Thursday, March 27, 2014

Brady Hall on "Scrapper”

What was your filmmaking background before making Scrapper?

BRADY: I've been making movies (mostly bad ones) for a long time now. My first feature was co-directed with my friend Calvin Lee Reeder (who recently made The Rambler) and it was called Polterchrist. It's about Jesus Christ coming back to life and killing a bunch of people in a bowling alley. It's AWFUL. But it was our first endeavor so it really should be awful.

We went on to make one more feature together called Jerkbeast which got a small cult following. After that I made a couple little features in Seattle and some shorts and stuff. I make book trailers to pay the bills, and that's a pretty good day job as far as day jobs go. I get to do movie-ish stuff, travel and work with really cool authors like Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson and I wish a third Neil cus that would make this sentence way cooler. Then I partnered up with Ed Dougherty and we co-wrote Scrapper.

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

BRADY: I was remodeling my house in 2009 and as I amassed this giant pile of demolition crap and trash in the backyard I started encountering these rough looking dudes in old pickup trucks who would stop in the alley and ask if I had any metal for them. They were all really weather-beaten looking guys like they just walked off the set of The Road Warrior or something, and their trucks were bashed to hell.

I had never noticed them before but now I can always spot a scrapper. They seemed like really interesting dudes in that they just drove around all day scavenging and they are able to make a living on it.

So as I was working on my house by myself I was thinking of this quintessential scrapper character based on the majority of guys who would stop in my backyard. Middle aged, black, scruffy, kind of weird personality-wise, and the picture of Hollis started forming. I then thought "Well, how can we make this more awkward?" and thought up the complete opposite type of person to play against Hollis: teenage, white, female, free spirit, etc...

After I came up with that pairing I was talking to Ed about it and he was into it so we roughed out the story and went from there.

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

BRADY: We started looking for a Hollis pretty early on. Our first tactic was "Everybody on The Wire" because that show was awesome. Idris Elba is way too big these days, Michael K Williams was blowing up too, so we were looking at other guys like Robert Wisdom and Chad Coleman.

We were really close to signing one guy on but then he got booked on a network show and we couldn't compete with that. It was getting pretty close to our scheduled production when Co-Producer Chris Sergi thought to send Mike Beach a message on Facebook. They knew each other from working on a set together once. Mike said he would take a look at the script and after reading it was like "I'm in."

I met Anna through a mutual friend when I needed a voiceover for a book trailer. She came in and mentioned she was a recent theater school grad. She looks really young for her age too. So we auditioned her a couple times and that was that. We didn't try anybody else out for Swan. Ed had met Aidan on the set of a movie he wrote. They shot it in Romania (I think) and they soon realized that they were both fans of drinking so they palled around quite a bit and became buddies. So when it was time to cast Ray Ed simply got a hold of Aidan and asked if he was into it and he said "Yes". It worked out great since he had just wrapped Season 3 of Game Of Thrones and could sneak over to Seattle for a few days to shoot his scenes.

The script didn't really change due to any casting decisions. We stuck pretty closely to the written dialogue, but there are definitely some improv lines in there. We normally shot the script until we got it right then did a take or two of improv if anybody was feeling something different.

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

BRADY: This movie looks way more expensive than it was. Our production budget was roughly $50,000. We split that cost three ways between me, Ed and Tarek Kutrieh (our other producer), so raising the funds wasn't a big deal.

I have been making no-budget stuff in Seattle for a long time so I really know how to stretch a dollar around here. We planned out the movie in a way where we could really make it work for hardly any money. We based over half of shooting out of my house and that allowed us to have a free basecamp and not have to company move or rent locations a lot.

We shot all the neighborhoods and backyards and driving stuff withing a few blocks of my house. We simply drove around and around and only the most astute viewer will ever see the same house twice zooming by out the windows. A lot of things like that made it all possible.

We've spent some more money after production for post, marketing, fests and such, but we're pretty confident that we'll at least break even with VOD and DVD sales. It's possible since we kept our budget so small.

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

BRADY: We used a RED One MX. Our 1st AC Alan Certeza owns it, so we got a screaming deal on him and his gear. I think the footage we got was really awesome due in no small part to the camera, but also to our great camera team and DP Connor Hair. I can't really think of one shot we had where I was like "Oh fuck, this looks totally wrong!"

