Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tim Savage on “Under the Blood-Red Sun”

What was your filmmaking background before making Under the Blood-Red Sun?

TIM: Primarily, television commercials.  I think commercials are a great training ground for features because you must be extremely well prepared and disciplined in visual storytelling.  I’ve also worked on several short films, both as branded content for advertisers and for my church, New Hope Oahu, and these were important in expanding to longer stories.

I studied at Stanford and graduated with a BA in Communications.  I spent 4 years at a television station before moving in to commercials.

What attracted you to Graham Salisbury's book and what was the process for making the transition from book to screenplay? 

TIM: First and foremost, I loved the story of Under the Blood-Red Sun.  Second, I felt I had a specific voice in telling this story set in Hawaii.  And third, it’s an award-winning book that is required-reading in middle schools across the country with a loyal following for 20 years, so I felt it was smart investment of my heart, mind and soul.

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

TIM: Like all independent filmmakers we begged and borrowed.  Some of the funds came from the original partners – Dana Hankins (producer), Graham Salisbury (author) and me (director). 

Next in, was my best friend since high school, who believed in us before anyone else did, and then we mounted a successful (thankfully!) KickStarter campaign and raised $50K.  Since finishing the film, we’ve received support for several community organizations including a generous donation from the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

We deliberately planned to skip the theaters.  We’re going straight to digital purchases through Gumroad to start.  After a period of time with Gumroad, we’ll see what other distribution opportunities come our way. 

We chose this route primarily because we think the majority of our audience is young and they’re used to watching content over handheld devices like tablets, phones and computers.  This is the new paradigm for indie distribution but there’s not a lot of data available to vet the system, so we’ll have to wait and see how it works out for us.

Additionally, we believe there will be opportunities for us in educational arenas.

What tips have you learned (now that you've done it) about how to create a period piece on a low budget?

TIM: You mean other than, don’t?  Experts, consultants and owners of vintage cars and toys ultimately want to showcase either their knowledge or their stuff, don’t over pay for those things unless you plan on destroying them (at least this is true in Hawaii), but treat them with mad respect because they will save your tail.  Don’t plan on saving things in post, but just know that advances in technology have made it easier to do so (removing buildings, signs, etc).

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

TIM: We shot on the Canon 5D Mark lll with external Atomos recorders recording at ProRes 422 HQ.  The VFX shots were acquired on Red.  I love the image of the 5D and I think it gave us the most value for our budget.  The size factor was also important because some of our period houses were extremely small and we were shooting with multiple cameras.

I hate that we can’t significantly reposition shots with the 1080 size of our frame.  The 5D/Atomos connections weren’t robust enough for rigorous field production requiring extra time and effort to repair or re-rig.  I hope that on my next film we can step up to the Red or the Alexa, but overall I’m very pleased with the image of the Mark lll.

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

TIM: Probably the smartest thing we did was to extensively prepare.  We scouted every location several times, we mapped out every scene and shot.  We knew where to position big period military trucks in order to block contemporary buildings, we knew the days we needed more crew and when we could get by with skeleton team.  Obviously we couldn’t just make things up as we went because we didn’t have trucks full of wardrobe, props and equipment to support it. 

One example was that the TV show Hawaii 5-0 built a similar set to our internment camp a couple of months prior to us.  Rumor has it they spent about $100,000.  We chose a different location that had some appropriate-looking Quonset huts in the background, worked with volunteers and friends and got a comparable look for $1,000.

The dumbest thing we did was to produce a film starring an unknown 13-year-old Japanese boy set in 1941, with extremely limited financial resources.  Ultimately, I hope that will be the reason our film will succeed.

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

TIM: Test each piece of gear before putting it to work on your movie!  I have to live with a couple of shots that are problematic because of a recording issue in one of our recorders.
Choose your color grading station wisely, then have faith in it – every projector and monitor you see your film on after that will be different and it’s a wild goose chase to fine tune it for each.

If at all possible, test the film at your screening venues beforehand for picture and sound.  So far, every venue we’ve screened at has had some issue (projectors not working correctly, setup wrong, speaker output messed up, etc).

I’d also like people to know that our film is available on our website:

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