful.

How does your background in acting help you as a director (and, for that matter, as a writer)?

COLEY: It's definitely given me tons of respect for actors and their processes.  Every actor works differently and I totally get and support that.  It's also helped in how I communicate with actors.  There's a fine line between not giving them enough direction and giving them too much.  I like to let actors play and bring their own stuff to the table, but at the same time, if it's not coinciding with the big picture vision, you have to do a bit of guiding. 

In terms of acting helping my writing, I'm not so sure.  Maybe it's helped me find just the right balance in terms of how much description to put on the page and how much to leave to the actor.  I will say that when I write, I sometimes feel like I'm just hearing it and transcribing.  And sometimes the delivery comes out way different on set, not at all what I imagined but so much better.  I think my improv background has helped a lot in that sense.  It's taught me let go and accept that that's the scene.  Which I feel is crucial in indie filmmaking.

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

COLEY: We were awarded Panavision's New Filmmakers Grant and they gave us an Arriflex SR3 super 16mm camera.  It was fortuitous because our DP Denis Maloney actually had his own super 16mm camera too, an Aaton LTR, which we used as a B camera, allowing us to get extra shots on our tight schedule. 

Denis loved working with super 16mm and found both cameras to be quick and easy to use.  While I'm glad we shot Sassy Pants on film, I'm definitely open to digital next time.  There are so many options these days and I'm all about keeping the costs down.

Did the movie change much in the editing process, and if so, how?

COLEY: Definitely.  It's funny because Boutonniere, the short that it's based on, was its script to a T.  Every line, every moment ended up in there. 

But the feature turned out significantly different.  Much tighter I think.  What works on the page doesn't always translate to the screen.  There's an expression - there's the movie you write, the movie you shoot, and the movie you edit - and it couldn't have been more true in this case.  There were scenes that I thought would be trailer moments, but then as we were cutting and they just weren't working or felt like overkill, I'd say get rid of it.

One of my producers worried that I wasn't going to be able to let go of stuff, but I was actually the opposite.  I wanted the movie to be fast and lean, so I'd be like "Take it!"  On the other hand, there were scenes that when we shot didn't necessarily feel like they were working, but our editors magically transformed into these fabulous moments. 

Bottom line, it's such a collaborative process and you never know exactly what you're gonna get.  It clearly takes a village.

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

COLEY: Hmmm, I think it was my producer Adam and I bringing on our other producer Pavlina Hatoupis to complete the triumvirate.  She's simply amazing.  The things she can do with very small amounts of money... 

As far as the dumbest, I don't think I'd shoot over the holidays again.  Weather aside, which we obviously had no control over, the schedule and timing added some unnecessary stress. 

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

COLEY: I almost feel like Sassy Pants was my film school.  My guinea pig if you will.  It taught me to choose my battles.  That sometimes you do have to stick to your guns and sometimes you gotta be flexible and bend. 

It taught me to surround myself with incredible people who share the same vision. 

It taught me that no matter how much you prepare, unforeseen shit will go down and you just gotta ride it out.  I believe everything happens for a reason, so some of that unexpected caca can actually turn out to be very beneficial.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Juli Jackson on "45RPM"

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make 45RPM?

JULI: Around age 16, I started to realize I wanted to work with cameras and tell narrative stories. In my small town in Arkansas, my high school had a fairly well equipped AV department to create its own public access channel and though it was mostly documenting sporting events, I learned a lot there -- Enough to decide to move away for college and study film anyway.
I received my BFA in Film and Digital Video from University of the Arts in Philadelphia. The summer after I graduated in 2005, one of my professors, Steve Saylor, hired me to be Director of Photography for a micro-budget feature film he wrote and directed called Beat the Air. We shot over a long month in Philadelphia and I learned a great deal under fire. Almost all our crew were students or former students so I trained anyone I needed for whatever position we were lacking. With few resources, we jumped on the 24p bandwagon and made a feature with no money.

