Thursday, October 30, 2014

David Richards on "Nowhere Nevada"

What was your filmmaking background before making Nowhere Nevada?

DAVID: I was going to film school at the time and hadn't really done much filmmaking. I had produced 4 rock and roll documentaries of Nick's benefit concert Marianarchy. These involved shooting two days of concert footage (ranging from 20-30 bands) along with band interviews. I compiled all the footage into a two-hour documentary for the following year’s event to help promote what is, in my opinion, a fabulous humanitarian effort. These were hectic and long days of shooting (averaging 10 to 14 hrs days). I did all of the editing and production on these films and learned a lot.

Tyler and I shot a music video prior to starting Nowhere just to work together a bit and learn each others ways. I knew going in that taking on a feature length film would be a huge step but I felt I was ready for it and figured I would learn a lot. I would joke with people when they asked me if I might be in over my head. My answer to them was, "Yeah most likely."

How did you get connected with Marianne Psota's script and what was the process for getting it ready to shoot?

DAVID: While I was going to film school, Nick and I were chatting at our watering hole and I told Nick I was ready to do a feature film. He mentioned Marianne's script and if I had read it. I hadn't, so he gave it to me to check out. After reading it I knew instantly this was the project for me.

While her script was very rough and needed development, the story and the characters were solid. The music aspect of the script appealed to me right away. I said to myself, with some rewrites and development this could make an amazing rock and roll cult film. I called it a rock and roll fantasia. My past, the people and friends around me, Nick's local musical knowledge, all of it crystalized immediately. I knew we had all the pieces locally to make a great film. One reading and I could damn well see the finished film in my head. I knew this was the project. From there I went after funding, Tyler Bourns, actors, tech folk and others. I just started to sell it to everyone around me and began rewrites. Thus the journey began.

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

DAVID: Hudson Flanigan was the one and only person I really knew that I felt might be able to help us out financially. I came up with a number and picked up the phone to pitch him the film and ask for funding. Man, I was nervous doing that call. I knew Hudson casually over a number of years but was nowhere near as close to him as Nick and some other folk in our circle. Hudson had been part of the Reno music scene years before and had since moved to Portland.

I had no idea where any other funds would come from. I just knew we could start with the amount asked. It was a calculated risk. I figured if I could tell folks we had something to start with it would be easier to get them involved. Hudson said yes a few days after the pitch and one piece of the puzzle was set.

How did you cast the film and did the script change at all based on the casting?

DAVID: Casting the film came in two parts. As I was doing the rewrites I had a number of local actors in mind for certain existing roles, along with some characters added in rewrites. Most of those actors ended up in the film, though some not in the roles I first envisioned.

The leads and a few supporting roles came through auditioning at Nevada casting working with Juli Green. She was a huge help, specifically with finding the leads. We auditioned from LA and SF, but ended up casting two local actors. Juli ended up becoming another producer on the film and was instrumental in the films success.

One interesting casting was a native American role. We were not able to find an actor for it. One of the actors, a long time Reno veteran Tom Plunkett, took the role. Now Tom is very much Caucasian so I simply added one line to the script. One of the leads asks him his name and he answers, " Sam the Indian." "Sam the Indian?" replies TJ. Sam replies, "Ten percent." It became a good joke in the script and Tom was amazing as usual.

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

DAVID: We shot on a Red camera. Tyler already owned most of the equipment we needed and was willing to use it for the project. If I remember right, the Red was pretty new and I think he wanted to put it through its paces.

Tyler was huge to this production. Knowledge, talent, equipment. Without him this film would not have happened.  I loved having a Red to shoot with. As far as good and bad things you would have to ask Tyler, I only had the thing in my hands once or twice.

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

DAVID: Boy the smartest thing done during production? Tyler and I did a lot of scouting for locations. I really knew what I wanted. We got lucky and found perfect places such as Middlegate NV and Hazen NV. Having our locations set helped out a lot.

The dumbest thing I think would be not doing dailies at the end of each shoot day. Of course you have to understand the initial 10 days of principal shooting were on an average of 17 to 26 hours. Sleep was necessary. But dailies would have helped with continuity issues. We had a few of those.

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

DAVID: My partner Scott Dundas and I have started a little production company and we have shot 3 short films since. They average about 18 min or so.

Doing those films I have used many lessons learned from Nowhere.  Each film has it's own challenges ya know. I find every film I do has it's own lessons to teach.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chris White on "Cinema Purgatorio"

What was your filmmaking background before making Cinema Purgatorio?

CHRIS: I’ve always been into fiction...short stories, novels, even poetry and song lyrics. In high school I discovered improvisation and acting; which led to my majoring in Drama in college. So my path to filmmaker came by way of live theatre making, ad copywriting, amateur photography...even graphic design.

