Thursday, July 28, 2011

Brian Douglas on “I’m Just Saying”

What was your filmmaking background before making I'm Just Saying?

BRIAN: I actually did not really have a filmmaking background prior to making I’m Just Saying. I am what you might call someone who just gets something in his head and goes and does it. And, I wanted to make a movie. However, I did have an entertainment background. I had worked in Programming at the Hallmark Channel and On Air Promotions at FX Networks as well as International Publicity for A&M Records.

The bulk of what I knew about film I definitely learned at the Hallmark Channel where I was extremely lucky to be trained by some of the best in TV. I was part of a team who created the master on-air movie schedule and helped decide what movies Hallmark Channel would air, so I experienced first-hand how decisions were made behind the scenes and learned what truly made a good movie and what may hurt a movie.

As part of original programming, I was also fortunate enough to see how movies were created from the early stages of writing all the way through the marketing and on-air promotion planning. This experience definitely helped me when I decided to launch the I’m Just Saying project.

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

BRIAN: I originally came up with the idea when I was in undergrad, but it took years for the story to materialize in a way I felt comfortable sharing. Over time, I realized that some of my initial thoughts did not work well and felt that some of them were too “in your-face,” which was not my goal. I wanted something that would be genuine, honest and fair for all audiences. It wasn’t until I actually began writing that the story-line was fully conceived.

My goal was to treat the audience as intelligent while taking on issues such as politics, religion, and sexuality. It was important to me to focus on using non-preachy dialogue in the movie because nobody wants to be preached to or told what to think. At the same time, I wanted to bring humor to the conversations in a way that challenges without offending and keeps people talking about the movie long after they have watched it, which from the feedback I have heard, is happening…so that makes me extremely happy.

The writing process was actually pretty exciting, though difficult. After playing around with my writing for years, (and after reading the book Story by Robert McKee) I decided to follow his advice and write my screenplay as a book first, all the while, knowing that the plan was to actually turn the book back into a screenplay in the end.

After I completed the book, turning it back into a screenplay was challenging at times, as it was difficult to cut out all of the thoughts and emotions I had written into the story. But, at the same time, it was nice to be able to cut parts out of the book that I felt needed to be cut for one reason or another.

Did you use any improvisation -- either in the writing process with the actors, or actually on-camera?

BRIAN: Yes, I used improvisation in both the writing process and parts of the filming. After choosing the actors, one of the things that was very important to me was that the actors make the characters their own. I felt this would allow them to be more genuine and believable. So, I told the actors that if there were lines they felt did not fit, or maybe they had some lines of their own they believed their character might say, let me know, and as long as it did not conflict directly with anything in the story, I was all for the writing adaptations.

In addition, we also shot three scenes which were almost completely improvised. I knew what I wanted and what I needed for the story, so I just told the actors to hit on a few major points while digging more into their characters; and, just have fun with it. We let the camera roll and they started exploring and it worked perfectly. They were fantastic! I was so happy with how it turned out.

Editing the improv was especially enjoyable, because I was able to create mini-stories from their improv. I ended up using parts from two of the three improv scenes in the movie and the only reason I did not use parts of the third scene was because I wanted to keep the movie around 90 minutes in length.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

BRIAN: Our film was a micro-budget picture, so I used my savings, some of my retirement, and credit cards to finance the movie. I figure we only live once, and I had a fantastic opportunity to make a movie and just could not pass it up. My friend Michael Morris (our Director of Photography) had some time in between his other projects and basically said to me, “Brian, if you want to do it, now’s the time”…so, we did it.

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

BRIAN: We used the JVC HD-100U, a versatile camera they first started using as a B-camera on "24" a few years ago. It is one of the first professional instances they started using digital to be intercut with 35mm footage. However, due to budget constraints on our movie, we were unable to afford the various shallow focus lenses which give that fashion photography look to a lot of features.

Instead, we made strategic use of the Fujinon stock zoom lens, being careful to shoot actors' close-ups with a specific focal length to gain a similar depth of field effect (when the background falls out of focus). The other great thing is that we were able to shoot all of the exterior night stuff with just construction work lights and china balls, thanks to the camera's optical chip light sensitivity.

Did the movie change much during the editing process, and if so, how?

BRIAN: The biggest change to the movie during the editing process was the addition of the soundtrack, which definitely enhanced the final product. From the very beginning, I had music in mind and actually wrote music into the storyline of the screenplay. I love music and truly believe that the right music is like an additional character in the movie. It can make you happy, sad, intense, etc, etc and choosing the right music was as important as choosing the right cast member for each part.

