Thursday, December 26, 2013

Jeremy Teicher on “Tall as the Baobab Tree”

What was your filmmaking background before making Tall as the Baobab Tree?

JEREMY: I got my start making short films in high school, then continued in college as a theater and film major. Directed more short films and some plays. When I was finishing up school, I made a documentary in Senegal called This Is Us, which was nominated for a Student Academy Award. Tall as the Baobab Tree is based on stories from that documentary.

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

JEREMY: When I first went to Senegal, I thought it was going to be a one-time thing -- I had gotten hired by an educational nonprofit to shoot a short promotional film in a rural village school. But once I got to the school, I met a bunch of students who were around my same age. Their experiences as first-generation students was very intriguing and inspiring -- so I found a way to go back and make a documentary with them. The idea for the narrative feature film developed naturally during the making of the doc. 

Tall as the Baobab Tree uses real people, "non-actors," playing roles that mirror their actual lives. Taking inspiration from films like Munyurangabo, we developed a script outline -- bullet points of scenes and key moments within the scenes -- and let the actors improvise.

I found that the best way to cultivate compelling performances was to have the actors be in as natural an environment as possible. This also led to a more powerful and true script, since the actors themselves were shaping the scenes. We were also open to revising the plot outline throughout the shoot, incorporating any discoveries that came up during improvisation.

What was the greatest benefit of involving the local kids in the production?

JEREMY: The local kids (village students) were the heart and soul of the production. Without them, there would not have been a film. The story of the film is their story -- their passion, their drive to have their story heard, that was the fuel behind our production. I never even considered trying to make this film without them. The benefit speaks for itself on screen: the film truly captures the passion, hopes, and frustrations of the young generation of village students. 

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

JEREMY: With the help of a 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor, we raised our budget through a combination of individual donations and equipment/services sponsorships. Seeing as how I started out with no connections in the indie feature film world, my plan was to set up an online store on the film's website and sell directly to groups who would be interested in the film's subject matter -- schools, nonprofits, etc. Of course I also felt that the movie had its merits as a work of cinema, not just as an educational tool, but I knew that I could at least appeal to that niche market.

As we started getting into festivals and expanding our network, we eventually formed relationships with different sales outlets. You can keep an eye out for the film on iTunes and Netflix thanks to Sundance Artist Services and San Francisco Film Society!

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

JEREMY: We used the Canon 5d as our primary camera, and the 7d as b-camera. We always shot with two cameras rolling simultaneously to minimize repetitive takes for our nonprofessional cast.

Using DSLR's was such an easy decision for us: we were shooting on location miles away from the nearest paved road with no access to electricity. The crew and I slept in a hotel with electricity every night, so we could charge batteries and dump footage -- but we took horse-drawn carts to and from the village each day. We needed gear that was easy to transport, didn't require elaborate lighting, and didn't necessitate a large crew.

I loved that we were light on our feet and could totally adapt to our surroundings. We were fine with flex fills and an ultra-light LED panel for interiors. Honestly, can't say that I hated anything about it. I've since worked on a RED (on other projects), and of course the extra latitude in post is nice -- but I also found myself missing the agility of the DSLR.

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

JEREMY: Smartest thing? Making sure I clearly communicated with my crew throughout the pre-production process -- we were very well prepared when we hit the ground to begin production. We knew that we'd be dealing with many unknowns: improvised/changing script, unpredictable weather, challenging work conditions, etc. Thankfully, we were prepared to expect the unexpected.

Dumbest was definitely not giving sound its due on set. Rather than fly out a professional sound person, I figured I could bring my own equipment and train some of the students to be our sound guys. I paid for this dearly (in time and money) in post, working for nearly a month with a sound designer to fix errors we made on set... flying back to Senegal for ADR was definitely out of the question. I've since learned that neglecting sound is a classic first-time filmmaker mistake... don't skimp on sound!

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

JEREMY: I'd say that the most significant lesson I've taken with me is this: it's more important to be making something than not making something. It sounds simple, but it can be so easy to get caught up in trying to get some high concept idea off then ground when more immediately executable opportunities exist all around you.

