Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cole Walsh on "Audition Secrets"

What was your filmmaking background before making Audition Secrets?

COLE: My love of movies began at a very young age.  I would act them out around the house.  At 3, my favorite movie was The Princess Bride, at 4, it was Kramer vs. Kramer.  I was in plays at a very young age.  I acted, directed, wrote music, did just about every job you can do in theatre.  In high school I continued to do theatre, but got involved in acting in short films.  I was in a lot of plays and short films in college.  While there, I directed a few short films, produced some plays and acted in a couple feature-length movies.

Where did the idea come from and what was your plan for arranging and shooting the interviews?

COLE: I’ve always loved the theatre, and I’ve always loved auditioning, but I was becoming increasingly frustrated by it.  As an actor you always want to go up to a director and say, “Just tell me what you want, and I’ll do it.”  It can feel restrictive when you’ve got so much experience as a performer and as a person, and you are asked to compress all of that into one page and a two minute performance. 

I thought, “I know I’m not alone here.”  So, I decided to interview a couple theatre directors I knew and attempt to get answers to some of the questions that actors never really get answers to in an audition.  The first couple directors I asked were so enthusiastic about the idea, I decided to ask a few more, and it just grew from there.

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

COLE: I asked for a very small grant from a small foundation and a put up a Kickstarter campaign.  The foundation went under and my Kickstarter campaign did not raise the amount I had hoped for.  So, I had very little money, but a handful of very enthusiastic supporters.  As soon as the Kickstarter was finished, I got a part-time job to help cover some of the post-production costs.

As far as recouping costs, my hope is that actors coming out of school will pick this film up, and find it a helpful, insightful viewing experience—one tool of many in their arsenal.

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

COLE: The interviews were shot on a Canon EOS Rebel T3i 600D digital camera.  It was very user-friendly, easy to set up and take down, etc.  The only downside (which probably isn’t really a downside at all) is that camera is very small, and to anyone might just look like an ordinary point-and-shoot camera.  So, whenever I would set it up for an interview I wanted to tell the other person, “No, trust me, it’s a really good camera.  I am actually making a movie.  Really.”  In truth, I think that came from my own insecurities.  I don’t think anyone else actually cared all that much.

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

COLE: The smartest thing is definitely picking a subject I was passionate about.  There were a lot of times throughout the making of the movie I experienced snags, and certain tasks took a lot longer than was previously thought.  It takes a lot of stamina to see a film through from conception to completion.  My real love for the subject matter and the people in front of and behind the camera gave me that.

Checklists can be incredibly helpful.  You can never have enough of them!  I learned this because I did not have enough of them.  When I started the movie, I thought I was going about it in a very organized fashion.  Throughout the process I was constantly being surprised by all the little things that come up when making a movie.  I learned one can never be too organized.

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

COLE: There’s never a right time.  You just have to do it.  Write the script, direct the movie, make the phone call, send the e-mail, ask for help, whatever it is.   Surround yourself with people who are both excited about the idea and can also do great work.  You can usually find someone who is really good at the job they do.  You can find someone who thinks your idea is great.  Finding a person who falls under both categories is more difficult, but essential. 

Most importantly, you should always try to work on something that is important to you, personal to you.  It doesn’t have to be important to the world at large, or so personal that you are exposing your soul warts and all; but whatever it is, if you can find something important and personal about the work you’re doing and pay your bills, that’s the best way to go.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Kate Moran on “Are You Afraid of the '90s?"

What was your filmmaking background before making Are you Afraid of the 90s?

KATE: I actually started out in theater, directing and producing my own theatrical productions at the age of 18 while I was studying at NYU. I was always hanging out with the Film majors though, and a few of them are my closest friends and collaborators to this day.

After graduating, I had my own theater company for a few years with some of my fellow alums. That was a crash course in non-profit downtown theater and we had a great time, producing several full theatrical productions in small black box theaters around New York City.

A few years ago I decided to turn my focus to film and was lucky enough to work with award-winning indie film director Matthew Bonifacio. Matt and Julianna Gelinas Bonifacio, his producing (and life) partner, are awesome and they were gracious enough to take me under their wing. I worked on a couple of their projects, including their feature film, The Quitter, and those experiences have proven to be invaluable.

Not too long after, I started developing the script for Are You Afraid of the '90s?, which is my first film as writer/director. In retrospect, it was really ballsy (and risky) of me to take on such a heavy production for my first shot as a writer/director, but I had been working in production for several years and luckily I had many friends, colleagues, and resources that I could and did call upon to help make this film a reality. Not to say it made any of it super easy, but the team I got to work with, and emotional support I've received - it's incredibly humbling, I'm really thankful for that. 

