Thursday, June 29, 2017

Eric Pauls on "To the Mountain"

What was your filmmaking background before making To the Mountain?
ERIC: Before To the Mountain, I had made several narrative and documentary shorts but my main focus was on writing. When I finished film school it seemed like all my classmates headed into the corporate video world but I really just wanted to tell stories so I focused on writing a feature a year and that's lead to most of my opportunities. 

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

ERIC: The initial idea was very vague. I live 45 minutes from the Rocky Mountains, one of the most beautiful places in the world, so I thought it would just be smart to set a movie there.

I had heard of people scattering the ashes of loved ones in the mountains and I used that idea as a launching point. The idea grew from there to include almost a dozen different stories overlapping on a single day in the mountains.  

However, the shooting script had to be cut down to something far more manageable when it came time to shoot. We had a budget of ten thousand dollars to make the movie so I just started cutting characters and stories. At the time I felt disappointed to have to say goodbye to some of those characters but in the end we were left with a tighter script and a strong through line.

I feel like I've seen so many projects overextending themselves because of the complexity of the story and I felt the greatest gift I could give myself as a director was time to focus on the nuances that these others projects were forced to overlook. 

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

ERIC: Like I said, we had no money, so name actors were out of the question, even union actors were out. We put out a call to local casting agents and we saw a surprising amount of decent people but honestly, we just lucked out and found that one perfect person for every part except for our two leads, the father and son characters.

For the son character, I needed a strong, silent type, who basically spends the whole film acting with nothing but his eyes. In pre-production, I was hanging out with my friend Dan who was working as a Lamp-Op on the Revenant at the time.

As he put his coat on to head out, I suddenly realized he was perfect for the role and I offered him the part right there. It took a couple weeks, and a camera test before I convinced him he was right for it. Now that the film is done I can't imagine anyone else playing that part.

For the Father character, I had to make a change. Peter was the last to audition and up to that point, I was convinced I wasn't going to find anyone. When he walked into the room he looked the part but when he started to speak he had a British accent. I stopped him and asked if he could do an American accent. He said he wasn't able to but he still wanted to read. I was out of options so I said sure.

Needless to say, he blew us away and the character became an ex-pat from England, which informed not only his character but the entire story in a great way.

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

ERIC: We shot on a Sony fs700 with the Atomos Ninja recorder. My DOP, Michael Janke, did an amazing job with the limitations I put on him. Of course, we wanted to shoot on a Red or something but my producer Paige Boudreau and I decided we rather spend the money elsewhere. It took Michael the first day to adjust to the idea but he soon embraced the limitations thrust upon him and ended up making a uniquely beautiful film.

We worked off of the theory that sound, performances, and story, have to be good, the picture has to be inventive. 

What was the hardest part of doing a movie with so much exterior work?

ERIC: Weather!  I thought, shooting in the middle of the summer would mean warm sunny days but shooting in the mountains meant a different system coming through every hour. We would do half a scene in nice weather, then turn the camera and it would start to rain. Eventually, we had to keep shooting if we wanted to make our days.

There are scenes in the movie where it is raining in half of the shots, fortunately, you can't tell unless I point them out to you. 

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

ERIC: Not really, we cut the script down so much before shooting that all that was left were the essential scenes. We also did a rough cut between shoot days, so we could get a sense of how it was coming together. I will do that every time now, it really informed the shoot, and kept us focused on exactly what we needed to get. 

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

ERIC: Dumbest thing I did was commit to making a feature film for ten thousand dollars.

The smartest thing I did was ignore the people who said it couldn't be done for that amount of money and shot it anyway.

I could have made a lot of compromises and waited a long time for more financing to make this movie and it still may not have happened. I'm so proud of this movie and the work everyone did on it.

The fact that we had a functioning feature film at the end of production was a huge achievement and everything that has happened since has been icing on the cake. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

PODCAST: Matthew Anderson on "Theater People (Season Four)"

This week we've got a special podcast interview with Matthew Anderson -- the writer, director, editor and occasional DP of the Theater People web series.

You can hear the interview HERE.

