Thursday, July 26, 2012

Travis Hamilton on "More Than Frybread"

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make More Than Frybread?

TRAVIS: This is my fourth feature film written and directed by myself, so three films prior. I still feel like I'm learning how to be a filmmaker. I feel like I need 12 features under my belt before I know what I'm really doing. I'm trying different genres out to see what I like better then the other.

I did have some documentary background prior to getting into the feature world. I shot 100+ hours of footage with my National Guard unit that was deployed to Iraq in 2003. That is where I wrote my first film Turquoise Rose.

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

TRAVIS: I've visited many reservations around the country and up into Canada. Everyone claims their frybread is the best or their grandmother's is the best. I know everyone can't have the same frybread, so I thought we could end the long debated question! I also have a friend who is part Hualapai and Navajo and one day I asked her what side had the better frybread. She had to say her Hualapai side due to the fact that all her friends around us at the time were Hualapai!

The writing process was great, first draft was done in 2008. Was rather smooth until I had to figure out how to end the story, who to pick to win the competition. I was worried that my Navajo friends would be upset if I didn't choose the Navajo character and such...so that was tough, trying to end the piece.


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

TRAVIS: Had a few investors come in that were on our previous films. We are distributing ourselves, our fourth rodeo so to speak. We've learned a few tricks to distribution, but still have a lot to learn. Looking forward to the day when a big Distributor will come in and sweep us off our feet. :)
What are the key elements of your marketing plan and why?

TRAVIS: I'm not sure if we really have a marketing plan other then getting the film out to the people who it was made for. We are taking it around to every reservation in the United States and the reserves into Canada. At least we hope to hit most of them!! We've shown on about 20 reservations so far and played in seven traditional theatres at this point. We opened film 3 Feb on the Gila River Rez.

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

TRAVIS: Film led to shooting on the old school Panasonic P2. It gets a nice picture and worked great for our low budget and fast mockumentary. Don't get a lot of depth with it, but the story allows for that.

What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of wearing so many hats (writer, director, DP, producer) on a feature?
TRAVIS: Advantages are you don't have to have many debates and loose time trying to play the chain of command. We can make changes quick and happen quick because there isn't anyone to have to get approval from.

Disadvantage is things fall through the cracks when wearing so many hats and sometimes that synergy isn't there when you are bouncing ideas off of yourself. But I have a great crew and cast who I worked with and they all stepped up into areas where we still were able to talk and find a new way or a better way to make a scene or line of dialogue happen.


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

TRAVIS: Smartest: I shot about 1/3 of the film by myself with only the actor and one or two other people in the community at times, so the budget was basically my lunch, actor fee and gas money to get to the location. We also shot on five reservations which was great to do and a great opportunity to meet new friends.

Dumbest: Trying to make a movie for very cheap and fast. We shot it in 12 days. (Our third film we shot in 6 days, so very fast!) :) But what other options do you have sometimes?

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

TRAVIS: I'm still learning from the film and waiting to get on the next project! I see how a film that was shot with 1 person crew to up to 30+ crew members can be intercut together and no one in the audience can tell the difference. I really liked that aspect of film making.
I liked not being rushed and able to get what we needed by myself and then at the same time, really loved working with a huge crew, at least in my world a huge crew, and then seeing how the footage came together so well...at least with our budget issues. :)


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Michael Wolfe on "Maybe Tomorrow"

What drove your decision to add producing and directing to your skill set as an actor?

MICHAEL: Writing good roles, and directing myself in them, has always been my goal. Producing in this case was something I did out of necessity. I would much rather have been able to pay someone to have all the emotional meltdowns for me, trust me.

I love acting but there's something far more rewarding about being involved with every step of the creative process from idea to screen. You really feel like you raise the film from infancy to the moment you release it into the world. I don't have kids so making films will have to suffice for now.

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

MICHAEL: Myself, Mark Montgomery my producing partner and Dominik Tiefenthaler (who plays one of the leads in the film) got together one day and decided to make our own film. We weren't getting as much love from the industry as we felt we deserved so we decided to create our own work.

We decided that I would write the script, Mark would produce it, Dominik and myself would act in it and we would find the right director. Well, as soon as I sat down to start writing, I realized I truly felt I was the right person to direct it.

My writing process was intense. I usually lock myself in my apartment with a 40 of Olde English and hammer out an outline. Then I put myself on house arrest until I have a first draft. In this case, it took me four days. I was very motivated.


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

MICHAEL: It was predominantly through friends and family and their friends. Some people were acquaintances we met and pitched them on the project. We did everything from setting up a good website to developing a solid prospectus to going to networking events and pimping ourselves out. This was by far my least favorite part of the process. Then we used the trailer to raise some more money for post.

