Category Archives: indie

The Black & White Rules of Indie Filmmaking – part 2

2. Keep your crew small.

No micro-budget film needs a crew of more than 5 or 6 people, and that includes the director. If you hire a line producer/production manager who wants to hire a first AD, second AD, UPM, and script supervisor. Either explain to him that he is wearing all of those hats, or fire him and find someone who actually wants to work. There’s no reason for a crew of 20 people on an indie film. There’s no reason for a crew of ten. None. Most of them stand around with their arms folded looking bored, then complain come meal time that you don’t have yogurt for breakfast. You might not be paying them, but you still have to feed them. (And crew members seriously, if there’s something you absolutely need to eat on set, buy it for yourself, and bring it to set. As I said in one of my director’s commentaries, “Get your own fucking yogurt!”) And if you’re daily food budget is say $200. Ten people (say 6 crew members and 4 cast members) can eat a lot better on $200 than thirty can. A well-fed crew is a happy crew. Last summer when six of us headed down to Chapel Hill to shoot my Archers of Loaf concert film, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?, I treated us all to a five-star meal. Honestly the most expensive meal I’ve ever paid for on a set. (That includes a set of thirty when doing FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, and people ate well on that set.) But it set a perfect mood. Everyone was happy. And still to this day talk about that meal at Lantern.

The same rules apply for all the departments. On a micro budget film your DP should light and do all camera work. If he knows what he/she is doing, it’ll still look like a million dollars. If he/she doesn’t, all the extra crew members in the world won’t make your film look any better. (I’m working on a film called BROKEN SIDE OF TIME where as the only…the ONLY…crew member on a certain scene I lit it with a Zippo lighter. It looks freaking awesome! Mind-blowingly awesome!). Design team = one person. Makeup and hair should and could be done by the actors. They can probably do it better on themselves than anyone you can afford, unless of course we’re talking horror, then you’ll need someone good with the gore and blood. Sound = one person. Throw in you, the director, and perhaps one good PA (who has some knowledge of lights, but also doesn’t mind going on a lunch run, wrangling cables, sitting in a van watching equipment, grunt work . . . and let me set something straight right now, on my sets I will wrangle cables, haul equipment, set up gear, do whatever it takes . . . there’s no room for divas in micro budget), and there’s your crew. Anyone else is wasted money and space. (Note: if you’re doing a documentary, you probably want two cameras going at all times, in which case, the design person is replaced by a second DP.)

This is the new model for making indie films. The smart model. And if people tell you it can’t be done this way, they’re either lazy and don’t really want to work, or they have no clue as to what they’re doing and don’t belong on a film set. (About 75% of the people you’ll meet making and/or working on films will fall into one of those two categories. If you’re in Connecticut make that 90%. They’ll hopefully find other career paths in short time.)

NOTE: do not hire your friends to be crew, unless your friends were crew members first, i.e. you became friends after working together on a project. Otherwise, they will either no longer be your friends, your film will suffer, or most likely both.

ALSO: just because someone went to film school, doesn’t mean they know what to do on a film set. I usually find just the opposite to be the case. Look for people who’ve worked on sets, a lot of sets. Experiences trumps school a million times over. Look for people who love movies and want to learn how a film is made. Look for a DP who wants to be a DP. A production manager who loves to manage. Stay away from people who say ultimately they want to direct, because ultimately they will want to direct YOUR film.

And note to crew members. NEVER EVER give an opinion out loud as to how an actor should deliver a line. That is SO NOT your place. (Besides undermining the director, you are now shaking the confidence of the actor.) If you have an idea about that or anything (shot, sound, lighting), and if there is time, pull the director aside and tell him/her. Also if the director gives you certain rules about behavior on his set, follow them. Make believe you’re in the army, and the director is your general. No, really. (See, this is why you don’t hire friends.) If you don’t follow the rules you’ll be court marshalled, or at least thrown through a plate glass window.

A lot more on that when we get to organization, but honestly if you have five great crew members, all there to work, none of that will be an issue.

Next up: Casting

My filmography.

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Filed under directing, film school, filmmaking, independent film, indie

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 22

I’m on a plane to Chicago, for the third festival screening of CMO, but I want to take everyone back a few months.

