Thursday, May 18, 2017

PODCAST: Jonthan Lynn on "My Cousin Vinny" (25th Anniversary)

Director Jonathan Lynn joined me for a conversation about his classic comedy, My Cousin Vinny, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year.

We also talked about his new comic novel, Samaritans ... and a bit about his classic farce, Clue.

You can hear the full interview HERE. While you're there, hit the Subscribe button, so you don't miss any future podcast!

You can also read an earlier interview I had with Mr. Lynn HERE.

Thanks for listening!

Director Jonathan Lynn and Joe Pesci on the set of "My Cousin Vinny."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Billy Lewis on "The Terrible Two"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Terrible Two?

BILLY: My background in filmmaking is a long road, as are most peoples who pursue this field.  I got my college degree in Broadcast Journalism and worked in TV news for 5 years.  Then I started my own production company doing TV commercials, web marketing videos, music videos, short films, etc. 

I wrote and directed The Jailhouse in 2009.  That was my first big feature film and I learned a lot from that.  In between that movie and The Terrible Two (2017) I’ve learned so much about filmmaking and storytelling in general and I feel that knowledge helped me tremendously in creating what we think is an entertaining film in The Terrible Two.

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

BILLY: My wife and I bought a house the year before we did the movie and the first time we walked through the house I noticed the amount of space in the house to move around and have lights, cameras, crew, etc.  So I said to her that we would buy the house but on one condition.....that I was going to film a movie in it.  She agreed but didn't believe me.  

A year later I was kicking her and my girls out for 2 weeks (figuratively speaking) and we had a full crew ready and turned the house into a movie set.  My wife Mollie was a real trooper to allow us to do that and for that I'm very appreciative.  

As far as getting the script ready to shoot I had a really knowledgeable producer and first assistant director named Jonathan Landau who helped me out tremendously in tying up all the loose ends for production and tightening up the script so that it would be ready to make a good movie. 

The whole team we put together was amazing considering the fact that we had a very low budget on the film.

At what point did you decide to shoot in your own house and what impact did that have on the scripting?

BILLY: As I said above, the house was the basis for the entire movie so the script was built around the location.  I like to look at the house as a character in the film and if you watch the entire movie then you know why. 

Knowing the location so well allowed us to be efficient when shooting and move at a rapid pace.  We shot a total of 11 days and that’s pretty crazy.

What was your casting process and did you change the script to match your final cast?

BILLY: Our casting was pretty easy…with a few bumps in the road but that was expected. 

Early on I cast Reid Doyle as the lead actor, Albert Poe.  He also came on as a very important producer during and after production.  We had a lead female cast to play Rose and 2 weeks before production she got a higher paying job that she took (and I couldn’t really blame her) but that opened up the door for us to cast Cari Moskow who did a excellent job as Rose Poe. 

Also we had the 2 little girls cast and the night before we were supposed to shoot our first scenes with the girls something came up with them so we had to scramble to find 2 replacement girls.  That was stressful but every aspect of an independent film normally is. 

It all worked out in the end as we ended up with a great cast…a small cast but a great cast.  We stayed true to the final script and didn’t conform to match our cast.

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

BILLY: We ended up shooting on the Sony FS7 in 4K.  We used the Sony A7Sii for a few pickup shots here and there.  I love the look of the FS7 camera but it’s not the best camera in low light so that’s why our grip and electric department was so important.  And they did not let down either.  They were great. 

The good thing about owning the house and the camera is that after principal photography of the movie I was able to get a ton of time-lapses and cutaways for my editor that we weren’t able to get during production.  So that was a huge bonus.  That camera is amazing for what it is and the price.

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

BILLY: The movie changed a lot in editing.  By that I mean that we stayed true to the script but we had an amazing editor by the name of Jesse Andrus who took The Terrible Two, which when we shot was an okay movie, and turned into something that was entertaining, the pace was great, the sound design and music flowed.  All of that was very critical to have considering we shot the entire movie in one location. 

We tightened up a lot of dialogue, cut out some scenes that were repetitive, and made cuts that kept the action moving and interesting.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

BILLY: We have signed with a sales agent, High Octane Pictures, who is currently putting a marketing plan together and in the early stages of shopping the film around to both domestic and international distributors. 

We really hope for the best because we feel like we’ve made a movie that could do big things and we’ve proven with this film that you don’t always need millions of dollars and need to be backed by a big Hollywood studio to tell a good story.

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

BILLY: I can’t really pinpoint the smartest or dumbest thing we did during production.  This is very cliché but we assembled such a great and professional crew that we kept the mistakes to a minimum and we were very surgical in how we shot scenes and did things during production. 