We also got a post-production grant that helped us out. Our plan now is to turn a profit by securing as many forms of distribution as we can; domestic, foreign, TV, internet, VOD, etc.

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

MICHAEL: We used the RED and I loved it. My DP, Gus Sacks, who is terrific, had shot on it many times so he was familiar with it. If you have a crew that understands its idiosyncrasies, which are numerous, and can handle the workflow, which is considerable, it's not as much of a pain in the ass as people say. And the fucking picture it provides is sexy as hell.


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

MICHAEL: The disadvantages are that you can't be as in the moment as you want when you're shooting the other actors' coverage. Because you have to be cognizant of what they're doing and if they are delivering the material.

We rehearsed for three weeks, so I was very confident going into the shoot that they would do that but still...you're kind of taking mental notes as you're acting with them, which sucks because you want to be as present as you can to help their performances.

Advantages? I knew what I was supposed to do. From writing the script to rehearsing to actually shooting, I had such a deep understanding of every moment, I never had to really search for anything. And I was a joy to direct, I must say.


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

MICHAEL: The smartest thing I ever did was ignore all the people that told me I couldn't direct myself in my first feature. Because I knew I could. After that, it was just a matter of surrounding myself with good people. And luckily I did that. From my production team to my cast to my editor to my composer and everyone else in between, Mark and I really assembled a great team.

The dumbest thing I ever did? I had written an orgy scene with myself and thirty bisexual virgins (yes, female virgins). But we scrapped it because, well, it had nothing to do with the story. That was a battle that I lost and I'll forever regret it.

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

MICHAEL: You can make a great film without name talent. But doing so will make raising money, getting accepted into top-tier festivals and securing distribution much more difficult.

On a purely artistic level, there is something very gratifying about disregarding the Hollywood paradigm. But it is not an approach I will take on my next project.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sandeep Mohan on "Love, Wrinkle-free"


What was your filmmaking background before making Love, Wrinkle-free?

SANDEEP: I had made three short films, directed music videos, written scripts for television and been an advertising copywriter before. Also I started off my career as an Assistant Director to Sanjay Bhansali on a movie called Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

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

SANDEEP: Love, Wrinkle-free is based on my observations of what is happening in Indian cities of late. More and more people are getting obsessed with the way they look and there is a sudden increase in the number of skin clinics and botox centres and what-not everywhere. In a country that prided itself for its focus on "Internal growth" having offered the world the Yoga, this addiction to the “external" was interesting, especially for a storyteller.

The writing process is what I enjoy the most. Since I was unable to concentrate at home, I paid one of my close friends some small money, requesting him to offer a room in his house. He agreed, and I used to go there daily for 2-3 months where I sat and worked on the script of Love, Wrinkle-free without too much distraction. I used to go there at 10am in the morning and be back to my home by 6pm. It was a fun process.

I used to also go and sit in cafes and pubs to see whether what I am working on has any relevance to these guys and gals. Also I started watching middle-aged people more closely to understand what they would be going through and all this, I hope has helped me make an interesting movie


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

SANDEEP: After finishing the script, I had started a Blog. Soon one of my close friends from US, Giju John got involved and he wanted to set up a Production Company in India. Then we set up a website and went about the task of inviting people to invest in this project -in a crowd funding exercise. Later on, another friend, Kamal, got involved and soon we managed to raise just enough to make a small budget indie movie which is now successfully running in cinema halls

In India, indie movies find it really hard to stand out. But Love, Wrinkle-free has managed to woo the critics with very good reviews coming out on the first day of the release of the movie. Since there are not many cinema halls playing indie cinema, we will have to recoup our investment from other rights - like Satellite and DVD and Overseas rights. At this moment, talks are on with various people who are interested in acquiring the rights in India and abroad.


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

SANDEEP: We used the RedOne camera for our 22 day start to finish shoot in Goa.
The reviews which have been coming out are raving about the way Goa looks in the movie, and I am glad no one has even mentioned once that it is Digital! That feels great because that means that the audience has moved on and for them, story and treatment has become more important than the so-called-film look.

The great thing about shooting with RedOne was that since the camera is slightly bulky, most of the crew members treat it like a proper film shoot! Otherwise with smaller cameras, sometimes the crew starts to behave as if they are on a short film shoot. I am sure this is only my opinion and going forward I will use whatever camera that suits my story and budget

Sometimes, this very same factor, the bulkiness of the Redone camera was painful since we couldn't shoot Guerrilla style too much. For instance, if I have to go to market area and shoot, people suddenly become aware that a shoot is on seeing this big camera. So there are pluses and minuses, but overall I am very happy that we chose the RedOne. Love, Wrinkle-free looks beautiful:)

What was your post-production process like and how did it have an impact on the finished movie?