Working with RED footage is great because you can really drag it all over the place color-wise and not lose any resolution. The only real downside to the camera system was how big and heavy the RED One is compared to the newer RED models and also we were using spinning disk drives which was an issue on some of the truck mounted shots when Mike was hitting some bumpy road and it made the drive drop frames. He figured out that coasting in neutral on certain spots fixed that.

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

BRADY: The script had a lot more comedy in it than ended up in the finished movie. For whatever reason we wrote in all these bits where the TV in Hollis' house would be playing some weird TV show that would put a comedic punctuation on all these scenes.

We shot all these things, like a House Hunters style clip where a couple is bickering about the crown molding in a property while the realtor is wanting to kill herself, or a Honey BooBoo style show called Toddler Bitch, where this little girl is telling her mom to fuck off.

We also had some comedic dream sequence stuff, but when we started putting the movie together we quickly realized what a stupid idea all this comedy was and it pretty much destroyed any dramatic momentum that was building in the story. There's definitely funny spots in the movie and witty crap, but straight up COMEDY in capital letters was a huge turd in the salad so we chopped it all out. It will live on in the DVD extras, though!

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

BRADY: I think the smartest thing we did during production was keep things small. We wrote a small movie and planned a small movie and we could have easily bloated out the crew and made things way more difficult, but instead we kept everything manageable.

We had a pretty green Assistant Director and Ed was running around basically doing the job of 2nd AD and Production Manager, we promoted a PA to Script Supervisor on day three because she was good at keeping track of things. If we had a bunch more people it would have slowed us down. We got by with just what we needed and if we had a giant grip truck with a million lights it would have bogged us down time-wise. We shot the whole movie in 13 days, so imagine trying to do that with a 50-person crew.

As far as dumb stuff we did, for some reason Ed thought that Aidan wanted to shoot the bondage basement stuff first, so we scheduled it that way. He was in town at the very beginning of production, so our first shooting day was in the basement of a bondage instructor with actors getting tied up nearly-naked and hung from the ceiling. It was all fine, but still a bit weird to kick off production in a house with a human-sized cage in the living room.

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

BRADY: Anybody who says they aren't always learning is a putz. I'm always learning from mistakes or figuring out new ways to do stuff.

One big thing with Scrapper is it was the first time I worked with seasoned professional actors like Mike and Aidan. I quickly realized that they need pretty much no babying and little technical direction. They know exactly what to do in every situation. When we were shooting the eating scenes, I didn't realize until editing that Mike was taking bites at the exact same time during each take, sipping the drink, holding the fork and all that. It's technical things like that that make editing a breeze, so it really made me realize to pay attention to that on future stuff.

I also learned that having somebody you trust working with you in the screenwriting phase is crucial, co-writer or just somebody who will not bullshit you. This is the first script I co-wrote with anybody, and I know it would have been way crappier if Ed wasn't there to say "That sucks, let's do this instead" at numerous points.

Most of the time if you show a friend a script, film, piece of music, whatever, they say "Oh it's great!" or give criticism with no real explanation. Having somebody there with the same motivation and experience is critical. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jake Oelman on "Dear Sidewalk"

What was your filmmaking background before making Dear Sidewalk?

JAKE: I got my start producing and shooting snowboard films and ended up doing a lot of work in the action sports arena. My first love you could say. My focus gradually shifted to music and I worked on a ton of music videos and big live shows in various capacities. These days I feel like being a jack-of-all-trades is essential to survival in the film business and it helps give you an all-encompassing view of the craft.

In 2011 I produced a concert documentary called the Electric Daisy Carnival and after that point I finally felt like I was ready to make a run at being an indie film director. Itʼs funny how once youʼre at peace with the path youʼre going to take all these cosmic events start to happen which is how I found Dear Sidewalk.

What attracted you to Jake Limbert's script?

JAKE: I was about to go into production on a short film and my cousin Ford stopped me in my tracks and said you need to read this. I remember thinking to myself this is a really sweet movie that doesnʼt have a bad bone in its body. I think thereʼs a big lack of feel good movies in the market place but beyond that I connected with the material on a fundamental level.

With the filmʼs protagonist shackled by his own ego and immaturities needing to take the necessary steps to discover the world again played to my sensabilities. I enjoy seeing people find their flesh and blood again and this was always at the heart of Limbertʼs script.

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

JAKE: I think we were blessed with our casting. Susan Paley Abrambson did our LA casting and she introduced us to Josh Fadem who plays ʻCalvinʼ in the film and that was the spark that opened up the casting process to us. We met Joe Mazzello shortly after that and being a filmmaker himself he related to what we wanted to do and knew how challenging it can be to do a small movie like this.

