Thursday, December 25, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Scott Kawczynski on “Trust, Greed, Bullets & Bourbon”

What was your filmmaking background before making Trust, Greed, Bullets & Bourbon?

SCOTT: I have a load of credits for Art Department in both broadcast TV and film, mostly for motion graphics and title sequences. Also, in terms of Production Design, I won an Emmy for MTV Unplugged in 2010, and was also the Production Designer for the short film Two Hands that was an Academy Award Nominee in 2007. For directing, this is my first feature, I directed a short back in 2008.

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

SCOTT: I had just a sliver of an idea of a simple heist gone wrong who-done-it, and I was watching a bunch of Hitchcock (Rear Window, Rope) and 12 Angry Men, and I thought of writing a small little story that takes place predominantly in one location and all the characters were stuck there.

My process is somewhat unique I guess. I don't think anyone should do exactly what another writer does, do what works for you. I am not a big outliner, I get the beats of the story done rather quickly. I am way too anxious and need to start writing. That first draft is where I get everything figured out and it takes the longest. Then I read it through and rip it apart and put it back together. And then I do that again.

I actually love the rewrite process. That is where you get to really dissect the writing and play with it. Trust, Greed, Bullets & Bourbon went through 11 complete rewrites. 

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

SCOTT: Going in, I knew I was going to fund the film myself. That sounds pretty crazy, but please understand this is a very, very low-budget film. I had a number in mind, that quickly doubled once we got into production.

Once the film was completed, when we were on the final cut of the film, I decided to do a Kickstarter to raise money for the color correction and sound mix. Honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with Kickstarter, but I felt OK using it in this case because I had a completed film done.

As for recouping costs, well, let's be honest, it's a truly independent film, so I had no expectation of making the money back. You hear this all the time, but I had to make this film, and I was going to do everything in my power to do it. That said, it is doing pretty well in terms of iTunes pre-orders and DVD sales, so I'm making a little bit back. The connections I have made with actors, crew, producers, investors and distributors has been incredible, and impossible had I not made the film.

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

SCOTT: I cast the film mainly through and IMDBPro account. Living in NYC, I went through all the TV shows that shoot in New York and made a spreadsheet of actors I thought might fit the part. I did a ton of research, watching reels and back episodes of TV shows.

From there I emailed and called managers and agents. I had much better luck with emails actually. I think because I was able to spell everything out on what I was able to accomplish and why I thought the particular actor would be great in the role. With the cold calls, I would get an assistant whose first question always seemed to be "How much money is in it?" and would never hear back from the agent. 

The script did not change very much at all once the actors were on board. However, once we began shooting we did have conversations regarding the characters and their motives. I wanted the actors to be comfortable with what their characters were doing, and if what was on the page was not believable to them, we worked together to get it to a place where it did work. If something didn't make sense, we discussed it and fixed it.

We ended up adding one additional scene while shooting for this very reason. Dialog was a little different. As long as the actors were getting across the emotion and importance of the scene, I was fine with them going off script. 

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

SCOTT: We shot on a Sony F3 with Prime lenses. It was my DPs camera so I let him make this call. I was ready to rent an Arri Alexa, but we had a shooting schedule of 12 days, so I wanted him to be as comfortable as possible. From my point of view, the camera was great. Shot beautifully and workflow was seamless. 

Did the movie change much during editing, and if so, why did you make those changes?

SCOTT: They say that editing is the final rewrite of the script and that couldn't be more true. The story itself did not have any radical changes, but you just trim trim, trim until it is nice and tight. We reworked one scene, because it really was not working and when we yanked out a big section of it, realized nothing was lost, and that it actually made the story stronger. The script itself was a pretty lean 92 pages to begin with, but it's so important to make it clean and tight, always moving forward. 

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

SCOTT: I am going to give you two smartest things. First, we shot in upstate New York for most of the principal photography and had absolutely no rehearsal time at all. So instead of having everyone in separate hotel rooms, we all lived together for two weeks. It really created a great bond with the cast and crew and brought us all together. 

