Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ryan Smith on "After"

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make "After"?

 RYAN: I had made a couple of shorts and a handful of music videos. I co-founded a production company called Seabourne Pictures in 2004 with the intent of developing feature film content. It took us six years to get to After.

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

 RYAN: We pitched the project to a number of investors -- mostly personal contacts. My partner at Seabourne, Brandon Gregory, suggested we talk to some longtime friends of his who are in the shipping logistics business. They ended up partnering with a third investor and founding an LLC for the purpose of investing in the film.

In terms of recouping our costs, After will be in theaters on September 14th in limited release. Brandon's background is in exhibition, so he came to Seabourne with established relationships with film buyers at every major theater circuit. These days, a lot of independent films are distributed direct to video, day-and-date VOD, etc.

Brandon and I are both strong supporters of the communal movie-going experience, and we made After to be seen on the big screen. We were very fortunate to have the support from exhibition to make this a reality. We're also working with Jinga Films in the UK, who are negotiating sales to foreign territories.


What was your working process with your co-writer, Jason Parish?

 RYAN: Jason and I met regularly to discuss the story -- mostly over lunch -- and I would go away and write scenes. I love the collaborative process, but prefer to lock myself in my office for the actual writing.

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

RYAN: We shot on the Red One with the MX sensor. Because of the intensive VFX in After, film wasn't an option with our budget. We shot with an older set of anamorphic lenses, which probably gave us more trouble than the camera ever did.


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

RYAN: There were a number of scenes that we shuffled around, and a couple that we cut. In the script the opening is different. It worked on the page, but when we started cutting the film, we realized that it affected the pacing in a negative way. Most of that scene is still in the film, in the form of flashbacks scattered throughout. You're constantly rewriting, all the way through to the end.

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

RYAN: The smartest decision I made was trusting my friends Laray Mayfield and Sabyn Mayfield when they recommended that I meet with Steven Strait for the part of Freddy. Laray is a casting director who had met with Steven several times for different projects. She was adamant that he would be a perfect fit for Freddy, and it turned out that she was absolutely right.

The dumbest decision I made was attempting to make this film in the first place. With the budget we had, it was insanity to think we could pull it off. If it hadn't been for Magnetic Dreams, who did our VFX, we would have been sunk. So my dumbest decision ended up working out okay in the end.


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

RYAN: This was my first feature, so the knowledge I took from it was invaluable. I think you learn more from your failures than your successes. It's the sense of a missed opportunity in a scene that inspires you to do better next time.

I haven't had a chance to work on any other projects yet, but I'm developing something now that I'm pretty excited about.
 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin on “Buffering”


What was your filmmaking background before making Buffering?

DARREN: I’ve spent the past 20 years or so as a freelance film editor working on a huge variety of projects, to date near on 200 documentaries, many for the BBC, Nat Geo and Discovery Channel. There were a couple of award winning short film dramas along the way as both writer and director as well as our previous feature films, Shank and Release.

CHRISTIAN: I’ve had an eclectic career to date –and to try and give you a potted history – I started out on the usual path as runner many years ago and then moving into post production coordinating projects for Miramax and New Line that were posting in the UK.

From there I moved into development and production, starting out as assistant producer on Bent with Ian McKellen and Clive Owen.  After the film was delivered MGM (who acquired the film for the US) wanted a pop video with Mick Jagger (who starred in the film) and some additional promotional films and paid me handsomely to put it together. I used the fee to start my own production company and went to work for a film financier (Graham Bradstreet) who taught me a huge amount and financed a film for me called Fever written and directed by Alex Winter.

I promptly moved to New York to produce the film. It got selected for the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes and Alex and I went straight into development on another project called Acts of Charity written by Chips Hardy (Tom Hardy’s dad) which Alliance Atlantis picked up to finance and distribute. For various reasons the film folded partly as a consequence of studio re-structuring its finances after the financial turmoil and world uncertainty following the tragedy of 9/11.

Re-grouping I sold my production company along with my development slate and I set up a distribution company specializing in arthouse/world and gay cinema and became a company Director of another UK distributor (Peccadillo Pictures) and remodeled their business plan for them. I’m very proud that my expertise has seen them become one of the most successful specialized distributors in the UK.

