WILL: Well, I didn’t go to film school. I went to the University of Chicago, where we spend 4 months reading Ulysses, then 6 more months talking about it. I think film school is so expensive – just spend that money on your first movie; you’ll learn so much more.
I’d made a bunch of short films and commercials, and written a few scripts. And this is actually the third feature I’ve directed (although the first one both I’ve written and directed). My big thing has always been to just MAKE stuff. I don’t care how cheap it is (which can sometimes work against me!); I just think the actual process of creating stuff is the most important thing.
Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?
WILL: The short answer is the idea came from my own family. The long answer is that I was deeply inspired by two things: the honesty of Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture, and the explosive dinner scene midway through Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County (which I saw at the Kennedy Center about 3 years ago [actually on Thanksgiving – with my parents]. I thought if I could inject the honesty of Tiny Furniture into a family saga like August: Osage County, that might wok well for an indie movie, all in one location, with no money.
The writing process was terrible! Like it always is. Directing is SO much more fun. You actually get to talk to people. Be social. You’re the leader of your own little gang of misfits. Which is fantastic. But writing’s the WORST. Just so much self-loathing and terror. For Cold Turkey – I wrote the first draft in like 2 weeks (which is obviously fast – I must have had to get something off my chest!), but then spent like a year actually making it good, and not just Dear Diary.
WILL: We raised some initial seed money from friends and family, a buddy from Birthright here, a supportive uncle-in-law there; but about 2 weeks out from production, after we had already attached Peter Bogdanovich and Cheryl Hines, we were in SERIOUS financial trouble. That’s when a company called Cinetic Media got us in touch with a company called Burn Later Production, and saved the movie from a horrible, premature death. Our company, Midway Films, will always be grateful to them.
Well, from what my distributor FilmBuff tells me, you make about 80% to 85% of your revenue from iTunes. So, tons of stuff is contingent on good iTunes placement. Other than that, we’re definitely looking into media buys with cable and other digital platforms. DirectTV has actually been super supportive of the film already, so we hope that works out. And obviously, we’re looking into foreign distribution. I’m sure your readers know this, but for indie movies (and movies in general), you don’t make ANY money in theaters. Theatrical releases (on the whole) are advertisements for digital releases, just because the advertising costs are so astronomical. Movie theaters are in the $7 popcorn business, not the movie business.
Having said that, I am EXTREMELY grateful that we got a theatrical release in LA, New York, and other cities. It helped build the profile of the movie (again, an ad for digital). But I’m under no illusions about the financial viability of said theatrical release.
WILL: Casting was far and away the most successful part of the movie, taken objectively. And we owe it all to a genius Casting Director named Paul Ruddy. Paul read the script, loved it, and had the savvy and connections to get me into meetings with agents, who similarly loved the script.
In terms of Peter, I had seen him on a bunch of talk shows (notably Charlie Rose), and he just had this…presence. A real command of the room. The three things I wanted for the Poppy character were: (1) an authority (because the movie is basically about that authority crumbling) (2) an intellectual heft (we had to believe he was a Stanford professor) (3) a complicated history with women (haha). Peter fit the bill!
I will also give full credit to my producer Graham Ballou, who was always very supportive of the Peter idea and thought it would be really interesting. We were just never sure if Peter Bogdanovich was the sort of man who cried (as he had to late in the film). But thank god he secretly is. (With a little help from an old Frank Sinatra record he put on right before we shot his breakdown scene.)
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
WILL: My DP Lucas Lee Graham shot the movie on a Canon 5D Mark III. Lucas claims the movie was the very first feature shot on that camera (we shot in May 2012). And I wont disagree with him.
A few things I love about the camera (which I’ve also shot a bunch of short-form stuff on myself): (1) the cost. DSLR cameras in general have lowered the barrier to entry in really exciting ways. (2) the size. It’s tiny (it’s really a still camera) which makes it very quick on its feet, very nimble. (3) the look. I legitimately think it creates beautiful, rich images. DSLRs are famous for their shallow depth of field, which gives you an intimate, “cinematic” look, but, beyond that, I just love the color temperature on them. I actually learned to make movies on a Canon XL1, so maybe I’m just partial to Canons in general.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
WILL: Hm. Good question! First time anyone’s ever asked that.
Smartest: casting Peter Bogdanovich.
Dumbest: well, it’s not production, but if I had to re-write the script again, I would DEFINITELY start it with more of a bang. A visual, explosive hook. I re-watched PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE last night. One forgets this, but that movie begins with a crazy car crash. I think there’s a reason for that: PTA wants to get your attention IMMEDIATELY. And also maybe threaten that you better stay on your toes, cause that sort of thing could happen again, at any time, without warning.
WILL: That the script and the casting are the absolute number one most important things.
Would I make another feature film with actors who weren’t folks like Peter Bogdanovich and Cheryl Hines? Sure. I love movies, I’ll make anything. But it probably wouldn’t be the smartest thing in the world. Having actors like them on board has just meant so much for the movie, and for me personally. I would be crazy not to learn from that.