So the film was locked on February 6th, 2011. Final running time: 123 minutes, 7 seconds, 6 frames.
I outputted the audio to OMFs, and created an uncompressed quicktime file of the film without sound. I copied these, along with any extra sound effects or music I felt we might need, onto a portable hard drive. And the next morning, Monday, Feb. 7th, I took a train to NYC, and hand-delivered them to Matt Gundy at DuArt Film and Video. He wanted everything a day before the mix to make sure the files worked properly.
DuArt is the famous old film lab where every New York filmmaker, from Woody Allen on down, has had their films developed. I’ve gone there since my making my first 16mm short as a part time film student at the New School for Social Research in 1982.
I also mixed the sound of my old horror comedy PSYCHOS IN LOVE there in 1986. So in 2005 when looking for a studio where we could mix YOU ARE ALONE, I once again turned to DuArt. One meeting with Carmen Borgia, who runs the sound dept. and sound mixer Matt Gundy, and I knew we found a home. Carmen understood we were indie and on a budget. And Matt took the time to watch the film and actually seemed to get what we going for.
The mix took four days (four days was all we could afford), yet somehow Matt cleaned up some truly awful background noise. I loved our main location on that film, the Hotel Duncan on Chapel Street in new Haven. But I didn’t love the constant barrage of sirens and hip-hop beats that seemed to find their way onto our soundtrack every time our mics were aimed towards the front of the building. Matt made them all disappear. Magically? Perhaps. It didn’t matter, Whether he knew it or not, he had formed a partnership for life.
I’m a control freak. Especially when it comes to my films. Even my books don’t generate the blind passion, the rage, the knitpicking. But of course, I’ve never had a book destroyed by an idiot editor. Sure, I might have disliked the cover of GOOD NEIGHBORS or the cover copy on UNWOUND. But still what was between the covers remained mine one hundred percent.
I’m not even talking so much about production here. Because there are certainly people I’ve worked with to whom I give pretty close to free reign. I’ve mentioned them a few entries back. I’m talking about once the film is done…when I’m ready to sign my name to it and show it to the world. That’s when I become a raging lunatic. And BLUE CAR is the example as to why.
BLUE CAR is a beautifully haunting and depressing film about a troubled high school student played by Agnes Bruckner and the teacher who takes advantage of her. Bruckner is startling in the role which is brimming with heartbreak and despair. This is a dark, deep, near perfect film.
But you’d never guess that from the cover of the DVD which makes it look like a teen sex comedy. Hot body, ripped jeans, belly shirt. Hell, I’ve recommended this movie to people who wouldn’t even pick the box off the video store shelf because of the cover.
Now the reason I bring this up. I would have gone ballistic if this were my film. I would have been arrested for what I would have done to whomever was in charge of the DVD cover. Not an exaggeration, I would have fucking nuts. Granted, the original cover, a blue-tinted shot of Bruckner’s face, was far from perfect or intriguing, but at least it made you wonder about the film.
The DVD box not so much. Despite the quotes, you’re pretty damn certain it’s a National Lampoon-type summer sex romp. Or perhaps it’s at least the kinkier version of AMERICAN BEAUTY, where Kevin Spacey gets to actually bang the cheerleader.
I use this example whenever negotiating a dvd deal. It’s the reason why I insist on approval over the cover artwork, or at least a clause stating they can only use the artwork which I provide. It’s one of my biggest sticking points. C’mon, how easy would it have been for some sleazebag distributor to re-title YOU ARE ALONE as SCHOOLGIRL ESCORTS GONE WILD, slapping a suggestive photo of lead actress Jessica Bohl posed in her schoolgirl uniform on the cover? How easy would it be for a distributor to focus on the sex of FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) and not the story? They’d argue it would be to sell more titles. Unfortunately they’d be selling more titles to the wrong people.
Anyone bringing home BLUE CAR looking for some soft-core fun would have been sadly disappointed. SPOILER ALERT: Brucker gets molested by her teacher. Her kid sister kills herself for Christ’s sake! What the fuck was the cover designer thinking? Did they even see the damn movie? Probably not!
Likewise, anyone looking for a devastatingly deep, perfectly acted drama would have never gone near the box. Sorry, belly shirt does not scream depression. It screams titillation.
Thus the film was never given a chance to find the audience it so deserved. And everyone loses.
I guess the point of this rant is that just because you’re film is finished, and perhaps you were lucky enough to find a distributor, make sure you’re not signing away your soul for the sake of that distribution deal. If your film is mishandled, it can be more damaging to your career than if it was never released at all.
