Thursday, November 29, 2012

Joe Benarick on "The Ultimate Ultimate"

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make The Ultimate Ultimate?

JOE: I started doing stuff in ’07, up in Philadelphia. I bought a little Panasonic 3-chip and thought I was on my way. I don’t think I started to get comfortable behind the camera until we did Days of Lightning a couple years ago, though. But I’m still not comfortable—I’m never comfortable with myself. Ask my wife why I turn off the lights before I undress. God, I need to hit the gym.

What was the genesis of the project and what was the writing process like?

JOE: Well, The Ultimate Ultimate is a stand-alone sequel to a movie we did and no one saw, called Days of Lightning. My buddy and producer Frankie Aguirre and I were working at this dump of a hotel in Miami, and I had the idea to shoot a little comedy set at work with the equipment I had. I didn’t really have equipment; it was just the Panasonic I bought years earlier, but whatever. It would do. I knocked out a script and we shot it over a few months. We got fired after the hotel discovered what we were doing, too. But that’s a story for another day. That’s a story for a dreary Sunday, maybe during an electrical storm.

Anyway, the movie turned out okay; we were pretty happy with it. The production values were shit, but the content was on-point. I felt like that’s when A Set of Works found its voice. It was such an experimental movie; we were just doing what we thought was funny—what we’d want to see in a comedy. There was a structure, but it was all about the humor.

And after DoL, I talked to Frankie, and it was like, “We could really make something special if we had better equipment,” so the idea for The Ultimate Ultimate was born. And I was all for it, and I think Frankie was too, I don’t know. He hides things from me. But we knew we wanted to stay in this world, so we knocked out a script for a “sequel,” but a detached one.

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

JOE: It’s a lot of bullshitting, man. That’s the truth. Like, if we need to use a hotel, it’s a matter of talking to the right people the right way. I’m good at that. And I throw them some money, of course.

I’d say we spent a little over five thousand on this. All the money I made at the hotel, I put towards this. We got really lucky that some talented people thought so highly of the script and jumped on-board, too. Same with the music: these awesome musicians—AluKard, D. Lector, our buddy Back to the Futrell—these dudes gave us the go-ahead to use their stuff, and I couldn’t be happier with the soundtrack. I love our soundtrack.

As far as recouping the costs, we’ll be pitching the movie to distributors in the coming months for DVD release. I think we have a great shot at securing something, especially with all the attention the movie’s garnered. There’s a big audience for The Ultimate Ultimate. Of course, we’ll have to spend more money on that. Press packets and stuff. It’s all an investment.

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

JOE: It was a Sony HXR-MC50U, with a couple shotgun mics. It’s a great camera; I was happy with it. I wish I had more time to practice with it—to learn it, prior to filming. We got it right before we started principal photography—like the same week. We learned as we went. That’s a problem when you’re working and it’s like, “Man, we should’ve used this feature last week during such and such scene,” but you keep moving. If it’s something small, you can reshoot it. I try not to harp on the small stuff too much, but I always do.

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

JOE: No. I have everything planned out prior to shooting, so if we do it right—if we do it the way I want to do it, the footage I’m editing unfurls exactly as it’s written in my notes. I make a ton of notes on my script before everything we shoot. “Unfurls”—what the hell is that, right? Sounds like something a snake does when it’s pissed.

The one thing I did in post that I hadn’t planned was color work. There’s so much color work going on in this, but people don’t notice. But I guess that’s good. You don’t want the editing stuff to jump off the screen. If you did it right, the audience doesn’t notice. The colors are always changing in the movie according to what’s happening on-screen. I hope, even if people don’t see it, they feel it, because that was the intent.

By the way, after we completed this, I was watching Punisher: War Zone, and in the bonus features they said they did the same thing. I like that movie. Maybe they’ll let me helm the third.

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

JOE: The smartest thing was going with our guts. Frankie and I have no qualms about bringing up ideas, or questioning others. If he has some idea, and he believes it’s good, even if I’m not feeling it, I’ll ride with it, because I trust his comedic judgment. We listen to each other’s input. As long as we’re making ourselves laugh, we know we’re doing well. I don’t mind shooting hours of extra stuff that might not even get used, just to have tons of options in post.

And the dumbest thing we did…I guess not being familiar with our equipment, like I said before. It all worked out, but that was definitely bush league. Flying by the seat of our pants, man.

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

JOE: If you know that your product is good, then you’re in a good spot. When you make something, and afterwards, you’re going, “Damn, that’s great,” then you’re on the right track, because I think a lot of people know their stuff isn’t great, and they roll with it anyway. For the longest time, I thought just making stuff was good enough, and I was way off. You gotta make great stuff.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dean Peterson on "Incredibly Small"

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make Incredibly Small?

