The FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) interview…

Some questions and my answers to a little interview I did recently for FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS):

Poster designed by Sarah Hajtol

1. What would you say to someone sitting down to watch this film for the first time, knowing nothing about it?

To please put all preconveived notions about what sex and romance should be, to crank up the volume, and get ready to laugh and be turned-on…

A scene from FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) filmed at Cafe 9 in New Haven

2. What was the inspiration for writing the story for this film? Is it autobiographical at all?

Well, yes, back in my college days, I had a few long-term friends with benefits, of course, we called them fuck buddies back then. Which was the original name for the script, when I first penned it back in 1999. But I was finding that none of my actors wanted a film called fuck buddies on their resume. I’ve always felt it was an interesting aspect to any friendship, especially male/female friendships. How can you not want to be with a person with whom you have a lot in common?

A scene from FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) filmed at Willoughby's Coffee & Tea in Branford, CT

3. How did the project come together? Was it difficult to get this film off the ground and into production? What were the major challenges?

The biggest challenges are always fund raising and casting. I raised about half the money pretty quickly, based on the script. I found matching funds from a group interested in also putting the film out on DVD. A win-win, until they started giving me script notes. I’m beyond the point of taking script notes from investment bankers and accountants. My feeling is, you want to invest in the film, great. But you have no say. Life is too short to deal with assholes who think because they have money they know anything about story development. So, the minute they brought up script notes, I told them what they could do with their matching funds, and moved on to the lower budget I had already prepared. (I always have backup lower budgets.)

Anne Petersen, Margaret Laney, Lynn Mancinelli

4. How was the casting process? Any surprises in the cast you finally got together?

Well, Margaret Laney was onboard first…she was friends with Jake Alexander…who knew Brendan Bradley…who knew Anne Petersen. Then Jake remembered an old friend from Boston, Alex Brown. So that was 5/6 of our lead cast. It was the final role which took a while, and eventually went to Lynn Mancinelli. The leads rocked. It helped that a number of them knew each other, but it also helped that we rehearsed once a week for going on 6 months because filling shooting. They all seem like good friends. The chemistry is there. I couldn’t ask for more. And likewise, there’s no one else I’d picture in the lead roles. They own them. But, as always, finding supporting players was a lot harder. No real surprises, except for perhaps Tara Stiles, who plays one of the webcam girls. She’s an uber-famous yoga instructor now. She rocked that small part. Wish we had seen more of both her, and the coffee shop girl, played by Rooney Mara.

Alex Brown, Brendan Bradley, Jake Alexander

5. How was Rooney Mara to work with? What do you think of her casting in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

I’ve been friends with Rooney for a long time. I originally cast her as the Ilona, the Daughter of God, in the intended film version of my first novel, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told. In fact you can see her on the cover of the paperback reprint. But when I walked away from $2 million in funding (same reason as above), I moved on to FWB. But Rooney looked too young at the time to play any of the lead roles. I think she’s going to kick ass in Dragon Tattoo. I’m proud of her. Can’t wait to one day get Second Greatest Story off the ground.

The band: START MISSING EVERYBODY

6. Any memorable moments on set?

It was a tough shoot. We had a lot of locations and only 18 days. And there are many times I’m a 20-take director. So we don’t have much down time. Scratch that, we have no down time. But that said, my favorite day of shooting was the, well, without giving away too much, let’s just call it the orgy scene. It was very tight quarters. We shot that in an attic, so the ceiling where we placed the camera and crew was about 3 feet high. It was in the 90s, that day. No A/C. And yet, there’s one particular shot in which that scene all comes together. It wasn’t planned. It was as if the god if indie films was shining down upon us and it all just clicked. But you’ll know it because what you never expect to happen, happens.

Adrian Correia, Gorman Bechard

7. Are there any particular scenes you like the best, or that you’d like audiences to really take note of?

I have two favorite scenes in the movie that still to this day give me goosebumps because they feel so real. Both are between Chloe and Owen. The first is the kiss on up East Rock park, when they first talk about what they want to be when they grow up. The other is the dance at their senior prom, when he puts his jacket around her shoulders. The looks they give each other are beyond perfect. I made the film and yet I believe in those moments they are in love.

