Thursday, May 28, 2015

Stephen David Brooks on "Flytrap"

What was your filmmaking background before making Flytrap!?

STEPHEN: I come from a visual effects background and I learned that craft from double Oscar winner John Dykstra and Oscar nominee Harrison Ellenshaw. They were my VFX mentors. I mean I was always writing but my day job was in visual effects.

I supervised the effects for a Tobe Hooper movie called Spontaneous Combustion. Tobe also let me direct 2nd unit on that project. That’s how I became a 2nd unit director and my first experience directing professional actors.

Then years later Tobe hired me to adapt the Stephen King short story The Mangler. Stephen King had script approval so that was a tough first assignment. We shot the film in South Africa and that is when I started wearing three hats: I was the screenwriter, 2nd unit director and VFX Supervisor. I did this for a couple of movies for Avi Lerner/Nu Image then decided it was time to just go and direct.

So I made my feature debut with the dark crime comedy Heads N TailZ. More recently I had a short called Binky on the festival circuit. Binky won best screenplay and best actress for Lucy Jenner at the Monaco International Film Festival. And now…Flytrap.

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

STEPHEN: I have always loved the phrase “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t really after you.” I love the paranoia of 1950’s Sci Fi where alien invasions seemed to be a common theme. So I combined the two.

Once I had the concept, the writing process of the first draft was fairly straight forward. Once I’ve hammered out the logline all I had to do was determine the two genres for the piece. (In this case Sci-Fi and Love Story.)

But for the shooting draft I had to dig deeper into the characters. That’s when I worked with the amazing Jeff Lyons of Storygeeks, who uses this process called The Enneagram. The Enneagram is the most powerful system available today that describes the nine-core personality drives underlying all human behavior. Each of the nine drives is rooted in thoughts, feelings, and actions that largely determine how we interact with the world, for good or ill.

The Enneagram is not your personality, but it is the crankshaft of your personality; it is the thing that drives us through our personhood and through our lives. Everyone has an Enneagram type, including fictional characters and even stories themselves. Writers have been using the Enneagram for thirty years to develop multi-dimensional characters, but we used it on Flytrap in a whole new way, using something called Rapid Story Development.

Storygeeks’s Rapid Story Development™ combines the two most powerful story development tools available to writers today: the Enneagram system and the basic story structure principles. Most writers have never heard of the Enneagram, let alone story structure, but both systems are essential tools for developing a story.

As I said, writers, including screenwriters, have used the Enneagram for a long time, but they’ve never combined the Enneagram with story structure together to create a process for full development of a script.  That’s what Jeff Lyon’s Rapid Story Development does; it uses the Enneagram-Story Connection to reveal the structure of any movie or novel—and it happens fast. 

I worked directly with Jeff Lyons on Flytrap, and together we figured out all the script’s weaknesses and uncovered the strongest character lines in under an hour—no joke.  Blew us away.

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

STEPHEN: An attorney I know in New York connected me to some Wall Street money. We do have a marketing and sales plan in place. In today’s market you can’t just think about one revenue stream. You have to consider all the options and all the ways to get the film seen.

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

STEPHEN: I worked with Jeremy Crutchley on The Mangler. At that time I knew I wanted him to star in something for me one day. Amazing actor. He moved to LA from Cape Town to support his role in Black Sails. So the timing was perfect. I gave him the script. He loved it and that was that.

Ina-Alice Kopp is attached to another project of mine so I reached out to her for the role of Mary Ann. And Billy ‘Sly’ Williams is in everything I do. He was the lead in Heads N TailZ, he was in Binky and now Flytrap. Billy and I are like DeNiro and Scorcese. We have a shorthand way of working.

The rest of the cast was assembled by my casting director, Stanzi Stokes. Stanzi has a great eye for talent. She brought me Jonah Blechman who is just creepy brilliant in Flytrap. He’s the guy whistling at the end of the teaser.

There were some script changes, of course. I always seek the input of my actors. I don’t always make the change but I do solicit opinions and field ideas from the cast. I think it is crucial to listen to their instincts. Particularly when it comes to the motivation of the characters.

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

STEPHEN: We were the first feature to use the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera shooting CinemaDNG Raw Compressed. The camera was great. Small. Easy to use. And amazing picture quality. Nothing to hate about that.

How did you and DP David Hardberger decide on the look of the movie and what steps did you take to execute that?

STEPHEN: David and I have known each other for years. We both have a vast film vocabulary. So we started by throwing out examples from other films. The shower scene is like The Shining. The dinner scene is Barry Lyndon. That was our starting point for both lighting and composition.  There is a lot of Kubrick influence in Flytrap.

