Thursday, June 18, 2015

Kate Moran on “Are You Afraid of the '90s?"

What was your filmmaking background before making Are you Afraid of the 90s?

KATE: I actually started out in theater, directing and producing my own theatrical productions at the age of 18 while I was studying at NYU. I was always hanging out with the Film majors though, and a few of them are my closest friends and collaborators to this day.

After graduating, I had my own theater company for a few years with some of my fellow alums. That was a crash course in non-profit downtown theater and we had a great time, producing several full theatrical productions in small black box theaters around New York City.

A few years ago I decided to turn my focus to film and was lucky enough to work with award-winning indie film director Matthew Bonifacio. Matt and Julianna Gelinas Bonifacio, his producing (and life) partner, are awesome and they were gracious enough to take me under their wing. I worked on a couple of their projects, including their feature film, The Quitter, and those experiences have proven to be invaluable.

Not too long after, I started developing the script for Are You Afraid of the '90s?, which is my first film as writer/director. In retrospect, it was really ballsy (and risky) of me to take on such a heavy production for my first shot as a writer/director, but I had been working in production for several years and luckily I had many friends, colleagues, and resources that I could and did call upon to help make this film a reality. Not to say it made any of it super easy, but the team I got to work with, and emotional support I've received - it's incredibly humbling, I'm really thankful for that. 

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

KATE: I was thinking about this growing trend of '90s nostalgia that I was seeing everywhere on the Internet, so in my usual way, I tried to subvert that idea. How could I turn nostalgia into a nightmare? And of course, the first image I got was of a haunted Furby.

At the same time, my friends and I were all in the thick of our own quarter-life crises. Pretty much all of my friends are artists of some kind and the financial insecurity of our trades, along with incredible amounts of college debt, only added to our existential panic. It made total sense to me why there was such an intense spike in '90s nostalgia. When the future is completely uncertain, it's all too easy to become fixated on the past. It all came together from that. 

Once the actual story and characters came together from these concepts, I had a couple readings of early drafts. Two of the actors in those initial readings are actually in the film - Darren Lipari and Stephen Stapinski - they've been with this project pretty much from the beginning, as have a lot of my collaborators.

The core story has always stayed the same, but I've probably written about 50 drafts of this script since its inception. I'm sure my crew was frustrated with me, as I would sometimes rework a scene right before we were to shoot, but I was always striving to create a more authentic moment. I worked a lot in improvisation during my theater days so I had to adjust. My actors were very invested in telling this story and we would spend hours just discussing every aspect of these characters and Jessica's story.

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

KATE: Oh god, this part is always the least fun. Fundraising was really, really tough, and it's still a challenge as we are in post-production. Crowd-funding, really, is how we managed to get it done. A lot of begging and a whole lot of generosity from our family, friends, and supporters. You name it, we've done it. Indie Go-Go, Kickstarter, fundraiser parties, online auctions, letter-writing campaigns, it's been a quite an undertaking to say the least, and we're still raising funds for post as I type this.

We had a Kickstarter in 2014 that was miraculously successful, but really only covered a portion of the budget. We did a ton of social media promotion for that and that's also how we met Michael Summers, who heard of our project through the Reddit-sphere and is now our executive producer.

Now we're applying to finishing grants as we have non-profit status through Fractured Atlas. As this is a non-profit short film, all of the funds and goods were donated, so the most we hope to recoup is to just pay ourselves back for any out-of-pocket money we've spent. But it's all worth it, right? 
(Psst - tax-deductible donations can be made here:

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

KATE: A few of the roles were cast from actors who I had known and worked with before, but really it's thanks to our casting director, Allison Shomer Kirschner. I had met her at a past job and she graciously agreed to work on our project.

She sent out a script to Heather Matarazzo and Kristine Sutherland and they got back to us pretty much right away. I knew Jenna Leigh Green through a mutual connection and I actually wrote the role of Kimmie with her in mind, so to me, she was destined to play it!

And after casting, the script definitely changed. Not drastically, but like I mentioned before, prior to shooting, I would meet with my actors and discuss the story and these characters at great length and each one of them helped continue to flesh out these roles into real, complex people. 

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

KATE: We shot on a Canon C100. My DP Jake Horgan is amazing and such a trooper; along with my producers, he's really been such an important partner in creating this film with me. He works primarily with the C300, but we used a C100 as we were so low-budget.

Honestly, I'm sure he could talk more about the different pros and cons, so here's what he had to say: "I love the quality of image you can get from the camera all while fitting into a very light form factor body. The light sensitivity is a huge plus, especially when working within the constraints of a low budget shoot. Furthermore, the camera has the hugely helpful waveform and focus magnification tools ensuring I get my shots well exposed and sharp. Some cons: The C100's recording codec compresses the image twice as much its bigger brother the C300, and the design of the viewfinder and LCD screen leaves something to be desired."

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

KATE: Oh boy, I don't know if I have the answer to this question yet! I'm sure the lessons from this whole process will continue to unearth themselves to me for years to come. 

Here's what I will say: Writer, director, producer Roberta Marie Munroe talks about the "Big Belief System" and "Genius Surround" in her book, How Not To Make a Short Film, and I completely agree. Those two core ideas have really saved my butt many times.

You have to be the biggest cheerleader for your film. If every fiber of your being doesn't believe this film must be made, then don't make it. Making an indie film, especially when you're self-producing, is so incredibly hard in so many ways and takes so much sacrifice, determination and work, so your belief in the project is essential to get you through those darker days.

Also the passion you have for your project can hopefully lead to you being able to convince really talented, likewise passionate teammates to help you make your film, even if you can't pay them well or at all.

Which then ties directly into the Genius Surround idea - surrounding yourself with people who are more knowledgeable, more experienced, more talented, especially in areas you are not. Get the best people you can on your team, and I luckily have amazing people on my team, and your ship has that much more of a chance at staying afloat. 

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

KATE: Just ask, the worst they can say is no. Respect yourself and your vision and your team, but leave the ego out of it. Stay grateful. Listen to your teammates but also know when to draw the line and do so, respectfully. Do whatever you can ahead of time so on set you can do your job better. Work within your means, you'd be surprised at how you can rise to the challenge. Have good, hot meals on set - everyone says this but it's so important. Take the time you need to get the footage you need, but also know when you're being self-indulgent. Stressing about money and time should be your last concerns when on set -- get a really great producing team, AD, and coordinator so they can worry about that for you -- if the work suffers, then none of it is worth it. 

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