It's better to shoot with non actors, a DSLR (or anything), and tiny crew than it is to wait for that investor, wait for that one more grant application, spend tons of money, and make a "real" film.

If you have your 1 million dollar script just waiting for that grant acceptance, great -- but in the meantime, make a short film with no dialogue starring your roommate.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Andrew Kightlinger on "Dust of War"

What was your filmmaking background before making Dust of War?

ANDREW: THE SHORT ANSWER: I was born and raised in Madagascar, which is where I got the filmmaking bug.  I studied International Politics and French in undergrad and got my Masters in Film at Boston University. 

Before Dust of War, I’d directed one major short film called You Don’t Know Bertha Constantine, which was a creative blunder but the best crash-course in Producing 101 that no film school could ever teach you.

Since Dust of War, I’ve directed four short films, including Paper People, which has screened at over 25 festivals, including the Palm Springs ShortFest. I’ve also directed a WWII webisode and an experimental short about film projectors. My latest project is a short called Destroyer starring Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Spin City). Next up are a few feature possibilities, including a WWI project and a horror film.

THE LONG ANSWER: I always say that my film education started when I was 5 years old.  I lived deep in the rainforest of Madagascar in a research village called Ranomafana.  My parents were microbiologists studying rare diseases and I was just along for the ride (complete with worm-infested feces).

My entertainment was limited mostly to my imagination for the first few years of my life.  Then we got a VHS player when I was about 5.  And the first movie we ever popped in was E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.  Despite being only 5 years old, I intellectually understood that this wondrous movie didn’t just appear out of thin air.  I knew somebody had made it because it came on a black rectangle that you inserted into a black box.  SOMEBODY had to have put it on there.   So that was my first understanding of film and it has fed my fascination ever since.

One of the most interesting aspects about growing up in Madagascar and being disconnected from popular art in America was how information tended to shrug its way to the tropical island.

There was this armoire in a rustic building in the capitol city that harbored a collection of pirated VHS tapes.  We called it the “Red Island Video Club” (because Madagascar is famous for its red earth) and to borrow movies from this armoire, you had to drive 3 days by rough dirt road.   And to open this armoire was to dive headfirst into Heaven.  I would indulge in the works of Joe Dante (Gremlins, The ‘Burbs), Richard Donner, and many Chevy Chase films.  But the rotation of movie was never frequent so I’d burn through these moves over and over again until the tracking got bad and they were unwatchable.    I even watched Robert Altman’s Popeye over 100 times simply because it was there.  I wonder if it holds up?

Another odd thing I did that probably was a harbinger of things to come was that I’d lock myself in my room and literally act out movies for hours -- movies I’d seen.  And movies I hadn’t seen, including about 7 sequels to Jaws and The Mask.

So flash-forward to 1998, my parents finally move back to the U.S. (to South Dakota of all places…but my father grew up in SD, so there’s that connection).  I’m lost in translation at first. My 11-year-old mind struggled to adjust to the American school system.   But after wading through a few years of awkwardness, I came into my own high school and became heavily involved in the arts and overall ‘entertainment’ of the Pierre, South Dakota community.     

The acquisition of my first camera is an age-old story.  My parents got it for me.  I don’t think they realized that they were ushering their son into a career with very low-income opportunities, but they liked that I was passionate about something and that it helped me make friends.    So I started making remakes of SNL skits with my buddies.  And then started making our own original skits.  And then we decided it was time to make a full feature.   

So the FIRST full-length feature I ever made was a documentary about my high school Cross Country team.  It was brilliantly titled ‘The Pierre Cross Country Documentary’ and it ran an unforgivable 86 minutes.  We played to a packed house at our high school auditorium and demand for a sequel was at a fever pitch.   So the next year, we did XCDOCII: D.I.L.D. (aka Do It Long Distance); though we thought we were HILARIOUS because DILD reminded us of ‘dildo’.  Young and reckless idiots we were.  Subsequently, the school ended up banning the sequel due to some homoerotic references and language.  In 2004, talking about ‘gay’ issues was still taboo, especially in a high school setting. 

