Thursday, July 30, 2015

Peter Coggan on "Fishing Naked"

What was your filmmaking background before making Fishing Naked?

PETER: I started out as a performance musician and Audio Engineer. Through a set of mishaps (None of my own), I ended up a cinematographer. I left LA for Colorado and started 42 Productions in 2002. There was no other 2K workflow in the 4 corners at that time, so we specialized in high-end projects always with the goal of self financing our own projects.

We did a bunch of TV pilots and episodic work over the next several years until the RED Ones came out and I decided to do our company's 1st feature, Woodshop starring Jesse Ventura. That’s an interview all unto its own. To summarize it, there are levels of crazy I can’t even imagine and there is absolutely such a thing as bad publicity.

Since then, we have kept busy with some great client work, music videos, aerospace, breweries, etc., and have plowed almost every penny back into the development pipeline. And now we have a bouncy baby, Fishing Naked.

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

PETER: I grew up in the woods back in the Midwest and Canada. I have a number of First Nation friends and have always been fascinated by their culture, legends, and overall different way of looking at the world than us “pilgrims.” I have written several stories and screenplays over the years around these themes and legends.

Paul and I wrote about three screenplays over a two year period trying to figure out what to do next and optimize our industry target genre guessing. There was some great work done on them and several of them are still on our slate, but my heart was really set on this one script I had written that will be a crazy Hollywood budget when it gets made. I think Paul finally got sick of me lamenting the fact that we couldn’t do that one next and said something to the effect of “Stop bitching and figure out how to do it then!” And that’s when it started.

We brainstormed a lot in a room with about three huge white boards. Lots of idea, lots of dry erase markers, lots of coffee, bikes rides, river paddles, powder days… That’s how and why you write in Colorado. Once we decided we were going to do a film about kids being bad in the woods, the whole story just flowed because it was somewhat autobiographical for both Paul and me. 

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

PETER: The whole thing is self funded through our other client gigs. We are doing a limited theatrical run but that is much more of a PR campaign than anything. We know it is hard enough for the studios to recoup anything theatrically let alone a couple of dip-shit indies from Colorado.

VOD is where we are focusing our efforts on making the dollars back. We have had a wonderful working relationship with Gravitas Ventures since we did Woodshop and there is no reason for us to look anywhere else. They too are expanding and have always treated us extremely well.

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

PETER: The film was remarkably easy to cast. Especially with respect to the First Nation members of the cast: Bronson, Tinsel, Elaine and Steve. I didn’t think about it while we were writing it, but I was quickly informed by all of them that they really liked the script because we had not portrayed them as “Hollywood Indians” and it was a funny story.

It really amazes me that in this hyper politically correct culture we have found ourselves in that Hollywood seems bound and determined to treat Native actors in much the same way they did African Americans 70 years ago. Very weird.

Yes, the script got reworked quite a bit especially because our character Jen was not originally written to be First Nation. That was actually Elyse’s agent’s, Lesa Kirk, idea as she represented both women. It really stunned me when she suggested Tinsel because I was so used to Jen being a white-bread trustafarian. But after thinking about the suggestion for about 30 seconds, I realized how much better it would be if she were a First Nation Trustafarian. It basically took an almost page one re-write but the story is so much stronger it’s incredible!

The other thing that caused a serious re-write was when I discovered how funny Elaine is. She actually has a problem chaining two sentences together without profanity or sexual innuendo. So, instead of Grandma being this reserved tribal elder, she became a crazy(?) dirty old lady. From our feedback to date, a lot of people find her the most memorable character in the film as a result. Just know she’s not really acting folks. We just kinda wound her up and hoped she said something pretty close to what was written… A lot of the stuff she “Add-libbed” was her going off for some reason or another and it was just freaking hilarious so it stayed in.

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

PETER: We shot with two RED Ones with MX chip upgrades. Han and Chewie. The other super cool thing was we used all Canon and Leica 35mm primes. I think a lot of the new cinema primes have gotten too clean. They almost seem to be characterless. I really like to choose my glass with a little stylization in mind. The glass we used gives an almost organic feel to the shots which is just fantastic for a film that is almost entirely outside in the mountains.

The only thing I didn’t like about the Cameras was they should have been Epics but RED missed their delivery deadlines by about a year that go around. There are some capabilities the Epics have the One’s don’t like the HDR stuff that would have made it a radically different shoot.

There is nothing NOT to love about these cameras. Anyone who claims they “miss the tactile experience of celluloid” never had to load their own mags, operate a steadicam with a 75lb rig, deal with shipping, telecines , have their AC flash two days work, 3/2 pull down in post or any of the other 100 reasons celluloid was a royal pain in the ass.

