Thursday, January 26, 2012

Zack Parker on "Scalene"

What was your filmmaking background before making Scalene?

ZACK PARKER: Scalene is actually my third feature. My first, Inexchange, was released in early 2006, and my second, Quench, in late 2008.

I've been making films since age 11, starting with my family's home video camera at the time, a Sony Super 8 Handycam. Filmmaking is pretty much the only endeavor I have ever pursued or had any interest in. I studied film at Ball State University for two years, before transferring to a Professional Film Studies Program at UCLA. Every job I've ever had has been, in some way, film related. From working as an usher and projectionist at a movie theatre, to working at Blockbuster, Suncoast, film critic for a newspaper, Production Assistant for Roger Corman, and on up to where I am now.

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

ZACK PARKER: The idea essentially came about through reactions of my previous two films, both of which received incredibly polarized responses. I found it fascinating that two people could watch the same film and see something completely different. This really got me thinking about human perception, and that I had never really seen that portrayed in a narrative form before. We've seen a lot of films about perspective, but not perception.

I co-wrote the film with Brandon Owens, who I've known since about seventh grade. We have worked on several films together, in one way or another. This was the first time I collaborated on a script and it was a wonderful process. It was great to have someone to bounce ideas off of, but not only that, someone who would challenge your ideas. We were always pushing each other to make the story better.

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

ZACK PARKER: Like all of my films, the financing was raised completely privately. I had the good fortune of working with my Executive Producer Mike Khamis, as well as my Producing partner Carlos Jimenez Flores. It was a very grassroots campaign of calling everyone we knew, and a lot that we didn't. Many people said "no," but enough said "yes" to get us where we needed to be.

I actually get a lot of indie filmmakers asking me about financing, "How do you raise money for a film?" I always tell them they are asking the wrong question. What you must ask is how can YOU raise money for a film. We all come from different backgrounds with different contacts, resources, experiences, etc.

I think the key to raising money is being realistic with yourself. Look around and see what you have, what you can get, what you need to spend money on, and what you can get for free. Then come up with a story that you have a passion for that fits within those boundaries that can also show off who you are as a filmmaker.

As far as recouping goes, I have decided to experiment with a new form of hybrid distribution with Scalene. We are doing a kind of "roll-out" release, making the film available in more and more places, and on more and more platforms, over the course of several months.

We received a few offers from some distributors, but none felt particularly right. Many were concerned about the marketability of the film, since it did not fall into a specific genre and that its niche wasn't obvious, they were unsure how to sell it to an audience. What this is really saying is that the film is unique. This is what it has been the most applauded for, and is what I am most proud of. So, I decided that the best way to sell this film to audiences was for me to get out there and sell it to them myself.

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

ZACK PARKER: We shot on the Red One. I thought it was a remarkable camera, capable of capturing beautiful images. I often describe Scalene as the first movie I've made that I don't have to convince audiences is a movie. What I mean by this is, from the first frame, they accept they are watching a movie. With my previous films, while shooting on lesser video formats, I had to depend on the audience to forgive the video look and hopefully get involved with the story, fooling them into thinking they were watching a movie.

Only downside is that the camera does overheat a lot, and this slows things down immensely. But we used a first generation, I've heard this has gotten better.

You wore a lot of hats on the production -- producing, writing, directing, editing. What's the upside and downside of doing that?

ZACK PARKER: Upside is obviously total control, which I think most filmmakers strive for. Also I just feel that all of those positions is actually one job. That's just being a filmmaker. They are all intertwined for me, closely related. One has everything to do with the others. When you are writing a script, you are picking locations, cast, determining budget, crew needed, etc. Obviously the script is the first rough cut of the film in regard to editing. I just don't see any way of separating them.

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

ZACK PARKER: By far the smartest thing I did was convincing amazing actors to be my leads in the film.

The dumbest was not hiring a stunt double for a 60 year old actress.

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

ZACK PARKER: That I want to make another one.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dan Poole on “The Photon Effect”

What was your filmmaking background before making The Photon Effect?

DAN POOLE: In an effort to create some kind of reel to land a job I wrote, produced, acted in and edited several Spider-man videos from 1988 − 1993. All on VHS and with no budget whatsoever, these 20 − 50 minute productions taught me a lot about the process of getting a story onto a screen.

