Thursday, May 26, 2016

Edreace Purmul on "The Playground"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Playground?

EDREACE: From a theory perspective, I'm a continual student of film and cinema since the age of 16. In regards to application, I directed a feature called Mozlym in 2008 right after graduating film-school. The film was well received in festivals around the world, and won some local awards.

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

EDREACE: I would say it would have to have been around the time of the atrocious consecutive mass killings that had happened here in the US. I listened to the conjecture from different people about why and what would cause a person to take this course of action and it sparked something in me--which led to almost a year of research into what we as a global community perceive evil is and where it comes from.

What was the casting process like and did you adjust the script at all to fit the cast?

EDREACE: The script was slightly reworked to fit the actors natural course of speech. The casting process was a blessing wrapped in the cloak of a nightmare (which really applies to the entire production). Being on such a limited budget and coming to the realization of not having access to union actors right off the bat, you have to hedge your expectations in potential talent. Also, being in San Diego is deceiving as an independent filmmaker; as geographically you expect to have access to talents from the neighboring city and industry of LA and Hollywood, however in practicality you aren’t within radar of “the industry” and can even say it’s almost as if you aren’t even in the same state.

We were forced to see opportunity where perceptibly there was none, which is always a rewarding process as unlikely things begin to happen. We realized after some scouting that San Diego had an abundance of stage theaters and a rich gradient of stage actors. I’ve always believed that stage acting pushes acting to deeper depths as it does to audiences as well. You can’t replicate the air of a powerful stage drama in a playhouse with a screen in a cinema, they are very different feelings.

This ironically worked perfectly for the film and we ended up with an incredibly talented cast of local stage actors along with some local screen talents which were an even bigger surprise, as they carried the screen just as well. I found myself in a basket of incredibly rich talent when I had initially feared we may end up filling roles with trusted friends and family members! Best surprise any director can have.

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

EDREACE: We shot in 4K digital on a RED camera. After working with it so intimately, it was definitely the way to go, as after the learning curve, it progressively made life much easier for everyone. Digital is already actor, DP, gaffer, AC, production design, make-up, and director friendly. The RED made it that much more easier, as naturally our challenges on set came from all sides and angles, so I valued its reliability and was very impressed by its potency.

Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, why did you make the changes?

EDREACE: Get ready for the secret....The film was actually written as an episodic in five parts of thirty minute chapters.

Once we started looking at it in the editing room, thirty minutes on paper turned into forty-five minutes on screen. Also, I realized that even though the film had suspense and intrigue, the earlier chapter segments by themselves didn’t have enough meat on them to segment off as a complete episode. We then had to adjust halfway through and add some more bits of filming in order to be the glue to stretch this out as a two-parter, each film being an hour and change.

Once I saw the momentum of part one fizzle out after being cut by a credit sequence, I slowly began to listen to my gut feeling about it as one complete feature. This was something I felt from the the first draft of the script but I ignored it. Eventually, once we started cutting a lot of fat off the film (and I mean good fat and even some bits of top sirloin!) the film shed some weight and we were able to get it all into a two and half hour full-figured film. The transference of medium was almost meant to be told this way.

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

EDREACE: Probably keeping an industry-friendly timeline. We literally crammed an honest 2-3 months of filming into 30 days.

The biggest challenge was definitely the balancing act of the amount of work we had per day, trying to maintain a professional atmosphere, and keeping it light enough to foster enthusiasm and morale.

On the learning lessons, we had a few very rough nights many hours into the AM that tested everyone’s patience and ability to focus. There was one night I had to succumb to the crew’s consensus that it wouldn’t be in our best interest to setup our last shot - they were burned out and exhausted, and we were in the most precarious part of town.

Each location presented its own challenge as we really had to adapt entirely to it, we didn’t have a controlled studio to adjust to us, it was the other way around. I’m still incredibly impressed on how we managed to survive some of the days we shot under such incredible pressure and unstable environments. Only prayers could have consistently bailed us out of these situations, luck doesn’t hit that many times.

