Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tyler Roberds on “The Only Oly”

What was your filmmaking background before making The Only Oly?

TYLER: Before The Only Oly I had only acted in films. I started acting in the fall of 2008 with the lead roll in an indie film titled Find Me. I continued to act in independent films throughout the area for a few years before I decided I wanted to try to shoot my own short film. I did a couple shorts and eventually decided to try a full length.

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

TYLER: The idea for The Only Oly was a collaboration between me and my good friend Mattlock London (who also plays our main character). Matt contacted me about possibly doing something together, he was wanting to get into filmmaking, saw that I had been doing it for a little while and he contacted me.

We both had already had our own scripts for feature films and I was just about ready to start pre-production on mine, but we decided to start from scratch and write a brand new story together. We tailored the story around the resources we had rather than trying to come up with more funds later.

What was your casting process like?

TYLER: For several roles I had actors in mind that I had worked with in the past whom I knew would be perfect for certain roles; for others we had a local casting call. Several really talented actors auditioned for parts, it was odd for me because I'm usually the one auditioning. Coming from an actor’s point of view, I tried my best to make my talent comfortable at all times, starting with auditions.

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

TYLER: So, this was practically a "no budget" film. Myself, Mattlock and our 1st AD Julie Roberds (my mother) paid for food on the set along with some other crew, and almost everything else was donated or volunteered including our amazing cast. Later we did an indiegogo crowd funding for promotional items and copies of the film as well as some funds we need to finish post-production.

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

TYLER: We shot the entire movie with my personal camera and two video lights (that I bought from amazon). Ha, I say that to give the folks at home and idea of what we were working with. The camera was a Canon Rebel t3i DSLR. So most of the time we were filming, people around town didn't notice because it's just a small still camera that also does HD video.

What I loved was how small our crew and set-up was. The camera was so small it was quick and painless going from location to location, and working with a DSLR makes it easy to put the camera practically anywhere and the ability to use multiple lenses.

What I hated about it were simply ALL the technical limits that DSLRs have. Shooting a feature film on a stills camera comes with MANY work-arounds. Any indie moviemaker reading this will know all too well what I'm talking about. Simply put, it's just not the type of quality we could have achieved with a cinema camera.

You wore a lot of hats on this production (director, producer, writer, DP, editor). What's the upside (and downside) of biting off so much?

TYLER: Well, it was (and still is) a LOT to chew.

The upside to "wearing multiple" hats on a large creative project like this is being able to have an idea in my head from the very beginning, getting on set, setting the shot, lighting the shot, directing the action, and then taking it all the way to cutting it like I want in the final edit...

Unfortunately the down side is pretty much the same. Getting on set, setting the shot, lighting the shot, setting the actors actions, directing the flow of the scene and then doing it all over again, and again, and again. THEN the daunting task of sifting throughout months of footage and audio to assemble a million piece puzzle in a way that tells a good story and looks as good as possible.

One of the main things that I hated the most was knowing that I had a bad shot on set, and knowing at the same time I simply I didn't have time to re-work the shot because we had two more ext. locations before the sun sets...

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

TYLER: The smartest thing we probably did was to utilize my family’s property for our main locations. My sister and brother-in-law let us use their home for the main character’s house, so I knew we could get back in if we needed to for reshoots (and we did). The main character's bedroom was a room above my parent’s garage; it was great because we knew no one would touch it and it could stay dressed for as long and we needed.

I have a list of dumb things we did during production. The main thing for me would have been able to cater more to our amazing cast and crew for all the hard work they did to make this movie happen.

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

TYLER: You know, I knew (on paper) what we needed to do to make a feature film happen, but you don't ever really know how to do anything until you do it.

There are a lot of things that I learned that I'll be taking with me on future projects. Even though I did most the legwork on this project, I think the main thing I learned personally is being able to collaborate with other professionals to get the job done. Moviemaking is not at all like painting a picture or sculpting a piece of art. You HAVE to work creatively with a large team over a long period of time in many different areas doing many different things to eventually (hopefully) create one big cohesive collaborative piece of art. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Justin Mosley on "The Merchant"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Merchant?

JUSTIN: Fairly limited as far as dealing with projects with the size and scope of The Merchant. Before that, it was mainly short films, but I always felt that studying was the most important thing I could do. Too many filmmakers come out of the gate thinking they know what it takes to make a good (or even watchable) film. Me, I figured it would be best to take my time and learn as much as I could before taking on a serious project.