Anyway, I attended a Lutheran college in South Dakota where I got a degree in International Govt and French.  But I continued my filmmaking hobby by making silly shorts that eventually evolved into making very pretentious short films about topics I didn’t know.  Thankfully, I went through the ‘suicide and homeless people are deep’ stage BEFORE film school. I was also heavily involved in directing, acting, and improv. The directing classes were in theater and I’d do the craziest stuff.  Pour paint on people’s bodies and essentially go for shock value.  Haven’t grown out of that stage, but I know when to curb it. 

It was also in college that I learned how to respect the craft of acting and understand how vulnerable acting can be.  I put actors through the ringer in college, but only for things that I would do.   I’ll swim with the jellyfish.  Thus I hope an actor will be willing to do the same.  It earns their trust and fosters a working relationship based on mutual respect and shared vulnerability.   In fact, I’ll usually audibly fart or make weird sounds in front of actors just to remind them that I’m the biggest idiot in the room and they are the pros…that way they’re aren’t worried about being judged.  Because I will be -- because I just farted.  It’s odd.  But it works. 

Of course, going to film school wasn’t an easy decision.  As my senior year of college approached, I faced three options: Get a master’s in Francophone politics, join the Peace Corps, or go to film school.   I struggled to decide as my parents encouraged me to choose a path less risky than film, though the decision WAS mine.  

And then everything changed.   My mother passed away from a SUDDEN heart attack at the age of 59. I had just turned 21. And the LAST conversation I had with her was about my GRE test scores and my future. Naturally, this event rocked the very fabric of my world. And one day, about a month after her death, my dad buried my face in his trembling hands and he implored me to follow my dream. We even set aside the life insurance money to pay for film school.  And so the search began. 

Boston University ended up being the ONLY film school I applied to. Perhaps I was still easing into the idea of a film career, trepid about doing right to my mom’s memory. But I got accepted. They took me in. And when that happened, I threw my entire being into my film career. I was going to make my mother and father proud. And to this day, my respect for my father and for my mother’s memory drives me.

In film school, we started off shooting on celluloid, beginning with The Bolex. The first shot that got my Film 1 professors' attention was a raw fish hooked onto razor wire.  And then I directed a short B&W film that received the first 100% in the history of first year films at BU (at least for this prof).  This accolade was accompanied by my professor's stern warning to stay humble.

To finish my time at BU, I had to direct a short thesis film. It was called You Don’t Know Bertha Constantine and featured a grieving woman tugging her husband’s body through the Badlands as part of a burial ritual.  My choice was to raise way too much money and make a short film in Badlands of South Dakota.  This proved to be both a blessing and a curse.  The short was too long and too plodding, with not enough coverage and a script that got lost by being meddled with too much.  BUT the experience of raising $70,000 (yes, I could shoot a feature with that moolah now) and putting it in the wrong places showed me the value of putting the story over everything else. My very expensive thesis film was a crash course in how NOT to produce a film and it was very humbling to my ambitions.  

So the experience of my thesis film crushed me creatively and yet fueled my passion to direct Dust of War. Every mistake we made on my thesis, we did the complete opposite on Dust.

Since Dust of War, I’ve directed four short films.  One is called Paper People, which is an 18-minute short about PTSD that has played at over 30 festivals, including the Palm Springs ShortFest.  It also recently got a distribution deal on TV.  I also directed a WWII webisode and an experimental short about film projection. 

My latest project (which is still in post) is called Destroyer.  It’s an 8-minute impressionistic short film starring Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller, Spin City) and Judith Hoag (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NBC’s Nashville).  It should be hitting the festival circuit in 2014.

My future projects include a WWI feature and hopefully a micro-budget horror feature.

Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like with your co-writer?

ANDREW: Our goal was to make a micro-budget feature and make it look like $1 million. And for some reason, an epic apocalyptic tale was the answer. The idea came from our producer’s love for Star Wars.   I took his idea and tapped into my love of Mad Max and Flash Gordon, and wrote a grounded sci-fi yarn that featured very classic archetypes and borrowed more from Nicholas Roeg than it did George Lucas.  But the producer seemed cool with my interpretation of the idea.  A more ‘elemental’ sci-fi yarn meant a lower budget and that’s where we found our common ‘creative’ ground.

