Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bryon Blakey on "PMS Cop"

What was your filmmaking background before making PMS Cop?

BRYON: I have no formal filmmaking background, just a huge fan of movies. My friends and I have been making movies since 1995 or so. We started by editing in camera with VHS. Then moved up to SVHS and an editing suite.

We produced an action thriller that did real well called Ravage. After that I was hooked. We've since produced multiple direct to DVD flicks. Truth is I did sneak into filmmaking classes at the local college many times.

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

BRYON: The idea for PMS Cop occurred when I was pulled over for speeding by this "Nice" female police officer that had pulled me over many times before over the years. No talking her out of a ticket.

So, I thought it would be fun to make a horror movie about a PMS afflicted cop on a rampage, but in the one year process of writing she became a sort of antihero. It was challenging to keep the proper motivations in place and give the audience the carnage they deserve. But, hopefully we did just that.

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

BRYON: The budget came out of pocket and our plan for distribution was to self distribute. But in the process of sending out review copies, Full Moon was contacted by word of mouth and hit us up. Of course we weren't turning that down.

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

BRYON: Most of the people we cast were in other local movies but we did have a casting call. The script was locked down by that time, so we made no changes.

We don't usually make changes unless a location is impossible to get or someone leaves the production. At this budget level, just about anything is possible. I like to start shooting as soon as we cast so it is exciting and fresh in everyone's mind.

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

BRYON: We used a Canon DSLR. Of course the price was the benefit. I usually use a larger camera to shoot so it was a change, but we got used to its maneuverability. The downfall of the cameras were the tendency for stuck pixels leaving bright red dots here and there on the frames. Fortunately we fixed them in post.

You wore a lot of hats on this project -- writer, director, producer, editor. What are the pros and cons of working that way?

BRYON: I really don't know any other way to make movies. The benefits are that
you don't have to beg someone else to do them and they will get done to your satisfaction.

The downside is that some of these jobs require all your concentration so they can't be done simultaneously, so it takes longer to finish the project.

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

BRYON: The smartest would be using the science lab location for 2/3rds of the film. In the past we used many different locations in the heat and cold. This building was completely empty, air conditioned and quiet.

The dumbest thing I did was to take on such a big project with very little money. But, that has never stopped us before.

And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?

BRYON: I learned that Springfield Missouri is the world's best place to make movies hands down.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Greg W. Locke on "Forever Into Space"

What was your filmmaking background before making Forever Into Space?

GREG: It's 2009 and I've already put seven or eight years into studying the art of trying to write screenplays, meanwhile working as a freelance writer focused on critical writing about film and music. I get the bright idea to try to make a music video one day and that was it, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

After two years of bumbling around with little art videos and DIY music videos I start shooting what would become my first feature film, Holler and the Moan (2011) - a feature-length art house music documentary about a brilliant singer/songwriter who is suffering through a mysterious illness that keeps him from realizing his potential. That flick played at a few festivals. An old friend of mine who works in the film industry saw the movie and told me that if I moved to New York he would help me get work in the film world.

His vote of confidence meant a lot to me, and so I moved to New York and started working on other people's projects. Some big, some small. My role was never anything too important, but it was a good experience and it allowed me to experience the industry's production side first hand.

So I started focusing on writing and wrote several scripts in quick succession. This city inspires me. It was like turning on a faucet - the ideas just kept coming. They still do to this day. I finished this screenplay called He Hop Wave that I felt really good about, then took a break. I wrote a short film called The Fall Tomorrow that I started to plan to shoot.

Then the idea for Forever Into Space came up and I made a plan and attacked it. I spent over two years on that movie and now here we are, doing press for its festival run. If a goof like me can do all of that in just a few years, it makes me wonder what it would be like if a real genius like P.T. Anderson was just now coming of age.

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

GREG: I fell in love with New York City when I was pretty young. Or, that is, I fell in love with the impression of New York that I had from the movies I watched and the records I listened to.

I heard New York when I listened to Illmatic or Midnight Marauders. Or a Ramones record. Or Lou Reed's voice or Digable Planets' "9th Wonder."

I saw it when I watched Do the Right Thing, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally, Juice. You get it. Finding Forrester. Seinfeld. Howard Stern. I love the city. I did when I was a kid and I still do now as a resident who is trying to document a time and place that I love.

My first year here was spent as an outsider who was essentially studying a place that he thought he knew. I paid attention to everything - the city consumed me for that year. By the end of the year I had a list of ideas I wanted to write about. All New York City-centric ideas that I'd pulled from my experience here as a resident.

I carved an idea and some characters and a narrative arc of sorts out of that list of ideas and just started writing. It came together very quickly. I think the first draft was just over six days. Maybe a week. I used that to start getting actors interested. Then I worked on tweaking the script along the way according to who got cast and what our resources were. There was a lot of problem solving that happened on the page as we went. I think the script probably changed about as much as any script ever; it was a constant project. I still haven't even typed up a final version of the script.

