Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cat Hostick on "The Meaning of Life"

What was your filmmaking background before making "The Meaning of Life"?

CAT: I grew up in the arts. I was a painter from a young age, and studied art in Amsterdam, Berlin and Spain throughout high school. At this time, I was also acting and pursued that once I moved to Toronto, Canada.

I was always interested in storytelling – directing, acting, writing and so I began dabbling behind the camera. In University, I got lucky with a part time job at Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Canada as a publicity assistant, working on all of the Marvel movies. Shortly after this, I began working more and more behind the camera, joined the Director’s Guild of Canada and started directing professionally as a full time job a year or two later.

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

CAT: The movie originated from two things -- One is the title of the movie. What is the meaning of life? I feel like we all question it and there are only metaphysical answers in my opinion. I wanted to explore why some people get a short life, why some get a long life, and what do we make of the time we have here?

The second inspiration is music and art as a therapy to heal. Music therapy is an integrative therapy used with medical treatment that has great results, backed by science. In the movie, Finn is a musician who gets a temporary job as a therapeutic clown at a hospital playing music for sick kids, and primarily for a 9-year old leukemia patient named Sophia. Also drawing from personal experiences, I struggle with an autoimmune disease, and I haven’t had any luck with medical treatments, but arts therapy has actually helped the most.

As you know, the process is long and complex, but first and foremost, we needed a hospital to shoot in or this movie wasn’t going to happen. We ended up getting very lucky with our associate producer that made this happen. We got to use a shut down hospital for a very reasonable price. I can’t tell you how lucky this was. You can’t get a hospital set for less than $3000 per day. 

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

CAT: I wanted a musician to play this role, since the lead character was one. I was aware of the risk, in that I may get a good musician, but a bad actor and it’s a lead character that has to carry the entire movie. 

My partner and life and in biz, Russ De Jong (Director of Photography/ Executive Producer) had worked with tons of artist, everyone from Shawn Mendez to the Weeknd. We started thinking of who would fit the role best. We landed on Sony-signed, Juno nominated pop singer Tyler Shaw.  Tyler was about to go on tour with Selena Gomez and was very busy, but we got lucky and had him for 10 short days of filming a feature film. We actually did not even get to audition Tyler, I did a Skype read with him while in New York. I was freaking out, but deep down believed he was capable.

For the rest of the casting, we needed a strong cast around Tyler since he was not primarily an actor. We had one of the best child actors around – Sadie Munroe who plays 9-year old leukemia patient Sophia Hill, and we also had Sergio Di Zio (Flashpoint) who plays her father. These two actors are just brilliant. Our company North Film Co. casted half our the characters, while a well respected Canadian Casting Agency called Parasyn Casting did the other half which includes Sergio and Sadie.

Sadie wasn’t the original look I was going for. She is an adorable red haired girl with freckles, but I pictured someone else. However, Sadie’s audition was so emotional and compelling that I cast a different mom to make Sadie work.

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

CAT: We used the Red Dragon 6k with ultra prime lenses.  I love the cinematography. My partner/DP Russ De Jong is brilliant and I have no complaints. Lots of people love Alexa, we love Red.

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

CAT: Funny story, it was originally a short film that was 20 minutes. In the editing room, due to my directing, we had a lot of drawn out moments and it ended up being a 40 minute film! I brought up the idea of a feature and Russ turned it down, but then changed his mind.

We decided to go back to filming to finish it as a feature, but due to Tyler’s schedule among other actors, we had to finish on a certain date and I basically had to write the feature portion over a weekend. The entire movie was shot in 10 days on 10 hour days.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

CAT: We have had quite a few offers in Los Angeles and here in Canada. We have not signed anything, as we are deciding the best deal for us.

This was a low budget movie, and more than making money back, we just want a picture deal for another movie if we sign any agreements.  However, I will say I’ve learned that this movie has a big audience and it is easier to sell than a thriller per say.

What was the smartest thing you did during production?

CAT: The smartest decision was to make the decision to finish it as a feature film. As well, make a movie with a positive message – these movies have a big audience.

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

CAT: I learnt that anything is possible; you just need to discover how to use your resources properly. 

Another major lesson I learnt as a first time feature director is that there were moments that were pivotal in the movie that I could have made stronger.

