Thursday, June 30, 2016

Bennie Woodell on "Love Meet Hope"

What was your filmmaking background before making Love Meet Hope?

BENNIE: When I started filmmaking, my dream was always to make films in Hong Kong. John Woo's The Killer and Won Kar-Wai's Chungking Express were the two films that made me want to become a filmmaker, and upon seeing Chungking Express in 2000, I didn't watch anything but Hong Kong films for the next five years.

I loved how the films from Hong Kong were genre hybrids; they weren't just action movies, they had romance, comedy, and sometimes horror all rolled into one, much like Love Meet Hope actually.

Then in 2006 I graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with my Bachelors in Film/Video with a concentration in Directing, and I, kind of, veered off the Hong Kong path a little bit. I wrote and directed a horror film, The Chauffeur, which was your run of the mill B slasher movie. After that I wanted to get back to action movies, but I enjoyed the horror world so much that I decided to combine the two for Fast Zombies With Guns, which to this day is the little film that could. It wound up having a nationwide release in Family Videos across the country, and I keep seeing it being repackaged in compilation DVD box sets from my distributor, Chemical Burn.

After Fast Zombies With Guns, I wanted to revisit a short film I had made in school and turn it into a feature film, and The Long December was born, it was renamed Death Angel December: Vengeance Kill by the distributor, which was very much a dark thriller/noir and is really the first feature film I've done that you can see the beginnings of my voice as a writer director utilizing anti-heroes, heavy voice over narration, and dark imagery.

After The Long December, I decided to go back to my Hong Kong roots and did The Sad Cafe, which was my ode to Hong Kong cinema. In 2011 it won Best Dramatic Feature at the Action On Film Festival.

Then I came out to Los Angeles and decided I wanted to make a personal film in an arthouse style, such as Wong Kar-Wai and Terrence Malick, as the epitaph to my 20's, and made Je T'aime, Au Revoir. I shot that on 16mm and fell back in love with film. We shot 16mm in college but then I got wrapped up in digital filmmaking and forgot about the joy you feel when the film is moving in the camera, but now celluloid is constantly calling to me. You can't beat how beautiful the images are, which I think really helped set Je T'aim, Au Revoir apart. Plus, it still follows in my narrative style that I had been developing.

And that brings us to Love Meet Hope, which is almost the complete opposite of everything I had done up until this point, and I'm so incredibly happy and lucky to have had the opportunity to do something that's so far removed from what I've become used to doing. I have my own visual style, and it was a wonderful challenge to keep some essence of that style, while making something that was much more light-hearted and made to be enjoyed by anyone, any age.

I'm so proud of this film and what we achieved with it, and I can't wait to see where it goes. I know it's going to be a film that people will watch and feel hope in their own lives.

How did you get connected to the script and what was your process for getting it ready to shoot the?

BENNIE: Well, it was originally intended to be a web series about two characters, Hope and Morgan, and each episode was a different story of how these two characters met. It was going to have multiple directors and such, and I was brought on to direct an action story for the series and before we shot it, it was decided to be turned into a feature and the whole script was then written.

When I thought about everything that was going on in the script, I realized what I mentioned above, that this film was truly a genre hybrid, much like everything I loved about Hong Kong cinema, which is how I connected immediately to it all.

The film has elements from every genre, minus horror, and each story segment I was actually given the creative freedom to direct however I felt suited the story. So I got to do a Hong Kong action segment, I got to make a sword and sandal film, an 80's light-hearted mermaid film, I got to make comedy, a musical, and other styles within, all with a through story of a really well crafted romance. So I was really able to flex my creative muscles and I loved every minute of it. 

How did you attract Ed Asner to the movie?

BENNIE: Honestly, I don't know the story on how we got Ed in the film. One day I was told we got him signed on, which was amazing in my mind as he was the person when we were in preproduction whose name kept popping up as the perfect Mr. James. The Universe listened and came through. 

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

BENNIE: I don't think we adjusted the script at all, we had the characters written and found the right people to play those parts. We're in Los Angeles, there's so much talent out here that if you look, you can find who you're looking for.

