Thursday, May 8, 2014

Jocelyn Kelvin on "Your Friends Close"

What was your filmmaking background before making Your Friends Close?

JOCELYN: I only began pursuing film after graduating from Northwestern University, where I majored in Theatre and minored in Creative Writing with an emphasis on poetry.

After graduation I realized that I was more excited by the medium of film, so I bought a camera, got Final Cut Pro, and taught myself everything via books, instruction manuals, and internet forums. (Couldn’t have done it without the forums. Really.) I knew I was interested in experimental usage of movement and music on film, so my first films were in collaboration with award-winning Chicago based contemporary dance companies Lucky Plush, for whom I created a number of short pieces, and The Moving Architects, for whom I created a twelve minute site-specific dance film.

After I moved to Los Angeles and befriended Your Friends Close screenwriter Brock Wilbur, we explored a few projects together before landing on this film.

We shot a documentary, Special Populations, about a theatre company in Kansas that creates an original musical through collaboration between adults with physical and developmental disabilities and volunteers from the community. I jumped straight from that into Your Friends Close, which was both an extremely intelligent and remarkably silly choice.

How did you get connected to Brock’s script?

JOCELYN: Brock and I both went to Northwestern University, and we met at a mutual friend’s birthday party just after I moved out to Los Angeles. We developed Your Friends Close together, from the inception of the concept through the entire process of writing the script. We wanted to create a piece that was low budget and easily shootable, and that would showcase our friends’ talents, whether in front of or behind the camera.

What was your process for getting the script ready to shoot?

JOCELYN: Because I was such a consistent part of the script development process, a lot of the work of “getting the script ready to shoot” was done during months of writer’s notes on the project.

One of my favorite books on directing is not about film, but about theater: Harold Clurman’s “On Directing.” Clurman suggests tools for breaking down a script that I use whether directing film, theater, or working as an actor. He talks about every piece having a “thrust” statement--a thesis, if you will--that each character has their own active philosophy or attitude, in relation to.

When Brock and I were developing the many intertwining stories in Your Friends Close, I worked to define this as part of the writing process. I then held rehearsals with the actors, both together and individually, giving each actor the opportunity to explore the character one-on-one with me. We had access to the apartment where we shot for a full month, though the shoot itself was only twelve days, so we had the luxury of rehearsing in the space itself (...and I lived there for the duration of the month, which was rather meta/method in regards to my own script work as the character of Becca.)

I also shot-listed every moment of the film, though, as often happens, we threw out much of my pre-planning in favor of faster setups---we shot something like seven to ten pages a day.

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

JOCELYN: Oh man. Recouping costs? Who does that in filmmaking, nowadays?

No, but seriously---we were lucky. We had a very successful Kickstarter campaign back before Kickstarter become so ubiquitous it was every third post on your Facebook feed. We made 145% of our original Kickstarter goal, due to the help of friends and family as well as professionals and enthusiasts we connected to via Twitter.

We had support from followers of bestselling author Jane McGonigal, who publicly supported the film, the generous fans of actress and video game vlogger Lisa Foiles, game blogs like Destructoid and Kill Screen, and former Pajiba writer Joanna Robinson, who is currently at Vanity Fair. Brock and I supplemented the Kickstarter with a loan and with money from our own pockets…like you do, when you’re making an independent film.

I am grateful that I got to work with extremely talented people who were for some magic reason willing to work for way less than I would have liked to pay them. Without the generosity of their time and their creativity, this film could not have been made. I look forward to having more money to make my next film, because it was often painful not to be able to reflect in payment the devotion with which people attended to the project. To everyone who gave their time to the film who reads this: Thank you. You are golden, golden people.

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

JOCELYN: We used the Canon 5Ds and 7Ds, with vintage Nikon lenses. We actually had the opportunity to use a Red Epic, but decided against it, because we needed to shoot faster and dirtier.

The Canon cameras are astounding, honestly. We couldn’t have made this movie for this budget in any time period but ours, and for that I am so grateful that I won’t even go on record as saying that I “hated” anything about the cameras. They have their limits, but it’s really nothing to complain about.

I will say, however, that if people moved across the floor too fast or too heavily, the camera was so lightweight that it would jiggle on the tripod---which is a pretty unique filmmaking experience. Pretty sure we kept one or two moments like this in the film, when they added to the storytelling (for example, when Gunner drunkenly staggers towards Jason and collapses on his chest).

You wore a lot of hats on this project -- director, producer, actress. What's the upside and the downside of working that way?

JOCELYN: The upside is that you learn more about the script than you could from a single position--because you’re working on it from every angle. Total immersion. There were a surprising amount of connections between my role as director and the experiences of my character, Becca. She is in charge of the development of the eponymous video game, a process which turns her relationship and her friendships into part of a political, professional process. Living through that in real life made me better able to play the character.

The downside is, of course, that it is exhausting, and there’s no cushion.

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

JOCELYN: The smartest thing I did during production was to gather a team around me of devoted, talented people who really gave their all. The shoot was intense, and required a lot from every person involved. Everyone pitched in and committed their time and their skill, from the AD who made magic out of everyone’s conflicting schedules to the actors who made it through ten pages of intensity each night, to our caterer who home-cooked 90% of the meals over the twelve day shoot, to the entire crew and creative team that stayed focused at six am when I wanted just one more shot. I could not be more thankful for the people I worked with.
The dumbest thing I did was not making sure I had enough time in pre-production. We had a very rushed pre-production schedule and I regret that I didn’t have more time to prepare, on a variety of levels. Any mistakes I made were omissions during the pre-production process.

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

JOCELYN: Patience.

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