Thursday, June 26, 2014

Nicholas Barton on "Wichita"

What was your filmmaking background before making Wichita?

NICK: Since 2009, I have been mostly a freelance commercial producer - occasionally music videos and television shows.  I've shot commercials for Wal-Mart, Dell Computers, Cargill Beef and music videos for almost every major music video network.  

I didn't go to school for film, I studied philosophy, which at first I thought might be a hindrance, but then I discovered that a significant percentage of full time video professionals had backgrounds the same as me.  

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

NICK: I've always loved the Noir films of the 40s and 50s and felt like something really beautiful has been lost in cinema.  We're in an age where there's little to know creativity left in stories and we're being spoon-fed cookie cutter A-B-C story lines because they're easy to put out.  

I've always believed that the audiences around the country are incredibly intelligent and genuinely love films that make them use their brain until the very end.  I wrote a story that doesn't really reveal itself until the final scene of the piece.  

I started writing Wichita in January 2012 and worked up about 5 drafts before signing on our producers, Ryan McGuigan & Raymond Eickstadt, in February 2013.  From that point on, I tried to withdraw myself as a writer and focus in on the production: What was possible within our budget, what we had access to in terms of locations/cast, and had to make mild adjustments to accommodate our resources. 

From day one we consistently heard how "ambitious' our film seemed to be for our budget - which to us served mostly as a euphemism for 'Good luck, but we know there's no way in hell you're pulling this off.'  There's no doubt we had to make initial script sacrifices, but more than 95% of what we wanted to do initially, we found a way to do.

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

NICK: With our production house, we have re-invested in equipment for the past 5 years and own all of our own camera systems, lighting, sound, etc.  We self-financed a portion of what was left and had a few investors who were willing to commit to the project.  

We tried to be conservative in all of our spending - travel, hotels, meals.  As opposed to putting together a massive catering budget - we had a full time set-chef who bargain shopped each day and prepared home-cooked meals.  No one worked for what they deserved and several groups brought costumes, props, and set pieces in for free.  The beauty of shooting in Kansas is pretty much no one tells you 'No' when it comes to helping out for a feature film.  We were very fortunate.

As for recouping our costs - we are starting out with a 36-city, 6-state tour.  We made phone calls for 3 straight days to anyone involved with the performing arts, locked in different venues and started hitting the road.  We're right now prepping for City #12 and are fairly confident that we'll make our below the line budget back by the end of the tour.  We're now starting to take requests from Theatrical reps on multi-screen deals and have had 2 different Video, Television, and On-Demand Distribution Offers.  

We have submitted to some of the major film festivals but are not putting our eggs into that basket in order to make up our budget.  Instead, we're trying to be pro-active and create a sustainable network of theatres and venues we can circuit on our next projects.  Hopefully, whichever distribution company we lock in will be partners and investors for years to come.

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

NICK: A significant percentage of the principle cast was pulled from the various area theatres.  My wife and I try to go to as many plays as possible and try to handpick actors who we feel like work well for our cinema style of acting.  

We held 2 days of casting auditions in a banquet hall of a Hyatt Hotel and had about 50 people show up.

Finally, we posted a casting call on the website Backstage and had over 850 applicants in the first 72 hours, so we had to put a hold on the posting until we could go through the pool of actors/actresses.  We received probably another 50 phone calls over the next week from casting agencies asking if we were interested in their actors.  

Once we locked in our cast, we really didn't adjust anything in the script for them.  

What are the key things you learned about how to successfully create an historical movie (as opposed to a contemporary movie)?

NICK: Hire a costumer.  

Have two or three historians on set that you get along with and who understand that the filmmaking process takes precedence over the history lesson.  They are guides without being co-directors.  We were incredibly fortunate to have several really great collaborators on set with us who had a fairly deep understanding of movie-making and were willing to offer insight that wouldn't be destructive to the storyline.

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

NICK: I've been an avid supporter of RED Cinema Cameras since Day One.  We were some of the first people in the Midwest to acquire the first generation RED ONE and have loved the progression of the camera systems into the new Scarlets and Epics.  

For this feature, we exclusively used the Scarlets with a set of Zeiss super speed primes.  I love the size and versatility of the camera.  We shot all but one scene in 4k raw and worked with a skilled colorist in New York (Brian Boyd) to finalize our compositions and treatments.

Media burns up quickly and by the end of our shoot with video and audio files, we had just shy of 8 TB of data to work with.  I honestly have no idea if this is standard or not.

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

NICK: Smartest: We live in Kansas and as the saying goes, "If you don't like the weather, wait an hour and it'll change."  So, we had B & C schedules ready to go weeks before the first day of shooting.  I'm almost positive if we hadn't had it, we would have rain and thunderstorms every single day.  But, since we did - we only had 2 days (out of 25) of adjusting our shooting days for weather.

Dumbest: We only had one person in place for our baby and our saloon lady.  So of course, both of them cancel on us the day of the shooting.  Luckily we were able to find replacements the day of for both.  (Huge props go out to our producer Ryan McGuigan for making this happen right away.)

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

NICK: It's a huge endeavor.  HUGE.  You'll find some people that want to be a part of it because they thinks it's cool and some people want to be famous.  I try to make a mental inventory of every time someone went above and beyond their job description and tried to make my life easier.  I can assure you, those will be the first people I have on my team for the next project.

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