Michelle Forbes was the last of our leads to come aboard and it just clicked. Michelle has an impressive body of work and often times she plays these very dark characters and we were able to sell her on the fact that the movie was going to be fun and cheery and bright and that idea really appealed to her.

After I first read the script we spent about 6 months fine tuning it and getting it to the place where we were going out to actors. Once the cast signed on we knew the script had to be both flexible as well as incorporate our actors strengths. The ʻGardnerʼ and ʻPaigeʼ characters didnʼt change much but with Josh and Calvinʼs character we wanted to give him more freedom to improv because youʼre always going to get something unique on every take and thatʼs a big help in the edit with a film like this.

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

JAKE: The budget was initially raised by my cousin and I putting in a good chunk of our own money. I’m a firm believer of investing in yourself. You have to be the first person to bet on yourself because if not you canʼt expect anyone else to be willing to bet on you. Things cascaded from there and we were able to raise the rest of our funds through private equity.

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

JAKE: We shot the film on the Canon C300 with a little bit of second angle stuff on a Canon Mark 3. I really liked working with the C300. The dynamic range of the camera coupled with the high mpbs in camera, great color reproduction, and a low pro form factor worked for our fast schedule.

To be honest the only thing I hated about it was having to return it at the end of the shoot. We even had a couple of our clips make the Canon Cinema Showreel (Min 2:00).

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

JAKE: The movie changed quite a bit during the post process and the big reasons for that really had more to do with financial limitations as opposed to creative decisions. Of course these problems all have to be solved creatively and we had to do a lot of shuffling to navigate what we couldnʼt afford to shoot. When you canʼt shoot the entire script you have to focus on the main themes of the film so that the story still comes across in the end. Itʼs not always fun to make these types of decisions but doing whatʼs best for the film was always the priority.

What was the smartest thing you did during production?

JAKE: The smartest thing I always do during production is listen to my instincts and conversely when I forget to listen is when the floor falls out beneath me.

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

JAKE: What I learned from Dear Sidewalk that I have since taken to other projects is the importance of embracing my own voice so that I can better crystalize my approach to filmmaking. Knowing what type of artist I want to become is a big step in a long journey for me.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Nathan Marshall on “Coffee, Kill Boss”

What was your filmmaking background before making Coffee, Kill Boss?

NATHAN: Coffee, Kill Boss was my first feature film, but I’ve been at it for a while. I’ve directed TV, commercials and a ton of short films. Making a feature is something I’ve been trying to get done since I was a teenager and now that I’ve had the opportunity to make one--I’m even more determined to keep going, and make more. The next one I make will be one I’ve written.

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

NATHAN: Coffee, Kill Boss was written by Sigurd Ueland, who I went to graduate school with at UCLA. It was based on his experiences working in a corporate office and basically just going crazy with all the corporate-talk and silliness that goes on. He basically dropped an Agatha Christie novel into a failing American company, and Coffee, Kill Boss was born. We added in some more backstory for Eddie Jemison’s character prior to shooting, but otherwise the movie falls pretty close to the original draft.

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

NATHAN: All of the money came from private investors who I’ve known and worked with in LA for years. All great people who really believed in the story & script, and felt this was an opportunity to make a different kind of indy movie than usually gets made.

Comedic thrillers used to be a much bigger genre, but they’ve died out in the last few decades, and we thought Coffee, Kill Boss tapped into so much of what made this type of film a success years ago.

As far as recoupment, we’re talking with distributors--both theatrical and VOD--and deciding on the best road forward. We’re in a changing world as far as distribution goes, and I imagine we’ll settle upon a hybrid form of classic & new tech platforms.

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

NATHAN: We shot with the RED Epic. The upside was obvious--it’s a 5K camera with incredibly good light sensitivity, which was important to us because we knew we’d be shooting toward windows.

The downside was the transcoding process and difficulties of dealing with r3d files when having to export high-res masters to our visual effects house. We ended up losing some time and money, but ultimately it was worth it--we have a great looking movie. 

What was your casting process like and how did that impact the production?

NATHAN: Getting the right cast together was integral to getting this movie made. Coffee, Kill Boss is an ensemble movie with a lot of group scenes, so not only did our actors have to be right for the parts, they also needed to be well-matched to everyone else.