I was extremely lucky to have such phenomenal musicians/bands in my movie. From the very beginning of the movie, the music takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions from start to finish. Forty Marshas (Goo Goo Dolls’ Mike Malinin), Rene Reyes (Ruby James, Katrina Carlson), The Green Car Motel (featured in Collateral, Seven Pounds, Next), Into The Obscure, Pedraum Pardehpoosh, Charm the Moon, Josh Postler, and Tara Hill provided the music to the movie.

The film itself only changed a little bit here and there once we hit post-production. A few times I felt that the dialogue needed to be tweaked, so I was able to cut different lines out here or there, or sometimes I would move a line around to keep the timing the way I needed it and to shorten a couple of scenes.

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

BRIAN: The smartest thing I did was read as many books as possible prior to shooting, especially books that were directly relevant to what I was trying to do, such as Rebel Without A Crew by Robert Rodriguez. I also listened to as many DVD special features sections as I could to understand what the different directors were doing and thinking when they made their movies. I especially remember listening to Edward Burns’ commentary from his film Brothers McMullen.

One of reasons I felt this was smart was that these books and special features helped me to understand how important it is to get the right cast. We looked through hundreds if not thousands of headshots and brought in somewhere around 75-100 people to read for our five main characters. By doing that we were able to get five amazing actors who really strengthened the final product. The number of lines they were able to memorize and deliver with truly awesome performances makes the movie. They were wonderful. I would hire all of them again in a minute.

To add to that, I trusted the advice of those around me. If Michael, our DP, had a suggestion, I trusted his expertise and let him do whatever he thought was best. Actually, I would go so far as to say that the smartest thing I did was trust all of those around me to do what they were there to do and what they did best.

My one regret was that I should have hired more crew to help out, such as a full-time sound man to help the DP, and more people to help with lighting and set arrangements. Our days were long and we were worn out by the end of each day. As a first-time director, I simply did not realize how many people it would take and I took on too much at times, and sometimes asked too much of those around me. In the end, everyone around just helped where they could and worked incredibly hard, especially Michael, our DP; Tara, our line producer; Josh, our boom operator; and, the cast.

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

BRIAN: I learned how important it is to rehearse the dialogue out loud in front of an eclectic audience. This is critical because it is not until you hear a line play out loud that you will fully understand how it is heard and responded to by an audience. I applied this concept to my current screenplay, which I am in the process of shopping.

SPECIAL OFFER: The first ten (10) readers who email Brian will get a free copy of the the DVD for "I'm Just Saying." Send an email to:, along with your mailing address and he'll send you the DVD. (Sorry, this offer is only available to folks with mailing addresses in the U.S.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Phil Hawkins on “Being Sold”

Where did you get the idea for Being Sold?

PHIL: Being Sold is based on a story I originally wrote as a short about 6 years ago and put it in a drawer thinking that I must do something with the idea in order to develop it into a feature. Suddenly it just ‘clicked.’ I had quite a big feature project fall through at the last minute and realised, in working on this particular film, that I hadn’t shot a feature in two years.

The idea of shooting it in two days came about for a few reasons. Firstly budget, secondly cast - as we weren’t able to pay anyone but I knew we needed as many names as possible - and thirdly because we needed an angle, a story to help sell the film.

There are so many independent films made these days but hardly any of them reach an audience except ‘the one that was shot on £50’ or ‘the one that was made in someone’s bedroom.’ Yes, it’s a gimmick but it’s a powerful sales tool. Would you be hearing about this film now if we hadn’t done it in this way?

I wouldn’t, however, have shot it in two days if it was going to affect the story. The script was written in such a way that we could shoot it like this. All events occur in real time (without the 24 split screens!). Our crazy approach to shooting added to the energy of the camera and the performance. I wanted to make it feel real. Shooting a film in two days allows only one or two takes… you’re getting ‘real’ every time.

What was the process of working with the writer, Aidan Magrath?

PHIL: Aidan and I had been discussing the short that was to become Being Sold ever since I wrote it six years ago so you could say we had the groundwork covered. It went through so many versions and variations over the years… not drafts particularly, just discussions. Aidan didn’t put the proverbial pen to paper until about four weeks before we started shooting!

