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This Week’s Good Reads (Week of September 8)

Colin McCormack — Friday, September 12th, 2014

This week brought us much ballyhoo from the Toronto International Film Festival (or “TIFF” as the kids say). Films premiered. Rights were sold. Actors were acclaimed. Festival employees were (no doubt) polite. But what else was happening in the film world this week? Drop on by and have your way with these links.

 

Good Reads for the week of September 8, 2014

What The Economics Of Snowpiercer Say About The Future Of Film (via Dorothy Pomerantz for Forbes)
Turns out people are willing to watch a niche sci-fi film from the comfort of their own homes. Nerds!

This Perfect Poster Is Dear White People in a Nutshell (via Kyle Buchanan for Vulture)
Even better than the poster art? The story about the artist.

This 14-Year-Old Wrote And Directed A Horror Film, And Now She Has A Trailer To Prove It (via Amanda Scherker for The Huffington Post)
She’s like the Doogie Howser of slasher films. (Turn that into a pilot, ABC Family!)

The iPhone 6′s New Camera Could Forever Change Filmmaking (via Angela Watercutter for Wired)
Your obligatory “new iPhone” story… (P.S. “Angela Watercutter” is a badass name).

Hey, Risk-Taking Filmmakers! There’s A New Distribution Company Looking For You (via Pamela Miller for Film Independent)
Now all those experimental films shot on iPhones by 14-year-olds have an outlet.

Iconic Film Company Orion Pictures Returns After 15 Years (via Germain Lussier for Slashfilm)
Yep, the studio that brought you The Terminator and RoboCop is back. Mmmm, simmer in that ’80s nostalgia.

 

In case you were ignoring us (aka blatant self-promotion)

Filmmaker Interview: Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent (via SAGindie)
Jill Soloway is a cool-ass lady, and her new show is great. Read It. Stream It. You Won’t Regret It.

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

Filmmaker Interview: JILL SOLOWAY, creator of TRANSPARENT

Colin McCormack — Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

jill soloway

JILL SOLOWAY has had an enviable career: Nominated for three Emmys as writer/executive producer of HBO’s Six Feet Under; a writer/producer on the ABC smash Grey’s Anatomy; showrunner of Showtime’s The United States of Tara; and winner of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival’s Best Director Award for her feature film debut Afternoon Delight. And now this month, Soloway returns to TV… or more precisely, to TVs, Rokus, tablets, laptops, or on whichever device you choose to conduct your binge-watching.

Soloway’s Amazon Original Series TRANSPARENT premiered its pilot in February to rave reviews, and the series kicks off (with an oh-so-bingeable 10-episode release) on September 26. Transparent revolves around a Los Angeles family and how their lives are affected by patriarch Mort (Jeffrey Tambor) coming out as transgender. The series co-stars Gaby Hoffman, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and Judith Light, with recurring appearances by Carrie Brownstein, Kathryn Hahn, Melora Hardin, and Rob Huebel.

Transparent creator Jill Soloway was kind enough to answer some questions for us about her new series, its stellar cast, and why TV seems to be a more welcoming place for women.

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COLIN McCORMACK: You’ve had experience working in film, network TV, cable, and now at Amazon. What do you notice is the most distinct difference between these mediums?

JILL SOLOWAY: Amazon has the most amount of creative freedom that I’ve ever experienced in this business. Even including when I was making my independent film, because when you make an independent film you have to be so careful. There is a person who invested [every] dollar, you raised it on Kickstarter, and it’s dollar-to-dollar trying to make sure everybody gets paid back. Whereas it feels with Amazon that they’re in their own transformation and expansiveness and it allows them to give me the kind of budget and space that I never thought I would be able to get unless I was making international big-budget movies. To have the kind of space to really breathe and invest our craft into something so deeply, and to have it be about family and emotion, feels brand new. Even HBO, which is an amazing place, it has levels of development that make things happen slowly. Amazon just pulled the trigger and went big, and it’s been an amazing experience.

CM: Amazon releases their pilots early to get feedback from viewers, which helps them decide which shows to pick up. So during that “test drive” period, did you feel like you had more pull than you would in a traditional pilot process? You could go to Twitter, you could do a sort of lobbying or promotional tour to help get the word out and encourage people to watch the pilot and support the series.

JS: I was prepared to do some lobbying; I had activated all of the writers and the actors to get the word out. But the internet moved things so quickly that there were so many people with huge Twitter followings that said they loved it, that it was just happening. The critical masses came toward us, and it was super exciting to see that there was a mandate for the show.

CM: So where were you when you got the news that Amazon had picked it up, and how did you celebrate?

JS: I was walking on De Longpre and Western, and had just taken my kid to an open house at his new Kindergarten and I was in “mom mode” and I couldn’t even celebrate. And then a few minutes later my husband was driving and he pulled over and [said], “I want you to get out of the car and I want you to do a happy dance right now. Because you said that when you got the news you wanted to do a happy dance and you haven’t done it yet.” So I got out of the car and did a very anticlimactic, bad happy dance. You can’t really be as happy as you want to be the moment you’re supposed to be happy. I keep finding that the happy moments really come when you’re doing the work, when you’re on the set, when you’re engaged in this joyful, free-flowing creativity that we get to do. The moments that are supposed to be “happy moments” – the red carpet or the big announcements – somehow never register the way you want them to.