We hired an excellent casting director, Lisa Essary, who brought in some amazing actors, and were thrilled that so many well-known people wanted to be a part of this film. I can’t imagine anyone playing the part of Henry Wood better than Eddie Jemison--as an actor, he’s the exact right mix of likable, intelligent, and maybe a little squirrely?

His attachment and Robert Forster’s attachment came through the personal connections of one of our producers, Rob Mello, and were pivotal in attracting so many other great folks in the cast, including Noureen DeWulf, Richard Riehle and Jack Wallace. We really got some tremendous performances. It’s worth watching just to see Peter Breitmayer and Zibby Allen getting down and dirty with this amazing group. 

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

NATHAN: The smartest thing we did was lean heavily on our own creative team to solve problems. Awesome people who you trust can get so much more done in a pinch than new folks you haven’t worked with before.

A lot of people wore two or three hats on Coffee. Our amazing composer Scott Van Dutton became a hands-on producer during production, literally location scouting, negotiating deals... While our other producer Gregor Habsburg jumped in and built a beautiful set-wall himself when our art team had run out of time, and our co-producer Angela Gollan art directed our pickups as well as doing some VO work on the film.

This applied to our casting process as well... We couldn’t find the perfect actor to play the part of “Chuck,” sort of a sycophant sidekick guy, and I ended up asking Chris Wylde if he’d be interested in the part. I’d worked with Chris on a TV pilot I directed called Underwater, but had only seen him play parts where he’s sort the douche-y wisecracking alpha-male... But I knew he was an amazing actor and funnier than just about anyone I’ve ever met, and thank god he took the role... He is brilliant in this film, and again--just trusting someone talented to wear a different hat was the right choice.

As far as the dumbest thing we did--that would be skipping rehearsals. Two weeks before we were going to start shooting, we had to move our entire production schedule forward by nine days in order to accommodate some cast schedules. We made it work, but had to cancel our rehearsals--and essentially ‘found’ the scenes on our feet, while shooting. I would never do that again. 

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

NATHAN: So much... The rehearsal thing again--but really, I was least prepared for the business side of making an independent film. Unless you have a serious A-list star, you’re not going to get any money from pre-sales on a film like Coffee--but what you can do is reach out to producers reps and distributors and get these folks involved as early as the casting process. You don’t have to, certainly, but for instance, I’m currently in pre-production on another film and a kids TV show, and in both circumstances a big part of our effort is going into getting some of these business relationships in place before we’ve shot a single frame.

Selling independent projects is a murky world these days, and the best way to learn it by doing it. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Kelley Baker on "The Angry Filmmaker"

First things first: Why are you angry?

KELLEY: I'm angry for a lot of reasons. I'm pissed that good films can't get distributors because they don't have stars. I am angry that all sorts of Hollywood 5 and 10 million dollar pictures are called "independent" when they're not. I'm angry because a lot of doors have been closed to Real Independent Filmmakers and very few filmmakers seem to care. I see filmmakers give their movies to distributors for nothing, no advance. If you don't get an advance you'll probably never see any money!

I see too many people wanting to be filmmakers for the wrong reasons, to make lots of money and to be famous. And filmmakers aren’t working together to help each other. So many independent filmmakers from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were going to change the system, and now they are part of it. They are more interested in money and being critical darlings then fighting the system the way they once were. They have been sucked in to the system and most went down without a fight.

What's wrong with independent film today?

KELLEY: The independent film industry is no longer even remotely independent. It's been mainstreamed by Hollywood and is now simply another over-hyped product. Like commercial radio, pop music and Starbucks coffee, the industry has become a homogenized mess of conglomerates owned by a handful of extremely powerful corporations. It begs the question: Independent from what? We need to take the word "Independent" back!

Indie has become a marketing phrase. I have a tough time sitting through a ten million dollar "indie" movie. I want people to recognize that "indie" doesn't mean stars and all of that other crap. WE are Independent Filmmakers and WE make movies whether WE have a deal or not. I want to see more theaters and media art centers providing places for us to show our work, instead of just giving us lip service about how they support independent film. I am fed up with these "independent" film festivals that show all these movies with big names in them.

Real Independent Films are still being made; they just don’t have access to audiences. I always say that independent filmmaking is a live and well, it’s independent distribution that is dead. You have to play by the industry’s rules to get your film seen if you want a decent sized audience.

I opt to do things differently. Like early punk bands, we have to find our audiences and cultivate them. That’s why I spend half the year on the road touring and showing my films.

