Thursday, June 19, 2014

Kurt Larson on "Son of Ghostman"

What was your filmmaking background before making Son of Ghostman?

KURT: From a directing standpoint, fairly limited. I came to Los Angeles roughly 15 years ago to be an actor, and have been fortunate enough to work on some films (The Terminal & Jarhead) and TV shows (Harry’s Law, ER & JAG) in that capacity.

But luckily as a struggling actor/writer, I’ve been around a variety of low-budget or no-budget projects, so the access to both equipment and working with various people in close quarters was fairly extensive. There’s always someone doing something, and I like to be around that energy.

So although this was my first film as a director, I was armed with some skills that I thought could help overcome what faults I had.

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

KURT: I wanted to make a film that had a unique metaphor to what my friends and I had been going through--the balance of aspiring for a creative life while still maintaining the practical responsibilities of the real world. Horror Hosts fit that bill, and I adore them.

I also hoped that the audience would feel the mixture of putting classic TV horror hosts into a traditional rom-com structure was fresh and interesting. I had always wanted to make a film honoring what those guys/gals do, but not a lot of people in Hollywood were interested. It’s a tone thing, and unless they see what I’m trying to accomplish, they have a hard time envisioning it.

I also knew that the historical crude technology that horror hosts usually utilize would be a favorable aesthetic to our shortcomings in that field.

The story from script to development to lock took approximately one year.

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

KURT: I personally paid for the entire project by saving money over many years waiting tables. Yes, I am a cliché. But using the money didn’t matter. I had to make my movie and luckily had a wonderful wife who insisted I do so.

To be frank, I do not expect to make the money back, nor did I intend to. I genuinely made it for two reasons: one, to make a feel-good story that a wide-audience could enjoy.

Secondly, I made it because I’m anxious and inpatient. I had been making progress in the Hollywood system with my writing but still found the process to be agonizingly long. I wanted to make something unique but thematically universal to a lot of people.

My goal was to attract attention from studio and indiefilm people alike, in hopes of making more stories, because I have dozens I want to tell. It basically was, “look over here, we did this with virtually nothing but sheer will and determination, so try to imagine what we could do with some real support.” That was the goal.

You wore a lot of hats on this project -- Director, Writer, DP, Actor, Editor. What's the upside and the downside of that approach?

KURT: It’s fairly straightforward. The positive aspects are that you control the final product in every way. The film stands or falls on you and your team’s imagination, not the whims and thoughts of a corporate entity. I personally have always reviled in that trapeze of pressure. I thrive under those situations, and often times even create obstacles that don’t exist just to get my competitive drive churning.

The downside is exhaustion. You really do spread yourself thin, and I’d say for me, I don’t focus on my acting as much. That can privately discourage me at times, but it doesn’t stop me.

The other downside is knowing I don’t have a tag-team partner to tag in and give me a month or two off. But again, that just plays into that competitiveness I described above, so it keeps me focused.

What was your system for directing yourself?

KURT: Well, this is where it gets tricky and perhaps I didn’t accomplish exactly what I wanted.

We were a two-man crew, so I worked the camera while my incredibly talented producer Gabriel Guyer did sound. If I were in a scene, I’d set up the shot as best I could, show him what I wanted, and he would get behind camera.

But that was created a new problem, because that would mean someone else had to do sound, which would stress him out… leaving us both filled with trepidation. In the end, a variety of friends would end up behind camera on those scenes.

Truth be told, the finished acting work primarily came from my instincts, as we didn’t have time to watch dailies. I wouldn’t do it that way again, but luckily being a villainous buffoon wasn’t too difficult to handle acting-wise.

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

KURT: The Canon 7D with a variety of prime lenses.

What I absolutely loved about it was the images it gave me for little money. Again, it was the only practical choice based on budget and what we needed to do guerrilla style. I loved the compactness of it, the colors it gave me, and the overall HD post options. The ability to be conspicuous in heavily populated areas was pertinent to success, and the 7D gave us that.

Negatively, I loathed trying to focus, as the depth of focus was every bit as sensitive as everyone warned me. Despite having a screw-in 6-inch monitor, we still missed clarity at times. It frustrates me now, but that’s why I look forward to working with an experienced Director of Photography on the next project. I now have a better understanding of all the jobs these gifted artists do, and communicating with them will be exponentially easier because I have some idea of the challenges they face.

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

KURT: Honestly, the smartest thing I did and continue to do is trust my and my team’s instincts. In every scenario where I did that, it worked out. That doesn’t mean that I was always right or that I didn’t fail at times, but overthinking things always gave me a negative result. Going with my gut always provided a solution or lesson to get to the solution.

I also think convincing my non-film best friend Gabriel to come along for the adventure remains my most important decision. It hasn’t always been easy, but I honestly believe no other human being on the planet could have made Son of Ghostman with me. He was just invaluable, both professionally and personally.

The dumbest thing I did was submit and show the film to colleagues and festivals before it was complete. I was just so damn excited, but every filmmaker knows the vast difference between your first and your final cut.

Just. Be. Patient.

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

KURT: Oh man, so much, I’m not even sure where to start.

Doing all the technical jobs has given me an encyclopedia of knowledge of which to draw from.

Doing a film from step one until now has taught me invaluable lessons about who I am and what I’m capable of. It’s also taught me the beauty of helping someone else achieve his or her potential, to work together, to really believe in what you’re doing.

It’s also taught me that chasing paychecks is a waste of time. I’d rather take these films to the studio level or keep making them small. I’m not interested in pursuing projects with people “just to be doing something.” I want to make stories I want to see. And accepting that is incredibly rewarding and makes future decisions much, much easier.

I’ve learned that I have much to learn, and every person I work with offers me another valuable lesson.

I feel so lucky to have worked with this incredible group of creative people, and only hope it’ll be like that in the future.

Trust me when I say from experience, I’ve learned how a group of talented actors really can make a director look all right himself. I owe them a lot.

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