CM: So in terms of happy moments, I’m sure there is a filmmaker fantasy of going to Sundance, winning an award, and then every door in Hollywood is opened and you’re approached with tons of offers. So what was it like following the Afternoon Delight Sundance premiere? Were you approached with a lot of offers for more films?

JS: I’ve never been looking for those assignments or directorial offers. I think of myself more as a writer/director. It was more about, would I be able to find the kinds of investors who would allow me to keep doing the work I was doing, which is an inward-facing personal exploration of how to get performances to feel real. Whenever I am tempted by conversations that make me think about going out into the universe – “How high can I get? How much money can I get? How famous can my work be?” – I remind myself that I’m much more interested in going inside. And I feel much better when I travel inside and think about how it feels to be on a set with an actor, going to a place where the performance can feel unlike anything they’ve ever done before or anybody’s ever seen before.

CM: Your cast is so phenomenal and they feel so natural and authentic, like real family members. How did you nurture that chemistry? Is that something you can really plan for or was it just all in the casting?

JS: It was casting and very much a feeling of receptivity. I have been touting this feminine style of leadership that I like to engage in where I feel like I’m receptive much of the time. I’m not imposing, “This person must play this role and this person must say this line this way.” I sit at a welcoming, open place and particularly for the five family members it just was the right person. There was no question that Jeffrey Tambor was going to play [Mort/Maura]; there was no question that Amy Landecker was Sarah; that Gaby was Ali; Judith was the only right choice for Shelly. And I met Jay Duplass [who plays Josh] at a party and I was instantly like, “Are you an actor?” And he [said], “No, I’m a director.” [I told him], “You look exactly like the guy I’m trying to find for my show!” And fifteen minutes later, he had agreed to come in and read the next day.

CM: Was there any difference you noticed with Jay in directing a fellow filmmaker?

JS: Jay knows he can see the editing, so he’ll give me things that he’ll know I’ll need in the edit. He really enjoys the process of coming to work and being an actor– sometimes it’s so much easier to just worry about your character. And he and I have a lot in common right now. He just delivered I think somewhere between eight and ten episodes of a half-hour series, similarly-themed – not with trans people, but certainly about family in LA – to HBO. So we both are two people in the world who feel like we’re experiencing much of the same thing: writing, directing, getting it done quickly, trying to get this naturalistic style. I really relate to him in a big way – like a little brother to me. Because Jay and his brother [Mark Duplass] have always worked together, the Duplass Brothers have always been an inspiration for me and my sister [Faith Soloway]. We used to be branded as “the Soloway Sisters.” We were a writing and producing team and then she went to Boston to become a teacher, and now she’s back. She’s working on the show– she’s a writer on the show, so there’s a lot of Soloway Sisters/Duplass Brothers connectivity about what it feels like to have your best friend and sibling next to you, and how much more confidence that gives you.

CM: Speaking of siblings, the sibling bond in the show feels so real, and one thing I noticed is that the characters – especially Josh and Ali – make each other laugh. And I feel like you don’t see that often, even in comedies, where characters make each other laugh. And that just really amped up the realness between them and their bond. Were there improvised scenes or was everything scripted? How did that bonding come about?

JS: Yeah, making each other laugh is the secret sauce of the entire set and the whole family. I write things that I can’t wait to see Jeffrey, Judith, Jay, Amy, and Gaby say. Then when they’re performing they’re trying to make each other and me laugh. And then when I’m giving notes I’m going up to them and going, “What if you said this?” We’re also trying to make each other feel things. The center is about the meaning and the authenticity, as opposed to the product. There’s nobody marching around the set going, “This better be good. This better make money. This better come in under budget.” We hold the space on the set for authentic process, and it’s honestly about feeling safe and being open. And it’s my belief that that kind of process does make money. It does get attention. It does make the work good. But we are never consciously talking about money or attention or the better version of something. We’re always focused on the atmosphere of play and fun-making.

CM: I’ve heard you refer to the series as “10 episodes of a 5-hour movie.” Were the episodes filmed in chronological order outside of the pilot?

JS: We did a little bit of cross-boarding, a little bit more film-style. Sometimes we were shooting from the last episode early. For the most part we stuck to episode cross-boarding, so [episodes] two and three were shot together, and four and five, and six and seven. But there would certainly be moments from other episodes thrown in when we would get to a particular location. So all in all it did feel much more like a movie schedule when all was said and done.

CM: A couple weeks ago were the Emmys, and Julianna Marguiles mentioned in her speech what a wonderful time it was for women in TV. Winners that night also included some female writers (Moira Walley-Beckett and Sarah Silverman) and a female director (Gail Mancuso). Do you think that there are more opportunities for women in TV than in the film world?