We started out with a long outline of the plot. The major challenge was trying to restrict the story into these two locations (inside and outside a house) without making events feel too small. We already had a clear idea of how we were going to end the film and set up a certain amount of ‘rules’ about how we would approach telling the story.

Another difficulty was the real time aspect of the script. Aidan had to write dialogue that would include times such as “there’s 16 minutes left on the bid” or “we go to air in three minutes” – these are numbers that needed to be real in actuality.

Directorially I needed to be clear what was going on both inside and outside of the house at all times and not just when the script dictated what we were seeing, because we were shooting each location in long blocks of action and not scene by scene. You could say that we needed two feature scripts!

Was the script written for specific actors? If so, how does that work?

PHIL: I have a group of actors that I love to work with in different ways. Jessica Blake, Dan Morgan, Sarah Whitham, Alvin Addo-Quaye and Chris Hannon were actors that I’ve cast in different films and commercials. I wanted to ensure that we wrote for their strengths but also to show a side of them that an audience hasn’t seen before.

For example, Jessica Blake played this troubled teenager in my 2nd film The Butterfly Tattoo, whereas in Being Sold she’s playing a strong, confident woman. She’s almost the villain in some ways. It’s exciting for me and for the actors to work with them in different ways. Aidan and I involved Jess and Dan in the writing process and gave them early drafts of the characters to comment on. We also allowed a lot of improvisation on the shoot days which gave them even more control to make the characters their own.

You also co-produced Being Sold. How did you juggle that with your directing duties?

PHIL: It’s easy when you have other great co-producers backing you up! There were four producers on this. Two solely taking care of the production challenges, my DoP was also a producer taking care of the technical side of the production and myself. We all made decisions on the project as a team and then went off and looked after our own areas. It worked really well.

What's the biggest skill you've learned as a commercial director that helps you when you direct a movie?

PHIL: Hmm… the best advice I’ve ever been given as a director is to be ‘cool under pressure.’ That definitely came into play on this production. Everyone believed it to be possible but looked to me to see exactly how a feature film could be shot in two days and we all pulled it off.

I think working in commercials has given me a really instinctive eye for the frame and for detail. It’s almost 2nd nature now… I’ll find myself rushing into a scene before a take to tweak something very small but important which I wouldn’t have done before I directed commercials. It’s really helped add that layer of detail.

Do you rehearse with the actors ahead of shooting -- what is your rehearsal process?

PHIL: I always try to rehearse as much as possible. We had to do extensive rehearsal on Being Sold because we were shooting 15 minute long scenes and had to block it accordingly. However because I was working with busy actors some only had a few days to do what should have taken a few weeks! Eva Pope didn’t have any rehearsal because she was working the week of our rehearsals so just walked onto set and did it!

My rehearsal process tends to change depending on the production. Being Sold isn’t a film about ‘look’, it’s all about the actors. I needed to allow enough time in order to give the cast the freedom to explore the scenes and find the characters! I knew if we didn’t make sure the performances – and the comedy, obviously – were solid we didn’t have a movie.

Because a lot of the film was going to be improvisation, we did a lot of work on the characters, understanding who they were and why they were there on the day. I didn’t want to block the actors too much because I wanted the film to feel real, almost documentary style.

What is your process of working with your editor?

PHIL: I actually had two editors on this film! I cut my two previous features myself so it was a real departure for me to actually have editors but they were brilliant. They actually started cutting by location – one cut the inside (emotional heart) of the house and the other cut the external (media, news) stories. It was really interesting stylistically because they felt quite different.

Paul Gordon (who also was an operator on the shoot) assembled the film, whilst Paul Griffiths-Davies brought the pieces together and refined the film. It was a very unique approach but really paid off in terms of style.

And finally, what's next?

PHIL: Shooting a film in one day! No, I’m kidding! I’ve got a few projects in the pipeline. An action thriller, another comedy drama, a psychological thriller (which I’m actually trying to write myself!) and I’m also adapting a best seller with Aidan… hopefully I’ll be shooting one of them soon!

You can watch the feature film and one hour documentary ‘How did they shoot a feature film in two days?’ from the website at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Julie Reichert on "Warrior Woman"

What was your filmmaking background before making Warrior Woman?

JULIE: Eons ago I co-wrote the script for Breakin’ 2 is Electric Boogaloo, then life took me on a different path and brought me to New Mexico. Ten years ago, inspired by a project a friend of mine was working on, I realized that you could make a short movie just like you could write a short story instead of a novel, and that it would be possible to get out there and do it oneself. What a concept! I proceeded to make three no-budget shorts over the next three years. Meanwhile, I had written the screenplay for Warrior Woman, which everybody liked and nobody produced. After doing the three shorts, I decided I could just do a feature myself, too.

