Thursday, February 24, 2011

David Tristram on "Inspector Drake: The Movie"

What was your filmmaking background before making Inspector Drake: The Movie?

DAVID: In a nutshell, there wasn't one. To be fair, I have made quite a few corporate video programmes over the years, but a movie is a very different thing altogether. So in many ways it was a leap into the unknown.

What was the process for adapting the stage version of Inspector Drake into a movie?

DAVID: Even though it pinches a few of my favourite gags from the stage plays, this is essentially a new script, written specifically for the movie. With a stage play you're constrained by the physical aspects of the theatre and the set, and by only using a practical number of characters. With a movie, in theory, there are no such constraints, so more actors, more locations - but of course the budget acts as the ultimate brake on the imagination. I would have liked to have shot some scenes in New Zealand, with huge panoramic sweeps from aerial cameras - but had to settle for a tripod in a forest in Shropshire.

What are the three key requirements -- in your mind -- for making a successful movie for a ridiculously small budget?

DAVID: Rule One: Turn any weakness into a strength. Our film is laced with low budget jokes - it becomes an important part of the narrative - the characters refer to the obviously rubber snakes as "low budget snakes" for example. There's also a low budget cartoon torch, and a low budget foam rubber ceremonial sword.

Obviously Drake is a comedy with surreal boundaries, so that means anything goes. We often had to invent our way out of a problem - such as the time we were due to shoot a night scene in the forest as Drake "makes camp." Night scenes are difficult to do properly without a lot of equipment- generators, lights, and so on. The usual low budget solution is to shoot in the day and then add a rather unconvincing night effect in the edit suite. I didn't like the idea of doing that for such a long scene - I also realised that a lot of the visual gags wouldn't as work as well by darkening the footage artificially. Our solution? We shot in the daytime. It goes dark for a few seconds. Then Drake comes across a bathroom light cord dangling from a tree. He pulls it, and switches the forest lights back on. We were literally making something from nothing, which in the end heightens the sense of creativity.

Rule Two: Tell a good story. In the end, high budget films might have exciting special effects or action sequences - but they're never the best bit of a good movie. The best bit is always the story, and the characters. So concentrate on those - they needn't cost money. My movie is a surreal comedy, but nevertheless it's still important to have a credible story to anchor the whole thing. And the audience always has to care about the main characters.

Rule Three: Get the technical basics in focus, good sound. Nine times out of ten what lets a very low budget film down is the sound - it's probably more important than the pictures.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to make this movie ... and how did you overcome it?

DAVID: I'm going to be coy here and say that the biggest obstacle was probably me. Budget restraints meant I was on camera and also trying to direct, but in reality most of my brain was taken up with the fear of not getting the technical aspects right. The thought of getting it back to the edit suite to find that something was out of focus, or not exposed properly, or the sound was missing, was very scary.

I suppose I overcame the problem by preparing as well as I could, and crossing my fingers. Most of the time things were fine - there were one or two problems, as I'm sure there are with every film, but nothing I wasn't able to fix in the edit suite.

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

DAVID: The smartest thing was using decent actors. The dumbest was possibly using me as cameraman, but as I say, the budget left us no other choice, and in the end at least I knew what I was getting every step of the way.

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

DAVID: I think the film we've ended up with is far, far better than I would have first imagined we were capable of. So I suppose I've learnt how to successfully exploit our limitations. We're already considering whether or not to make Inspector Drake 2 - The Seagull. We'll wait to see how this effort goes down first.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Brett Anstey on “Damned By Dawn”

What was your filmmaking background before making Damned by Dawn?

BRETT: I had been working in television since the early 90's, initially shooting commercials, drama and music videos.

During this period a group of friends and I would make quite elaborate short films on weekends. We'd borrow the equipment from work and shoot these really ambitious films, some of them took years to complete due to the extensive visual FX and stunts.

It was a great way to learn how to cut corners and to achieve maximum production values for very little money.

Where did the idea for Damned By Dawn come from? What was the writing process like?

BRETT: Originally I wanted to make my own little Hammer horror film. The type of film I grew up watching on late night TV - the sort of film that relies heavily on atmosphere, mood and classic "horror" imagery.