The six or so years before The Merchant was spent shadowing other filmmakers, trying out new methods for shots and color, learning all I could about the tech, and finding my voice as a filmmaker. During that time, I was always tempted to jump on a feature project, but I didn't do so until I felt I was ready. I hope the time spent reflects in the film.

How did you get connected to Allen Reed and the script?

JUSTIN: Allen and I started off in music. We come from a rash of small towns situated around Cedar Creek Lake in East Texas, and when you are a musician in that area you end up meeting every other musician at some point. Allen and I had a few musical endeavors together. When the last one broke apart, I approached him about doing films. He had written this piece of a screenplay and I loved it. He's been with me since the beginning and we have a close partnership.

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

JUSTIN: I can tell you we went into it with nothing. In fact, we fully intended to shoot the entire film on nothing and we would have, too. We found a lot of support in the East Texas community. It's amazing what a bit of resourcefulness and a lot of phone calls will afford you.

The money we did get came from a combination of crowd-funding and an investment team that was put together late into pre-production. To put it in perspective, we didn't see our first dollar until a week before principle photography. We were very glad to have it, though, and the whole production benefited from it. By movie standards, it was very modest, but we are good at stretching our pennies.

As far as recouping, we are going the standard distribution route seeking both domestic and international distribution. We have a couple of strong prospects so we are very excited.

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

JUSTIN: Director of Photography Bradly Hardin supplied us with two Canon 5D Mark II cameras. The 5D's are amazing little machines. I love how small and versatile they are while delivering a huge, beautiful picture.

Data management tends to be a beast on a large project like The Merchant, so we really had to be on our toes with handling footage. It's scary doing a 20-hour day knowing that there is no physical medium like film to retain your work. One bad keystroke or power surge and POOF, it's gone. Thinking about it can give you an ulcer.

How did you and Allen Reed share directing duties and what's the upside (and downside) of having two directors?

JUSTIN: Allen acted as assistant director, so it was never a power struggle or anything. We have been working together for a very long time and have our own frequency on set. It's very helpful. We both know our strengths and weaknesses and neither of us try to be good at everything. As a result, I can't really think of a downside. We have shadowed other film making partnerships before and have seen how ugly and unproductive it can be when both parties are trying to be "the man." There's none of that with us.

What's the secret to shooting a period piece on a budget?

JUSTIN: One word: resourcefulness. There's a bit of a pandemic infecting the indie film world. It's called conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom says there's no way you can make a period piece without a trunk full of money. Conventional wisdom laughs at the thought of doing it without the support of a studio. People can become discouraged before they even begin when they do the conventional thing and start placing a price tag on everything from hats to horses.

Like I said before, you would be surprised what some phone calls can do, as well as a little out-of-the-box thinking. Also, remember that you are not shooting a documentary (unless you are, of course) so not everything has to be perfect. And if you are shooting a western, remember that western now and western then are two different things. The number one killer of a good indie western story is to dress your characters up like Clint Black's entourage. Do a little research and have some attention to detail. I'm not going to say it's easy, but a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.

Also, Goodwill is your friend (or as we came to call it, GW Western Wear).

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

JUSTIN: I think the smartest thing we did during production was to give everyone a day off. We were in a massive time crunch, always working against the clock. There were days when we would be up at 8 a.m. and work until 5:30 a.m. the following day. Then, back up at 8 a.m. to do it again. After about the 7th straight day of filming like this, our cast and crew was understandably wiped out. They pulled themselves out of bed, half of them sick, and set about the day, but there was no energy.

If you've been on a film set, you know there is a certain buzz in the air as the day goes by, and that buzz was dead. So, we got with the script supervisor and plugged the day's work into little gaps in the schedule for the remaining days. I think that saved the production. It's easy to forget that even though everyone works like a machine, they are far from being one.

The dumbest thing we did was to tether a jumpy horse to a piece railing in front of the saloon. One of the crew came bounding out of a door and spooked the horse, who then pulled down a large section of porch. Luckily, the animal's handler was right there or he might've made off with it.

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

JUSTIN: The amount of stuff we learned could fill a book. We took lessons from every dynamic of the project. Everything from script organization, efficient scheduling, legal paperwork, and what foods to not serve, to ADR, visual effects, the impact of foreign currency conversion for overseas contractors, and the pains of working with animals.

After several years of study, we had NO idea what we were getting into. But that's the beautiful thing about this line of work. You can study and speculate all you want but you'll never know the joyful agony of film making until you put your shoulders back and run the gauntlet yourself.

The Merchant Trailer 2013 from Sub_American on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

John Gaspard on "Ghost Light"

What was your filmmaking background before making Ghost Light?

