Thursday, March 26, 2015

John Jenkins on “Patti Rocks”

Patti Rocks was a sequel to an earlier film, Loose Ends. How was the script created for Patti Rocks?

JOHN: It started with some general conversations about what we might do, and then we started to improv a little bit. David (director David Burton Morris) then took that and began to craft a plotline for this.

Then after we had that in place, we got back together again and we spent some more time improvising the script. And so the script really came out of those improvisations that Chris and Karen and I did. Then David would edit that and cut and paste and re-arrange that. He might add some other dialogue on top of that, but most of it came out of those improvs.

How did your relationship with actor Chris Mulkey help shape the on-screen relationship?

JOHN: Chris and I had worked together for a long time and we were best friends. We'd worked at the Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis and we were in a lot of shows together. When we rehearsed together we were really in the habit of really playing and improvising. That was a habit, a way of working. And our friendship -- and male friendship in general -- sort of became, in my mind, one of the major themes of the movie. The investigation of that.

What drew you to this project?

JOHN: I liked working with these guys. I liked small, art projects. I liked the fact that it was really being done by a small group of people, that it was handmade. I found all those things attractive.

I had come up through a number of small theater companies, and that self-made, home-grown, small operation had been a part of my history and it was attractive to me. And it allowed you to be very creative and to have a large say in what the script was going be and how you were going to do things. The creative freedom of that was very attractive.

How tough was it to do the nude scene?

JOHN: It was difficult to do. I'm doing a love scene with my best friend's wife -- my real best friend's wife. It was potentially explosive. The manners of all that needs to be very, very careful. I thought we did handle that part of that well. We got to the point where both Karen and I felt comfortable to do the scene. I thought we were able to finesse it all right.

I think with a stranger there's more latitude. You don't necessarily have the same consequences if suddenly this begins to stray into something you shouldn't be doing.

We needed to make sure that this had to be business-like, we had to commit to it, but we had to be really, really sensitive to each other about it.

Were you surprised at the reaction to the finished movie?

JOHN: I didn't think it would be controversial. It wasn't violent, there wasn't any hard porn. It's odd about it now, but we got in trouble for the language. You listen to HBO, and you listen to something like Deadwood, and it seems odd to me. But 20 years ago that was a vastly different time, in terms of what kind of language you could use in a film.

That was just the way we talked, but in an exaggerated way. It seemed appropriate to these two guys and the way they would talk. It felt true to us.

What was it like to improvise scenes for the scripting process and then have to go back, weeks later, and re-perform those improvisations?

JOHN: It's an interesting problem, to use improv to create a script, and then to go back and play it. It's a funny thing. When you're improvising the thing, you're so involved in the problem and the words just flow out. But when you go back to do it again, you've forgotten a lot of that structure or the dynamic that allowed those words to flow. So you're left with a script and you know it's yours, but it's hollowed out. You've forgotten the context a little bit.

It's almost easier to take somebody else's words and to slip on your imagination and work with that, then to go back and do your won stuff. I found that to be a little difficult.

Then I had to do all the actorly stuff and fill it out, sensory work and subtext to try to get back to that improv state that had been so easy. It was just odd. You would think that it would just be a piece of cake, the easiest thing to do, and I found it perplexingly difficult.

Did you continue to improvise while shooting?

JOHN: Chris and I were always up for playing. Sometimes David would keep the camera running and we would just continue to play. And I think some of that ended up in the movie. When we could we would continue to improv, when we felt we had the opportunity.

A major character in the movie was the weather. What was it like shooting in Minnesota in the dead of winter (and the dead of night)?

JOHN: The weather was unbelievable, especially when we were shooting the sequence where they get out of the car. It must have been thirty below when we were shooting that scene.

We were in this trailer and we would come out; we could only shoot this stuff for four or five minutes at a time before the fear of frostbite or hypothermia would come up. Chris was in great shape and even at that it was brutal. When it came to looking cold, no sensory work was required.

What’s your advice to anyone setting out to make a low-budget, independent movie?

JOHN: Work with people that you know and trust. I know that's hard to do. A lot of this work is going to be like blind dates with strangers to put these things together. I was fortunate to be able to work with people I loved and trusted. If possible, for your first steps out, to do it in a way that you were protected in that way would be great. Look for that.

