Thursday, February 27, 2014

Andrew Haigh on "Weekend"

What was your filmmaking background before making Weekend?

ANDREW: I had worked as an assistant editor for what felt like a very long time. I'd been working on all kinds of films, from Gladiator to Mister Lonely, but felt I was getting trapped in a certain job when I always wanted to make my own films.

In the end I just decided enough was enough and I had to go out and make my own stuff.

I had done some shorts that had been on the festival circuit, but I decided to make a very small micro-budget feature to get things moving. It was called Greek Pete.

Filmed over a year it was docu-drama about London male escorts and it was released theatrically in the UK and on DVD in the US. This helped me raise a little bit of money for Weekend.

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

ANDREW: The idea came from a lot of things but primarily I just wanted to try and tell a realistic story about two guys falling for each other, have it be about aspects of the gay experience but also have be about so much more than that. The writing process was quite drawn out and the main challenge was to make it feel as naturalistic as possible, almost as if it were improvised, but at the same time enable the themes to come through.

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

ANDREW: We were funded by a mixture of public money in the UK, tax breaks and other bits and bobs. The budget was small but even when you're trying to raise a small amount of money it is tough - especially when you are not doing something particularly mainstream.

The plan for recoupment mainly comes from distribution companies buying the film although those amounts are never as much as you hope unless you are incredibly lucky. Money also can come in from festival play and the fees can quickly add up to a substantial amount. We are also hoping for a TV sale or two, probably in Europe.

Hopefully all of this will pay back the budget and then you just hope the film is a big success!

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 on the Canon 5d but with cinema lenses and a massive rig which ended up making it about as big as a RED camera. I love the image quality you can get from something relatively cheap and small, but it does have its problems. It's not made as a video camera so it can be frustrating to use in terms of attaching monitors etc and the workflow is bit of a nightmare.

I don't think my DP would really want to use it again, although I think she did an amazing job. You also have to careful with focusing and not get too caught up in the shallow depth of field the camera can achieve, otherwise it will look like a music video rather than a film. It's also not fantastic in bright light but luckily when we shot there was a lot of cloud.

What are the advantages -- and possible disadvantages -- to being the editor on a film that you also wrote and directed?

ANDREW: I always knew I wanted to edit the film and for me it is simply an extension of directing. I think maybe it's partly because I'm a control freak, but also because I'm from an editing background it makes sense to do it myself.

For me personally when I edit I discover what works simply by trying different things without really knowing where it is heading. I think I would drive an editor completely crazy. Of course you do loose objectivity and that is the biggest problem but I always figure you loose that anyway whether your are editing yourself or sitting in the same room as an editor.

Editing is a strange part of the process when you are all alone with your film trying to make it work, discovering what you've done right and what you done wrong. I both love and hate that feeling in equal measures.

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

ANDREW: The smartest thing was hiring Tom and Chris, the two actors, because if they hadn't been great and the chemistry between them believable then the film would have been complete garbage. I think also keeping the crew tiny and shooting in order was also incredibly helpful in making the film feel real and authentic.

The dumbest? Not sure. I got drunk one night and my hangovers make me very irritable which is never a good thing when you're trying to make a film.

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

ANDREW: I think I've learnt a way of working that I really enjoy and a way of making a set work that I think creates the right tone for the type of films I want to make. Of course I've made mistakes as well, which I hope to not do again, although more than likely, I will.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Faith Granger on "Deuce of Spades"

Why did you decide -- with no filmmaking background -- to make Deuce of Spades?

FAITH: They say life works in mysterious ways... I have found that to be very true over the last three years!
All my life I pursued music as my passion and dream and felt it was my calling. Four years ago, I finally felt the need to step back and take a long deserved break from constant rehearsals, recording sessions and live shows, which consumed every free moment I had. I longed to have a weekend where I could just relax and enjoy the simple things in life... Such as cruising on a sunny afternoon at the wheel of a 1932 Ford roadster, for example ;).

I had always loved hot rods so finally buying one seemed a good way to celebrate life, in deed. I fell deeply in love with the deuce and that love led me to whip up a small documentary about the 32 Ford roadsters, shot from the hip on a $200 consumer camera. I made the documentary for my car display at the Grand National Roadster Show, the world largest yearly roadster show. It was the 75th anniversary of the 1932 Ford that year so I decided to sign up for the show and all participants were asked to make a nice car display for the occasion.

