Thursday, September 22, 2016

Neal McLaughlin on "I Was a Teenage Wereskunk"

What was your filmmaking background before making I Was a Teenage Wereskunk?

NEAL: Minimal. I went through a phase when I was about 19 where I fancied myself a "director." I made a few short movies with a crappy VHS camcorder, edited by connecting two VCRs. But those were more for myself and my friends.

When I moved to LA my focus was on screenwriting. But it's ridiculously hard to break in, so I decided to go around the system and just make my own movie. I made a short to get a bit of experience and then was just like, "Okay, I'm ready. Time to make a feature." In retrospect it was pretty foolish and arrogant. 

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

NEAL: I love Leave it to Beaver. I also love slasher movies. I thought, "Wow, how cool would it be to set a slasher in wholesome, goody-goody 1950s suburbia?!" What an idea! Unfortunately, I couldn't get it to work. The juxtaposition that originally drew me to the idea just seemed weird in practice. But I liked working in that world with that type of dialogue. So I changed the serial killer to a monster and that made all the difference. I toyed with all kinds of were-things: weremole, weresquirrel, weresloth, etc. until settling on a wereskunk. That seemed to have the most comic potential. 

As for getting it ready to shoot, just constant tinkering. Going over it again and again and again trying to make sure every single word is the best possible word.

And once I knew what my actual budget was going to be, I had to go back through and adjust for that. There were certain things I just couldn't afford, so I had to go back and rewrite them in a way that I could (reducing characters, changing locations, scaling down fight sequences, etc.).

What was your Kickstarter experience like and what would you recommend that other filmmakers do (or don't do) if they are going down that funding path?

NEAL: That's too big a question to answer here. Suffice to say it was the worst month of my life. Begging for money is just a gross experience. And you don't just set up the campaign and sit back and watch the money pour in. You have to work super hard. It's called a "campaign" for a reason. I hated it. 

Would I recommend other filmmakers do it? Tough to say. It depends on what type of person you are and what kind of network you have. I also worry crowdfunding might be becoming overcrowded (pardon the pun). When I did it there were still a lot of people who hadn't even heard of Kickstarter. Nowadays I feel like I'm asked to donate to something every other week. 

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

NEAL: Most of my cast were offered their roles without even an audition. I knew a lot of people and - being in LA - a ton of actors. Most of casting was simply, "Okay, let's see, Officer Maggie?... Hmm, Officer Maggie... Ooh! Amy Heidt would be PERFECT to play that part!"

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

NEAL: I intend to self distribute. I think the whole business of distribution right now is in major flux, especially for tiny indies like mine. I'd rather keep total control and do it my way rather than sign my movie over to some little distro company that might be irrelevant next year.

The internet makes it possible for anybody anywhere in the world to access the movie either directly from me or through Amazon, iTunes, etc. Plus, with social media, blogs, websites, podcasts, etc. I can do all my own advertising as well. So why do I even need a distribution company? Maybe it'll prove to be a mistake down the road, I don't know, but this has been a grassroots project all along and I intend to keep it that way.

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

NEAL: I can't speak much to that. We used two Black Magics, a go-pro, and - no kidding - iPhones. The monitor on the Black Magic was impossible to see outside in the sunlight, so a lot of the stuff we were just shooting blind and hoping for the best. But to really answer this question you'd have to ask my DP Craig. I'm camera illiterate. 

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

NEAL: Absolutely. I'd always heard that the movie really finds itself in editing but I never quite understood how that worked. Write a good script, shoot it, cut it together. Done. Right?

I didn't realize just how much happens in editing. A joke that worked great in the script might not be working on film. But just add one single extra frame of a character's reaction and all of a sudden it's the funniest joke in the movie. Universes open up at the editing deck.

Eventually I just had to say to my editor, "Okay, that's it! This cut is the final cut." Otherwise we might still be tweaking it.

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

NEAL: The smartest and dumbest might actually be the same thing. And that was taking the blind leap to make the movie in the first place.

I had very little experience. I had to start a company. Employ people. I was in charge of a large chunk of money (by my humble financial standards), much of which was generously donated by family and friends. I was asking people to dedicate weeks of their time and energy for free - or at least far less than what they were worth.

There were thousands of details that needed to be tended to, all of which were on my shoulders. On top of that, I had to quit my day job - and live on my meager savings and two high-interest credit cards - in order to free up the time to do it. It was an insane decision and quite frankly very stupid and irresponsible.

But I was extremely fortunate. No disasters occurred and the movie actually got completed. But any number of things could have derailed this thing. I shudder to think where that would have left me. Not in a good place.

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

NEAL: Everything. I knew nothing going in. This was my entire filmmaking education. Every second of the Wereskunk experience was a lesson I will bring to the next one.

Where can people go to learn more about the film?

NEAL: A simple Google search for "teenage wereskunk" should send you in the right direction. There's not a lot of other "werskunk" material out there (although surprisingly there are a few things). 

But specifically, if you go to all the relevant links are there. There's a Facebook page. iMDB page. Twitter is wereskunk1. Instagram is teenagewereskunk. 

Or if anybody would like to contact me directly they're welcome to do so at I think that about covers it.

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