The biggest learning experience for me at that point was understanding that a feature film was really no different than making short films -- it is all of the same elements coming together -- it just takes longer. Right after we finished shooting, I moved with some college friends to Los Angeles with the attitude that I would start small and work my way up. I wanted the camera department to be my home. Three years later, I had worked dozens of industry jobs, some great, some terrible, some for free, some for good pay, but I didn’t like living in LA. and for the most part, I didn’t like the projects I was getting hired for.

When Saylor called me up and wanted to make another indie film in 2008, a dark comedy called God’s Country, Off Route 9 I jumped at the chance to get back to the east coast. That fall, I moved back to my hometown to save some money and low and behold a small but tight-knit film community had developed in Arkansas. So I stayed.

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

JULI: The script started as a short film idea developed with a long time friend, Timothy Eubanks. Once we fleshed out some details and I started researching about Arkansas’s music history and finding ways to use those details to build this world, I started to see it as a feature.

Having avoided writing for years, it was difficult to force myself to get the ideas out and work with them. I wanted to just start making the thing with the images I had in my head. But I got attached to the characters and wanted it to be good. And I knew I wanted to shoot it as soon as I could manage it so I used a local screenwriting competition as a deadline for myself. I didn’t place at the competition but I got a lot of helpful feedback and made several more drafts. In fact, I was still rewriting up until production. There are still things I would change if I could but I think it was now or never for this story.

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

JULI: Originally I planned to make the film with no money at all; just shoot on my own little Sony EX-1 on weekends or whenever I could get friends to help for however long it took. But I found out that the Arkansas Arts Council was working with the non-profit organization the Ozark Foothills Film Fest to give three $30,000 grants to filmmakers in Arkansas.

The application process was thorough and I had to do a lot of developing and create a business plan with detailed budget, give a presentation to a group of judges, etc. But in the end, the panel loved my idea, it fit their requirements, and I was awarded one of the grants. That money was a jumping off point. It really got the ball rolling and other filmmakers interested in the project.

Although my budget exceeded that amount, and like any indie filmmaker I put myself into debit to finish my creation, the grant acted as the seed for the entire project. This fall, I hope to try my hand at crowd-funding through to raise some money for a festival run and successful self-marketing campaign. I know I have a lot of support out there through friends we have made during each stage of the project and I know we’ll be able to get 45RPM out there where it can be seen.

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

JULI: I was lucky because of the grant I had a little money, so I could hire a talented DP, Bryan Stafford, with his own Red One and I loved everything about that camera. Of course, I had never gotten to shoot a project of my own with a Red camera so I can’t say I had very many complaints.
Stafford and my gaffer Brent Bailey are very talented and honestly what got us through the tough days on set was looking at the monitor. We were able to get some really beautiful footage and everyone on the crew knew it. The camera work and lighting made us a family in some ways because all any of us had to do was look at the proof on the screen and know we were all helping to make good work.

How does your experience as a DP help you when you're directing?
JULI: In the beginning stages of the project, I didn’t actually want to direct. I just wanted to act as DP/camera operator. At some point, I thought I would do all three. I believe some filmmakers can do that and succeed but the bigger the project got, the less I could see myself handling all those elements well.

My directing experience was limited to a few short films but I made the leap anyway because I was ready to make a big project of my own. I hired an Arkansas based DP with an impressive reel and his own camera and I couldn’t have made a better decision.

My experience as a DP meant I gave as much time and creative control as I could to Stafford. I ended up having to wear even more hats than I anticipated with producing & art department but finding a DP I could trust was the backbone of the project.

Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, how?

JULI: We are still in post-production, so the movie feels like it is changing all the time. But when I watch the newest cuts all the way through, beginning to end, I’m surprised to find the story I wanted to tell is still there. Details may have changed, scenes shortened, dialogued hacked to pieces, but at it’s core, it is the story I started writing two years ago.

What was your process for securing music (and rights) for the movie?

JULI: I took what I have to assume is a rather unusual and time-consuming approach to the film’s soundtrack. Because the story is about ‘lost music’ with themes of artists and how their work is perceived, I decided that all of the music should be from unsigned or small bands from Arkansas and a mix of both old garage rock and new garage rock.