DEAN: I went to film school and made a number of short films before. Right before I made Incredibly Small I was working for a company called Range Life Entertainment where we toured independent movies around the country. The tour served as a very accelerated, real life film school for me. I watched a lot of incredible movies, met a lot of filmmakers who were making the kind of films I wanted to make and learned the nitty gritty details about the film industry that they don't even go near in film school. I also met a lot of people that would help with and star in Incredibly Small.

What was the genesis of the project and what was the scriptwriting process like? 

DEAN: I got the idea randomly from seeing a made for TV documentary called Incredibly Small on TV one day. I'm not sure why but the name sparked the idea of a young couple moving into an impossibly small apartment. From there I fleshed out the story with personal details and it transformed into a story about adulthood and accepting the harsh realities and responsibilities that await you after college.

I had worked on the script off and on for about a year, and then as the production came closer and we cast all the roles I wanted the actors to add their own personality to the characters, so there were some significant rewrites in the weeks before shooting. It was a very good crash course in screenwriting and learning importance of remaining adaptable to changes. You're open and receptive to new ideas and whims that come up on set your movie benefits enormously.

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

DEAN: Our budget was about as small as you can be, which was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because we were able to raise all the money in non-traditional ways such as fundraisers, using Kickstarter and using personal funds. This meant that we weren't accountable to any external financiers, we didn't have huge investments looming over our heads.

It was also beneficial because simple economics will tell you that the lower the cost of your movie, the easier it is to make your money back. So we had a lot of freedom in the release of our movie. We were able to be adventurous and try out some different strategies, which we might not have been able to do with a much bigger budget. 

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

DEAN: We used the Sony EX-1. I really liked it because it was small and was good in low light situations. When our DP Adam and I were discussing what camera we should use, portability and the ability to shoot with minimal lighting were the main factors we took into consideration. It also allowed us to shoot really long, uninterrupted takes which was very important to the story and which is one of the major detriments of DSLR's. 

What was the value of working with a colorist and how did you approach that process?

DEAN: We shot the movie with a pretty flat profile so there would be a lot of latitude in post. I was amazed at what color correction was able to pull out of the footage. When I watched rushes I thought the footage looked amazing, I wasn't sure we'd even need to color it. But after the final color correction had happened I was blown away.

We colored the movie pretty quickly. After we locked picture I think it only took about 2 or 3 weeks to color correct it and it was happening while we were mixing the sound, so after picture lock we probably had the final cut in about a month.

What is your overall marketing plan and why did you decide to release the movie for free on the Internet?

DEAN: Since we had self-financed the film and the budget was so small, we had the option of straying from the normal path that most releases follow. I was really excited to put the movie online for free. I'm really interesting in the free model that a lot of artists use and had seen the success others had and thought that with our heavy emphasis on social media that it would be a good fit for our film.

Our marketing was almost 100% online. We relied heavily on social media such as Tumblr, Reddit, Twitter and Vimeo to get the word out about our screenings and release of the film. Social media had the benefit being free, easy to reach a broad audience and the ability for our fans to share our film themselves.  

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

DEAN: The smartest thing we did was to shoot the scenes in order. It allowed us the ability to make lots of changes as we shot; we added scenes, cut scenes and it also freed us up to improv a lot.

The dumbest thing I did was to quit drinking coffee two weeks before shooting.

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

DEAN: The main thing I learned is that making movies is hectic and crazy and you have to accept, anticipate and roll with the madness. Things will happen; actors will drop out a week before shooting, a marching band will start playing across from your location, somebody will forget to bring an important prop. These things will happen and they'll seem like the end of the world, but you'll learn to shut down that part of your brain that freaks out, you'll deal with it and hopefully learn to use them to your advantage.

Everyone should watch Burden of Dreams before shooting a movie so you can remind yourself that it could always be A LOT worse.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rebecca Miller on "Personal Velocity: Three Portraits"

What was going on in your life before Personal Velocity?

REBECCA MILLER: I had basically given up, at least for the time being, the idea of making films, because it was so hard for me to get my films made at that point. I had made one film, called Angela, which had won the Filmmaker's Prize at Sundance, They've discontinued the Filmmaker's Prize; all the filmmakers voted on their favorite films, the ones in competition.

Angela did well with some critics and things, but it didn't make money. It was a very uncommercial film. And then I had written The Ballad of Jack and Rose, which was something I would make later, and I wrote another film that collapsed in pre-production. So I had gotten to the point where I just felt like I didn't want to just wait and wait to make films and tell stories. All I did all day was write these screenplays that nobody seemed to want. So I decided to write short stories.

