Thursday, March 31, 2016

Lee Chambers on "The Pineville Heist"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Pineville Heist?

LEE: I've always been a creative person.  A storyteller. I have an artistic background and took graphic design at a Community College in Canada. I got my diploma and then two weeks into working in that field... I knew I couldn't just sit behind a desk for 40 hours a week for the rest of my life. I was too restless.

With family in England I upped sticks and moved to Yorkshire and completed the Post Grad Film Production Programme at Leeds Metropolitan University. I loved it. Every day is different and a challenge. With an awesome crew surrounding me as I was directing on the top of a tall building in Leeds, I knew there was no turning back.

Lots of shorts and music videos and some television and feature work helped prep me for directing my debut feature. It took 20 years after film school but worth the wait. The journey has been brilliant.


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

LEE: I was at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival pushing myself there and after talking to distributors I realized that I needed to craft something genre-based that I could do on a smaller budget.

I looked back at some short stories I had laying around and found one from a long time ago. It was based on a true story when I was about 12 years old playing hide and seek. I hide under a canoe and could only see the feet of the person looking for me and they never looked under the canoe. So I drafted up a story about a kid seeing a murder. That old idea sparked me into a longer story that eventually became The Pineville Heist.

I wrote up a treatment for it and played with the script but I prefer co-writing and bouncing ideas around so I worked with my buddy Todd Gordon in Boston to draft it up! We probably played with 24 drafts before we finally shot the movie in the summer of 2014.


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

LEE: I chased the Canadian funding agencies for years and the biggest issue was always: me. Even though my previous short was in 45 film festivals and got me a Directors Guild of Canada Ontario nomination, I was still a new director in their eyes and the doors closed on me.

So all the financing was private from people that believed in me. What kept the project alive was that I novelized the screenplay and sold over 42,000 copies in eBook, paperback and audiobook formats. It inspired my investors and eventually landed me a distribution deal.

The biggest question I always get is "where can we see it on the big screen?" Well as a little indie film lacking P&A resources there's little benefit financially to releasing theatrically. Besides accessing screens isn't easy.

So a limited release tied to a charity gains us an audience and then pushing at the American Film Market, Cannes and releasing via Walmart, Amazon, VOD, iTunes and the looking for TV sales is the best path forward.


What was your process for casting the film?

LEE: When we were pushing for traditional financing casting would have been tied to that. The distributor has so much power with casting. The moment we went private I had the power to cast and crew up who I wanted.

As I had spent some time in Australia Associate Producing on a $2.4m thriller called The Reckoning in 2013 it helped launch my movie and I ended up bringing a bunch of Aussie's to Canada to make my movie. Including the editor of The Reckoning and the DOP, that was a friend of mine when I lived in the UK. I also has three actors that went through dialect coaching to play my American stars.

So I handled the process and decsions myself and found people in Toronto, Los Angeles, Dallas and halfway around the world to make it. Pretty bold on a tiny budget.

Did you adjust the script, based on your final casting choices?

LEE: Not really. It plays out pretty close to how I imagined. Most of the changes are based on location issues and logistics.


What type of camera did you use and what did you love (and hate) about it?

LEE: We shot using the Arri Alexa using a set of Red prime lens. I love everything about it. Great image and it's a top camera used on big features. Definitely helps add production value and credibility.


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

LEE: The story changes as you edit. Once you have all your footage, you chuck the script away and craft the story out of what you have, not what you think you have or wanted to shoot. The story is the same but the bits and pieces move around a bit to better serve the story and help get an audience involved.


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

LEE: I took some time to work on some features first. I educated myself. I practised my craft on smaller projects and then I ran my little cash-strapped shoot like it was a major motion picture and hired people that were smart, solid and supportive. It's a collaborative craft and I really appreciate the hard work the cast and crew put into this movie.

The dumbest? Not utilizing a 2nd camera unit earlier in the shoot to tackle the inserts and shots the editor needed. It lead to having to get lots of pickup shots long after principal photography - most of which could have probably been avoided. Next time... I want a 2nd Unit.


And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?

LEE: Well I can't make another movie the same way again. It would kill me. I proved I can direct a feature and I am excited to see the next one come to life.


It has to be with proper funding though. Not so much that I want a payday but I want to make sure everyone else gets paid and I want to be in a position to hire union actors - which helps with distribution.

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