Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ryan Schwartz on "Summer of 8"

What was your filmmaking background before making Summer of 8?

RYAN: Like most directors I’ve wanted to make movies as long as I can remember, so I got my first PA job when I was 18.  Then I went to USC film school.  It was great going into film school with a few years of set experience under my belt.  I teach directing now at the New York Film Academy.  As hard as we try, it’s really difficult to explain how a professional set is run.  There really is no substitute for actually being on set.

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

RYAN: I spent many wasted years attached to larger projects that were never going to materialize.  On the very day that one of those projects fell apart, I felt bad for myself for a few minutes, then I called my wife and said, ‘I’m making a feature this summer if I have to shoot it on two iphones for $5 bucks.’  It just hit me with so much clarity that I needed to make a movie.

That very night between the hours of 1 am and 7 am, I outlined the entire film on the notes apps of my iphone.  I wrote the entire script in about one month, not having any idea how I would fund it, cast it, or anything... Which leads perfectly to your next question...

What was the casting process like and did you adjust the script at all to fit the cast?

RYAN: While I was writing my script I saw a really cool little movie at the DGA.  I could tell the movie didn’t have much of a budget, but it was still beautifully made and wonderfully cast.

I sent the casting directors, Lauren and Jordan Bass of Bass Casting, an email introducing myself and asking if they would read my script.  They got right back to me and responded to the material.  That was the point when I really knew somehow, someway I was going to get the movie made.

As usual, the Basses did the first round of auditions and sent me the tapes.  I was blown away by the level of talent reading for each part. I could not be more proud or more grateful for this cast.  It was kind of a miracle.  I really didn’t have to change the script much. Each actor cast had so much in common with the character they played.  It was extraordinary.

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

RYAN: I initially thought of using crowd sourcing, but pretty quickly decided to pursue private equity.  The first call I made was to an incredibly supportive family member, Scott Dixon, who is also a passionate storyteller.  He and I had always talked bigger picture about not just doing a film together, but starting a production company.  We both sort of intuitively knew Summer of 8 was an opportunity to accomplish both.  I’m thrilled to say that we did indeed, start a new company, Object In Motion, and we’re having a blast.

Regarding the distribution plan, we really went the traditional film festival route.  Like so many films we tried to get into Sundance and SXSW, but didn’t.  But we never put our head down.  

We always believed we would land at the right festival, and for us that ended up being The Newport Beach Film Festival. We actually shot half the movie in Newport, and the festival was amazing.  We sold out both nights, and we’re approached by a handful of great sales agents and distributors.  

We couldn’t have been more excited that FilmBuff stepped up to take us on.  We are opening in select theaters and all VOD platforms on Sept. 2.  FilmBuff is also selling the film worldwide.  

What type of camera did you use and what did you love (and hate) about it?

RYAN: Because of incredibly tight schedule – 10 days - we shot with two cameras the entire shoot.  We had an Arri Alexa and an Arri Amira.  

Our DP, Martim Vian, is truly a gifted craftsman.  He and his camera crews moved with such speed and fluidity.  Shooting with these two Arri’s was a dream come true for me.  All love. No hate :)

What is the upside--and the downside--to shooting a movie that happens all in one day?

RYAN: The upsides are fairly obvious.  Minimal locations. “Walk Aways” at the house location. Obviously not at the beach.  

The biggest downside is the lack of variety in backdrops, production design, locations.  The gang spends the entire day at the beach.  In the script they  sort of hang out by their towels/chairs most of the day.  On set, inspired by the beautiful beach, and to resolve the lack of variety, we decided get the actors away from their main area as much as possible.  I think this really helps give the film a sense of really spending a full day with them.

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

RYAN: The smartest thing we did during production was to ask the cast to live together in a beach house while we were filming in Newport.  Not only did this save them from tons of driving/traffic, but way more importantly, our cast formed a bound that absolutely shows in the film.  It’s what I’m most proud of.  A high school movie relies on believing these characters have known each other forever. Of course I’m biased, but I think our cast really nailed that.

The dumbest? Probably thinking we can shoot an entire feature in 10 days to begin with.  But that’s the thrill and exhalation of low budget film making. You really have to jump in head first, trust your gut and stay just na├»ve enough to actually think you can pull it off.

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

RYAN: I learned that my 20+ year struggle to get my first movie made was absolutely worth it.  There is nothing like the privilege of working with amazingly talented and committed people to bring a shared vision to life. That’s what I love most about being a director, and I got to do it for 10 magical days.  

Now it’s time to fight like heck for the opportunity to do it again.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jim McBride and L.M. Kit Carson on "David Holzman's Diary"

What was your inspiration for making this film?