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

EDREACE: Trust your gut. Know when to cut your losses. Listen to opinions, especially the smart ones :) Sweat saves blood. Prepare, prepare, prepare, put your faith in God, and then execute. Can't go wrong with that recipe.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thomas John Nudi on "Monty Comes Back"

What was your filmmaking background before making Monty Comes Back?

THOMAS: Like any other filmmaker—I hope—I’m a lover of film first and foremost, so I like to think that my background started in my single-digits when I started consuming movies left and right.

I was making short films and school projects as a child, you know the story—but I don’t think I really took myself seriously until I was 17, just graduating high school and made this awful attempt at a short film called Concrete Sisyphus (cool title still, though.)

Then later, I think after maturing and a lot of discipline and education—specifically in writing—I really felt like I was doing something while I pursued my master’s at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film & Media Arts. Being in that environment ensured I wouldn’t distract myself with anything else; also, it being a studio-geared film school, contrasted with my own career aspirations, but ended up being the best thing for me. I took what I needed, and didn’t make any ‘artistic sacrifices.’

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

THOMAS: I was a pretty cocky teenager, and “aspirations” was a word unknown among many people in my hometown, especially my age. I can’t properly articulate the confusion I felt when ninety-percent of the peers I came in contact with didn’t know what they wanted to do “when they grew up.” So when I was one of a small handful of students to graduate and move onto a non-commuter state school, my ego enlarged a bit.

I remember driving back from Florida State in Tallahassee for the holidays and blaring my music loud enough for at least the pedestrians to hear—as if I was making a statement. Years later, after growing up and losing the ego, I was sitting in Los Angeles wondering how I would feel when I came back for the first time, from so far away, and much closer to my own goals than before—and then I started thinking how I’d feel if I was still the arrogant kid I used to be: thus birthed Monty; coupled with my own thoughts on career aspirations, and if “the arts” held the same value to society that say, a grocer, did, and what “success” really meant.

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

THOMAS: Our budget was funded through Kickstarter, as well as a series of local executive producers involved in Florida’s film community. Our main goal was to keep everything affordable and be conservative—luckily I had the mentality to write the script around people and places I knew would support the film when we decided to make it. The community was as much of a part of our “budget” as any actual money utilized.

As for distribution, we always imagined we’d take the grassroots approach, what most truly independent films’ routes are these days. Festivals, film markets, word-of-mouth—and hope dearly that someone recognizes our passion and decides they want to pick our film up. We’ve already received one offer so far after winning the Audience Award for “Best Florida Feature” at the Sarasota Film Festival this year.

What was your process for casting the film?

THOMAS: A lot of filmmakers get scared when they start thinking of the “Cloud” looming over our head—but honestly, as scary as a lack of face-to-face interaction is, it helps keep costs down tremendously and with the technological advancements in internet communication, there’s truly no reason you can’t operate 3,000 miles away from someone on the same project simultaneously.

Okay, off my soapbox—we used Breakdown Express and Actors’ Access for our casting, as well as doing local casting sessions for any actors who could make it, local or even semi-local. We also used every other internet-based casting service known to man, even Craigslist.

I really hate the age and ethnicity type thing on casting calls, but of course it’s necessary—but I don’t think it should stop there—but most usually do. I tend to write rambling character descriptions with bits of information maybe not implanted in the script. This seems to help rather than hinder most actors. We couldn’t afford a casting director, so it was casted by myself with Trishul Thejasvi, our producer and cinematographer.

For the lead of Monty we had thousands of submissions, from all the various outlets we used, and we ended up finding Brandon Tyler Jones through Actors’ Access, along with a few other candidates. When we first see them we get their headshot, and maybe a reel, if they’ve provided one. Based off of those things, we narrowed it down to approximately 60 candidates for each main character. Of the 50-70% that replied to our call, we had them do a blind audition off of only sides. This is great because you can really see how considerate someone is to the subject matter.

