Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ashley Pishock and Connor Hurley on “Skook”

What was your filmmaking background before making Skook?

CONNOR: I was still in film school at NYU when I first read the script. I had just wrapped on the first phase of shooting on my thesis film The Naturalist which also screened in-competition this year at the New Orleans Film Festival. I actually set off for Pennsylvania to shoot Skook weeks after graduating.

ASHLEY: I started making shorts on my camcorder in my parent's basement when I was 12.  By the time I graduated high school, my friends and I had made over 30 shorts (mostly B-horror films and parodies of Disney Channel Original Movies).  I went to the film school at NYU and graduated in 2010.  I then went to work for a small production company in New York (where I met Connor), where I worked on a number of shorts, music videos, and associate produced a feature.  Skook was my first feature length creative undertaking.

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

ASHLEY: Even though the story was fabricated, the themes of the film were deeply personal.  College was an extremely transformative period of my life. I remember returning to Schuylkill County and feeling like I was seeing it with new eyes.  I found it amazing how much a person's relationship to their home can change when they leave it, even if only for a small amount of time.  

I wrote the script over the course of a month in the now defunct Second Stop Cafe down the street from my apartment in Brooklyn.  The script went through several rewrites after I sent it out for notes.

How did you get involved in the project and would drew you to it?

CONNOR: Ashley and I had started writing together at this production company, and realized that we actually had very similar visions and approaches to writing (we also share a very ridiculous, often crude sense of humor). Ashley and I would goof off a lot and she would tell me weird stories about her hometown, Skook--so that was really my first exposure to this place.

Ashley sent me the script to get my notes, and I loved it and thought to myself "wow, it would be really great to direct material like this." It was a total actors' playground; it was a straight-forward, no-frills script, and filled with laughs. The Naturalist is a very specific, aesthetically-complex world, and it was hard to communicate such a personal vision to actors, especially at the pace we were working. Skook had a universality to it and I knew that aesthetically it called for simplicity, so I had time to really sit down and work with the actors, a lot of whom were totally untrained.

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

CONNOR: We used the RED One MX, actually the very same camera I was using for The Naturalist. It gets beautiful results, it really does. But both films I shot almost entirely handheld, so my DP's got very exhausted during these 14-16 hour days, as it's a heavy camera. It's also prone to overheating and crashes, so I would get nervous about losing footage--but we never did.

It's funny, the RED looks like an insect when it's all built up, and because the software was so tempestuous and the stakes were so high, I often felt like I was dealing with a creature who had the potential to make or break my dreams. That said, my trust was never broken and I have 2 films from it, so we're very close.

What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of acting a role that you wrote?

ASHLEY: I come at so much of the writing process (especially dialogue) from an actor's point of view.   I go through the script with the mindset of each character and scrutinize motivations, reactions, and speech.  I read all of their lines.  In a way, I'd be prepared to play any character in the film -- I just might not fit the part!

Connor and I saw eye to eye on the vast majority of my performance, however there were times when we hit roadblocks due to my attachment to the script.  So, there were a few disagreements (most of which were quickly solved), but in the end, I always trusted Connor's vision for the film, and am glad that I did.
What is your plan for distribution and recouping your costs?

ASHLEY:  The film cost a little over $10,000 to shoot, so in a way, we've recouped almost all of it by winning the prize at NOFF!  We are hoping to play at more festivals, and attract as much attention to the film as possible.  The local community has been incredibly supportive and we will, of course, be doing a screening in Skook as well. We will be reaching out to distributors and making as many connections as possible.  We are both new to this process so it's going to be quite an adventure!

CONNOR: We just finished the film in time for our New Orleans screening. New Orleans is an incredible festival because they're willing to take a chance and focus on these star-less, no-budget indies. Being recognized by them was incredible and I hope now more festivals will take note of not just Skook, but other micro-budgets that have something real to say.

Hopefully there will be another year of traveling and promoting the film--I'm just excited to have people see it. In the long run, I hope we'll be streaming somewhere--but the plan was never to recoup our budget, that's why we kept it cheap. Our plan was to get some clout to make another film, and with a bit more investment upfront I think we'll blow it out of the water.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

CONNOR: I think the schedule was both our smartest and dumbest move. This packed schedule got the film in the can, but it left us all mentally and physically exhausted, so I think everyone made some silly calls at some point.

We were shooting 6-8 pages a day, while still trying to maintain a high aesthetic and dramatic standard. I think we pulled off, but it’s hard to have clarity of mind when you're operating on just a few hours of sleep. We didn't really take days off, either. We were such a young crew, so we could do it, but we all have limits.

ASHLEY: Smartest: Choosing the cast and crew that we did.  Skook was such an upbeat, drama-free set, and I think the project really is a testament to the people who contributed to it.

Dumbest: I sometimes have the tendency to bite off more than I can chew.  There were only two producers on set, and both of us were already wearing numerous hats.  If I were to make the film again, I would have had a larger producing team.

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

CONNOR: I learned a lot in the editing room--it was almost a year of editing, so I've had a lot of time to reflect on the calls that were made, and figure out how to work with some of the weaker stuff. At the time of shooting, we took more of a documentary approach: shooting everything, lots of improv. It was funny stuff, but I realized it wasn't essential to the story, and in the end it was cut. Attention spans are getting shorter by the second, and with a run time of 72 minutes, we're not wasting anyone's time.

ASHLEY: Half of what I know about feature filmmaking I learned from making this film, so in terms of specifics, I wouldn't even know where to begin.  Making this film was the hardest and most fulfilling thing I've ever done.

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