Whilst distribution can be rewarding, it’s difficult sometimes to acquire a title after all the creative work has been done and really act as a sales person for someone else’s work. So I had to scratch the itch to express my own ideas and produce them for myself. I moved from London and took some time out to write.

Having moved to Bristol, I reconnected with Darren (who I’d known from film school days) and showed him my outline for Shank. Darren expressed an interest in writing it with me and so a script and project was born. This was our first low budget venture and all my past experience served to get this film made and sold internationally. It caused quite a stir and played in over 80 festivals across 120 cities worldwide. It’s success lead to Release followed by Buffering.

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

DARREN: The idea was to make something significantly more lighthearted than our aforementioned previous films. I’d read somewhere that our home city of Bristol was the UK porn filmmaking capitol, (as well as a world center for wildlife documentaries!), with many people setting up ‘studios’ in their own homes. So the basic premise sprang from there really. We were also intrigued by the idea of a gay couple living in suburbia, (as many of us do of course…), and not having the usual dramatic hurdles as coming of age and homophobia to deal with.

The writing process was actually very quick, a few months really. After mapping out the basic plot together, I’d bash out a first few drafts of the script and between the two of us it would evolve from there really.

CHRISTIAN: We were looking for something that was a lighter subject to work on and Darren told me about this brothel in Prague that allowed men to have sex with any women in the premises for free on the understanding that the sex sessions were filmed and all rights signed away to the brothel to sell on line as porn.  We then started to formulate an idea around that with a gay bent.

From that we started to look into a quite dramatic treatment for the subject, which was not the original intention.  I then hit upon the idea of whittling it down to a loving couple who were in dire financial straits who had to turn to selling self made porn to make a living – add into that mix that one of them doesn’t know that the other is filming their sex sessions and a plot is born.

The whole global credit crunch was in full flow at this point and hitting everyone and that in-of-itself is a very serious subject but we wanted to go more humourous with the subject – in the end we think we’ve ended up with somewhere in between – a dramedy of sorts. 


 How did you two divide up the directing responsibilities?

DARREN: I think we both know the areas in which we’re good at and the ones where there’s room for improvement! I for one don’t have quite the experience with actors and lighting as Christian does, but my experience in editing and storytelling meant that I can piece the film together in my head while it’s being shot, which helps to know we’ve got the coverage for a scene or not and sometimes even eliminate the need for extraneous scenes, quite a help when you’ve only the budget to film for 12 days! Also, I think in advance in quite a musical way, which sort of helped this production a bit…

CHRISTIAN: I spend a considerable amount of time watching films – everything and anything – looking at edits, plot construction, shot composition, camera angles etc. I like to think about how to replicate shots and ideas formed from films I’ve seen with the lower budgets we operate with.

When we’re directing, I have a more hands on approach than Darren with the DoP and Operator and will grab the camera and see if a shot will work or not. Sometimes there is conflict with Darren’s role as editor as in the first scene in Buffering – I worked with the grip and cameraman on covering the whole establishment of the scene in one movement – a jib on a dolly round the bed over the bed, picking up a prop, jib back to the centre of the bed, hold, then dolly round to the side of the bed and jib down to the actor as he reveals his face from under the covers. Darren as we got to the centre of the bed on the jib shouted cut as he’d decided in his head that he wanted to cut out at point in the edit. I insisted we shoot as I intended and then in the edit he got his own way and cut where he’d wanted to.  Sometimes however, as producer I get my own way on shots by over ruling. Having the film edited in your head like Darren does isn’t the way I do it but we find a way to work it out. It’s certainly helpful though that Darren does work like this because all the small cutaways and establishing shots I leave to him to do whilst I work out the bigger stuff.

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

DARREN: As previously mentioned post is my day job, so there weren’t any real surprises in the cutting room, apart from tightening the odd bit of dialogue and identifying the need for a pickup or two.  In fact I think we kept every scene in some shape or form. The fact the film was sort of pre-edited in our heads helped a lot to get the edit done swiftly and on schedule.

What did take a bit more toing and froing in the edit were the graphic elements, which were great fun to play with, but logistically fairly time consuming.