I wrote the first draft in 1 week. And spent 3 months after that tweaking.  I could have spent a whole year ironing out the script, but we had investors to answer to and perhaps our own ambitions nagging us along.  The only struggle was to keep the script at 80 pages, which I did not want to do, but had no choice in the matter.  The producer said, “You only have enough days to shoot 80 pages.  So write ONLY 80.”  Yes Captain!

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

ANDREW: We raised the funds locally, almost 75% coming from our hometown in South Dakota where we had fostered positive relationships with people of influence over the last 10 years. Hint: be active and upstanding in high school and it might pay off down the road.     

We put together an investment plan and basically made the pitch to dentists, doctors, and businessmen.  Like that teapot once said, a tale as old as time…  Our overall goal was to deliver a solid final product, make our investors some moolah, and then make bigger film after that.   When they say film is 90% business, they’re not joking.

On a side note, force majeur is a delicious beast.  One of the more interesting episodes of the fundraising process was the onslaught of a 500-year flood.  About 3 months before principal was slated to start, a MASSIVE flood hit South Dakota.  The Missouri River rose 10 feet and the town shut down for 2 weeks as people sandbagged houses on the banks of the river.      

And of course, most of our committed investors lived BY the river and their homes were underwater, so we lost a bunch of pledges.  And what could we do?  Complain?  “Hey, I know your life is waterlogged right now, but we’re making a movie dammit!”     

So we had a moment of pause (literally 5 minutes) where we discussed pushing the shoot back.   But then we decided to screw force majeur and do the film anyway. Some of our pre-prod suffered as a result and a lot of the rough edges in the film are a direct result of an act of God. Classic story.   

And the creative by-product of the flood was shooting at a time of year when the land is usually very dry and ‘apocalyptic’ looking.  But the flood turned everything green and vibrant.  Color correction was ‘fun’, to say the least.

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

ANDREW: We shot on the Red One in 4.5K.  I love the look of Red because not only are you given ample latitude in post-production, but it looks like what I'd imagine digital would have looked like in the 70s.  But I hated its girth. It's a whopper of a camera and when we're shooting 95% handheld, you need to find a cam-op with a massive sweeping back. So the best thing to do is hire out of Austria (I’ll touch on this a bit more later on)

But what I've quickly learned is that the camera barely matters.  It's the glass that counts.  We shot DoW on Red Primes, but I just directed a short using 40-year old Nikon primes on a Red Epic and the look is stellar.  So get good and versatile lenses, and KNOW what look you want before shooting.

What's the biggest secret to shooting an epic on a small budget?

ANDREW: Throw everyone and everything in front of the camera.  And by that I mean, Location, location, location.  The ONLY reason we embarked on this adventure was because we knew we could create a post-apocalyptic landscape in our backyard.  So if you want to go big, make sure what you're shooting looks epic.

You wore a lot of hats on this project -- director, writer, producer, editor. What's the upside and the downside of working that way?

ANDREW: I'm not sure there is an upside.  The more delegation I can do, the better.  On this particular project, we simply didn't have the infrastructure to delegate as much as we wanted.  I believe that having to direct and visually conceptualize the film took a toll on writing a tighter story.  And having to raise funds took a toll on, well, everything.

If there is an upside, it's that you get to control the story that's being told, but everything might suffer in the long run.  I have yet to direct a script that isn't mine, but I welcome the day when it arrives.

In the end, no matter how many positions you have, be a collaborators.  Film isn’t about one artist.  It’s about ALL the artists.   No one person is capable of making a film great.  Get that through your thick skull in film school.

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

ANDREW: The smartest thing was hiring a DP who was willing to break his back to make this film. He fought hard for the position (he filmed an entire car chase on a consumer camera as an audition) and delivered in spades. Since DoW, we have developed into frequent collaborators and only grow stronger as a symbiotic creative unit. I hope I'm telling stories with him for the next 50 years. (It also helps that he was born in Schwarzenegger's hometown.  Austrian thunder blood runs through his veins. That's gotta count for something...)