Without any formal education in filmmaking, I continued shooting and editing small projects with whatever I had available. In 1998 I began working with a local production company where I finally learned some proper techniques and industry standards. I’ve worked as a freelance producer/videographer since then, working on other projects when inspiration struck.

In 2004 I wrote and produced another “fan film”, this time starring Marvel Comics’ Wolverine. It was after this project that I decided there was no future for me in working with copyrighted characters. It was time to do something original.

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

DAN POOLE: The idea came after a phone call from the producers of a show called, Who Wants To Be A Superhero? They knew me from my Spider-man days and believed that I would be perfect for the show. They sent me a form to fill out wherein I had to create a new superhero. It was extremely detailed as to what the life and abilities to my hero needed to be. With the help of my wife (then girlfriend), I created this character and the ones around him, but then decided I’d rather write a feature about him instead of giving it away to a goofy TV show.

The writing process is one of my favorite times in the creative process. Anything is possible. Anything. How liberating is that?! It’s awesome! I don’t sit there and think about how I’m going to pull it off during production, I concentrate on the most fun I can have with the story and the characters. While many things changed from draft to draft, it was always in an effort to streamline the flow of the story and make it more intriguing and powerful.

In fact, to this day, as proud as I am of the movie itself - I remain most proud of the script. I think it is better than the movie because there were some cool parts in it that just didn’t make it to the screen because we didn’t have the money to pull some things off.

I would also like to point out that there was a time when I thought I was done with the script because I couldn’t think of anything else to do with it, even though I knew it needed some polishing.

That’s when I found Mr. Robert McKee and his STORY book and workshop. I had the opportunity to attend a 3-day workshop in upstate New York where I learned more than I ever thought I would about writing a solid screenplay. It was amazing. It absolutely empowered me to complete this script with the utmost confidence in my characters, plot(s) and flow. I know there are many more resources out there now like Save The Cat, which I’d love to finally read, but this is what worked for me and I’ll always mention it when the topic comes up.

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

DAN POOLE: As someone that has never traveled in the circles of the wealthy or entitled, I have always had to stretch every dollar I could scrounge up to produce any of my projects. At some point I decided on a number and for years I openly crowed about “what I could do for $50,000.” One day a buddy of mine says, “Hey, you know how you’re always saying . . ?” Doug Adams, Executive Producer of The Photon Effect, had been thinking about it for some time, apparently, and presented me the offer of using his capital to get a movie made.

I was in shock. I couldn’t believe we were actually going to get something moving. But it’s funny how the more things change the more they stay the same. As incredible as Doug’s generous offer was, as soon as we got the LLC up and running and began preproduction, we discovered that we were going to need more money. We postponed shooting and made a well thought out Investor Prospectus’ and got in front of as many local business people as we could, but no one ponied up.

We decided to forge on ahead and shoot this thing with the money we had but it only lasted us two weeks into shooting. Dr. Brian Razzino, who plays Dr. Bob Chase in the movie, became a substantial investor in the project once he saw what was taking place. I sought more investors everywhere I went. I asked everybody I met. If I heard someone talking about someone of means I’d ask, “do they like movies?” With the help of friends, family and people associated with the movie in various ways, we raised enough money to get it finished.

As for recouping the costs, my plan has always been to target the genre fans that this kind of movie appeals to. I have somewhat of a fan base through all my years of making Spidey videos, so I need to get the word out to them as well as reach new fans by creating a presence at conventions and on websites. Once we gain enough momentum we will work with a distributor to see where they may be able to sell it further. I know it will take some time, too.

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

DAN POOLE: We rented the Panasonic HVX200 package from Zacuto. What I loved about it was the solid state media, it’s small size and it’s HD image. Not sure I hated anything about it, except maybe the way we had to use it. We shot 720p in order to save space. That kind of sucked.

Can you offer some suggestions to people who want to create great special effects on a low budget?

DAN POOLE: My first suggestion is to find a way to get proficient in a program like After Effects. Take a class, learn online or just ask someone that knows it. With computers and software being so accessible these days, kids in high school are rocking the visual effects. My biggest suggestion, however, is to not attempt an FX driven film on a low budget unless you already have all the tools. It took over TWO YEARS to get all of our effects completed. It was the most difficult part of the entire process.

