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. 

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