The dumbest thing was neglecting to invest in a casting director.  While we ultimately had a great actors working on the film, the process of finding them was a spirit killer.  I had to be my own casting director, and operated under the pseudonym of Chud Becker (yes, just like those cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers).  Chud managed to nab Tony Todd.  Some agents furrowed their brows at the name Chud.  I just said it was of Azerbaijani origins.  Hiring a casting director may have opened the door for a wider array of talent. But ultimately, we lucked out with a fun cast nonetheless and their dedication is on full display in the film. I have no regrets other than the creative time casting took away from pre-production.

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

ANDREW: Casting is key, continuity is relative, and sound reigns supreme. 

First off, when they say that half of good direction is good casting, they aren't kidding.  Good actors will relieve the stress of actual scene work and will instead be collaborators in protecting the story.  

As for continuity, I believe that if you shoot for the edit and block correctly, continuity will fall into place.  Continuity helps in the editing process and guides the audience along geographically, but if someone notices that a cup has rotated from one shot to the next, you aren't doing your job as a storyteller. Screw the damn cup!   After all, art is an unattainable quest for perfection.

Lastly, I cannot stress enough how important it is for directors to sit in a sound mixing/editing environment and immerse themselves in that process.   Sound is the glue.  It holds EVERYTHING together.  Knowing how sound works will save you on set.  Since Dust of War, I’ve been able to make so many impulsive decisions on set purely on the basis of sound.   Appreciating the art of foley and the complexities of the design will give any director a leg up. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Katharyn Grant on “The One Who Loves You”

What was your filmmaking background before making The One Who Loves You?

KATHARYN: Before The One Who Loves You, I made several short films, Including The Accoutrement, which was selected to air on the Independent Film Channel.  The Accoutrement came out of a filmmaking group that I joined, where we would make short films every month.   I also acted in other people's projects as well as directing and producing my own stuff. 

How did you get connected to the script and what was your working process with the writer?

KATHARYN: I was taking a screenwriting workshop in 2009, where we would read our work out loud.  And by hearing me read my own work, Beaty Reynolds, the teacher, thought I was a good actress and approached me about one of his own scripts.  He said I'd be perfect for the lead character, which was based on his Aunt Mary.  I read the script and really fell in love with it; I so resonated with the theme of struggling to be an artist in a conventional world, as well as the moral questions the script contained. 

I showed Beaty some of the short films I'd made, and we decided to collaborate.  His script, then called Swinging Down Home, had been Beaty's calling card in Los Angeles when he first arrived there in the late 80's, and it had been optioned by Faye Dunaway's production company, with big stars attached, but it had never made it to production.  So the notion of finally bringing this jewel to fruition was incredibly exciting.  I wasn't sure if I could pull off the 1960's setting, so we decided to update it to the 1970's and change the musical world of the story from swing to country. 

Our plan was to make a shortened version of it, in order to solicit funds, so we spent many weeks brainstorming and creating outlines for the action, attempting to boil down the most important story elements.  However, when we finally shot that first shortened version, it felt like a bit of a misfit at 45minutes, not really a feature and not really a short.

So we decided to try and fashion it into a true feature by adding a first and third act.  Accordingly, one very talky, expository scene was cut, and we had the opportunity to create some interesting peripheral characters, adding more depth and complexity to the plot.  Beaty would come up with ideas and bounce them off me, and vice versa.  I learned to mostly stay out of his way, because sometimes his decisions seemed to be based on the opposite of whatever I suggested. 

But still we were both very engaged and I tried to leave myself as open as possible for brainstorming and conversation about the script as it evolved.  It was an incredibly organic process, where we started with a core story, and then used what was working best to deepen it and create these other scenes that raised the stakes and created more tension.  And then once we were in the editing process, scenes were once again shuffled for cohesiveness and maximum impact.   

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

KATHARYN: Originally, it was going to be an ultra-low-budget project, with friends pitching in their talents and skills, and Beaty and I making small investments when necessary.  In fact, we lost several hundred dollars when the actor originally hired to play the lead male was paid in advance before we realized he wasn't up for the job and had to fire him. 