A scene from FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) filmed at East Rock Park in New Haven, CT

8. How about any scenes that were particularly challenging to shoot?

The East Rock scenes…on those nights it would either be raining, or freezing, or both. NEVER shoot exterior scenes in low budget films. It’s suicide. Also the bar scenes. 21 pages in about 22 hours, with band performances, shooting overnight for two nights while the bar (Cafe Nine, in New Haven) was closed.

Poster used in film.

9. What would you say is the overall message you’d like people to take away from the film?

Sex is something different for everyone. We all have our kinks, whatever they might be. Instead of discriminating against people because of differences, we should learn to embrace and enjoy those differences. It might just turn you on like you’ve never been turned on before.

You can watch FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) now on Fancast or Babelgum. Or you can purchase the DVD (with tons of extras) at Amazon.

Happy Holidays to all…

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The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 9

My main issue with IndieGoGo.com (aside from how it’s now copied everything great about KickStarter) honestly stems from seeing one of its founders speak at a conference a while back in NYC. He was speaking about selling dvds, and why would anyone want to go with a distributor where sure you might sell 10,000 copies, but only receive $1 per unit, when you could sell them yourself, perhaps sell only 1,000 copies, but receive $10 per unit? To him it was still a profit of $10K, but you only had to move 1,000 units to get there.

I argued from the audience that his notion was idiotic. As an artist you wanted to build an audience, and it was certainly better to have 10,000 people buy your dvd as opposed to one tenth that number. NO MATTER THE PROFIT. That no one making an indie film was getting rich, but that we were hopefully developing a fan base. And certainly 10,000 fans was better than 1,000 fans. A number of people in the audience got it. He didn’t.

If you got into this business to make money, please leave now. There are enough whores in the entertainment industry. But if you’re here because you believe you have a story to tell, a story you have to tell, you will find your audience (or your audience will find you), and perhaps a fan base and career will eventually grow out of your passion.

(I once had an argument with another writer who explained he was livid whenever he found one of his books in a used book store, to which I replied, I loved seeing my books in used book stores, that it was certainly better than the original owner tossing it, and it might turn someone new into a fan, someone who might not be able to buy books at full price. He didn’t understand. All he cared about was the royalty he would not be receiving.)

This is art, not product. And the moment you become more concerned with the profits you make on each unit sold versus reaching out and touching someone new, well then, yes, you have become another entertainment industry whore.

The making of FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) – part 6

First things first, reviews:

from IMDB

from the Seattle True Independent Film Festival  (click reviews about half way down page)

Now the BLOG…

One of the biggest mistakes most indie filmmakers make (aside from not being organized, which I’ll get to at another point) is in casting.  The wrong line delivery can make or break a film.  Like that.  A snap of the finger and you’ve lost the audience.

Ashley McGarry and I spent months casting Friends (with benefits).  And I don’t just mean the six leads.  I mean every supporting role.  We were looking for actors who would make the characters come alive, and when needed we adapted the script to fit the actor.  (If an actor really has trouble with a line, change it.  Move the words around.   Make them comfortable, make it real.  Don’t be married to every word.  Be married to the story you’re telling.)

So what makes a great actor, at least in my opinion?  Or at least what makes them great to work with?  Aside from talent, and fitting the role in question, which are obvious necessities.  I would say the most important aspect would be the ability to recall blocking.  The example I’ll give here is Alex Brown, who plays Owen in FWB.  Now I LOVE oners.  Long takes, that never seem to end.  Life is a oner.  At the end of a five minute take, I could go over to Alex, tell him to scratch his nose four minutes in when he says such-and-such a line, but do everything else the same, and he would nail it, perfectly.  I know, you’re thinking, well isn’t that the actor’s job?  Yes, it is.  But actors that precise are few and far between.  And when you’re not shooting a oner, when you want to match your close up to your wide shot, an actor whose blocking is off will drive you crazy in the editing room.  If they’re holding their drink with their right hand in the close up, and using their left in the wide, good luck cutting.  And granted the script supervisor should be aware of this, but some things do fall through the cracks.  Having an actor that remembers blocking, and makes the blocking look natural, is a god-send.

Next, what is the actor bringing to the role?  When casting, sometimes you just know.  An actor reads and there it is!  Your character jumps off the page and is suddenly alive.  Anne Petersen came in to read for the role of Alison.  That was it.  We had other readings scheduled that day, and I would never cancel on such short notice, but we knew at the end of her audition that Anne had the part.  We gave the all of the other scheduled actresses the opportunity to audition, but in the long run just ended up comparing everyone to Anne.  She brought a spark to the character that didn’t yet exist on the page.  She made her funny, charming.   She made her real.

