Thursday, November 24, 2016

Steven L. Coard on "Don't Marry Griff"

What was your filmmaking background before making Don't Marry Griff?

STEVEN:  Before I made the film Don't Marry Griff, I was working on short films. I was trying to find my unique voice that sets my films apart from others on the market.

Where did the idea come from and what was your process for writing the script and getting the script ready to shoot?

STEVEN:  The idea for the film came after watching an episode of the web series on YouTube. I was intrigued by one of the main actors and I wanted to work with him.

I thought about a story my grandmother told me when she was young and how my deceased grandfather would physically abuse her. She was strong enough to move out of the house and move to another city with relatives. She started to create a new life. I wanted to tell her story but in my own unique voice.

I love taking a serious issue such as domestic abuse and adding my own unique comedic & romantic twist. I decided to write this film Don't Marry Griff because I wanted to also tell the story of gay black men who are living in a world outside of homophobia.

I wrote the film in twenty-four hours and it was a 20 page script. My scripts are different because they don’t follow the traditional Hollywood format. I like to write only four or five powerful scenes and the rest of the film is improv based.

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

STEVEN:  I reached out to Christopher Deloatch Sutton and I had another actor to play Griffith. Due to scheduling he had to cancel two weeks before so I was left scrambling to find a new Griffith.  I reached out to Chris to see if he knew anyone who might be interested and he referred me to JR. I met JR, he read for the part and I knew immediately that he was my Griffith.

Initially, I was going to play the part of Lyodell because I had another actor cast for the role. I spent time training with him, but he also had to drop out due to scheduling.

You wore a lot of hats on the production. How did you handle producing, directing, writing, shooting, acting and editing the movie?

STEVEN:  I enjoy it. It’s a hard job, but the end result is worth all of the blood, sweat and tears. I love what I do and I know that I am creating something that could potentially help to save someone’s life.

I like to have control of my projects because I’ve spent so many years as an actor hearing the word “no" that I’ve decided that I’m going to create a production company telling the stories that I, and people like me want to see. I control the ship during the production and I get a thrill out of it because I work best under pressure.

I love the production aspect because it’s similar to an artist with his/her paintbrush. They see it and they draw it on canvas. I see it in my mind and I do my best to get it enacted for camera.

I am a very small production company and I do not have the resources to pay employees, but with enough success I can employ people to help me bring my stories to life.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

STEVEN:  My film was one hundred percent self-financed and I plan to distribute it through my website.

I love living in the digital age because we can stream our own videos and make a profit while gaining our viewership. The best part of online streaming of your own independent film is that you get to keep 100 percent of the profit. The funding from the viewers allows me to make more films and to pay my talent and crew. 

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

STEVEN:  I used a Cannon 7D to shoot this film. I love the picture quality from this camera; it gives my film a more professional and cinematic look.

Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, why did you make the changes?

STEVEN:  No. What you see in the film is exactly how it was filmed and written. Many of the film’s scenes were also shot in one take.

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

STEVEN:  The smartest thing I did during production was to find a random apartment building in Jersey City for the opening scene.

The dumbest thing would have been to work out more and get a different haircut.

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

STEVEN:  Firstly, I’ve learned how to be a project manager. Secondly, I’ve learned how to be patient and know that when things happen in the final hour you can always fix it. 

I’ve learned how to trust in myself and my instinct.

Lastly I’ve learned more about how to use my camera.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Max Azulay and Matt Porter on "5 Doctors"

What was your filmmaking background before making 5 Doctors?

MAX: I was a somewhat bizarre child and knew from a very early age that I wanted to make films. I spent most weekends in middle school and high school writing scripts and making movies with similarly bizarre friends, while our more well-adjusted classmates were off socializing and engaging in reality.

I made short films throughout college and afterward, always with the intention of working towards a feature. I had written a few feature screenplays before 5 Doctors, all of which I can safely say were mostly complete garbage and which never did and never will see the light of day- but the experience of writing, learning to finish things, learning what your tastes are and the feeling of ever-so-incrementally improving all proved to be invaluable when it was time to actually make a real movie.