Every night after we’d shoot I’d sit down and look at the dailies and go through each scene and make sure we’d gotten exactly what we needed from that scene and if not we’d do a quick pickup the next day. 

Again on such low money you have to know what you’re doing and be smart about things, if not you could be at risk of having your project tanking and not finishing what you started.

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

BILLY: The number one thing I learned from this movie was to trust others to do their job.  If you get a good crew together and everyone believes in the story, then most likely you are going to make a good movie. 

It’s been said often but it’s so true that making a movie is such a collaborative effort.  This rang very true on The Terrible Two because I can tell you that both cast and crew worked for peanuts on this movie and took a pay decrease because they believe in film and keeping it alive in this area. 

I’m so thankful first and foremost to God and then to my wife Mollie Lewis for allowing us to use the house.  Then if it wouldn’t have been for my 2 producers Jonathan Landau and Reid Doyle, along with Dr. Martyn Woleben, then this movie would’ve never seen the light of day.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

PODCAST: Lee Wilkof on "No Pay, Nudity"

Aging actor Lester Rosenthal (Gabriel Byrne), who has lost his way with his career, with his family, and with his friends (Nathan Lane, Frances Conroy, & Boyd Gaines), finds out that the way out is through.

Director Lee Wilkof was kind enough to call in for the first Fast, Cheap Movie Talk podcast.

Subscribe here to the Fast, Cheap Movie Talk podcast.

Lee Wilkof, with Ellen Greene in the original production of "Little Shop of Horrors."

Gabriel Byrne and Lee Wilkof on the set of "No Pay, Nudity"

Gabriel Byrne as Lester in "No Pay, Nudity."

Frances Conroy, Gabriel Byrne, Nathan Lane and Jon Michael Hill on the Actor's Equity lounge set.

One of the videos created for the Kickstarter campaign.

The trailer for "No Pay, Nudity."

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hunter Lee Hughes on "Guys Reading Poems"

What was your filmmaking background before making Guys Reading Poems?

HUNTER: Outside of my experience acting, I'd say my crash course in filmmaking began when I served as the writer's assistant to Mardik Martin (co-writer, Mean Streets and Raging Bull). I didn't feel I could afford film school, but that job paid me $20/hour to learn from a master, whose simple, effective wisdom on the subject of screenwriting still guides me.

The other mentor who shaped my early career was legendary acting coach Ivana Chubbuck. I trained in her master class for five years and slowly absorbed a method not only of developing characters as an actor, but of observing actors and communicating with them.

Previous to Guys Reading Poems, I wrote and produced the dark short film Winner Takes All and directed a 12-episode webseries called Dumbass Filmmakers! about a clueless installation artist making a difficult transition to directing films. It definitely felt like art imitating life.

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

HUNTER: My maternal grandmother passed away in 2007 and I ended up with her poetry books. She was an avid reader of poetry and would read her poems aloud to keep her mind sharp. When I finally got around to reading the poetry books she collected, they became like little clues to who she was, as she'd interacted with the poems on the page, like underlining this sentence and circling a certain phrase or writing a note in the margin. So that got me interested in how individual poems could be revealing of the psychology of a film protagonist.

Getting the script ready to shoot....honestly the answer for me of how to get the script ready to shoot is the shot list, which is for me the bridge between what's written on the page and what you capture on set. You're forced in the shot list to start visualizing the mechanics of how you'll shoot rather than just seeing these compelling characters in an imaginary setting running free in your brain.

I'm not a director that likes to leave things to chance on the set, so in this case, everything was shot-listed in advance and I always ask myself with every sentence I read in the final script, "How will the camera move to cover this? How will the people move within the frame? And why?" So for me, the shot list is the way to do a final revision of the script because you realize little moments you need or don't need.

What was your casting process and did you change the script to match your final cast?

HUNTER: I consider Guys Reading Poems to be an ensemble of 15 actors. Of those 15, I already knew 12 of the actors and made offers to them without auditioning them. Two came through the audition process, Luke Judy, our seven-year old lead and also Blake Sheldon, who was the youngest of the seven poetry guys. I met Lydia Hearst through her manager Oren Segal and knew within seconds of meeting her that I'd make her an offer for the role of "The Actress."

I originally was going to have the climactic scene between Patricia and Jerod silent, like so much of the rest of the movie. In the beginning, I was very rigid that the only "dialogue" should be the poems. But as we rehearsed, I started feeling that we needed to hear, in very simple words, the two of them resolve their relationship.