Do you think we’ve seen the last of Billy and Eddie?

JOHN: I always wondered if we were going to get together again and do a final sequel. Maybe these two characters in retirement.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dylan Kidd on "Roger Dodger"

How many scripts had you written before Roger Dodger?

DYLAN KIDD: I had written two other feature scripts, and then that had been sort of abandoned. So I guess, two and a half. This was after NYU; at school I mainly concentrated on cinematography, and then directly after I sort of forgot the reason I went to film school was to be a director. It wasn't until the mid-nineties that I woke up and remembered.

One screenplay was based on my experiences in real estate. It was nice to get it out of my system, I think I was aware when it was done that really wasn't good enough to show anybody. The other one was a horror movie, an attempt to do something in a genre. It was fine, but wasn't anything that I was that excited about. Roger Dodger was the first time that when I finished a script, I was like, "Okay, I want to make this movie."

What was it about the script that made you feel that this was the one?

DYLAN KIDD: Probably the quality of the writing, but also the fact that this was the first time that I felt like I had a character that an actor would want to play. For me, a big thing about writing something that could be done for no money, was trying to write a role that was so good that we could attract a name actor to work for what turned out to be peanuts. That was a big part of my strategy: write something that somebody would walk through broken glass to play the role. Most of your expense in a movie is the above-the-line costs. It's difficult but it's possible to make a movie for a low-budget, but what's really hard is getting someone that anyone's ever heard of into that movie.

Where did the idea for the story come from?

DYLAN KIDD: The real estate script I had written was big in scope, and so apart from the fact that I didn't think it was that strong, even if someone did fall in love with it, it was still a big movie. So the idea of Roger Dodger was giving myself the assignment of writing something that could be done for no money. That lent itself to a series of conversations and monologues.

It started with the idea of a guy who feels like he can tell everyone else what they're thinking. It was based on a friend of mine, who in college had this strange ability to go up strangers and take their psychology apart in minute detail. It struck me as disturbing but also very compelling.

I started with Roger. It ended up being a buddy movie, but his nephew didn't come in until later drafts. You go through a certain amount of time thinking, "Well, maybe this guy is compelling enough, maybe people will sit and watch a train wreck for an hour and a half." And then there was a point where I realized there has to be some foil, a character who we want to protect has to enter the movie, there has to be a reason for people to hang on and keep watching.

Do you follow a three-act structure in your scripts?

DYLAN KIDD: I guess so, but without really thinking about it. I read the Syd Field book when I was at NYU, but I think, for me, things work internally. I can't even remember thinking about the act breaks when I wrote Roger Dodger. I just had the sense that we were at this stage of the story and this is what should happen.

If you go to 5,000 movies in your life, then without even knowing it that structure is going to be in there when you're writing. I don't think it's a front brain thing; it just ends up being in there.

For me, it's really important that the first draft be the spill draft. I feel like the last thing you want to do in a first draft is be thinking about what page is the act break. I'm the exact opposite of someone who knows the ending before they begin. For me, the first draft is the spill it draft. And after that you can look at it and think, "Well, I have a 70-page first act, that probably can't work."

But your first time through is when your unconscious is really trying to tell you what the movie wants to be. Maybe what the movies wants to be is that the first act is the entire movie, and that's the lesson, as opposed to, "Oh, I need to shorten the act." Maybe it's, "Oh, I need to lose the second and third act."

For me it's important to follow your bliss in that first draft, even if it ends up at 180 pages or you hate everything but ten percent of it. At least you've got that ten percent, which is ten more than a lot of people have.

Were you writing to a particular budget?

DYLAN KIDD: No, but having a background in production was definitely a help. It was understanding that if you could tell the movie in one night there would be only one wardrobe change. It was less specific -- I want to do a movie with less than six main characters and have it take place in one 48 hour span. It was more of a general thing -- I want to make a movie that I shoot on digital video with credit cards if I absolutely had to. That was as far as I got. Then once the script was done, I realized that this character was compelling enough that it was worth taking a shot and trying to get a name actor attached and do it on film.