The ability to ad lib in character.  Brendan Bradley who plays Brad and Jake Alexander who plays Jeff were brilliant at quick comic ad libs, many of which made it into the finished film.  This helps when an actor really knows their character.  The example I’ll give.  Last day of shooting, overnight in a bar.  We were all exhausted.  It was a scene where the four friends, Brad, Jeff, Alison and Shirley (played by Lynn Mancinelli) are wondering where Chloe and Owen are, though they secretly know.  The scene as written was just not working.  Ashley and I could not seem to fix it, no matter how hard we tried.  Finally I said to the actors, run with it.  Do the scene as if this were really happening in your life right now.  They added a few lines, which made all the difference in the world, and nailed it a few takes in, AS A ONER! 

That said, an actor also needs to understand that not every ad lib is brilliant, not every ad lib works.  And when the director says to return to the script, that what you need to do.  Read the Billy Zane blog from last year, but really, throwing a hissy fit when the director won’t let you ad lib, or do the scene your way, those are not the creatures you want on your movie set.  There’s no time to argue on an indie set.  And if you really have questions or issues with the script, take it up in rehearsal.  (I do a lot of rehearsals just for that reason.)  If you don’t, you’ve lost the opportunity, it’s time to do what the director says.  Honestly, yes , it’s a collaborative medium.  No doubt about it.  But ultimately, one person is at the helm.  Everyone needs to be onboard the same ship.  I can give an actor room for improvisation, but it is also completely in my right to take it away.  The actor must understand that, and not take it personally.  As director I need to have a view of the bigger picture, I know what I’m looking for.  Trust me, as I’m trusting you with our words.

Next: the actor that goes above and beyond.  We really wanted the band in the film to feel like a really band.  I so hate when people are playing guitar in movies and it’s painfully obvious they couldn’t strum a G-chord to save their life.  Margaret Laney, who plays Chloe, started taking guitar lessons from the moment she was cast.  And it really makes a difference.  I have had musician friends ask if Start Missing Everybody was a REAL band.  Bringing that sort of reality to the film should be a no-brainers, but it rarely is.  Margaret’s lessons really paid off beautifully.  (And while that’s not her playing guitar on the soundtrack, that is her singing.  And again, she worked to rock out her voice.  Making it real.)

Lastly, I love when an actor brings an air of mystery to the role.  When a look reveals so much more than a line.  When you can see into their soul.  And Lynn Mancinelli did that and so much more.  She infused Shirley with a depth that was not on the page.  She makes us want to know more about the character.  She makes us care.  She breaks our hearts with one look. 

Now working with actors.  Wow.  Everyone is different.  Some just come on set and are ready to rock.  Some need hand holding.  And of course other can be difficult.  I try to give the actor as much freedom as possible, taking care of any kinks during rehearsals. 

Sometimes an actor will ask to add an extra line at the beginning of a scene to get them into it.  Y’know, if you’re shooting digitally, and not way behind in time, let them do it.  It’s a few seconds.  They’re be happy, and you might even have a line you can use in the film.  If not, no big deal.  Helping the actor get into character is more important.

One of the most difficult aspects of working with actors is when you give direction, and it’s just not coming through.  It’s like your speaking a different language.  I usually try to pull the actor aside and bring them to another place.  Pull up something I know about them personally.  Help them find the moment.  (I certainly did this a lot with Jessica Bohl in You Are Alone.)

And of course, there are just actors that you want to shoot (again, see Zane blog).  And once film has rolled, and you’re committed, you need to make the set as comfortable as possible.  Not always a reality, but you do the best you can.  And hopefully the other actors are on your side, realizing you’re trying to make the best film possible.

We were SAGindie on this film, which meant we could use both union and non-union players.  Half of our six leads are union.  In terms of the quality of actors, I don’t know that I saw a difference in either ability or professionalism.  In fact the one supporting player who cancelled on us the morning of her first scene was SAG.  Luckily Ashley saw it coming, and we had the role re-cast within a few hours. 