MCBRIDE: It was a combination of things. Michael Powel's Peeping Tom had a big impression on me. I saw it when it was banned in the United States; maybe it was banned everywhere, I don't know. On my first visit to California, a guy I knew got a hold of a print of it and showed it at midnight at a movie theater that no longer exists here. I was just knocked out by it. The whole idea of self-examination.

Then, in addition to that, I was very interested in Cinema Verite. Kit Carson and I were going to write something for the Museum of Modern Art about Cinema Verite, and we interviewed all these filmmakers--like the Mayles brothers, Ricky Leacock, Pennebaker, even Andy Warhol--who were making films that purportedly were for the first time entering into real life and finding out the truth.

People were really passionate about this idea that you could find the truth with this new, light-weight equipment and faster film stocks and synch sound--all the stuff that was very new in the sixties. So at that time I was very passionately interested in all of that, and at the same time I felt there was something wrong here.

So you didn't out to specifically fool people?

MCBRIDE: That certainly wasn't the idea. One wanted to make a movie that would be believable. Yes, on one level you wanted people to believe that it was real and to affected by it, but on the other hand, I didn't set out with the intention of fooling people. But just as with any film you make, you want people to suspend their disbelief, you want people to believe it.

I know that this film is an important film to a lot of people, and always, constantly surprised when people come up to me and say, 'I saw your film when I was in college.' My own experience with the film is that it's never had any kind of commercial release, it's never shown in theater. It really only has a life at film festivals and colleges. So I'm always surprised that more than seven people have seen it.

I know that at a lot of early showings people walked out, but I think that was more from being bored than being fooled.

How did you and Kit write the film?

MCBRIDE: I had a different way of working with Kit. We were writing this thing for the Museum of Modern Art, exploring this whole idea of truth.

For those parts of the film that took place in his apartment--we really did it all in one long weekend, I think--we spent several days beforehand with just a tape recorder in a room. I would give him a sense of what I wanted to have happen in a given scene, and then he would put it into his own words, and then we'd listen to the tape and I'd say 'I like this, I don't like that, change this.'

It was very much controlled improvisation, and by the time we actually went to shoot the scene--although it wasn't written down--we all knew exactly what was going to happen. Because we didn't have a lot of film to fuck around with, so we had to get it on the first or second take. So it was pretty carefully rehearsed.

How did you get involved in this project?

CARSON: Jim had conceived of this idea to do a film called David Holzman's Diary, which was, at the time he introduced it to me, a 12-page outline on David Holzman, this guys who starts the movie by saying 'My life is all fucked up and I'm about to be drafted and I figure it's time for me to try to figure what's going on. And if I shoot everyday and look at the rushes of everyday, I can find the plot again, because I've lost the plot.'

The interesting thing is that at the time I was also studying the roots of the English novel. And the roots of the English novel are these fake diaries, like Robinson Crusoe and Pamela. It was the first way they figured out to do long-form fiction, was to make diaries out of it.

So that also informed what we were attempting to do, because a diary is something that feels like it's real time, but you know, if you think about it for two seconds, 'Oh, yeah, he's edited this together.' So it's not really happening in front of you. It's been examined and purposed, structurally, to be this way.

What was the experience of shooting the film like?

CARSON: On my Easter break from college in Texas, I came to New York. And since I didn't know how to do it any other way, I just became the character. I lived in the editing room, I slept in the closet, and I lost my girlfriend who at the time thought I was nuts -- just like Penny in the movie thinks I'm nuts. So it worked.

We did several days of improvising through the scenes, between McBride and myself, until he felt that we got the shape of the scene. And then when we would shoot, I told Jim that I was not going to rehearse. 'Just turn the camera on and I'm going to do it.' Because I didn't want to filter the improvisation any further. If I had rehearsed it before we turned the camera on, it would have turned it into self-conscious thought. And I wanted to keep it raw.

We were satisfied that we had the shape of the scene, built off of the 12-page outline. We knew the beginning, middle and end. But I said to Jim, 'I want to surprise you.' I had no idea what I was saying when I said that, but the idea was to keep that instant alive, the instant when anything can happen.

I like the idea of not filtering the moment, not knowing how I'm going to do.

So we shot maybe two or three takes each time.

Were you involved in the film after it was shot?

CARSON: I came back from Texas and Jim had put the film together, sort of, and he had Thelma Schoonmaker come in and take a look, because Thelma was everybody's pal at that time.

What Jim had done was take the worst takes of the two or three that we had made, because he felt that was more truthful to the character. And Thelma said, 'Fine, that may be more true, but it's horrible, so you have to use the best takes. Otherwise it's really painful if you don't use the best takes.'