We had been holding bi-weekly screening of the film at my house. Usually just me, my wife Kristine, Sarah Hajtol (who has more credits on this film than I do, but in this case was certainly acting as my assistant editor), and production manager/researcher Katie Dickey in attendance. And of course my dogs, Phoebe and Springsteen. (Springsteen finally stopped asking why there was no music in the film, which I thought was a good sign.) Jan Radder, my supervising producer would also watch, but from a DVD at his home in Minneapolis. The last of these was on Monday, January 31, 2011. It would be the last chance to have a number of eyes on the film before locking it down, and doing the sound mix.

Notes were blessedly few and far between. A missing period at the end of one title, a B-camera close-up a little out of focus, a missing name in the end titles, a photo that needed to move from right to left, instead of visa-versa, things like that. I would then spend the next week tweaking. We received a handful of last minute graphics/images, which Sarah would insert into the film, while I double checked everything, and added only two things.

Two things no one knew about.

The first: the pause. (Infamous in my small circle of participants on this film.) Bil MacLeslie was the band’s soundman for a few tours. He was the person who confiscated the tape which would go on to become When The Shit Hits The Fans. His stories are eloquent and plentiful in the film. But one on my favorite things he says is nothing at all.

I asked everyone we interviewed what their favorite Mats song was. Most people listed off many, or gave an answer, then quickly changed their mind. Bill was different. He gave his one word answer, then paused. It was as if it were the thing in his life of which he was most sure.

When doing the first cut of the film, I left that pause in, in all its six second glory. I loved it. It was a breath, a break, it was certainty and passion, it was exactly what the film needed at that point. But everyone on my crew hated it. That it stopped the flow. That it was almost uncomfortable. So I chopped away at it, until it barely existed, mainly because I was tired of hearing about it after screening every cut.

Well, when Sarah was through with the graphics, and when I knew the next person who’d me seeing the film was my mixer, Matt Gundy, at DuArt, I popped that pause back in, as I knew I would, as I had planned to, all along. And watching it with festival audiences, counting off the second in my head, I know it belongs in the film. I love that damn pause.

The second: a dedication. It comes right at the end of the end credits, as Matthew Ryan speaks. It’s heartfelt, and deserved, as I would have never made this film without her. You can read it when you see the film. I mean every word.

P.S. These past few posts, and the next few that follow were all written on that plane ride. Needed a break from new script.

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Filed under alternative rock, documentaries, editing, filmmaking, indie, the replacements

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 18

Back to filming COLOR ME OBSESSED. Our third day of shooting.

After Jesse Malin, whom we shot in the East Village, we were scheduled to do an interview on the upper West Side, then two in Brooklyn. Unfortunately Jesse’s interview ran long, so short of my Jeep suddenly morphing into a helicopter, there was just no way.

With only two of us working (me asking questions, Adrian manning two cameras), we couldn’t give the upper west side interviewee a respectable heads up. I called the moment the interview was over, and got voicemail. He was unfortunately on the subway, already headed towards his apartment. We he returned the call, I tried to explain, apologized profusely, but he was pissed, and we lost his interview for good. Lesson learned. We allowed a lot more time between interviews. And Neil, if you’re reading this, once again, sorry. In over 140 interviews, it never did happen again.

Next, Adrian and I scurried to Brooklyn to interview one of our Executive Producers, Diane Welsh and her son Brendan. Now a little backstory, Diane is the queen of outbidding you for rare Mats items on eBay. If you’ve lost an item you thought you had in the bag, mostly likely it’s in Diane’s amazing shrine to the band.

A few years back when I finally found a PLEASE TO MEET ME mobile on eBay, I bid well over what I thought it would sell for, into the hundreds. An hour before the auction it looked like I would have it for $45, give or take. Of course when I checked later, after the auction had closed, I had been outbid, by none other than the woman who would in so many respects become the angel for CMO.

Of course, the next time a PTMM mobile appeared, I put in some crazy high bid of around a thousand dollars, and ended up paying only around $40. There was no Diane to outbid me…

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Friends (with benefits) vs. No Strings Attached

First off…sorry for the lack of updates…we’re getting COLOR ME OBSESSED ready for its sound mix, and time has been short…but I promise to continue on Sunday.