Execution on set was up to him. He has a great gaffer and crew and they did their thing. We always planned to do a lot of the work in post. So a lot of the look has been created in the color grade. Shooting Raw made that possible.

What was the smartest thing you did during production?

STEPHEN: The smartest thing is that I surrounded myself with professionals who know what they are doing.

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

STEPHEN: I think next time I won’t be a producer. That was somewhat distracting. Next time I’ll just concentrate on directing and let others handle the production chores.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Michael Peterson on "Insectula!"

What was your filmmaking background before making Insectula!?

MICHAEL: As a child, practically all I did was watch 8mm versions of the horror or Sci-Fi movies that I could get my hands on and read Famous Monsters of Filmland, as that was pretty much all there was.

I then went to Art college for filmmaking and studied film theory and some of the more artistic directors. After college, I worked at several companies making commercials and industrials for several years before getting interested in computers and teaching myself programming. After the consumer cameras came out that could hold up to theatrical screening I decided to make Insectula.

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

MICHAEL: I always loved B-movies and the Toho pictures and I was looking for a sub-genre that wasn’t overdone with microbudget indies and realized very few giant creature-features had been made.

So with this nucleus I decided to utilize the lake I lived on as that was visually interesting and accessible. I pretty much developed the script in my head and carried that around while shooting until a sales agent we were working with wanted to see the script. Then it was just a matter of transposing what was in my head to paper and went very fast.

The effects in the movie are wonderful. Did you write to what you could do ... or write it first and worry about how to do it later?

MICHAEL: I had no idea how to do the monster or what it should look like. I looked at all the methods of making it: stop motion, marionette or puppet (like The Giant Claw or Reptilicus) and CGI. Stop motion would be too expensive and time consuming, the puppet idea was more of a silly creature and I didn’t know how to do 3D rendering for CGI.

I settled on CGI and tried to find someone to help me for cheap but had no luck, so I decided I have to learn it myself, and that turned out to be very useful. For complete scenes I just had lines in the script like “Creature attacks St. Paul and the military fights to no avail.”

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

MICHAEL: My original intention was to shoot a few scenes and put together a compelling trailer to help get financing. We did that and got over a million web hits but we still found we couldn’t raise money without major strings attached. We did get a Jerome grant but most was just waiting until I had enough money to shoot another scene.

We are submitting to many festivals but we are looking at distributing the DVD and VOD ourselves through Amazon and see what happens along with four walling it in some college towns.

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

MICHAEL: There were a few scenes that needed to be cut as we over shot. I was going with the rule of thumb of one page equaling one minute, but not factoring it’s one page of DIALOG, so we have some great extra scenes that will be in the DVD but had to be cut because of length.

As for actors I used local talent that I had seen in other productions. The big exception is our daughter, who is an actress and model in Europe and looks like a movie star. That was a no brainer.

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

MICHAEL: Initially the Canon 7D and then switched to the Canon 60D when it came out. I love that it is so small and the image is very nice.

The problems I had with it were moire (which was solved purchasing an internal filter), and degradation problems due to the extreme color grading I was doing. I would love to work with RAW, but when I started cameras that could do it weren’t affordable like they are now, and I decided not to switch cameras in midstream. The Canons are also a bit soft for my tastes.

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

MICHAEL: Learning VFX and CGI and utilizing it in scenes that you wouldn’t expect it to be in. It can really make things look like we had more budget and enhance shots that could have used more work at the time of shooting. Sometimes because we were using free locations, we had very limited time to shoot in and would like to have spent more time during setup. In these instances computers can help give it something extra that can turn an OK shot into something really nice.

Dumbest might be some of my crew choices that turned out to be problematic.

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

MICHAEL: I learned how to stretch a dollar to its limit. I never thought about what I could do while coming up with the script, I just put in what I would want to see and then would figure out how to do it.

If you worry about budget then you are going to have a less interesting film. I always found a way to do it even if it seemed impossible for the money.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Darren Scales on "The Drift"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Drift?

DARREN: I had been making movies, shorts and documentaries since 1992. I started out with my brother and a local friend to create Backyard Productions. In

1994 we made our first movie, Geriatric Park, a spoof on Spielberg’s dinosaur spectacular. That was shot on VHSC and edited using 2 video recorders. From then on we focused a lot on spoofs.

As video, editing and VFX became more accessible, we made more adventurous spoofs including 2 Star Wars parodies and an Indiana Jones called Doom Raiders. Around 2005, after our last Star Wars movie, The Emperor’s New Clones, I began to want to make something original yet familiar.

