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.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Paul Foster on "Unwanted"

What was your filmmaking background before making Unwanted?

PAUL: This is really my first film.

I have a YouTube Channel that I have run for almost 3 years and it has a healthy following. The more I learned, I realized I started getting more creative in my productions for that channel.

Finally I did a review on a car and was told it looked almost professional. That was when I realized it was finally possible to complete a dream I've had since I was a kid. Be a filmmaker.

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

PAUL: It was a discussion I had with my wife over dinner one night. I wanted to shoot something creative where lighting was a factor, music and camera work. It was originally intended to be a short. simple concept, one location and have about three actors.

It took me a weekend to write the original script, which ultimately when through 6 revisions. The process for writing in those stages was the original treatment was done and once I secured the Holman House in Pittsburg, Texas, I re-envisioned the script to fit the location.

I repeated those steps to add elements of the history of the house to the story, because this was a 103-year-old haunted house we were filming in.

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

PAUL: We had most of the cast in place prior to the audition, however I needed to cast my main two leads so we held an audition at the Reserve in Longview. We had about 100 people come out to the audition and were able to fill the remaining parts for the film which had grown to 11 actors.

After we did that, I had them over to my home to do a read through on the script. because we were working with mostly amateur actors and I wanted to give them the best chance to succeed. I got to know their personalities, we went back through the script and localized it to the cast.

What was your approach to special effects -- did you write to existing resources?

PAUL: I have worked in After Effects for a couple years. I had always planned on handling my ghost effects and makeup in post. This was a way to get my skills out there for others to see. 

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

PAUL: We shot the entire film on a Canon T6i. There were a couple pickups shot on a 70D but the T6i was our workhorse.

The upside is this camera is a good film camera for young up coming filmmakers to cut their teeth with.

The downside is it is not a good low light camera. Our solution was to pair with Rokinon Cine lenses which were very fast and great in low light. So that helped.

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

PAUL: No, we did a pretty extensive pre-production plan and stuck to it through the edit. There were some effects that got left out because of time constraints on the release, but they didn't take away from the film at all.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

PAUL: My production company is a full service production company, as in we handle all aspects of a films production from beginning to end. We also realize that there seems to be a trend within the indie film community to do a circuit of showings combined with DVD sales to get things to VOD. They usually don't sell tickets to the initial premiere but show it for free. We took a different approach. 

We promoted the film all year long, providing unheard of access to behind the scenes activities. We even live streamed the final day of filming to the fans. Then we promoted the premiere well in advance and sold tickets to the event.

The idea was to recoup most of the costs for the film within the first 30 days of release. This would also allow us to get the money needed for VOD.

That plan is in place and working very well for us. The key to this plan is capitalizing on the momentum of a film while it is hot to pay for it.  

What's the upside to wearing so many hats on a project (writer, director, DP, editor, producer)?

PAUL: You learn so much about every aspect of the film process. You understand the different roles and I think every filmmaker needs to understand these roles to be good at what they do.

Moving forward I will have others fill these roles, but my experience will prove essential in their success.

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

PAUL: Smartest thing was bringing in great actors out of the gate along with my AD Pete Luman. I found I couldn't have done this film without him.

Dumbest thing I did was try and shoot with a steady cam vest and stabilizer using prime lenses lol. every time we swapped a lens I had to re-balance the stabilizer.

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

PAUL: Preparation is everything. Too many indie filmmakers rush through all of the prep and planning because they just want to get to the filming part.

The more you are prepared, the better result you will get and less work you will have to do in post-production.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Dan O'Bannon on "Dark Star"

How did the script come about?

DAN O'BANNON: John (Carpenter) and I were talking and he said he was going to do this graduate film project. I was very taken with it, and I started pitching ideas back at him. First thing you know, I was helping him make that film. At first he just wanted me to act in it, and I did that. But I was very excited about working on all aspects of the thing.

By the time we got through, the thing was about 50 minutes long. And when we took it to the USC Cinema department and started talking to them about taking it to festivals, we were told it was too long -- that it should have been 20 minutes long, and then they would have taken it around to festivals. But because it was 50 minutes long, they couldn't do anything with it. John and I were pretty upset about that, because it meant nobody would see it.
What did you do then?

DAN O'BANNON: A friend of ours said he would put $10,000 of his own money into it if we could expand it into a feature, and then we could try to get it distributed. It was a tough decision, because it was pretty tight at 50 minutes. Expanding it meant we were going to have to shoot a lot of scenes that were filler, and that would lessen the tightness of the story and make it into an episodic film.

Since they weren't going to take it around to the festivals, we were pretty much stuck. We only had one option--go ahead and shoot some extra scenes. It was kind of disappointing, because that meant we had to go from the most-impressive student film ever made to one of the cheapest features. It wasn't a question of choosing between two venues; there was only one venue offered.

We added a lot of stuff with me in it, because I was the most reliably available as an actor. And we added a lot of slapstick stuff, like the whole subplot about me chasing the alien balloon around, up and down shafts and things. All of that was done to pad.
How did the elevator scene come about?

DAN O'BANNON: We were talking about that old Harold Lloyd film, where he's climbing over a building and how funny and scary it is. We had this idea that we could do this funny thing with this creature going up and down in the elevator shaft. And then we had to figure out how to shoot it.

The first thing we thought was that we'd go find an elevator shaft somewhere, but that didn't get very far before we realized--never mind practical or impractical--it was dangerous. So we finally came up with, let's just do it on its side. What the hell. At least we can do it that way, and maybe if it's funny and exciting people won't care.

I ended up having an appendectomy right after I shot that scene. I just had that board down to my butt, and I had to keep my legs up, waving around in the air. Sometimes I think that I forced some food or something into my appendix from all that stress. I was 26 years old, and you really don't think what that sort of thing is going to do to you. You just have a good idea and you start to do it. And then you find out how hard it is. Today I wouldn't be able to do it all, even if I were willing to try, which I wouldn't be.
What's the biggest lesson you took away from Dark Star?

DAN O'BANNON: I learned all the wrong lessons on
Dark Star. When I finally directed a movie for real, I thought I was supposed to do everything. And I ended up making everybody mad. I was over-prepared for directing and I was mis-directed by having gone to film school, and thought that the director was supposed to be an auteur and do everything himself. When I actually tried doing that in a real movie, I found that I couldn't get anything I wanted, because they would sabotage me.

It basically took me two pictures to learn an entirely different orientation toward directing.

What I learned was very simple: A director doesn't make a movie. Everybody else makes the movie. That means the director doesn’t have to know how to do anything. All the director has to do is be there and stand there and make creative decisions if he feels like it. I had to swivel around 180 degrees and stop worrying about exactly how I wanted to get everything on the screen and start worrying about how to trick 300 people into doing it for me.