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.

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