I’ve seen too many filmmakers say they were just glad to finish a film. But finishing a film isn’t enough. This is your child. You need to watch over it, protect it, nurture it for the rest of your life. You need to make sure it’s as perfect as it can possibly be. And you need to help guide it into the hands of the audience for which it was made. Then and only then will word of mouth will be your friend.
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.)
Friends (with benefits) shot for a total of 18 days, beginning on April 18th, 2007.So, we’ve really been editing it, tweaking it, playing with the song selection, and score, and titles, and color correction, for going on two years now.(The original assembly was 125 minutes without end credits, the final cut runs 94 minutes complete.)Doesn’t seem like that long has passed, but then again perhaps it does.I think once you see the film, you’ll understand why so much time was spent on editing.We tried to do something a little different here.(The producers rep who ultimately took on the film called the editing “ground breaking.”And while I don’t know about that, we’ll certainly take the compliment!)
As a novelist (my website, GormanBechard.com has all the info you could possibly need on that), I thought we’d bring a little of that feel to the film, thus in my mind it’s “a novel with moving pictures.”While all films on DVD are broken into “chapters” I thought we’d take that one step further and actually break the film down into real chapters.But no one wants to watch a book.So, how to make it move fast . . . real fast?
Well, originally I wanted the film, especially the dialog, to movie at a breakneck speed, like “His Girl, Friday.”But there are two truisms in film.The one that fits here is, and I’m paraphrasing: “There’s the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you edit.”Anyone who’s ever directed a film knows they are three very separate beasts, each with a mind of their own.
So, while that breakneck pace seemed great in concept (and even in rehearsals), the realities of casting and filming got in the way.Until editing, that is.We threw out the rule book.And decided that we would not allow the audience time to blink (at least for a part of the film…when need be, as a director I am a big believer in giving the performances room to breathe.)
(FYI: I never used the rule book when writing my novels, hell, I flunked English 101 in college, and likewise, for any of you who’ve seen my last feature YOU ARE ALONE, you know I don’t “do” the “master/over-shoulder/over-shoulder reverse” coverage.It’s boring, it’s lazy, it shows not one iota of originality or belief in your script, or your ability as a director…it’s movie-of-the-week.Really, just put a bullet in my head and shoot me now.So, yeah, I certainly wasn’t going to start following the rules now.)
The Friends (with benefits) secret weapon?Split screens.If two stories were happening concurrently, why not show them?Adjust the timing here and there, and let the characters on the right answer the characters on the left.It was just an experiment at first.Tried it in one bar scene where two male characters are conversing about the same subject as two female characters.What do you know?It clicked.It worked.Jokes came faster.You didn’t have time to blink and you were laughing again.Or in a few cases, the inherent sadness of a friendship perhaps destroyed was given an even greater emotional impact.
Watching and using the split screens, co-editor Ashley McGarry and I just knew in our guts this was right for the film.
And that’s what it comes down to for me.That gut feeling.Whether holding on someone’s expression for a beat longer than you might think necessary, because in reality sometimes we need that extra moment of reflection.Or inserting a list of “rules” as a text scroll to make a scene go where it needed it to go.Or dozens of other little examples in this film.(Some big examples: cutting a huge emotional scene down to one line because I felt the rest made one character just a hair less likable, cutting scenes because I found an actors blocking distracting, sacrificing a few amazing shots that ultimately did nothing to move the story along, or reducing characters down to a few lines because either the story wasn’t really about them, or I felt their performance distracting.) You go with your gut.In the end, as director, it’s your name signed at the bottom of the canvas.And after a horrible bigger-budget filmmaking experience back in 2002 (read the blog entry titled “Just say no to Billy Zane” from September 2008), I promised myself I would never again sign my name to a film or book I wasn’t proud of.
P.S. An aside.OK…I did not sign my name to my last novel UNWOUND.It was published under the pseudonym Jonathan Baine.But not because I wasn’t proud of the book.I actually love the book.The name change was quite simply to trick the computers at Barnes & Noble.See, the big chains, like B&N, preorder copies of your new book based upon the sales of your last book.Now, most of my novels have had a first printing of between 5,000 and 20,000 copies.The first printing for UNWOUND was going to be 146,000 copies. Thus the publisher wanted the B&Ns of the world to order a lot more than what they ordered and sold of my previous titles.Smile.You just learned something about the publishing business.
