Archive for the ‘Close-Ups’ Category

Matthew Myers has served as a producer on such notable independent movies as Then She Found Me (directed by Helen Hunt), Griffin & Phoenix, and Speak (starring Kristen Stewart), as well as the upcoming Ned Rifle, by noted indie director Hal Hartley and featuring Aubrey Plaza.  Myers began his career as a Unit Production Manager, including supervising production and post-production on Hartley’s award winning feature Henry Fool.  He also produced the film adaptation of author Katherine Paterson’s novel The Great Gilly Hopkins, directed by Stephen Herek and slated for release in 2015.

Did you have any particular inspirations relative to moviemaking early in life or during your years in school? What was your initial path on the way to becoming a filmmaker?  

Great Gilly Hopkins David Wintersteen

Matt Myers (at right) demonstrates the finer points of producing to David Wintersteen on the set of The Great Gilly Hopkins

I get asked this question a lot.  I have to say that The Wizard of Oz and the original King Kong were two of the first pictures I remember inspiring me to take a closer look at the mechanical creativity of film production. As a kid I was obsessed with deconstructing those movies—how they worked narratively, emotionally…and physically. Those two pictures made such an impression on me and really captured my imagination. I remember watching them on television every year with my grandfather, who was a big movie fan. He had first seen these old classic pictures in the cinema during their first runs and read about them extensively. He ruined the illusion of the Wicked Witch of the West melting in front of my eyes by informing me that they just tacked down her dress and lowered her through the stage floor. That blew my mind and I became extremely eager to learn more about ‘the man behind the curtain’ so to speak—the physical production.

In what ways did you first become involved in making movies?

I was in Pittsburgh, freshman year of college. I was 18 years old and I was strolling along downtown, and I just wandered into a low budget MOW (Movie Of the Week for TV) called Alone in the Neon Jungle starring Suzanne Pleshette and Danny Aiello. The director was Georg Stanford Brown. I saw all these trucks, lights, tons of people on the street and I kind of just crashed the set. I worked for free for a couple of weeks in the wardrobe department whenever I could make it or skip class (nobody turns away free labor!), and then, eventually, they gave me a little money to dress the cop extras for big crowd scenes. I was hooked immediately.


Produced by Matt Myers

How did you move on from those initial steps?  What were some useful lessons you learned through your first experiences with motion pictures?

I had never been on a movie set before as someone who was actually doing the work—actively participating in what goes up on screen. I had only casually observed movies being filmed, but being part of a crew, even in the lowest possible echelon, flipped a switch for me. I learned that this was a business. A real business that operated only by the physical labor of a lot of people whose livelihood depended on it. And by and large, even though it was a job it didn’t feel like a normal job, and that’s what really appealed to me. Even today, I still can’t believe they pay us the kind of money we get to work in the movies. And it’s hard work. Very hard work. But when it’s all done, there is a real satisfaction to it, a genuine sense of accomplishment. And you can’t wait to do it again.

Initially, you worked as a Unit Production Manager. How was the transition to Producer?  

It was a gradual process. As a UPM, you bring a specific set of craft and management skills to the table (and everyone has their own style about this); but basically, you have to be the adult in the room who knows the machine, how it works, how much it costs, etc. And typically you are reporting to a Line Producer or other supervisors who are the architect of the production plan. The job of the UPM is to manage, plan and execute at the most detailed level—the smallest of details to make the picture. The Line Producer (and often the two jobs are intertwined at lower budgets) is (hopefully) linking those small details to the larger and more complicated goals and creative ambitions of the picture, as they are collaborated upon between director and crew.

8207_10151186844563808_1817079830_nAnd how did you like working as UPM?

Being a UPM can be a fun job. And, like anything else, it can be hell. It depends on the movie, and who your collaborators are. Generally, it’s a great job to have—particularly if you are a member of the DGA which I happen to be, still—because the pay is excellent and the benefits are solid.  Being a UPM is like being the manager of the rock band, so it’s a great place to get to really know the business in all its permutations, and to really understand the complexity of filmmaking as an enterprise.

Speaking of this enterprise, do you have any particular examples of problem solving to illustrate your work?

