Category Archives: rants

A few rules on how not to be a filmmaking douche bag…

I’ve been on the festival circuit now on and off since YOU ARE ALONE broke in 2005. Lately even more so because I seem to have hit a nerve with COLOR ME OBSESSED. And I’ve realized that a lot of my fellow filmmakers are, well, douche bags. Plain and simple.

“What makes them so douchy?” you ask. Well, two things in particular in regards to festivals.

1. Most festival are limited in the amount they can spend on bringing filmmakers to their weekend of film. So, it’ll usually be a handful of us mingling. Now, I will always try and see everyone’s film. Attend the Q&A’s. Even ask questions. I try to get involved. I’m there to work. Festivals might seem like a vacation. Ask my wife, they’re anything but. You have to be on, you have to schmooze, you have to be selling yourself and your film every moment. Part of that involves seeing other films, supporting other filmmakers. I’ve even been told by fest directors that every time they turn around they see me walking into a screening. And nothing makes them happier. But what pisses me off (and even more so fest directors) are the filmmakers who take all the travel perks, come into town, screen their film, do a half-assed Q&A (you can always tell the douche bags by their Q&A’s), then sleep, drink, sightsee…basically do anything BUT watch other films. They expect you to watch their masterpieces. But can they return the favor? No. Of course not. (And these are usually the same film school assholes who at their Q&A expound on how filmmaking is such a collaborative art form, and how great it is to be involved in the filmmaking community. HORSESHIT!) These filmmakers annoy the piss out of me because they don’t realize filmmaking is a job. Instead of being thankful for being flown and put up in a strange town, they believe it’s deserved. Such is their sense of entitlement. Of course these are always the one “hit” wonders who soon discover filmmaking isn’t for them, and are soon making bad cappuccinos at Starbucks. Karma is a beautiful thing!

2. The other inexcusably douchy thing filmmakers do all the time: cancel on festivals at the last minute. I know one fest director who paid for flights and rooms for three members of a specific filmmaking team, only to have them not show. And look, I know shit happens. But fellow filmmakers, unless someone VERY close to you is dead or in the hospital dying, likewise for yourself, or unless you house burned to the ground, THERE IS NO EXCUSE. You’re fucking over not only a fest director who liked your work enough to invite it to their fest (and remember the director of a small fest today, is often running a much larger fest tomorrow), but also the audience who might have wanted to ask you a few questions. And mostly you’re fucking yourself in so many unpleasant ways. The fest director has identified you as a douche, and will never go near one of your films again. They’ll spread the word to other fest directors that you are Douche of the Year on their short list. Plus you lose the chance to mingle with potential fans, potential buyers of DVDs and VOD. And you miss out on sleeping through the screenings of the other filmmakers, which you would have skipped anyway.

Actually the more I think about it. The festival, the other filmmakers, and even the patrons, are better off without you there. Stay home. Practice your barista skills. They’re going to come in handy for you one day.

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My next music doc!

The other day I came up with what really should be my next music documentary. A companion piece, if you will, to Color Me Obsessed. Me and a crew of three other camera-people each assigned one member of the band Vampire Weekend. We stalk them. We harass them. He break into their homes. We are there when they eat, sleep, call their mommies. We make their lives miserable. And all we ever do is pose the question: “Why do you suck so much?” Over and over again. “WHY DO YOU SUCK SO MUCH?”

I would see it almost as my gift to the rock ‘n’ roll world as the confrontations would inevitably force the band members to get hopefully angry, turn to alcohol, or better yet, hard drugs, to finally take off the white V-neck sweaters grandma knitted, grow into angry punks, growing some actual balls in the process. It could only help their sound. They’d ditch the rinky-dink keyboards, opting instead for barely in-tune fenders, taking out their frustration on the unknowing strings. (I could almost hear the Fenders whispering to one another at night. “This was supposed to be an easy gig. Never a scratch. Fuck! We should have gone home with Taylor Swift instead.”)

It could be a transformation caught for everyone to see on camera, turning the wimpiest band in history into something raw and potentially brilliant. (Okay, brilliant might be pushing it for these guys, but at least something that wasn’t vomit inducing.) But just picture them breaking down, stealing old ladies purses, screaming at stranger in the street, urinating in public!

Or of course it could backfire. We could so distress their gentle egos that they’d instead shrivel up and wither away.

Either way, it would make for great film.

And their fans really would have nothing to worry about, as I’m sure there’d be many other set of silly silly hipsters waiting to take their place, with an iPod commercial song and a Honda commercial song already in the can.

P.S. Before all the VW fans get their panties in a bunch, let me point out that it isn’t just about this band. But they are the poster child for hipster lame, for hipster wimp. This could just as easily be about dozens (hundreds!) of other bands, many from Brooklyn. They’re all so easily interchangeable you’d think someone would be embarrassed. Though I’m not sure that’s anything they teach you at hipster school.