JS: Yeah, I do. I definitely do. If you look at Steven Soderbergh‘s State of the Union about the film industry I think he gave at the [San Francisco] International Film Festival a couple years ago, the long story short was: If you’re not doing content that can be replaced with voices that can be subtitled, aka violence, fantasy, action – the kind of thing that can be appreciated by an international audience – if you’re not doing that, you have no budget to work with. You can’t expect any kind of real distribution. And I think women are drawn to stories about humans and less interested in the kinds of big action sequences and the big explosions. They really like to do the explosions of the heart and the action of emotions. So it’s still action, it’s still explosive, but it’s also about humans. And there really isn’t room for that in the film industry right now. The distinction between film and TV is getting less and less, particularly now that a lot of the people that make films are looking at their biggest distribution to happen on iTunes, and a lot of people who make TV are finding that Hulu or Amazon or Netflix is able to buy ten episodes and pay for it as if they were paying for a big-budget movie. It’s all coming together now and the fact that you can get the money spent and the distribution effort for stories that are about human beings is absolutely something that I think opens the door for more women to very easily and very naturally translate their skill sets to those kinds of stories.

LIGHTNING ROUND!

What’s the first movie you remember seeing in theaters?
Hm… I think it was Sounder.

What’s your go-to drink order at a bar?
Kettle One dirty martini. Extra dirty, extra olives, on the rocks.

Recommend a movie or TV show you love that most people haven’t heard of.
I love Fish Tank, the movie by Andrea Arnold. That was a huge influence on me. She’s the person who I’m always trying to imitate with the camera and with the emotion.

What’s an interview question you never want to hear again?
Hm… that’s a good one. (Pause) I would like to never have to answer the question again about opportunities for women, not because I’m sick of people asking it, but I would like for the world to shift so that there’s gender parities in all of these roles as director, as writer, as producer; that women can have as much access to all of this as I seem to right now.

Finally, where and when can people see Transparent?
September 26, all ten episodes on Amazon Prime. The reason I can remember it is because it’s my birthday.
The 26th is your birthday? Well that’s a good way to celebrate. Are you going to have a viewing party?
Yeah, for sure!

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For more information on TRANSPARENT, visit the show’s official website or on Facebook or Twitter.

If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

This Week’s Good Reads (Week of September 1)

Colin McCormack — Friday, September 5th, 2014

Coming off a holiday weekend, maybe you were in too much of a hungover haze to do some deep reading on the film industry. Not to worry, because we’ve compiled some of the week’s most interesting reads for you to peruse at your alcoholic convenience.

 

Good Reads for the week of September 1, 2014

How NOT to Negotiate a Distribution Deal (via Peter Broderick for Film Independent)
Some pointers on how to not screw yourself while selling your film.

Directors Like ‘Whiplash’s’ Damien Chazelle Drum Up Attention With Short Films (via Peter Debruge for Variety)
How short films can act as a launching pad for a feature-filmmaking career.

A Love Story: His and Hers and Theirs (via Larry Rohter for The New York Times)
How a first-time director is coming out of the gate with a three-part film starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.

FilmDrunk Has Arrived At TIFF! 10 Films We’d Like To See (If They’ll Let Us) (via Vince Mancini for FilmDrunk)
Skip to the bottom section, where Mancini explains what it’s like to cover a prestigious film festival for a “less-than-prestigious” website. Unless you count dick jokes as prestige, which I often do.

The Movie Press’ Oscar Obsession Is Ruining Fall Film Festivals for Everyone (via Jason Bailey for Flavorwire)
Which campaign will kick off first, Clinton 2016 or Boyhood 2015?

The long cons of Rian Johnson (via Nathan Rabin for The Dissolve)
A look back at Johnson’s breakout film Brick and his under-appreciated follow-up The Brothers Bloom.

 

In case you were ignoring us (aka blatant self-promotion)

SAGindie’s September Movie Picks (via SAGindie)
It’s right there in the title.

RSVP for our Low Budget Contract Workshop on September 11 in NY and LA (via SAGindie)
Come get educated.

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

SAGindie’s SEPTEMBER MOVIE PICKS

Colin McCormack — Monday, September 1st, 2014

skeleton twins

Ah, September movies. Too late for summer blockbusters, too early for prestige awards bait. A weird mishmash of genres that nobody knows what to do with. A month where films as varied as Crocodile Dundee, The Good Son, The River Wild, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and Hotel Transylvania can all hold the #1 box office slot. So with superheroes in hibernation until spring, and the Weinstein Oscar machine idle until November, the SAGindie staff looks ahead at our most anticipated movies coming out this September.

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Darrien’s Picks:

I don’t know if I’m coming down from my Guardians of the Galaxy summer high, but the films opening in September evoke within me emotions that range from “huh?” to “meh.” I am giving best wishes for The Equalizer because it’s always fun to see Denzel get his swagger on. And Jimi: All Is by My Side has a LOT to live up to. There are two more relationship-y (I may have made that word up) movies that have promise: The Skeleton Twins by our SAGindie favs the Duplass Bros. and This Is Where I Leave You. Either seems possible to break out as an indie(ish) hit. Both have casts of which I hold great appreciation, so there’s hope for September.