Problem solving: so many to solve!  Everyday is a problem solving exercise where you don’t have enough time or money to accomplish what’s written in the script or how the director wants to shoot it.  Our job in the production realm is to collaborate and compromise, while remaining faithful to the narrative objectives set out in the shooting script.  Example: The script says “And the villain dangles our heroine over a fish tank full of snapping piranhas”.  Well, it turns out 1.) we can’t actually do that practically on camera because obtaining piranhas is difficult in many places due to various laws, 2.) it is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty that we can get actual piranhas to “snap” on command to articulate the specific jeopardy suggested in the script and 3.) we can’t afford to do a full blown CGI-Post VFX gag, which is really the only good option to solve the problem.  So, then we start having the conversation: “What is the point of the piranhas in this scene?  Why is this here in the script?  What’s the storytelling goal here?”  Which then delves into all the juicy fundamental aspects of screenwriting, storytelling, plot points, character, etc.—all the stuff we love to sit around and talk about in film school!  So, this is the creative challenge: how to articulate a sense of what the script is asking for in the scene (in this case a sense of outlandish jeopardy for the heroine) but somehow still make it work within the context of the dramatic narrative—and do it all on budget and on schedule!  Ultimately, after considering many other options—snakes, bugs, alligators, etc.—we settled on….knife throwing!  An inexpensive stunt gag with monofilament wires, reversing the shots and removing the wires in post.  Still outlandish, but do-able and affordable!  Problem solved!

As a producer, what are the most important skills you need in order to succeed?

The feed that helps to oversee the process

Dogged perseverance! A solid sense of storytelling. The ability to multi-task while keeping your eye on the prize. You need to be good with people, know how to communicate effectively and delegate responsibilities and you must be able to spot talent and know it when you see it. Producers have to also be consummate sales people—knowing the marketplace, its industrial trends and models and how to convince others of the potential of a movie within that context. And, most importantly, you have to be a good audience. And be able to take boatloads of rejection—because you are Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill, only to have it constantly roll down on you. For every 100 tries, you finally manage to get it over the hill and it’s a movie.

For many people, when they hear the word “producer” in a person’s title, they think that it involves having, raising, or managing money. In what ways is that accurate or inaccurate?

David Mamet famously said in State and Main that an ‘Associate Producer’ credit is what you give your secretary instead of a raise. During the Golden Age, there was a single producer, usually assigned by the studio, to oversee a particular production on the lot. That producer understood all aspects of filmmaking—script development, budgeting, scheduling, casting, marketing, distribution, etc. Nowadays, you see 20+ producing credits. Most of these folks have very little direct involvement in the actual making of the film while some make a tremendous contribution on a daily basis. What’s happened is that there has been a lot of fragmented specialization in the producing realm and thus a proliferation of various types of producing credits—now there are creative producers, dealmaking producers, line producers, hedge fund producers, talent manager/producers, etc. – all prefixed with ‘Executive’ or ‘Associate’ or ‘Co-Executive’ or ‘Supervising’. Anyone who has access to money, resources or talent, labor, tax credits or physical production management is essentially—by default—a producer. And so a lot of the meaning behind the titles gets diluted—executive, associate, co-whatever. They’re all involved in some way, whether they found the money, spent the money or developed the script. But it’s very hard to discern who is ‘THE Producer’. Because they are ALL producers and nobody can produce a movie all by themselves any more.

In our study of media arts, a great portion of our work deals with the collaborative process. In what ways does a producer facilitate this process and how can producers encounter difficulties in moviemaking?

Matt Myers on the set of The Great Gilly Hopkins with author Katherine Paterson

Matt Myers on the set of The Great Gilly Hopkins with author Katherine Paterson

Ideally, a producer is intelligently assembling the artistically and commercially appropriate constellation of stars and talent to make the picture. It’s like throwing a good dinner party. You want to bring together the very best combination of elements, people, resources and creative energy to make the movie the very best it can possibly be, and hopefully, the most critically and commercially successful it can be. As with any creative enterprise, it’s all about the people you bring to the table. The right actor can breathe life into your protagonist, just as the wrong actor can kill it. The right director will have the best vision to helm your script, the wrong director can sink the ship. And so on with every single person involved in the collaboration down the line—from the DP, the Editor, the Production Designer, the Gaffer, the Sound Mixer, the Composer, the production support team—EVERYONE. The difficult thing is: being able to discern talent, yes; but also who is right and who is wrong for the job. There are so many talented individuals out there, but that doesn’t mean they can all play Moses or beautifully shoot your script in 30 days, right?

Can you illustrate any distinct challenges you have faced in your career?