This meant tracking down old bands and their music, asking permission to use their work, listening to a vast wave of new music and contacting those bands. It is a lot of phone calls and trying to get people interested in the project but it has been really rewarding as so many talented artists has come on board and said yes, including many of the 60s era artists who helped inspire the story idea.

What is your marketing plan for the movie and how have your results been so far?

JULI: My plan for marketing is trying 45RPM at as many different festivals and venues as I can. I just want to film to be seen. Unless a sweet distribution deal drops from the sky, I am planning, and looking forward to, self-distribution through our website. Not only will the DVD be available but also cool artwork from the movie, the soundtrack, and a limited edition 45 of the two original songs recorded for the film.

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

JULI: Smartest thing I did during production would be trusting my mother to come on board as a producer. She had no previous experience, but she is a great person that everyone loves to deal with. She knows how to get things done and she knows how to handle money. I would have been lost without her.

There were many dumb mistakes I made as a first time director, but the best I can come up with at the moment is not personally doubling checking that we were getting all our rental equipment for a particular day. In preproduction, we made arrangements for 50ft of dolly track for a big shoot day. It was a particular shot I was married to for the last scene of the film. The morning of the shoot, I arrive on set to find we only have 30ft. of track. And we are in the middle of nowhere Arkansas needing to shoot right away. I had to change the concept of the scene and I am still not happy with it. Double checking that all the ducks were in a row for a scene that was really important is a mistake I hope to avoid in the future.

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

JULI: As I am still in the process of making 45RPM, I have to say I hope that what I take with me to the next project is all the great Arkansas crew members I found.

Friends from Los Angeles and Philadelphia ask me why I have stayed so long “back in Arkansas.” I say I never would have gotten the opportunity to create a feature at this point in my career living in the city and would have never known this talent existed if I hadn’t moved back to the area.
I’m convinced that filmmaking has become decentralized. Why go to L.A. and struggle to work your way up when you can network anywhere, find a group of people you trust, and make the projects you really believe in? This is what I want to continue doing.

45RPM - Teaser Trailer from Juli Jackson on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vince Sweeney on "Blue Ridge"

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make Blue Ridge?

VINCE: I was comfortable with cameras since I had done P.I. related video surveillance work early in my life, which somehow led me to eventually shoot a couple of no-budget horror features for someone else as the film's cinematographer; this was one stressful way to learn some of the basics beyond just the technical, but was a lot cheaper than film school. I had also made one experimental short film a few years before, as a crew of one, and that was about it.

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

VINCE: I'm not 100% sure other than a fascination with very instinct-driven, rural lifestyles, which I'd get to occasionally observe and even live close to over the years before writing it. I also knew that I'd have little money to film with and this can guide a story in many ways by itself, especially since I was coming from a technical standpoint and knew what I couldn't do ahead of time.

The writing process was painful and long. The hardest part was getting negative feedback from industry people and realizing I still had a long way to go. A year went by before I submitted the script to anyone again, after tweaking it over and over, and that time I finally had some very positive feedback. It ended up as a finalist for the Governor's award and this helped me feel that it was more ready for public viewing in film form.

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

VINCE: Sorry I can't talk about that. It was long and not very fun.

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

VINCE: We used an Aaton LTR54 Super 16mm camera. I loved that it shot film, which was needed for this story, and that it was simple, reliable and recorded more overall image information than any digital camera could dream of. I hated the fact that it sometimes made noise but mostly that it costs money when it was on!

My next one will likely be on film as well, it still looks most like a story to me and compromising image makes no sense to me. I talked more tech stuff on this Kodak article:

Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, how?

VINCE: It did change a little, but this was mostly in cutting scenes that made it go on a little too long. I was also able to change the order around of some scenes to help the opening hit a little harder. You really get to see how much a script can/should be trimmed down in the editing process.

What is your marketing plan for the movie and how have your results been so far?