Our Fan films had exposed us to some connections on TV and Pinewood Studios, so I decided to look at branching out beyond the parody. We made a test short called Cinders, A kind of extended trailer, which was shot at Pinewood and a theme park.  From there I was able to really get stuck in to creating my own Sci Fi. With the lessons learned from our parodies combined with the industry practises picked up along the way, I was ready to make The Drift.

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

DARREN: I had been working on a much bigger story called Starlight that focused on a future universe where mankind loses the power of light speed travel in an instant. I developed how that universe would become, where the impacts would lie and how the authorities would maintain order.

The set up was huge and my story just as big. I decided to look at expanding one location where the impact would be felt, a starship convoy that was now stranded in Space. The Drift is set 20 years after this event so things would have moved on, probably for the worse.

Working with Sue, was a blast! We had worked together before on the Cinders project. As well as the screenplay writer, Sue was a kind of “Story Midwife.” Whilst I created, developed and delivered the story, Sue was always there to ask me the difficult questions about plot, points, structure, authenticity and credibility.

When I completed the story, in some ways the roles were reversed. Now I was asking Sue about the same things in the script. Throughout the whole process it was an open-door arrangement, where both of us could and would suggest options, style and content; it worked very well, especially that the story and script was produced in less than 3 months.

The effects in the movie are wonderful. Did you two write to what you could do ... or write it first and worry about how to do it later?

DARREN: Making The Drift as a zero budget movie means that in order to move the production forward you sometimes have to simply “leave it for post.” The key is to know what you want to leave and what you can do to mitigate the pain that is going to come later.

We left a lot of the VFX decisions until well after we filmed. Our lead VFX artist Jon Carling, was already maxed out making all the Computer screen displays you see in the movie (yes they all real and there on set with the cast!).

But our experience working on our Star Wars parodies, had informed us as to what we needed. There are 2 min CGI sequences in The Drift. We ensure that we had plenty of dialogue to cover the yet undocumented story arc. We also made the crew wear headsets which whilst was an artistic choice, also allowed for much more authentic ADR later.  

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

DARREN: Backyard Productions has been around longer than the Internet. When we started, there were no crowd-funding websites and access to media funding opportunities was also extremely limited (especially when you are making a spoof!).

We would raise our funds through monthly contributions from the company members. We would raise around £100 a month; making a movie every 3-4 years meant it soon added up.  Each of our productions also raises money for charity through sales or suggested donations on premiere nights; The Drift is no different – It is this model that enables us to make the film for less money. For example, by raising money for charity, we were able to secure a large room for 6 months to build the sets.

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

DARREN: Having made several films before we were lucky enough to be able to secure many of them for The Drift. It was not easy as most were located in London and we were shooting 150 miles north.

We did have some new and welcome additions, Jonny Black who played the Captain and Lee Grantina (Astra). The cast attended several read-throughs and as Sue knew the actors from previous productions, the changes were small.  There was some improvisation on Set; many of Reg’s lines (the Captain’s pit bull) were suggested on set (“Oy! Tossers!”, “Happy Days!”)

You wore a lot of hats on this project -- Director, Editor, Sound Design, Visual Effects Supervisor. What's the upside and the downside of that approach?

DARREN: As a small production it was easier for me to take on a lot of these roles. We did try to push some of them out to others, but making a feature is a huge commitment and most could not give the time needed - even though they wanted to. 

The upside, was that as the creator and director, it was very quick for me to edit the picture (6 weeks). I have been making sound effects since the 1980’s so for me, that was a joy. Producing, managing, leading is what I did in my (previous) day job as an Officer in the Royal Air Force, so whilst frustrating at times, it was something I was able to do well.

The downside was adding all those tasks together and putting them into one brain, meant that from time to time, mistakes were made and the production took longer to complete.

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

DARREN: We filmed on the cameras that we owned: a couple of DSLRs and a Sony EX1 Documentary camera. The Sony was great as a safe camera – easy to grade and captured the sounds well too. The Canon DSLR’s captured a more instantly rewarding shot and provided a nice shallow depth of field. However many shots lost focus when the actors moved too quickly and grading was not so simple with more degradation afterwards.

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

DARREN: The smartest thing we did was plan everything… and I mean everything!  It allowed us to make the big ship sets feel big by reconfiguring them, redressing them and change the shape. Once we struck the set configuration, there was no going back to that set up. We had to know we got everything – and we did. Make up, costume, props all had to be prepared and ready – it was like a military operation, but it worked.