But we held auditions and the producers and I discussed who we thought would be best, and that's how it was done. There were a few choices that were so hard to make though because we had some great auditions, but having good solid choices is the best thing we could have asked for, in my opinion. 

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

BENNIE: We did a Kickstarter campaign that was successful, and as far a distribution plan, I really don't know much about that, the producers are handling the distribution of the film. 

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

BENNIE: We shot Love Meet Hope on the RED Scarlet and it definitely was a great camera to use. The image was a beautiful 4K, but I have to wonder how much of that was the camera and how much of that was the due to the dynamic duo of Andy Cao our Director of Photography, and Jay Ruggieri, our Gaffer, and his wonderful lighting team.

You can have the exact camera used on The Avengers, but if you don't have someone who knows what they're doing lighting-wise, you might as well use your iPhone, it'll be just as good.

What did I not like about it? I wish I had something really negative to say, but I really don't because we have a wonderful looking movie. Do I wish we could have shot on film? Sure, but that wasn't in the cards so we went with the RED and I'm happy with how it turned out. 

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

BENNIE: Absolutely it changed, I'd like to know one movie that doesn't change in the edit!

The biggest change was the initial cut was right around the two hour mark, and we decided we wanted to cut it down to about 90 minutes. The script was 117 pages, so if you know things about scripts and film, our runtime was right about where it should have been, so we ended up having to cut out portions of the film itself for no other major reason than time. And we spent a lot of time sitting there and having at length discussions over what we felt should be cut because we all had different ideas.

It was hard to do, but when I look at the film now and what it was during the initial cut, we definitely made the right decisions. 

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

BENNIE: The smartest thing we did during production was having the right people come on board and being part of the cast and crew. If you have professional people who really know what they're doing, it makes things run so smooth and everyone has a great time, and everyone stays excited about the project, and everyone wants to come back the next day because you're not working, you're spending with great friends making something magical together.

I can't stress it enough, find the people who you mesh with on set perfectly, know what they're doing, who have a positive attitude (that's the most important thing to me), and who want to be there, and you'll have a successful shoot. 

The dumbest thing we did? We shot on a boat. If there's any wisdom I can bestow upon anyone, if you have a script set on a boat, stop reading this right now and go rewrite it to be somewhere on dry land.

Unless you have a ginormous budget, there are so many problems that come up, whether you plan for them or not, and it's going to be such a headache. Sure, the sequence on the boat looks awesome, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be excited to get back on a boat and shoot again.

One problem we had was we were driving and an anchor's chain or something was on the bottom of the lake and it somehow got tangled up in our motor, we were stuck in the middle of Lake Arrowhead and had to get towed in by the police, which was during the time I needed the sunset shot. And then the next day, while we should have been shooting, we were trying to fix the motor.

That's something I never would have thought of or expected, but it happened, and that wasn't all during that time. Don't shoot on a boat. 

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

BENNIE: I learned how to direct a film that I hadn't written. It's definitely different because when I'm writing the script, I'm seeing it unfold in my head and I'm writing what I see, and I see things very visually, so this time I had to take what was written and find the camera in my mind and see it unfold.   It was a fun experience, and I look forward to doing it again in the near future! 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Blayne Weaver on "Cut to the Chase"

What was your filmmaking background before making Cut to the Chase?

BLAYNE: I started my indie film career when I co-wrote and acted in the film Manic starring Don Cheadle, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. My relationship with the director was... let's say... strained. I didn't like him or the way he ran a set and I felt confident that I could do it better. Because of him I became a director.

I owned a small home in Los Angeles that I had bought with money from acting. I sold it in order to finance Outside Sales, my first film as a writer/director. That film led to getting Weather Girl made starring Tricia O'Kelley, Mark Harmon and Patrick J. Adams.

I followed that up with 6 Month Rule starring myself, Martin Starr, Natalie Morales and John Michael Higgins. Cut To The Chase is the fourth film I've written and directed.

Where did the idea for the script come from and what was your process for getting it ready to shoot?

BLAYNE: My last three films were romantic comedies and I wanted to do something gritty and exciting and something on a smaller budget than my last two films. 