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

KATE: I was thinking about this growing trend of '90s nostalgia that I was seeing everywhere on the Internet, so in my usual way, I tried to subvert that idea. How could I turn nostalgia into a nightmare? And of course, the first image I got was of a haunted Furby.

At the same time, my friends and I were all in the thick of our own quarter-life crises. Pretty much all of my friends are artists of some kind and the financial insecurity of our trades, along with incredible amounts of college debt, only added to our existential panic. It made total sense to me why there was such an intense spike in '90s nostalgia. When the future is completely uncertain, it's all too easy to become fixated on the past. It all came together from that. 

Once the actual story and characters came together from these concepts, I had a couple readings of early drafts. Two of the actors in those initial readings are actually in the film - Darren Lipari and Stephen Stapinski - they've been with this project pretty much from the beginning, as have a lot of my collaborators.

The core story has always stayed the same, but I've probably written about 50 drafts of this script since its inception. I'm sure my crew was frustrated with me, as I would sometimes rework a scene right before we were to shoot, but I was always striving to create a more authentic moment. I worked a lot in improvisation during my theater days so I had to adjust. My actors were very invested in telling this story and we would spend hours just discussing every aspect of these characters and Jessica's story.

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

KATE: Oh god, this part is always the least fun. Fundraising was really, really tough, and it's still a challenge as we are in post-production. Crowd-funding, really, is how we managed to get it done. A lot of begging and a whole lot of generosity from our family, friends, and supporters. You name it, we've done it. Indie Go-Go, Kickstarter, fundraiser parties, online auctions, letter-writing campaigns, it's been a quite an undertaking to say the least, and we're still raising funds for post as I type this.

We had a Kickstarter in 2014 that was miraculously successful, but really only covered a portion of the budget. We did a ton of social media promotion for that and that's also how we met Michael Summers, who heard of our project through the Reddit-sphere and is now our executive producer.

Now we're applying to finishing grants as we have non-profit status through Fractured Atlas. As this is a non-profit short film, all of the funds and goods were donated, so the most we hope to recoup is to just pay ourselves back for any out-of-pocket money we've spent. But it's all worth it, right? 
(Psst - tax-deductible donations can be made here:

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

KATE: A few of the roles were cast from actors who I had known and worked with before, but really it's thanks to our casting director, Allison Shomer Kirschner. I had met her at a past job and she graciously agreed to work on our project.

She sent out a script to Heather Matarazzo and Kristine Sutherland and they got back to us pretty much right away. I knew Jenna Leigh Green through a mutual connection and I actually wrote the role of Kimmie with her in mind, so to me, she was destined to play it!

And after casting, the script definitely changed. Not drastically, but like I mentioned before, prior to shooting, I would meet with my actors and discuss the story and these characters at great length and each one of them helped continue to flesh out these roles into real, complex people. 

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

KATE: We shot on a Canon C100. My DP Jake Horgan is amazing and such a trooper; along with my producers, he's really been such an important partner in creating this film with me. He works primarily with the C300, but we used a C100 as we were so low-budget.

Honestly, I'm sure he could talk more about the different pros and cons, so here's what he had to say: "I love the quality of image you can get from the camera all while fitting into a very light form factor body. The light sensitivity is a huge plus, especially when working within the constraints of a low budget shoot. Furthermore, the camera has the hugely helpful waveform and focus magnification tools ensuring I get my shots well exposed and sharp. Some cons: The C100's recording codec compresses the image twice as much its bigger brother the C300, and the design of the viewfinder and LCD screen leaves something to be desired."

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

KATE: Oh boy, I don't know if I have the answer to this question yet! I'm sure the lessons from this whole process will continue to unearth themselves to me for years to come. 

Here's what I will say: Writer, director, producer Roberta Marie Munroe talks about the "Big Belief System" and "Genius Surround" in her book, How Not To Make a Short Film, and I completely agree. Those two core ideas have really saved my butt many times.

You have to be the biggest cheerleader for your film. If every fiber of your being doesn't believe this film must be made, then don't make it. Making an indie film, especially when you're self-producing, is so incredibly hard in so many ways and takes so much sacrifice, determination and work, so your belief in the project is essential to get you through those darker days.

Also the passion you have for your project can hopefully lead to you being able to convince really talented, likewise passionate teammates to help you make your film, even if you can't pay them well or at all.

