Friday, June 30, 2006

SAG or Non-SAG that is the question!


So as you noticed from the ad in Backstage that I put Non-SAG actors. Why you ask? Well it was drilled into me, and I mean drilled into me that on your first movie avoid SAG. There are rules to working with SAG and the pay scale is too much for a first time producer to afford, so one should avoid working with SAG. In short order too many headaches. So what do I go and do, but use SAG actors. First of all three of my actors are SAG actors, so I had to go the SAG route. Personally I had no problem with dealing with them, and if I had to do it again I do the same. The quality of the actors I got were just amazing, and now since making my film SAG has made it more possible for independent producers to use SAG actors. What I had to do first is give SAG some money to insure that I would actually do the film. I got the money back after the production, and working with the SAG office here in Philadelphia was no problem. I even used a payroll company which they recommended which was great. All I did was give them a check, and they did the rest like taking out taxes, and pension & health. To do this myself would have been a nightmare, and the fee they charged was moderate. Before filming ever started I had to deal with articles of incorporation, and SAG rule & regulations. It isn't as much as you might think, and it was a necessary evil. I had gotten my info from books and other producers who films I worked on.

If you decide to work with SAG you suddenly have access to a lot of GREAT talent. A lot of productions I noticed lacked good acting, and that's because those films used friends, and though I realize why they did so because of no money, and or scheduling difficulties their productions still suffered. I didn't want that to happen to me, so I went the SAG route.

But I have to say that I did use non-SAG actors too. Karen Stanion who plays Lisa was not SAG, and she was GREAT. Better then great, so there are actors out there that are not SAG, and that are good, so when casting you decide what to use. I've ranted and raved about paying your talent enough here for everyone to know where I stand on the issue, so I won't get into it here. Maybe I wasn't so ruthless as some producers have told me (yes they all thought of me as a nice fellow). I find the attitude repugnant, and it confirms my suspicion that most producers are scum. Get as much out of someone for as little as you can seems the order of the day, and this was not lost on me as I slaved away on several productions while in college, and after graduation. I was a small production, and I wasn't going that route. Could I have saved money being more ruthless? Sure, but the production would have collapsed, and I'd have NO picture to finish. Salaries weren't extravagant, but they helped pay the bills for the cast & crew. I kept the shooting schedule short and fast in order to get people back to a production that would pay them a better. I scheduled a 12 day shoot, and wrapped on the 11th day, so I think I did pretty good.

The question is will I use SAG again? Most definitely yes. I know their contracts, and I'm familiar with their procedures. Will I use non-SAG actors too. If I find an actor that has the qualities I'm looking for I believe so, but working with professional actors from SAG has spoiled me, and I want to do it again.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

How it began....


It all started with a little advertisement in Backsatge. As you can see the ad says for a short film, and for intended purposes I was going to do a short, but after sitting in on Dov Seimens two day lecture called "Film School Crash Course" I thought differently. I had made shorts in school, and I knew how to make them, but a feature, that was the next step. So I tried my hand at creating a script with few locations, and few actors. This was key to my whole strategy in making a feature film I could realistically afford. I had been interested in crime stories, and thought that there would be some interest in my story. After all I was hoping to sell this film, so I was thinking crime drama. I had also been very interested in film-noir films of the 40's & 50's, and these films usually had few characters, and a lot of dialogue. If your in doubt take a look at "Double Indemnity" that film alone is loaded with dialogue. I tried fashioning a script with those elements, and hoped I could write a feature length film that I could do on the cheap. Of course I would update the material to present day, so I could sell it in todays market. There was even a thought of shooting it in black & white, but I quickly nixed that idea because I wanted the film to be in color. I am also a fan of the movie "Blood Simple" and wanted to emulate that film too. Unfortunately I would NOT have the budget that "Blood Simple" had. Not even close, so the film needed to be scaled down. The film could have been a bit shorter, but what I have now is sort of a director's cut of the film which I like. I did get some compliments from people who read the script, and even a few who liked my writing, and in the end I did cut one major scene, and shortened a couple more while editing the film.

"Deadly Obsessions" is a movie that is raw. It shows an ugly marriage falling apart, and devolving into murder and mayhem. Part of that anger, and vial came from our next door neighbors who at the time were always arguing. Being an urban dweller since I was a baby I was always able to tune out a lot of that noise that the city was famous for, but being that the walls were thin where we lived at the moment it was hard not to hear them. Sometimes both my wife and I were woken up in the middle of the night by their arguing, and I guess that's where the two main characters in the film came from. A marriage stuck in hell. It was a theme I could develop into a story. I even read an article in our daily newspaper about two women who had been living together for some time, and during an argument one of the women took her partners service revolver and shot her while her partner was taking a bath, and then tried killing herself. I believe one or both were police officers. All this happened with the couples baby in its crib in the next room. Truth is much stranger then fiction, and that's how "Deadly Obsessions" was born. There were a number of other things that contributed to the formulating of Deadly Obsessions, but stories from real life made a more lasting impression on me then anything that was fictional.