BUT, the film that evokes the greatest emotion from me is The Maze Runner. Not in a good way. I haven’t been so tense and claustrophobic watching a trailer since Gravity. And the cast is a plethora of young performers looking to make a name for themselves. That seems like a great indication, right? Maybe it should be, but to me it combines the intense discomfort of claustrophobia with my basic disdain for young adult television. A Gravity as performed by the Fresh Beat Band. I’m not saying this is fair… I’m just saying.

 

Eliza’s Picks:

God Help the Girl – 16 year old me is pretty excited.
The Last Days in Vietnam – I like being depressed.
Space Station 76 – You had me at 30 year old sexpot (which is coincidentally what I am).
20,000 Days on Earth – 20 year old me is pretty excited.
Lilting – I like being depressed.
Take Me to the River – I should have made this.
The Guest – I’m into weird hot dudes with guns.

 

Colin’s Picks:

I second Darrien’s choice of The Skeleton Twins. I am sort of an SNL junkie, so seeing Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in a weird indie dramedy is exactly what I’m looking for in my life (I could probably watch them lip-sync to Starship all day). More than a few September flicks have me intrigued based solely on their casts: The Drop (containing two power duos: Tom Hardy & James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy & a pitbull puppy); Kelly & Cal (we’re overdue for a Juliette Lewis renaissance); and This Is Where I Leave You (that whole cast should definitely come to my birthday party). I’m hoping Two Night Stand turns out to be a better-than-expected rom-com (Miles Teller has been on a hot streak lately, so hopefully this one continues it). And I don’t know what the hell a Boxtroll is, but I think I want one.

 

Amanda’s Picks:

Although Superhero Ensemble 5 and Michael Bay Explosion Fest 17 were fun to see this summer, my mind and my wallet are ready to take a month to mellow out before Oscar season starts. At the top of my watch list this September is The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. It’s rare that Hollywood tries something new, so when you say “a love story in three movies from three different perspectives” I say “take my money.” But the month won’t be complete without a comedy and a thriller in the mix too, so for the former, I can’t wait to see my future wife Tina Fey (yes, I know she’s already married) in This Is Where I Leave You; and for the latter, The Two Faces of January, because Viggo Mortensen is finally back on the silver screen! Ow ow!

 
WHAT MOVIES ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING THIS SEPTEMBER?

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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

This Week’s Good Reads: Summer Box Office Edition

Colin McCormack — Friday, August 29th, 2014

Personally, I thought (from a quality standpoint) this summer movie season was pretty excellent. The blockbusters were a little less dumb, the indies a little more thought-provoking. Not that it apparently mattered, since nobody went to the theaters. But don’t take my word for it. For your (holiday) weekend reads, it’s…

Battle of the Summer Movie Recaps!

Who’s ready for insight?! And contradictions?

 
4 Summer Movie Lessons Hollywood Must Learn (via Kyle Buchanan for Vulture)
Sample takeaway: “Make More Comedies” (no argument here).

What Went Wrong (And Right) At The Movies This Summer (via Adam B. Vary and Alison Willmore for BuzzFeed)
Sample takeaway: “There were a decent number of indie success stories this year.” (woo hoo!)

The Winners & Losers Of Summer Movies 2014 (via Oliver Lyttleton for Indiewire)
Sample takeaway: “It’s been a fairly disappointing year, box-office wise, for indie cinema…” (damn, okay then)

Good News/Bad News About 2014 Summer Movie Box Office (via Scott Mendelson for Forbes)
Sample takeaway: “…Perhaps we should be reevaluating what constitutes an indie break out.” (can’t we all just get along?)

Box Office Down 15% in Hollywood’s Worst Summer in Nearly a Decade (via Brent Lang for Variety)
Sample takeaway: “You can’t chalk it up to anything other than a weak slate of movies that didn’t resonate with consumers.” (nihilist)

What This Summer’s Blockbusters Got Wrong (And Right) (via Kate Erbland for ScreenCrush)
Sample takeaway: “…The box office offered plenty of new alternatives for moviegoers burnt out on been-there-done-that fare.” (hope!)

Five charts that explain why we didn’t go to the movies this summer (via Alex Abad-Santos for Vox)
Sample takeaway: Charts. Lots of charts.

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

This Week’s Good Reads (week of August 18)

Colin McCormack — Friday, August 22nd, 2014

During the week we often get so preoccupied with our real lives that we sometimes neglect our internet browsing. With the weekend ahead of us, we’ve compiled some of our favorite film-related reads from this past week: See what some industry heavyweights including Ted Hope (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive), and Mark Duplass (The One I Love) have to say about the state of independent cinema. So snuggle up on the toilet couch and get to browsin’!

 

Good Reads for the week of August 18, 2014

Does indie film have a future? (via Ted Hope with Anthony Kaufman for Salon)
Producer and indie film champion Ted Hope writes about the future of the industry in this excerpt from his book Hope For Film.

How sex, lies, and videotape Changed Indie Filmmaking Forever (via Jason Bailey for Flavorwire)
A look back at Steven Soderbergh’s breakthrough film on its 25th anniversary.

The next edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide will be its last (via Matt Singer for The Dissolve)
Who knew an obituary for a book could be so moving?

