Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tre Manchester on "The Things We've Seen"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Things We've Seen?

MANCHESTER: Prior to making The Things We've Seen, I was directing short films and commercial work.  I founded my own company with a few colleagues while in film school, and was continuing to push through the festival scene, eventually seeing our work land on HBO as one of the Top 200 Finalists of Project Greenlight's 2015 season.

About a year and a half before we would begin filming the feature film, I wrote and directed a short scene study using the same characters that would later appear in the feature.

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

MANCHESTER: The idea stemmed from my desire to really hone in on character, an element I was consistently looking to improve in my work as I grew as a filmmaker. 

I was drawn toward the idea of a boy who comes to realize that the people around him are not who he thought they were. I wanted to tell a story about someone moving from one moment of their life to another, stepping into a larger world.  That coming-of-age was something I was experiencing in a sense in my own life, leaving film school and moving out into the world on my own. You begin to see life through a different lens, which also changes how you perceive yourself. All that was something I felt connected to, and wanted to try and capture in this story.

The process of getting the script ready to shoot was quite extensive. I wrote the first draft in three days, and spent the next year refining it and adding flavor with details. There was a lot of collaboration with the cast once they were on board. We all turned the mirror toward ourselves and began to add certain truths that helped elevate these characters off of the page.

What was your casting process and did you change the script to match your final cast?

MANCHESTER: Casting was pretty painless. I already had a majority of the cast in mind from working on the short scene study with the same characters. I knew I wanted Jarrett Maier as Reagan, Noah McCarty-Slaughter as the brother, Neely, and then of course Shani Salyers Stiles and John Carver as Ivory Joy Boem and Sheriff Pascal, respectively.

I also knew that I wanted to bring in some talent from Los Angeles. I had met Randy Ryan many years before when he was working on Public Enemies in my hometown. When the time came to cast Rayford Boem, the father to this fractured family, I reached out to see if he had any interest in the story. We began to talk back and forth for several months until everything clicked in place.

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

MANCHESTER: We filmed everything on BlackMagic Design products. Our A-camera workhorse was the full sized URSA, and our B and C cameras were Production 4Ks. BlackMagic was an easy choice for us because they were affordable, and delivered the quality images we were looking for.

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

MANCHESTER: If anything, we found a lot of hidden gems in the editing process. I have always felt that a story gets told four times: once when you write it, twice when you film it, another when you edit it, and finally when the audience views it.

Editing for us was a chance to really let this story burn at a steady pace, and allow the subtleties of the performances breathe. There were some scenes that we shifted in terms of the timeline, but a lot of what we shot ended up in the final cut.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

MANCHESTER: In December of 2016 we signed with Crogan Filmworks, an international sales agency. The film will be hitting all of the major film markets around the globe where our goal is to be picked up for VOD and perhaps a theatrical release.

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

MANCHESTER: I would say the smartest thing we did during production was to ensure we had proper time management. We only had twelve days to shoot the entire eighty minute film. That meant everything had to be run like a military operation.

With my directing style, I like to give actors the opportunity to improvise on set at times. I feel that is where you truly find those beautiful moments. In order to allow for those moments, however, we needed to make sure we were hitting our time tables and not running over schedule.

The dumbest thing might have been us thinking we would finish a film in twelve days. That adds a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety. However, it was all we could afford, and all the time we had. I stand firm on the belief that when you have the tools and the talent around you, you can make time work in your an extent.

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

MANCHESTER: Cast and crew are so important. Having professionals who care just as much about the product as you is critical. True success relies on the ability to work as a team, and to me that is a big lesson to take forward.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Brent Kado on "A Short History of Drugs in the Valley"

What was your filmmaking background before making A Short History of Drugs in the Valley?

BRENT: This is my fourth feature film. I have done many commercials, some music videos, web series and shorts. 

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

BRENT: The idea came from growing up in a small town and the stories that you hear or are told growing up. People love to idealize how peaceful and joyous small town life is, but often it's as unpredictable a place as anywhere else. 