JOHN: Over the years, I’ve made a number of low-budget and no-budget features, in all sorts of formats. I was one of the first to do a feature-length movie using Super-8 single-system sound back in the mid-1970s. I followed that with a Super-8 feature that was shot on single-system sound but edited as a double-system feature, which was a challenge.

In the 1980s, I did two features on ¾” U-matic video, and then in the early 1990s did two features on 16mm – Resident Alien and Beyond Bob.

Once digital video became viable, I did a digital feature in around 2001 called Grown Men, which can be streamed on Vimeo:

Where did the idea for Ghost Light come from and how did you work with your co-writer, Mary Kaeding?

JOHN: I’d done some directing at a local community theater, Theatre in the Round, and was amazed at all the different locations that were packed into their building. I started thinking about writing a location-specific script, designed to exactly fit what was available in the theater.

I went through a lot of scenarios, but never landed on one that I liked. I was discussing the project with Mary – who has volunteered at the theater for years – and she mentioned a true situation, where a bunch of actors snuck into the building after-hours, in search of ghosts.

That seemed like a rich idea for a feature, so we started to hammer out an outline. We used the cast of The Importance of Being Earnest as a starting point, casting that and then using those actors to do videotaped improvs, based on their ideas of roaming through the building looking for ghosts.

Finally, after lots of prep work, we started to write the script, using the best parts of the improvs as a starting point. There are four small groups that are in the building (three sets of actors and then the Tech Crew that sneaks in to scare them), so we each did drafts on two groups and then swapped pages and re-wrote each other.

Then came the task of interweaving the four story lines, which we did by putting each story beat on its own color-coordinated card, setting up two long tables and moving the cards around until it all made sense.

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

JOHN: The movie was made for, essentially, no money, so there is no plan (or need) to recoup the costs.

I own all the equipment I need to shoot and edit. The actors worked for free. The location (all 40 rooms that make up the theater) was donated. The only real out-of-pocket costs were lunches (on those days we worked 8 hours) and some money for a couple props.

It’s a really great way to work. There is no pressure to do anything to make the movie more “sale-able.” There are no investors to deal with. No one mortgaged their house. No one ran up thousands of dollars on credit cards. We just showed up, shot, had fun and then went on our way. I highly recommend it!

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

JOHN: We shot it on the Panasonic HVX-200. It’s a little workhorse of a camera. It did okay in low light and recording to cards was a dream – no more running out of tape!

The only real downside was the same one everyone complains about -- you can’t swap out lens. So the final look of the movie is more “video” than I would like. But the trade-off was that the camera was affordable and it allowed me to shoot and shoot and shoot.

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

JOHN: I had a really good crew while shooting, so there were not a lot of downsides. The crew was small (me, sound, production manager, and a couple PAs) but effective, so I didn’t really feel the strain of directing and shooting. And it was easy to make decisions, because there wasn’t a long list of people who needed to sign off on things. It was mostly me.

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

JOHN: The smartest thing was working with the cast ahead of time, doing improvs with them and really shaping the script to fit them. This really increased the pace of filming, as it didn’t take much rehearsal to get the up-to-speed.

The dumbest thing was not locking down the schedule from the start. Because of that, actors kept getting cast in plays, making it very hard to schedule them. If I had come up with a more buttoned-down shooting schedule from the beginning, we would have been done shooting two months earlier.

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

JOHN: A couple key things. If you aren’t paying people, it’s really hard (particularly with actors) to get more than three people in the same room at the same time. So for the new movie project, we’re actually scripting it to make sure that the scenes don’t require more than three actors at one time.

Also – writing a script to fit within one location can save you tons of labor and headaches … as long as you have complete access to that location. The theater could not have been more helpful when it came to scheduling, but we weren’t the only thing happening in that space and that slowed us down.

Finally, small is good. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The same is true – in spades! – in low-budget filmmaking.

Ghost Light - 30-Second Preview from John Gaspard on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Amy Holden Jones on "Love Letters"

Love Letters not a very typical Roger Corman film.

AMY HOLDEN JONES: It's the only art house film he ever made, actually.

Where did the story for Love Letters come from?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: My husband and I had written each other love letters. We had been apart after we first met; we met on Taxi Driver. He was the cinematographer and I was Scorsese's assistant. And then we were apart for quite a while. I moved to the West coast and he was on the East coast. So we wrote letters. That was four or five years before.

I had our daughter when I was twenty-six and did Slumber Party Massacre when I was twenty-seven, and I was casting around for an idea for an art film and I came upon those letters. And I thought, well this is really interesting. What would happen if our daughter someday read all of our love letters? How would that affect her?