After seeing these we narrowed it down to the top 2-3 candidates for each character, and had them audition twice more—this time with a little direction, and we gave them the whole script. We had them do one specific scene selected for them, based on each actor’s audition, and then we had them choose a scene they wanted to do. After getting back those final auditions, we had our final candidates and made our decisions. The same happened all around from casting off the internet, or locally in-person.

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

THOMAS: We used the RED Epic Dragon to shoot the film, and frankly Trishul Thejasvi or Juan Sebastian Baron could tell you more about the benefits of that camera. I’m not the tech-head a lot of filmmakers expect me to be, but I do know a bit.

For me the RED provides an image that’s comparable to what I think of film, in a way. Other cameras do it incredibly well too, the Alexxa of course—but for me, it’s just important the final images that come out feel right.

There are a lot of great examples of films shot on DSLRs that look like they were shot with the RED, and then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum too. That speaks to the talent of their cinematographers and their knowledge of not only the camera, but the physics of light. These guys are artists, and I think too much attention is given to the camera these days, instead of the people who are pushing these cameras to their limits and essentially Gerry-rigging them into unholy super systems.

My buddy Will Stribling had a great quote about cameras where he compared them to brushes for painters—it’s a tool—and for some reason we put these things on pedestals. Don’t get me wrong—I love RED, I hope I can exclusively shoot on their cameras for as long as they keep doing the incredible things they’re doing with their technology and passion for the art form. But at the end of the day, most of the time, any camera can be manipulated to do what it needs to do for the film.

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

THOMAS: It’s hard to say that the “story changed” as much as to say it was augmented in the editing process. The old adage goes, “the script is a living thing.” And that’s true, right up until you shoot it in the head, and lock the picture.

Working with Billy Durden, our editor, was one hell of an experience—the way his brain works, and the complexity of his thinking when it comes to the narrative, down to meticulous details, is fascinating to interact with. Too many young filmmakers think of editors as button-pushers, but I think it’s a simple and obvious comparison to just parallel them to editors in the literary world. What was Eliot’s The Wasteland without the hand of Ezra Pound?

Too many times Billy and I caught ourselves laughing at the synchronicity of our thinking when it came to the film, even when he surprised me with something that I could never have expected. Everything felt right. I trusted him, and he trusted the film.

Anyway, to answer your question, we lost a few scenes here and there, and Billy rode a very fine-line of not making Monty “too much” of a jerk with what I gave him in the script, and what Brandon Tyler Jones gave him with his performance.

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

THOMAS: The smartest: I listened to the people who were looking out for the benefit of the film a Thomas John Nudi (re: "Monty Comes Back") and my own person/psyche: my producers Vincent Dale, and Trishul Thejasvi, my 1st A.D. CJ Hipp, and my 2nd A.D. David Lendermon, to name a few—but really, every member of the crew having some sort of voice is important, and as director no matter what, I think it’s always your job to listen and keep an open mind.

The dumbest: I lost my temper in front of the cast and crew once. That’s never good.

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

THOMAS: On a technical level, it’s infinite. A lot of the time it’s just different perspective. I think every new project, film or otherwise, is like an experiment, and you’re doing it so you can make sure the next experiment will work even better than the last. Hopefully you never reach an end, and you learn more, and go farther than the time before.

I learned a lot on a personal level, as well—for me the personal lessons gained were the most important things. I learned how far I’m willing to go to do something, and a semblance of how far I can push myself. I learned there’s a community of friends and filmmakers who support me, each other, and the art form. It doesn’t really end.

Most important though, is what I already knew, but saw proven: collaboration is the core of filmmaking. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Goldie Smitlener on "Stolen Path"

What was your filmmaking background before making Stolen Path?

GOLDIE: None, no experience but a will to do it.

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

GOLDIE: When I was 16, I read a novel that I fell in love with. Its contents never left me and I promised myself that one day I will make a movie based on the novel. It took 55 years, but I did it.

How did you and director John Banovich get the script ready to shoot?