Matt's just completed Season Four of the popular series, which is now available on Seeka TV. Plus, you can see all the previous seasons on Seeka as well. Click HERE to check it out!

You can also read an earlier interview with Matt about the series HERE.

Theater People: Season One
Theater People: Season Two
Theater People: Season Three

Theater People: Season Four

Theater People: Season Four Trailer

Theater People Minute #1

Theater People Minute #2

Theater People Minute #3

Theater People Minute #4

Theater People Minute #5

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Nancy Morgan and Rance Howard on "Grand Theft Auto"

How did you first hear about Grand Theft Auto?

NANCY MORGAN: My agents were contacted by Ron! Can you imagine? The reason for that was when he was casting for this role he was for someone who, first and foremost, he didn't have to pay a lot. It couldn't be a star -- it had to be an unknown. At the time, one of my first movie that I'd ever acted in -- in fact, one of my first acting jobs ever, because I came to Hollywood untrained and unprepared -- was a movie called Fraternity Row, with Paul Newman's son, Scott Newman, in his first and only picture. And it was out in the theaters when Ron was casting and he liked my performance in it and found my agent.

What was the audition like?

NANCY MORGAN: Back then I used to say to myself, 'There are a lot of people here who know a lot about acting, but all I really know is that you just have to pretend that it's happening.' And so, during the audition process, I did as close to what I felt a human being would do under the circumstances, and that was to say the lines like I meant them, and then when Ron was talking to me, react to what he was saying. And that's all I knew -- that was about as much acting as I knew.

Ron later said to me, 'You know, I interviewed a couple hundred girls. Did you ever wonder why you got it?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And he said, 'Because you were the only one who, when you weren't speaking, was still listening.'

Because that was the only thing he told me, that was something that forever stuck with me as one of the things that was important and not everyone's top tool.

Did you handle any of the stunts yourself?

NANCY MORGAN: If you're a good driver, and you're a little bit fearless, you're going to do some of that stuff, because it makes it more exciting and real. So when those shots of us going, "Whoa!," I'm driving. When you see the car stop suddenly along the freeway, and fishtail along the edge, or start up really fast, it is me driving.

What I didn't do were any of the really long shots from the air -- those were all done where you can't see the people inside. The scenes where we're just talking were frequently towed. But I did a lot of driving.

Did you rehearse much?

NANCY MORGAN: The cars rehearsed. The stunts rehearsed. And the explosions rehearsed. We basically just had to know our lines and pretty much bring it to life. We would run through the scene once or twice, but really rarely for the acting of it. Ron knew what he was doing, so he didn't really need it. And every scene I was in was with Ron, so it was like, 'Could I do it? Did I know what I was doing or not?'

When you're hiring a young actress or actor and you know you're not going to have a lot of rehearsal time, you better do your best to get the person that you want to see, as opposed to the great actress who will be able to bring Paula to life. So, it's just me, saying the lines and trying to bring some life to them.

Looking at the script, there appeared to be a thousand interchangeable scenes of Ron and I in the car, talking about this and that. I understood enough about story to know that it had to build and climax and resolve. And so the first thing I did with my script was to break it down into an outline and had an understanding of where Ron and I were in our relationship, from the first scene to the last.

Ron, on several occasions -- since he was in charge of the whole picture, directing everything -- he realized that I had done this and that I was aware of where we were in the script at any given point in terms of his and my relationship. He would sometimes say, 'Where are we?' And I would say, 'Well, this has happened and this has happened and this has happened, but this hasn't happened yet, so we do know about this but we don't know about that.' And he's say, 'Okay. Got it thanks.'

My breaking it down was something that I could do that was helpful to him and that would orient him as to where we were in the scene, and then Ron just acts -- he doesn't even to have to worry.

RANCE HOWARD: Ron had acted in Eat My Dust, and it had been a huge success for Roger. He wanted to do another car chase/car crash film. Ron said, 'I will do another movie for you, with one additional job added.' And Roger said, 'What is that?' And Ron said, 'I want to direct. And Roger said, 'Well, Ron, you always looked like a director to me.'

Now the question becomes, what is the movie?

