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 moiré on small patterns, like shirt textures.  I spent a great deal of time in post just cleaning up moiré. 

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.

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