Jim Jarmusch on Vampires, Music and the Future of Independent Film (via Chris Patmore for Indiewire)
The auteur speaks about his new movie, soundtrack music, and retaining control of your film.

Pulp Fiction brought guns, gimps, and glory to the Cannes Film Festival (via A.A. Dowd for The A.V. Club)
A look back to when a scrappy, violent American indie took a stuffy French film fest by storm. “It’s a scandal!”

Mark Duplass on How to Get a Movie Made in 2014 (via Mike Ryan for Screen Crush)
The actor/writer/director/producer spouts some crazy wisdom about filmmaking.

Updated to include: 5 Ways You Are Using Twitter Incorrectly to Promote Your Film’s Crowdfunding Campaign (via Richard “RB” Botto for Medium)
Some very sage advice on how to properly engage potential funders on Twitter.

 

In case you were ignoring us (aka blatant self-promotion)

Filmmaker Interview: Chris Lowell and Mo Narang of Beside Still Waters (via SAGindie)
The actor-turned-director and his writing partner discuss their debut film, how to cast for chemistry, and what to do when the power goes out mid-filming.

Movies You Probably Forgot Were Indies (via SAGindie)
From Terminator to TMNT, 7 mainstream movies with indie roots.

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

Filmmaker Interview: CHRIS LOWELL and MO NARANG of BESIDE STILL WATERS

Colin McCormack — Thursday, August 21st, 2014

mohit narang, chris lowell

CHRIS LOWELL is a successful actor known for his roles on the gone-too-soon television series Veronica Mars and Enlisted, as well as in the Oscar-nominated films Up in the Air and The Help (he also reprised his TV role for the recent Veronica Mars movie). But for his newest film BESIDE STILL WATERS, Lowell steps behind the camera and brings a more personal story to the screen.

Lowell and writing/producing partner MOHIT NARANG co-wrote this low-budget feature about Daniel (Ryan Eggold) who, following his parents’ death, invites his childhood friends to his family’s lake house for one last hurrah before the place is sold. While the old friends reunite and revert to the adolescent shenanigans they shared at the lake years before, Daniel is faced with his overwhelming nostalgia for their past and how it differs from their current existence in the world. (At the risk of sounding too serious, remember it’s a comedy! Sex and booze!)

Shot on location in Michigan, Beside Still Waters also stars Beck Bennett, Will Brill, Brett Dalton, Erin Darke, Jessy Hodges, Britt Lower, and Reid Scott. Last year it screened at the Austin Film Festival, where it won both the Jury Prize and Audience Award. The film marks Lowell’s directorial debut.

With the just-announced news of a November 14 release (via distributor Tribeca Film), writer/director/producer Chris Lowell and writer/producer Mo Narang were kind enough to answer some questions for us about the film, their creative process, and the adorableness of small-town 911 Operators.

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COLIN McCORMACK: Chris, this story is inspired by the times you and your friends spent at your family’s lake house. What made you decide to turn it into a movie?

CHRIS LOWELL: It really began as an exercise for Mo and I to see how well we could write together. We wanted to write about something that we loved and understood implicitly. We wanted to write about the things that scared us: “How would it feel if we lost this house? These friendships? Our parents?”

CM: You two met in college. When did you start collaborating creatively? Had you worked together prior to writing Beside Still Waters?

CL: Well, you could say that our first creative collaboration was my attendance at Georgetown. I never actually attended the University, but I visited so often that people started assuming I was a student, and I just sort of went along with it. Mo and I had a lot of fun with this. We hosted several student and alumni events. I ended up walking in a cap & gown at the Convocation Ceremony. As far as writing goes, Beside Still Waters was our first collaboration. Since then, we’ve co-written a second screenplay, and are collaborating on a third.

CM: From what I hear, your co-writing process is pretty unique. Tell us a little about it, and why you think it works for you.

CL: Together, Mo and I write a detailed outline of the film. Then we split off and each write a full-length screenplay by ourselves. Then we meet up, read each other’s work, and create a collaborative draft, using the best parts of each screenplay. It’s great because you end up with two screenplays for the price of one. You get two options of how a character develops, how a scene unfolds. Also, it gives each of us the opportunity to explore our own ideas about the script without judgment. And ultimately, we have the outline to keep us on track, so the screenplays don’t stray too far from each other.

CM: You guys watched a lot of reunion movies (like The Big Chill and Return of the Secaucus 7) as research. What are some takeaways you found from studying the genre?

CL: We watched every reunion movie, every movie set in one location over a short period of time, every movie about friendship. We saw some great films and plenty of terrible films. The most common denominator for movies like these to succeed is cast chemistry. If you don’t have actors who mesh well on screen, then you’re screwed.

MO NARANG: It’s part of the reason Big Chill and Secaucus 7 work so well. You really believe that these people are friends, that they have history together. In both of the above cases, the actors at the time were relatively unknown, which also contributes to the success of their onscreen chemistry.

CM: Which brings me to your cast members, who are starting to break out in film and TV, but were largely unknown when you filmed. How did you assemble such a talented cast?

CL: The chemistry of our cast was the biggest priority for me. One of the things we noticed with reunion films that didn’t work, is that they’re often stuffed with “big name” talent.