I decided to shoot a thriller in my hometown of Shreveport, LA. I pulled my team together and we made a list of assets: Locations we had access to, great actors, vehicles, etc. I had worked with Erin Cahill (Power Rangers Time Force) previously on 6 Month Rule and I always thought that she and I shared a certain look and way about ourselves and that we should play siblings. 

The story came out of that. Writing specifically for actors that I wanted to work with in locations I wanted to shoot.

What's the upside of directing yourself in your own script? The downside?

BLAYNE: In a micro budget action-thriller, the biggest upside of directing myself is that I'm not endangering other actors.  All the stunts are done by myself or my stunt coordinator (Luke Sexton) who also plays a part in the film. I'm not asking someone else to punish their body over and over again. I do it because I know the film will be better for it.

The downside is the time-suck. Watching the monitor after takes slows down the process. That's why it's key to have a team you trust that is not afraid to question or criticize. Our rule was that if you had a problem with something I was doing whether it be performance or something technical you had to speak up immediately. I didn't want to hear about any misgivings in the editing room when it would be too late to make changes.

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

BLAYNE: Cut To The Chase began as a Kickstarter campaign. I raised a little over $20,000 on that platform which was then matched by Capital Arts, a production company in Los Angeles. I then went to independent investors, mostly in the Shreveport-Bossier area, and raised an additional $60,000.

We are currently playing the festival circuit and are planning on a limited theatrical release timed with a digital and VOD roll out.

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

BLAYNE: We shot with the RED Scarlet. My DP Rob Senska is the pro in this area so I asked his thoughts: 

"I love the weight of the image it captures, almost emulating film. It's nice and compact for quick and dirty shooting. The only thing I didn't like, it can be a noisy camera when the fan kicks on after getting too hot and it can get HOT in Louisiana".

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

BLAYNE: The film is a mystery, so the biggest changes were removing the moments where I over explain in the dialogue. I wanted to make sure that all questions were answered so there is lots of exposition and restating of clues... But in the actual film, it felt TOO explained.  We were able to pull out the unnecessary information and stick with the characters journey, which is what the audience cares about anyway.

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

BLAYNE: The smartest thing we did was really put the script through its paces. Feedback and notes from colleagues along with a read through where the team could question logistics, story points, etc. It saved a lot of time on set and in the editing room because all of the players knew the story and what we were trying to create. 

The dumbest thing I did was run around for 12 hours on city streets in cowboy boots. Messing up your feet is a bad deal. 

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

BLAYNE: I learned Dr. Scholl's Insoles are an excellent investment. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Rebecca Weaver on "June Falling Down"

What was your filmmaking background before making June Falling Down?

REBECCA: I made two short films previously called Winter Guest and Cam Companion.  They were both extremely indie, like June, just my partner Chris Irwin and I with a camera and microphone and a couple friends acting for free.  That was my film school, Chris and I studying cameras and mics online and learning on the spot - and, really, making June Falling Down was not too different. 

Otherwise, the only real hands-on film school experience I've had was a summer filmmaking program at NYU that I attended when I was seventeen.  I ended up eventually studying theatre for two years and dramatic literature in college - so my basis for film really comes from a writing and acting standpoint.  I thought I was going to be a playwright for a while, but film kept calling me back.

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

REBECCA: June Falling Down is about a young woman who is coming upon the one year anniversary of her father's death to cancer, and she is now going home to Wisconsin for her best friend's wedding - a friend she just might be in love with.  I myself grew up in Wisconsin and I also lost my father to cancer about seven years ago now.  And I remember one of the most difficult parts of experiencing that enormous grief was watching my peers continue to grow up while I was very stuck. 

So I eventually tied together a double loss for a lead character - that of losing one's father and that of "losing" your best friend to marriage - and that created all kinds of obstacles and confusing emotions that I could play with.  

The script actually began as a short story I wrote in college in 2010 called Witchay Woman (like The Eagles song - titled in irony back then, though now it's pretty embarrassing).  Even then I knew the story would be better as a scene in a movie and it grew from there. 