Who came up with the title?

RANCE HOWARD: Roger already had the title. He had tested it. It was going to be called Grand Theft Auto, and it was about young people on the run. He said, 'If you and your dad could come up with a story like that, we'd have a deal.'

So we sat down and put our heads together and started kicking ideas around. We did a treatment first; Roger read the treatment and loved it and we went right to script.

Why a Rolls Royce and the demolition derby?

RANCE HOWARD: We thought the Rolls Royce would be the perfect automobile for the girl's father to have, and then she would take his car because he had, in essence, taken her car. And then we'd put the car through all the punishment we could, in order to get back at her father, and then finally wreck it at the demolition derby.

I was fascinated with the demolition derby. At one time, Ron, Clint and I went to see a demolition derby, and it was just fascinating. At that time I had considered writing a script about a demolition derby. Then with Grand Theft Auto, it just seemed perfect for the car to end up in a demolition derby.

How was it for Ron working with his father and his brother on the movie? I'm guessing it's okay, as he's done it in just about every movie he's made since then.

I think any director likes to use people that he is familiar with and that he can trust and has confidence in. Both Clint and I fit nicely into those categories. And his mother, at that time, had been working quite a lot coordinating extras for other filmmakers. And so she coordinated a lot of the extras for that film, in particular the senior citizens on the bus.

Involving his mother, and his brother Clint -- an excellent actor, and who was at that time, almost as big a name as Ron -- in the film just made good sense.

We had been feeding the crew Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch every day, and they were getting close to a mutiny, because they didn't appreciate having Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch every day. And, of course, the reason we were doing it was the most reasonably-priced thing we could give them.

Ron's wife, Cheryl heard about our problem, and she said, 'Let me cook lunch. Give me the budget that you're spending for the Kentucky Fried Chicken, and I'll prepare a hot lunch for the crew.' And I said, 'Cheryl, you don't want to do that.' And she said, 'Yes, I do. I can do that.'

She enlisted the help of her grandmother, and they prepared lunches on that budget that -- if you run into any of the crew to this day -- they will comment on what great food Cheryl provided for that shoot.

What's the biggest lesson you took away from the experience?

RANCE HOWARD: Stand up for what you believe in. For example, if we had allowed ourselves to be easily talked out of it being a comedy and cut it as a straight action picture.

You need to be tenacious; you need to stick to your guns, but at the same time, you have to be prepared to compromise and negotiate. That was really driven home to me, the importance of compromise. There are a lot of aspects of making a film where you can compromise. In some places, you can't. You need to know what compromises can be made and what compromises can't be made.

Coming to that realization is important: understanding that you're not going to get everything you want, you're going to get part of what you want.

Filmmaking is a team effort, it's really team work. We happened to have a great team.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Edie Falco on "Judy Berlin"

You've known the writer/director of Judy Berlin, Eric Mendelsohn, for a long time -- over 25 years. At what point did you become involved in the project?

EDIE FALCO: Usually he'll wait until a script is finished and then give it to me to read, which is what he did. After I read it and told him how much I loved it, he said 'I would love for you to play the part of Judy.' I was flabbergasted, because he had not said a word to me about it.

You didn't realize that he was thinking of you for the lead?

EDIE FALCO: I've read everything he's ever done and given my feedback, so I assumed that that's what this was.

What are the advantages of working with someone you know so well?

EDIE FALCO: A lot of the films I've done I've done with friends and family. The advantage is you go in there feeling no obligation to prove yourself. There's a camaraderie and a trust that is inherent in just all of you being there together. It makes all the difference in the world. It's like raising a child, I imagine. They become what is expected of them. I know they trust me and I trust them. It gets that all out of the way so we can get down to the work.

Eric took the interesting approach of keeping you and Barbara Barrie (who plays your mother) apart before your scene together. Did that help add to the awkwardness of the scene?

EDIE FALCO: It sure did. Although I thought it was just a matter of scheduling. I thought, 'All right, I won't meet her until the day we shoot.' That's the way these things are. I think in retrospect it did help.