We shot this move in 10 days, on 10 hour days, and most people after watching this movie are shocked at that fact in terms of the quality overall… Because we move at such a fast pace, and I wasn’t allowed to do any reshoots, it was a challenge for me. But when you have limited time and a limited budget, you don’t have these luxuries, and they are good habits to have.

You need to do as much prep work as possible, and in the moment, know exactly what you need to cover to get your story and don’t waste time on shots or takes that you don’t really need.  This just comes with experience.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

George Romero on "Martin"

With the recent passing of George Romero, I thought it was appropriate to re-run this interview from the archives. It's still one of the favorite interviews I've ever conducted. I was able to track down his home number and called him out of the blue, asking if we could set up a time to talk about "Martin."

"Hang on," he said. "Let me just fix myself a drink."

About a minute later we were chatting away about this truly original vampire movie...

Where did the idea for the story come from?

GEORGE ROMERO: Initially I was thinking of doing a comedy. I just got one of those ideas that comes to you in the shower: If there really were vampires, they'd have problems living hundreds of years. They'd have to keep changing their passport photos, they'd have all these practical problems. So I wanted to do a comedy about the practical problems of a vampire in today's age.

I had started to keep a notebook on it. One day it just occurred to me that I could do this a lot straighter and I could do a thing about somebody who's not a vampire at all.

I just thought that that would be more -- not romantic -- but it would be, in a way, more of a tender story and a whole new spin that was not comedic. I wanted to just spin a vampire yarn a bit differently and leave the door open as to whether he is or is not a vampire.

You left it open for the audience, but did you decide going in that he wasn't actually a vampire?

GEORGE ROMERO: The decision that I made was that he was not. In my mind, Martin is not a vampire, he's a kid that's been fucked up by family and mythology and movies and whatever else has influenced him. You just have to make that decision in the dark room somewhere and keep both doors open.

Like your other films,
Martin isn't really about what it appears to be about on the surface. It's not really a vampire movie, just like Night of the Living Dead is more than just a zombie movie. They're really more reflections on the times we're living in.

GEORGE ROMERO: That's what I try to do. I try to use the framework and use the genre, because first of all it's the easiest way for me to get financing. Really all my films are people stories. Even at the heart of
Night of the Living Dead, it's really about the people and how they screw themselves over and can't get it together.

I like that theme tremendously, the lack of communication, the idea that people are still working their own fiddles and have their own agendas even faced with sea changes in the world.

I also like that "monster within" thing, which is in the zombie films and in
Martin to some extent. Even in a couple of the things I've done that Steve King has written. The ones that I'm drawn to are those, like The Dark Half.

Martin is even sympathetic in the sequence where he goes to kill a woman and is surprised that her lover is there, which is a remarkable scene.

GEORGE ROMERO: That's my favorite sequence. I think it's the most successful sequence I've ever done.

I like its complexity. It's a very complex situation and you have to be watching the movie closely to get everything that happens in it. But what I like the most about it is the execution of it. It's very close to what I had on the page and I was able -- again, because of the small, dedicated crew and all their cooperation -- to do it, make all the shots. There are a hell of a lot of shots in that sequence. And the geography is clear, you don't get lost.

You can't do that sequence without a lot of shots and these guys moved fast and we got it. It was great. I still think it's maybe the best-executed thing that I've ever done.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Carol Littleton on "The Big Chill"

I love this movie and I think the first reel of The Big Chill is one of the best first reels in movie history. Everything is set up so nicely.

CAROL LITTLETON: Right. All the characters are introduced.

Let me ask -- and this is just because I've always been curious about this -- William Hurt walks into the church in that reel just at the Minister is saying, ".... a man like Alex." Was that juxtaposition in the script or was it found in the editing?

CAROL LITTLETON: That was found in the editing. We could have had those entrances anywhere, in any order. Obviously he was the last one to arrive. We did cut the minister's speech down some, it was a little bit rambling. And it was just more salient to have the line over the Bill Hurt character, Nick, as he sits down.

Was that film similar to Body Heat, in that you found a lot of it in the editing room?

CAROL LITTLETON: It stayed closer to the script than Body Heat, because it was not a thriller. So we didn't have to deal with elements of timing that are alive on film but on the page are sometimes hard to judge.