As both the completion of my newest feature, FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) …and the start of its film festival run nears, I thought now would be a good time to turn the main subject of this blog over to the making of my newest film.
I start with BRAD’S RULES.Or at least 99 of them.The rules were not a part of the original script.They were born out of necessity, when during the editing process we needed to get from point A to point F in a very long scene that was just slowing down the first act, and do so in a way that was both organic to the script and also funny.And since Brad, one of the main characters in the film, was always mouthing off about his rules, we thought inserting those rules into the film might just work.Thus the actual list of 100 rules was born.
You’ll have to judge for yourself, but I think they provide one of the biggest laughs in the film.
But here now are the rules…live by them, and life will be good (which I guess is a rule in and of itself):
100. Friends don’t let friends fuck ugly people
99. Try everything twice, the first time you might have been doing it wrong
98. Fat girls give the best head because they’re always hungry
97. Cologne: overrated…Deodorant: a must
96. Blondes are usually too dumb to realize they’re having more fun
95. After puberty, that’s not “baby fat”
94. ATM = the Holy Grail
93. All hippie chicks deep throat, but few vegans swallow
92. Women like shoes. They will look at yours; purchase accordingly
91. BBBJ or why bother?
90. Women cannot parallel park
89. If you wanna fuck it, you’ve got to be willing to lick it
88. Ass, stomach, legs, boobs – in that order
87. If it’s not dirty, you’re doing something wrong
86. If a friend’s apartment is running low on toilet paper, you’re required to use it all
85. Cheerleaders are overrated
84. Under no circumstance may two men share an umbrella
83. Never allow a conversation with a woman to go on longer than you are able to have sex with her
82. Other than in February, the 14th of every month is Pizza and Blowjob Night
81. Dogs are better than cats…period
80. Bigger is never better when they’re fake
79. Don’t leave the house if you’re not camera ready
78. A period does not equal a week off from sex
77. Mustaches and hunting are gay
76. Sucking your best friend’s dick, that’s priceless
75. You are not accountable if you bring ugly people home, unless you fuck them again in the
74. If her mom isn’t a MILF, chances are she won’t be one either
73. Fake orgasms count, as long as they’re not yours
72. The G-spot does not exist
71. There is NOTHING sexy about pregnant women
70. Persistence gets you laid
69. Never give yourself a haircut while drunk
68. No panties = a good night
67. Drinks hard liquor = a great night
66. Tongue piercing = God loves you!
65. Saliva isn’t always the best lubricant, just the most fun to apply
64. White cotton panties and knee socks.Enough said!
63. Never lend money to friends
62. Never lend books, CDs, or DVDs to anyone
61. The month you finish paying for your car, it will break down
60. Elvis is not dead
59. Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone
58. What’s good for you does not always taste better. Example: processed peanut butter vs. the all-natural kind
57. People who don’t use turn signals deserve mandatory prison sentences
56. Never let a girl shave your balls
55. Porn saves lives
54. Republicans are better at…well…nothing
53. If you’ve never had New Haven brick oven pizza, you’ve never had pizza.There is no pizza in New York or Chicago.Don’t argue, you’ll just sound foolish
52. Old country = coolAlt-country = really coolNew country = sucks
51. Condition your hair once a day
50. Masturbate twice a day
49. Eat three square meals every day
48. Women should never cut their hair, unless they’re going to play for the other team
47. Crying is blackmail
46. Your choice: spay or neuter your pet…or yourself
45. If she sleeps in your bed, sex is a given
44. If a girl leaves her dirty panties lying around, she wants you to sniff them
43. There’s no such thing as giving 110%
42. Halloween is the only holiday that matters
41. Sympathy sex trumps make-up sex
40. Body hair just gets in the way
39. Rip bread, don’t slice it
38. Every man should learn how to dance, but no other man should know he can
37. Men have no right to speak on the subject of abortion
36. Every decade gives us only one great double album: The White Album, Exile On Main Street, London Calling, Being There, and Cold Roses.