She was a woman around whom I was unfamiliar. You hold your body differently, eye contact is different than with someone that you're comfortable around. I think physically the relationship that Judy and her mother had sort of mirrored that of strangers. In that regard, the subconscious stuff that was already taking place probably only fed what was happening in the script.

Is your preparation any different when you know you're going into a low budget project?

EDIE FALCO: No, not at all. Really nothing about my preparation or involvement is any different on anything I do. The only thing that varies is, if I read something and I like it, I'll do it. If I read something and I don't like it, I won't. Once I've decided I'm doing something, I approach everything exactly the same, whether it's a play or a movie or a low-budget movie or a big budget movie. It's irrelevant.

What's the hardest part of working on low-budget movies?

EDIE FALCO: You get a lot of directors who are nervous and they don't trust themselves or they don't trust the process. So, they might end up doing a lot more takes than they need, as if the actor is an infinite source of these things. Because at a certain point I know I'm not doing work that I'm proud of anymore, I'm just exhausted. And they are just too afraid to say, 'Okay, let's move on.' And so you'll do another four, five takes, and I start thinking, 'Oh, this is not what I meant to do, this is not the take I want.' So that's a little rough.

I wonder if I'd never done bigger budget stuff, perhaps I would never have noticed the difference. But once you start doing things where they put you in a nice trailer, and you've got people running around and taking care of you, when you all of a sudden have to change clothes in the back of a Chevy again, you think, 'You know, this does kind of stink, come to think of it. I would prefer to be in a trailer right now.'

So I don’t know if I've been a little bit spoiled by some of the bigger budget stuff. And you realize there's a reason you're taken care of, because you want to show up and do the best you can each time you're out there. It does help to be rested and warm and all that stuff.

What are the advantages of working on a low-budget project?

EDIE FALCO: There are so many advantages to working on a low-budget project. I feel a totally comfortable with the idea of trying something and having it not work. I feel a sense of freedom to just go for it, because money is not at the forefront of everything that goes on in these things. You don't have a producer standing over you saying, 'We gotta make the day!' Everybody's just flying by the seat of their pants and I feel a sense of freedom that I don't when money is being talked about. You feel the energy of these big-budget things.

Also, on a big-budget thing, there are a zillion people working on it. Oftentimes nobody knows who anybody else is and they don't necessarily care about their job, they're jus trying to get enough days so they can become an AD.

On these low-budget things, everybody's there because they want to be. They know the director, they love the work of the director, they're a friend and he needed a helping hand. You know you're not going to make money and you know it's going to be hard work and you're there because you love it. And that is infused in every moment you spend on the set of a low-budget movie. It's been my experience that nothing but good stuff will come out of that.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

PODCAST: Jonthan Lynn on "My Cousin Vinny" (25th Anniversary)

Director Jonathan Lynn joined me for a conversation about his classic comedy, My Cousin Vinny, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year.

We also talked about his new comic novel, Samaritans ... and a bit about his classic farce, Clue.

You can hear the full interview HERE. While you're there, hit the Subscribe button, so you don't miss any future podcast!

You can also read an earlier interview I had with Mr. Lynn HERE.

Thanks for listening!

Director Jonathan Lynn and Joe Pesci on the set of "My Cousin Vinny."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Billy Lewis on "The Terrible Two"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Terrible Two?

BILLY: My background in filmmaking is a long road, as are most peoples who pursue this field.  I got my college degree in Broadcast Journalism and worked in TV news for 5 years.  Then I started my own production company doing TV commercials, web marketing videos, music videos, short films, etc. 

I wrote and directed The Jailhouse in 2009.  That was my first big feature film and I learned a lot from that.  In between that movie and The Terrible Two (2017) I’ve learned so much about filmmaking and storytelling in general and I feel that knowledge helped me tremendously in creating what we think is an entertaining film in The Terrible Two.

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

BILLY: My wife and I bought a house the year before we did the movie and the first time we walked through the house I noticed the amount of space in the house to move around and have lights, cameras, crew, etc.  So I said to her that we would buy the house but on one condition.....that I was going to film a movie in it.  She agreed but didn't believe me.  