MATT: Very similar for me. In addition to making many short films, with Max and without, I have also spent the last few years making web sketches under the name Good Cop Great Cop with my friend Charlie Hankin, and that has led to some other short-form directing, writing, and acting work, but nothing that quite prepared me to tackle the lofty goal of making a feature film. 

Where did the idea come from and what was your process for writing the script and getting the script ready to shoot?

MAX: Matt, Phil and I had been making short films together for years. Eventually, we felt like writing and producing something longer, and we were kicking around some ideas, but nothing really stuck. We were kind of in a rut, not knowing what to work on exactly.

One day, Matt and I were driving around New York City, and he mentioned that our mutual friend had said he'd like to see a version of The Trip (2010) starring Matt and me. That got us laughing, and we started sort of casually riffing on what that movie would be, never thinking we'd actually make it.

Matt had written a short film a few years prior about a kid who goes to see his childhood doctors, all in a single day, and we started talking about that being the premise. And then we stumbled on, maybe Matt's character is a repressed townie guy, who has actual responsibilities, but gets roped into driving me, as the hypochondriac, to and from his various doctors. That made us laugh some more, and we started improvising as the two characters and then we sort of looked at each other like, wait, maybe we should actually make this movie.

From there, we started outlining, and then passed drafts back and forth between the three of us. Also, because Matt and I were the main actors, we'd often write by sitting on my couch in Queens, or his couch in Brooklyn, or Phil's couch in Manhattan, and improvising as the two characters. The only thing missing was a couch in Staten Island or the Bronx.

For all of us, in different ways, the movie was very personal and part of the joy of writing it was staring down the swirling storm of anxiety we were feeling at the time.

Personally, I was dealing with a lot of anxiousness, uncertainty about my life, career, relationships, etc. It became a way of sorting things out, working on the script. Instead of giving into the feeling of “oh no, I'm doomed!,” I'd write some of that screenplay and it had a therapeutic effect.

I think that's important if you want to make something that resonates. It has to be something you sort of NEED to write or else you'll go insane.

You both wore a lot of hats on the production. How did you handle co-directing while also both acting in the movie?

MATT: I am a strong believer that it is impossible to truly act and direct at the same time. At their core, they are truly opposite jobs, and you can ruin one if you are thinking about the other. So, by having the two of us trading off during the shoot, it allowed whoever was on camera to fully let go of the overall vision and just be in the moment. And meanwhile, whoever was directing could fully step back and experience the scene from the outside.

MAX: Yeah, I think where the co-directing came in was mostly performance. When Matt was acting, Phil and I were there to direct- when I was acting, the other two did that, and when both of us were acting together, Phil was the guy. It was a way of having each other's backs. We all put a lot into it, and needed the support, and leaned on each other a lot. I felt very lucky to have those two guys there.

What's the upside and the downside of having the same people write, direct and act in the movie?

MATT: The upside is that you are the keeper of the vision. Throughout the process, solving problems can be much easier because you can trust your gut. 

MAX: Definitely. The downside is that they are all antithetical jobs in many ways. You can't be thinking like a writer, for example, when you are acting. I couldn't be in the middle of an emotional scene and think, “maybe this line should have an 'and' instead of a 'but' here, that'd be more elegant-sounding.” That would be terrible and pretty much guarantee I'd be delivering the kind of performance that would cause you to rightfully demand your money back.

I do find, though, that if you give yourself fully over to the acting in the moment, having written the scene is beneficial because you know and can access the emotion behind it. You know the intent of the scene on a gut level. But, you need to be in the moment, and quiet your overthinking, writerly brain. It's hard and takes practice.

The key to all of this is that there were three of us, and we knew how to work together, and fill in the gaps when one of us didn't have the bandwidth to do the other stuff. We were a unit, and that's what helped us get by.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

MATT: We are at the early stages of that process now. We began our festival run with a world premiere at the Austin Film Festival, which was a wonderful experience, and now we are hoping we’ll get into a few more early next year. Beyond that, we are organizing our own screening in NY on Nov. 9th and are also of course just sending the film around, far and wide, hoping to find someone who might be interested in distributing. Fingers crossed!