I wrote the film. It was a combination of two scripts I had. I decided to combine and refine the two stories, which is a total independent film thing to do. My wife and I collaborate on many of our projects and we had decided to do another feature (this is now my fourth) after she had just completed a personal short film that I produced. So we agreed to do this film that I had wanted to do. 

Combining the two screenplays and adding some more scenes was the bulk of my writing which I did over a three month period. Knowing that I am shooting it with actors who I've worked with before and producing it ourselves, the screenplay is definitely not a completed project. Plenty of room to work in setting the scenes and tweaking dialogue. It wouldn't win any screenwriting contests, that's for sure.  

What was your casting process and did you change the script to match your final cast?

BRENT: Casting was all hand selected. We did not audition anyone. We'd worked with many of them in other projects before. The rest came out of my wife's improv classes or local community theater actors I'd seen perform.

We only made minor changes. The biggest change was that my wife, who is a successful commercial and theatrical actor, was also producing the film with me (we work in tandem on many projects) decided to reduce her role and we cut it down in the script considerably to make the story flow better and add extra shooting time for the remainder of the script. 

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

BRENT: A Canon 6D and a few scenes with a Canon 5D Mark III. The cinematographers did all the shooting, so I just trusted their comfortablility and vision. 

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

BRENT: The editor (Lee Bacak) gave me two cuts after his first pass. One was close to what I had in the script and the other was his ideal version. We went with his version because it was very concise, clear and only about 5 to 6 minutes shorter. Turned out to be a good choice. 

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

BRENT: Our initial plan was pretty undetermined. I work in the YouTube ecosystem in various capacities and I hoped that with the recognition of the musicians involved that getting it up on our YouTube would give us some nice views and maybe a bit of ad dollars. But getting released on Amazon changed all that of course. 

What impact did the length of the movie (around 50 minutes) have on getting a distributor interested?

BRENT: When the editor and I settled on the final cut, the Youtube route (and possibly using the film as a "pilot" for a sequel or series) seemed like the obvious direction we were going to go.

I had another film in The Rhode Island International Film Festival and met an Amazon Video representative there and they said they'd look at it. Getting a micro-budget film of this length up on Amazon is just a testament to the changing world of independent film. 

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

BRENT: Smartest- There are so many. Haha. I have to list two. One, casting actors I trusted and giving them the space to do what they are best at. Two, scheduling in extra half-days of shooting as buffers even though it was hard to make that happen. We shot in two time blocks: six days, then a week off and then six more days. I needed the extra half day during the first time block. We did not need it in the second and it just became a time to experiment in the final scene of the day and give everyone a couple extra hours to relax and sleep. 

Dumbest- There are so many! Again I'll have to list two. One, not confirming my shoot with a local State Park that I had gotten a permit for. The ranger on duty had no clue what was happening and shut us down. That is when we had to use one of those buffer half-days and shoot at a local farm instead. Two, not keeping up with all the dailies and confirming I got everything I wanted/needed. 

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

BRENT: Going with your instinct on length, structure and approach concerning the final product. With the changing landscape there are viable homes on quality platforms for all types of projects.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Kathleen Behun on "21 Days"

What was your filmmaking background before making 21 Days?

KATHLEEN: I had written and directed three dramatic short films prior to 21 Days which had garnered a fair amount of acclaim on the festival circuit. I also had written several feature spec scripts that had won a number of screenwriting awards; one of which was optioned by Academy Award-winning producer, Irwin Winkler (Good Fellas, Raging Bull, Rocky.)

But before I was a filmmaker, I had been an actress.  And I’ve always told people that Acting taught me how to direct; Directing taught me how to act; Writing made me better at both, but that reading, being a voracious reader, was the foundation of all of these disciplines. There’s something about reading- novels and short stories especially- which feeds the imagination and creativity in ways than any other art form.  In fact, when James Dean first burst onto the scene in the 1950’s, he once was interviewed and asked what he attributed his talent to as an actor, and he replied simply, “Reading.”

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

KATHLEEN: The idea for the film was first born out of frustration. I had another feature spec script, a supernatural thriller, which for five years had been financed on five different occasions with financing falling through each time for a myriad of reasons.