So we were kicking ideas around trying desperately to find a slightly original antagonist. And I remembered that scene in Darby O'Gill and the Little People that featured a Banshee, which scared the crap out of me when I was kid. So I was scratching my head trying to think of another film that featured a traditional Banshee. And I couldn't think of any. Then it become a case of figuring out what parts of the mythology suited our story best.

After the first draft was completed, it soon became apparent that we couldn't afford to make a period horror like the Hammer films - horse drawn carriages, period wardrobe & stately manors were beyond our paltry budget. So in the next draft I moved the story forward one hundred years and off we went!

What type of camera did you use to shoot the film and what did you like about it .... and hate about it?

BRETT: We shot the film on the Panasonic HVX 202 which uses the P2 cards. Before principle photography we shot some tests and the P2 camera seemed to tick all the boxes. The one negative was the lens. It just wasn't long enough. But overall it was a great little camera at the time.

How did you achieve such great production design on a low budget?

BRETT: By the time we made the film, I'd already spent 15 years shooting stuff so I knew how to cut corners, save money but not compromise the final result.

And the other guys - David Jackson the Production Designer, Justin Dix doing the Make Up FX and also Dave Redman the editor - we've all been collaborating for years and our mantra is every cent spent must be visible on screen!

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

BRETT: I'll start with the dumbest, which was making the film with no money! That was really tough trying to overcome a different obstacle and challenge every day. It really was a battle.

I'd have to say that shooting those scenes with Evil Nana attacking Claire close to suburbia was easily the smartest thing we did. Dawn Klingburg who played Nana was over 70 years old & the prosthetics took 3 or so hours to apply - so it was a challenge making sure she was comfortable & warm as she crawled across the forest floor in the dead of night.

And for those scenes we decided to shoot in a small section of woods that was only a 5 minute drive away from Make Up artist Justin Dix's home, which made the whole process so much easier on Dawn. I should point out the rest of the film was shot at a location that was a 3 hour drive away.

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

BRETT: Never ever work with roaches, because surprisingly they have a mind of their own and never do what you want! In future I vow to only work with human actors!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kentucker Audley on "Open Five"

What was your filmmaking background before making Open Five?

KENTUCKER: Right out of high school I began borrowing cameras and making short films, and learning to edit. I went to art school initially but dropped out after a year to work and write a script. I got a job at FedEx unloading packages, went to work every morning at 5 AM, got home and worked on the script for a year. My parents became concerned that I wasn't going back to school until eventually my dad told he'd give me $2,000 to make my first film if I went back to school and graduated.

I took the offer and 3 years later I graduated, and that's how we made Team Picture. Two years later in '08 we made Holy Land with the money we made from our Team Picture DVD deal.

What was the writing process like?

KENTUCKER: The last couple years I've tried to write less and less. With Team Picture I was eventually unsatisfied with how 'written' and joke-based the film was. So I gave up on writing jokes initially and then gave up on any writing whatsoever.

During that period it was hard for me to watch a film and not be distracted by the writing. All I could hear was the writer writing, actors saying the writer's lines. But I wanted to hear everyone onscreen. Even the best writer in the world doesn't get it right, how people actually talk.

So I started working from the foundation that if I let other people write their own parts, I'd end up with more life onscreen. Not just me, other people. Team Picture was just me, and I didn't think that was enough. The subsequent films Holy Land and Open Five are not me whatsover except the scenes I'm physically onscreen.

What type of camera did you use to shoot the film and what did you like about it .... and hate about it?

KENTUCKER: We filmed with the Panasonic HVX. I don't care what camera we use technically. I don't have quality judgments to make on any camera pro or con. The only consideration I have deciding on a camera is to use a camera that everyone's using, ultimately so the film looks like now, the day and age it was made.

I was never interested in shooting on film for nostalgia or aesthetic reasons. Mainly because I can't objectively view film image quality as beautiful or not. (Everyone used to think the 80's home video look was terrible and cheap, but now it feels incredibly strange and evocative and expressive. The digital video quality from a couple years ago that everyone decried as the death of cinema will have its own feel 20 years from now that will try to be replicated and declared better-than by some.)

