Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sonny Priest on "Hollis"

What was your filmmaking background before making Hollis?

SONNY: I've been making films with my cousin Adam (producer on Hollis) since I was 8 years old.  Started out with terrible Play-Doh-mation and blowing up plastic army men, moved on to videos for school and youth group.  

I received a degree in Film and Video Studies from the University of Oklahoma in 2008 and promptly moved to Dallas to work as a screenwriter for a production company.  Soon after I found myself unemployed when the company I worked for folded due to economic strain from the housing crash.  (Yeah Economy!)  I moved back to Oklahoma City a year later for a non industry job and have since written fourteen feature scripts and am currently working on scripts for a half hour sitcom series.

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

SONNY: The idea came from two major places.  After freshman year of college, I interned in a place down in southwestern Oklahoma and while I was down there, I had a roommate with cerebral palsy.  He needed me to help him with things from time to time in a way that I hadn't experienced before.  I left at the end of that summer and a narrative of two brothers began to brew.  

The second event came in the happenstance of driving through the town of Hollis.  Its small town architecture, the great plains, and the feel of the town melded with an idea like a lighting strike.  I got to my destination and ended up outlining the whole story that night.  I wrote the actual screenplay later that summer.  

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

SONNY: We tried raising funds the Indiegogo/Kickstarter way, but that didn't work the way we wanted.  So we ended up setting up investor meetings with people we knew, and giving them a script.  We didn't receive a single "no" and threw a pitch dinner where investors could bring other possible investors and ended up raising the other half of our budget.  

Our self distribution plan is to show the film around small towns in Oklahoma while working toward endorsements of several regional and national special interest groups and then end up on VOD platforms.  

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

SONNY: We cast the film through relationships we had maintained over years of working around Oklahoma.  The cast was phenomenal and all Oklahoma-tied people.  

We were blessed to have worked with Ty Fanning on my cousin's senior thesis film at OCU.  Matt Altobelli and Steven Walton were in an acting class that I assisted in college with the great Darryl Cox (associate producer) so I had a good feel for their strengths as actors.  We practically dragged Terry Masters out of his film sabbatical (he is a PhD in psychology who works with at-risk youth).  

Lance Reese is an old pro from the Guthrie theater scene and needs to be in more roles ASAP.  Rob Gallavan is a local cop who moved back from the NYC acting circuit to raise his family.  Cassidee Vandalia is our youngest cast member and has some of the biggest credits.  Dylan Shelby (a Hollis native) and Kody Walker had great chemistry on screen.  Rounding out the cast were scene stealers like Mark Hinkle, Brad Clay, David Cricklin, and Michael Scott Gordon.  

There were really too many good actors and not enough screen time.  The script stayed relatively the same throughout, I believe we switched the order of two scenes and added one scene for pacing/clarity at the beginning of the third act.  

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

SONNY: We shot on the Red Epic with mostly Red Prime lenses.  It was a fantastic camera experience... one might even say it was Epic (looks around... backs out of room slowly).  I really didn't have any major complaints.  Maybe a few more stops of dynamic range (haha).  

How much did the movie change in the editing process and why did you make the changes you did?

SONNY: That's an interesting question.  A film takes on life in editing.  Due to some rainout/reshoot days, we had to eat into our post budget.  That meant a much longer post schedule and having to do more ourselves than we intended.  

A few of the actual changes we made were do to pacing.  Our movie starts slow, for effect, with a steadily building pace, but the first couple of cuts were too slow and too long.  The first complete assembly with everything in it (and I mean everything) played around 2 hours and 20 minutes (with an hour long first act... sheesh).   The final film is around 95 minutes with credits.  

Overall, it's the little changes that speed the whole film up.  The cutting a few frames off a reaction shot or losing an angle or cutting a set piece shot that took a half day to shoot that you love are all parts of melting down that raw film material to find the real precious metals.  

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

SONNY: The smartest and dumbest things we did were taking chances on new people.  The dumbest had to do with taking a chance on a newbie sound mixer.  Our original mixer got hired out from under us three weeks before production and that sent us into a frenzy.  All of our other sound contacts were booked and we ended up getting a guy who had worked on some short films.  It wasn't necessarily his fault as much as it was just asking him to do something he wasn't ready for and that mistake cost us almost a year in post.  

The best decision was hiring our composer Dustin Ragland, because  that guy's score takes the film to a new level.  He had a great ear and a superb talent in giving us what we asked for and hints of things we didn't even know we wanted.  

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

SONNY: Finish.  There are a thousand little depressing moments where you want to quit on a film.  Sometimes it feels too big and too hard for any one person to handle, especially during the moments when you feel like your passion is the only thing keeping the film going.  Not many people talk about those moments of filmmaking because they aren't sexy.  They are dark and they suck.  But those moments pass.  

To help you survive those moments:  Make sure you have a great support system and make good relationships inside your film community.  And finish, always finish.

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