Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jamin Winans on "The Frame"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Frame?

JAMIN: I got into filmmaking when I was a kid (about 10).  Just grew up with an RCA camcorder on my shoulder.  I made my first feature on VHS editing on two VCRs when I was 17 (it was horrible).  I then went to film school for a year, dropped out and started Double Edge Films (about 16 years ago).  

Since then I've made a number of shorts and three features (11:59, Ink, and The Frame).

Where did you get the idea and what was the writing process like?

JAMIN: Ultimately I wanted to make a movie about the feeling of being abandoned by God.  I wanted to explore the questions of God's existence, God's nature (benevolent or malevolent) and how we struggle between control and submission.

The writing process for me always starts with images.  I'll get an image of a moment and begin asking questions.  Those questions eventually lead me to knowing the character and what brought him/her to that moment.  With The Frame there were two primary images I started with; a man physically fighting to get out of a cage, and the man picking up a violin.

I work for months (if not years) on an extensive outline and then write the actual script fairly quickly.

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

JAMIN: The casting was headed up by my wife and producer, Kiowa.  We were determined to have a very democratic and nation-wide casting call so we used Breakdown Express and Actors Access.  We received about a thousand submissions for each role and Kiowa went through them one by one.

After looking at demo reels, headshots, and resumes she narrowed it down to a handful of actors she thought might be right.  We then sent those actors a few scenes to read and gave them a week to submit a taped audition.  From those we found David Carranza and Tiffany Mualem who we fell in love with.  We flew them out and auditioned them in person before giving them the roles.

The other roles were almost entirely people we knew or had worked with.  Christopher Soren Kelly is a long time collaborator and friend who's been in a number of our films.  Almost all of the actors were out of Denver (where we shot). 

Very little of the script changed after casting.  During rehearsal David, Tiffany and I tweaked some dialogue once we got a sense of how it played, but generally we kept everything as it was.

How did you and DP Robert Muratore establish and execute the look of the film?

JAMIN: Robert was involved a good year before we shot.  We're good friends so every casual get together quickly turned into talking about the film.  We watch a lot of movies together and talk about them constantly so we had a really good film reference shorthand.  I could mention the look of almost any movie and Robert knew what I was talking about.

We had the typical conversations about aesthetic that most filmmakers have.  We started with theme and discussed how best to capture that visually.  We had various rules we established early that stemmed from the point of view the story is coming from.  One big rule we had was "no handheld."  That made the shoot a lot more complicated because if we wanted the camera to move it meant it was on a dolly, jib, or steadicam.  All of those things take time and resources.   We also wanted the film to be dark, but very natural.  We had a number of references we kept going back to.

But the bulk of our conversations were much more technical.  There are some big visual ideas in the film and one specifically that I've never seen done before (the "Frame" visual).  That was difficult because we didn't have any references to look out and know if the idea would even work.  We did a lot of testing starting with miniatures and mock-ups and eventually landed on our "Frame Rig."  I don't want to say too much about that for the those who haven't seen the movie yet, but in the end we were really happy with how it turned out.

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

JAMIN: This was my third feature on a Sony.  This was shot on the Sony F55 which came out just weeks before we started shooting.  We were lucky enough to get our hands on it just in time and absolutely loved it.  Everything about it was fantastic.  We shot and finished on 4k, the low light sensitivity was amazing (critical because we couldn't afford big lights) and it was small which is always a requirement for me.

I had no complaints whatsoever with the camera.  It was honestly about as perfect an experience as I have ever had.

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

JAMIN: No, this was probably the most faithful I've ever stayed to the script and the storyboards.  I felt confident in the script and had spent five months storyboarding the film so I had worked out most of the issues by the time we shot.  I cut a few lines and shots, but for the most part it's very close to the script.

At what point in the process, as the composer, do you start thinking about the music and does that change as the edit is happening?

JAMIN: I usually start working on the music at the script phase.  The music helps me write and the writing helps me compose.  With The Frame I composed about 75% of it before we started shooting and I was able to use that on set for key moments.  Then in the edit I bounced back and forth between cutting and tweaking the music.

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

JAMIN: At one point in the shoot I just realized how well we had hired.  We just had the perfect cast and the perfect crew and that made all the difference.  The dumbest?  I can't think of any one thing, but I tend to be overly optimistic with what we can do which ends up making me miserable because I'm stressed the entire shoot.  But we always get through it.

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

JAMIN: More than anything each new film helps me gain more focus both as a storyteller and in life.  The Frame has given me a clearer path as to where I'm heading next.

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