I've told filmmakers forever to never put their films on credit cards. Give me your best argument against that habit.

KELLEY: I’ll use my own experience for this one.

I spent a ton of money on my first feature, Birddog. A lot of people told me they would help me get distribution when I made my first feature. I believed them and I probably shouldn't have. I was the Sound Designer on films like Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho, Far From Heaven and Finding Forrester. I had my "indie street cred" but that didn't seem to matter ultimately. I had a screening for friends in LA and everyone liked the movie, then they told me how hard it was to get a distributor and they all walked away.

No one helped. So I arranged screenings for distributors. I screened in LA, New York, Toronto and London. We also had it at the IFFM. The distributors all said the same thing, "We really like this movie but we can't distribute it because it has no famous stars in it." I told them it was an independent film and they said that was fine, but if you make an "independent" film you still need a big star in it.
Anyway, I ended up owing a ton of money to the IRS... Since all of these people had said they were going to help me find a distributor, I took all of the money I should have paid in taxes and used that to fund the film. When it didn't get picked up ... I still owed the money. It took my lawyer and I seven years of dealing with the IRS to finally get everything straightened out. Ultimately I had to sell my home of twenty years and just about everything I owned. It was hell!

I gambled and I lost. I understand that. I listened to certain people that I shouldn't have trusted. Ultimately it was my fault. I made the decisions and I paid the price. I don't want others to go through what I did.

There is no guarantee you will get a distributor, (if you want one), and most people end up paying off their movies working jobs that they hate at 30% interest.

Don’t use credit cards or go way in to debt; if you do you’ll be one of those people.

What's the smartest thing a filmmaker can do before starting their feature? What's the dumbest?

KELLEY: Spend time in pre-production! Too many filmmakers think if you’re not shooting you’re not making a movie. I spend 3 – 4 months easily in pre-production. I try to work everything out long before I start shooting. I rehearse for weeks, just like I’m doing a play. I want all of the actors to know their parts and their characters long before we start shooting.

I only write for locations I know I can get, and I don’t write scenes I know I can’t shoot, (like car chases).

I continue to write throughout this period as well. On Birddog I started pre-production with draft 11 of my script and still made changes throughout the process. On all of my films I don’t even think about shooting until I have done a ton of drafts. I have people I trust read my scripts and get lots of feedback. Your odds of making a good film increase if you have really worked the script over and over. If you have done the work to have a good script the odds get better that you’ll make a good movie. You can still make a bad movie from a good script though, this isn’t a science.

I think you just really need to take your time in pre-pro, don’t rush it. Since I never have any money, the better organized I am, the more efficiently I work and the smoother my shoots go.

As far as the dumbest, I think that is to hurry up everything so you can start shooting long before you’re ready. And using your credit cards. Using friends who aren’t actors in your films. Your friends aren’t good actors no matter what you think. Get good actors. I think there are lots of dumb things you can do if you don’t take your time.

What's the best advice you ever got about filmmaking?

KELLEY: You need to be a shameless self-promoter and self distribute your work. We always hear those bullshit lines; I make my films by any means necessary! Well why aren't you getting your films out by any means necessary? Why are you sitting on your ass waiting to see if you got in to some film festival? Why aren't you burning DVDs and selling them at screenings? Why aren't you promoting your movie on the Internet?

You gotta get the word out, and you have to do it yourself. It has to do with getting your films seen. If no one sees your movies, how are you going to build an audience? I tour, I teach and I have developed a fan base. One person at a time! Has it been easy? No. It's not supposed to be. At then end of the day all you have is your work and if no one knows about it or you, whose fault is that?

Finally, which current filmmakers (independent or otherwise) inspire you?

KELLEY: I will watch anything that John Sayles does. Same with Jim Jarmusch although I thought that Broken Flowers sucked! I like Danny Boyd’s work, Brian Johnson, Beth Harrington, John deGraff, lots of people that most people have never heard of. Janet McIntyre is a filmmaker to watch, she makes docs.

I watch lots of different types of films so I am inspired by films more than I am by filmmakers. I still try and watch lots of docs and foreign films to get a different point of view of the world.
I actually think I am more inspired by writers and musicians than I am by filmmakers. I am inspired by people who don’t give a shit what others think, they push forward and make the things that they want to make. I like things that are passionate in some way or another.

I don’t have a television, so I read more than most people and I love to visit museums. That is the way I have always been…

Did I answer the question?