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. 

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