I understand his thought, that the bad takes make it seem more like a documentary. But Thelma talked him into using the best takes.

What lesson did you take away from making this movie?

CARSON: The lesson I took away is that there is a lot of depth of thought required; you can't just do it off the top of your head. Jim had this brilliant idea. It came out of six months of experience interviewing a dozen documentary filmmaker to conclude that, 'No, wait a minute, this is not true. Therefore, let's expose it.' That was all Jim's energy. But it came from spending all that time thinking about it.

And from my angle, it came from studying the roots of the English novels, studying what documentary IS, so that you say, 'Oh, I know. It's an act of fiction.' It looks real, and you propose it stylistically as 'this happened, just now,' but it's actually been edited and pieced together.

What you try to achieve when you create any fiction is truth, a fictional truth that has the right ending.

With the movies I've made since that time, I've always tried to stay in touch with the job of telling the truth in your own way in this particular story.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Jon Favreau on "Swingers"

After you'd written Swingers, why did you decide to try to make the film and not just sell the script?

JON FAVREAU: By keeping the script, you maintain control over every aspect of the movie.

Creativity, you're giving up final cut usually right off the bat. When you're making it yourself, it's up to you and only you what ends up in the movie and what compromises you want to make creatively. So, for some nominal fee, they're really getting a lot of leverage over you, both creatively and financially.

A lot of changes were asked of me: changing certain characters to women, making the characters more likeable, changing things that interfered of what my vision for the piece was.

In defense of those people, they're used to developing scripts, they're looking for clues in the material, they don't know what the overall vision of the piece is, so the best thing to do is to not take any of that upfront money.

Was Swingers based on your life?

JON FAVREAU: It wasn't a true story, but it was definitely based on people and places and inspired by events that I had experienced.

When you write from that, you're incorporating a lot of things that are very real and well understood by you. And the script inherits a certain sincerity and a certain subconscious vision that you might not even be aware of when you're doing your first script, if it's a personal one. It becomes much more difficult later on to do that.

But if you stick to things that you know and understand and people that you know, it allows a very true voice and you tend to come off as a better writer than really are, because you're incorporating so much of reality into your piece.

Did you write it for you and Vince Vaughn?

JON FAVREAU: I wrote things that I knew that they could do well. But at that time, Vince had not really played a character like the persona that was presented in Swingers, even though it was based very closely on him. The characters that he had played never really played into his rapid-fire delivery or his sense of humor. He was always playing it much more straight as an actor. I don't think he saw himself as a comic actor as much as a good-looking, leading man type.

So I was tapping into something I knew he could do, from knowing him so well, but I didn't really know whether or not he could deliver, because he hadn't done it before. It's good to have those touchstones.

What really got us there was that we had done so many staged readings of it, to try and raise money, that it served as almost a rehearsal period. So that by the time we got to the set, where we didn't have a lot of time and we were shooting a lot of pages a day, we had already gone through the material so much and had chemistry from our relationship in our personal life, and that certainly made things easier. There was no learning curve in the relationship by two actors that are cast opposite each other. Everybody already had a level of familiarity that helped to keep the process a little more streamlined.

When did you realize how much fun audiences would have with the phone message scene?

JON FAVREAU: Not on the set. The crew was not very entertained by it. We shot all the apartment stuff in a day and a half, so about a quarter of the movie was shot in a day and a half on paper. So that was one of those things that was crammed into a very crowded day at that location.

And there were concerns. Doug Liman (the director) was concerned that it was too many messages. But I felt pretty strongly about it, having read it in front of audiences live, at staged readings.

It wasn't until the whole movie was cut together and the significance of that moment, where it fell in the story, it was definitely a pivotal point in the film. And because you were so emotionally involved in that moment in the movie, the audience was engaged with the film. And had they not been engaged with the character, that scene would not have been as funny or as poignant. It was because of the work that had been done by everybody involved up until then that it was funny.

Now I think people enjoy it alone, because they remember the movie. But had that just been done as a sketch, it might have been a clever thing, but I don't think it would have had the impact that it does in the context of the film.

It all goes to emotion. If you're emotionally engaged, everything is going to be funnier, more satisfying, scarier, everything. It's that emotional connection that you feel with these guys. And the reason you feel that is because the story was so personal and sincere, and that's a very hard thing to maintain as you do bigger and bigger movies.

It's the one thing that you really have going for you in a small movie, that you're doing something that's so really and usually so personal that you have a level of emotional engagement that you will not get in a high-budget, high-concept movie.