What was your filmmaking background before making Forever Into Space?
GREG: It's 2009 and I've already put seven or eight years into studying the art of trying to write screenplays, meanwhile working as a freelance writer focused on critical writing about film and music. I get the bright idea to try to make a music video one day and that was it, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
After two years of bumbling around with little art videos and DIY music videos I start shooting what would become my first feature film, Holler and the Moan (2011) - a feature-length art house music documentary about a brilliant singer/songwriter who is suffering through a mysterious illness that keeps him from realizing his potential. That flick played at a few festivals. An old friend of mine who works in the film industry saw the movie and told me that if I moved to New York he would help me get work in the film world.
His vote of confidence meant a lot to me, and so I moved to New York and started working on other people's projects. Some big, some small. My role was never anything too important, but it was a good experience and it allowed me to experience the industry's production side first hand.
So I started focusing on writing and wrote several scripts in quick succession. This city inspires me. It was like turning on a faucet - the ideas just kept coming. They still do to this day. I finished this screenplay called He Hop Wave that I felt really good about, then took a break. I wrote a short film called The Fall Tomorrow that I started to plan to shoot.
Then the idea for Forever Into Space came up and I made a plan and attacked it. I spent over two years on that movie and now here we are, doing press for its festival run. If a goof like me can do all of that in just a few years, it makes me wonder what it would be like if a real genius like P.T. Anderson was just now coming of age.
Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?
GREG: I fell in love with New York City when I was pretty young. Or, that is, I fell in love with the impression of New York that I had from the movies I watched and the records I listened to.
I heard New York when I listened to Illmatic or Midnight Marauders. Or a Ramones record. Or Lou Reed's voice or Digable Planets' "9th Wonder."
I saw it when I watched Do the Right Thing, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally, Juice. You get it. Finding Forrester. Seinfeld. Howard Stern. I love the city. I did when I was a kid and I still do now as a resident who is trying to document a time and place that I love.
My first year here was spent as an outsider who was essentially studying a place that he thought he knew. I paid attention to everything - the city consumed me for that year. By the end of the year I had a list of ideas I wanted to write about. All New York City-centric ideas that I'd pulled from my experience here as a resident.
I carved an idea and some characters and a narrative arc of sorts out of that list of ideas and just started writing. It came together very quickly. I think the first draft was just over six days. Maybe a week. I used that to start getting actors interested. Then I worked on tweaking the script along the way according to who got cast and what our resources were. There was a lot of problem solving that happened on the page as we went. I think the script probably changed about as much as any script ever; it was a constant project. I still haven't even typed up a final version of the script.
Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?
GREG: One of the reasons I wanted to make the film is that I had a plan. I'd become increasingly aware of the technological element of filmmaking. Specifically how that element relates to cost and production value. I realized that for a very small amount of money, you can now make a movie for very cheap. Cheaper than ever before.
So I came up with this very simple plan: make the biggest movie possible for the smallest amount of money. So there was no budget. No financial plan per se, though there is an agreement among all of the people closely involved with making the film. We have a contract that was part of the plan from the get-go.
Will we recoup costs for the film at some point? Oh who knows. We have had to put money into the festival circuit. That's expensive beyond belief. We've spend much more on that mostly-clerical process than we did on the film itself. But, all that said, yes. Yes, I think we will make all of our money back. I think this movie can somehow bring in a solid $7k or so.
The seven of us who made the film together all share an equal ownership over the movie, so there's a lot we can try out as far as streaming and touring with the film goes. The product is done and we're proud of it, now is just about figuring out how to use the product.
How did you cast the film and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?
GREG: I wrote the first 20 pages or so before I did anything. I had the plan in place and I started feeling really great about it. I thought the idea was strong - the "make the biggest movie possible for the smallest amount of money" idea. I knew people would respond to that. And I knew people would like the idea of having ownership over the film and being part of something. People felt like they were part of some new movement - like we were doing the new radical thing that would help change the medium.
Working so loosely allowed me the luxury of changing the script according to who I got cast and what I saw their strengths to be. Everything got tweaked along the way, as I got to know the actors better. So as the film plays on - as the audience experiences the story - both myself and the people in the crowd are getting to know the characters. You get to grow with the characters as I, the writer, did. Adds an interesting subtext.
How did you come to the decision to shoot in black and white and what were the implications of that choice?
GREG: Many of my original art films and music videos are high contrast black and white. And my documentary, Holler and the Moan, is in black and white. Most of the photos I take are black and white. I like it. And I think it suits the city well.
And there are other, more boring reasons - like that it's a different approach to composition, or that not having to worry about color grading and lighting so much was really nice since I was already wearing multiple hats.
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
GREG: I researched cameras for months before I shot a thing. I knew I wanted to make a movie in New York but there was a lot to figure out first. I finally started asking my sister's boyfriend if he had any advice. He's a big camera and technology guy, so he was a perfect person to go to.
Not only did he have input, but he had an answer for me. Get a GH2 and hack it. Crank the settings and don't look back. And he was right. I got more out of that $500 camera than I ever could have expected. I've seen the movie projected onto huge screens and it couldn't look any better. It's very sharp.
I didn't really HATE anything about the camera. Ideally, you can hook your camera up to a monitor and review your footage on a decent sized screen. I didn't have the money for that, so I reviewed all of my footage on the camera's little two-inch screen. That made it hard to be perfect. I would get home and look at footage and see things I didn't know where there. So that was an issue but, for the most part, I loved using the GH2.
I've since moved on to a different, more expensive camera. Needless to say, I miss the GH2 very much and will likely even go back to using it until someone shows me a better option for what I do.
You wore a lot of hats on the production -- writer, director, editor, producer, cinematographer, production designer, etc. What's the upside and the downside of doing that?
GREG: The upside of working the way I do is that I don't have to spend a huge amount of time trying to accurately articulate my creative vision into direction for collaborators. I just get to do my best at getting what I want. So in that way, it’s easier than letting other people do the work.
But of course it’s difficult, balancing several duties at once. It's the extreme version of directing, and it works for someone like me, who is more of a doer than a talker. All that being said, I can’t wait to someday work with a bunch of people who are way better at their craft than I am. That will be a whole new adventure for me.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
GREG: The plan I put together before shooting a single frame worked out really nicely. On paper, people thought I was nuts. But then it worked. I followed my insane plan and now I'm doing interviews about the movie I made.
The worst decision I made was ... I’m not sure. I've certainly made a lot of mistakes, but none that stand out as tremendous. Maybe that mistake is in my future? Maybe I'll be the guy who gives Harvey the blackest eye of his career. Maybe I'll cast Ashton Kutcher as a lead in something. I'll get back to you.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?
GREG: When you're in production, make sure you're making time to sleep. Sleep a lot. I learned that the hard way. And definitely don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. That’s something I'm still working on.
And, sadly, I learned that to be successful your best bet is to make a short movie with pretty people, a good title and blood and/or boobs. But of course that’s the furthest thing from what I'm doing for my next movie. Because I apparently am a person who has thinks he can work for free forever.