Digital Cinema is the coolest thing to happen to the industry since Color and I am happy to see the Arri BL VI and 35III sitting on my mantle collecting dust every time I see them. 

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

PETER: It changed a ton. I went into the project determined to listen to our focus group and we did exactly that. We cut out an entire mythical thread I really liked, we went back and shot a new character to help explain a few plot points, shuffled scenes no fewer than 10 times, etc.

It has been really fun watching the cast and crew watch the final version because it is certainly not the movie they thought they shot. Yes, it’s much better than that movie.

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

PETER: I am always asked this question and I always hate answering it. I did a lot of really smart things in this production and a number not so smart things. Almost all of each concern other people so I’m just not going to go pissing and moaning about them.

Very few of the dumb things had anything to do with rookie filmmaker disease because I have been effectively training for this sort of shoot for close to twenty years. We ended up with a really great film.

I will say, however, because the situation still really pisses me off and that I ignored every little voice in my head saying “don’t do it (again),” is that the single dumbest thing I did was to give my home state, Colorado, the benefit of the doubt a second time instead of just going to Canada to film like I knew I should have from day one. I have the greatest quality of life I could imagine here in Colorado and think my desire to stay near my home and family trumped my better judgment. We have a good number of fantastic production folks in town I would put up against anyone anywhere. But, the film commission it a travesty and that permeates the whole film culture and community.  

I know this one is going to piss off some of my neighbors but I am stating on the record that I will not be filming another film in this state. I am going to take a few of my go to partners in crime like Laz, Mitch, Marnie and Paul and go to a film friendly place for the next one… Two… Three… etc.,  I should mention I brought in my 1st and 2nd AD from out of state and they were both freaking fantastic. Thanks, Ladies!

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

PETER: I hate to say it but I learned “Indie” means documentary to the industry these days. I’m struggling to reconcile how I can stay fiercely independent in philosophy but do it within the Hollywood machine. Or the Kiwi, or the Canuck, or the Oz…

I’m not picky but if you want to make narrative films and feed your family in the future, there needs to be some significant infrastructure behind you going in. I think this may be the last attempt I can realistically hope to recoup my investment without… gulp… joining the machine.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Joe Gawalis on "Around Every Corner"

What was your filmmaking background before making Around Every Corner?

JOE: I graduated from Film school in 2007, so like everyone else I took jobs as a P.A. on music videos, television productions etc, occasionally making short films.  After a while I decided that I would concentrate my time on writing scripts, as I could start to develop my style the more scripts I wrote. 

Eventually I started gaining momentum, with my short films winning various awards in New York City, developing strong relationships with actors, casting directors and producers in the city.  My next film, which I wrote and will be directing, has gained the attention of some solid named talent.

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

JOE: Around Every Corner was a completely different experience in writing for me.  The script was not something written in spec with the hopes to obtain financing or attracting a well-known production company to opinion the script. 

I wrote Around Every Corner knowing my company would be producing the project for a set amount of money. I am also very fortunate to have very close relationships with some amazing talent in the New York City Area.  I was speaking with my associate producer and we came up with a list of eight actors that we had the upmost respect for that are just at the point to really break out in the independent film world and approached them with the idea.  They were all very interested so I knew I had my principal cast. 

I was at a film festival with three of the other leads Michael Voight, Emilio Vitolo, and Vanessa Koppel.  We took a picture together and noticed that we all really had great chemistry together and the look to be a family.  So I knew I wanted the script focused around a family unit. 

With all that in mind it was time to start writing around locations. I didn’t want to get into a situation where the script is complete on a limited budget, and we can’t get the locations I had in mind.  So I looked at what I knew we had.  I am very fortunate to have a friend who owns a magnificent restaurant in Little Italy, a casting director who has an office in New York City, some apartments throughout the city, a lake house and boat in New Jersey etc. 

It was a great experience writing with the limitations that were in front of me as it gave me experience as a writer, forming a script for someone rather than just my unbounded imagination.  If a producer wanted me to write a script for them within limitations of the budget etc., I know I have no problems doing that. 

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

JOE: They say when you want something done you do it yourself and that’s exactly what I did, and my company put up the money for the entire production.  I knew we had a window of time for production, post, etc. which was very short. 

Production of my next film, Memoirs from the Streets of New York, will be starting soon so I didn’t have time to approach investors etc. It’s not always easy putting your own money into something, but when you have a vision and passion behind it, you know what you need to do.  I am also single with no children, so putting my own money forward just affects myself. I am not leveraging a house or using money that my children need to eat.  With that freedom, comes certain advantages when it comes to film. 

