Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process with Zeke Farrow like?
DEBRA: The idea for Before The Sun Explodes came out of necessity for me. After spending more than a year trying to get another film made that I had written (this was a project that was at the mercy of other people) I was beyond frustrated.
Finally, I decided to take control and make something independently. I was looking for a small world story that I could produce and direct for very little money. I approached my friend Zeke Farrow, who gave me a script he’d written many years ago to read. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but a conversation sparked between us that lead to us writing a new script together.
From the beginning our goal was to make what we were writing- I would direct and we would produce this project together. I knew I wanted this to be a drama about a stand up comedian that involved a stalker. Our conversation started with these two elements in mind, as well as what locations we had available to us. This set the writing process in motion.
After many long conversations, we outlined our ideas. To begin our process, we’d each take on different scenes from our outline and then we’d swap scenes and edit each other’s work.
This continued (talking, writing, editing) until we had our first draft.
What was it about these characters that made you want to make this movie?
DEBRA: When I try to sum this movie up into a word, what comes to mind is “longing”… every character in this film is longing for something they don’t have and desperately think they need to be happy.
No matter who you are, or how successful you become, it is only natural to yearn for the things you don’t have; success, connection, autonomy, understanding, respect, love, etc. Every character in this film wants at least one of these things and how they each go about getting what they want, although well-intentioned- leads them into chaos. Each character (except the children) are deeply flawed, so ultimately relatable.
So, what really made me want to make this film was getting inside these complicated characters and trying to understand them and the world they all come together and clash in. There’s also nothing better than collaborating with a group of people who are all talented and focused on accomplishing the same goal and who are all willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
At what point were the actors involved and did they have an impact on the final script?
DEBRA: As soon as we had our first draft, Zeke and I had a reading of the script. We had thought of the comedian Bill Dawes for the lead role while we were writing the script (Bill didn’t know this)… he happened to be in town when we were doing this reading so it was a great opportunity to see if he fit the role the way we hoped he would.
This first reading was pretty magical and we ended up casting many of the actors. The notes we took from this initial reading and just hearing the script out loud helped our rewrites immensely. We were really very lucky to have this opportunity… So yes, actors were involved early on.
Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?
DEBRA: We had investors who loved the script, and more investors came on when we had a first cut to show them. We hope to recoup our costs with some distribution.
What are the positives and negatives of shooting a low-budget movie in the Los Angeles area?
DEBRA: The positives- getting great talent who want to work locally and not having to relocate. The LA setting was integral to the script. Shooting in LA made things authentic and kept the stakes high. Getting an iconic location like The Laugh Factory was amazing.
All these positives outweighed any of the negatives we faced, which aren’t necessarily exclusive to LA anyway…
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
DEBRA: We used a version of The Red camera that our DP owned. There are much newer and more technically advanced cameras that I wished we could have used… but given our budget, we made the best of what we had- there’s no hate, only love.
DEBRA: I wanted a gritty, natural feel for this film. For each of the worlds our main character is straddling, I wanted there to be a stark contrast.
Sean and I came up with a visual plan for both of these “worlds”; looks, colors, overall “feel”… I sent Sean many images from many different sources. We discussed each set up, selected our palettes and found inspiration from films like Dallas Buyers Club, Biutiful and Blue Valentine.
We used as much natural light as we could, but most of this film takes place at night- so we had to be crafty. I wanted a spontaneous feel and I wanted to give the actors a lot of freedom, so the majority of the film is shot hand held.
Did the movie change much in the editing and what drove those changes?
DEBRA: There are always changes made when I’m editing, it’s part of the writing process for me and why I’ve edited the films I’ve made. It’s a great opportunity to keep improving the story. It’s important to create a pace and tell the story as concisely and as visually as possible. The scripts I write and/or co-write are purposely overwritten. Having more footage gives you more options.
Once I’m editing my mantra is Less is More.
What was your process for working with your composers?
DEBRA: I found some music in the Public Domain by Erik Satie that worked perfectly as well as a couple of songs from this really talented musician and comedian J Chris Newberg who was kind enough to let use a couple of his songs.
I worked with Mel Elias on the rest. By the time I started working with Mel, I’d already laid in an entire temp track. He watched the rough cut and seemed to understand exactly what I was going for. He was incredibly flexible and just gave me really great options to choose from. Thankfully, Mel understood exactly what I wanted and he was really easy to collaborate with.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The least smart?
DEBRA: I think the “smartest thing” was to cast the film the way we did… Especially our leads- veteran comedian (Bill Dawes) plays a veteran comedian. He brought the authenticity of the comedy world to the film. He used many of his connections to help produce the film with us.
After an exhaustive and failed search to find a female comedienne to play the role of a female comedienne- I ended up casting a scream queen (Sarah Butler) as a our female comedienne- this was an unpredictable and ultimately really smart choice for the film.
The “least smart” has more to do with the limitations I was faced given our budget.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?