After sorting out the actors headshots I wanted to contact them and made arrangements to audition them in NYC. I took a day off, and my wife and I headed to NYC where we video taped several actors doing auditions. I had help from Rebecca Lyttle my associate producer on the film, and also from my wife's dad who was in charge of security (he being a federal police officer and all). I shot the audition with my Hi-8 camera and from those video tapes we kind of did a process of elimination. Now one thing about auditions. They are frustrating, and yet very fun to watch and participate in. Especially when the actors start uttering your lines. You see your work come to life in front of you for the very first time, and it can really be invigorating to watch and hear. I had sent some "sides" to most of the actors that we had scheduled for auditions, so they could look them over. I either emailed or faxed the sides to the various actors. Each actor was great in their own way, but from these auditions there I found my team. I had them play off each other when I could, and at other times I had Rebecca read with them. Ms Lyttle was great and she helped a lot, and without her I don't think I would have gotten as good a cast as I did. She was my sounding board, and an objective viewer & listener. Also some of the actors had worked with each other so I could see chemistry between different actors right away. Eventually it came down to Nick, Karen, Michelle, and Irene. Irene Glezos, who plays Rebecca, was added at the last minute to the audition because Rebecca knew her, and said she was interested in the part, so I said yes and GOOD thing too. I had Irene and Karen do a scene together, and though I liked Karen for the Lisas part I had her read Monicas part. To tell you that after that read I was so fired up is an understatement. The room was quiet, after they performed, and that's because Karen & Irene are professionals. To say that I want to work with these ladies again is an understatement. Also both Michelle & Nick were great in their parts. Both gave it their all. It's because of these actors I wanted to FINISH this film. It took me 5 years but I did it, and I still want to work with these guys again. While filming I watched how they transformed my characters that I had written and breathed new life into them.

I need to say something here about auditions and the world of the actor. The world is FULL of talented actors out there. It's very hard to say no to them. At least it was for me, and you can see a sort of dogged determination in all their faces. I mean these actors get rejected more then they get accepted, and yet they keep going on and on to auditions. It was my first taste of what show business is really like from the other side. I was always the techie, so I did not see the process an actor goes through before a production begins, but now I knew, and the one thing I can say to any filmmaker out there is please treat these special people with care. I had coffee, and bagels waiting for them, and even had juice. I figured it was the least I could do for them coming down to audition for little old me.

So after knowing who my actors were. It was time to set a date for the start of production. Of course that would come sooner then I thought due to a little thing called unemployment. But it was one more event that said to me that the time was now or never, so I jumped in with both feet and never looked back

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Beginning Obsession


Okay it's been a while, so here goes the first installment of the beginning of the birth of my film Deadly Obsessions. Originally entitled "Broken Promises" the movie was written back in 1997, and finalized in 1998. I had started writing a journal of my progress in making the film back in Feb. '98. Till this day I still keep a journal and the one journal has multiplied to 16 journals. One it was to keep my sanity, and another it was to serve as a reminder of what I needed to do. Since I was extremely low budget I myself was responsible for getting things done. This helped and hurt me through the years of getting to the final print of the film. Before venturing into my feature I saw countless indie films both good and bad, and I made mental notes on how I should proceed. Back in 1998 digital video really didn't exsist. It was only AFTER that I shot my film that I the digital revolution started to happen with a vengeance. Shooting on film was my only choice back then, and though I could have transferred all to video and edit via video I really didn't want that because my intent was to finish with an answer print for projection. Doing a feature today I would highly advice a beginner to do it in digital video. In the end you'll still have a DVD for projection on a data video projector. But back in 1998 my choices were limited, and since I knew how to make a film from my years in attending film school I decided to go the film route. In the end it probably saved me some money because I didn't have to transfer to video, and not worry about sync problems that would have occurred had I gone the video route.

How I approached the making of the video was to make a list of my resources, and try and fashion a story around them. I had to make a film with limited locations, and limited characters that I could shoot quickly. No flashy effects were needed, but a SPX technician was hired for two days to shoot the gun play in the film. Since I loved the noir type films of the 40's & 50's I wrote along those themes trying to update it to present day. I was working as a graphic designer at the time and hating it, but when I started my film I became empowered, and though exhausted at the end of the day I found time to write.

Working on several short films, and making my own short films I was familiar what I needed to do. The challenge was to eventually break down a full screenplay by myself. I used a computer program called "Movie Magic" for this. I had written my screenplay in Final Draft, and the program imported the script into the program. I eventually fashioned a 12 day shooting schedule from this. Though I was told I was un-organized I didn't see it. I could have used another person to help me as script supervisor, but that person I had originally wanted could not do it due to a family crisis, so I had to adapt and move on. It worked out, but I would strongly advice that on your feature you have someone to help you with that duty. It will save you much grief.