But it wasn't easy working with almost no budget.  And by the fifth or sixth of shoot, it became evident to our DP, Chris Graves, that he needed a crew that was dependable, so that he wasn't having to shoulder most of the heavy work single-handedly.  He made the wise decision to start paying a daily rate to the tiny crew, so that they'd look forward to showing up and giving their best. 

During the first few weeks of shooting, Beaty or I would bring food to the set, but it was fairly haphazard and after one actress said she was ready to pass out from hunger, Chris also started allotting our lead male actor money to buy food for the shoots, and he became our make-shift catering service as well.

And little by little, Chris became our executive producer, taking over the role of funding most of the production, with Beaty and I pitching in where we were able.  We did raise a small amount of funds through Kickstarter, but it was extremely difficult and time intensive.  Also, many locations, costumes, and props were found for cheap or for free, with a lot of effort, time, and hustling going into finding those (so we saved on money, but spent our time and energy). 

And now that that the film is complete, Chris has been working very hard to get it into festivals, and he and I are working to promote the film as much as possible to create a buzz, so that we can find distribution, both in the states and abroad.      

What are the challenges of directing yourself in a leading role?

KATHARYN: The challenge of directing yourself lies in the need to be subjective and immersed in the moment of your character's experience, and to also be able to stand outside that and look at the big picture, and think about how all the performances fit together.  Whenever time allowed, I would watch my own takes, and then make adjustments in my performance to give the scene what it needed.  I found this process really cozy, and it allowed me to open up very much as an actor. 

I was also fortunate to have the writer, Beaty Reynolds, on set when he was able, to give input and keep me on track as far as the time and place where these characters lived--a time and place I'm unfamiliar with, but that he knew intimately, having grown up in the South during that era.

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

KATHARYN: We used the Cannon 5D MK II, one of the first DLSR's you could do HD video with.  This camera is so small and unobtrusive we were able to do a bit of gorilla filmmaking, capturing interesting footage on the sly.  We were also very excited about this camera's ability to capture what was, essentially, a cinematic quality, where the depth of field is shallow, meaning the background is blurred, so that one's focus is on the person's face, or whatever action is in the foreground.  This creates a very beautiful, pleasing, cinematic look.

The camera's main drawback was also linked to this shallow depth of field, which gives you such a limited range of focus, so the actor can't move much without the camera operator adjusting focus, which requires a lot of skill and finesse.  Sometimes Chris was working without an AC, which made that very difficult.

Also, when the camera moves quickly, there is a "jelly" effect, where the image wobbles and just isn't stable or smooth, due to the rolling shutter, and so we tended to not use camera movement too much.  Fortunately, we were able to find such diverse and interesting locations that there is still a lot of visual variety, even though the camera is fairly static.  

The other problem with this camera is its lack of flexibility in post.  With this camera, you need to shoot it as close to how you want it as possible, as the image was already heavily compressed coming out of the camera.

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

KATHARYN: The smartest thing I did for this production was finding a script that inspired me so much, that no matter how difficult the journey became, I felt a kind of loyalty to the characters and a real need to tell their stories. When you work this hard on a project, you must have something inside that will drive you, something that is close to your heart, something that is so irresistible to you that you're able to remain focused when things fall apart, when personalities clash, or you start running out of money.  You have to have a kind of higher purpose that carries you through, because making a movie is no picnic.

Another smart thing I did, I feel, was that I wasn't rigid about trying to recreate what I was seeing in my head; instead I worked with the elements that I was able to gather and the locations we found.  Making art requires creativity in the moment, and using what you have, instead of trying to adhere to an abstract notion in your head, or plan. 

Yes, pre-visualize and a shot list is a must, but it's also beneficial to remain open to the unexpected in the environment which can add to the visual texture of what you're doing, and give you unique surprises that you would never have been able to create if you'd tried. 

The dumbest thing I did was giving a particular actor too much benefit-of-the-doubt in the audition.  This was the actor originally hired to play the male lead, but later fired.  He was referred to me by a trusted friend in the business, so I was seeing him through rose colored glasses from the start. 

As an actor myself, I tend to over-empathize and worry about the auditioning actor being nervous, making allowances for a so-so performance, thinking that they'd be able to give much more once on set.  But I had to stop doing this.  I try to create an environment that feels safe enough for actors to let their guard down and be natural, but past this, I had to learn to accept that I can't cast everyone, and I can't cast someone just because I like them or because a trusted friend tells me they are "the best." 