35. Chivalry is not dead, but she has to earn it
34. Watch Carnival Of Souls at least once in your lifetime
33. If your pubic hair is blond or red, shaving is optional
32. You can cheat on girls with hairy legs
31. If they don’t answer, it means yes
30. Never turn down a chance to sleep with a celebrity
29. Sex is better in warmer climates
28. Emo guys = gay; emo gals = easy marks
27. Never trust people who don’t drink coffee
26. Springsteen really is The Boss
25. If there’s a problem, talk it out
24. If you can’t talk it out: fuck, then try again
23. Never lease what you can buy
22. Never break up using a post-it note, her biker friends will hurt you for it
21. Never say “no” to a green-eyed girl
20. Live life as if The Catcher In The Rye were your bible
19. Don’t lie, you will get caught
18. Admit that the 1986 Mets were the greatest baseball team of all time and life will be easier
17. Know the legal age of consent in every place you visit
16. Wild animals belong in the wild, not in zoos, fairs, or roadside attractions
15. Pussy farts are charming
14. Only wear a bra if you’re going to offend me
13. Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder
12. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye
11. Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups
10. When in doubt, mumble
9. Masturbation is overrated
8. Small boobs are misunderstood
7. Better to be feared than loved, but even better to have your love feared
6. Handcuffs are the ultimate sex toy
5. If you can’t convince them, confuse them
4. Quiet girls are the most likely to toss your salad
3.Women do not understand remote controls, there is no exception to this rule
2. Never overthink
Of course, if you want to know the number one rule, you’re gonna have to watch the film.
Check back often for more stories from the front lines of making FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS)…
P.S. Remember my horror/comedy PSYCHOS IN LOVE will be released on DVD (complete with a boatload of extras) next Tuesday, April 28th. You can get it at BestBuy, Netflix, or preorder it here at Amazon.com
I guess in a way, PSYCHOS IN LOVE had its own set of rules:
I hate grapes.
I can’t stand grapes.
I loathe grapes.
All kinds of grapes.
I hate purple grapes.
I hate green grapes.
I hate grapes with seeds.
I hate grapes without seeds.
I hate them peeled and non-peeled.
I hate grapes in bunches, one at a time, or in groups of twos and threes.
Just wanted to update everyone on the long awaited US DVD release of my film PSYCHOS IN LOVE. Besides this being a pristine and beautiful transfer of the film, this DVD is LOADED (scream “LOADED” from the rooftops) with extras.
Here is the complete list:
Feature Commentary with Gorman Bechard (from 2009)
Feature Commentary with Gorman Bechard and Carmine Capobianco (from 2005)
Making Psychos in Love
Photo Gallery (make that a HUGE photo gallery)
Highlights from Psychos in Love: The Stageplay
As well as three of my short films:
Bartholomew the Strangler, Short Film (1983)
The Only Take, Short Film (1983)
Objects in the Mirror are Further Than They Appear, Short Film (2003)
Trailers from my last two features:
You Are Alone, Trailer (2005)
Friends with Benefits, Trailer (2009)
And a very cool video promo for my last novel:
Unwound, Promo (2007)
OK…first off, the 5 stars are for Lily Allen’s cover of STRAIGHT TO HELL.And so you know where I am coming from.I am not a huge fan of Ms. Allen.Don’t really know her music.Not my cup of tea.I am however a huge Clash fan.Saw them live 15 times from their first US gig to their last tour.I’d rank them as one of the two greatest bands of all time.(The other is the Replacements.)Their music to me is sacred.It should be respected, never covered.And STRAIGHT TO HELL is one of my three favorite Clash songs.Having said all that…
Ms. Allen cover of STRAIGHT TO HELL on the WAR CHILD PRESENTS HEROES compilation cd is the best song we will hear this year.She and Mick Jones have taken his and Strummer’s brilliant melody, riff and lyric and somehow (I don’t know how) taken it to a level where few musicians ever get to even see, let alone attain.
From the opening da-da-da-da’s which sound so much like Strummer (I wish I knew for certain if they were, or if it was Jones), through to Ms. Allen’s phrasing, which is Billie Holiday-perfect, as are the production and the instrumentation, the song had been reinvented, re-envisioned.
And when Ms. Allen hits the bridge and sings “so mamma-san says” and the da-da-da-da’s start up again, I find the goosebumps coming and the tears welling.
This really is the song she was born to sing.It will make everything else that follows this year seem unimportant and unoriginal.
As for the rest, well honestly I’d give the cd 2 stars out of 5 at best.What we have are really bad covers of great songs (The Hold Steady, whom I like, doing injustice to ATLANTIC CITY), just misses (The TV On The Radio cover of HEROES is close, as is Beck doing Dylan), a number of what-were-these-people-thinking (really, you never cover the Ramones or Blondie, not because they’re the greatest songs ever written, but because you sound stupid even trying), a few that make you want to hear the originals and how they’re really done (The Kinks and the Costello songs) and the rest is just who-cares?
But all that said, listen to the Lilly Allen/Mick Jones track.And genuflect in the presence of genius.