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:

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