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

MATT: We shot on the Arri Amira, which honestly I loved pretty much wall to wall. The only thing that was frustrating is that it is rather bulky, which meant that car scenes were a little tough, and also the amount of handheld we did really gave our DP Zach’s shoulder a serious workout.

Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, why did you make the changes?

MAX: The movie changed a lot during editing, yes. The first cut was almost two and a half hours. Watching it for the first time was one of the most depressing experiences of my life. I was overwhelmed, and wasn't sure what we could logically cut and have the movie still remain coherent.

I tried to rationalize: “maybe this is a three hour movie. There are lots of three hour, character-based indie comedies where the stakes are really low and not a lot happens, right?”

The three of us had a lot of panicked meetings, phone calls, late night meals at Chinese restaurants trying to figure out what we were gonna do. We thought maybe we had wasted a few years of our lives putting this together.

Slowly but surely though, once the panic subsided and we started thinking logically, the answers started to present themselves. “Wait a minute, we can cut this entire sub-plot and it won't change much. In fact, it'll make it way better.” It was a lot of slow, painstaking, obsessive work. Basically like writing a whole new draft of the movie.

We also had lots of test screenings where we heard people's reactions and honed and changed everything based on them. The movie is now 90 minutes, and it took about a year to get it down to that. I'm really happy with how it turned out, and it's exciting to realize that we molded it into something that works.

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

MATT: I think the smartest thing we did was hire our AD Siena Brown and our line producer Sara Blechman. It was thanks to them that the shoot went as smoothly as it did.

The dumbest thing we did was probably back the truck into a somewhat historic brick wall. But thanks to Siena and Sara, I didn’t even know about that until the wrap party.  

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

MATT: I think we learned a million things, but one of the biggest lessons for me was the value of working with people you trust and who share your taste and vision.

From your main collaborators down to the PAs and the caterers, if everyone is there because they are excited to work, then the experience making the film will be a joy, and the final product will be better as a result.

I think we also learned how to take an idea and carve away at it, over years and years, until it is at it’s most potent and emotionally honest state.

MAX: In terms of writing, I think what made this so satisfying was I had a lot of questions about my own life that I didn't know the answers to, and part of writing this was an attempt to get some clarity. It was selfish, in a way. But, selfish or not, I am trying to do the same thing with projects I am writing now.

I think that you should take the biggest, seemingly insurmountable problems in your life, the things that cause you the most pain and are the most difficult to think about, and just start writing about them. This is a good way to create something that, even if it never amounts to anything, will definitely have a good personal effect, potentially even transformative. It's also a good way to learn to engage with your worried mind and not run from it.

Another thing that this project taught me was to not give up and keep working. The movie took over four years to make. During the writing stage, I had no job and was collecting unemployment benefits. There were plenty of times we all wanted to give up, but we didn't let each other off the hook.

If you want to be a writer or a director or an actor or whatever, you need to find a way to do it, and keep doing it, even when you feel like all is lost, which is necessarily a lot of the time, no matter what stage you are at.

"5 DOCTORS" Trailer from Matt Porter on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Coleman Hough on "Bubble"

What screenplays had you written before Bubble?

COLEMAN: Before I started Bubble, I had written a movie for HBO about the life of Katherine Graham. And I was developing a TV series with some producers in Los Angeles. The thing for HBO, I was hired to do it, I did it and it was completed, but it's never been produced. It's still in development. Apparently, one of the re-writers is Joan Didion. That's kind of cool. If you're going to be re-written by anyone, Joan Didion's the one.

And then I went to Los Angeles last Fall and was developing this TV series. And I ran into Steven, and he wanted to know what I was doing. I told him and we started talking about working together again. He said that Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner had commissioned him to do six films in this new format, day and date release. And he said, "Why don't you write the first one?"

I was thrilled. And then he said, "I don't want to use actors, I want to use just people in the town. And I want there to be no scripted dialogue; I want it to be all improvised." So then I thought, well, what am I going to write?

What was his concept for the movie?