The dumbest thing? More difficult as we made lots of deliberate “mistakes” such as the chroma key backdrop was too close to the set (but we wanted the set to be as big as it was so we rolled with it). I suppose not giving lighting the priority it deserved; there were a lot of shots that were just too dark.

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

DARREN: Without trying to sound too negative, I learned that this will probably be the last time I make a movie on a zero budget. Making a movie set in Space is hard, even when you have a budget and full crew – we were insane! I am so proud of my cast and crew; it was never reasonable to expect to be able to make a movie like this with £5000 and a team of motivated but relatively inexperienced crew.

But we did, you can’t buy that type of loyalty, energy and dedication.  However, for me? I think after more than 20 years of working my butt off just to make a movie that looks cool given the budget, I want to work my butt off to make a movie that looks cool, period! That means investment.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

William Greaves and Steven Soderbergh on "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm"

What was your background before becoming a filmmaker?

WILLIAM GREAVES: I taught acting for quite a while in Canada, from the Actors Studio in New York. I went up to Canada and worked on the National Film Board of Canada, on the production staff. I also, concurrently, opened up a studio that was modeled on the New York Actor's Studio, and taught acting.

One of my actors became very wealthy in the real estate business in Miami, Florida. He said, 'Listen, you're a very talented fellow and you have a lot of ideas. You're just as good a director as anyone coming out of Hollywood. Why don't you do a feature?'

And I said, 'These things cost money.' And he said, 'What does it cost?' And I told him and he said, 'Do it. I'll back it.'

So I asked him what sort of subject he wanted me to concentrate on -- a whodunit or a romance, or what?

And he said, 'Anything you like. Whatever you want to do, Bill, you do.'

So, with that blank check I reflected on a lot of things that that I had been thinking about over the years. One of them is the creative process, as it relates to the actor and the director. Having been a product of the Actor's Studio and Lee Strasberg, Kazan, Stanislavsky and those people, as well as having been involved in psycho drama, by way of J.L. Moreno, who was the pioneer of psycho drama, it came to me that it would be interesting to shoot a film that had some of these elements.

I thought it would be interesting to do several screen tests and to look at the creative process that actors undergo, in conjunction with the director, to show their talents at the highest level.

That's how it all got started, initially, but then other elements came into play. For example, the Heisenberg Principal of Uncertainty, for which the analog to the electron microscope is the motion picture camera, which is looking down into the psyche and soul of the actor while the actor is performing, and often times it tends to stiffen and destroy the spontaneity and truthful feelings of the actor as the character they're trying to portray. I thought that would be an interesting element to think about, artistically, creatively.

One of the hallmarks of the Stanislavsky system is to try to be as honest in what you're doing, in performance, as possible. One of the things that kept bothering me about a lot Hollywood movies was that the acting was very stiff and lacking in spontaneity. Having challenged myself as an actor to be more realistic in my acting, and having looked at the work of people like Marlon Brando and Julie Harris -- people at the Actor's Studio who's work was very spontaneous.

It came to me that this was a wonderful opportunity to test the limits of my credibility as a person in front of a camera, pursuing this particular screen test with these actors, but trying to not act for the camera.

The director in the film is definitely a character -- a character that, at times, drives the crew and the cast a little crazy. Was that intentional?

WILLIAM GREAVES: One of the elements of my characterization was my inscrutability. Try and try as much as they could, they couldn't decode my motives. That was calculated to elicit a degree of tension and angry and anxiety in the crew. They couldn't decode my motives, and I didn't want them to decode my motives, because I wanted to see if it would be possible to generate as much conflict in front of the camera as possible. Conflict being the hallmark of a really good drama.

I was hoping to have any conflict to what I was doing played out in front of the camera by the crew challenging me in what I was doing or criticize me or whatever. But this did not happen until the last scene in the movie, of the crew on the grass, screaming and shouting and shrieking at me because I was doing a lot of what they considered to be bizarre and unorthodox things that were not in lock step with traditional Hollywood feature filmmaking.

I didn't think that they were challenging me enough during the course of the shooting, but then they gave me the footage that they shot on their own. I didn't know that they had done this palace revolt, it was something that they surreptitiously stole away and did at the end of a day of shooting after I went home.

They had this closet revolt and it was terribly exciting to me, because I was afraid that the film was not going to work out well, because it didn't have enough conflict.

But when I saw this material I was just elated and I knew that we had a very good film on our hands -- something that would be very fresh and delight audiences, particularly those who were reasonably conversant with the filmmaking process.

I was surprised that in the midst of all this chaos, the crew had the presence of mind to get a release form from the man who wanders into the shoot.