Everyone says Team Picture looks like shit. But the whole point was to use a common camera and not manipulate anything, down to not changing the factory setttings. And besides, I don't want to make visually dynamic films. I don't want you, the audience, to have anything to fall back on if you don't care about the characters interactions. I want to make it difficult to see the quality so that you can't like it for superficial reasons.

That being said, we're using the Canon 7D for our new film, Open Five 2, which is generally considered to produce beautiful images, but the reason I'm using it is because it's the new trend.

Did the film change much during the edit?

KENTUCKER: Open Five came together pretty quickly, which was the goal coming off of Holy Land which took years to shape. But yeah, of course, it still changed dramatically over the course of several months.

As far as the basic structure though, there wasn't much wriggle room, in that the film takes place largely over one weekend. We always had specific ideas of how Friday should feel, and how Saturday and Sunday should feel. With Holy Land, I experimented tremendously with the edit. At various points, I had incorporated still photos, home videos, stock footage, and narration.

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

KENTUCKER: Nothing really stands out as particularly smart or dumb. You might think that having your real friends and girlfriend in your movie is dumb. Particularly when you delay important emotional conversations so you can film them (waiting until the shooting schedule allows), but doing in this way is essential to the types of films they are.

I always say the tensions that spring up behind the scenes are always more interesting than the actual film, and I want it that way. The really good stuff doesn't belong in the movies. I hold on to that stuff myself. That's why these films are often considered borderline films. People see my films and say things like the "well, the acting is believable, and the situations are believeable, but it's not a movie."

But to me if the acting and situations are believable the film is a complete success. Those my only goals. I'm not in search of the most dynamic or the most heartbreaking or uplifting story. I'm in search of ordinary situations, nothing over-heated or life-or-death.

I guess this is getting away from the original question.

That’s okay. So, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?

KENTUCKER: I'm not good with lessons learned. I guess all experience adds up to something, but as far as extracting any single lesson, my brain can't work in that way.

But I'm glad I had a chance to work with everyone involved. And several of them, notably Jake Rabinbach and Caroline White, I'm working on a sequel with. Obviously it is helpful for continuing artistic relationships to put it to the test.

Okay, one more question -- how did you get the name Kentucker?

KENTUCKER: I'm from Kentucky. When I moved to Memphis, I started going by Kentucker. It's a take off on the soldier at war nicknaming system, I.E. you go by the state you're from.

Kentucker stars in the film BAD FEVER, which is premiering at SXSW in March.

Learn more about Kentucker at his website:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bob Odenkirk and Michael Blieden on "Melvin Goes To Dinner"

What first attracted you to this project?

BOB ODENKIRK: I saw the play a couple times -- I think five, all told and I felt that if all I do is shoot this play in some form, then that would be worthy of the effort. It was so well played, so well written, and the cast was so perfect, that I felt I had to fall back on. It was just worth shooting. And I thought I had an idea of how to shoot it and keep it lively, which was multiple, handheld cameras.

I had some ideas on what I thought would help make it feel and work like a feature film. It's a very good performance piece for the stage, and one of the reasons it's so good is, it's very much alive every night that you do it. One night it could be a little more comic, another night it could be more dramatic. It all depends on the tone of performance and it depends on the audience and it depends on their interaction. That's what a great play does: it lives on stage every night, and it lives a little differently.

When you're making a movie, you're committing to one performance. Unlike a play, where your eyes can move around and the energy can shift in this interplay between audience and performance, you're committing. You're saying to everybody, 'Look at this person and look at this performance and this is the right performance.'

How many cameras did you end up using?

BOB ODENKIRK: We used five cameras, so everybody is on camera at all times. And we tried to layer it so that you can follow everyone's performance throughout the movie, even though we commit to singles angles at any one time. When a person's talking and telling a story, we cut from them to watch the people listening, because the way that anyone of those persons stories is affecting the other people is the depth of the piece.

When one person tells a story about infidelity, clearly there is an issue there with some of the other people, and you can read that I think subconsciously. And, if you watch the movie a second time, you can read it consciously. You can see people getting uncomfortable at certain topics, and now you know why.