There are basic rules that are pretty commonsensical, like don't have a car chase, don't make it a period piece, keep your locations to a minimum. And also, a big thing for us was that we knew we were going to shoot with two cameras, and that allows you to really burn through scenes more quickly. Basically, the who second act of the movie is four people sitting at a banquette, having this extended conversation. We were able to shoot that entire thing in a day and a half, because we were rolling two cameras.

There's a scene where Roger takes the kid out into the street, it's the first time where he's instructing the kid. It's a long, extended scene, and even when it was written it was intended to be shot in one take. That was a 12-page scene that we shot in half in a day. If you have two sequences like that, that's 20% of your movie that's shot in three days.

Did knowing that you were writing for a small budget cramp your creativity in any way?

DYLAN KIDD: Not really. This is one of those movies that felt like it wanted to be tighter. There were earlier drafts that took place over a longer span of time, and it just felt like it wanted to be as tight as possible. So there's nothing in the movie that I feel we would have had if we'd had more money, except for the luxury of being able to shoot it more. But if somebody had said, "We love it, here's 2 million dollars," I wouldn't have written in some dream sequence of Roger when he was young. It just felt like it is what it is, that we were just dropped into the middle of this guy's meltdown, and we just hang on just to make sure that the kid's going to get out of there okay.

What did you learn writing Roger Dodger that you still use today on higher-budget projects?

DYLAN KIDD: The main thing that I learned from that script was that it was the first time ever when I was writing something that I thought, "This is good, this is working." My other scripts had been okay, competent, but the hair on the back of your neck didn't stand up. For me, the most important thing is now trying to make sure that I get as close as I can to that feeling. I never want to settle for, "Oh, this is okay." You want people to read it and get genuinely excited about it and want to shoot.

You can get to a place where you are genuinely pumped with what you're doing, and as hard as it is, you can't give up on a script until you've gotten to that place.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Robyn Rosenkrantz and Michael Glover on "Go With Le Flo”

What was your filmmaking background before making Go With Le Flo?

ROBYN: Go with Le Flo is our 5th feature film.  Michael and I were cast in an Alec Baldwin movie called The Last Shot (as actors and musicians).  We had so much fun on set that this experience gave us the moviemaking bug.  With our Hollywood paycheck, we decided not to spend the money on film school but to learn by doing. So we bought a camera, dove in and started making features from day one.  

All our friends in L.A. were actors and Michael was an award-winning playwright and I had natural producer skills since I’d been booking our concert tours around Europe.  The whole process was very organic.  Our philosophy has always been to learn by doing.  

We also figured out a way to self distribute, even with our very first primitive film. Since we’ve been a band (Bright Blue Gorilla) since 1990, we were used to touring with our CDs.  So we got the idea to tour with our movies.  One of our music fans was the manager at a lovely cinema in Holland and they invited us in.  We go to art house cinemas, play a concert, then screen our films, with a Q&A.  It’s the best way for a filmmaker to learn, by watching your films with hundreds of audiences.  You can really see what works and what doesn’t work.  You gotta have a thick skin!

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

MICHAEL: I already had the completed script in English. Rather than a translator, I wanted a German writing partner who understood the aesthetic of the movies we make. Mea was my first choice.

Aside from being a writer, Mea is also a musician, and I knew she’d be able to work with me and the actors and come up with the right rhythm, the right cadence - the stuff I look for in dialog. Both Mea and I feel that a scene is like a song: Rhythm, tones, pacing of dialog, combined with sounds of what people are doing, walking, working, fighting.

We would take a scene and work it, sometimes in both languages - the actors all spoke English as well - until it had the right energy and life to it. I also knew that Mea, unlike many writers I know, doesn’t have “blocks” and delivers on time. She’s easy to work with.

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

ROBYN: The way we finance our films has become a lifestyle.  In 1990, we quit our L.A. jobs, sold everything we had (except our guitars) and bought one-way tickets to Europe.  We keep our overhead low and focus 100% on creating joyful art.  Everything we earn on our tours goes into the next film.  

There’s also wonderful Gorilla angels who contribute to our film fund on our website and their money goes to feed the actors.  We work as an artist collective, everyone puts in their creative energy to create something beautiful, something bigger than ourselves.  If the movies end up making a real profit, then everyone will take part.  