My friend Gary Winick called me. He was making this series of films for the Independent Film Channel. He had come to them with this idea that he would make ten films a year for a million dollars, but what they ended up giving everybody was a $250,000 budget.

He asked did I have anything, did I want to make a film on mini-DV for that much money? And none of the films that I had already written were really right for that, because I figured (and I was right about this), that you'd have to tailor a script for that medium and for that budget; you shouldn't just take one of your script and try and turn it into that kind of shoot.

I was sick of writing screenplays that no one was going to make, I said, "If you want to look at the stories that I'm writing, I could maybe do something out of one of them." So I gave him a few stories from the collection and he read them and he really liked them. He ended up giving them to Caroline Kaplan, who was running InDigEnt with him, and they ended up green lighting the film. It was also Gary's idea to use three stories at once and make a trilogy, and when he said that my mind took off.

The thing that's great about Gary is that he really insisted that I feel completely free. At first I was sort of checking with him and saying, "I'm doing this, I'm doing that," and he was like, "Look, do whatever. The point is that we want to get filmmakers who have experience and who we believe in to feel free."

And so I wrote the script for Personal Velocity in about two months. It took me about two years to write the book, and I knew what everybody in those stories was feeling and I knew the characters from top to bottom, so writing the screenplay was mostly about finding the form and the structure.

How did you decide which of the three stories to use?

REBECCA MILLER: I chose the ones that were the most dynamic in terms of action, where there was conflict that was externalized, because some of them were very interior. And also where I thought that there was a good clash; like I thought there was a very good clash between Delia, which is a story about a working-class woman struggling with an abusive marriage, and Greta, which is about an upper-middle class woman struggling with the clash between her own ambition and a marriage which is feeling increasingly stultifying, and finally her ambition propels her out of her own marriage.

They both involve crisis, but of a different order.

And then, class-wise, Paula is kind of a floater, because she's an artist, she's from that class although she doesn't really produce anything, but she's in-between the two classes.

At what point in the process did you decide to use narration?

REBECCA MILLER: I always knew I was going to. The narration was built into it.

Early on Gary had said that he loved the way the narrator spoke in the stories and that it would be a pity to lose that. And I also thought that with the three stories, I thought it would be a good thing to link them together. And it also gives you a lot more freedom, because we're jumping back and forth through time constantly. And the narrations also carries a lot of the humor. It's a sympathetic third voice.

In the end there was a whole debate about whether or not to make it a male or female voice. I always knew that it was meant to be a male voice, but then there were some people who saw it and said, "You can't make it a male voice; it's about women."

But I just ended up really liking the male voice, because I thought it differentiated itself from the other voices. Otherwise, it was just another's woman's voice, it was like a soup of women's voices, and I thought it was good to have the male voice.

Also, I thought it was kind of optimistic to have a male voice, it seemed to be sympathetic and unjudgmental of this of these women while some of there struggles were against men, and it was my overriding view, my own point of view, which is that it's very possible to have sympathetic males in your movies.

How did your background in acting help the writing process?

REBECCA MILLER: I think there's a really big advantage to have been an actor when you're the director, because you have more of a sense of what the actors might need and help them keep it all natural.

In a way, the film isn't naturalistic at all. It's like a poem, in a way. But the way that it's happening and the way that it's shot leads you to believe that it's naturalistic. It's a funny combination.

I think that acting was a very necessary step for me. I had a weird, long apprenticeship, in that I was a painter for quite a while and then at a certain point realized that I wanted to make films.

I acted for about five years while I was writing my first screenplays and still painting for some of that time -- it was like a bridge. Without the acting I don't know that I would have been able to successfully make that leap -- when I was a painter I was so far away from the mindset of being a filmmaker and being more sociable like that and thinking about what it's like to be on a set where there are so many people. I just learned all sorts of things, just how it works, what a film set's like.

One of the problems with being a director is that you never get to go on sets -- even if you go to film school, you don't usually get to be on sets when you're coming up. You learn when you get on your own set, but it was nice to just understand certain things, to have been around directors. For writing it probably helps, too.

You're writing to shoot, and that's what's important to remember. And I really remembered it with Personal Velocity. That screenplay was really tailored, it was absolutely tailored to the medium. I don't think I even cut any scenes out; there was no waste in that thing.

You shot what you wrote.

REBECCA MILLER: I shot what I wrote and I kept what I shot. Which is really unusual. Usually you end up realizing that there are internal repetitions that you didn't notice. But this was all done in a spirit of such economy, so I was very conscious of not wanting to shoot anything extra.