You wore a lot of hats on the movie -- director, writer, producer, production designer, editor. What's the upside and the downside to taking on all those tasks yourself?

DAN POOLE: The upside for someone as particular as me is that it gets done the way I want it to get done and I don’t have to waste time explaining everything and potentially having to do it myself anyway. (Wow, that doesn’t sound pompous, does it?! Yeesh.)

I suppose that’s just the experience I’m used to. I’ve never had the luxury of the option to delegate certain jobs. I’ve always felt the need to direct and edit whatever I write. Although they are three separate tasks, I have always thought of them as one, which in my opinion is the job of a “filmmaker.”

As for everything in between, I absolutely believe in the collaborative nature of the process. Let the crafts people use their strengths to make your vision that much better.

The downside is that it can drain you to the core. You have to be self-motivating, which can take a toll on you. No one’s picking up the phone and yelling at you to make a deadline or get their project done - it’s all on me.

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

DAN POOLE: The smartest thing I did during production was press on. Had I taken any one of the hundreds of excuses that presented themselves to stop, this thing would have stalled forever and I would probably have never started another one.

The dumbest thing I did was sign something I knew I shouldn’t have in a moment of extreme pressure. I should have just called a ‘timeout’ and figured out the answer before continuing.

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

DAN POOLE: I learned that there is a fine line between ambition and irresponsibility. I love to aim high, shoot big and try amazing things - especially if I’m told it can’t be done. But when it comes to filmmaking, attempting something without the proper resources just isn’t fair, especially to everyone else you involve.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Kevin Alexander Boon on “Two Days Back”

What is your filmmaking background?

KEVIN: I’m an English professor with a diverse background. Long ago, when I had a full head of hair, I was an actor and a musician, both of which come in handy in filmmaking. I have also taught screenwriting at a number of universities, including Penn State, where I am currently on faculty. I directed and produced a short documentary a number of years ago and I’m a film scholar who has published a reasonable amount of film scholarship, such as Script Culture And The American Screenplay (Wayne State University Press, 2008). So I come to filmmaking from the perspectives of creative writing, performance and film criticism.

What was the teaching goal in producing Two Days Back with a class of film students and how -- in general -- did it work?

KEVIN: First off, they weren’t all film students. Some were, but we also had a contingent of English and communication majors. As a pedagogical experiment, I wanted students to experience all aspects of the filmmaking process the way it actually happens in the “real world,” and, if successful, to have legitimate experience of which they could be proud.

Students can often gain real-world experience in university-related films, but they are usually relegated to the roles of production assistant or intern. Seldom do they have the opportunity to contribute to story, work camera, and provide creative input to the core elements of film production.

As to whether it worked, I think it did. The problem with assessment, though, is that with each success, you raise the bar a little higher. My original goal was to produce a full-length feature that would hold up as an independent film, one that wouldn’t look like student video shot in someone’s backyard with an eighteen-year-old police captain investigating a ketchup-smeared crime scene.

We definitely have a film and best guess from the focus groups that have seen it, we did pretty well. The ultimate test, however, is what paying audiences will think, and that doesn’t happen for two weeks yet.

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

KEVIN: The Mont Alto Film Project was a four-semester practicum in no-budget filmmaking. The entire first semester was dedicated to the development of the script. Students voted on whether they wanted to do a documentary or a feature. In this case, they chose a feature. From there we talked about the limitations of no-budget film story and how screenplays are constructed. As a group, we work-shopped ideas.

Once we settled on a story arc, we structured the acts and put the individual scenes in place. Then those students who were interested in writing were given sections of the script. They each wrote the first draft of those scenes and then I took their work and used it as a guide for the final draft.

Because it was a no-budget film, we developed the story around available assets: a campus, wilderness, a forestry department, students.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan (if any) for recouping your costs?

KEVIN: The entire budget was right around $15,000, which I received in a grant from the Penn State Mont Alto Campus to fund the curriculum. Nearly all of that went to buy equipment, props, costumes, and the like. About two-thirds of the way through principle photography I had to start digging into my own funds, so a few thousand dollars more went into the production, much of it for craft services.

Recouping costs? Is that possible? My goal was to make a good movie. I gave no thought to how we might make money off the project. Making money on a no-budget independent film is extraordinarily difficult. Even now, I’m shelling out money for film festival fees that I don’t really expect to recoup. It would be nice, of course, as all the principle actors have back-end deals, but my concern is more to have a good film that everyone involved feels proud to have been a part of.