The biggest challenge I always face is keeping focused on the goal. It’s very easy to become distracted with all the politics that govern a movie production, especially when there are millions of dollars involved. The more money, the more politics. Ultimately, the audience doesn’t care about how hard it was—they only care about an excellent picture. Sometimes, there is a lot of disagreement about very specific details in the film—and these details can be very important some of the time, and they can also be minor. But, the challenge is really to keep everyone rowing in the same direction to achieve the best possible end result. That’s the challenge of leadership and management, at all levels of production. You want the crew to support the director creatively, you want the crew to support the budget economically and you want the distributor of the picture to support the marketing and distribution in an intelligent way. All three of those things are tough to do. The challenge we always face is trying to work within limitations—you never have enough money to do what you want to do. So how do we persevere to tell the story? How do we turn liabilities into assets? How do we be creative within very specific, very rigorous constraints?

Filmmaking MindsetI think the best way to illustrate the challenges of filmmaking is to show this popular image that tells us “Filmmaking Mindset: You can only have two sides of the triangle, not three.”

When you approach a production, what are key steps in the process that you can highlight to us?

The first step is to outline where you want to be with the movie a year from now. Once you get the greenlight, the clock starts ticking right away. We begin with the end: when is the soonest we can bow the movie at a key, major A-list film festival? What does the circuit look like for us based on our start date? What is the target launch date? Sundance? Cannes? Berlin? Venice? Toronto? We work backwards from there because the festival circuit is like a river that keeps on going without regards to the undulating calendars of film production. Once we have that in hand, we can start outlining the most important dates on our calendar: start of pre-production, the dates of our tech scout, first day of principal, last day of principal, picture lock date, final mix date, color correct date, etc. All the way through to the end. You have to impose deadlines—time is money. It’s easy to get myopia—so you have to force everyone to look at the movie from the 30,000 foot view from soup to nuts. Because—as I’ve said—it’s a business. An enterprise. And if the movie is the “product” we have to have an end date in mind. The next step is then to organize all the elements: hiring crew, location scouting, set construction plans, casting supporting roles, closing actor deals, managing cash flow, legal and financial issues, guild and union contracts, tax credits, etc. etc. This is a lengthy pre-pre-production process that typically starts months before actual pre-production begins. And the less money you have in your budget, the more time you need to prepare because you can’t just throw money at the problems.

From pre-production to production to post-production, are there any other facets of the creative and collaborative process that you would like to stress in terms of their importance.

Speak_filmMy god, they are ALL important! Every little gear moves every bigger gear until the whole watch moves to keep perfect time (hopefully). The most important thing to remember at each phase is: what movie are we making?  Never lose sight of that.  It’s easy to get lost because the process is so slow to get moving, and then suddenly a year goes by at the speed of light and you’re stunned that it’s suddenly coming to an end.  We work for years sometimes to obtain a very narrow window of access to the professional production apparatus, and then it all has to be accomplished in a very short period of time.  Filmmaking is an expensive paintbox to play with, just in terms of professional labor, so the most crucial aspect is to never forget the goals of the picture when you get bogged down in the granular details.  Sometimes it feels like the machine is more important than what the machine can make, that the paint brush is more important than the painting…and that’s when everybody needs to take a big step back and remind each other what exactly we’re trying to accomplish.  It’s like a mosaic and everyday we are working on one tile at a time—but over and over we have to periodically try to see the full picture.

What have been some of the most fulfilling experiences of your career? Are there any particular moments that stand out to you?  

Matt Myers on the red carpet at Cannes with his wife Jacqueline Bussie

On the red carpet at Cannes

Standing on the red carpet at Cannes with my wife for Henry Fool which would go on to win awards—feeling utterly stunned that all the hard work translated into this moment.  We felt like Cinderella.  A strange, but exciting feeling.  I felt so proud that I got to be involved in that movie. Then the standing ovations and the realization that the movie no longer belonged to us—it belonged to the public and, fortunately, they loved it.  Speak at Sundance when victims of date rape came up to us and thanked us for making the movie—that they no longer felt alone in the world.  In that moment, I genuinely felt that movies can really change lives, and that the movie really profoundly touched people.  Yeah.  Those two moments stand out.