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

GREG: One of the reasons I wanted to make the film is that I had a plan. I'd become increasingly aware of the technological element of filmmaking. Specifically how that element relates to cost and production value. I realized that for a very small amount of money, you can now make a movie for very cheap. Cheaper than ever before.

So I came up with this very simple plan: make the biggest movie possible for the smallest amount of money. So there was no budget. No financial plan per se, though there is an agreement among all of the people closely involved with making the film. We have a contract that was part of the plan from the get-go.

Will we recoup costs for the film at some point? Oh who knows. We have had to put money into the festival circuit. That's expensive beyond belief. We've spend much more on that mostly-clerical process than we did on the film itself. But, all that said, yes. Yes, I think we will make all of our money back. I think this movie can somehow bring in a solid $7k or so.

The seven of us who made the film together all share an equal ownership over the movie, so there's a lot we can try out as far as streaming and touring with the film goes. The product is done and we're proud of it, now is just about figuring out how to use the product.

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

GREG: I wrote the first 20 pages or so before I did anything. I had the plan in place and I started feeling really great about it. I thought the idea was strong - the "make the biggest movie possible for the smallest amount of money" idea. I knew people would respond to that. And I knew people would like the idea of having ownership over the film and being part of something. People felt like they were part of some new movement - like we were doing the new radical thing that would help change the medium.

Working so loosely allowed me the luxury of changing the script according to who I got cast and what I saw their strengths to be. Everything got tweaked along the way, as I got to know the actors better. So as the film plays on - as the audience experiences the story - both myself and the people in the crowd are getting to know the characters. You get to grow with the characters as I, the writer, did. Adds an interesting subtext.

How did you come to the decision to shoot in black and white and what were the implications of that choice?

GREG: Many of my original art films and music videos are high contrast black and white. And my documentary, Holler and the Moan, is in black and white. Most of the photos I take are black and white. I like it. And I think it suits the city well.

And there are other, more boring reasons - like that it's a different approach to composition, or that not having to worry about color grading and lighting so much was really nice since I was already wearing multiple hats. 

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

GREG: I researched cameras for months before I shot a thing. I knew I wanted to make a movie in New York but there was a lot to figure out first. I finally started asking my sister's boyfriend if he had any advice. He's a big camera and technology guy, so he was a perfect person to go to.

Not only did he have input, but he had an answer for me. Get a GH2 and hack it. Crank the settings and don't look back. And he was right. I got more out of that $500 camera than I ever could have expected. I've seen the movie projected onto huge screens and it couldn't look any better. It's very sharp.

I didn't really HATE anything about the camera. Ideally, you can hook your camera up to a monitor and review your footage on a decent sized screen. I didn't have the money for that, so I reviewed all of my footage on the camera's little two-inch screen. That made it hard to be perfect. I would get home and look at footage and see things I didn't know where there. So that was an issue but, for the most part, I loved using the GH2.

I've since moved on to a different, more expensive camera. Needless to say, I miss the GH2 very much and will likely even go back to using it until someone shows me a better option for what I do.

You wore a lot of hats on the production -- writer, director, editor, producer, cinematographer, production designer, etc. What's the upside and the downside of doing that?

GREG: The upside of working the way I do is that I don't have to spend a huge amount of time trying to accurately articulate my creative vision into direction for collaborators. I just get to do my best at getting what I want. So in that way, it’s easier than letting other people do the work.

But of course it’s difficult, balancing several duties at once. It's the extreme version of directing, and it works for someone like me, who is more of a doer than a talker. All that being said, I can’t wait to someday work with a bunch of people who are way better at their craft than I am. That will be a whole new adventure for me.

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

GREG: The plan I put together before shooting a single frame worked out really nicely. On paper, people thought I was nuts. But then it worked. I followed my insane plan and now I'm doing interviews about the movie I made.

The worst decision I made was ... I’m not sure. I've certainly made a lot of mistakes, but none that stand out as tremendous. Maybe that mistake is in my future? Maybe I'll be the guy who gives Harvey the blackest eye of his career. Maybe I'll cast Ashton Kutcher as a lead in something. I'll get back to you.

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

GREG: When you're in production, make sure you're making time to sleep. Sleep a lot. I learned that the hard way. And definitely don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. That’s something I'm still working on. 

And, sadly, I learned that to be successful your best bet is to make a short movie with pretty people, a good title and blood and/or boobs. But of course that’s the furthest thing from what I'm doing for my next movie. Because I apparently am a person who has thinks he can work for free forever.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Anna Kerrigan on "The Impossibilities"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Impossibilities?