COLEMAN: He had an idea, he wanted to do a tale of jealousy that took place in a factory, a love triangle. So I said, "Well, what kind of factory?" And he said, "I'm thinking about an animal testing facility." And then we started talking about the political implications of that, and we decided we didn't want that overlay of political implications.

We started brainstorming about other factories, and I was researching industries in the Midwest, because I knew he wanted to film in the Midwest because it was during the re-election, and Ohio specifically was such a hot swing state. I found two doll factories in Ohio and Indiana, the only two remaining doll factories in the country.

I started making some calls. I didn't tell them what I was doing, I just said I was interested in making dolls and I wanted to know if they did tours of their plant. So I went with a location manager and it was this fun research trip for two weeks, with a week in each town. It was really great, it was like working as a site-specific playwright. I fell in love with the Ohio town, because it was right on the Ohio river.

From the people I met in the town and the feeling I got from the town, and just by observing the life that I had landed in the middle of, I fashioned this story. And then I presented it to Steven and he liked it; we made some adjustments and that gave us our shooting outline.

And you were on the set throughout the shoot?

COLEMAN: The fun thing, the great discovery, was that he wanted me on the set every day, because he wanted to be constantly incorporating the stories of the actors into the story.

So I found my job to be the best job of all, because I was not only putting the non-professional actors at ease -- Steven called me The Human Green Room -- because they would hang out with me. I would listen to their stories and we'd share stories and we'd talk about things we'd done and I'd ask them a million questions. Their stories were so great and so rich. So, whenever I would see Steven, on a break or whatever, I'd say, "Okay, I've got a good one. You've got to get Debbie to talk about …" whatever story they had told me that day.

For example, the scene where Rose is taking a bath in the house she's cleaning is a story from my life. I've always wanted to put that scene in a movie because I used to take baths at parties. When I was in my 30s I went through this weird phase where I would just disappear and take a bath at a party, because my idol, Zelda Fitzgerald, used to do that.

I've always wanted to put that in a movie, and I thought, what if she takes a bath in the house where she cleans. And so, that day Misty, the actress, was very apprehensive about wearing the nude suit and being in the bathtub. So I told her that story from my life, and it put her at ease. She just thought that was so funny and it just made it more delicious for her to do it.

How did you create the characters once you had the story roughed in? And did it change once you cast the non-actors?

COLEMAN: I had a clear idea of the characters before we cast the actors. We cast the actors based on the characters I'd imagined. When Steven and I were reviewing the audition tapes, the criteria was, are these the people that I imagined? So we didn't have to make any adjustments to the story, because they were the characters.

So, Debbie just jumped out, she was Martha, and Misty was Rose. They couldn't have been more perfect. We found them, they found us. The whole Bubble experience was like the magic synchronicity of everything. The town opened up to us, everything that was meant to be happened. It was wild.

How difficult was it for you to not write the dialogue and let the actors make it up on-camera?

COLEMAN: It was very hard for me at first, because that's what I write. I'm a playwright and dialogue is what I love to write. I felt a shift -- Steven always talks about a writing head and a making head, which is developing a film and then actually making it. And it's true. So I got to experience that in terms of listening to their cadences and pointing out to Steven the things that really spoke of their characters. Like Misty would say, "Oh, yeah," that was one thing she said that was so that character.

We filmed in the bait and tackle shop for a long time. I would listen on the monitor through all the shooting, and I was thrilled when that woman said, "The darker the water, the darker the bait." And I said, "Steven, you have to start there. It's such a great line."

So it was kind of like writing it as I heard it. It was such an honor, because it was like not making it up in my head, but listening to it and catching it. Which is what you do when you immerse yourself in a world or a culture, you start to hear certain phrases or certain intonations. That was a hard adjustment, not hard but challenging.

I always thought dialogue was so important to me in writing scripts, and I couldn't imagine what that would be like to relinquish the control of that. But it was thrilling. On the first day of shooting, we did the lunchroom scene, where's there's an awkward silence and then Rose says, "Do any of you all smoke?"

