Thursday, February 16, 2017

Alex Grossman on "Hickey"

What was your filmmaking background before making Hickey?

ALEX: I started as a copywriter in advertising and then transitioned to directing commercials and shorts. The goal was always to write a feature but along the way I realized the best way to get it made was to direct it as well.

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

ALEX: Idea started with a story I heard on NPR about a Circuit City store that, in the midst of the recession, told its employees they were closing at the end of the day. This, coupled with some semi-autobiographical family dynamics was the basis of the film.

What was your casting process and did you adjust the script to fit the final cast?

ALEX: I was lucky to work with Amey Rene, a terrific casting director in L.A. She’s responsible for finding almost all of the talent in the movie.

Some of the comedians playing bit parts are people I know from my time with the Groundlings and UCB. And my female lead, Flavia, I cast for a commercial and always had in the back of my mind for the role.

The script definitely changed to fit the roles. When I initially wrote the movie I conceived it as a kind of John Hughes meets Judd Apatow movie. But one we decided to shoot in Venice, I realized the roles needed to reflect that and become more racially diverse. Zedrick Restauro is a good example of that in the role of Jeremy, a character I initially wrote as a nebbishy Jewish guy but ultimately went to Zed, a hilarious young Fillipino actor.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

ALEX: We shot with a Red Epic and it was great. It’s a real workhorse and didn’t give us any issues for the duration of the shoot.

We shot with anamorphic lenses which I wanted to give the movie a more cinematic feel. And we shot in 4K which, in retrospect, wasn’t really necessary. It just made the post process more cumbersome as we had to downres the footage for editing and then bring it back up for completion.

Did the movie change much in editing?

ALEX: Yes and no. The main story and characters stayed the same. We did cut a few scenes that weren’t working and really whittled down each scene as best as possible. With a comedy I think it’s important to overshoot and then make decisions on what isn’t working in post.

What's your distribution plan and your plan to recoup costs?

ALEX: The movie is being distributed by Gravitas Ventures domestically. They’ve secured deals with all the major VOD and DVD outlets and money should start trickling back in later this year. My investors get their money back first plus 20%. Any additional income is split between them and the production team.

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

ALEX: Smartest thing was staying calm. So much can and does go wrong during production it’s really important to be able to stay flexible and make good compromises.

Dumbest thing was writing a movie with so many damn actors and scenes with such a limited budget and production schedule. Every character in a scene adds coverage which adds time. Many scenes in the movie have four or more characters and it’s tricky to get all the footage you need, much less all the footage you want.

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

ALEX: Holy shit, I learned a ton.

Coming into the movie, I felt pretty comfortable working with actors, but not as comfortable with camera movement. After three weeks of designing shots I felt like I got a crash course in filmmaking. 

My DP, Seamus Tierney, is a star and was super gracious about taking my crazy ideas and translating them into shots that worked.

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