But first, since so many have asked, I wanted to repost these two post from the FWB IMDB board…

The first comes from someone whom I do not know, her IMDB name is Estella2. In a post titled “why isn’t this getting a main stream release?” she writes:

“okay….so why is it that two horrible movies with big main stream casts with basically the same story line are getting released within the next month or so…but this isn’t? this was a hell of a lot better. was this idea like stolen from someone and sent to hollywood? or did this guy sell it and agree with not having to have his name credited at all…..it just seems weird.
“no strings attached” with natalie portman with a very very similar story line and characters. even had the same original title “F*u*c*k* buddies” and no mention of the writer of this film having anything to do with it. “friends with benefits” mila kunis. also a very similar story line and no mention of this writer.

was this just some sick coincidence or what? if not, then as an independent artist i feel pretty small and hopeless right now.

what’s the point, if hollywood steals everything and turns it into garbage? if we have to keep seeing natalie portman ashton kutcher justin timberlake and mila kunis then why even try to have other actors out there? we can just have all of hollywood recycle themselves over and over until they die or become paralyzed from too much plastic surgery. there used to be such a thing as “new talent.” guess that died a long time ago along with celluloid film.”

This was my response:

“It is frustrating. I wrote this as a spec script called “Fuck Buddies” back in 1999. It was shopped around, but because of the more controversial sections of the film (pretty sure you know what I mean if you’ve seen it), eventually no one purchased it. (I was asked to take those out, but I declined.)

Now, the young lady who wrote No String Attached (also originally called “Fuck Buddies”, then called “Friends With Benefits”) went to Yale shortly after my agents began shopping the script around. What does seem a little strange to me was that my wife employed a bunch of Yalies at the time, and we were friends with a lot of people in the New Haven scene…so I’m pretty sure word got around as to what I was working on (as I was pretty well-known in New Haven at the time due to my books and older horror films)…

That there are SO many similarities in the script is upsetting. (Funny, what’s bothered me most is that the Justin version actually has an orange logo! Really?!?! There was no other color. And it’s not like they didn’t know about my film. Our URL is FWBmovie.com, theirs is FWB-movie.com. I mean…c’mon.)

So yes, it feels like I did all the work. As for it being a coincidence…there’s no such thing as coincidences! (And I never secretly sold any rights to this story.)

As for your closing…I believe the gap between indie and hollywood is larger than ever. We just need to keep to our side and keep putting out worthwhile projects. Let’s face it, an Ashton fan probably wouldn’t enjoy a true indie film anyway. So, let them have their bad copies…we know where the originality lies. We can see the difference. Never give up hope (or your dream). ”

NOW…after having seen NO STRINGS ATTACHED, I can honestly say aside from the premise, original title, and the fact that Natalie is a doc, there is very little stolen from FWB. But what is annoying about the film is their tag line “Can Best Friends Be Sex Friends?” That would work perfectly for our film, but not for theirs. The two main characters are strangers. It’s not a friends with benefits situation, it’s a two strangers having sex situation, i.e. THEY’RE DATING. As for their “rules,” well we have Brad’s Rules…and there’s no comparison. And so much for the female empowerment crap. Sure she makes the decision at first, but she’s also the one who comes crawling back begging his forgiveness. As for raunch…please. It’s a typical Hollywood romantic comedy. The cast and crew of FWB know raunch! (Oh, but they do have two girls kissing! And anyone who’s seen my FWB knows what I have to say about that!) Look, it’s a middle of the road romantic comedy. Nothing more, nothing less. I’d say that no matter what. If this were any other film and my wife and I were watching this at home on DVD, I’d have started reading the NY Times five minutes in, and she would have taken it off after about 15 minutes. And she LOVES rom-coms.

I will say one positive thing about NSA, and that is that Greta Gerwig is great. I wish she were the lead. She steals the show, and makes you want to go and watch her other films.

That’s all…thanks for listening to me vent. I look at it this way, because of this film, and the Justin/Mila version coming in the summer, we’ve gotten a LOT more exposure than we could have ever hoped for. Riding the coattails of the big publicity machine. It all works out in the end…

If you haven’t, watch FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) now for free…and decide for yourself!

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Filed under ashton kutcher, filmmaking, friends with benefits, gorman bechard, Greta Gerwig, indie, natalie portman, no strings attached, romantic comedy

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 13

Next up on that long day in Boston, Mike Gent of the Figgs, another big fan, who of course also backed Tommy Stinson on one of his solo tours. This was the first day interview where we realized we’d have a very pet friendly film on our hands, as I had to make the decision to allow pets (dogs mainly) to roam free, sit on sofas, etc. Or not. Well, anyone who knows me knows my decision.

Mike has this great old black pooch that kept jumping up onto the couch, chewing its Kong, coming over to the camera. Basically being a dog. He would be the first of many such canine cameos in CMO. And I truly believe they add a more human dimension to the film.