My display included a TV screen that played my Last of the Hiboy Girls home made documentary. The result? For four days, the crowd kept packing up in front of my car display, to watch the one-hour piece. When I saw just how engaged the audience was and how much they loved watching what I had filmed, I was hooked. I had so much fun doing the documentary that a crazy idea popped inside my head while at the show: And it went something like this: "Wouldn't it be crazy to next do a FULL FEATURE homemade film? One person does it all... That would be such a great challenge!!!"
Did I mention? I love challenges. As crazy as that thought sounded, it stuck, and two weeks later I found myself diving head first at the deep end of the pool (without knowing how to swim), and started writing the screenplay.

Where did the idea come from?

FAITH: Ironically, while many writers get stuck trying to find a good film plot, I had one right up my sleeve. I knew, from minute ONE, that the main star of the film would be my roadster, and knew what the plot was going to be. It was very easy, since the idea came from an (almost) true experience from my not-so-distant past.

Let us flashback to 2004. I had just bought a 1937 Hudson Terraplane Business Coupe. My friend was cleaning the car up, getting it ready for full off frame restoration, alone in the garage. Suddenly he pops inside the house with an old letter in his hand: "Faith! Look what I found when I tore the trunk of the Hudson apart". An old letter. A love letter written on a war ship, from a soldier who was going to WWII, to his sweetheart back home... It was very touching.

For the next few days, I found myself thinking about the letter, the man, his loved one, their story... Wondering how it had ended... Wondering how it was connected to the car... On the fourth day, my friend finally spills the beans: "You know that letter I found in the trunk? I was just pulling your leg. The letter is real, (my dad wrote it back in the days), but I obviously didn’t find it in the car." So it was just a prank. Needless to say I was deeply disappointed. But I never forgot the special feeling I had for three days, the feeling of having found a hidden treasure, uncovered a secret. It was that feeling that would become the core of my film plot.

What was the writing process like?

FAITH: It was very easy. I wrote the script quickly. I had so many ideas and they kept coming... No problem there! What was hard was keeping the film within reasonable length.

Writing the script was like living an alternate life, in a different world. It swallowed me whole. I was consumed. Every moment of the day all I could think about was Johnny's story... The letter... I LOVED writing the script. A lot of ideas would come while driving back and forth to my day job every day. Some scenes were entirely written while listening to a specific song that I wanted to use for the scene. I could SEE the film in my head... See the shots, hear the dialogues...

As soon as I got to work I'd type my ideas down. Same when I got home... It took about 3 months to write the initial script. A lot of historical research went into it, because 60% of the film is period, and also because of the hot rod technical aspect of the film. My historical consultant, who is curator for the National Hot Rod Foundation, helped me insure that the film stay 100% accurate and true to both the era and the cars. I even consulted with several old timers to make sure the flashback dialogues were period correct. Especially the 50’s slang.

The finished first draft was too long and had I shot it as is, the film would have been about 4 hours long!!! So I rewrote it, three times, over the course of the next 2 years, to end up with the 150-minute version, which was later edited down to a 120 minute final version.

Why did you want to handle all the elements yourself? Did that work, or did you end up adding crew members to the team?

FAITH: Making this film was breaking every known rules of filmmaking... And getting away with it!
Having never been to film school, my mind was a blank canvas. I didn't know what the rules were, so I made my own. I was very free of any and all preconceived ideas, all molds, all trends. I love freedom of expression. I knew that if I wanted to retain that freedom I needed to remain captain of my own vessel. So I didn't go looking for investors.

When some came knocking at my door (cause the buzz about my project was already getting all over the internet), offering me a half million to become partners in my film, I politely turned then down and walked. I didn’t want to take the easy shortcut. I was going to take the less traveled road, and cut my own way through the jungle if I had to. I knew their money would come with a price tag. And that if I took it, my film would no longer be my film, it would never be the same. And I wanted my film to be 100% my vision, 100% my work, 100% mine, whether good or bad, successful or a flop, it would be MY FILM.

Having no investors to call the shots also meant having no budget and that meant having to do everything myself for the most part. But I am a firm believer that if you want to have it done right, do it yourself! I knew volunteers, although well meaning, would probably end up flaking out and that free help was hard to come by, so from the start I expected that if I wanted this film to get done, I would have to carry it on my own shoulders, for three entire years, all the way to the finish line, no matter how hard it got or how heavy it would become.

Did it work?