CHRISTIAN: I like post as it gives me a chance to sit back a little. Darren edits and I wander in and out of the edit suite with cups of tea and snacks. When he has something to show me I go in and watch a sequence and give him my thoughts. After he’s left for the day I think about it some more and maybe watch it again and then end up giving him more notes the next day.

On Buffering I very much left Darren to the music as he’d determined very clear ideas for the edit with the music from the band “Nancy” who we’d been introduced to by our co-producer (and actor in the film) Bernie Hodges.

Once we lock I like to get stuck into sound design and with this being a more humourous film I wanted to be creative with some of the additional sounds that could be added to underscore some of the humour. Knowing that I wanted a 5.1 mix on this film I knew where we could place some subtle sounds to augment and enhance.


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

DARREN: The smartest thing for me was including the music of the group “Nancy” at such an early stage, as it really helped drive the flow of the script as they were writing the songs in tandem. For me it was an exciting collaboration and one you don’t often get the chance to do. I think their music added immeasurably to the feel and pace of the finished film. Also involving our good friend Bernie, (who played the shopkeeper) is always a smart move, as he brings a second wind of enthusiasm and acting know-how at a stage when I for one was starting to flag!

The dumbest thing? Mmmm, that’s a difficult one as generally the production went fairly smoothly. I’d have to say with hindsight it would’ve been good to have had more time to develop a few subplot ideas that we were toying with. Also, although I’m very proud of the work of our exceptionally young cast, I believe that a few more years maturity would’ve helped ease the pressures we were piling on our actors during the intense 12 day studio shoot.

CHRISTIAN: The smartest – I was asked to come in and act as a production consultant / exec producer on a feature film shooting in Bristol just before we were scheduled to shoot. They had secured a long lease on a warehouse that they turned into a studio. I waived part of my fee in return for using the studio and production office facilities after they had finished for Buffering.  This gave us a clear 12 days in a studio where we could build sets, house costumes, have a green room and make up room and most importantly leave all the equipment at the end of the day. Just wrap and walk away – heaven. All our previous films had been on location and wrapping and dissembling kit, doing movement orders, transportation etc every night was a real strain. We only had to do 4 days on location whilst returning to the studio as a base which was a dream.

The dumbest – doing everything….writing/producing/directing/marketing the film, selling the film….seriously I envy Darren’s position – when we’re writing up until the last minute I’m putting together the finance and the crew and prepping the film, then production has it’s stresses whilst juggling numerous hats and all Darren has to do is direct then edit and then after delivery Darren walks away whilst I carry on…this all engenders a control that I’d love to give up a part of to someone else! 

Because of the various hats I wear I always feel that the script suffers to some extent and proper development doesn’t tread it’s true course – as Darren points out a little more time on some subplots we were toying with would have been useful – also when I’m juggling all the balls ultimately things can slip and I know there could have been wittier, funnier lines if I’d just had a moment to do a polish on some scenes…but hey – not sure that’s dumbest thing just life really!

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

DARREN: I personally learnt that one needs time to get the script right and to have as much critical feedback on a script as possible. I’m pleased with what we achieved with Buffering and indeed all our previous films, but I could’ve done with more script ‘fermentation’ time on all of them. The body becomes stronger, the process more fluid and it’s ultimately more pleasant on the palette! It’s free too….

CHRISTIAN: More time – on a lot of things – including script and casting. I think you pick up things from every film that you would do differently on the next – it’s always about evolving. I certainly know for example that whilst it was the greatest idea for me to market Shank on the youthfulness of the director and to play on the fact that he was straight (and it was quite a gritty gay film) it was also stupid to have taken my name off the credits as director in order to market the film in this way. I learned not to do that again! Credit where credit’s due!  I think also that with each film I learn to be more confident of my ideas and the execution of those ideas.

What are you doing next?

DARREN: A total left turn for me. I’ve been ‘fermenting’ a very British Horror film script entitled Dark Vision over the past year or so. Think The Office meets Blair Witch and you’re close. We shoot in The Fall…

CHRISTIAN: When I’m not making my films, I spend a lot of time working on polishes of scripts for other people and consulting on projects seeking finance etc. So since Buffering I have been quite busy with this. For my sins I am also really involved in politics and was elected last year to the local city council as a city councillor - which is quite rewarding if not time consuming. I’ve been tutoring undergrads on film production/finance and development.