Mike told this great story about always searching for a copy of ALL SHOOK DOWN on vinyl. (It was never originally released on vinyl in the states.) Well, when in England on tour he found a copy. He was so excited he actually opened the album on the plane ride home, just to look at the record and insert. He found it a little strange that while there were grooves for six tunes on side one, there were only grooves for five tunes on side two. And ASD had thirteen tracks in all. When he got home he quickly discovered why. While side one was the first six songs of The Replacements’ last album, side two was inside a Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton album. A mistake from the factory where the vinyl was pressed.

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The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 11

Over the holidays last year, two old friends joined the production team: Dean Falcone, whom I’ve known for about three decades, and who co-wrote the score for FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS), and Ed Valauskas, whom I first met when he played bass so many eons ago in amazing band Gravel Pit. Both have countless connections in the music industry. They would get us to many of the rockers who would so make this film work.

Our second day of filming interviews for COLOR ME OBSESSED was actually set up by Ed. Wednesday, January 27, 2010. Heading north this time, up to Boston. Five interviews in all, three of them taking place at the Q Division Studios. (Thank you very much!)

Only Adrian and I would make trip up. It being a weekday, Jim needed to work. It would actually be just Adrian and myself for a while, or at least until Sarah said, “I want to learn about video.”

The first interview would take place at 11 AM…so we hit the road at 7:30, just in case there was traffic or construction in and around Boston. (Like that could ever happen.)

First up: George Skaubitis, who worked radio promotions for Warner Brothers. George was very quiet and subdued, but he gave me one amazing quote, part of which you can see in the second trailer right here, calling the band a “glorious mess.” It was a short interview, but I’ll always take quality over quantity.

Next up was Dave Minehan of The Neighborhoods…

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The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 10

(It’s been a week…sorry about that, besides being on the road, I had to create an M&E for Friends With Benefits. That’s a music and effects track for foreign sales, which will allow for dubbing. But since most all of our sound was recorded live, all of the effects are surrounded by dialog. It basically meant I had to go in and pull or re-create every sound in the film, i.e. when Shirley puts a glass down on the bar, we need to hear the glass touching the bar, and not whatever Shirley might be saying. Tedious, so say the least. It was sort of like having your away-at-college kid show up unexpectedly for a weekend visit, and damn if you hadn’t turned their room into a music room, or screening room, or whatever your pleasure. Unexpected, but still you realized it was nice to see the brat.)

Ok…time to get sidetracked, as I was just in Cleveland for a few last minute cmo interviews and I finally had the opportunity to visit the rock n roll hall of fame, and ok, look, the Springsteen section was amazing, to see his old Tele (the one from the cover of Born To Run) was like seeing Van Gogh’s Starry Night for the first time. Goddamn, did I want to touch it. The blacken neck gave me goosebumps. Every crack in the body’s finish seemed to bleed rock and roll. In my opinion it’s the most important guitar of all time. And I feel honored to have stood in its presence.

And look, sure it’s a gorgeous building, right on the lake, etc., and so forth…but we’ve all seen museums before. This one is supposed to be special! But aside from the Springsteen exhibit, which was inspiring (and the Bowie and Les Paul’s original electric displays as well), I was left wanting more. A LOT MORE. And y’know why? The punk section was closed because of remodeling, so no Clash, no Costello, no Sex Pistols, NO REPLACEMENTS, and yet I would still see shit like Steven Tyler’s or Stevie Nicks’ stage costumes, and countless FM radio crap, that all fell into the same genre. I’m sure that whomever creamed over the Lynyrd Skynyrd display likewise gushed over the ZZ Top. They were covered. But to put the most important movement in rock on the back burner because of remodeling. Fuck! Kill the goddamn Doors display. Or does anyone really care about Pink Floyd’s The Wall? Obviously, the powers that be at the Hall of Fame are as biased as the reporters on Fox News. And as always, the smart minority gets fucked. (Really now, you couldn’t have found room for even a hint of punk? Shame on you!)

Supposedly the remodeling will be complete in 2012, so anyone thinking of visiting should wait.

Ultimately was as the Hall of Fame disappointing? Yes. But would I go back? Sure, I’d give it one more chance to get it right.

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Filed under alternative rock, directing, documentaries, filmmaking, friends with benefits, gorman bechard, independent film, indie, low budget films, low budget movies, paul westerberg, punk, punk rock, replacements, rock and roll hall of fame, rock n roll, rockumentary, springsteen, the replacements