But we had other things that were equally difficult, and that was how to integrate the music into the scenes and have it make sense. We discovered right away that we would not have a score, that it would be just the music from Motown stuff and things that were popular in 1968-69.

There were only two tunes that were in the script that we did to playback. For the rest of them, I cut the music and then cut the picture to the music. That was, essentially, doing it backwards. Those were not needle drops that we did after the picture was done and we just added it. It was all integrated as we were going.

I had probably 150 tunes that were in my editing room, on a rack. I would try a lot of different things until we found the right tempo and the right piece. Of course, Larry (Kasdan) is very knowledgeable about rock and roll and that era, because he was in college then.

So most of our editorial time went into the stylistic elements of making the film. Making the music choices seem seamless and making it flow from one song to the next, so that the lyrics and the tempo and the musicality of the scene matched. Like I said, they weren't needle drops; everything was cut to the tempo of the music and re-arranged in such a way that the lyrics fell at certain moments that were salient moments in the film.

So you're kind of doing it backwards; you're literally laying the track out and putting the picture to it, rather than cutting the picture and just dropping the music in. It makes a very big difference in the flow of the film, the musicality of the film, the style of it. The style of the picture is, in fact, very musical. So those were the challenges, editorially; it was really questions of style more than anything else.

Do you have a favorite moment, where it all came together?

CAROL LITTLETON: Yes, I think the episode that was very, very difficult was with the character of Meg (Mary Kay Place) who wants to have a baby. And when Glenn Close figures out that she could put her husband with her best friend, well, it's a little preposterous. This was before artificial insemination, so if you were going to have a baby, you actually had to have a partner. We knew that it was a little far-fetched and if the audience lost it in the movie it would probably be with that episode. The humor had to play a large part in allowing the audience to feel that it was appropriate and slightly goofy and also believable and tasteful.

So I think that whole section, with Aretha Franklin's "A Natural Woman," that whole section into the next morning, I felt really worked well for me. The night before, during the night and the next morning.

Let's talk about one of the most famous scenes in the movie -- the ending flashback, with Kevin Costner as Alex, that was shot but then cut from the movie. How did that come about?

CAROL LITTLETON: You could talk to five or six different people who worked on the movie and you'd get several different opinions. But being on the inside of that, the ending that Larry and Barbara Benedek wrote was to have a large flashback at the very end of how all these people were -- the roots of their personalities, the roots of who they were going to be -- were actually evident when they were students.

After I first read the script, we sat down and I said, "I feel very uneasy about this flashback. I just don't think you need it." And Larry with his nasal, West Virginia voice, said, "Carol, I can't believe you said that. You are so wrong. I can't believe it. You are so wrong." So I dropped it. When somebody says you're wrong, you drop it.

When we were shooting it I said, "This looks like a masquerade, with everybody in long hair and beads." And Larry said, "Carol, you are so wrong. The reason I wanted to write this script was because of this idea." And I said, "Yes, Larry, you're absolutely right. It's a wonderful idea. You may have needed that scene to write the script, but you don't need the scene for the movie. At all." "You are so wrong, if you mention this one more time!"

Well, in the editing, we put that flashback everywhere. We took it out of the ending, we put it up front, we put it in the middle, we put it in pieces, we spent a lot of time trying to get the flashback to work.

We showed it to the studio with the flashback and the suits came in -- Larry and I were the only people from our end -- and the guy who was in charge said, "This is not funny. Take it back, re-do it. I don't know what you guys are thinking, this is a comedy? This is bullshit. Start over again."

Well, we were devastated. Devastated. We knew it was funny, we knew it was engaging, we knew it was emotional.

And then he said, "While you're at it, that flashback is a stinko scene."

So we showed it to them the next time with an audience and the movie still did not work as well as it should. So I said, "Larry, why don't we devise an ending, drop the flashback, have two screenings -- one with the flashback and one without -- and let the audience tell us which one is more effective?"

Well, at the screenings, it was clear that the version without the flashback was better. And the next day, when Larry came into the cutting room, he said, "God dammit, Carol, I wanted you to take that thing out from the beginning! How many times do I have to tell you I'm right?"

That's how funny he is. He's wonderful.

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.