I’m currently writing a thriller to shoot next year here in Bristol and in Bulgaria. I’m also adapting Shank for the stage. And I’ve also just completed a new feature that I wrote/produced and directed on my own called Cal – a youth drama exploring the plight of a young man dealing with his dying mom and his fight to survive and to find work in an economy that is flat lining.  It’s my most mature work to date and the politics and drama of it I am very proud of – should be out in the fall. Trailer here: https://vimeo.com/44539890


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Rona Edwards & Monika Skerbelis on “The Complete Filmmaker’s Guide to Film Festivals”


What is your filmmaking background?

MONIKA: I started out as an assistant at Paramount Pictures, then moved over to 20th Century Fox as an assistant story editor promoted to story editor. Universal Pictures offered me a better deal to run their story department where I spent ten years and was promoted to a Vice President of Creative overseeing the Story Department.

At Universal, I developed a number of screenplays, including Black Dog starring the late Patrick Swayze. In addition to my duties at Universal, I scoured film festivals and screenwriting competitions in search for new filmmakers. After I left Universal I became involved with the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival, where I have been programming films for the past thirteen years. 

The last five years, I’ve worked with The American Pavilion’s Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival programming a slate of films. I also co-produced a feature length mockumentary, Quest for the Yeti, directed by Victoria Arch and directed a short film, Reel Footage: The Secret Lives of Shoes that screened at the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival. I was also associate producer on two movies, Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover, based on the Crimes of Fashion novels by Ellen Byerrum, for the Lifetime Movie Network.

With Rona Edwards I co-wrote two books, The Complete Filmmaker’s Guide to Film Festivals and I Liked It, Didn’t Love It: Screenplay Development from the Inside Out. We also are the founders of ESE Film Workshops Online, where we teach 4 to 6 week online course like “Creating A Production Company,” and “Maneuvering Film Festivals.”  I am a member of the Producers Guild of American.
   
RONA: I began as an actress and a singer when a friend of mine asked me to do some location scouting for a Saturday morning live action film.  I had no idea what that was but they had the locations already and all I had to do was get the neighbors to sign release forms.  I had an ulterior motive; that I would hang out on the set and the producers would love me and hire me as an actor. They did love me but offered me a job as a development exec. 

I worked for Academy Award-nominee and Emmy Award winning Producer, Fern Field, Emmy Winner John Larroquette and Oscar Winner Michael Phillips as their VP of Creative Affairs before becoming an independent Producer.  I’ve produced 10 films and had countless others, in both motion pictures and television, in development at most of the studios, networks and other indie production companies. 

In addition to writing two books with Monika Skerbelis, I am also a journalist and have had columns and featured articles in newspapers including the Beachwood Voice, Los Feliz Ledger, Produced By magazine and the NeoWorld Review, a New York newspaper in which I wrote a column, Rona’s Reel Take, where I ranted and raved about the film industry. 

More recently, I executive produced two movies for Lifetime, Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover, based upon the Crimes of Fashion novels by Ellen Byerrum, produced the award-winning documentaries, Selling Sex in Heaven with Canadian filmmaker, Meredith Ralston which aired on the CBC and won the Beyond Borders award about sex tourism in the Philippines, and Unforgettable with filmmaker and screenwriter, Eric Williams (Mad City, Out of Sync) about his brother who has an autobiographical memory – he can remember every day of his life.  

And if that’s not enough, the past two years I’ve been dividing my time between Singapore and Los Angeles, where I teach Creative Producing & Development, Screenwriting and New Media at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts’ Singapore campus in addition to co-founding ESE FILM WORKSHOPS ONLINE with Monika Skerbelis – an online film school that teaches courses you didn’t learn in film school, including Maneuvering Film Festivals and Creating a Production Company.


 Why should filmmakers make film festivals part of their marketing plan for their movie?

MONIKA: Festivals provide great exposure for films and filmmakers. A film in one of the top tier festivals like Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto or even Telluride, SXSW and Tribeca may catch the eye of a buyer and gain a lot of press. Festivals help promote films via their social marketing and media outlets. They are also a great way to network with other filmmakers and get a sense of how audiences respond to their films.