It’s certainly an art form trying to juggle all the hats required to make a feature.  I listed them a few entries back.  A few things go without saying, don’t give roles to your friends or family members.   Unless they’re actors…like people who go out on auditions.  It’ll just take the audience out of your film.  Get everything in writing. Have those contracts signed.  If you have a nude scene, make sure the actor is comfortable with nudity.  How: ask them to take off their clothes on a callback.  (Obviously let them know ahead of time what will be expected.)  Otherwise you will get burnt when they decide (or their boyfriend/girlfriend decides for them) that it’s not a good idea…as you’re a week into shooting.

Also…back to SAG for a moment.  Lots of paperwork.  You need a great first or second AD to be on top of that.  Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in the position Ashley and I did, having to send our time sheets out to the actors to be signed after the production wrapped.  We thought these were being taken care of.  We were wrong.  Apparently flirting with extras was more important.  (Yeah, go back to part three of this series.)

Ultimately what I’m saying: take your time in casting.  Bring in your actors to read against each other.  Tape everything.  Watch the tapes over.  You wrote or found a script you love.  You will be spending a year or more working on this project.  Find people who will bring your vision to life, as Alex, Lynn, Jake, Margaret, Brendan and Anne did for Friends (with benefits).  To paraphrase a line from the film, they rock!  And in doing so, they make the film rock!

P.S. Reworked the FILMS page on the Gorman Bechard website.  Take a look by clicking HERE.  (If you’ve never seen my short film THE PRETTY GIRL, take 6 minutes.  I think you’ll like it.)

The making of FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) – part 4

The sound mix for FWB ate my life for the past week and a half…but all is wonderful…thanks to the pros at DuArt in New York (Matt Gundy and Carmen Borgia, to be specific), who once again rocked in every way shape and form. 

Before I get to what makes a great crew member, I need to devote a little time to the upcoming premiere at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival in less than 4 weeks: June 12th at 7 PM!

So, in the very funny and uber-kinky spirit of FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS)…with a nod to co-composer Stephen Harris for suggesting the idea…I present the official FWB Toe Sucking Contest.

Watch the video, and all will be explained:

Here is all the official information:

To help celebrate the World Premiere of our new film FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) we are searching for the world’s greatest toe suckers. (That’s sucking your OWN toes!) 

So, get cracking…take a shower (or not)…and post your best toe sucking online for all the world to see.

C’mon…you know you want to…

Whip out your cams, take off your shoes, and let the world see what you can do.

We want you to post videos of your dirty deed.

And we will be pick the ultimate Toe Sucker! (Comments by viewers will certainly sway us, so get your friends to support your effort!)

Make us laugh, cringe, turn us on…SUCK YOUR TOES!

There will be three winners in this contest:

First Place gets a fantastic What Were We Thinking Films merch package, including three DVDs: Psychos In Love, You Are Alone, and of course, Friends (with benefits), plus a Friends (with benefits) baseball cap, t-shirt and poster, and a Psychos In Love “I Hate Grapes” t-shirt!

Second place gets: a Friends (with benefits) baseball cap, t-shirt and poster.

Third place gets: a Friends (with benefits) baseball cap

Winners will be announced on October 1st, 2009

You can enter as many times as you want. Decision of the judges is final.

So, get cracking…take a shower (or not)…and post your best toe sucking online for all the world to see.

C’mon…you know you want to…

The making of FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) – part 3

In the commentary to my film YOU ARE ALONE, I said that making a movie was the hardest thing to do.  Period. 

Though there’s hardly anything simple about it.  Dealing with the egos, the tantrums, the hysteria that goes with no sleep, no food, too much coffee, stress, stress, stress.  Sorry.  There are few things in life of which I’m certain, but this IS one of them.  Directing a film is the most difficult task a human can perform.  Any if you’re reading this and shaking you’re head, well then, you obviously have never directed a film.  So, you really have no clue.

If you’re nodding, going, HELL, YEAH.  Then read on . . .

Protein.  Yeah, that was one of the big complaints on the set of Friends (with benefits).  Despite the more seasoned pros on the set claiming we had the best food and coffee they’d ever had on ANY movie set.  (I do believe in feeding people well, especially when I can’t pay union wages, and in many cases Pas are working for little or less, good food and coffee is the one thing I CAN and WILL provide.)  There were the very vocal few who felt there wasn’t enough protein during breakfast.  Of course, in most cases these were the people who did the least amount of work.  Why is it that the most useless people complain the most?  Do they have nothing else better to do?  Obviously.  They’re not really working.  They’re just looking to create drama.  That is what they do best. 