Which then ties directly into the Genius Surround idea - surrounding yourself with people who are more knowledgeable, more experienced, more talented, especially in areas you are not. Get the best people you can on your team, and I luckily have amazing people on my team, and your ship has that much more of a chance at staying afloat. 

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

KATE: Just ask, the worst they can say is no. Respect yourself and your vision and your team, but leave the ego out of it. Stay grateful. Listen to your teammates but also know when to draw the line and do so, respectfully. Do whatever you can ahead of time so on set you can do your job better. Work within your means, you'd be surprised at how you can rise to the challenge. Have good, hot meals on set - everyone says this but it's so important. Take the time you need to get the footage you need, but also know when you're being self-indulgent. Stressing about money and time should be your last concerns when on set -- get a really great producing team, AD, and coordinator so they can worry about that for you -- if the work suffers, then none of it is worth it. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lonzo Liggins on "Stop Pepper Palmer"

What was your filmmaking background before making Stop Pepper Palmer?

LONZO: I went to a film school at a community college but never with the intention of creating films, just working in the industry. I was being laid off by the local power company and needed work and was told that PAs (production assistants) were making a good living in our state (Utah) at the time. Prior to that I had done extra work, featured extra work, and was a production assistant.

I mainly stumbled into the industry out of necessity and not desire, it was something that fascinated me and I felt I would be good at it. As an extra, I would sneak on set and watch the actors and crew working. I picked up the lingo, watched the actors carefully, and never thought I would one day make a film myself.

Six years ago I entered into acting, theater and film, and became a filmmaker out a necessity to create more parts for myself and other actors.

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

LONZO: I was always a writer, during high school I was a rapper and grew a strong affinity for language and poetry. I wrote incessantly and always had ideas popping into my head.

I wrote a paper my senior year for a history class and I knew nothing about the subject and bullshitted my way through the paper. The teacher gave me a D but told me I was a great writer, despite the face that the whole paper was not factual. It was the first time someone had given me any validation for writing. I won a poetry contest for a newspaper, and eventually went on to write freelance articles and wrote for a college newspaper.

It was around that time that I started to study screenwriting. I was an extra on the feature film Firestarter 2: Rekindled, and I looked around and had an epiphany. For the first time on a set I realized that all of the production came out of the mind of one person. All of the jobs were there because one person had an interesting enough idea to be taken seriously, get financial backing and have a film made. It blew my mind. So, I devoured books and screenplays so I could figure out what works and what doesn't.

My writing style is scattered and extremely methodical. I will write down ideas that come to me constantly throughout the day. I may have 3-400 pieces of paper with random character ideas lying around and they all make sense to me. The average person can pick up the piece of paper and be lost but I know exactly where in the story it goes.

I spend anywhere from a month to two or three years developing the characters in my head. Once the characters are developed, then the words come easily. It's a matter of me getting their tone, look, quirks, and nuances down in my head. After that, the character choices are easy and the situations are simple to write.

The actual process of writing the script takes anywhere from three weeks to three months. The re-writes may take a two to three months. I try and not over think the writing process because I think the best ideas are organic and don't need to be forced just channeled. If you can form a character in your brain with enough detail, the character will come alive and tell you everything they will say in every given situation you provide.

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

LONZO: I went to a Sundance workshop and James Cromwell was the guest speaker. He explained that making a move to LA was a bad idea if you wanted to create a career in Hollywood, he said to create your own content and it was more likely to get you recognition.

There were two filmmakers who made a movie called Unicorn City who raised money from a family member and Cromwell suggested trying that route. So, Initially, there was no plan to have a larger budget. I had an idea to create a web series that could be shot on $1500. I was going to use friends and fellow actors to work cheap and for free so we could just get some material out there. What I realized was that people had varying schedules and working for free creates a huge flood of flakiness and lack of commitment.

In addition, I didn't want to spend every weekend trying to rally people together to shoot the series. I switched the idea to making a feature and releasing it, if nothing happened we would just release two minute segments on YouTube or through a website.

My girlfriend had money she had received from a trust and we had always talked about starting a business so we said we should just create a business in something we knew, so she invested $15,000 initially. Once she was able to see the power of the table read and the potential the film may have, she upped the budget to $30,000.

After we began shooting, we realized that having some kind of celebrity cameo would help to secure us a distribution deal, the budget was increased again. Near the end, our budget got increased to $100,000 because of the unforeseen costs and the level of legitimacy we wanted our film to have.