RONA:  It’s also a great exit strategy from Film School or college.  It provides filmmakers the world over a platform to expose their films to new audience who wouldn’t otherwise get to see them.  There’s many reasons to submit and attend a film festival. Obviously first and foremost is to get your film accepted.  The next step would be to promote it – and promote yourself.  This means networking and forging new relationships with both industry pros that attend the festivals as well as filmmakers you might end up working with in the future.  We discuss many ways to do this in our book, which I think everyone will find very useful!

What's the biggest misconception you keep hearing from filmmakers about film festivals?

MONIKA: The premiere status of where a film is first screened can be a misconception for filmmakers who don’t understand the many types of premieres. For many festivals it’s on a case-by-case basis. They just don’t want to screen films that may have already premiered in their area or State. They want to show new films not just a rehash of films that screened at other top festivals.

On a separate festival misconception, locals living in the area of a film festival are not aware they can take part in the film festival and watch films, listen to guest speakers and partake in the festival events. May people think film festivals are for people who work in the film industry and they don’t understand that they too can discover new films and talent.

RONA:  They don’t realize that they have to really put in the work to promote their film and get an audience, this is not the festival’s job – as the festival has to promote the festival itself.  Filmmaker’s need to create a branded strategy to advertise their film, their showcase if you will, and strive to get publicity through the many local outlets by 1) being prepared and 2) creating a EPK (Electronic Press Kit) that can be tweaked and used over and over again at each festival. It takes quite a bit of work, but what most filmmaker’s don’t realize and this is probably the biggest misconception – is that the film may be in the can but the work just begins after the film is made.

There are so many festivals out there; what's your advice for how a filmmaker should go about picking which festivals to apply to?

MONIKA: First they need to know what their film can offer various audiences. Some films may fit into a niche – for example, if the film has Jewish characters then it might work well at the 160 Jewish Film Festivals, same goes for films with Greek characters, GLBT characters, Latino characters, etc. There are many film festivals that screen a particular niche.

RONA:  In addition to what Monika said regarding niche festivals, they also need to strategize the year – devise a calendar of what festivals are when and where and what the requirements are, for example – if a festival requires a premiere, what kind of premiere and if acceptance into another festival would negate the more important festival due to the premiere status.  All of this needs to be concisely worked out ahead of time so filmmakers will not be taken by surprise that they’ve just disqualified themselves from one of the top tier festivals because they screened their film in a nice but lower level festival prior to screening it at one of the festivals that required premiere status.

Once your film is accepted to a festival, what are the key steps a filmmaker needs to take to ensure that they get the most out of their film's festival experience?

MONIKA: Immediately, utilize the local press and send a press release to the local TV & Cable Stations, Radio, Newspapers and local blogs.  Use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to send out information that the film will be screening at a particular festival. Make sure you have postcards and posters available.  Try to get some posters up in the local shops, restaurants, etc. before the festival begins to help create a buzz.

RONA: Publicity is essential but the filmmaker should also make sure of the festival’s requirements and needs: utilize the festival programmer…ask questions…what format? What are some of the local newspapers, television and radio stations with possible contacts to approach with a press kit and possibly be interviewed prior to the festival?  Be strategic – if you’re not going to attend the festival, try to see if you can hire a high school student to help plaster the town with your posters, flyers and/or postcards to advertise your film.  Have a postcard that can be used for every festival and stick an Avery label where the addressee should be highlighting the venue, time and date your film is showing.  There’s a whole list of marketing and publicity opportunities to cultivate. 

Oh, and be sure to let everyone you know that you’ve been accepted via your database email list. Laurels placed on the poster and postcards also look great to show your film has been accepted into a number of festivals. This means others have liked your film just as much as you!

Everyone thinks that film festivals can only help your film, but are there situations where a film festival could actually hurt your film's marketing? 

MONIKA: If your film is great and you premiere at a smaller film festival that doesn’t have distributors, you lose your premiere status if a bigger festival wants to screen it as a premiere. However, some of festivals will still screen a film if it is a regional premiere – meaning it hasn’t yet screened in that particular area. There are Worldwide, International, U.S., East Coast, West Coast, Southern California, California, etc., etc., premieres. Any awareness of the film is not going to hurt it. The goal is to get as many people as possible to be aware of the film.