MN: The problem is, when audiences see the film, they have difficulty believing the history of these characters. Instead, they’re saying to themselves “You’re the guy from this show,” and “You’re the girl from that movie.” It’s hard to buy them as old friends.

CL: We made it a rule that any actor who wanted to be in Beside Still Waters would have to audition and commit to chemistry reads and rehearsals. I cast the film with Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee, and Allison Estrin, all of whom pride themselves on knowing the greatest undiscovered talent out there. The result was this exceptionally talented cast. To me, they are the crowning achievement of the film.

CM: Since these characters are supposed to be longtime friends, how extensively did you test for chemistry between the actors? Is it something you can really plan for, or does the spark just happen?

CL: It was a little bit of both. Before filming began, I brought the actors to the house where we were shooting. We rehearsed scenes throughout the house, just the actors and I, taking our time with each scene, discovering things together, not feeling rushed by the schedule or pressured by the crew. In addition, they cooked meals together in the house, played drinking games in the house. I had them bring keepsakes from their own lives to decorate around the house. By the time filming began, each actor had a personal connection with the house and with each other.

Having said all that, there’s only so much you can do to create chemistry. We never could have imagined the chemistry that arose naturally between all these guys. To this day, we are still extremely close. I like to believe that this film was as special an experience for them as it was for Mo and I.

CM: Chris, you’re best known as an actor. Since the film is such a personal story, did you ever consider casting yourself in one of the roles?

CL: Not really. When I’m acting, my goal is to zone out everything around me except for the actor I’m working with, which is impossible to accomplish if I’m also having to simultaneously focus on the movement of the dolly, the positioning of the boom mic, etc., not to mention the other actor’s performance. I was much more interested in committing myself entirely to directing. Trust me, that job is hard enough on its own.

CM: It sounds like the filming process was a bit like the story itself: a group of young people – many who became your good friends – on vacation together at a lake house. It sounds like a lot of fun, but you’re all there for a job. Was it ever difficult to remember that you’re “the boss” in that situation?

MN: Both of us view leadership more as an opportunity to communicate and facilitate rather than boss people around. We were lucky enough to have an extremely talented and dedicated cast and crew, and our deepest moments of camaraderie sprang from our greatest challenges.

Our last night in the house, under a very tight shooting schedule, with no room for error, our entire neighborhood lost power. Rather than panic, our team took a collective deep breath, figured out what we could shoot using only a gas generator, and got back to work. Meanwhile, one of our producers called 911 to explain what had happened, and (this is one of the amazing things about working in small-town America) the 911 Operator hung up, called the power company, got a truck on its way, and called us back to ask what the movie was about!

CM: How did you go about raising funds for the film? When did your producers Jason Potash and Paul Finkel come on board?

MN: Jason and Paul came into the process very early on. Chris was acting in a film they were producing, and we sent them the script for their notes. They came back and said, “Let’s make a movie.” We wouldn’t be where we are today without their expertise.

The fundraising was done the old-fashioned way: the two of us flew around the country sitting in living rooms and pitching the film. Chris’s industry experience and my background in equities lent us credence, and we were very emphatic about how every dollar spent would end up on screen. That resonated well with our investors.

CM: Film festival submissions can be a full-time job. How did you two go about tackling that process? Any advice for filmmakers looking to make the festival rounds?

MN: The biggest tip we can offer is to abandon any adversarial mindset toward programmers and festivals. Early on, when all we were receiving were polite rejections, it was hard not to blame industry politics or something analogous. Once we started meeting programmers and realizing how much they love film, and how much they struggle with the unenviable task of choosing the select few, we understood that filmmakers and programmers are on the same team.

CL: Just submit your film. Submit it often (credit here to Jason, who handled all our early submissions). Finding a programming team that understands and loves your film is amazingly gratifying and it can be a critical stepstone to success. Often times, especially starting out, it’s better to be at a smaller festival where the programmers really love your film, than to be at a bigger festival where no one cares about you.

CM: You launched a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for the film (raising over $200,000 on a $63,021 goal). How daunting was the crowdfunding process? Did you take any tips from the Veronica Mars team?

MN: It was extremely daunting. Terrifying. We’re two very analog people. Crowdfunding was a last resort. We learned a lot from a crowdfunding panel we attended at last year’s International Film Festival Summit, which helped demystify the whole process and break things down into very practical steps to success. And of course, we learned a ton from the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign. Rob Thomas and Ivan Askwith were extraordinarily generous with their advice and support. The other big factor was our friend Kenny Laubbacher, who ran the campaign alongside us, and pushed us to make the backer experience as personal and high-touch as possible, which was instrumental to our success.

CM: You also got a distributor to sign on following your festival run. What was that negotiation process like? Anything you wish you had known going into negotiations?

CL: There are so many factors that go into solidifying a distribution deal. We’ll have to credit Paul here, since he was responsible for our negotiations. Having said that, it’s important to remember that there really is no set method, especially in today’s independent cinema world. Part of what helped us get distribution was the film itself and how it resonated with the acquisitions team. Part of it was the awards we won on the festival circuit. Part of it was the success of our Kickstarter campaign. Part of it was me sitting down with the distributor in person and talking about the movie. Part of it was the strong and unrelenting negotiations of our producers. None of these things on their own would have gotten us distribution. It was all of them together that got us over the finish line.