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

JULIE: The story, though not autobiographical, is grounded in experience, both my own as a breast cancer survivor and that of other people I know. I’ve always been interested in dreams and the ways the unconscious mind often knows more than we know consciously, or at least knows things differently. So I mixed bits of experience with chunks of imagination to create the story. I wrote the first draft of the script about fifteen years ago, so it’s hard to remember the details about the actual writing, except that it came fairly easily.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

JULIE: I begged, borrowed and deferred. Actually, my two fellow producers and I went through a rather long legal process to prepare a fundraising prospectus, planning to seek investors, but by the time we got it together we were deep in the throes of pre-production and none of us had time to talk to anyone. So I wound up financing the film myself, with money that I had and money that I borrowed. Some people were very gracious about deferring their pay or services. Plus we’re getting a 25% tax rebate from the state of New Mexico as part of their film incentive program.

We are hoping to recoup the budget by finding a distributor, creating partnerships with cancer organizations, and even four-walling the film ourselves. I had assumed I could always go door-to-door selling DVD’s, but I’m told that everyone is now streaming and the DVD is soon to be obsolete. But I’m sure there are dinosaurs like me out there who still go the old-fashioned route. We’ll see. We are just at the beginning of the marketing/distribution road, and are submitting to film festivals even as we speak.

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

JULIE: We primarily used the Red, supplementing with the Canon 5D for night exteriors to save on lighting (plus our DP had one). We were trying to get as close to a film look as we could, and the Red gave us the range and flexibility we were looking for, while the Canon offered the speed we needed outside at night. No real downside to the Red. The Canon gave us less range to work with in post, but the results blended well with the footage from the Red.

How did you and your DP achieve the look of the movie?

JULIE: My DP, Corey Weintraub, had shot my three short movies, so we already had a good working relationship before we began. We talked a lot about the script, and how to achieve distinct looks for each of the three intertwined story elements – real time, flashbacks, and dream time. We watched movies together to show each other what inspired us. Partially for esthetic reasons and partly due to budget constraints, we were interested in seeing what we could do with a stationary camera and some medium and longer shots.

Corey is a talented artist as well as fine cinematographer, so he drew the storyboards as we talked over each shot of each scene. In the actual locations, which sometimes differed wildly from what we had envisioned, we of course had to adapt to local conditions and often had to change our original concept for a given scene. Still, the storyboards gave us a strong foundation and kept us on track for a unified look.

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

JULIE: The smartest thing I did was pick great people to work with, from our lead actor, Karen Young, to our amazing editor, Sterling Grant. We had wonderful ADs, terrific DP and Production Designer, and many other people who gave their all to the project. In general, I like to find good people and turn them loose to do what they do best.

The dumbest thing was making a complex movie (lots of locations, lots of actors) on a miniscule budget, which led to various near disasters regarding locations, botched essentials, and the blind leading the blind. I’m told that the disasters come just as thick and fast on a big-budget project, they’re just about different things, and I hope to get a chance to see whether that’s true.

Another dumb thing was to schedule a six-day work week for the five-week shoot. It may have been the only way to get this done, but it was grueling for everyone.

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

JULIE: I deepened my understanding that the two primary goals of a director are to work with the actors and to hold the core of the story. The film has its own momentum, and you have to be able to give yourself up to it at the same time you’re holding on to the vital essence of what you’re doing.

If you’re the writer, you have certain ideas in your head about who the characters are and how they look and behave. The second you cast someone, your ideas are changed. Then, on the set, everything changes again, because the actors bring themselves to the roles. So you have to find the time and space in a crazy, chaotic environment both to hold what needs to happen in a given scene in terms of the larger context of the movie, and to listen to what the actors are bringing with them in the moment.

The lesson is to know when to let go of some original concept or vision in favor of something that might work better, and when to hold on tight to what has to be – when to adapt, and when to insist. Holding on to the things you need at the same time you let yourself be open.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Carter Ferguson on "Fast Romance"

What was your filmmaking background before Fast Romance?

CARTER: I have been working in film and TV in Scotland as an actor at first and then mostly as a fight director since 1995. This has given me the opportunity to work with and observe some great actors, directors and crew up close.