Many of the techniques I learned about distribution I got from Jerome Courshoun's DVD course, Secrets of Distribution. As far as recouping costs, we relied on tapping into the fan base of our celebrity cameos and securing distribution that may capitalize on getting the physical product in a platform like Redbox or a small theatrical run.

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

LONZO: I am a theatre and film actor so I am very much plugged into the acting scene. I knew going into the film, with extensive research, that acting, sound, and a bad script would kill a film. So, I put a strong emphasis on acting and casting the right people.

I had written parts for people I knew but some people weren't able to do the parts and others didn't have the time available to take off from work. My strategy was to get people who I knew were great actors from the theatre world and transition them into film. It was a tactic that worked with some of the greatest actors and I wanted to utilize it for the film.

I had them study Michael Caine's Acting in Film series on YouTube and talked to them about the subtleties in film acting. I even went as far as to hold rehearsals and use my iPad to record them and show them the differences in their performances if they tried different approaches.

Because it was a comedy I would say about 85% was scripted and we did some improve. I wanted the set to be as relaxed and at ease as possible. How can you create funny content if everyone is stressed? If an actor wanted to try something we did it, if it worked it worked, if not, I didn't use it in the final edit. I'm a firm believer in a democracy on a film set, not a dictatorship, so allowing the actors some free reign to develop different approaches with the character was encouraged.

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

LONZO: We used a Red One and a Red Scarlett. Most of the shots were steadicam to shave time down and create sense of being in the room with the actors. I loved the look of the Reds but the breakdown and set up process was a lot longer than it would've been had we used a 5d or a 7d.

Plus, whenever you use larger cameras there becomes a crowd control problem. People tend to stop and play the "what are you guys filming game" when there are larger cameras. I don't regret using the Red's and would use them again. It made the editing process much more streamlined.

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

LONZO: Smartest thing we did during production was to shoot in fewer locations so we could lessen the amount of company moves and decrease time. Shooting in fewer locations was a Kevin Smith idea I latched on to.

Once again, going back to creating a sense of comfort with the cast and crew where anyone who came on set felt comfortable was very key to creating a stress free environment that helped everyone do their jobs efficiently. Ego trips and power struggles don't belong in the arts in my opinion. Disagreements and differing opinions, sure, but stopping production to argue over the script, shots, character choices, etc, stifles the process and I can't think of one good outcome that comes from it.

The dumbest thing that happened was not having a plan b for every shot or coming to set unprepared, whether actor or crewmember. We had one day on set that there was a lack of preparation that halted production and caused us to add an extra day to production. We were all exhausted and had hit a wall, no one was to blame but our collective selves for not planning for the unexpected. I would tell any aspiring filmmaker that you can't plan enough.

And finally, what did you learn from the film that you will take to other projects?

LONZO: With the market changing constantly I have learned the value of two things: creating a product that appears to have higher production value, not necessarily by using CGI but by having a larger variation of shots and locations that are well shot.

Also, using a recognizable celebrity to do a cameo or part in the film is a must. This really helps during the distribution process. If you have the budget, find one name to come and shoot for a day. Even if you have to think outside of the box, YouTube stars, well known bloggers, athletes, musicians, TV stars, reality show stars, people who may have a desire to break into film or build their acting reel.

Many times distributors don't even ask about the plot they ask who is in the film. They need to recoup costs just like you do. If they put money and their reputation into a film they want to have the film be profitable and make them look good.

Go into any film with a business mindset and that will help enormously. The artistic part is crucial, but you'll find that the business side is equally crucial. Making a film and then shotgunning it out to film festivals and crossing your fingers is a bad strategy that is employed by more filmmakers than who will care to admit. Studying, understanding distribution, and having a solid plan of action, along with several fallback plans, is a vital factor in securing distribution and getting a film placed in larger platforms like Redbox and Netflix, or getting a theatrical release.

I would learn even more about distribution, how the distribution companies work and the role of a producer’s rep and how vital they may or may not be for your film. I cannot stress how much more you realize you need to know after making a film and then getting distribution, the journey of knowledge has just begun, but it's a journey that I would take again and again. No regrets. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Roger Corman and Barbara Steele on "Caged Heat"

How did you meet Jonathan Demme?

ROGER CORMAN: Jonathan was working out of England, writing publicity for United Artists. I did a film in Ireland for United Artists, and he came over on behalf of UA. It was clear he was a very intelligent young man. He said he was writing publicity but was interested in writing screenplays.