At this point it’s a labor of love.  On Go with Le Flo we had 200 people from 20 different countries and the atmosphere on set was truly inspiring.  We enjoy the creative freedom of wearing all the hats and it’s really special when everyone is there because they want to be, not for the paycheck.  Go with Le Flo just had a worldwide release on iTunes, which is pretty cool for a no budget film.  We’re curious to see what happens next!

How did you cast the film and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?

MICHAEL: We knew we wanted to cast Denis Aubert and Roberta Bianchini in the film because we’d worked with them before. Casting the other parts went very well - especially after we cast Marina Senckel. She’s with the Berliner Ensemble (founded by Bertolt Brecht) and once her colleagues heard about the film they also wanted to be in it. So we had a terrific ensemble cast.

Regarding the writing: Once you see the actors working together, small changes are always necessary. Mostly it’s a few words here and there for timing, entries and exits. In rehearsal you can see most problems early on. I’m a fan of rehearsing before you get to the set.

I look for actors who can do a scene multiple times and still be fresh. Some tend to burn out after a few takes or, worse than that, do the exact same thing over and over without the ability to freshen up the take.

One script change that was notable: The character of “Gabi” who plays the shop assistant to “Jenny.” Originally, I’d had an older actress in mind and it was written more as a wiser big-sister giving somewhat cynical advice to Jenny. We had an opportunity to cast Luisa Wietzorek in the role - who we shot something with in L.A. years before. She’s younger than Jenny and, in rehearsals, the scene didn’t quite work even though she’s a great actress. I rewrote it to be more of a young know-it-all and then the scenes played great between them.

Michael, you wore a lot of hats on this project -- Director, Writer, Camera, Editor. What's the upside and the downside of that approach?

MICHAEL: The upside is freedom and opportunity to mesh all aspects of production together with a single vision. When I’m running one of the cameras I’m shooting with one eye toward where I’m cutting as editor. So I block the actors in a way that leads to smooth cuts in the edit bay.

Directing from behind the camera isn’t so hard if you have great actors. I’d say I do the lion’s share of directing during rehearsals. That’s mostly when I’m adjusting performance and energy, thoughts-behind-the-words, motivations, getting down to the character essence. During rehearsal I sometimes show them what I mean - sort of a line reading - but I only do that if they seem stuck.

Once we get to set, my directing consists more of reminders of what we did in rehearsal, unless there’s a problem. If, for some reason, the scene isn’t working on set - and this sometimes happens for various human reasons - then we’ll re-work it, re-block it, re-write it even. One thing I don’t usually do is let the actors improvise. I’m a firm believer in the script-as-blueprint. If there’s a problem with the scene, rewrite the script until it works.

The Downside? I suppose it could be tunnelvision, if I didn’t allow any other opinions in. But that’s not my style. During the pre-production and rehearsal process I’m a fan of suggestions, until the scene plays well. On set it’s another matter. I’m of the opinion that on set there should only be one voice of authority and that’s the director - though it should be a pleasant voice.

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

MICHAEL: We shot with two Panasonic GH2s, usually with a pancake lens. I went with an all-handheld aesthetic for various reasons, mostly doing with efficiency and having a fly-on-the-wall feel. I love the camera except for the rolling shutter. That’s not so great. But if you plan shots carefully it’s manageable.

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

MICHAEL: Smartest thing was to pick wonderful actors and crew. That made the shoot easy and pleasant. Dumbest thing? That’s tricky. There are always things you want to improve in a film. There’s not a director on earth that can’t see flaws in his or her films. But I’m of the opinion that it’s best to keep those to oneself and move on to the next movie. Try to do much better next time.

ROBYN: After making 5 feature films, one of the greatest lessons was realizing just how important pre-production is.  Having the time to do proper casting, spend time getting to know the actors, rehearsing, doing camera tests and taking time to find great locations.  

One of the biggest shoot days was with around 60 people.  I usually plan all the catering but because it was such a big day I handed the job to a friend.  They didn’t have much experience and we ended up running out of food!  We sent someone to the store and luckily people didn’t have to wait too long.  Food is one of the most important things on set, helps keep people happy and calm!  We have very gourmet healthy food and lots of fresh baked goods, it’s important to let people know how much you appreciate them by feeding them well!