As for recouping costs, we are fortunate that I was able to keep the budget from soaring high. We worked with a minimal crew that was very dedicated. Everyone, including the crew and the actors, have a percentage of the film.  For every day someone worked be it an actor, crew member, a location manager etc., they would receive  x number of points in the film.  

We also have a very successful online marketing campaign for an independent film.  With no named talent attached, we were able to already gain over 16,000 followers on Facebook, have articles written about us in Examiner, and our Youtube page--which was launched only a month ago--already has had over 10,000 hits and climbing every day. Our fans are dedicated and excited to see the film.

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

JOE: We shot on canon DSLR cameras for two reasons.  At first I was speaking with the cinematographer and we both were weighing the benefits of shooting 4k raw and going with two Black Magic Production Cameras that produce a beautiful image. The only problem was the cost of doing a feature film in raw 4k would skyrocket our budget. 

4k is very affordable to shoot out of the box now, but storage and post gets expensive.   I wasn’t going to allow us to go over the budget we set from the start.  Even if you are footing the bill yourself, the second you compromise and let that budget move up once, it becomes so easy to do it again and again.  You will find an excuse to keep putting a little more in. 

The second reason I wanted to shoot on a DSLR is because in the independent film scene, I am always hearing my fellow filmmakers who have such talent talking about their films.  Talking and waiting, waiting to secure that huge budget, waiting to make sure they have a top of the line Alexa, etc.  So they go on and keep talking about their films and nothing happens and years go by. 

We are filmmakers…artists; a filmmaker should be making films, no matter what limitations are in front of them.  A painter wouldn’t stop painting because they don’t have access to the best paints, they just need their canvas.  As filmmakers our canvas is cinema and I want to keep pushing the message out there to create, don’t let excuses get in our way as filmmakers.  If people believe in that, the door to some amazing talent will be open and more amazing films will be seen.  

You wore a lot of hats on the production -- writer, director, actor, producer. What's the upside and the downside of doing that?

JOE: It was interesting wearing so many hats in this production, but I made sure the keys around me all the time where fantastic.  We had such a solid team that had worked together on many projects before, so we flowed together seamlessly.  Tim Reeves, Hector Soria and Enrique Williams are three people that I have the utmost respect for and we fill in the gaps each of us are missing and strengthen each other constantly. 

The only downside I see to wearing all those hats would be the lack of sleep. I love this business and craft more than anything. It’s my passion so I enjoy the long hard hours; it’s just on the off days when you feel it. 

What was your process for directing yourself?

JOE: Directing myself was an interesting process. I felt going into this as a performer and director the key would be building the scenes with the other actors.  When we would discuss the scene their characters motivation, psyche etc., I would slowly allow myself as a performer to sink into the world of John Cambioti (my character). 

Once the other actors were in their place, we melded together and something magical happened. I was very blessed to be around such amazing talent, that the dance between all of us was so give and take.  No one was interested in over stepping, there was always an understanding of the scene, not just ourselves, and it allowed something special to happen.   

I did have a few situations in the film where my character is alone and that’s where it was a very interesting situation, as there was no more following with another performer.   What I found really brought me into my character's world then was music.  I would create a list of songs based on the mood of the scene and even more specific for my character's arc for that particular moment and his internal conflict.  That would get me to where I needed to be. 

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

JOE: I learned that if you surround yourself with amazing people, you can accomplish goals and objectives.  When the team is passionate, your support system cares and everyone is working together for each other not just their own personal goals, something fantastic can happen. 

I’m grateful to everyone involved with Around Every Corner and want to always be sure to take that attitude to every project I work on, including the appreciation for the talent and people around you.  Filmmaking is a collaboration process; let’s start really looking at it that way.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Charlie Griak on "The Center"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Center?

CHARLIE: Technically speaking, I had almost zero filmmaking experience before making The Center. I had created an eight-minute short animated film and worked for years as a storyboard artist, but I’d never create my own films or worked with actors.

I did have one huge advantage that really worked for me as a first-time director in that I grew up with a dad who directed TV commercials. So I was around filmmaking my whole life and really absorbed so much from him and the people he worked with. As far back as I can remember, I was sitting in editing rooms, working as a PA on shoots, taking script notes, and attending casting sessions. It was all just part of how I grew up. So when we started shooting The Center it all felt incredibly familiar and natural — and I loved every second of it.

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

CHARLIE: I’ve always been fascinated by cults and what leads people to fall into a “group-think” mentality.  The idea that our belief systems actually influence how we assimilate and perceive information has been something I’ve been interested in exploring for many years.  And a movie about a cult felt like a great vehicle for the topics that I found so intriguing. But at the end of the day, the movie is less about cults as it is about the emotional journey of the main character. My interest in cults just helped create a, hopefully, unique backdrop for the story.