FAITH: You bet! But I wouldn’t recommend this path to everyone. It truly is not for the faint of heart. You have to really be cut out for it. But it worked wonderfully well for me and if I was to make another film, I would not change much to my current recipe (if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it ;) ). I will continue to self finance my films, work with a skeleton crew, be behind the camera and wear multiple hats. I will however delegate a few little hats here and there, such as hair and makeup, loading and unloading heavy gear (that really gets old quick), maybe some of the preliminary scouting, and some of the tedious, but not so creative, work such as calling actors and crew to remind them of shoots, auditions etc…

I did wear all the hats, but I also had some help from friends and volunteers. Help was sporadic, so no stable crew. Each shoot I would have one or two helpers land a hand. Mostly they helped move gear, plug lights, hold booms and Hollywood flags, etc… Some of my actors helped too, and so did the car owners.

About half way into production, one volunteer, Jerry Mull, stepped forward cause all the other volunteers had either flaked or no longer were able to help due to work / school schedule changes. Jerry was very loyal and stayed with me, as my production assistant, boom person, grip and whatever else was needed, until the end. He helped make three sets (which we built in my garage), a few props, helped line up additional classic cars and even a few locations. He was very helpful. He also drove the rig so I could drive the rod to the shoots. It would have been a lot harder on me had he not been there. Even if you wear all the hats, you still need HELP.

I was very blessed in that my story inspired many pros to also contribute, each in their own way: A few examples: OMEGA CINEMA donated several thousand dollars worth of free prop rentals to help me finish my flashbacks cause I completely ran out of money. CINEMA PRODUCTION SERVICES loaned some basic lighting gear for the entire duration of the production (three years) which were badly needed to pull off the shoots. DAS WERK in Germany, donated a $20,000 CGI shot for my crash scene while Frank Glencairn, Nick Lozz, Darren d’Agostino, also donated CGI shots and title treatment, Luis Sinibaldi donated free steadicam work for three scenes, Blue Nelson lent a hand with some camera work for 8 scenes and general advice, giving me feedback when needed. Top Hollywood pro re-recording mixer Patrick Cycconne and his team are now donating a full sound mixing job at pro facility, to help me take the film to the next level. My struggling on my own to make DEUCE OF SPADES inspired these pros to say: Hey, what she’s doing is really something, so let’s lend her a little help.

What sort of camera did you use? What was good about it? What was not so good?

FAITH: I bought the Panasonic HVX200 with the Letus Extreme (and later, the Ultimate) 35mm adapter with Nikon prime lenses. It provided a wonderful film look. I work with long lenses a lot, for that super shallow Depth of Field, and working with long lenses can be quite challenging, especially when you pull your own focus. I oftentimes had to pull focus entirely by feel, because my more elaborate camera moves involved a lot more than just two focus points.

I love the HVX, it was a great camera to work with, love the P2 card system, how sturdy the camera is: I really put it through the ringer and it never broke down on me. On the down side, it tends to be noisy in low light. And I film in low light A LOT. That was my only complaint, the fact that it is not so good with low light. Using a 35 mm adapter does not help either. Unless there was a good amount of light on our night sets, the camera could see absolutely NOTHING. This is true of most video cameras of course. Without a budget it is hard to have the gear to light a night set aggressively. So it was very challenging shooting those tricky night scenes, and I had quite a few in my film, including one of the climax scenes. A huge challenge indeed. It’s easy, as a writer, to image in your head a phenomenal night race and crash… Not so easy, as a producer, director and DP, to pull it off.

What was the biggest lesson you took away from shooting the movie?

FAITH: Make your own path. Stay true to your vision. Believe in yourself. Don’t believe what they say. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE. Trust in God. Oh yeah and don't you ever, EVER, forget to turn on that adapter again!!! (sigh - how quickly we learn our lessons when we suffer). And next script, no night race and crash LOL. Next script I write, I’ll write it KNOWING what it takes to technically pull off each scene and understanding my limitations, and writing around them this time… Save myself a lot of grief!!

What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of being your own editor?

FAITH: To me I see only but advantages. There are three ways to shape a performance. A- the directing B- the actor’s acting itself C- the editing choices. Let me light your candle here and say that I think the editor has the most impact!

A bad editor can make a good actor look average, and a good editor can make a mediocre actor look quite good! It's not so much in the cuts, but in selecting which clips make the cut. What moments will be immortalized. This implies sorting through an actor's performance, as shaped by the director while filming and making the final decision as to which performance is the best. Now call me crazy but it seems to me this should be the director's job, and when the director IS the editor, then that is exactly what happens. You get what you were aiming for. And you know what you were aiming for, since you are the director!