A year later I was kicking her and my girls out for 2 weeks (figuratively speaking) and we had a full crew ready and turned the house into a movie set.  My wife Mollie was a real trooper to allow us to do that and for that I'm very appreciative.  

As far as getting the script ready to shoot I had a really knowledgeable producer and first assistant director named Jonathan Landau who helped me out tremendously in tying up all the loose ends for production and tightening up the script so that it would be ready to make a good movie. 

The whole team we put together was amazing considering the fact that we had a very low budget on the film.

At what point did you decide to shoot in your own house and what impact did that have on the scripting?

BILLY: As I said above, the house was the basis for the entire movie so the script was built around the location.  I like to look at the house as a character in the film and if you watch the entire movie then you know why. 

Knowing the location so well allowed us to be efficient when shooting and move at a rapid pace.  We shot a total of 11 days and that’s pretty crazy.

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

BILLY: Our casting was pretty easy…with a few bumps in the road but that was expected. 

Early on I cast Reid Doyle as the lead actor, Albert Poe.  He also came on as a very important producer during and after production.  We had a lead female cast to play Rose and 2 weeks before production she got a higher paying job that she took (and I couldn’t really blame her) but that opened up the door for us to cast Cari Moskow who did a excellent job as Rose Poe. 

Also we had the 2 little girls cast and the night before we were supposed to shoot our first scenes with the girls something came up with them so we had to scramble to find 2 replacement girls.  That was stressful but every aspect of an independent film normally is. 

It all worked out in the end as we ended up with a great cast…a small cast but a great cast.  We stayed true to the final script and didn’t conform to match our cast.

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

BILLY: We ended up shooting on the Sony FS7 in 4K.  We used the Sony A7Sii for a few pickup shots here and there.  I love the look of the FS7 camera but it’s not the best camera in low light so that’s why our grip and electric department was so important.  And they did not let down either.  They were great. 

The good thing about owning the house and the camera is that after principal photography of the movie I was able to get a ton of time-lapses and cutaways for my editor that we weren’t able to get during production.  So that was a huge bonus.  That camera is amazing for what it is and the price.

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

BILLY: The movie changed a lot in editing.  By that I mean that we stayed true to the script but we had an amazing editor by the name of Jesse Andrus who took The Terrible Two, which when we shot was an okay movie, and turned into something that was entertaining, the pace was great, the sound design and music flowed.  All of that was very critical to have considering we shot the entire movie in one location. 

We tightened up a lot of dialogue, cut out some scenes that were repetitive, and made cuts that kept the action moving and interesting.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

BILLY: We have signed with a sales agent, High Octane Pictures, who is currently putting a marketing plan together and in the early stages of shopping the film around to both domestic and international distributors. 

We really hope for the best because we feel like we’ve made a movie that could do big things and we’ve proven with this film that you don’t always need millions of dollars and need to be backed by a big Hollywood studio to tell a good story.

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

BILLY: I can’t really pinpoint the smartest or dumbest thing we did during production.  This is very cliché but we assembled such a great and professional crew that we kept the mistakes to a minimum and we were very surgical in how we shot scenes and did things during production. 

Every night after we’d shoot I’d sit down and look at the dailies and go through each scene and make sure we’d gotten exactly what we needed from that scene and if not we’d do a quick pickup the next day. 

Again on such low money you have to know what you’re doing and be smart about things, if not you could be at risk of having your project tanking and not finishing what you started.

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

BILLY: The number one thing I learned from this movie was to trust others to do their job.  If you get a good crew together and everyone believes in the story, then most likely you are going to make a good movie. 

It’s been said often but it’s so true that making a movie is such a collaborative effort.  This rang very true on The Terrible Two because I can tell you that both cast and crew worked for peanuts on this movie and took a pay decrease because they believe in film and keeping it alive in this area. 

I’m so thankful first and foremost to God and then to my wife Mollie Lewis for allowing us to use the house.  Then if it wouldn’t have been for my 2 producers Jonathan Landau and Reid Doyle, along with Dr. Martyn Woleben, then this movie would’ve never seen the light of day.