With the rise of DSLRs, I saw an opportunity, and with my wife Emily, started making films in 2009. Cinema Purgatorio is my third feature-length project, and the most sophisticated in terms of process. It’s also my most raw and honest work to date.

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

CHRIS: I was in the middle of a disappointing collaboration with another screenwriter, when Emily and I decided to put that project on hold and make Cinema Purgatorio. We wrote the screenplay in just a couple of weeks: filmmaking couple decides to participate in a 48-hour film festival that Bill Murray is to be a judge for...everything goes bad, really bad, but in the process they realize that they don’t need Bill Murray to be successful and happy. It was really our way of encouraging each other, of refocusing and recommitting to our career plan.

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

CHRIS: Cinema Purgatorio cost $50,000 to make and that sum was raised privately from about half a dozen investors.

We launched the film in June and have spent the entire summer “touring” it around the a band with a new record. Sometimes we book theaters; sometimes living rooms. We sell DVDs and have the film available for PPV streaming.

Cinema Purgatorio will play several US festivals in the fall and spring and may eventually find a small distributor. But. By that time, the film will have paid for itself and be running in the black thanks to our screening tour and self-distribution efforts.

Plus, we will have collected many more “friends and fans” along the way...people who will help push the film into new audience groups and be excited for our next project.

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

CHRIS: I like to write for actors I know, and over the years I’ve managed to meet, know, work with, and keep in touch with a lot of really talented people. With Cinema Purgatorio, most of the characters were inspired by actual people; so in some cases, we were looking for matches. Often, we’d meet someone at a screening for our previous film or at a local festival or see a play, and drive home talking about how they might be right for a role in Cinema Purgatorio. Once our cast was locked in, we really didn’t change much about the script...though we encouraged each actor to bring their own unique qualities and traits to their role.

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

CHRIS: The role I played in Cinema Purgatorio was pretty much based on me. So my acting challenge was to remain calm, focused, locked in and listening to my scene partners...nothing too ambitious or distracting. It actually proved quite useful to me, acting and directing, as I was able to establish a tone to those scenes through my acting.

The downside of acting and directing is that sometimes you miss things in your own performance, things you’d have rather got one more take on. Oddly enough, in the edit, I was often frustrated: “I know we got her close-up on that line...and her reading was perfect!” Only, we hadn’t covered that line in close-up; I was recalling the reading from my own memory...acting with the person.

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

CHRIS: We shot Cinema Purgatorio with Canon HD cameras: 5D, 7D, T2i and my own pocket camera, the Powershot Elph 110. I see so many would-be filmmakers hampered by this idea that they have to be using a certain kind of technology to really be making a movie. That’s keeps you in the coffeehouse talking about making movies.

With a 50K budget, you’re pretty much limited to DSLR. But. I have no complaints. At this level, I’m mostly interested in shot composition, focus, and the operator’s ability to stay with an actor’s performance. Everyone who operated camera on Cinema Purgatorio has acting and directing experience. I think that comes through in our shots: the camera as an observer of the life of the film.

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

CHRIS: SMARTEST: making the quest for Bill Murray a key part of our plot. This has really animated our promotional efforts. The plausibility of finding Bill and having him participate in the project has kept people interested in Cinema Purgatorio in a very committed way. When we first thought of the idea, it was almost an after-thought: “Who will be the Guffman these people are waiting for?” But now, it’s in the logline for the film.

DUMBEST: Poor archiving of media led to sound syncing problems and many other nightmarish post-production issues. Seriously, I really dropped the ball on this, and I believe it’s cost me time and money.

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

CHRIS: Funny movies are a much easier sell than dramatic ones...especially when you’re an unknown. Of course, you have to be up to the task. You have to make a truly funny movie. Which (I believe) is so much harder than a drama. Plus, it was more enjoyable on the set, everybody laughing and making each other laugh the whole time.

Our next project is a rock-and-roll, road movie set in 1986. I can assure you that it will be packed with laughs...and a blast to make and to watch.

VOD page for the film:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jeffrey Johns on “Waiting in the Wings: The Musical”

What was your filmmaking background before making Waiting in the Wings: The Musical?

JEFFREY: I worked a lot on musicals on the stage from national tours, to theme parks, to regional theater.  When I moved to Los Angeles, I got more interested in film and television.  I began working on independent films as an actor but then got on set as much as possible to see the business side filmmaking.  When I decided to make a film....I knew it had to be a musical.      

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

JEFFREY: It actually comes from my obsession with talent-based reality shows and online contests and the many, many, video submissions I have made in my career along with antics I experienced while auditioning and performing in musicals.