 
LIGHTNING ROUND!

What’s the first movie you remember seeing in theaters?
Chris: Ninja Turtles: Secret of the Ooze
Mo: Ninja Turtles: Secret of the Ooze

What’s your go-to drink order at a bar?
Chris: Mint julep
Mo: Rye Manhattan

Recommend a movie you love that most people haven’t heard of.
Chris: Jules et Jim
Mo: Eagles Are Turning People Into Horses

What’s an interview question you never want to hear again?
Chris: When can we see you shirtless on TV again?
Mo: Who is your favorite character?

Finally, where and when can people see Beside Still Waters?
Chris/Mo: (screamed simultaneously with doves flying out from behind them into the perfect sunset with 1,000 children laughing) NOVEMBER 14TH!!!


For more information on BESIDE STILL WATERS, visit the film’s official website or on Facebook or Twitter.

If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

In Cased You Missed Them: This Week’s Good Reads

Colin McCormack — Friday, August 15th, 2014

During the week we often get bogged down with so much “work” and “socializing” that we sometimes miss out on good content spewing from the internet. If you’re looking for some interesting news, articles, interviews or essays about the world of film, fear not! You can catch up on some of the week’s best reads here:

 

Good Reads for the week of August 11, 2014

David Lowery Talks Jonathan Liebesman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (via David Lowery for The Talkhouse)
The director of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints writes about why it’s okay for kids to like dumb movies.

The Essential Black Independents (via Brandon Harris for Fandor)
A list of 25 standouts in the history black cinema.

How to Make a Sundance Indie Film (via Briana Rodriguez for Backstage)
Director Charlie McDowell, actor Mark Duplass, writer Justin Lader, and producer Mel Eslyn on the making of The One I Love.

Attention, Filmmakers: Here’s 6 Traits You Need to Look for in a Sales Agent (via Bill Straus for Indiewire)
Bill Straus of BGP Film on how to get the best sales rep for your film.

How They Did It: Jesse Zwick Dives Straight Into About Alex (via Jesse Zwick for MovieMaker)
The first-time director gives a play-by-play on how he got his ensemble dramedy made.

Alamo Drafthouse is Coming to LA! (via Casey Warnick at Drafthouse)
Rejoice, Angeleno cinephiles!

Steadicam Inventor Reveals the ‘Impossible Shots’ That Changed Filmmaking Forever (via Ariston Anderson for The Hollywood Reporter)
How the man behind the iconic camerawork of Rocky and The Shining started his endeavor.

New Mexico’s Artisans Take Advantage of Incentives and Experienced Crews (via Iain Blair for Variety)
Why indie filmmakers and big studios alike are flocking to New Mexico to make their projects.

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent filmmaker or film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

Robin Williams: An Indie Film Appreciation

Colin McCormack — Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

teenage mutant ninja turtles

You could never put Robin Williams‘ career into one box. He was a hyperactive standup; a wacky comedic leading man; a stable presence in family fare; and a moving character actor. He could play everything from Peter Pan to a PTSD-addled homeless man (in the same year, no less!). Though he’s still generally thought of as a comedian, the man had range.

In 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his portrayal as a tough-love psychologist in Good Will Hunting. He brought gravitas to a small indie film written by two unknown actors (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) and helmed by Gus Van Sant, then largely considered an “art-house filmmaker.”

But following that film’s astounding success (over $200 million in worldwide grosses) and with an Oscar under his belt, Robin Williams didn’t turn his back on smaller, independent films. Williams proved he was the type of actor willing to take a risk on an unknown filmmaker or an outside-the-box premise; and the odds of these indies getting attention, funding, or distribution were no doubt increased thanks to support from an actor like Robin Williams.

While Good Will Hunting may continue to be (deservedly) one of Robin Williams’ most famous roles, a number of the actor’s lesser-known indie projects are also worth exploring. In light of his untimely passing, we take a look at some of these films.

 

One Hour Photo (2002)

One of Williams’ darkest roles, he portrays a photo technician who becomes dangerously obsessed with a customer’s family. For anyone who still wrote Williams off as a goofball, this performance definitely proved them wrong.

 

The Big White (2005)

In this Canadian black comedy, Williams plays a small-town travel agent who finds a dead body in a dumpster and decides to use the corpse to his financial advantage. A more indie-minded Weekend at Bernie’s, with a great ensemble cast including Holly Hunter, Giovanni Ribisi, and Woody Harrelson.

 

The Night Listener (2006)

Before Catfish-ing was a thing, Williams delved into that territory in this psychological thriller based on a true story. He plays a radio host who starts investigating the existence of a teenage memoirist, but soon learns he might be digging a bit too deep.

 

World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

This terrific satire from Bobcat Goldthwait may be uncomfortably close to the recent events surrounding Williams’ death, but it’s one of his best performances of the last few years. Delving too much into the plot (about Williams’ relationship with his asshole teenage son) might give away some of the surprises, but World’s Greatest Dad is definitely worth seeking out.

