Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gary King on "How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song"

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song?

GARY: I'd done a few feature films, but didn't have any experience taking on the scope of a movie musical, which involved progressing the story through music and song. Even though I've loved musicals from a very young age, I wasn't well versed in the actual professional side, dealing with how to talk to dancers and musicians. So I surrounded myself with people who were way more knowledgeable in musical theater (Joe Schermann, Christina Rose, Mark DiConzo), as the life of an aspiring Broadway artist was the world I wanted to explore.

However, my experience of producing several feature films helped me logistically complete the movie musical. I don't feel I could've made the film without years of knowledge of how to shoot a movie on a low budget with a skeleton crew. We made How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song with just a crew of four people (including myself).

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

GARY: The idea originated from my desire to explore the unrecognized artists struggling creatively and financially in New York City. However it evolved over several drafts and grew to more of an examination of artistic integrity and how relationships and friendships can really affect one's career and finding that balance.

It took about 8 months to get to the shooting draft. It's funny that the script says it's just "Rev 2," but the way I write is I make tons of passes at the script over and over again before updating the title page.

I didn't have any of the songs or music beforehand, however I intentionally wrote in placeholder cues (and sometimes temporary song titles) of where I wanted the songs to happen. That way, Joe Schermann, who did the music and lyrics, knew what was being explored thematically and who was supposed to be singing.

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

GARY: We mainly financed the film via Kickstarter, raising close to $50k from over 400 generous supporters. I was lucky in that we signed a distribution deal with FilmBuff even before heading into the 2012 festival circuit. So the pressure to get a deal wasn't there as we toured the fests. It was so enjoyable to screen, network and win several awards ( already knowing we had a company behind us who wanted to release the film.

The wonderful surprise is due to our international film festival success, our film is being released digitally worldwide. People can visit to find out where they can see it. I couldn't be happier for everyone involved. This is exactly what we wanted, the chance for audience around the world to see our labor of love.

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

GARY: We used the Canon 5D for 95% of the shooting, and the Canon 7D for some dance sequences and off-speed shots. I loved the ability to shoot anywhere I wanted in the city without a permit and not have anyone know we were making a film. Also, the camera just produces a gorgeous image, so much so that some people believe we had a much higher end camera for the film.

The main drawback was its tiny LCD screen. I had a Zacuto device that magnified the images about 2 times the size, however I still wasn't sure if focus was precise or not. And also this was the first film I shot myself and directed -- so juggling cinematographer and directing duties was a pretty arduous task. I tell people now it was probably one of the most stressful things I've done on the set, but now looking back it was one of the most rewarding.

You wore a lot of hats on this production -- Director, Producer, Writer, DP, Editor. What's the upside and the downside of doing that?

GARY: I'm actually pretty proud of the fact that I was able to do so much and not have people think that it was just me. At least that's the hope. It's nothing I really do by choice, this time around the DPs I wanted to shoot the film all had schedule conflicts. And I always tell people I produce out of necessity, not for the love. I hate producing films actually, but I guess I can get it done and that way I don't have to rely on someone else. To me, that's the worst thing an indie/DIY filmmaker can do: hope that someone else will make the film for them.

Having said that, it's my dream to not have to juggle so many positions. I do it a lot of time because mainly it's a budgetary thing (or lack of one). If I had my way, all I'd love to do is direct; occasionally write a screenplay every few years while directing other scripts in between. That's one of my ultimate goals.

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

GARY: The smartest thing....hire talented artists around me. Surrounding myself with a strong team.

The dumbest thing...choosing a shooting location situated on the top floor of a walk-up building with no air-conditioning as our main characters' apartment. It was July and one of the hottest summers ever in New York. Pure misery.

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

GARY: Actually, I really learned all about camera lenses. It sounds techy and boring, but I really dove in and fell in love with them. Moving forward it'll help me talk to cinematographers on another level that I haven't been able to articulate in the past.

Also, making How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song was just a blast to do with people I loved. I don't think I'd ever want to make movies any other way.

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