I had a lot less (okay none whatsoever) experience with the stripper world.   The stripper part of the film was loosely based on my experiences with one specific production, NAKED BOYS SINGING.  I am still baffled how I was cast in NAKED BOYS SINGING, but my agent insisted I attend the audition to get rid of my squeaky clean image.  I planned on throwing the audition because I could NOT be naked on stage……..well I got cast!  

At one point, the performers in NAKED BOYS SINGING were asked to attend a big party at a club.   I’m not a club guy so it was an interesting experience for me.   I saw go-go boys dancing on a pole and thought, “if that was me I’d be tap dancing around that pole while taking my clothes off – I’d make it theatrical!!”  Immediately I knew that that would be a good idea for a short film and it just grew into something much bigger, but that was the inspiration.

Which is harder? Writing a screenplay or acting in a movie you wrote? And why?

JEFFREY: For me, definitely writing the screenplay.  It took me over a year to get through the first draft and I worked on it A LOT!   About a year and a half into the script, I approached Arie Gonzalez (a friend and songwriter) and wanted his thoughts.  He said, “I thought this was going to be terrible, but it’s actually good” and he jumped in and began writing the music.  

Most important, he was instrumental in bringing the actual musical to life.  He really turned my ideas into great songs.  I went through the script and said, “I want a song here” and he made magic.  The song in the costume warehouse (“The World Needs Music”) blew me away the first time I heard it.  It was exactly what I wanted, but even better than I pictured it in my imagination.

Arie wrote half the songs for the final film and the other half were written by several talented songwriters.  I think the music is the heart of the film and am thrilled with all the songwriters involved.  It was such a collaborative process to even get the musical ready to be filmed.  I had such a strong team behind me and many table reads and feedback sessions before we even thought about rolling the cameras.

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

JEFFREY: We were on sites like Kickstarter to get funding.  As a first time feature, it was hard to get enough money to finance a musical with the quality product I wanted.  I knew I wanted to move forward so I took a second mortgage on my house for the remainder of the funds. It's hard to make any film, but making a musical adds a lot of additional expenses from recording sessions, to musical directors, to musicians, to choreographers.

How did you cast the movie and did the script change much once your cast was in place?

JEFFREY: Absolutely......the most notable change was the casting of Rebekah Kochan.  She's a brilliant actress and I really wanted her in the film.  She was busy on another project so couldn't get her for all the filming days we needed her. One thing that came out of that was breaking her character's leg so she could be removed from some of the musical numbers.  Ironically, the re-write worked so well it actually improved the script.  

How did you approach the casting of your celebrity cameos (Lee Meriwether, Shirley Jones, Sally Struthers, Christopher Atkins)?

JEFFREY: Lee Meriwether met me in Las Vegas while I was working on a show (Tony 'n Tina's Wedding).  She was actually the first one onboard with the project.  She really loved the script and has been one of the most incredible support structures for the filming.  

The others took some time and determination.  I made many, many, many phone calls and finally got the green light from the cameos.  We ended up filming the scene with Shirley Jones about 8 months after the rest of the film wrapped.  Ironically, the entire film was edited prior to even filming the Shirley Jones scene, but think it was well worth the wait.  She's really incredible in the film.   

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

We used the RED SCARLET.  I love that camera.  The quality is amazing!!!

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

JEFFREY: I think casting the film myself was the smartest thing that I did with the production.  I knew exactly the characters I wanted and worked tirelessly to get the perfect cast in place.  I had over 3,000 submissions.  

The dumbest?  LOL. Well, it certainly was a learning curve.  I think the biggest challenges came with the instrumentalists recordings.  We went to production with just piano tracks on many songs and added the full orchestration in post-production.  I think it would have made life easier on everyone if the choreographers and performers had the full orchestration to dance and perform to.   I was so lucky to have such a talented cast.  

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

JEFFREY: I am still learning and still working on the film.  Just because the actual film is complete....the marketing of the film and the festival circuit has just begun.   In addition, I'm working on the stage adaptation of the film and a possible sequel.  

I learned SO much from the process, I could go on for days.  The most important advice I would give anyone is - get a good editor.  They are vital to making the final film.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gary Herbert on "Thursday's Speaker"

What was your filmmaking background before making Thursday's Speaker?

GARY: Thursday's Speaker is my first feature film.  I've been making short films over the years with the intention that I would eventually, some day, get the chance to make a feature. In film school I discovered motion graphics which is what I do now as my day job but I never lost my desire to create narrative works. I've always done a lot of writing.  I had been writing screenplays over the years, as well, but none of them ever felt good enough to move forward with.