So essentially what this boils down to is learning to trust your instincts and while being open to the good that others offer, also developing definite boundaries, and not listening to others when what they're telling you clashes with what your gut is telling you. 

Sometimes on set, people would give me suggestions on how I should play a scene, and there were a couple times when I'd go against my impulse in order to use other people's input, and then I'd see in the footage that I was doing something that was wrong for the moment, and then I'd have to work around these less-than-perfect acting moments. 

And as a woman, it's really hard to learn to listen to your inner directives and be very discerning and keep a healthy wall up, because as women we're conditioned to accommodate people.  So I found myself in this leadership position, dealing with very strong male personalities telling me how I should do things, but the situation was asking me to listen to my own inner voice sometimes to the exclusion of what others were telling me.  Well, this was a life changing experience, and became the center of what this journey has been about for me. In other words, the greatest lesson I learned was to listen to my own inner voice, and not let myself be easily swayed from what my gut was telling me.

And whereas one actor gave a tepid audition and I hired him against my better judgment because a friend insisted he was "the only good actor in Denver," on the other side of the spectrum, an actor gave an incredible audition that even inspired us to change the character to accommodate his age; but once on set it was obvious he'd been drinking the night before or was currently drunk, and he struggled just to remember lines that he'd had memorized at the audition. 

In the future with someone like that, I would say either don't hire the person, or keep an eye on them the night before, so you know they aren't out drinking! Otherwise they will drive you crazy.  But it's hard to vet the drunks. And it's surprising that this is a problem in indie filmmaking, where you can't afford to hire Lindsey Lohan,
Another dumb thing I did was to not look at the monitor when we were overly busy with a complicated scene that required a crowd.  You always need to be taking into account what you're getting, and know what you're getting, no matter how busy you are. And when you're the one in front of the camera, too, this is incredibly challenging.  Even if a crowd is gathered around the monitor looking at the shots, you have to shove in and watch, too.  And again, this is where being shy and quiet won't serve you.  It was easy for the DP and crew to just think of me as the acting talent in these instances, and they didn't want to stop so I could study the footage, but it was imperative for me to find the strength to be engaged in this way.

Also, there were times when I stayed up all night working to get props and costumes in order, and it is not fun or healthy trying to function on only a few hours of sleep, for days at a time.  When our DP extraordinaire, Chris Graves, shot a scene at 3 in the morning at the end of a very long and crazy shoot day, he recounted later not being able to remember much of the shoot, and that was a red flag. 

While it's important to hustle and shoot as much as you can and maximize your time, there are also limits, and people's health needs to be taken into account.  In particular, when you're working on a period piece, each scene requires so much intensive prep, it became better for us to space out our shoots and film only a scene or two per week, so that everything was in order and no one was ready to keel over from lack of sleep.

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

KATHARYN: I've realized that it's to my advantage to know as much as possible about the technical elements of filmmaking.  I came to this project as an actor's director and a story teller. I've since learned the importance of understanding how to shoot and edit, whether I end up doing these things myself, or merely being able to speak the same language as the shooter or editor I work with. 

And understanding lighting is so important too, and how the camera you're using perceives light.  It's become important for me to know what will blow out a shot and what will give a room interest in terms of placing the furniture away from the wall, and lighting to give depth to a room.  These things might sound tedious, but the more you know, the more you can steer your ship and instill confidence in those co-creating with you, and the more you can make informed decisions about the look of a scene, rather than letting things happen by default.

Also, as an actor who is directing, having a strong AD sometime in the future would be great, someone who could help organize the set and be my eyes and ears and insulate me a little against the chaos, so I could really focus on the character I'm portraying. 

Let's face it, it's hard to juggle many jobs at once, and some help in that department would be more than desirable! But in ultra-low budget indie filmmaking part of the adventure is that you are doing 500 things at once in any given instance, and in the end that is the challenge, and what makes it fun, or at least you try to tell yourself it's fun, in order to survive the process with your bruised sanity somewhat intact.