These are the people that need to be stepped on like bugs on a movie set.  I don’t care if they’re your friends.  All they do is breed hostility.  They make what could be an otherwise happy set, miserable.  And why?  Because they need some fucking protein in their breakfast?  No, because they’re lazy assholes to begin with.  GET RID OF THEM.

One of the worst “problems” on the FWB set was a young woman who claimed to be vegan.  Who complained at every meal.  Who never once asked nicely if we could perhaps have something different for breakfast.  (Asking nice goes a LONG way.)  But instead spread her nasty attitude like a virus through the set, even infecting the cast.  She was worthless on crew.  And because of her attitude, I absolutely refused to even listen.  Then one day I saw her eating a plate of scrambled eggs.  The vegan eating eggs.  Snagged.  You know what she could do with her protein complaints from that point forward.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love most of the filmmaking process.  Especially writing and editing.  My least favorite part would be the actual filming.  Mainly because of the one or two rotten apples that spoil it for everybody.  Every set has them.  I wish I knew how to get rid of them.  All I can do is report them to a few line producers I know after the shoot.  (I do, believe me . . . and yes, there are list of “unhirable” people out there, both crew AND cast)  It’s a small community.  Eventually word gets around.  And word really gets around with it’s a department head who’s causing the problems. 

Unfortunately, because you’re shooting for just a few weeks, and usually not dealing with unions, finding a quick replacement is impossible.  (Especially if you’re not in New York or LA.)  So, do you cut off your nose to spite your face?  (We did that a few times on FWB, and usually the work would fall onto either my shoulders, or more often than not the shoulders of Ashley McGarry, who shared the writing, editing and producing credits with me, and who ultimately ended up also earning the title of Production Manager, because she, well, managed the production when those that were hired to do so either didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, whatever.   She did what was needed to get the film made.  I did likewise.  But there’s only so much two people can do.)  So, no.  You try to ignore the morons, hope they get a tiny bit of work done, that their department heads actually whips them into shape, and focus on the task at hand: making a movie.

And there are bright sides.  When all goes well during a day of shooting, it’s becomes the greatest day of your life.  Hands down, it’s one of the greatest highs.  Despite the exhaustion and stress, you are flying. 

And don’t get me wrong, this entry is about the FEW, the not so PROUD.

Seventy-five percent of the Friends crew were stellar, hard working professionals, who did a great job, and rarely complained.  Really, in addition to the aforementioned Ms. McGarry, who went above and beyond and probably deserved another dozen titles, my dream crew would certainly include Adrian Correia as my cinematographer, Dave Groman as my sound recordist, Jodi Baldwin (one of only two people I asked over from the You Are Alone crew) on costumes, Stefani Rae Fisher and Mara Palumbo on makeup and hair, to name just a few. 

It’s the other twenty-five percent I’m ranting about.  Actually…it’s the really just the bottom ten percent: protein girl, vomit guy, wrong contract dude, and those who can’t schedule or telephone extras (etc., and so on) despite the fact that it’s their job.  (If you EVER find a first AD that you love…when the film ends, keep them chained in your basement and never let them go.  Great Assistant Directors are the holy grail of the independent film world.)

It’s that ten percent which, in a perfect world, would be sacrificed to the Gods at the wrap party.  Burned alive at the stakes, as we danced around the fire, drinks in hand.  I’d gladly light the fire.  It would be our gift to other independent filmmakers.  Freedom from ever having to work with these certain few. 

(I mentioned the You Are Alone crew.  I guess that only two people from YAA were asked to come work on Friends With Benefits pretty much says it loud and clear.  The rest is on that DVD’s commentary.  But yeah, that would have been one huge fire.)

Next time I’ll address what makes a great crew member, a great collaborator, in this most difficult artform.

P.S. Wanted to proudly point out a few rave reviews of the new PSYCHOS IN LOVE dvd.  Click HERE and HERE!

ALSO…the official Friends (with Benefits) site has tons of fun new links (DELETED SCENES!!!)…and it’s even iPhone compatible.  Also check out the Gorman Bechard site, my personal site, for everything on the books and films, if you haven’t already.