Although the cast is relatively unknown, you did add some cameos by better known performers. What was your thinking behind that?

BOB ODENKIRK: I knew that we weren't going to use any names in the leads. And I thought just having a few name people would help the movie, and I do think it did help.

Now, some of the people, like Jack Black and Melora Walters, wouldn't let us put their name or their image on the poster, which is fine and understandable, and in fact I would want. The last thing I would want would be for it to be released as
'The Jack Black Movie.' People would hate me, Jack, and the asshole who made the poster.

I do think the cameos help. It helps people to consider the movie legitimate. The thing I'm most happy about is that those people were right for their parts, they were funny and good in their parts, and they don't overshadow the movie.

You like Jack Black, and you like Maura Tierney, and you like Melora Walters, they're all good in their roles. David Cross is great. But none of them overshadows what the movie's about, none of them dislocates the core of the movie.

When the movie's over, you don't go, 'Wow, that was about Jack Black's scene.' Instead, you totally go, 'That was about this couple who are lying and this friend who's in a bad relationship and this girl's story about ghosts,' and about the ninth thing you mention is that Jack Black's in it. And that's perfect. Perfect.

How did you get hooked up with Bob Odenkirk?

MICHAEL BLIEDEN: Bob had seen the play and said he was interested in making a movie out of it. So I said, 'Why don't I take a crack at the script, and if you like that, then we'll move forward.'
And he said, 'That's sounds good. Let me give you a couple of general notes.' And his notes were, number one, why don't you try to focus the story on one character, and why don't you make it Melvin's character, since Melvin's kid of a device to get the other characters' stories out. He's the audience. So why don't you make it from Melvin's perspective. We need to see one character go through something during the night.

I worked on the script for a couple months and sent him a draft.

What was it like to write a screenplay for your play?

MICHAEL BLIEDEN: When I sat down to write the screenplay, we'd been performing the play for so long and the characters were so vivid to me, it felt like I was writing the sequel, because I got to write more words for these same characters in this same world.

I write in a completely nonlinear way. I believe in 'write what you're excited about first.' Always work on what you're excited about first.

I started writing scenes that I felt exemplified each character. I wrote a little intro scene for each character -- except I never really wrote one for Sarah, so there isn't one in the movie.

I wrote the story in a linear way -- the first scene was 6:00 a.m., Alex getting on a plane to fly to LA, and Melvin waking up in his office, and each character chronologically. And then they get to the restaurant and then it was -- aside from the internal flashbacks -- it was basically the play. It was like two movies: a single-camera, thirty location film, and then a multi-camera restaurant movie.

Then, for about a full month, I almost exclusively worked in the scene navigator mode (in Final Draft), where I just cut and pasted scenes and I did a paper edit of the film. The script, when it was finally a shooting script, is pretty much the way the movie was edited.

After writing and performing a five-person play, how did you feel about the cameos in the film?

MICHAEL BLIEDEN: Maura Tierney accepted the part just based on the script. The first day -- she is so warm and you have so much affection for her instantly. Everyone just loved her. Some people can say 'Hi' to you and you like them instantly, and she has that quality.

After shooting with her for one day, I went home and thought, I'm in this great position. I can do whatever I want. I get to act with her. So I wrote three extra pages of dialogue, because she was so much fun.

So I went back in the next day when she was in make-up and said, (whisper) 'I wrote more stuff for us to do!' The whole walking scene on the roof of the ramp, about my mom and her nose job, I wrote the night before because I wanted to do more with her.

What about Jack Black?

MICHAEL BLIEDEN: Bob said he was going to ask Jack Black to do it, and I said, 'Let me re-write the scene then!' So I did a special version. The original scene was about a page, but for Jack Black it was about five pages. That was directly written for him.

How do you feel about the finished movie?

MICHAEL BLIEDEN: The movie has given me the sense that I could retire, I could work in a bank from now on, and I'd be like, 'I made a movie once, an honest to god movie,' and I have such a feeling of accomplishment about that, there's a part of me that really let go and said 'You knows what, you've done something you never thought you would do.' There's times when I'm actually able to relax a little bit, and that makes it worth it.