VINCE: For a small film with no studio support, this is hard to answer and if I did go through everything I have done to get it out there, it won't be very useful to anyone else as the playing field just keeps changing.

These days, directors have to accept that 99% of small films aren't going to make it very far. Most don't go past being seen at a festival, and most of those festivals have never been heard of outside of filmmaking circles. Even media-loved fests like Sundance don't seem to mean much anymore when it comes to getting the title out there, other than to the lucky 1%.

If anyone wants their little film to be seen, figure in a large marketing budget of your own, make a film that can be seen (entertaining, well made, real actors), budget in getting it rated, hope for a good festival showing and start making deals on your own with the help of a theater booking guy immediately. Buy up some banner ad spaces in well thought-out places, get as many reviews as you can (most critics will ignore you) and work on that for a solid year and get help doing it. Concentrate on the VOD deal while you are doing this. Having any play at all in a theater greatly increases chances of it being accepted across the board.

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

VINCE: Smartest: Shooting on film, picking perfectly fitting, quiet locations and casting well.

Dumbest: Making a drama, which in indie film doesn't count as a "genre" unless you landed a true A-list talent. People and distributors simply want guns, slight twists on old love story formulas, family films or $100 million spectacles.

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

VINCE: See the answer to "The dumbest?" above.

I also learned, oddly enough, that no one returns phone calls or emails in LA, even when you are trying to show them a movie you already completed and aren't asking for anything other than feedback.

And: The toughest part truly starts after the final cut is done.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

George Romero on "Martin"

Where did the idea for the story come from?

GEORGE ROMERO: Initially I was thinking of doing a comedy. I just got one of those ideas that comes to you in the shower: If there really were vampires, they'd have problems living hundreds of years. They'd have to keep changing their passport photos, they'd have all these practical problems. So I wanted to do a comedy about the practical problems of a vampire in today's age.

I had started to keep a notebook on it. One day it just occurred to me that I could do this a lot straighter and I could do a thing about somebody who's not a vampire at all.

I just thought that that would be more -- not romantic -- but it would be, in a way, more of a tender story and a whole new spin that was not comedic. I wanted to just spin a vampire yarn a bit differently and leave the door open as to whether he is or is not a vampire.

You left it open for the audience, but did you decide going in that he wasn't actually a vampire?

GEORGE ROMERO: The decision that I made was that he was not. In my mind, Martin is not a vampire, he's a kid that's been fucked up by family and mythology and movies and whatever else has influenced him. You just have to make that decision in the dark room somewhere and keep both doors open.

Like your other films, Martin isn't really about what it appears to be about on the surface. It's not really a vampire movie, just like Night of the Living Dead is more than just a zombie movie. They're really more reflections on the times we're living in.

GEORGE ROMERO: That's what I try to do. I try to use the framework and use the genre, because first of all it's the easiest way for me to get financing. Really all my films are people stories. Even at the heart of
Night of the Living Dead, it's really about the people and how they screw themselves over and can't get it together.

I like that theme tremendously, the lack of communication, the idea that people are still working their own fiddles and have their own agendas even faced with sea changes in the world.

I also like that "monster within" thing, which is in the zombie films and in
Martin to some extent. Even in a couple of the things I've done that Steve King has written. The ones that I'm drawn to are those, like The Dark Half.

Martin is even sympathetic in the sequence where he goes to kill a woman and is surprised that her lover is there, which is a remarkable scene.

GEORGE ROMERO: That's my favorite sequence. I think it's the most successful sequence I've ever done.

I like its complexity. It's a very complex situation and you have to be watching the movie closely to get everything that happens in it. But what I like the most about it is the execution of it. It's very close to what I had on the page and I was able -- again, because of the small, dedicated crew and all their cooperation -- to do it, make all the shots. There are a hell of a lot of shots in that sequence. And the geography is clear, you don't get lost.

You can't do that sequence without a lot of shots and these guys moved fast and we got it. It was great. I still think it's maybe the best-executed thing that I've ever done.