At the same time, I saw a movie called Shoot the Moon, which was about an extramarital affair and the traumas of the married man dealing with his wife and the girlfriend. I thought at the time, man have I seen this a zillion times. Forever I've seen the point of view of the husband or the man, torn between his wife and the girlfriend. You see it today in Match Point, for example. It's done over and over and over again. I've even seen the story of the wife who was cheated on.

But I had never seen the story of the girlfriend and what it was like for her. I put that together with the love letters and thought it would be interesting if someone came upon the love letters and realized that their parents had had an extramarital affair, if the love letters were not in fact between her mother and father, as ours were, but between the mother and a lover.

In other words, what would happen if you were confronted with an understanding of a time period in your parents' life which you never really understand -- none of us have a real idea of what our parents were like in their twenties. How would that affect your life? And I thought it would be interesting if that then thrust her into an affair with a married man, trying to replicate what she saw her mother had.

Basically, it was designed to be a movie about what happens to the woman outside of the marriage, who is usually, in fiction, painted as a terrible villain and often is kind of a victim who gets left in the end.

Why did you structure the film as a flashback?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: I was doing an art film, and unlike most people who seem today to only set out to do art films, I had been working in big commercial movies, like Taxi Driver and the two pictures that I had cut. I wasn't fancying myself to be Fellini or anything like that.

But I went and read all the screenplays of Harold Pinter, believe it or not, because I felt that this would be high art, and there are some great screenplays in book form by Harold Pinter. Probably there was something in there that inspired the flashbacks, would be my guess. It's certainly an overused device now.

Although you term Love Letters an art film, it gets up and running very quickly.

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Well, I was a ruthless editor. I think of all the things I've done, the thing I was best at was as a film editor. That sounds like braggadocio, but what I mean is that I was better at it than I am as a writer or a director. (laughs) It really suited my sensibility. I like things to move. To this day, I'm always thinking, why didn't I lift that out, why didn't I move it along? I like to take an audience on a journey and go.

In Love Letters, you have Anna watching the famous kissing on the beach scene from From Here to Eternity. When you wrote that, how worried were you about getting the rights to use that scene?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Actually, I didn't worry about it at all. At that time period, it wasn't that hard. I think there was a limit of how long the clip could be before it started to cost a lot more money.

Did Roger Corman have precise direction on the amount of nudity in the film?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Yes. He wants either sex, violence or humor. He actually told me that lovemaking wasn't so much required as nudity. And he didn't mind if she could just be lounging around the house nude, but there had to be nudity. He had to have some way to sell the thing.

It's actually the one thing that troubles me about it. I find some of the nudity really gratuitous. But it was the price we paid to get it made.

I was really impressed with the simplicity of the Polaroid scene. It's a lock-down shot, we don't see the couple, we only see each Polaroid photo he takes of her as he drops it into the shot. It said a lot about the relationship, but it was also very cheap to shoot.

AMY HOLDEN JONES: That's one of my favorite scenes. That's a really good example of how you come up with stuff. Writing for a lower budget really focuses your mind. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're sacrificing quality.

I see so many really big budget movies, where they've had everything to spend and have covered everything sixty ways from sideways, but they never did the hard thinking about what was important in the scene. Because they had the time, they just threw spaghetti at the wall and covered everything. As a result, they never thought about what was actually going on.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Jonathan Lynn on "My Cousin Vinny"

How did you get involved as a director on My Cousin Vinny?

JONATHAN LYNN: I had just finished Nuns on the Run, which was made by Handmade and distributed by Fox. Joe Roth [Chairman of Fox] had misgivings about the last three or four minutes of the film. When I discovered this I was delighted, because I didn't think the ending worked and had thought of a much better version. We hadn't been able to do it because we'd run out of money.

I told Joe what I had in mind and he immediately offered to put up the money for it to be changed. We shot three or four extra days, three months later, and the whole film worked.

Joe was pleased, and asked me to direct My Cousin Vinny. Danny de Vito was to have directed and starred in it, but he had recently dropped out.

What was it that drew you to the material?

JONATHAN LYNN: I was immediately drawn to it. I have a degree in law, and had always loved courtroom dramas. Among my favourite films were Anatomy of a Murder, The Verdict and To Kill A Mockingbird.

I also saw the film as a statement against capital punishment, something that I have always been totally against. When Tony Jay and I wrote Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, we always looked for a hideous dilemma as the basis for the comedy; I don't think comedies work unless they are about something desperately important for one or more of the main characters.