RONA: Sometimes this is unavoidable – You get bad reviews and it can kill a film’s chance for distribution at least with the larger studios and distribution houses. But not always so.  There are so many factors that these companies decide before acquiring a film for distribution.   Unfortunately you don’t have control over reviews and/or the buzz could be bad and you end up without an audience. Hopefully this won’t happen.  But it’s a possibility depending on the festival. On the converse side, a film with little buzz all of a sudden takes the festival by storm and spirals into big buzz – so the chance is worth taking.

Finally, why should filmmakers buy your book -- what sort of edge will it give them in the crowded festival market?

MONIKA: Filmmakers will learn how to target the right festivals for their film, the importance of having marketing material to best represent their film and learn about Sales Agents, Buyers, Distribution process from Industry pros… in addition to getting a list of close to 1,000 film festivals by region.

RONA:  Well I’d wished I had a book like this when I was starting out.  We are with you every step of the way in this book, as if the book is your own private mentor – you will not only understand how to target the right festivals, you will have a step-by-step approach to building your press kit and learn how to publicize your audience, increasing the chances of building a good audience for it and collecting those all important emails for your database to alert your supporters every step of the way who want to see you succeed.  This book is a very pragmatic yet entertaining read that will help filmmakers focus and strategize their film festival needs by understanding the many types of film festivals out there.  Everything you need to know in order to jump on the film festival bandwagon is included in these pages.  This is stuff they don’t teach you in film school.

The Complete Filmmaker’s Guide to Film Festivals: Your All Access Pass to Launching Your Film On the Festival Circuit is available in bookstores and online everywhere.  Loaded with examples and inspiring yet pragmatic information, this step-by-step guide to film festivals offers filmmakers a bird’s eye view of what it takes to have a successful festival experience.

In addition to being producers and development executives, Edwards and Skerbelis are also the founders of ESE Film Workshops Online, where they offer the very popular 4-week courses, MANEUVERING FILM FESTIVALS and CREATING A PRODUCTION COMPANY. They are the authors of two critically acclaimed books, I Liked It, Didn’t Love It: Screenplay Development from the Inside Out and The Complete Filmmaker’s Guide: Your All Access Pass to Launching Your Film on the Festival Circuit.   They can be reached at www.esentertainment.net

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Jim Hemphill on "The Trouble With the Truth"


What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make The Trouble With the Truth?

JIM: I made one film before The Trouble With the Truth, but it was a very different kind of movie. It was called Bad Reputation, and it was a low-budget horror movie that was my attempt to pay tribute to the movies of my youth -- it sort of crossed something like Wes Craven's Last House On The Left with Pretty In Pink or 16 Candles.

Anyway, it was a feature we made for $20,000, and the crew consisted of three people most of the time -- me, producer Ward Porrill, and director of photography Forrest Allison. Between the three of us we did all the jobs that a crew of dozens or even hundreds would do on a normal film set. Our ambitions definitely exceeded our resources, but it was a fun movie and ended up getting distributed -- you can get it on iTunes and Amazon and places like that. And it was a great learning experience; I have a lot of respect for every job on a film set because I had to do so many of them myself on that first movie.

What was your writing process like?

JIM: I spent a couple years trying to get a thriller called Hard Feelings made and kept seeing the financing fall apart for one reason or another, so I decided to write a character-driven drama with no special effects and no action that I could make with limited funds. After wasting so much time on the thriller I was impatient, so I set myself a hard deadline of a month to finish a first draft, which meant I had to write around 4 pages a day.

I used a trick I stole from one of my favorite directors, Yasujiro Ozu, which is to just start writing dialogue before you even know the story or the characters; then, as you write the dialogue, you discover who's saying it and what the story is. It's a strange way to write a movie and it wouldn't work for every genre, but for this film it was surprisingly effective. I had the draft done in a month and then spent a few months revising it.