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Pamela Gray, screenwriter of Conviction and A Walk on the Moon, among other credited and non-credited work

For Chapter 7 of Moving Images — titled From Page to Screen – the Close-Up Interview offers insights and perspectives from screenwriter Pamela Gray.  Gray’s first major feature film credit was for a story that had deep autobiographical roots for her: A Walk on the Moon.  This movie featuring Viggo MortensenDiane Lane, and Anna Paquin was the directing debut for Tony Goldwyn and has the distinction of ranking in top 10 lists of most romantic movies ever.  Her most recent major credit is the highly lauded script for the movie Conviction based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters, also directed by Goldwyn and starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell.  Among her other credits are Music of the Heart (an “inspirational teacher” movie directed by horror expert Wes Craven!) and teleplays for such shows as Star Trek: The Next Generation

You began your writing career as a poet.  What inspired you to start writing screenplays? 

A few years after getting a Master’s in Poetry Writing, I began noticing a shift in the content of my poems.  I was losing interest in writing about my own experiences, and I started to write about – and write as – other people. My poems were turning into monologues or character studies, whether based on people I knew, imagined characters, or people I’d read about in newspapers, saw in photos, etc.  At the same time, I was yearning for a larger canvas as a writer.  My poems felt like disconnected quilt pieces, and I wanted to work on a whole quilt.  I began writing plays, and while I loved the creative process, I still had one other dilemma to solve:  how would I make a living as a writer?  I could not find the answer until I took a sit-com writing class just for “fun.”  Suddenly I realized that I wanted to be a Hollywood writer.

A Walk on the Moon, directed by Tony Goldwyn and starring Viggo Mortensen, Diane Lane, and Anna Paquin

Describe one of your original screenplays.  What was the inspiration for the story? Did the initial idea evolve much during the writing process? 

The Blouse Man (the winning Goldwyn script) is set in a Catskill Mountains bungalow colony (a working-class Jewish resort) during the summer of ‘69, and tells the story of a Jewish housewife who has an affair with a hippie.   Her awakening and transformation impact her marriage and her children, especially her fourteen-year-old daughter who’s coming-of-age.

My inspiration was my own history of spending all my childhood and early adolescent summers in bungalow colonies, and as an adult looking back, I was fascinated by a world that very few people knew about. During the week, it was only women and children, and the husbands/fathers came up from New York City for the weekends. In addition, while the tumultuous Sixties were going on, the bungalow colony world seemed to be trapped in the Fifties. I had a vivid memory of watching hippies pass the bungalow colony on their way to Woodstock during the summer of ’69, and I wanted to create a family story set against the backdrop of these colliding worlds.

In all the years of rewriting – up to and including production – the initial idea remained the same.

Describe a screenplay that you wrote as a work-for-hire, based on someone else’s idea or early draft.  How did that creative process work?  

I was given a one-line idea by a studio executive, and asked to write a screenplay based on that idea.  I began by creating the main characters, figuring out the world they lived in, what they wanted, what their obstacles would be to achieving their individual goals, and I did the same for the secondary characters.  I was then able to start thinking about a way to turn that idea into a story with three acts, and I brainstormed the story beats without really developing them in detail.

I had to “pitch” these ideas and characters to my producers and executives, and then incorporate their suggestions until they agreed I was ready to write the screenplay. Once I was writing the script, and the characters were coming to life, I was essentially writing an original screenplay that resulted from my own vision and imagination.

Conviction, directed by Tony Goldwyn and starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell

What are the most important facets in creating a good story for the screen?  Do you think those aspects are the same for features and short movies? 

Beginning writers often don’t know what their story is, what it’s about, who it’s about, who their characters are, what their characters want, and what actions those characters will take to reach their goals.  Writers also need to know what obstacles their characters will face, how they’ll deal with those obstacles, and how they’ll ultimately succeed or fail in reaching their original goal or a different goal that developed during the journey.

Beginning writers often start scripting before they’ve taken the time to clarify the story and to fully develop their characters.  This has a detrimental affect on the story structure as a whole.  The script meanders, and individual scenes don’t move the story forward; they’re often too long, too wordy, and lacking in conflict.

Beginning writers often rely upon dialogue instead of action and visuals to tell the story and move it forward -– and the dialogue itself doesn’t sound like it’s spoken by specific, individual characters.  There’s often “on-the-nose” dialogue, lacking in nuance and sub-text, or dialogue that just states exposition, rather than organically incorporating exposition in interesting, subtle ways.

