Thursday, March 9, 2017

Kathleen Behun on "21 Days"

What was your filmmaking background before making 21 Days?

KATHLEEN: I had written and directed three dramatic short films prior to 21 Days which had garnered a fair amount of acclaim on the festival circuit. I also had written several feature spec scripts that had won a number of screenwriting awards; one of which was optioned by Academy Award-winning producer, Irwin Winkler (Good Fellas, Raging Bull, Rocky.)

But before I was a filmmaker, I had been an actress.  And I’ve always told people that Acting taught me how to direct; Directing taught me how to act; Writing made me better at both, but that reading, being a voracious reader, was the foundation of all of these disciplines. There’s something about reading- novels and short stories especially- which feeds the imagination and creativity in ways than any other art form.  In fact, when James Dean first burst onto the scene in the 1950’s, he once was interviewed and asked what he attributed his talent to as an actor, and he replied simply, “Reading.”

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

KATHLEEN: The idea for the film was first born out of frustration. I had another feature spec script, a supernatural thriller, which for five years had been financed on five different occasions with financing falling through each time for a myriad of reasons.

I realized the years were passing and I still hadn’t directed my first feature, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and write another script that was low budget enough I could self finance, yet commercial enough to attract studios and distributors. Even though I had made my name in the indie world as a filmmaker of dramatic short films, I was being encouraged by my agent at the time and various producers, to channel my energies into more genre oriented material for my first feature. This was actually an easy transition for me as I had long been interested in the classic genre films such as, The Exorcist and The Omen, as well as Gore Verbinski’s version of The Ring.

21 DAYS was actually inspired by all of the paranormal investigator shows that had become popular on television, especially those where a group of investigators lock themselves inside a house for one night to capture on film the supernatural phenomena which occurs. I then thought, one night locked inside a haunted location would be scary, but something longer such as, 21 days, would be terrifying.

I also became intrigued by a few true stories I had read about where people had abandoned their home with all their belongings behind, even letting their home fall into foreclosure, because they were too terrified to live there any longer because of the paranormal events that were occurring. Can you imagine? A place that haunted where you’re willing to leave behind everything and lose your home to foreclosure because you can no longer bear to stay in the home? 

These were some of the stories that served as inspiration for my film, as well as the notion that it’s not the house that’s haunted or evil, but rather the land it sits on.

I wrote the script in about a month and then took another two to three months to polish it, all the while searching for film locations. It took me a total of five months of traversing Southern California to find the right house for the film. Because to me, the house is the main character in the film, and until I found the right house, I was unwilling to begin filming.  And I was fortunate enough to find that perfect house.

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

KATHLEEN: The entire casting process took us three months.  I hired Luis Robledo, who’s an actor, filmmaker and founder of ACTOR’S GYM, to be the casting director. He did an absolutely amazing job finding the perfect actors for the film. 

We received a staggering 6,000 submissions to fill only 20 roles in the film. And for a micro budgeted feature which paid little money, that’s pretty stunning. It just shows how many actors in Los Angeles want to work.

Once the film was cast, I didn’t change the script to fit the cast, but prior to shooting, I did instruct the actors to memorize their lines, yet be open and prepared to improvise.  Since the film is found footage, the actors needed at times to make their lines their own in order for it to feel more “real” and off the cuff.

I also firmly believe that a large part of the director’s job is selecting the right actors for the film; and once that’s been accomplished, you don’t have to “direct” them as much. The actors were hired for the roles because they deeply understood their respective characters.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

KATHLEEN: In order to recoup our costs for the film, which fortunately were minimal by independent film standards, we selected Galen Christy of High Octane Pictures to serve as our sales agent. To date, the U.S. and Canadian rights to the film have been acquired by Gravitas Ventures who will be releasing the film on VOD in April 2017, and later, on DVD. Other territories that have sold are Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg and Taiwan. And we’re currently in negotiations to sell the film to a number of other distributors from other countries.

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

KATHLEEN: For the most part, the final edited version of the film is very true to the script.  I had the good fortune of securing seasoned horror editor, John Quinn (The Grudge 3), to work on the final cut of the film. He really taught me an enormous amount of how by using fewer cuts, you heighten tension and suspense in a film.

He did an amazing job of going through 24 hours of footage and paring it down to 89 minutes. His eye for how to cut a scene is just brilliant. The one change he did make that was different than the script was by having the final scene of the film play over the credits and it works much better than how I initially wrote and envisioned it. I’ll definitely be using him to cut my next film.

Why do you make films? What do you aim to do when you set out to make a film?

KATHLEEN: To express the inexpressible... As a filmmaker, or any artist, the goal is to convey some deeper truth; a silent mystery, that ultimately cannot be articulated or even clearly defined, but yet, somehow, through the magical moving image of film, we can come close...

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

KATHLEEN: Trust your instincts.  Prior to shooting, and even on set, there are many people who want to offer their opinion on how best a scene should be shot/played, etc or even how the overall film should be. Yet at the end of the day, you need to make the decision and trust your own gut instinct for what’s best for your film.

Most especially in the independent film world where the director/filmmaker has that sort of freedom to make those decisions and is not beholden to a studio.

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