SANDEEP: The editing of the movie happened from my home, in my MacPro. Once my editor Shreyas and I finished with the cut, then we took it out to the Sound studios and Color correction studios. Working on the edit and the Sound is lotsa fun and I am sure we all know that the whole movie takes shape at this stage. Though one can't change the performance of actors, hence it is critical to focus on the performance while on location since a few other things can be worked on and improved during the post.

My whole focus was on telling a simple story, since the budget and time were not there. Even in the edit, all the decisions were taken so as to keep the storytelling simple and smooth.


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

SANDEEP: The smartest thing that I did during production was to not travel in a car! I hired a scooter and traveled from our hotel to location and back. This way, the entire cast and crew realised and believed that we were on a small budget, which was the case. Also, having a scooter helped me since I could take off anywhere after the day's shoot. I used to go and sit at the beach to breathe in positive energy, which I would have exhausted during that day's shoot!

The dumbest thing that I did was to take the reigns of the camera for  20 minutes during a stressful day's shoot when it started raining suddenly and the DOP wanted to stop shooting. I was like a man possessed and told him to give the camera to me and started shooting whatever:) I was worried that I wouldn't be able to finish the movie on time, hence that move. This was kinda dumb I assume!

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

SANDEEP: I learned that I have to stay naive about the filmmaking process and be very open to ideas as well as strict when it is required. Also, the director has to lead from the front and a simple, clear line of communication has to be established between the actors, crew and him to make the whole process of shooting exciting for all. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Kenneth Lonergan on "You Can Count on Me"


What was going with life and your career before You Can Count on Me?

KENNETH LONERGAN: Before that I had been making a living as a screenwriters probably for about five years. I was making a living writing screenplays, doing pretty well, but my main interest was playwriting, which I was doing mostly with the Naked Angels theater company. I had just had my first big break in playwriting, with my play This Is Our Youth. It was very well received and it bumped me several levels up instantly, which is very unusual. So I had just become a sort of off-Broadway playwright with some cache, and I was already basically a Hollywood screenwriter of comedies.

Where did the idea for You Can Count on Me come from?

KENNETH LONERGAN: It came from an assignment that my theater company had given. We were doing an evening of short plays based on the subject of faith and I was poking around for something to write on that topic and I had the idea of this brother and sister. I wrote a ten-minute scene with these characters, which basically was the first step in writing the screenplay. But whenever I say that, I then read that "He adapted it from his own his play." But it was, honestly twelve pages long and it was never meant to be a full-length play. As soon as I thought of it as a larger piece it was immediately a screenplay.

And that scene is still pretty much in tact, right, as the first scene where Terry and Sammy meet in the restaurant?

KENNETH LONERGAN: It's that plus the scene at the end. Literally. Minus the note of hope that he expresses when he tries to tell her that he's not going back into the toilet, he actually liked being in Alaska and maybe there's something there for him. Although some people have interpreted the movie as him going back into the depths, and other people have noticed that he actually was a tiny bit of a step up from where he started.

What was it about those twelve pages that made you think you had the beginnings of a feature script?

KENNETH LONERGAN: I loved the characters, a lot, and I thought the scene was really very good. And when it was performed it was performed really nicely and I just thought there was something very moving about the situation. I guess I liked the idea of how crazy she was about him, and the whole dynamic of her having more faith in him than he had in himself. Even though she's a little misguided about him, just liking him that much brought him up a little bit.

And I liked the idea that they were at such cross-purposes, but also that they liked each other so much. And also the idea that they had had this shared tragedy and her reaction was a sort of blind faith and his reaction was more closer to mine, which is that it has no meaning but you have to piece together your own feelings about things like that, because none of the available systems really did if for him. He feels that is less deluded and less involved in fantasy.

Just the kind of double-sidedness of her having faith in this bum, just because she liked him, and then him kind of living up to it a little bit more than he might have if she didn't have that faith. I just liked that whole dynamic. I liked her taking care of him and him disappointing her -- all the dynamics between them. I just liked the people a lot.

Once you had the story, how did you proceed? Do you write an outline?

KENNETH LONERGAN: I almost never do an outline. I've done outlines for assignments, and even then I think I've only done them twice. I have nothing against them, I just don't usually work that way.

For You Can Count on Me, I split the lunch scene up, because I knew that the last part of the scene would be the last part of the movie.

I had, at one point, a whole different ending. Originally the last scene was going to be the scene with her and the little boy at the kitchen table. But then, once it was all written, I realized that it really should really end with the brother and the sister. So I made that adjustment.