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

GARY: I had known some people in AA and the whole community always fascinated me. I met this guy who was an AA speaker and I went to a couple of the speaker meetings and it was amazing.  Some of these guys were so great at telling their stories. My humor immediately went to the idea that, maybe this guy is a fraud. What a great character that would be to write about.  So that was the beginning of the idea.  

I had been working on a different screenplay at the time.  I was sending it out and had submitted it to a screenwriting program, but as I did so I realized that I just didn't love it.  I had been writing it with the idea that it could be something that I could make on my own, totally low budget. But in the end, I had kind of written more toward that goal instead of just being inspired.  

So I tossed it and asked myself what kind of thing do I want to write that I'm going to love, that I can spend the next five years or so with. So I had the idea for this character, Rodrigo, who was this complete fraud of an AA speaker, just a drunk who picks up girls at the meetings and lies about his sobriety.  Everything came out of that. It was fun to write.

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

GARY: I wish I had a financial plan for recouping my costs!  I financed it myself, so everything was out of pocket.  The plan was to do the festival circuit and try to find a distributor that way.  We didn't get into the major festivals, which puts us in a precarious position.  We played at a number of smaller festivals, which was great, though, but there's never any distributors at those.

Also, we don't have any recognizable names, so now we're talking to distributors about possibly doing VOD or maybe distributing it ourselves as a last resort.  It's gotten easier to do that in recent years but I still don't have the expertise to really do the film justice.

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

GARY: Obviously, the downside is that you can't focus on each job as much as you'd like.  I spent my whole pre-production period working as a producer, so I didn't have the time I'd like to do my preparation as a director. All the things I ended up not being happy with came out of that.  

The upside is that I love doing all those things... well except the producing. I can't imagine making a film and not being involved in everything.  I have some post-production expertise because of my day job, so I'm reasonably competent in handling that stuff.  Plus, I have friends I can talk to when I need to know something.  

I wasn't planning on writing all the music, but I was having trouble finding someone who could get me what I wanted. I already had an idea for the main theme that I had written on the Ukulele and most of the music just came out of that. I have a little music studio at home so I could record most of the bits and pieces of what I wanted there.  

The other upside is that I didn't have to pay a writer, editor, or composer.  I did pay some friends for songs that they contributed, though. I guess another downside is that the process probably goes a little slower when you're doing that many things yourself.

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

GARY: My wife, Lisa Stacilauskas, is a DP and shot the film.  We shot with the Canon 5D mk2. We wanted to buy a camera package but didn't have a lot of money to spend, so we ended up getting that camera, some nice Zeiss lenses and gear.  We figured that my wife could rent it out on jobs and we'd have our camera to use whenever we needed to get pickups or whatever. It's an easy camera to work with.  It's light and small, good for hand-held.  

We had to do some stealthy shooting to get some of the shots that we didn't have permission for, so it was nice to be able to really strip it down and just toss it in a backpack with a minimal hand-held rig.

The problem with that camera is that at the time, there was no way to record raw.  The footage is compressed which degrades it.  It gives you less latitude in color correction. Also, and I'm not sure if this is due to the compression, it has a tendency to moirĂ© on small patterns, like shirt textures.  I spent a great deal of time in post just cleaning up moirĂ©. 

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

GARY: Certainly the smartest thing I did was cast Del Zamora.  Del is a fantastic actor with tremendous experience.  Just having Del on set helped things run smooth and I think he was a good example for the younger actors who didn't have as much experience.

Del was fantastically prepared.  I couldn't have asked for more.  His performance really makes the film.

Certainly the dumbest thing I did was not giving myself enough time to do my directing prep.  I was just trying to get caught up on the weekends, but since I was also handling other things, it was not enough.  

Another really dumb thing happened during production.  The teen girl character, Melody, wears a lip ring.  I had bought the ring (it was the fake kind you could just slip on and off) during pre-production but didn't buy a backup.  Why? What was I thinking?  Not sure. Of course, it was misplaced at lunch one day and we spent an hour looking for it and finally our gaffer, (thank you, John!) fashioned a look-alike out of a paperclip or something. I felt like an idiot. Because I was an idiot.

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

GARY: I learned a lot making this film.  I learned that you can't produce a film yourself and focus on directing at the same time.  At least I can't.  I'll have more help on the next film.

I've also learned a painful lesson about trying to sell an indie film in the current marketplace. If you don't have a recognizable name, you're taking a big chance.  

Also, genre films are still selling and everything else, not so much. I'm going to think a lot harder about the market realities before I make my next film.  I'm currently working on an animated project that I'm going to try to sell as a TV series before I attempt another movie.