We had no overtime, so we had to finish our days, and we had no extra days. So there was no leeway at all. If you weren't making your day, you had to start cutting scenes. And there was on occasion where I did have to cut a scene, which was completely unnecessary and I think in the end I would have cut it anyway afterwards.

Did you tweak the script after it was cast?

REBECCA MILLER: I'm sure I did. I'm usually kind of tweaking things until they get said. But I do really believe very, very strongly in having a very, very strong script, then you can throw it out. The thing is to have a really strong script and if you are the director then to fool yourself into thinking that you didn't really write it and that it's somebody else's. Then you can be totally irreverent with it and throw it out.

It's a blueprint, it's only a blueprint, but at the same time, if you're really well prepared, then you can always change everything. It's when you're not prepared, I think, that things get really scary.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rob Burrows on "Entwinement”

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make Entwinement?

ROB: I had been interested in photography and filmmaking for a number of years and combined this with an interest in building the hardware to edit them and writing. I made an in-house documentary for the BBC; it featured a shift of a Saturday morning radio presenter at Radio Kent and the team who went out interviewing people and presented it with him. I also made a film for the Army and carried out various other projects.

During my professional career I combined roles of working at Bethlem Royal & Maudsley Hospital in London with being Editor of Mental Health Nursing (a supplement in Nursing Times Supplement) and Focus, the magazine of the Psychiatric Nurses Association. It was an interesting and fast-paced time; I travelled quite a lot and had to regularly go to Fleet Street for meetings. I did that for about two years and was relieved when I no longer had to meet the deadlines for writing editorials.

It was funny meeting people who expressed opinions that I had written and quoted where from, but did not realise I was the editor who wrote them -- I never said as it would have been a bit embarrassing!

I did a fair bit academic writing and was published in various journals over the years. I decided that, on completing a Specialist Clinical Practice degree, I would change track and start writing fiction for a change.

I wrote Dead Frequency and tried to get it made into a film -- I soon found out that there was no way this could be done, as the system does not allow it. I found it to be a closed shop. I decided to form Solarus films and film it myself. I had not intended to direct it but the search for a director was fruitless, so I did it.

One of the lead actors (Faye Ormston) said her sister Amy wanted to act, so I wrote a small part for her. Seeing them together triggered an idea that resulted in me writing Entwinement. I cast them both in the lead roles and the effect was really good.

On making Entwinement I saw how Jason Savan acted with Amy Ormston. It was a striking partnership and I decided that I could not waste it! That led to Black Orchid being written within a couple of weeks.

I had discussed the story Amy and Jason -- I offered to moderate it to a domestic conflict drama but Amy wanted the raw idea made into a screenplay, so that is what we did. I would not have attempted such a storyline without a close and trusting team, as I feared that it would blow a weaker team apart. I had feared some would walk away as it was, but they all embraced it and were ecstatic.

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

ROB: As said above, I got the inspiration from real life people and developed the characters and story round them.

When I start writing I have no clue as to how it will turn out. On each occasion the ending has been one I did not anticipate when starting. I have to write quickly -- the scripts were mainly done in two weeks flat.

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

ROB: I just paid the costs of making it from my earnings. I looked into obtaining sponsorship, there are various organisations that are supposed to help, but I found them useless.

For example, I sent the UK Film Council the synopsis of Entwinement and they rejected it immediately without even asking to see the script. Life is too short to play politics and be held back by a system that seems only to be there to serve the people employed it.

In addition I found there is no funding available to the North East region of England. I told the team that the time and effort that would be spent on seeking grants would be wasted and we could have made a film by the time we received the final no. They all agreed so we just got on with it. We are motivated by the prospects of getting our work seen and success for any one in the team is shared as we all hardwired to the project. A number of the actors have gone onto star in properly funded films since. That is great to see.

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

ROB: The Sony EX3 – I don’t like the 3.5mm headphone connector and the poor depth of field control. Other than that it has been an amazing camera. The Canon 5d MK2. The whole thing is a total hack and when using it has to be me on camera – the best thing is the depth of field control and the creative opportunities it offers.

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

ROB: I found the UK broadcasters don’t reply to emails etc.; they are used to their usual programming and programme sources. UK independent film is not one of them. My MP Dave Anderson has been trying them for me; so far they have ignored him as well, so at least the slight is not personal!

There does seem to be something of a regional prejudice involved. The European Viva TV (based in Spain) actually asked for Dead Frequency and has screened it repeatedly. They have now asked for Entwinement. Cineworld also took Dead Frequency and it was a sell out. So much so they may be showing Entwinement.