GOLDIE: I wrote the script several times during the last 55 years. First time when I was 18. We adjusted script to suit actors.

What was the casting process like?

GOLDIE: Interviews and script reading. Taking a video.

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

GOLDIE: It was personal finances. Approaching distribution now.

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

GOLDIE: We filmed over the course of whole year, whenever the cast and crew could get together. We used whatever camera was available at the shooting time.

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

GOLDIE: The story did not change in the editing process.

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

GOLDIE: Not give up when the going got tough.

Filming without experience and having to learn each step as it came up.

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

GOLDIE: Be careful from the start who your crew is, so that way you do not have to make changes along the way.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Eric Bogosian on "subUrbia"

What point were you at in your career before you started the play version of subUrbia?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: Talk Radio (the play and the film) as well as the solo show Sex, Drugs Rock & Roll had garnered much greater interest in my work. Most importantly, excellent young actors were attracted to my script.

Do you begin with story, character or theme?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I begin with character and theme. The theme dances around in my head, almost like an editing device as I put my characters in motion with a story. But before anything, I think of the people who will populate my stage.

In the case of subUrbia, I began with five student actors in workshop playing the characters. I had them simply hanging out and discussing a variety of topics. There was no plot to speak of in the first set of pages.

How did you create the characters?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: The characters are there within me. They are the archetypes I "need" to conceptualize my inner world. In the case of subUrbia the cast of characters derived almost directly from the cast of characters who, in my mind, represent my friends from my high school days.

In some cases, the characters are transpositions of myself. There are parts of myself in Jeff, Pony, Sooze and Nazeer.

How important is having a theme before you start to write?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I always begin with a theme. It usually morphs as I'm writing but in the long run, the theme must have importance for me in the present, as I'm writing. I need the theme to do my writing, but I don't mind if the audience doesn't see the theme or misunderstands what the theme is.

In the case of subUrbia I don't think many people "got" the theme as I originally conceived it. (And what is that? you might ask. My answer is: Too complicated to explain, that's why I write plays. If I wrote themes, I would be a scholar and write thesisses.)

When it came time to adapt it into a screenplay, were you writing to a specific, pre-determined budget?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I'm sure there was a set budget, but I didn't know what it was. Rick Linklater acted as producer with his company. All I knew was that we would hew closely to the play and that I could "open" up to other locales if I so wished. And I did.

In making the adaptation, were there any moments that you hated to lose?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: No. I look at movies very differently than stage. If a moment is a moment that works on film, I keep it. But film demands that the story continue to unfold. That being the case, I snipped away at some of the longer more static speeches in the play and I don't regret it.

How did you work with Linklater?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: Rick gave me my head, so to speak. He wanted the screenplay to be as close to what I wanted as it could be. We created a script that we liked, that met the needs for length. I did all the cutting of the original.

We ironed out some thematic/action aspects in the last moments, especially when Tim is telling off Jeff in the parking lot, throwing food at the store. It had taken the entire run of the play and another production of the play for me to understand what was really happening there.

Beyond that, we reached a conundrum at the very end, tried different endings, actually shot them and finally decided to stick with what we had.

What did you learn from working on that script that you still use today?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: It's good to have a sense of how the director is going to shoot the film, what sort of style. In this case, Rick used a lot of two-shots and it was constructive to know that in terms of scene rhythm.

Do you think there's really such a thing as an "independent" movie?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I don't know what "independent" means to other people. Having written and acted for film and television studios, I do feel that the corporate presence overloads the writing task at hand with "too many cooks."

My two features (subUrbia and Talk Radio, directed by Oliver Stone) and one TV series (High Incident with Steven Spielberg) were all "independent" of the studio in that the directors acted as producers. As such they were "independent" and as such, they gave me my independence.

Given our track record, I'm for more independence, especially for seasoned directors like Stone and Linklater. Once a director has established himself or herself, I think a studio should let him do his thing.

When that happens, and it does, (Gus Van Sant, Robert Altman, Tim Burton), the result is "independent" cinema.