I worked on it part-time for years, writing scenes here and there, departing for a while to work on a (still-unfinished) novel, but a couple years ago when my mom decided it was time to tear down our family's beautiful, but very old cottage - where I had always dreamed of filming this script - I decided to finish writing and start shooting the following summer.

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

REBECCA: We definitely have never expected to make any money with June Falling Down - it was always an experiment to see if we could do it and also just a piece of art that had to be made.  We raised money through two separate Indiegogo campaigns ($8,500 for the first to shoot the movie and $5,000 later for help in post), and then threw in some credit cards and a little help from my mom. 

We're now currently looking for distribution - not expecting theatrical necessarily, but definitely VOD.  Our biggest hope financially with this movie was to prove that we could do it with very little money and to be able to raise money for our next feature.  

You wore a lot of hats on this project -- Writer, Director, Producer, Actor, Editor. What's the upside and downside of doing that?

REBECCA: Oh, it's completely insane to do what I did - I wouldn't really recommend it. Though, to contradict myself, in retrospect I'm glad I got all that experience (like I said, this was my film school!). 

One nice thing is that when you're on set, if the writer, director, and producer need to have a meeting, then they literally can have one very easily - in your head.   Because I was the editor, whenever I was setting up a shot as the director, I knew how I was planning to cut it later.  And as the actor I knew the script inside out because I wrote it (and I could edit the lines much easier) and I could also affect the mood of the scene with my fellow actors simply by acting with them.  

That said, wearing this many hats without much help is madness.  I remember days where I had to choose costumes, rehearse with my scene partners, wrangle extras, decorate the set, choose camera angles and lighting, figure out when my mom (craft services!) was going to serve the chili, and then direct and act in the scene.  You have to be really amazing at multi-tasking, and I'm pretty great at it, but this was too much for me. 

But, I will say that I knew exactly what the story was I needed to tell - I always could feel if the tone was correct in a scene, and I could always do something about it.  And it didn't hurt that my partner Chris knew exactly what we needed as well and could pull me aside and keep things on track. 

The tradeoff of doing so much yourself and getting so burnt out is that, in the end, it's your movie through and through.  But, next time, I'd like a much bigger main crew.  Let's get crazy and say five or six people instead of two people.  

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

REBECCA: We used a Canon 5D Mark 3 and honestly, it was what we could afford.  We'd used the 7D in the past, so it was a natural step up. 

One of the nice things about this camera was how light and portable it was.  Once again, we were primarily a two person crew with the occasional friend to hold the boom, so being able to pick up the camera and go was really to our advantage.  Especially when you only have a location for a certain amount of time or when the dog does something hilarious that you can grab on the spot.  It definitely helped us in picking up improvised moments, and, because it's so small, it never really drew much attention in public places like the beach or at open bars (new life goal: never shoot at an open bar again). 

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

REBECCA: The story really didn't change at all.  I cut several scenes that I realized later were not necessary in moving the plot forward, but primarily what you see is what I wrote.

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

REBECCA: I think the best thing we did while shooting was that we tried to really keep the shoot relaxed and fun.  Nobody got paid to make this movie, so I wanted the experience to be worth everyone's while.  We definitely got stressed at times, but I think having a good sense of humor about how indie we were was really helpful.  The laughs that you see on camera are real - and I think that that lightness on set really contributed to the humor sprinkled throughout this movie. 

The dumbest thing we did during production was shooting a crying scene in the back of an open bar - that ended up taking several nights due to some drunk guys walking through the shot. That was pretty rough (and in retrospect kind of hilarious), but we made it through.  

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

REBECCA: I'm tempted to say "everything"!  I certainly learned that I want at the very least a producer, a professional sound mixer, a DP, and an assistant on set at all times for the next movie.  You know, some basic help! 

But I also really learned a lot about community.  I don't think I ever could have foreseen how much people would be willing to help us make this little movie - just by us asking.  Door County, Wisconsin, where 95% percent of this movie was filmed, is an incredible place full of artists and art lovers.  I've worked on my own a lot in my life as a writer and as an actor, and in retrospect, I have no idea how we got so many wonderful people to come on board and be a part of this movie. 

I think it has to do with being kind, with keeping it as light as possible, and with putting your heart out there with a story that really, truly means something to you. 