Their affection for each other is the main thing that creates the tension, because if he's not her favorite person in the world, there's no conflict when he starts to endanger her kid, because that's a pretty clear choice.

So I realized that there has to be a series of disappointments that he creates that involve the kid. I didn't really bother to think what they were at first, I just knew that there should be about three of them and that they escalate. So I didn't know that he was going to take the kid to see his rat-bastard father at the end; but as it developed, she had a husband who was gone and that turned into another element. It all sort of folded into itself in a way.

Were you always planning on directing this script?

KENNETH LONERGAN: Yes, I wouldn't have written it if I wasn't planning to direct it.

Did that change the way you wrote it?

KENNETH LONERGAN: Completely. I had been aware of what professional screenwriting was like in Hollywood many years before I got into it. I got into only to make money, because I knew there was no creative protection.

This was the first screenplay that I ever wrote the way I would have written a play, meaning putting my heart and soul into it. Every other job I'd done, including the spec script for Analyze This, I definitely did as good a job as I could, but I wrote knowing that the script would be destroyed. And I wouldn't have written You Can Count On Me if I'd known it would be destroyed; I wouldn't have written it if I wasn't planning to direct it, and I knew the only way to protect it was to direct it.

The only reason it occurred to me to direct it was that I have two friends -- one at my professional caste level and one much fancier than me -- and they both had very little trouble directing their first movie. I realized that it probably wouldn't be that hard for me to do it, either. So that's what I set out to do.

I knew that if it was an independent movie that I would have a fairly good chance of controlling the material and I also knew that I wouldn't do it if I couldn't control the material.

Did you think about budget concerns at all while you were writing?

KENNETH LONERGAN: No, I didn't. There's no call for anything expensive in the story anyway. I might have thought about it a little bit, in the periphery of my mind, but not really. I knew it would be cheap.

Did you tweak the script after it was cast?

KENNETH LONERGAN: The only thing I changed in production was I did a little bit of cutting and re-wrote the last scene a little bit, because I felt it wasn't clear what his feeling was about going away.

How do you know when a script is done?

KENNETH LONERGAN: It feels right. I always feel that the ending must be at least as good as the rest of the movie. If the ending isn't great I feel like it's not a successful endeavor. I feel that if I have the right ending than that's a big help. And then I feel that if there's nothing else that I can work on and improve, then I basically leave it alone. You can always futz around with it, but unfortunately there's a certain point when I start rewriting it that I start making it worse. Thankfully, I think I've learned to identify that point and then I leave it alone.

When you get out of the groove of it, I really think it's dangerous to mess around with it too much. I tend to rewrite myself a lot as I'm going, but not endlessly. I find that a lot of writers are either too ready to rewrite stuff, which is dangerous because they just get lost instantly. I know I do. New writers are way too eager to take other people's comments and show it to everyone and get all the feedback they can get.

The feeding frenzy in the movie culture now to have everyone dive and anyone can give a note, I just find it repellant and very bad for the scripts and for the audience, ultimately.

The other thing that writers can do is not be self-critical enough. I think you have to be very much on your own side but be very unflinching about noticing when something's no good. You have to be able to step away and step back, but basically trusting your own opinion and hoping that if you like it somebody else will.

I think the rewrite frenzy is just appalling. It's shocking; I'm still shocked at 43 at how cavalierly people think it's okay to just chatter away about something someone's worked on for two years and the assumptions behind it. Personally, if I'm writing a screenplay for somebody else, I would get it to where I think it's good, but I wouldn't go one step beyond that, because I know it's going to be ripped to pieces no matter what.

Basically, you sell it, you get hired, and they first try to get you to destroy it. Then you don't destroy it enough and then they fire you and get someone else to do it. That's never not happened to me, except when I was the last destroyer on Gangs of New York. But that was a little different, because even though there were script changes that I would not have done if I was making the decisions, in the end I feel there was an artist making the movie and making the decisions and getting other people to help him shape what he wanted. It's a little different when it's a rotating committee of people who don't know how to do anything, which is what it usually is.

Did you learn anything writing You Can Count on Me that you still use today?

KENNETH LONERGAN: Yes, but I didn't learn it enough. In the editing, the first cut, I thought every scene was very good but the whole thing dragged. The problem was that every scene had a beginning, a middle and an end. So I chopped the beginnings and, more particularly, the endings of every scene, and suddenly the story propelled itself from one scene to next much better. That's because it didn't have 200 little soft resolves. So I've been trying to think about writing in sequences instead of scenes, but the truth is I haven't really applied that, because it's very hard for me to judge that on the page. It's something I know can be dealt with in the editing, so I can't say I actually have the faith to write a really short scene.