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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.

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Kilgore revisited

This is the two year anniversary of one of my saddest days. The day my dog Kilgore Trout died. I don’t think a day has passed since in which I haven’t missed the way he always made me laugh. I even had him tattooed to my forearm, so on dark days his face would peek out over my sleeve and crack me up. What follows (below the photo of my tattoo, and the shot of Kilgore which inspired it) is one of the best thing I feel I’ve ever written…certainly the most heartfelt. I present it again as originally written. Hug your pet, grab a box of tissues and read on…

A tumor the size of a grapefruit. I saw it on the x-ray, filling the space between his liver, his spleen, and his stomach. Perhaps encroaching on his lungs as well. Suffocating Kilgore Trout from the inside out.

At first we thought it was a reaction to Previcox. A drug given to him just about four weeks ago to help with his hips. He was having the worst time walking, this glorious pup who would jump, would bounce, like on a trampoline whenever he saw me.

(watch the clip that now opens my website as proof…it’s 45 seconds that will make you smile.)

At first the drug did wonders, until he stopped eating, starting vomiting. Side effects all, so many serious side effects. How could this fucking killer pill be on the market?

I am angry. I am seething. I know Previcox did not kill my dog, but it certainly didn’t help there in the end. A shot of Pepcid did for a while. But still the appetite nowhere near the vacuum cleaner-like enthusiasm with which he used to eat. Less and less every day. And the vomiting returned. Bile, from his mostly empty stomach.

More Pepcid. But it didn’t seem to help this time. Finally a trip to the vet. You could see it in her face as she checked him stomach. Perhaps we should get him x-rayed…now. The normally busy hospital would take us NOW.

So I dropped my wife at home so she could tend to our other dog, and drove Kilgore down to Central Hospital in New Haven. It was quick. He sat by my feet afterwards as I waited on word. The receptionist said the vet wanted to speak with me. She gave me the news. None of it good.

How long does he have? I asked. A few days, was the response. Or perhaps to the beginning of next week. (This was a Thursday.) The x-ray technician showed me the tumor. It was massive. All encompassing. There was nothing to do but make him comfortable during his last few days.

But a small meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken pulled from a breast was all he could manage. A few strips of it really. And a little water to follow. That would be his last meal. My dog who could eat anything and everything, from a full edition of the Sunday New York Times to financial magazines (he especially loved to “tear into” MONEY and KIPLINGER’S) to, well…anything he could find in the yard., gross or not.

Whenever I put a 12-pack of beer away, he’d wait patiently, then snatch the empty box as I pulled out the last beer and put it into the fridge. Then he’d play keep-away with it, or tug-of war. Or he’d lie right down and start ripping it to confetti. He especially loved Rolling Rock boxes.

But he could eat anything and everything, always without repercussion. Now, nothing…

He walked around on his own on Friday. Venturing out into the yard, up on the couch with a little help. He wagged his tail, but mostly slept a lot.

That night, Friday, what would be his last night (october 24), I slept on the couch with Mr. Trout. Well, he slept on the couch. I was mostly on the coffee table, but that was ok. He rested his chin on my leg, I scratched him behind his ear.

My wife and I kept asking anyone we knew…how would we know when it was time to put him to rest? Well, he told us.

Kilgore got up twice that night, went out into the yard, slowly, but surely. But then came the morning. Almost two days now without food or water. And when it came time for him to go outside, he made it through the door, but had to lie down after only a few steps. He couldn’t get up. We knew…

We had already made an appointment at the vet for Saturday morning. Originally for a check up to see if there was anything else we could do. But now I needed to call them, and change the appointment until late in the day. The last appointment of the day.

He couldn’t really walk, so I carried my friend out to my Jeep and laid him down in the back. And, the three of us took his final ride. My wife sat in the back with him, as I went into the vet office to make sure everything was ready. Then I carried him in and laid him on the table.

After a while the vet came in an asked if we were ready. No, how could anyone ever be ready? But I knew he was in pain, I knew he was so tired, and I certainly didn’t want that thing inside of him to burst.

He lay, as he always did at night, two paws straight out in front, his chin resting perfectly centered between them. I squatted down so that I was nose-to-nose with my friend. He never took his eyes off me as the doctor administered the drug that would put him to sleep.

When his eyes finally closed, I kissed his head. Something he so hated until a few weeks ago. I’d always do it at night, and he rub at the top of his head with his paws as if I’d given him cooties, or something. It was a ritual. But he was wagging tail. And in my heart I always believed he was perhaps embarrassed in front of the other dogs, like why was I kissing his head in public?

But this would be the last time I’d get to kiss the top of Kilgore’s head.

Goodnight, my sweet prince, perhaps one day we’ll meet up on the other side.

(i.miss.you.)

(so.fucking.much.)

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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.)

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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.

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