I got chills when I was watching that, because of the silence. That's what I love to write; in fact, in a lot of my plays the stage direction says, "There's an uncomfortable silence between them." And the fact that they just trusted that silence, and the sub-text in that line "Do any of you all smoke?" I just couldn't have written anything better than that! Just by putting them in that situation, it was amazing to see the organic response.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Dimitri Glavas and Ray Fonseca on "Lights"

What was the genesis of Lights and how did you get involved?  

RAY: Lights was created while on vacation in the desert. We were staying at a friends home for the weekend and one night we were out in the back yard with all the lights off looking up at the stars. I saw a shooting star and for a second I wanted it to be a UFO. I have always believed in their existence and it got my wheels turning.

I turned to Dimitri and asked if he thought they would let us a shoot a movie in the house we were staying at. Two weeks later we had our first draft of the script that would become Lights.

What was your role as Producer and what did you find challenging about it?

DIMITRI: Being executive producer and producer meant I had a lot of roles.  The executive part focused on raising money, setting up LLC's, bank accounts contracts, deal memos and things of that nature.  Producing a low budget film isn't easy work.  You're involved in and oversee everything!  

What was the casting process like and was the script adjusted at all to fit the cast?

RAY: The casting process was a great deal of fun. We were going to be shooting two stories that would be happening at the same time, but one year apart. So everyone on the found footage side was all one big group of friends who had worked on a pilot together. I saw the pilot, being friends with many of those people already and their chemistry together was so good, I wanted to use them all for the film.

The only Member of the found footage group that was new to the group was Evan Weinstein and I think that worked for his character, having to be THAT guy in every group that is the insensitive jerk.

Hank Ostendorf who plays Thomas I knew from an acting class Nicole Marie Johnson (who plays Ashley) and I took together years ago. I wrote the Thomas character with him in mind the entire time and he was everything we could've hope for and more.

Sara Radle is a true pro, she came in to her first audition and nailed it right from the very first moment. I remember her leaving the room and Dimitri and me looking at each other like well we found our leading lady today. C.J. Baker and Caleb Neet were very much the same way in that their call backs were more of a formality. They all nailed their auditions. They are terrific actors and we are already trying to find ways to work with all of them again in the future.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

DIMITRI: We currently have North American distribution with a company called Candy Factory.  We're released digitally on most online platforms.  Still planning on international distribution but we're handling that separately.  Check us out on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, Comcast, DirecTV and Dish Network!  

What type of camera was employed and what was great (and not great) about it?

RAY: Some of the found footage material was shot on an actual camcorder which was fun to run around with and allowed the actors to go off on their own when hiking and we were able to let them create scenes beyond what was planned in the script. And they did a great job of that I want to add.

On the conventional side we used a Red scarlet. It's a great camera and the results our DP John Woodside was able to get the film are absolutely terrific.

There's not much downside to using one of those, outside of the cost perhaps. But I have to give credit to Kirill Yusim, one of our Producers, for making sure we had everything we needed. He and Dimitri  got us the best of everything we could get our hands on while staying within our modest budget.

Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, why were those changes made?

RAY:  When you make an indie film you're always running out of something it feels like. Whether it's time or it's money, a lot can go wrong and a lot can go right. Sometime you get enough coverage of everything and sometimes you don't.

For the most part we got what we needed, but there were a few times in the editing room, when it's too late to go back to a set a reshoot, that you may have to reshape of few scenes here and there. Luckily for us the things we reshaped ultimately worked towards making it the best film it possibly could be.

What was the smartest thing your team did during production? The dumbest?

DIMITRI: The smartest thing we did was get the best group of people together to help make this movie the best we could.  From the director to the actors and all of the crew, they all did an amazing job! John Woodside, our DP, did an amazing job with this movie.

The dumbest thing, not sure.  Maybe taking too much time to compete the project.  Since it was our first film we took our time.  We should have just followed our guts and pushed through it.  Always follow your gut!

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

DIMITRI: Everything!  Lol.  Again, this was our first project and for me my first endeavor in entertainment period.  I will take everything I learned to other projects.   This was my film school.  I was learning on the spot and doing research as we went.  Honestly, in my opinions that's one of the best ways to do something.  Just do it!