I love editing and I was told I have a great knack for it. I would never ever delegate that role to someone else. One of the dangers though is to get so close to your project that you lose sight of it. That's when you bring in a couple fresh pair of eyes and show them the edits and get their feedbacks. I had a couple friends who are film pros do that for me. Just to be sure.

You have to be open to hearing the feedback and learn to differentiate between the ones you should implement and the ones you should toss right out the window. It is tricky. I have learned to trust my instincts, they are rarely (if ever) wrong. Women are known for having great intuition. I try to put mine to good use!

Also, each editor has his/her own feel. The feel of the film, the pace of the film is the heart beat of a film. I would not want anyone else to set that pulse, but me, the filmmaker.

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

FAITH: Everything. I knew nothing when I started the film. Had never done it before, never been to film school. As I said, I dived at the deepest end of the pool and didn’t know how to swim. Yes, I thought I was going to drown more than once, and I drank my share of water, but I became a swimmer in the end.

I have not only come out of this three year adventure a full fledge filmmaker, but came out of it with a finished film that I fully own, all 100% of it, free and clear. A film that people can’t wait to see, it seems. It has not been completed yet and people are already buying it. I set up an online store on my website and I am getting pre-orders from everywhere… US, UK, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Belgium, Portugal, Tzchek, Australia, New Zealand, Canada… And that's a good place to be.

With major press coverage (I just received an unbelievable 12 page spread in American Muscle Car Magazine – France) in over 15 countries and already 4 magazine covers... Looks like Deuce Of Spades may very well become a cult film.

What more could a first time filmmaker possibly want?

A few links of interest:
The official DEUCE OF SPADES website:
The filmmaker’s blog, documenting each shoot:
Follow the film on Twitter:
See clips from the film:

DEUCE OF SPADES - Revamped Film teaser!!!! from Faith Granger on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Matthew Perkins on "The Little Tin Man"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Little Tin Man?

MATTHEW: I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit.  My college didn't have a film production program, so I created my own major and apprenticed under a filmmaker who was a professor there at the time.  After graduation, I moved to New York City and got a job on a big movie set (American Gangster).  Then took an internship at a small production company (GREENESTREET FILMS).  

Both of those experiences showed me that no one was going to walk up and say, "Hey, why don't you direct the next one?"  So I started doing my own thing and making shorts. Little by little, my work got recognized and I continually got more resources for the next project.

Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like? How did you and Dugan Bridges work together?

MATTHEW: My co-writer Dugan Bridges and I met our lead actor, Aaron Beelner, back in 2004 at The University of Georgia. He was getting his MFA in Acting while we were studying film as undergrads.  

We were really intrigued by his plight as a little person and wanted to write a script based on his experiences. As an actor, he was always being typecast in exploitative roles. While most thespians have experienced some form of rejection in their career, Aaron can't turn that off when he walks out of an audition room.

We felt his story was the perfect metaphor for anyone who has ever felt overlooked; or told that they couldn't achieve something because of who they are. Feeling like an underdog is universal.  The Little Tin Man allows audiences to walk in someone else's shoes and be inspired by the journey.

Dugan and I quit our jobs to write this script.  It was a full time effort.  We'd spend the first hour of every writing session talking about everything but the script.  It was a distraction purge... just get it all out up front.  I always found that really useful.  Then we would dive into the material with me manning the computer.  The ideas would bounce around the room, but we both had to agree on something for it to make the cut.

How did you cast the movie and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?

MATTHEW: My team had just raised more than $100,000 on Kickstarter and was ready to rock. I needed to cast three principal actors, and from everything I’d heard, signing on a respectable casting director was the first step. But everyone was too swamped for my small project.

Armed with an IMDbPro account, I began cold calling agents and managers to “check avails.” Some were cordial, while others ignored me. One graciously responded, “With your budget, you’d better have the best fucking cast in the world to make this work!” But I persisted and started thinking outside the box. I really wanted “A-list talent,” so how could I find the next big thing?

Having a background in comedy, I looked to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the launching pad for many great performers. This tireless search led me to a 30 Rock writer named Kay Cannon.

Cannon considered herself “a performer first, who just happens to write.” While she only had a few supporting roles in films, I saw something in her that was perfect for our female lead. I contacted her manager and sent over a formal offer. As fate would have it, she loved the script and had an opening in her schedule before leaving to become a writer-producer on New Girl. We set up a call, and she asked me if I was open to improvisation during filming. Since she has won WGA and Peabody awards and been nominated for Emmys, I agreed, and she signed on.

