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 www.deuceofspadesmovie.com 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: www.deuceofspadesmovie.com
The filmmaker’s blog, documenting each shoot: http://deuceofspades.bravejournal.com/
Follow the film on Twitter: http://twitter.com/deuceofspadesmv
See clips from the film: http://www.vimeo.com/user326991


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

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