 

Still To Come…

 

Boulevard

This independent drama premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and features Williams as a married man whose encounter with a street hustler makes him confront his secret life. An official release date has yet to be announced.

Merry Friggin’ Christmas

A dysfunctional family holiday movie starring Williams as the family patriarch with a brood consisting of Joel McHale, Lauren Graham, and Candice Bergen. No word on the release date yet, but judging from the title it will likely arrive later in the year (Update: Merry Friggin’ Christmas hits theaters and VOD on November 7, 2014. BuzzFeed has a clip).
 
What are some of your favorite Robin Williams performances?

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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent filmmaker or film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

Movies You Probably Forgot Were Indies

Colin McCormack — Thursday, August 7th, 2014

teenage mutant ninja turtles

The phrase “independent film” usually conjures up certain touchstone images: Early pioneers like Corman or Cassavetes; no-budget phenoms like Clerks and The Blair Witch Project; quirky film fest hits like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. Often when an independent film becomes a breakout financial success, it’s treated almost like an anomaly. But there are plenty of hits from various genres that are so ingrained in our culture, it’s easy to forget that they too wear the “indie film” badge.

Without the aid of a big studio bankroll, these movies reached great heights (and are still delivering in various forms of reboots, sequels, and spinoffs), and offer a stark contrast to most peoples’ stereotype of an “indie film.”

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

turtles

With a successful comic book series, toy line, video game, and animated TV show, surely a major studio would swoop in to make a movie about these crime-fighting reptiles, no? Nope. Long before they started associating with Michael Bay, the heroes in a half-shell were working outside the studio system for their big-screen debut back in 1990. With a little help from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, and a lot of help from kids loaded up on Jolt Cola and allowance money, the film made over $200 million worldwide, and for nearly a decade held the title of the highest-grossing independent film of all time. In the wise words of Vanilla Ice, “Go ninja, go ninja, go!”

 

House Party (1990)

house party

Though House Party may not seem like your quintessential Sundance film, this starring vehicle for high-top fades rappers Kid ‘N Play (co-starring a then-unknown comic named Martin Lawrence) showed that Sundance movies could be fun. Based on a student film from writer/director Reginald Hudlin’s Harvard days, House Party was a critical and financial success, helping to bring hip-hop to the masses and spawning three sequels (as well as its own signature dance move).

 

Dirty Dancing (1987)

dirty dancing

Speaking of dancing, yes, the movie that serenaded a million slumber parties started as an indie film with little to no expectations for success. Given a theatrical release by a straight-to-video company, Dirty Dancing became a phenomenon during that time in the ’80s when a movie’s soundtrack was just as important as its script. A long-rumored remake has yet to come to fruition, possibly because the original is likely airing on TBS as we speak.

 

The Brave Little Toaster (1987)

brave little toaster

Most children of the ’90s remember this animated flick about household appliances that come to life. The film was originally being developed by Disney, but was soon abandoned by the studio. A group of ex-Disney employees branched out on their own to make the film independently, getting Disney to pick up the theatrical rights (which Disney also later bailed on). The Brave Little Toaster was the first animated film shown at Sundance, but it didn’t reach classic status until it became a popular fixture years later on (you guessed it) The Disney Channel.

 

Teen Wolf (1985)

teen wolf

Turtles weren’t the only adolescent animals getting in on the indie game in the ’80s. But not even the director of Teen Wolf thought the film would be a hit, let alone still be in the cultural lexicon nearly 30 years later (in the form of a hit MTV drama series). With a $1.4 million budget, the original Michael J. Fox film became the highest-grossing independent film of 1985. The highest-grossing studio film that year? Michael J. Fox’s other movie, Back to the Future. ’85 was most definitely the Year of the Fox (see what I did there?).

 

The Terminator (1984)

terminator

James Cameron certainly has a big checkbook to work with these days, having helmed the two highest-grossing movies of all time. But for his breakthrough film, Cameron proved he didn’t need studio support to put together a hit sci-fi thriller, selling his script to producer Gale Anne Hurd for only $1. The movie launched a billion dollar franchise that is still chugging along, and it solidified Arnold Schwarzenegger as the biggest superstar of the decade (Cameron didn’t do too bad for himself, either).

 

Halloween (1978)

halloween

For a movie that spawned a hundred or so sequels, Halloween had meager beginnings. Director John Carpenter – working with a budget of only $325,000 – ushered in the dawn of the slasher pic by bringing together an unknown Jamie Lee Curtis, a William Shatner mask painted white, and a creepy-as-hell piano ditty to terrify legions of moviegoers for decades to come. To this day, it seems like low-budget horror films are often a filmmaker’s best bet at profitability.

 

As you can see, indie films come in all shapes, sizes, genres, and budgets. And today there are even more avenues where you can find them. When lightning strikes, risky cinematic endeavors (like a time-traveling robot assassin) can blossom into full-blown blockbusters or cultural touchstones that would make any studio head jealous.

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent filmmaker or filmmaking-related business we should interview, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.