The second smart thing goes against what you generally hear. They tell you that the first day of shooting should be simple and easy to let the cast ease into the story. I did the exact opposite. The first day, we did 64 takes of an eleven-page scene. But, there was a method to the madness. The scene is about when the ensemble all get back together for the first time after five years apart. In reality, these people would be nervous and unsure of where they stood, just like my actors. So it worked perfectly, and we got one of the toughest scenes out of the way that first day. 

The dumbest thing, hands down, is not having catering set up. I had delusions of how the food was going to work out and it did not go as planned. We got it under control by the third day, but hungry cast and crew makes for cranky cast and crew. 

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

SCOTT: Making the film really reinforced the concept of great collaboration. Surround yourself with talented people who believe in what they are doing, and you will make something great that you are really proud of.

I had the honor of working with a group of great people that put everything they had and more into making this little film, and we are all extremely proud of it. In such a collaborative art form, it is crucial. It builds an incredible amount of trust and friendship. 

Trust, Greed, Bullets & Bourbon is available worldwide on iTunes, Amazon, Seed&Spark, VHX Digital, and DVD. Just go to 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hugh Sullivan on “The Infinite Man”

What was your filmmaking background before making The Infinite Man?

HUGH: I studied directing at film school, which provided me with the opportunity to make a few short films, and also to meet some great collaborators (Marden Dean, for example, was Director of Photography on both the film school shorts and The Infinite Man).

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

HUGH: There were a few ideas and desires I had. I’ve always enjoyed time travel and wanted to try my hand at it. I also wanted to look at a relationship as experienced by a somewhat troubled mind – a mind plagued by insecurities and ruminative thought. Time travel allowed me to approach these things quite explicitly. And I knew that I would be working with quite a small budget, and this kind of story seemed ideally suited to that.

The writing process was one of constant revision. Due to the inherently complicated nature of time travel, even the smallest change to a scene would reverberate throughout the entire script, and necessitate many more changes. Repeatedly. In fact, the experience of writing The Infinite Man was not too dissimilar to the experiences of its main character, Dean: constant frustration, endless revision and many, many tears.

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

HUGH: The film was financed through the South Australian Film Corporation’s FilmLab initiative. This meant the financing was pretty much guaranteed from a 1-page idea – a very strange and beautiful position to find oneself in. We have released the film theatrically in Australia, with the US and hopefully other territories to come.

How did you go about casting the movie ... and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?

HUGH: The casting process was quite traditional. Fortunately the film contains just three actors, which kept things pretty simple. I was familiar with Josh, Hannah and Alex’s work, and keen for them to read for the parts. And as soon as I saw them I knew they would be perfect.

Things changed very little as a result of casting. One thing that did have an enormous influence on the script was the location. Settling on the abandoned motel as the primary location necessitated a considerable rewrite. But I think we all felt it was worthwhile. At the very least it provided us with a place to stay for the duration of the shoot.

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

HUGH: We were fortunate enough to get a very good deal on an Arri Alexa. Obviously it’s a great camera, and while I hate to give such a dull response, I really have no quibbles whatsoever.

Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, in what ways?

HUGH: The movie changed very little in the edit. Things were shortened, and a few scenes were removed. But with a piece such as this, where everything must fit together both temporally and spatially, it was impossible to significantly reorder things without rendering the whole somewhat illogical or entirely incomprehensible.

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

HUGH: I’m not sure what the smartest thing was, and as for the dumbest, well, I’ll let the viewer decide.

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

HUGH: Get the script right, respect the schedule and wear comfortable shoes.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Amy Holden Jones on "Slumber Party Massacre"

How did Slumber Party Massacre come about?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Well that was kind of interesting. I had come out of documentary films and couldn't make a living in them. In those days, it was not the big scene it is now. I had won the AFI student film festival with a documentary. Martin Scorsese was one of the judges of that festival, and he used me as his assistant on Taxi Driver and then introduced me to Corman.