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

KEVIN: We shot the film with a Panasonic HMC 150. We had a Letus depth-of-field adapter so we could use camera lenses and get a more film-like look.

What I liked about the camera was the workflow. It shot AVCHD in 24 fps, 1080p onto SDHC cards, which were easy to pull from and drop into Premiere without transcoding. With such a small budget, I couldn’t afford to deal with a camera that used something like P2 cards. A 16gb P2 card would run me $350 bucks, but I could buy a 16gb SDHC card for less than $50.

I didn’t hate anything about the camera, but if I were to do it again, I’d rather get a camera that allows me to attach Nikon lenses without a DOF adapter.

What was your process for prep ... shooting ... and post with the students?

KEVIN: Since I was adamant about following the typical filmmaking procedures, we did most everything the way it would be done on a feature with a budget. We ran open auditions. Invited specific actors to private auditions. Scouted locations. Reviewed wardrobe and makeup choices. Tested special effects. Produced the shooting schedule with scheduling software. Worked up all the appropriate documents (deal memos, contracts, releases, call sheets, location sheets, etc.). And then shot each scene using the typical Hollywood style (i.e. master, reversals, closeups, inserts). Because students had classes during the week, we shot the film on weekends across two months. Sixteen shooting days, many of them in the woods.

By the time we got to post, many of the students had graduated or moved on to the main campus. There were only four students involved in post and each did the first rough edit on a sequence.

Everything else I had to do, so I cut the final film, did sound-engineering, mastering, and composed the soundtrack. I did, however, get a chance to show the rough edit to many of the original members, all of whom provided valuable input before I began on the final cut.

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

KEVIN: The smartest thing I did during production is the smartest thing anyone does during production, and that is to thoroughly organize the shoot. If you go in with the proper planning and documents, you eliminate hundreds of mishaps that could result in production delays.

We didn’t have time for many mistakes (though there certainly were some), so it was important to stay on schedule and have adequate references for wardrobe, makeup, props, cast calls, and so on. I might add that the value of having a good first AD cannot be overestimated. I was pretty busy on set and my first AD, Tressa Bellows, was invaluable.

The two dumbest things I did on set was:
1) I didn’t make sure the students knew the importance of lighting. More than once, I called for lights and was told that no one had brought them to set. When you’re deep in the woods and on a tight schedule, you simply don’t have the luxury of going back for them, so some of the images suffered visually—particularly the day-for-night scenes.
2) I trusted my sound people. Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem, but since our crew was all undergraduate students, I needed to spend more time listening to the sound we were getting. I spent hundreds of hours in post cleaning bad audio. I’d rather not do that again.

And, finally, what do you think your students learned from making the film that they will take to other projects?

KEVIN: That’s hard for me to say. I would hope they learned that planning is essential to a successful film, that a movie can never be better than the screenplay upon which it is based, that they should always use professional, trained actors, that they should shoot everything because you can’t go back, that filmmakers have to be decisive and confident and, if they aren’t, they still need to appear that way, that filmmaking is not magic, it is the combination of numerous skill-sets coming together for a common purpose, and most importantly that a person can accomplish a great deal if s/he studies the craft, swallows his or her fear, and obstinately forges ahead despite whatever obstacles may lie in his or her path.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Henry Jaglom on "Venice/Venice"

What inspired Venice/Venice?

HENRY JAGLOM: My movies are always in direct relationship to what's going on in my life.

I was invited to be, strangely enough, the American representative, with my film New Year's Day, by the film festival in Venice. It was the only film from America that was in the official competition.

Certainly from the conventional point of view, my films are not the traditional fare that comes out, and festivals no matter how creative and art-oriented they are, they seem to like to support themselves with big, commercial, mainstream films.

In any case, I was stunned that I was invited to be the American representative. New Year's Day had gotten very good reviews in America and had a nice little run, but there was no reason to expect that anybody would take it on that kind of a level. But the Europeans really liked it, and they invited it to the festival with all the hoopla that goes along with being an official invitee, representing of all things the United States.