ANNA: I was one of the few theater majors at Stanford University – really quite unusual. At that time there was no practical film program, just a critical major where you watched and talked about films so I went with the theater department where I actually got to do stuff.

After graduating, I went to New York, interned at a couple of independent production companies, then worked as a production assistant on everything from Law and Order to a Bollywood film to an Ivan Reitman movie. I learned a lot on those sets but I hated the hours – it didn’t give me any time to write. I happily gave it up and started working as a barista and then a dog walker in Brooklyn. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was a fun and textured lifestyle and I had plenty of time to develop my writing, ie my voice, in the obscurity of my railroad apartment.

Eventually, I got into the New York theater scene, then wrote and directed an indie feature, a drama called Five Days Gone that I shot in Massachusetts. Five Days Gone was basically my film school: I wrote it, directed it, produced it, edited it and acted in it. It was a lot – but boy, by the end of it, there was no longer a sense of mystery surrounding the nuts and bolts of making a movie. Since then, I’ve written some great TV pilots and features, had some dead end development experiences in Hollywood, weirdly produced and cast a lot of true crime reenactments (for the cash) and then The Impossibilities happened!

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

ANNA: In February of 2014 during the “polar vortex” that was going on in New York, I was early to meet a friend for lunch at this place called Freeman’s on the Lower Eastside. I recognized the hostess – a tall, gorgeous, hilarious girl – but didn’t know why. I struck up a conversation to figure it out and realized pretty quickly that I’d called her in about five times to play the lead in my play The Talls a few years beforehand. That could have been awkward – but somehow it wasn’t. She told me she and her fiancĂ©e wanted to make a very short film that showcased his magic abilities – he had been a professional magician as a child. I really liked her a lot, and told her that if she ever wanted to pick my brain, I’d be happy to share my experiences putting a production together.

The following Wednesday, I met those two, Kati and Ashley, who went on to be my fellow collaborators, at a restaurant in the West Village. We had a really nice time together and I gave them the advice I could. We started hanging out every Wednesday and eventually they asked me to direct the short – which I agreed to.

But the more we talked, the more I got to know them, the more I felt like the short wasn’t going to be enough. They’re both so unique and special and talented and I felt like they hadn’t had their chance to really shine in special roles. I proposed that I write something longer for them – a web series – tailoring the roles specifically to the two of them. They agreed and I wrote the first draft of the whole season all at once in a couple of weeks.

They were initially freaked out – they said it was eerie how much I had channeled of them in our relative short friendship. (Ashley “accidentally” cut off the tip of his finger after reading it – a missing finger is a big problem if you’re a magician. We still joke that he subconsciously did it so he wouldn’t have to perform any of the magic tricks.) From there, Ash and Kati gave me their thoughts and I wrote the next draft, then the next one, then the next one – four drafts in all.

After we cast the rest of the roles, I scheduled brief rehearsals with all the actors to read through their individual scenes. It’s very helpful for me to hear the dialogue out loud, make changes and cuts while I’m with the actors, and then have them read it back through again. I probably like this way of working because of my theater background. I guess it’s a luxury in film or something to have rehearsals, but I think it saves you so much time in production as well as in the editing room.

Why did you choose to make this project as a web series as opposed to a feature?

ANNA: I never even fathomed making it as a feature. These are characters that I love and I immediately thought up countless adventures for them. I honestly didn’t know how to contain all that in an hour and a half.

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

ANNA: Ashley and Kati funded the series with the money they received from their wedding (they got married last summer). It’s very romantic – and maybe a little bit crazy – but I’m glad they took that risk because I think it’ll pay off for all of us.

Our plan was always to self-produce and self-release so that we maintained creative control over the show, then create an audience and figure out what our options are from there for the second season. I think eventually we’ll recoup, but we always knew it would take awhile. We’re talking to different platforms now about possibly funding a second season. And if no one bites, then we’ll crowdfund for Season Two.

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

ANNA: Apart from Ash and Kati, we had a few other actors in mind. Since all three of us have been in the theater and film community of New York for awhile, we pooled our contacts and called in friends and friends of friends for roles we thought they might be right for. Additionally, we worked with an awesome casting director, Alison Twardziak, who helped us find actors for a couple of children’s roles and a smattering of other characters we were having trouble with.

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

ANNA: Our two DPs, Dagmar Weaver-Madsen and Chris Heinrich, shot with two C300s. I wanted the show to look composed, naturally lit and feel no frills – and the images accomplished all those things. The C300 is a pretty laid back camera, flexible to various lighting conditions. And our two DPs did a fantastic job with it.

How much did the series change in the editing process and why did you make the changes you did?

ANNA: My editor, Jarrah Gurrie and I, cut a few things that were redundant and divided one episode into two episodes (initially there were only seven episodes – now there are eight). We played around a lot with looks and pauses – I didn’t want it to be rapid fire line-line-line! – so much of the humor and the humanity of these characters is in what’s not said.

