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 

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