I'm such a counter-cultural figure here, I thought it would be a really interesting opportunity to make a film about a counter-cultural figure like myself, someone who's far from the mainstream, being invited to represent his country at this oldest and most prestigious of film festivals.

So I did, but I made one condition for my doing it. I figured it was highly unlikely that I would ever be invited again, knowing the films I was intending to make, so I thought, why not take advantage of this and shoot a film -- since I'm very interested in the position of the off-center artist in society -- why not make a film about this unconventional filmmaker who finds that he's invited to be the official representative of the United States, and what will happen to him?

So I made the condition of accepting their nice honor that I would do on the condition that anyone who interviewed me I could interview them at the same time. I would have a crew with me. The Festival people were all too happy to do it, they thought it was fascinating. And so that's how I did.

I brought no crew from America. My cinematographer, who's Israeli, I brought from Israel. He put together a five or six-person crew of Italians in Venice. I had three actors come: My star, Nelly Alard, who came from France, my friend Suzanne Bertish, who came from London, and against my wishes and without my economic support, Daphna Kastner, an actress who I'd used in Eating, who I told, "I'm sorry, I can't afford to bring anyone over for this, it's all going to be shot there," so she got on a plane and came by herself anyway. So I cast her as my assistant that I could annoy and drive crazy.

And that was it. David Duchovny was there, because David was in New Year's Day. So I said to David, "Okay, I want you play a little part in this as well," and he said, "Sure."

I decided I would make it up as I went along, based upon what was happening to me, because that would give a sense of what happens to somebody who comes to the film festival.

Then I thought that the second half will take in California. I structured that half, to reflect my feelings about Venice, America, Venice, Italy, movies, real life and all of that. And that's the part where I did the interviews in my office, and for that part I wrote a much more structured script and brought several of the characters into it who had been in the European half. And then switched it around, turned it around, so that what happened in Venice, Italy was really the movie they shot. We end on the editing machine in my office, editing the Italy part of the movie.

At what point did you decide to make that switch and put what is essentially the second half -- the scenes in Italy that we later discover are actually the movie he's making -- when did you decide to put that sequence first?

HENRY JAGLOM: As I was doing this, I realized that one of my main themes here was the affect of movies on our sense of reality and on our romantic dreams and that this whole movie was kind of a romantic dream. I'm meeting this extraordinary creature, this journalist who falls in love with me and who I fail to attract because I'm being such an asshole and she's expecting the person I am in the movies and all of that. So I thought, that really sounds like a movie.

I didn't think about it while I was shooting the movie in Italy, I just shot it the way I would have shot it anyway. I shot it for its own reality. But when I came back I realized that the Italy segment should be the film that I'm making.

That film does reflect more profoundly, for me, my sense of what my life is like. It really captures in some way, deeply for me, my own interior sense of life. So that's why I'm very attached to it.

You made good use of Nelly's background in physics, particularly when she compares moviemaking and movie watching to the principals that Heisenberg developed.

HENRY JAGLOM: I always do this with my actors -- if they have a particularly interesting bio, I ask "Let's talk about something." So I said to her, "Listen, the most important scene in this movie is going to be a scene -- and you're not going to know when it's going to take place -- but it's going to be a scene where I'm pointing out that this feels like a movie I'm making."

I said, "What I would like to do then is for you to bring in Heisenberg and the cat in the box business, because it becomes this whole metaphor for films and how we see them and seeing them affects our perception of reality and all of that." She said, "Great."

To me it's just a question of finding out what the actor's equipment is, what special aspects they might have handy, that further help explicate a point in the thematic intention. That's why we used the Heisenberg Principal, it worked very nicely.

I love the scene where you're commenting on how noisy the awning above you is, and how it would be tough to shoot a movie in that spot.

HENRY JAGLOM: Well, that's because I was shooting a movie and the goddamned awning was clicking, so the only way to deal with that is to comment on it.

What advice would you give to a filmmaker who wanted to make a movie like yours?

HENRY JAGLOM: It's really simple: Don't do my kind of movie, do your kind of movie. Figure out what your kind of movie is, not my kind of movie. That would be my advice.

And once you've figured out what your kind of movie is, don't let anybody tell you that anything about it is wrong. Don't let anybody diminish your enthusiasm or excitement about it. And insist that you know what you're doing, even if you don't know what you're doing, because you will find out what you're doing as you go along.