The writing process itself took nearly 5 years. I went through too many drafts to count and at one point the script was 175 pages long! It was a constantly evolving story and I sort of had to just ride through the process for years in order to figure out what exactly I was seeking. During the writing process I did a lot of “table reads” with potential actors, and also shot no-budget test scenes to test out the material. I found both of those processes to be extremely helpful to figure out what was working and what wasn’t.

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

CHARLIE: The script didn’t change a great deal once the cast was in place but the story did change in the actual film editing process. In the editing room we found the “real” story that I was trying to portray and decided to make large changes to the story arc. In the editing room the story became, at least for me, very vulnerable and authentic.

In retrospect, I feel that the original script was solid, but it used a lot of “trickery” to cover the more vulnerable heart of the story.  Once some of the unnecessary intensity was lifted from the story it had the space to come to life and connect more directly with the viewer.

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

CHARLIE: We used two RED cameras throughout principal photography. I absolutely love the look of the RED footage — so much so, that I did very little color correction. I ended up using almost exactly what we shot. I also liked shooting in 4K. Our final output was 2K, so I had the ability to re-crop imagery as I saw fit.  As an illustrator, composition is everything to me and I’ve learned over the years that often a small adjustment or re-crop of an image can take a so-so composition and make it very beautiful.

The only thing I didn’t like about the RED was the size (I had become very used to the much smaller Canon 7D during our test shoots). There were a few shots that we just couldn’t get because we couldn’t fit the camera where I wanted to.  I like having a very precise shot-list but then always having the option of discovering ideas on the fly and quickly moving the camera to accommodate better options. With something like a 7D, you can do just that very easily. But when working with two RED cameras, everything takes more time.

You wore a lot of hats on the production -- writer, director, DP, editor, producer. What's the upside and the downside of doing that?

CHARLIE: I think the upside is that you have a lot of control. If you have a clear vision, that seems to me to be the most direct route to get there. There are a lot of jokes about directors being control freaks, and I’m sure I’m guilty of that at times.  

But part of the reason that I took on so many roles was out of sheer necessity. Our budget didn’t allow for a large crew so everyone had to take on as many roles as they could. If you look through our credits you’ll see several people with 4 or 5 listings.

The downsides with that system are numerous though. Simply put, it's exhausting to spread yourself so thin.  And you have to know when multiple roles are dividing your attention to the degree that its impacting the quality of the overall work.

When we shot test scenes I would direct, set the lights, run the camera and mics all at once. I learned pretty quickly that it was impossible! I guess that should’ve been obvious, but I had to learn the hard way. I just didn’t have the space in my brain to think in all of those direction at once. So you have to know your limits.

Another thing to consider is that collaborating with others, when it's at its best, creates results that a single person never could achieve on their own. So if you try to control everything and take on every single role, you’re sort of limiting what other people get to do.  And where is the fun in that?

So its a big balancing act of not taking on too much nor too little. Hopefully we struck the right balance in our production.

What was the process of getting Jonathan Demme to present the movie and how does that help?

CHARLIE: Jonathan Demme came on board as the presenter in a very organic, unplanned way. I had been working with him to develop an animated feature film project for several years and we formed a great collaborative partnership and friendship.  While developing the animation project I had a chance to show him a rough cut of The Center.  He really enjoyed what I was doing and soon after set up an artist residency for me in Pleasantville, NY at The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC).

In New York, he and I along with JBFC Editor Thom O'Connor created the final edit. During that process he offered to be the executive producer and presenter of the film. It was an incredible experience to be able to learn from him and I feel so lucky that he is involved with my film!

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

CHARLIE: The smartest thing I did during production was drawing detailed storyboards for every shot in the film.  We had limited time in our schedule and being very organized was instrumental in completing the film and maintaining the quality I was seeking.

I’m sure there were a lot of dumb things I managed to do throughout the production--but the worst thing I did was simply not eating enough. I was always so excited about being on set that I would skip meals so I didn’t miss out on anything. I wanted to be involved in every second of the action and by the end I was physically drained. So, next time I will absolutely try to take better care of myself.

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

CHARLIE: I think the biggest lesson I learned in The Center was to always try to see every obstacle, even a seemingly disastrous obstacle, as an opportunity to make the film better.  Whenever I felt like we had come face-to-face with an insurmountable problem, instead of panicking, I tried to ask myself, “What can I create out of this?”  I’m probably using this term wrong but it made me think of Judo (or at least my idea of what Judo is). I tried to align myself with the force of the obstacle instead of fighting against it.  

When I managed to do that, often a great creative solution would emerge and make the film better then if that obstacle had never arisen in the first place. It's a tough discipline but its something I think about every day and hope to carry with me into future films.