Dead Frequency is going out as a DVD and download from Amazon / Love Film shortly.

Each film is sent to festival in the first instance. Dead Frequency was selected for the Stepping Stone Festival in India and at the Portobello Festival in London and Entwinement at the Portobello Festival in London, although it’s early days as it was only completed on May 2012.

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

ROB: The smartest was to ignore advice not to bother and the dumbest was to actually believe what people say – there are so many who actually believe they are capable but who have been a let down.

On the positive side, we have now evolved a team that is lean and capable.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

L.M. Kit Carson on "Paris, Texas"

What was going on in your life before Paris, Texas happened?

CARSON: We did Breathless, so I'd done my first Hollywood film. I do these diaries whenever I make a movie and they were published in Film Comment, and as I said at the beginning of the Paris, Texas diary, after Breathless I was not exactly hot, but I was lunch. So I went to lunch a lot and was offered projects, and none of them was anything that I really wanted to do.

At the same time, my son had gotten cast in Paris, Texas, so I got to know Wim very informally because of that. So while I was doing lunch with all of the studios and executives from all the different agencies and all that, I was watching the progress on this. I knew that they had gotten started and that there was a stop date on the talent involved, so they had to launch. There was a stop date on Harry Dean and there was a stop date on Nastassja Kinski, so they had to start shooting.

They went off and started the beginning of the movie, down in Texas, in an area called The Devil's Playground in the desert. Wim was out there for two weeks and had come back. I wandered into the office one evening to see how it was going, and he was at his desk with his head in his hands. I said, "What's the matter?" And he said, "We have shot the beginning of the movie. It sets up this great mystery, and then the script explains it all away. And I don't want to do that."

He said, "I want this movie to be about love, a movie in which love triumphs at the end, but it's not sentimental."

That was the thrust of the movie, and he'd shot the opening mystery, the first 20 minutes of the film. And then he didn't like the rest of the script. I asked him what the script was like, and he said, "There are two versions."

One version was that Nastassja's father was a big Texas oilman, and his goons had gone and beat up Harry Dean and grabbed Nastassja and stuck her in a penthouse.

The other version was Nastassja's mother was under the thrall of a televangelist and, of course, he ran heroin dens and whorehouses, just like all televangelists do. His goons came and beat-up Harry Dean and grabbed Nastassja and stuck her in a heroin den/whorehouse.

And I said to Wim, "Those are kind of corny." And he said, "Yeah."

And I said, "What if they did it to themselves?"

And he looked up and he said, "Exactly."

Sam Shepard had, he explained to me, gone on to In Country, the film where he met Jessica Lange, because he and Wim couldn't get satisfied with the scripts. And so Sam just sorta said, "You figure it out. I'm outta here. I gotta go do this movie."

So Wim said to me, "Give me the weekend, I'll call Sam and tell him that I want you to do this." And I said, "Okay, but I'm going back to New York this weekend, I'm stopping in Texas first to see my folks. You call me by Sunday and tell me in which direction I'm going to continue going -- either back to LA or on to New York."

So I didn't hear from him, I didn't hear from him, and on Sunday night, at the last possible minute when I was about to go get my ticket and get on the plane, Wim called and said, "Come back."

So I came back and they resumed the shoot, and I stayed two weeks ahead of the shoot with new pages.

Did you have a sense while you were making the movie of the impact it would have and the status it would achieve?

CARSON: No. It was really just a bunch of guys driving around Texas in pick-up trucks making the movie. There was nothing that seemed important going on. We were not shooting a film that was going to win at Cannes. It was just a bunch of guys trying to do something.

Brilliant collaborators: Production designer Kate Altman -- brilliant. Cinematographer Robby Müller-- brilliant. And the actors are all brilliant. But it was wide open in the sense that all we were doing was serving the movie. There was nothing else going on except trying to figure this out.

I remember that the movie had a budget of about $750,000. That's probably not the official budget, but that's I knew we had. I was paid, partly, I was given a '57 Chevy Bel Air, with the fins. That was part of my pay. Nobody was paid anything, really, on this movie.

You look back at it now and you say, "How could you guys do something this good without any luxury at all?" But the intention was so high; there was nothing in the way of trying to do something honest and out of your heart.

Is there anything that you learned working on Paris, Texas that you still use today?

CARSON: Silence. I learned that.

The first part of the script was Sam's and it was full of silence. I found out about the power of silence from thinking about that over and over and over again, and thinking about how the characters relate to each other. There's a lot of silence in this movie and it's very powerful.

I've learned and applied that to everything else.