In 2007 I produced a short film directed by Colin Ross Smith of Foghorn Films for a Battlestar Galactica short film competition run by Colin had been making very low budget stuff for a while, but which has a real quality to it. I directed my first film, another fan piece put out on YouTube in 3 episodes called The Rage. This was made for a bit of fun just about the same time the nazi zombie movie Outpost was being shot (I’ve just finished working as FD on Outpost 2 btw!). The Rage’s episodes have been viewed over 800,000 times now. I made another couple of more conventional short films before moving on to Fast Romance in 2009.

How did you get connected to the project and how did you work with the screenwriters?

CARTER: The project is my own. The executive producer title is not an honorary one in this instance. I had work shopped the concept of a romcom with 7 actors as early as 2006, but it wasn’t until 2008 when talking with my friend Ross Gerry (The DOP) that we decided to move the concept to production.

I simply had been too busy to develop it further but Ross’s friend James McCreadie was suggested as a writer and we met with him in October to pitch the idea. As a writer I knew from River City (A BBC Scotland soap opera I had been an actor in) I was happy to hand over the reins. James brought his wife Debbie on board and script writing began at that point, from “an idea by” Carter Ferguson or words to that effect. The actors I had originally worked with were credited and paid as “consultants,” and I even offered the parts that they’d helped to create to them when we were casting. Derek Munn who plays Kenny, Lynn McKelvey who plays Fiona and Lawrence Crawford who plays Spence were part of the original 2006 workshop team. A few others appear in smaller roles.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

CARTER: We raised the micro budget through private finance. Most of it went into fees for cast and crew. Raising the money was a time consuming task led by the producer Amanda Verlaque, who had come on board during the scripting process. Amanda tirelessly sought out potential investors.

In addition, through a series of money raising events organised by the Ickleflix team, we were able to bring the film to completion. We planned to raise £50,000 in this manner and by the time we completed principal photography the film had cost us just £41,000.

The planned pickups, which happened in March of 2010 brought the budget up to £50,000. Recouping costs is the tricky bit of course as we now need to sell the film. We go into cinemas in Scotland on the 1st July 2011 which will be the start, we hope, of money beginning to flow the other way. We plan to release the film on multiple platforms in multiple territories following the Cineworld release.

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

CARTER: We used a JVC HDY 251e which is a tape based HDV camera. It shoots natively in 720p. It wasn’t our first choice of camera but it’s what we had at hand and was quality-wise at least up to the job. Our cash flow early on was so poor that we had to shoot with what we actually owned and this was Ross Gerry the DOP’s own camera which he uses for event work.

I personally loved the fact that it was tape based. I knew that at the very least each day our rushes were safely secured on tapes. This also removed the need for a work flow person on the shoot days. If I were to choose something to hate it would be that the entire film is shot on one lens. In order to get the filmic soft focus thing on background and foreground we had to pull the camera right back and zoom in whenever possible. In tight locations this just wasn’t possible and resulted in some scenes that feel somewhat flat photography wise.

It’s worth noting that we bought a second hand camera, which was a lower end JVC of a similar type from the forums on Shooting People in order to cross shoot and utilise as a tape deck. This camera was filled with problems, had dead pixels and a number of other serious issues, and in short we got conned and lost a couple of grand and a lot of time and emotional energy on trying to resolve the issue. Lesson here – Don’t buy second hand kit off forums if you can avoid it. This was one of our worst experiences of the whole film.

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

CARTER: The smartest thing I did was to find locations that were within a stones throw, whenever possible, of my own home. That way my own home could be used as a unit base to get folks ready for shooting. It was also the location for Spence’s house. A high percentage of the locations utilised in the production are within one mile of a line between my own and Ross Gerry’s home. This saved a lot of time and money but did leave me personally to cover the costs of two broken picture frames, a broken tap and a broken toilet… so maybe that was also the dumbest ;-)

This whole project has been like a mini film school and I most definitely have regrets. To choose one thing I would do differently is more than a little difficult, but I think I’ll say that even the mistakes I have made had to happen in order that I could learn from them, so it’s all good.
What did you learn from the film that you have taken on to other projects?

CARTER: To be honest I’m still utterly entwined in Fast Romance and it’s production admin that I’ve not got any other projects on the go. Something however I will take on is in regard to contracts. Reading the fine print and taking care of contracts personally is no bad thing. We have recently done a huge review of contracts and this was time well spent.