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

JIM: Well, I raised my budget in a time-honored independent film tradition -- I hit my parents up for money. The movie is opening theatrically in a few big cities on September 14, but these days the hope is that the theatrical run will act as promotion for the various digital revenue streams. I think a movie like this, that's geared toward adults, will do well on VOD and cable and places like that, but right now we're still talking with a few different distributors to see who we want to go with for all that.


How did you go about securing name talent (John Shea, Lea Thompson) and what's the value of doing that for a low-budget filmmaker?

JIM: We went to Lea in the usual way, sending the script to her agents and managers, and just got lucky in that she loved the script and happened to have a few weeks free in her schedule. When she was cast I wanted to make sure we cast a guy opposite her who she had chemistry with, so I asked her for names of people she thought would be good for the male lead. John Shea was her idea, and I loved it - I was a huge fan of a movie he did with Alan Alda called A New Life, and of course Missing is one of my favorite movies of all time. I imagine John said yes because Lea was doing it -- they had acted together in a miniseries years before and have immense respect for each other.

As far as the value goes, I'm a big believer that the most important thing is to find the right actors for the right part -- not necessarily the most famous. That said, if you can get people who do have names, like John and Lea, who happen to also be great actors and right for your movie, they add immense value in terms of getting audiences interested in the film.

We've been showing the movie at film festivals for several months, and NO ONE comes to see the movie because they care about who directed it. They come because they're fans of Lea, or John, or both. And I imagine that the fact that John and Lea have done so much notable work in television will help us when it comes to getting the movie on cable and DVD and everything.  


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

JIM: We used two Canon 5Ds, which my director of photography Roberto Correa suggested. His feeling, which was exactly right, was that they would make the actors look great without getting in their way. We always had two cameras going so that Lea and John could respond completely in the moment without worrying about matching other takes; there would always be coverage on both of them for any given exchange, so getting continuity to stay consistent wasn't a problem.

For this kind of movie -- a dialogue, character-based piece -- DSLRs were the way to go. I don't know how well they work if you're doing an action movie or moving the camera around a lot, but for us they gave us exquisite images. Lea usually hates the way she looks on film and she thought this was the best she ever looked in a movie, which is a testament to both the camera and to Roberto's skill with light and color.

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

JIM: No, the final movie sticks pretty close to the script. The biggest challenge my editor Benni Pierce had was keeping the emotional balance in working order. John and Lea gave me a lot of options -- they would play scenes happy in one take, sadder in others, angry in others -- and Benni and I had to decide which level of emotional intensity was most appropriate for each stage of the movie. We also cut a chunk out toward the beginning to get the characters to the restaurant faster, but the movie stayed remarkably consistent from script to screen.


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

JIM: Thus far it's all been your typical indie DIY marketing via festivals and the internet. The festival reaction has been terrific, and I'm confident that eventually we'll find a large audience for John and Lea's excellent work in the picture.


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

JIM: The smartest thing was partnering up with a couple guys named Daniel Farrands and Thommy Hutson to produce. They helped me assemble an outstanding cast and crew in less than a month, and during shooting they put out all the fires that were going on so I could just focus on the actors and not be distracted by the zillion things that go wrong on an independent film set.

The dumbest thing came late in post, after Benni was done editing. We went to a fairly established post house to do the color correction and sound, but my instincts told me early on that I just wasn't on the same page with these guys; every time I would ask for something they would tell me it couldn't be done the way I wanted it. This seemed fishy to me, but having never worked on a film at this level before I didn't really know. I wasted a lot of time and money with these guys only to get to a point where I was totally unhappy with the work.

It ended up getting fixed because I went back to Benni and he did a spectacular job color timing the film, and another very good sound mixer, Brant Biles, did us a favor and cleaned up the sound. But if I had just listened to my instincts right from the start I could have saved all of us a lot of money and hassle.

In fact, overall I would say that EVERY dumb thing I did on the film happened because I went against my own instincts. Luckily, we were on such a tight schedule that I usually HAD to follow my first instinct on everything, and that served me well.


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

JIM: This is going to sound somewhat obvious, I suppose, but I learned that if you have great actors, a great cinematographer, a great A.D., and a great editor -- all of which I had -- you're 90% of the way to making a good movie.

You have to really make sure those key people are not only talented but in sync with how you see the film and how you see the process, because if they are they will all save you MANY times throughout production and post.