And once I added dialogue to that scene, I realized that the entire section of the movie that takes place as Patricia leaves the prison and returns home needed to have dialogue. So I added dialogue here and there - to her interaction with the prison guard and also when she runs into the young man with the guitar.

I realized that part of the movie that was taking place in the present needed that sort of ordinary, simple dialogue and that change was inspired by rehearsing with Patricia and Jerod.

What drove your decision to go with black & white ... and how did that decision make production easier and harder?

HUNTER: For me, the poetry lent itself to a 1950's boarding school kind of aesthetic and it wasn't a far leap from that to black-and-white. As a practical matter, black-and-white can hide a few things when you're dealing with a lower budget. I think it's easier to make a film look expensive with black-and-white.

I'm not sure it made anything in production harder as much as it comes up in the conversation about distribution. Some distributors just are not interested in black-and-white films.

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

HUNTER: We shot on the Red Epic Monochrome and I think the image quality is really remarkable, the detail, the richness of the black tones. I think the camera inspired everyone on the camera crew, and especially our lighting team, because you know it's maybe once a year, if that, that they get to work on a black-and-white feature. It brought out the best in our team.

I suppose that because our costume designer Shpetim Zero is so amazing and Lydia and Patricia are both so beautiful, every now and then I'd look at one of them in one those beautiful costumes and wish we could shoot it in color, which of course you can't with the monochrome chip, but that was a small price to pay for the satisfaction of working with such an amazing black-and-white camera.

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

HUNTER: Certainly, the movie evolved in editing. In fact, we shot the poems first and it was our editor Patrick Kennelly who convinced me that I had to find a way to take the poems and incorporate them into a feature film.

Including the poetry and the narrative, the entire shoot was 15 days, so we didn't have a limitless amount of options. We shot what was in the script and not a lot extra. But I think Patrick Kennelly (our editor) is just brilliant and I especially love the montage flashes in the Death chapter.

You might think a super weird film like ours changes more drastically in the editing. But we were remarkably close to the script in terms of what was shot and the scenes remained in close to the same order as they were designed on the page.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

HUNTER: We have an international sales agent, Patrick Holzen of Bodhi Tree Media Group and are repped domestically by Daniel Bort at Omni Media Arts.

National Poetry Month in April is important to us. We're screening at the Rush Arts Gallery in New York City on April 4th. We have our monthly open mic event in Los Angeles on April 6th and then we open theatrically for a brief, one-week run at Arena Cinemalounge in Hollywood on April 28th.

From there, we'll move to DVD, SVOD and VOD but the details of that are still up in the air. I can say this. We now see the feature film Guys Reading Poems as the most intense offering in the experience of a wider movement of " Guys Reading Poems.

Our open mic nights draw 40-60 people each time and we sell t-shirts there. We've built a respectable following on Facebook where we highlight the videos of our audience reading their own poems with plans to expand the open mic night to other cities. So we've designed the experience of Guys Reading Poems as a positive feedback loop between providing open mic nights for our audiences and the actual film.

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

HUNTER: I committed. I have no regrets whatsoever about the kind of effort I made.

The shoot took so much out of me - mentally, physically, emotionally - but I honestly did give it everything I had. And I'm not sure I can take credit for this, but I noticed that so many people in the cast and creative team were just as driven to figure this movie out and to go out and shoot it.

As a director, you set the tone. So I think I set a good example in that way and that was smart.  I think the crew respects you more when they see how hard you're thinking and working and figuring it out.

The dumbest mistakes probably all centered around time management with a child actor. When they are seven, you have so little time with them when they can actually work. And, in our case, Luke is basically the lead of the movie. So one time, I remember I wanted him on set early to rehearse with him and that was super dumb because it ended up being two wasted hours and then he got pulled from set later at a crucial time because that was his limit for the day. But you sort of just adjust and somehow get the movie done.

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

HUNTER: I'm sure it's been said before, but I think a good analogy for directing movies is "the good parent." A good parent knows that their kids have own identity and sensibility and they will communicate that identity to you. So, more than anything, being a good parent involves being a good listener and observer and then fortifying your child towards the life they were meant to live.

I believe a film is like a child and our job as directors is not to control the child or force it to be something it's not. Your job is to listen to the film and what it wants to be and then lend the film your strength when it needs its essential qualities nurtured or protected.

I feel like I learned how that process feels through making Guys Reading Poems and will take the same experience to the next one.

The movie will open theatrically in Los Angeles on Friday, April 28th at Arena Cinelounge. Tickets are available here:

Also, for those that are interested, they've released several of the poems and some pr interviews for the actors on a YouTube site -