Cannon’s instincts as a writer enhanced her performance tremendously. We left a lot of room for improv in each scene, and she was constantly adding layers to her character and making the overall story better. My risk paid off. But you want to know a secret? I never considered it a risk. I knew Cannon had the chops from the moment I saw her. Later that fall, my instincts were confirmed again when Pitch Perfect became a box office hit and pop culture sensation. Largely credited to whom? Screenwriter Kay Cannon.

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

MATTHEW: Kickstarter is now a pop culture phenomenon, but we launched our campaign well before anyone even knew what the site was.  I think we were the 8th film to raise over $100K.  It's a stressful 30 days.  We were sitting about half the money until the final hour.  I guess I am a sucker for photo finishes.

As for recouping our costs, bare minimum, the film will get a digital release and be on VOD in early 2014.  But we're still praying for something bigger.

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

MATTHEW: We shot on the RED MX.  Because the technology is changing so rapidly, sometimes you can get a great deal on the previous generation.  In general, I was very happy with the image quality.  You can do a lot with 4K.  My complaints are pretty common: occasional overheating and a slower workflow.

Did the movie change much in the editing and, if so, why did you make those changes?

MATTHEW: This movie was MADE in the editing room!  When you allow for lots of improvisation, a scene could sometimes go in 5 different directions.  Particularly with comedy, you have to decide where jokes are appropriate for that particular moment.  My editor, Gordon Holmes, and I were constantly trying different combinations.  Audiences have been very pleased with the final choices.

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

MATTHEW: The smartest thing I did was to cast people who were super funny in their own right and fit the part to a tee.  I've always heard that casting is 90% of a movie working.

The dumbest thing I did was not having enough hands.  Granted, this was an honest mistake given our microbudget, but one that I will never make again.

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

MATTHEW: You don't have to be the smartest person in the room, but always be the most prepared.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dan Myrick on "The Blair Witch Project"

How did you and Edward Sanchez come up with the idea for the movie?

DAN MYRICK: Ed and I were both fans of the 'In Search of …' series, with the haunting Leonard Nimoy voice-over, and movies like "Legend of Boggy Creek" which had a limited theatrical run for a while. There were all kinds of these UFO, Bigfoot faux documentaries television shows and features that kind of walked the line between fact and fiction. And we always found them very scary and haunting and they resonated with us.

I think Blair Witch was born out of wanting to re-visit that and recreate that, on a more contemporary video language. So we definitely used those films and television shows as our inspiration and tried to stick to what scared us as kids and put that into Blair Witch.

We hated a lot of traditional fake documentaries because there was always some sign or red flag in them that would be a little telltale sign that it was scripted or faked in some way. The camera would happen to be in the right place at the right time too many times. A line of dialogue from a testimonial just sounded too scripted, too convenient.

So our theory was, let's shoot this like a documentary as much as is humanly possible and set the stage for our actors to play in character their roles within this documentary, so hopefully when we come out the other end we have, effectively, a documentary. Without infusing our own subjectivity in the shooting process, I think we came way with what looked very natural and what looked like very unpredictable footage.

Then we cut, from that footage, the story that ultimately became The Blair Witch Project. Not to say that this wasn't scripted and outlined; but the shooting process has to look like it was done like a documentary.

That was our theory, our logic behind it: not to become our own worst enemies and not become victim to our own narrative conceits by wanting to have the camera at the right place at the right time and stuff like that. Instead, allow that free flow and unpredictability and spontaneity to happen, and then you just get what you got.

As a result, it came across as very authentic and very real, which we thought ultimately would lend to the horror.

Do you ever get tired of talking about The Blair Witch Project?

DAN MYRICK: No, I'm as fascinated by it as anybody else. Certainly I'm very proud of Blair Witch and it's opened up a whole wealth of opportunities for us. But at the same time it was like this science experiment that took on a life of its own.

It's always interesting for me to hear other people's perspective on what happened and what their take was on it. It was this phenomenon that was greater than any of us had anticipated. For most of that ride, we were on the outside looking in like everybody else and were as fascinated by the evolution of the whole Blair phenomenon as anybody else was.

We had an inside look at what was going on, but to this day I look back at the confluence of events and the timing and the Internet and the reality approach we took to this--how everything intersected-- and what happens when that does.

I find that fascinating to this day.