I realized the years were passing and I still hadn’t directed my first feature, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and write another script that was low budget enough I could self finance, yet commercial enough to attract studios and distributors. Even though I had made my name in the indie world as a filmmaker of dramatic short films, I was being encouraged by my agent at the time and various producers, to channel my energies into more genre oriented material for my first feature. This was actually an easy transition for me as I had long been interested in the classic genre films such as, The Exorcist and The Omen, as well as Gore Verbinski’s version of The Ring.

21 DAYS was actually inspired by all of the paranormal investigator shows that had become popular on television, especially those where a group of investigators lock themselves inside a house for one night to capture on film the supernatural phenomena which occurs. I then thought, one night locked inside a haunted location would be scary, but something longer such as, 21 days, would be terrifying.

I also became intrigued by a few true stories I had read about where people had abandoned their home with all their belongings behind, even letting their home fall into foreclosure, because they were too terrified to live there any longer because of the paranormal events that were occurring. Can you imagine? A place that haunted where you’re willing to leave behind everything and lose your home to foreclosure because you can no longer bear to stay in the home? 

These were some of the stories that served as inspiration for my film, as well as the notion that it’s not the house that’s haunted or evil, but rather the land it sits on.

I wrote the script in about a month and then took another two to three months to polish it, all the while searching for film locations. It took me a total of five months of traversing Southern California to find the right house for the film. Because to me, the house is the main character in the film, and until I found the right house, I was unwilling to begin filming.  And I was fortunate enough to find that perfect house.

What was your casting process and did you change the script to match your final cast?

KATHLEEN: The entire casting process took us three months.  I hired Luis Robledo, who’s an actor, filmmaker and founder of ACTOR’S GYM, to be the casting director. He did an absolutely amazing job finding the perfect actors for the film. 

We received a staggering 6,000 submissions to fill only 20 roles in the film. And for a micro budgeted feature which paid little money, that’s pretty stunning. It just shows how many actors in Los Angeles want to work.

Once the film was cast, I didn’t change the script to fit the cast, but prior to shooting, I did instruct the actors to memorize their lines, yet be open and prepared to improvise.  Since the film is found footage, the actors needed at times to make their lines their own in order for it to feel more “real” and off the cuff.

I also firmly believe that a large part of the director’s job is selecting the right actors for the film; and once that’s been accomplished, you don’t have to “direct” them as much. The actors were hired for the roles because they deeply understood their respective characters.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

KATHLEEN: In order to recoup our costs for the film, which fortunately were minimal by independent film standards, we selected Galen Christy of High Octane Pictures to serve as our sales agent. To date, the U.S. and Canadian rights to the film have been acquired by Gravitas Ventures who will be releasing the film on VOD in April 2017, and later, on DVD. Other territories that have sold are Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg and Taiwan. And we’re currently in negotiations to sell the film to a number of other distributors from other countries.

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

KATHLEEN: For the most part, the final edited version of the film is very true to the script.  I had the good fortune of securing seasoned horror editor, John Quinn (The Grudge 3), to work on the final cut of the film. He really taught me an enormous amount of how by using fewer cuts, you heighten tension and suspense in a film.

He did an amazing job of going through 24 hours of footage and paring it down to 89 minutes. His eye for how to cut a scene is just brilliant. The one change he did make that was different than the script was by having the final scene of the film play over the credits and it works much better than how I initially wrote and envisioned it. I’ll definitely be using him to cut my next film.

Why do you make films? What do you aim to do when you set out to make a film?

KATHLEEN: To express the inexpressible... As a filmmaker, or any artist, the goal is to convey some deeper truth; a silent mystery, that ultimately cannot be articulated or even clearly defined, but yet, somehow, through the magical moving image of film, we can come close...

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

KATHLEEN: Trust your instincts.  Prior to shooting, and even on set, there are many people who want to offer their opinion on how best a scene should be shot/played, etc or even how the overall film should be. Yet at the end of the day, you need to make the decision and trust your own gut instinct for what’s best for your film.

Most especially in the independent film world where the director/filmmaker has that sort of freedom to make those decisions and is not beholden to a studio.