Thursday, September 12, 2013

Andrew Sayre on "Whatever Makes You Happy"

What was your filmmaking background before making Whatever Makes You Happy?

ANDREW: I have always had a strong connection to films.  One of my earliest memories was watching 2001: A Space Odyssey as a five year-old, lying on the floor at my parent's feet.  Honestly I didn't have much of an idea what was going on at the time, but I knew I liked it.  It'd be nice to say I knew that film is what I wanted do from then on, but I was five, and filmmaker really didn't compete with astronaut or second baseman for the Red Sox.  But at some level it has always been there.

I went to college in Keene, NH and got my BA film production.  After college I moved to Boston and became involved in the film scene.  I worked on projects in various capacities, wrote screenplays on my own, and did a few short films.  After many years of this I got to a point where I decided that I was ready to take the next step into making my first feature.  

Where did the idea come to do this adaptation from and what was the writing process like?

ANDREW: This is always a difficult question. 

Truthfully I never know where an idea comes from.  I mean I can talk about the day I first started typing something out or what have you, but that's not really what people are asking; they want to know about the deep down moment of inspiration and where I came by it.  And that I never know.  One day its just there.  If I knew how it got there this whole writing thing wouldn't be so damn hard. 

But this one--I of course was reading Anna Karenina.  While I was reading the novel I was picturing how it could be made into a film.  I kind of do that with everything I read, and of course there's a new Karenina version made every decade or so, so it was more of just a thing my head does than any actual intention.  But, somewhere along the line I started seeing this as something more, something I could do with the resources I had, which I think I had been passively looking for some time.  And that there were things I wanted to explore with the story.  Again, how exactly and when this all started to come together in my head I couldn't say.  It was just sort of there one day.

I started out on in November of '09 scribbling out a very vague outline on scraps of paper.  About the first third I did that way.  Then I moved on to write out a basic outline in an open Office doc in prose form.  Just the basic scene structure and key things I wanted to happen in each scene.  Very informal, somewhat messy, with random notes in it that I don't think I even know what they mean anymore.  But it helped create the basic structure and shape of the story, which was important. 

After that was done, I pasted that right into a scriptwriting program and tackled the formal script from there.  Then after a few edit sessions and some minor adjustments, I had what ended up being the script we shot with.  All told from start to finish it took me about four or five months to go from nothing to a shooting script.  Which is incredible, really, I don't think I've ever had anything I've written in any medium happen so fast or so easily in my entire life.     

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

ANDREW: This movie was all self financed.  All from hoarded tax returns and shall we say 'frugal living.'  I didn't want to spend my time trying to network the project, schmooze various people, try to find that one 'producer' who could go more than five minutes without lying about who they know and what pipe dream they have in the works.   I'd kind of had my fill of all that.  I wanted to get shooting and right away.  Better doing it on a no budget set up than chasing money dragons for the next decade or so.

So the movie was a no budget, or as I prefer to describe it,  the movie was made with 'spit and bullshit.'  Everyone worked deferred and on the weekends.  We never at any time had a full crew.  Or the ideal equipment.  Most people handled several different roles at one time, and anytime we needed extras everyone besides KJ (the DP) jumped in the scene to fill out the background.  One of my PAs (who shall remain nameless) is in something like six different scenes.  It’s the way it works down at the bottom of the ladder.

As far as recouping my money, well, that was too far away a consideration at the time for me.  I first had to make sure I managed to finish the film before worrying about how it was going to make me oodles and oodles of cash.  Right now I am working diligently to get as much media attention as I can, reviews and interviews such as this and the like, and getting the film up on as many platforms as I can.  Right now its available streaming online at four sites: Amazon streaming, Vimeo on Demand,, and onlinemoviesbox. 

The DVD is available for sale at both Amazon and createspace as well.  I have a distributor who is hopefully going to get it on even more platforms that are beyond my reach, not to mention acquire some foreign markets sales as well.  With all of this, there is still the 'screaming into the wind' problem of trying to get attention and thus sales, but I haven't completely given up hope yet.

And in a lot of ways that was never the point anyway.  I mean, of course I'm doing everything I can to make a profit, but the point of the film from this vantage point was more to have something tangible I can point to, to show people that I am in fact capable of making a film.  Its one thing to run around town talking about films and what your gonna do if someone just give you the chance.  It’s more worthwhile to go out and prove it.  Now it’s not me saying 'hey, I'm a good filmmaker.  I can't prove it, but trust me,' it’s me saying 'watch my film; you'll see I'm good at this.'

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

ANDREW: We shot with the HVX200.  It’s a good little camera.  We used primes lens with a lens adapter.  KJ really got some great images out of it even with the incredibly limited resources we were working with.  I mean we didn't have anything you would call a proper light kit--we used existent lighting mostly with a few high watt light bulbs in photo flash cans for some fill.  And even with such limited versatility he did a pretty amazing job.

How did the movie change in the editing and why did you feel those changes were important?

ANDREW: Not very much, honestly.  There were points here and there that came together differently than I had intended, a scene or two I cut out entirely.  But for the most part the movie is as I scripted it.

That's probably because I edited it myself.  That is not an ideal way of doing things, as it’s always better to get another set of eyes on a film, someone who is a bit more removed from the project, someone who might spot problems with a shot that someone who was on set might not see.  But, it was kind of the reality of the no-budget film.  I didn't have any money left to hire an editor. 

And while I could have gotten someone deferred to do it like everyone else in the project, I felt I could do the work just fine.  Besides, asking people to work a few weekends in a row on something is one thing, but an editor has to live and breathe for nearly half a year to do it right.  That's a little more than I can expect someone to do for no money.  And I am a good editor. 

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

ANDREW: The smartest thing I did for the production was the extensive and detailed planning and scheduling.  I knew that if this project was to come off, I couldn't leave even the slightest thing up to chance.  And I had to plan and know what I would do in the event of just about every mishap or problem that I could conceive of happening.  Some of those contingencies I had to use, most I thankfully did not.  But just the mere fact that I felt I was prepared for everything short of a meteor strike helped keep my stress for getting unbearable.

The dumbest?  Well, if you had to hold a gun to my head and demand an honest answer, I think I would have to say insisting on the lens adapter.  Using prime lenses always looks infinitely better, but the adapter kills the light, you lose about one stop or so, and we were already dealing with pretty low levels to start with.  And it compromised far too much of the images.  But I was insistent on using them, and I shouldn't have been.  I should have accepted that it was just not practical for us.  But I was stubborn.  Thankfully I don't think it harmed the film.

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

ANDREW: You always learn something from every project.  From the big lesson to the subtle one.  Every time out you know more, have more experience, feel you can do things much more smoothly than the last time. 

This one was my first feature, so I feel I learned so many things in doing it that I don't know where I could really begin.   Just about everything about making this was new.  No matter how much I understood the process of making a feature in the hypothetical, the practical knowledge is far more valuable. 

'Whatever Makes You Happy' Feature Film Trailer from Andrew Sayre on Vimeo.

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