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

MICHAEL: With every movie we learn a ton. In the next film, Mr. Rudolpho’s Jubilee, we’re planning a very different approach, cinematically and in structure. I’d like to use many of the actors from Go with Le Flo. It’s always great to work with people you already know. Things run much more smoothly then.

ROBYN: Choose who you work with very carefully.  Spend some time getting to know them in different settings.  Make sure you have the same professional values, same creative vision and that everyone is willing to go the extra mile to do the best they can.  

Be really clear in communicating expectations and what the project means to you and them.  Don’t take yourself too seriously and learn to relax.  It’s never going to be perfect, if you’ve done your best then just let it be good enough.  Let go and go with the flow and see the humor in all situations, it’s always there!  Laughter is a great healer!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mike Kravinsky on "Geographically Desirable"

What was your filmmaking background before making Geographically Desirable?

MIKE: Before Geographically Desirable, I made a smaller feature called The Nextnik. It's a comedy about personal and professional reinvention after 50. Originally it was a web series that seemed like it could be expanded. It turned out well. Got into a few festivals and is now being distributed by SnagFilms.

Before that though, not much when it came to making narrative films. I had spent 29 years working as an editor for ABC News in Washington, DC. The news business is downsizing. They offered me a buyout. I thought this was a great opportunity to try something new.

I originally thought that with my background in news, making narrative films would be easy. HA! There are certain aspects that can transfer, but I was basically starting from scratch. I was fortunate to have a cast and crew for The Nextnik that really held my hand in the beginning.

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

MIKE: The idea came from my experience working with people in Washington, DC who live for their jobs. There's a lot of that here. I wanted to create a situation where the lead is forced to be away from the thing she loves. Her job. Suddenly given responsibilities she didn't seek and doesn't want.

Once I came up with the idea, surprisingly, the writing process went pretty smoothly. The story idea--who the characters would be--was the hardest part. The writing was very exciting once the basics were in place.

I went though 14 drafts before I was happy. The biggest change was the lead. Originally the character "Nicole" was a man. As I wrote though, I found that having the lead be a woman gave me all sorts of new directions. Biological clock, having to be extra tough at work to get noticed etc. I also worked with an amazing screenplay consultant in L.A., Dara Marks, who really helped me tighten and focus the script.

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

MIKE: The money for the film came from an inheritance from my father who passed away in 2012 at age 100. The budget was $90,000. As a result, he is the only Executive Producer. After he passed, my brother and I were going through his things and found that in the late 1960's he was a really prolific, if unpublished, poet. So I decided to name the love interest for Nicole after him, Joe, and have Joe woo her by reading her "his" poetry.

How did you cast the film and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?

MIKE: I just held open casting calls in the DC area. There were also actors from The Nextnik that I wanted to be in Geographically Desirable. They didn't need to audition. I already had them pegged for their roles. DC has a very large theater and film acting community. I got a lot of support from local organizations like The Actors Center, DC.

The script didn't change after we casted. That being said, if the actors had a better idea while on set, I listened. I really wanted this to be a collaborative process. Quite often during the shoot, if someone had a good idea for a reaction, or a better way to do a line, we generally did it both ways and when I was editing, I made a choice. Quite often, the actors’ instincts were correct.

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

MIKE: We used a Canon 5D. I liked it, but the decision to use it was based on budget. After color grading, the images really popped. Eventually I'd really like to work with a Red, a Canon 300 or something similar when the budget is bigger.

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

MIKE: I don't know about smart, I'd define it as lucky. I was lucky to work with great actors and crew. I was lucky to find the most amazing locations and have good weather for the exteriors.

I'd say the biggest dumb thing I did was not budgeting shoot time better. Although we rarely worked more than a 12 or 13-hour day, it was stressful because we only had a 21 day shoot schedule. If I had it to do over again, I would add more days off and a few more days to shoot.

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

MIKE: First. Time. More time.

Second, make sure the food is not just pizza. We had the best producer, Vicki Yung, who insisted we have real food and that we take a real break to eat.

In the end it didn't cost that much more and it made everyone happy.