Thursday, July 31, 2014

Nathan Kaufman on "The Mendoza Line"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Mendoza Line?

NATHAN: My first film was a black and white, silent 16mm (shot on a wind-up Bolex) promo of my San Francisco high school for a local public television talk show when I was a senior. I then somehow got into USC’s Cinema School (the process was easier back then). 

My first job was a PA on American Graffiti (clue to how old I am).  I then went on to work for a couple of years at the PBS station in LA while trying to write. Then I went off the deep end by deciding to go to law school and practiced law for about 10 years. Slowly I drifted back to filmmaking, which by then was really video production; doing corporate videos, news and documentaries.

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

NATHAN: I’ve done three baseball documentaries Minor Leagues/Major Dreams, Winterball and A Scout’s Life.

With all that insider knowledge of baseball, I spent about 7 years off and on looking for a dramatic story as a vehicle for that information.  Finally I hit upon the idea of having the central character be an undocumented immigrant, with all the issues that presented.

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

NATHAN: I struck up a friendship with another member of my sports club who has a strong baseball background, is a retired financial advisor and wanted to get involved in filmmaking. With his connections and my legal background we were able to put together a limited partnership raising about $50,000.

We have just begun the marketing process and having adopted the “long tail” strategy, are hopeful of recouping the investments and a profit from VOD, merchandising and television sales.  We’ve had a couple of one-off theatrical screenings that were successful but they require a lot of work.

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

NATHAN: We used on-line casting services out of San Francisco and Los Angeles.  The six leads, especially the Latino parts, were very specific and hard to cast. You don’t realize how hard it is to find the right person until you start looking, staring at hundreds of submissions and on-line reels. 

We narrowed it down to a couple of day’s auditions in the Bay Area.  Those who couldn’t make it, especially from Southern California, submitted on-line audition videos. We hired our lead, Lon Sierra, who lives in the San Diego area that way. I know we could have had a much wider pool if we went the ultra-low budget SAG route but even that process requires a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy and I know I would be the one who would have to deal with it and I just didn‘t have the time or energy to do so.

You wore a lot of hats on this picture -- director, writer, producer, editor. What's the upside and the downside to doing that?

NATHAN: Besides the obvious cost savings in doing all this myself, I was able to keep my vision of what I was trying to accomplish.  Writing, directing and editing are really not a problem, because while you have the synergistic elements of all three in mind all the time, you are really only doing one at a time. 

Dealing with a lot of the line-producer issues at the same time was very stressful.  Many details had to be addressed at the last minute, which should have been arranged in pre-production by other people.  I also had a falling out with my original DP because two weeks before shooting, he suddenly made demands for a full grip/electric truck, a gaffer and a couple of assistants that we hadn’t planned or budgeted for.  Fortunately I had another DP with a RED as a back-up and he was available as was a local lighting guy with a small grip/electric trailer who normally does music videos, industrials and commercials and wanted to do a feature, especially since it was to be shot in his community (Yuba City/Marysville, CA.)

I’m a firm believer in paying people, even if minimal day rates. I don’t have the nerve to ask people to work for “copy, food and credit.”

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

NATHAN: We used a RED without any “video village” (Younger filmmakers may not realize that for the first 100 years movies were made with the director actually standing by the camera and observing the actors .) 

The only limitation was that it is still a big camera and not conducive to hand-held work, which I would have preferred at times. But we were also filming most of the time in 100 degree plus weather and the DP would have been quickly worn-out. Shooting 4K was not the problem I expected it to be, as my I7 desktop running Premiere Pro CC was able to run the files smoothly at a reduced resolution.

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

NATHAN: We saved a fortune in production costs by getting the co-operation of the Marysville GoldSox Baseball club and their facility at no cost, but even so we may have been overly optimistic in what I hoped to accomplish with such a small crew.  Dumbest move was to use an apartment belonging to the owner of the Goldsox as a set and them not understanding the film process as being quite disruptive.

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

NATHAN: No other projects on the horizon right now. Too busy marketing The Mendoza Line and my wife wants me to take a vacation.  If I am able to do another film, it will be with a larger crew including a UPM and AD.


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