WILLIAM GREAVES: That's very conventional behavior. It was obvious that this was a very risqué situation, but we had to have this man sign on to what we were doing. We didn't know how conscious he was, or how inebriated he was, but we weren't taking any chances. We knew we had to have him give us the clearance.

He says, 'What is this, a movie? Who's moving who?'

That's the way life is. Life is full of a lot of lucky moment, as well as tragic moments. And our mission was to capture as many lucky moments as possible.

Can you explain the genesis of the title?

WILLIAM GREAVES: The title is, for me, a very attractive title. I tend to be in love with scientific thinking of one kind or another, and I came across a book called Inquiry Into Inquiries;: Essays In Social Theory, which was written by a very knowledgeable social scientist named Arthur Bentley.

He conceived of the milieu that human beings find themselves as the symbiotaxiplasm. And this symbiotaxiplasm represents those events that transpire in the course of anyone's life that have an impact on the consciousness and the psyche of the average human being, and how that human being also controls or effects changes or has an impact on the environment.

So there's a dialectic or a dialogue that goes on between the action and behavior and thinking of human beings as they move through the events in their lives.

I had the arrogance, the temerity, to introduce the term 'psycho' in the middle of symbiotaxiplasm, making symbiopsychotaxiplasm.

Symbio represents the existence of similarities of one kind or another. Psycho is the mind. Taxi is how the mind reacts and responds to arrangement of reality. And Plasm being the human being. I'm over-simplifying it; you'll have to read the book yourself.

How did Steven Soderbergh get involved in the project?

WILLIAM GREAVES: Steve Soderbergh came out of the blue to find me, because he had heard about Take One, and he was very curious about it and finally caught up with me. We would never had done Take 2 1/2 if it weren't for him.

Where did you first hear about Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One?

STEVEN SODERBERGH: I first heard about it through my colleague, Larry Blake, who does post-production sound on all of my films. He went to Sundance in 1992, and when he came back he said he saw this really crazy movie. In the middle of the movie screening, in Park City, the projector broke and the director walked up the front of the theater and said, 'This may or may not be part of the film.' Larry said, 'You have to se this movie, it's really amazing.'

I didn't see it until four years later, finally. I managed to track down the tape. As you can imagine, I just thought it was one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe how great it was and that it wasn't famous, I mean really famous. Even then, almost ten years ago, I felt maybe it's still, even now, too far ahead of its time.

It's the ultimate "reality" piece.

The difference being, in this case, that nobody was in on the joke. And that's what makes it so brilliant. When you do a reality show on TV today, you know you're part of a show and that they're going to start creating obstacles for you or trying to complicate the situation purposefully and consciously. Here, you're just watching a situation where people are absolutely convinced that Bill is out of control, doesn't know what he's doing, and you're a fly on the wall. And then the ultimate mutiny takes place. It's really incredible.

I think when he was presented with that material, he must have felt like the cinema gods were smiling on him.

It's unprecedented nature is even evident when you see the second film. I found the second film really interesting for completely different reasons. In cultural terms, it's a very melancholy film to me, because something's been lost. There's a spirit that I think is gone and it's not just because you can't go home again; I think it's bigger than that.

I think we live in a time now where people don't feel as free with themselves and their ideas, at least in the context of film shoot, but also in general. We live in a culture now where people who dissent vocally are attacked. And that wasn't the case then. That was a time where you were attacked for not speaking up. I think when you watch the two films back-to-back you can feel it, you can feel it. There's a freedom and a looseness in the first one, just in the way people are behaving, that's not at all present in the second one.

It's also amazing to see the same actors, 25 years later.

STEVEN SODERBERGH: It's because we look in the mirror every morning and so we don't notice the changes as much as we do when we see these two films. There's something incredibly compelling about it. It's an undiluted dose of mortality.

The genie's out of the bottle now. It's beyond the fourth wall, it just took it to another level.

Why did the first film take so long to come to light?

STEVEN SODERBERGH: I don't know if there's a good explanation for it, other than bad fortune. Or, perhaps, good fortune now that people are starting to see it. It's conceivable the film might never have been noticed or remembered. But certainly, during that period, I mean people were going to see El Topo at midnight, this is a more accessible movie than that. I don't understand it.

I'm stunned that I'd never heard of it before Larry mentioned it to me. I scoured magazines and quarterlies and was certainly paying attention to alternative cinema and the history of alternative and independent cinema, and I'd never heard of it.

It's one of the pluses of being in this situation, is that every once in a while you can lend a hand to somebody who just needs a little sugar.