June Falling Down teaser trailer from Silver Leaf Films on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Marcie Hume and Christoph Baaden on "Magicians: Life in the Impossible"

What was your filmmaking background before making Magicians?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We made a feature documentary that was released theatrically across the US in 2011 called Hood to Coast – another character-driven film following people pursuing a difficult goal and ultimately persevering.

Our work lives are in production but are a bit different: Marcie works as a development executive in television, and Christoph directs commercials and short content. We’ve been hustling in this industry for a very long time!

Where did the idea for a documentary about magicians come from?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We wanted to reveal something of what it is to be a magician. Magic can be so incredible and profound, but somehow magicians are often disparaged in pop culture. We wanted to show something of the other side of that coin, and the extraordinary effort and sacrifice it takes to create the real experience of magic for people.

At its core the film asks what you’re willing to give up for your passion, a theme we hope will speak to a wide audience.

How did you go about selecting the magicians featured in the film?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We spoke with and filmed many people simultaneously.

We ultimately chose subjects that not only had extraordinary skill in magic, but personalities, stories or ambitions that we thought would make compelling characters on screen and give us a strong journey.

Did you go into the shooting with a point of view, or were you exploring the subject and letting the POV rise up out of the interviews?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We went into production hoping to explore the depths of magic and what it says about our minds and our experience of the world. Along the way the stories of the subjects in our film were far more compelling than a documentary that involved talking heads to speak about magic and the mind – we were filming incredible moments and experiences, and we decided to let these lead the way.

So the film became more about the experience of striving to be a great magician and chasing your greatest ambitions, rather than about magic itself. 

But from the start we were certainly intent on a fly-on-the-wall approach, which also meant that all the interviews were done in the context of the scenes rather than master interviews.

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

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We shot across four years, so we can track the film in camera gear! We started with our old trusty Sony EX3, then bought a Canon 5D, and eventually added a Canon C300.

Marcie loves the 5D for intimacy (which we used for some of the more intimate moments of the film) but we both love the cinematic look the C300 gives. The C300 become the main camera for most scenes, especially in low-light situations (which there are quite a few of in a film about magic). 

With the exception of a few scenes, we shot the film on our own without a large or rotation crew to be able to stay incredibly flexible and establish trust and closeness with our magicians.

Can you talk about how you funded the project and your plans for distribution?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We funded the film through a mix of a successful Kickstarter campaign, small investments, and our own money… along with labor-of-love production favors, and lots of them. We are talking with distributors now and like many filmmakers, just want the film to reach a lot of people. 
What was your process for shaping and editing the finished movie?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: With four characters, editing was very tricky – moving one scene inevitable affected the entire structure.

The goal was to interweave characters, story points, themes and moods so that the film felt like one cohesive experience. We had many moments along the way when the structure wasn’t working and we had to blow up large parts and restructure the entire film.

Ultimately we kept hammering away for almost 2 years until we broke through to the phase when it started feeling like a compelling story all the way through.

What were the happy accidents (if any) that you stumbled into while making the movie?

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: In documentary it’s all unknown, so there were many happy accidents.

There are always instances that jump through the camera at you, and as you’re filming you imagine it as a stunning character moment on screen… you race back to the office to dump the card and make sure the footage is all there.

The first moment like that was when we were filming Brian Gillis and the dogs descended on the bed – we were trying to stay still and silent because it was such a perfect documentary moment. Same with Jon Armstrong on the bed in the Motel 6.

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

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: The smartest thing was mustering up the energy to film any potential story points and keep at it for almost 4 years, even when it seemed unlikely that they’d play out in a useful way. We were rewarded with incredible and deeply personal moments such as Jon’s wedding and Brian’s move from his castle.

The dumbest was projecting to crowd-funding backers – most of whom are not filmmakers – that it would only take us a year to cut the film. 

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

MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: That building relationships over a long period of time, though taxing on resources, is crucial to getting depth of trust and storytelling that we want to achieve.

#AskADocFilmmaker: THE MAGICIANS: LIFE IN THE IMPOSSIBLE from HotDocsFest on Vimeo.