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

ANNA: The smartest thing we did was shoot all the episodes at once like a feature. We crossboarded the whole script and shot over the course of thirteen days.

The dumbest was that we didn’t really have an AD or on set producer. We were too frugal to pay someone what they deserved for those roles and it made it very difficult on Ash, Kati and I – and I’m sure the rest of the crew as well. Don’t get me wrong – we actually made our days and everything – but the three of us had way too many responsibilities when we really should have just been focused on directing and acting at that point.

And, finally, what did you learn from making this series that you will take to other projects?

ANNA: I’ll trust my gut instinct without question. I’m also someone who hates conflict, but when you’re working closely with a group of people, you obviously won’t agree on everything and that’s okay. Great decisions come out of compromise. I’ve become much more comfortable broaching creative differences in a productive, sometimes even fun, manner. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Eric Mendelsohn on “3 Backyards”

When we spoke about the writing of Judy Berlin, you said that the script came about from collecting ideas and characters that come together during an eclipse. Was there a similar collection process for 3 Backyards and how did the script grow and change as you prepared it for production?

ERIC: When I was writing 3 Backyards, I was always thinking of glittering light, prisms and sun flares. I encourage myself not to fully understand why I am obsessed with things like that, and trust that my subconscious knows better. I was also thinking about hidden areas- behind tool sheds, beneath rotting leaves, in the dark corners of rooms. Don't ask me why. The finished film is replete with these spaces.

The characters came concurrently. They are all very internal people. Hidden types. John, the male lead played by Elias Koteas, is shut down, cold, inexpressive. Edie Falco plays Peggy, an outwardly sunny yet somewhat cloaked suburban housewife. And then there is Christina, the 7-year-old girl in the film. Though too young to be actively involved in a masquerade in any adult sense, by the end of the day she has taken the leap into worldliness that is the beginning of that journey.

You mentioned during the Judy Berlin interview that writing about people in the suburbs -- with cars and homes and all that -- made it hard to produce the film on a small budget. And yet, here you are doing it again with 3 Backyards. What did you learn from Judy Berlin that made it easier to shoot in the suburbs on a small budget?

ERIC: Everything- literally every thing- in the film is borrowed.

At one point in the film we see Edie Falco sitting at an easel in her backyard painting. The backyard and the house are loaned by total strangers to the film, the easel was mine, the painting Edie is painting was done by a local artist, the paints were donated by Grumbacher and the potted plants that surround the yard were lent for the day by a Northport florist.

I want my next film to be about a poor person who renounces, maybe for religious reasons, owning objects of any kind.

What are the advantages -- and disadvantages -- of creating a story that all takes place on one day?

ERIC: Everything about shooting a feature that supposedly takes place in one day sucks. The fact that a group of 40 grownups (crew members) spends the good part of every day praying for good weather like something out of Dances With Wolves is horrible. Footage doesn't match, hair and clothing is a misery to match. Then again- one outfit per person is a godsend!

One piece of advice that you said in our last interview -- to shoot fewer takes of the same shot, but instead to do more camera set-ups -- is advice that I often lead with when talking to film students. (That and the idea of putting your keys in the refrigerator when you unplug it while shooting, to ensure that you remember to plug it back in before leaving the location, are two of the best film tips I know.) What advice do you give your film students before they launch into shooting their first feature?

ERIC: Know the story. In the end, audiences don't care about the bleach bypass process, they don't care about the crane shots, they don't care about the funny anecdotes about how you sold your liver to get money to make the film. That is all bullshit. They crave characters and story and surprise and satisfaction.

What was the smartest thing you did while making 3 Backyards? The dumbest?

ERIC: The smartest thing I did on 3 backyards was offering the parts to the finest actors working today- Edie Falco, Elias Koteas, Embeth Davidtz, Danai Gurira, Randi Kaplan, etc. I knew what I had in the script was a study of human beings in odd, queer little situations. There is no such thing as a good movie with lousy acting.

The dumbest thing I did on the film...hmmm...I don't yet have the distance to comment on that. And maybe it's not a mode of thinking I want to entertain right now. I think the film got done because I was aware and awake and conscious during production. It would feel weird to call some good, honest part of the process "dumb" right now. I dressed poorly. I am a slob.

Finally, what did you learn making this film that will help you make the next one?

ERIC: What I learned making this film not only changed the experience for me- it changed my entire outlook on creativity. The ability to make artwork is a real privilege (as opposed to let's say, digging ditches or working outside in the cold on a telephone line). I was so inspired by all my students (I teach at the Columbia University Graduate Film Program) working for free or for peanuts and all the homeowners donating so much. Who would whine in the face of all that?