I told him a couple ideas I had and I said, 'If you're ever write anything on this, let me know.' He and his partner, Joe Viola, wrote a script and Jonathan produced and directed. They did one more for me, and then they did
Caged Heat, on which Jonathan made his debut as a director.

How did you know he'd be a good director?

ROGER CORMAN: He had been doing some second unit directing when Joe was the director. I've always liked the idea of a new director shooting some second unit. He gets a feel for what's going on, and I get a chance to judge what he can do.

You're legendary for taking new directors to lunch and sort of giving them a quick, one-hour course in filmmaking. What's are the key messages you impart?

ROGER CORMAN: The most important thing that I point out over and over is preparation. On a ten-day shoot, or a 20-day shoot, you don't have time to create from scratch on the set. As a matter of fact, I don't think you should do that anyway.

My number one rule is to work with your actors in advance, so you and the actors are agreed on at least the broad outline of the performance. Then to have sketched out, if not all of your shots, most of your shots, so you have a shot plan in advance.

So your planning for both working with the camera and working with the actors is worked out in advance, knowing that you will never shoot exactly according to the plan. Sometimes the plan doesn't work and you have to change it, and sometimes you get a better idea. There will always be shading and nuance with the actors, which will occur in rehearsal on the set before shooting, but you at least have the broad strokes worked out, so you're working on detail work on the set and you can come in and shoot, rather than come in and discuss what you're going to shoot.

Be flexible. Even though you've done all your preparation, don't stick absolutely to the preparation if it doesn't seem to be working. Know that you've got the preparation, but situations change, so be prepared to change with the situations.

How did you meet Jonathan Demme?

BARBARA STEELE: That was just an amazing, bizarre moment in time. I was walking down Sunset Boulevard. It was around Christmas time. Nobody walks in LA anyway, so it was kind of a feat to be walking anywhere.

This vast blue car with fins from another era pulled up and out jumps this guy with this really radiant smile and says, ''Barbara Steele! Barbara Steele.!'

And I say, 'Hello? Yes?' And he says, 'I'm about to make a movie, I've been looking for you everywhere, would you consider doing it? We start shooting in three days! Please say yes, please say yes!' And that was
Caged Heat.

Is there a difference between low-budget filmmaking in Europe and low-budget filmmaking in the U.S.?

BARBARA STEELE: It was slightly different doing low-budget movies in Italy as opposed to doing them here, because in Italy there is an attendant melodrama to everything. So the crew and everybody actually adores low-budget movies, on one level -- not in terms of their salaries but in terms of the drama of it all.

The downside is that you're having close-ups after 18 hours of work, and the lighting suffers because the lighting cameraman is doing a huge amount of set-ups in a very short amount of time.

Do you like working that way?

BARBARA STEELE: I actually like the condensed, slightly frantic energy that goes into a low-budget film, rather than something that is more elongated and slower.

Everybody is in it together, in a
Dog Day Afternoon kind of way. And I like that. You feel like a family in this rush, and you’ve got to get it done, and it's like you're all pushing at it together. You don't have time to worry about your make-up, you're just in there, and I like that. I think it's really great; I must sound demented, but I actually like it.

But, of course, it depends on the material. If you're making a film where the subject matter is extremely intimate and private, you need much more time. But the low-budget films that I have done were basically melodramas.

What was it like working with Demme?

BARBARA STEELE: I think that he was very smart and very hip and very attuned to that moment in time. He always wore these fantastic, fabulous shirts.

Demme was a very unthreatening, very charming, very upbeat person. I'm sure all actors have loved working with him.

I think the most important thing is that the actors feel really safe and comfortable. You can only be as good as you dare to be bad. And if the actor is spooked or apprehensive, they'll just freeze.

So the whole thing is for the actor to feel loved, really, and appreciated. Because it's a very vulnerable thing, to get into inside of somebody's face when it's blown up to the size of a vast fireplace or something.

You're pretty evil in the film. Do you enjoy playing evil characters?

BARBARA STEELE: I'm always invariably cast to play these villainesses. Unfortunately, I never got to play the great iconic villains, like Lady Macbeth or Medea. I would have loved to get my teeth into something really grand and deep.

I think certain actors have marquee value in certain films. With me, I got stuck in the whole horror genre, and so everyone needed to see me in that light, until I did these other little off-beat movies, which of course nobody ever sees. Like
Young Torless, a Volker Schlöndorff film, where I was not a villainess, and is actually one of my preferred movies.

I don't know, I appear to be an archetypal villainess.