Also, I wanted to do a film about the real America, small town America, not set in New York or LA or a big urban centre. And finally, I thought it had two really original leading characters, Vinny and Lisa, who were truly funny.

Originality is rare. I had seen plenty of courtroom dramas, and plenty of funny scenes in courtrooms, but I'd never seen what could truly be described as a courtroom comedy, so this seemed to be a great opportunity.

How involved were you in the casting of My Cousin Vinny?

JONATHAN LYNN: Joe Pesci was already attached to the film. He and I met in New York and after a conversation over dinner we shook hands and agreed that we'd do it together.

Casting Lisa was difficult. Fox wanted a 'name'. Without checking with me they offered it to Gina Davis She had a deal with Fox so they were anxious to use her, but she was about a foot taller than Pesci and had nothing of Brooklyn about her. Fortunately, she passed. Fox then tried a few other well-known Italian-American actresses, none of whom wanted the part. I think they thought it was too small. We then auditioned dozens of actresses. None were suitable.

One day I was invited to lunch at Paramount by John Landis, who was making a film called Oscar. A young actress was plaing a scene; her character was a blonde 1920's flapper. She was nothing like Mona lLa Vito in Vinny but I could see that she could act and had excellent timing. Her name was Marisa Tomei. I looked at footage in Landis's cutting room.

Then I asked my casting director to get her in to read for me. He was reluctant. "William Morris has suggested everyone on their list who they think could possibly be right for it." he said "So she can't be." I don't have much faith in the aesthetic judgment of most agents so I insisted on getting her in to read. She was seemed perfect. Fox wanted to see screen tests of our three top choices. We tested them, and to me and the producer Paul Schiff it was obvious that Marisa should get the part.

I took the precaution of showing the tape of the screen tests to Joe Pesci. He too agreed that Marisa was the one. We sent the tape to Fox and they chose one of the other actresses. There followed a long and tense meeting. I was getting nowhere until I played my trump card - Pesci also wanted Marisa. That did it. They didn't want to irritate their leading man. So with an 'on-your-head-be-it' attitude, I was allowed to cast Marisa.

Casting Fred Gwynn as the Judge raised a few questions ("Herman Munster as the Judge?"), but I was confident and there wasn't much of an argument about that. Lane Smith as Jim Trotter III, the prosecutor, was the idea of Dale Launer, the writer. All the other casting came from auditions.

What qualities were you looking for in the actors?

JONATHAN LYNN: An ability to play the comedy, but with the utmost reality. Vinny is film about the class system (which does exist in America, whatever people might say) and about the death penalty. If Vinny screws up, the boys will be sent to the chair and fried. This is serious, and though the treatment is comedic the film depended on the truth of the acting.

I wanted the audience to believe that Lisa was a real blue-collar Italian-American girl from Brooklyn. I wanted the southerners to be southern - but not caricatured.

Are there any lessons you learned on My Cousin Vinny (or any of your features) that would be helpful to low-budget filmmakers working on a much smaller scale? That is to say, can a low-budget filmmaker learn anything from how Hollywood makes movies?

JONATHAN LYNN: I can't think of any. But then, my movies have seldom been made for big budgets, at least not by Hollywood standards. Essentially, the thing that costs the most is time: the number of days shooting is the biggest factor in determining the cost of a film, no matter how large or small. Therefore, low budget films need to be shot fast. The key to this is preparation. The more comprehensive the prep, the faster you can shoot.

Prep time for a low budget film should therefore include sufficient rehearsals. You don't want the actors showing up unprepared, not knowing their lines or wanting to discuss their motivation. That must all be taken care of in advance. If possible, scenes should be blocked with the actors in advance, like for the theatre. The Director of Photography should be present at rehearsal whenever possible, and after rehearsals the director and the DP should map out every shot so that no time is wasted when shooting. If the DP knows what the scene looks like he can plan the lighting much more efficiently.

Obviously some things cannot be prepared: weather can create real problems on the day. But there should always be a back-up plan ready. If an exterior scene can only be shot on one particular day, then you must prepare a way to shoot it whatever the weather. If it means re-thinking it so that you need umbrellas and wellies instead of bikinis, work this out in advance. Also, if you are shooting in changeable weather, shoot it tighter so that the audience won't notice the changes in the light or the sky.

If you look at my low(ish) budget film Nuns On The Run, you will see a chase and shoot out in the street after the two heroes steal the money. That scene was shot in a couple of days, during which we went repeatedly from sunshine to rain. You can see this if you look closely, but no audiences ever noticed because of my use of tight shots when it rained or because of the speed of the cutting. This sequence was storyboarded. Prep is everything.