The most definitive act I did was post an ad in Backstage where I advertised for my actors. That little advertisement gave me a floods worth of headshots. The headshots came by the sack full. Getting them sorted was a challenge in itself, but was one of the funniest things I did. For help I enlisted my wife Phyllis. A word here about Phyllis. It was my wife who pushed me to get this done. She was there every step of the way. Both of us were working, and had recently moved to the Philadelphia area, so it was stressful. If you don't have someone who is just as committed to the project as you are you're in for a world of hurt. So I have to say thank-you to my wife Phyllis. Without her this film would not exsist., and I'd still be questioning my talents as a filmmaker and an artist. Thanks hon!

So as you can see this is only the first part of this story. There is SO much more, but as I go through my journals I'll write more and more. If there are any questions let me know. Make a comment here, and I'll tell you. I would like this blog to be truly a two way conversation. So I hope I've helped a bit, and I'll keep writing.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Obsessive: Obsessions


Okay, so I've been mulling it over and looking around the net reading other film type blogs. I've come to the conclusion that there are a lot better blogs about films, and film reviews then mine, so why in the hell am I doing it? Maybe because I like to give props to certain films that have influenced me, and that I feel are worth mentioning. I'm not the eloquent reviewer of films that I try to be. My film studies grades way back in college can back me up there. I could never fully express or as I said bullshit my way through a review or a critical analysis of a film. I was young and full of myself, and certainly didn't have the patience back then. After all I was in school because I wanted to MAKE films, NOT review them. Of course I learned later that you can't make a GOOD film without appreciating GOOD cinema, and what better way to do that then write about them. After all the New wave started like that, so what do I want to say here?

Well it's been my goal to reach other filmmakers out there in the void doing their own thing. I haven't been too successful, and have found out it's harder then it sounds. The internet seemed the likely choice to establish a web page for my film, but then that's just self-promotion, and who would be interested in the little drama I made? Promotion is a lot harder then making a film I soon found out. So again why does this blog exsist. Well working in a school I work with a lot of students and you would laugh at some of the questions I get, but then again how a film is made is as unique as the film itself sometimes, so why not go over how I made the damn film in the first place. Warts and all.

Sounds like a plan doesn't it. My film is currently on DVD, and I had always wanted to make a commentary track on it to document what I learned, but that became too expensive. In order for me to include a commentary I would have to have upgraded my DVD disc, and that cost was too steep for me. I'm lucky I got to include a short video of stills of the film, and of us making the film to one of my composers musical themes on it.

I had written a journal or journals of the process, and I will be going back to them to refresh, and also write from them step by step on how I made the film. Maybe some of you will get an idea from this, and maybe some questions will be answered. That is the hope. I have no secrets, and I don't want to be vague, so this will be a true account on how "Deadly Obsessions" was made. I'll bitch, moan, and at times revel in the making of this film. What I did right, and what I did wrong. In the end maybe a conversation will take place between like minded people out there, and maybe we can help each other out. In the long run that's what I truly want. So buckle up, and get ready for a ride. Hopefully I'll entertain you as well. As Betty Davis' character (Margo Channing) said in "All about Eve (1950): "Fasten you're safety belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride"

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Saturday Night Fever


Okay, so I had the chance to watch this film again over the Memorial day week-end, and realized that I still like this movie a lot. Saturday Night Fever came out in 1977, and it single handedly gave disco a fad that was really on it's way out a reprieve. John Badham the director of the film was once quoted as saying that "we were making a small film about a fad that was slowly dying out", and he was right. Saturday Night Fever was written by Norman Wexler, but was based on an article written in a magazine entitled: "Tribal Rights of the New Saturday Night". The movie has gained legendary status through Travolta's performance on and off the dance floor. To simple write up Saturday Night Fever as just another dance movie would be doing it a big disservice. There is actually a story here, and it's about Travolta's character Tony Manero.

Saturday Night Fever is about a young man and his confusion and frustration about living a life he's not happy with. Dancing at the local discotheque is all that Tony has to make himself feel special and wanted, as he doesn't get it from his family. The arrival of Stephanie, an older woman who is just as good a dancer as he is, lights a fire inside Tony and he finally sees his life as having a purpose. But things don't turn out as he had envisioned.*

That in a nut shell is the plot of the entire movie, and the movie has some strong performances from JohnTravolta as Tony Manero, Karen Lynn Gorney as Stephanie, Barry Miller as Bobby C. and Donna Pescow as Annette. All this was done on a limited budget & a tight shooting schedule. Maybe that's why I hold it up as being a true American classic. The feel of the film and the look of the film are quite authentic, and this is in no small way due to Badham's crew. Having grown up during this time it brings a bit of nostalgia to viewers who lived in this era. I can remember the "new" discotheque opening up in the neighborhood, and the crowds it drew in for a very short time. Between the opening of Saturday Night Fever, and the close of the 70's the scene changed. Disco had a backlash, and it gave birth to the punk movement with such artists like the Ramones, and Blondie leading the way. But for a brief time Saturday Night Fever had it's moment. Seeing it again reminded me that the film should be considered more then a phenomenon, but an actual good film about relationships, and one having a purpose in life, and not just being aimless and without direction. See it again, and see for yourself how good this film really is. You won't regret it.

*Part of review written by from IMDB: Devyalento Latchford Deschanel from London, England