I had no money and I had to make a living, so I became a film editor. I worked for a while as a film editor and was beginning to get successful at it. I realized that if I keep this up, I'm going to be typed as a film editor. I did several smaller movies, one for MGM and a small Hal Ashby movie, and I was going to do E.T. for Spielberg. I thought, 'I'll be a film editor unless I make a movie,' so I went back to Roger Corman, who I had edited a film for when I was 22 years old.

So I went back and said, “What would I have to do to be a director?” And Roger looked at the documentary, and it didn't show him enough about what he wanted, because it was an art documentary in a way. He said, “You have to show me that you can do what I do.”

I had never written anything, so I was looking for an existing script. I went into his library of scripts, scripts that he hadn't made, and I took several of them. I read one called Don't Open the Door, by Rita Mae Brown. And it had a prologue that was about eight pages long. It had a dialogue scene, a suspense scene and an action scene.

I rewrote the scenes somewhat to make it better, and then I got short ends from shooting projects -- my husband was a cinematographer. My neighbor was a soundman. We borrowed some lights, used our own house. I did the special effects, and I got UCLA theater students to act in it.

We spent three days and shot those first eight pages. Then I put them together at night on Joe Dante's system -- he was doing The Howling. I would work at night, after hours, on his Movieola and he gave me some temp music cues.

Then I dropped off this nine-minute reel for Roger that had a dialogue scene, a suspense scene and an action/horror scene, to show him that I could do those three different kinds of things which make up an exploitation movie.

He called me up and had me come in and asked me how much it had cost me to do it. And I said it cost about $2,000, which is what it had cost. He said, “You have a future in the business,” and asked me how much I would need to direct the rest of the script. The truth was, I had never read the rest of the script, all I had read was the first eight pages. So I just, out of the air, said “$200,000.” And he said, “Let's do it, you're directing this movie.”

I then finished reading the script and it was a complete mess.

I just took a leap. I called Spielberg and told him the situation and he was kind enough to release me fro editing E.T. I rewrote Slumber Party Massacre in about four weeks as I cast it. And, indeed, we made if for $200,000.

What steps did you take to re-write it?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: I rewrote it to be makeable. Once I knew how little money we had, and what the situation was before re-writing it, that focuses your mind -- a lot. You don't go writing scenes at a football game with thousands of extras.

You start to think very logically -- when you know you're going to be going out there and doing those scenes -- about what you can do and what amount of time you can do it in. And my background as a film editor and a documentary filmmaker certainly helped.

Did you end up using any of the prologue that you shot on your own?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: No, we never did, because none of the actors were SAG, and in the end we had to have SAG actors, so we had to toss it, which was too bad. But we didn't really need it, as it turned out.

Any advice to writers who are working in the low-budget universe?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Well, it's a different market in this day and age. It's a good era, in a way, for writers starting out on a low-budget project, because you can actually make a movie for almost nothing.

I wish that I'd had the technology that young writers have now, because you can take all kinds of risks without risking all that money, if you are bold enough to write and start shooting.

I think the main thing that is still true today that was true then is that as you write you have to both tap into your heart but you also have to be aware of the very practical side of what it all costs and also what sells. It's an interesting mix.

The world is full of festival movies that never get out or go anywhere. If people are trying to break into Hollywood movies and bigger movies, not make something personal that they're going to put up on the Internet, they have to look at the commerciality of their subject matter and they have to fit what they're trying to say into a framework that is in some form entertaining for people. It has to be meaningful or moving or exciting or funny or dramatic. It can't just be what you'd tell your shrink, you know what I mean?

If they're trying to break into Hollywood, they have to be aware of something commercial in the project. Take a look at some of the things that have sold out of festivals. For example, Hustle & Flow. It's about a pimp. It's about sex. And money. That’s an easy sell.