Whether the screenplay is full-length or for a short film, writers need to take the time to do the preparation outlined above.  Rushing through a script will ultimately get in the way of the writer’s goal to create a great screenplay.

Directors, actors, editors, and other members of the production team all have a hand in shaping the story on the screen.  How do you see the screenwriter fitting into the collaborative nature of the filmmaking process?  

The ideal way for the screenwriter to fit is to have a good collaboration with the director from the start. Whether the two are working together to develop a new script or to improve a script that’s heading for production, this bond will make it possible for the film to incorporate both the original vision of the screenwriter, and the vision that the director brings to the project.

In the best-case scenario, the screenwriter’s opinions are included through pre-production – the director would welcome their thoughts about casting and include the writer in all rehearsals.  The writer would also be welcome to share thoughts on art design, props, wardrobe, hair and makeup.  Most importantly, the writer would be on the set throughout the production. At that stage of the game, the story is now in the hands of the director, but in an ideal world, the screenwriter would be there to rewrite scenes that aren’t working, to hear actors’ suggestions and requests for changes, and to make adjustments to scenes if the need arises during the course of production (changes in location, weather, scene length, actor’s schedules, etc.)

The screenwriter and the director should have an ongoing dialogue throughout the filmmaking process – albeit one in which the writer respects the director’s vision and understands that it is now the director who has creative control over the script.  The director can benefit from the writer’s ideas, especially because the writer continues to hold a vision of the work as a whole, while the director is faced with so many immediate demands that it’s sometimes not possible to focus beyond the scene being shot at that moment.

The screenwriter and the director should continue their dialogue during the post-production process.  After the director and editor collaborate to create a rough cut and an early cut of the film, the screenwriter should be invited to give input in the continuing evolution of the film – and that input should be taken seriously, whether or not the director decides to make changes based on the screenwriter’s suggestions.

I have been fortunate to have two such collaborations with director Tony Goldwyn, but I’m sorry to say that this is a rare occurrence.  More often than not, the screenwriter is cut out of the process before production begins.

What have been some of the greatest challenges you have faced during your screenwriting endeavors? 

As a professional screenwriter, I am constantly challenged by my inability to retain control of my screenplays.  It’s devastating to pour my heart, soul, and sometimes years of work into a screenplay that doesn’t get produced.  It’s also heartbreaking to be “fired” off a project and to watch my baby be handed over to someone else to rewrite.

Once a screenplay is produced, it’s extremely difficult to watch directors, producers, and/or studio executives make changes that I find detrimental to the film. (This challenge also comes up during the development process, when I’m told that have to incorporate script changes I don’t agree with.)

And just when you think that you’ve experienced all the ways that screenwriting can break your heart, you can lose credit in a Writers’ Guild arbitration.  You are erased:  your name is taken off the poster, the DVD, the reviews – and you might even have to see the credited writer receive awards for a script that is partially –or significantly – the result of your work.  You see your contributions on the screen (if you have the guts even to watch the film) but no one knows you have anything to do with those contributions.  Even if you don’t like the finished film and feel a little relief that people don’t know you were part of the process, you will steal feel lousy every time you see the DVD in a store, or the film on television, and get reminded that,  as an uncredited writer, you will not receive any residuals.

Pamela Gray with Betty Anne Waters, whose story is told in Conviction

What have been among your most fulfilling experiences in writing for motion pictures? 

While it’s definitely thrilling to see the name of my film on a marquee, and to watch people walk into a theater with tickets to the movie I wrote, I find production to be the most exhilarating part of the process.  For the first time, you’re watching the word become flesh.  Those movie moments you’ve lived with in your head are suddenly ALIVE. You find yourself standing on sets that were just one-dimensional images in your mind; you’re hearing actors say words that you alone spoke out loud in front of your computer.  And if you’re fortunate to have wonderful actors and a great director, you get to see an enhanced, improved expression of your creative vision.

Despite the heartache and struggles that this career can bring, I keep writing screenplays because of my desire to see my work produced, and to have my vision inform the finished film.  What keeps me going is my love of the craft of screenwriting; patience and persistence; the ability to handle despair; my belief in my own skill and talent; and my passion to tell stories.

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In Chapter 3 of Moving Images, sound is the primary topic of the unit, and the concluding sections deal with the introduction of advertising and a promotional project for students.   For the interview at the end of this chapter, I contacted a former student of mine who has gone on to a highly successful career in advertising.  Besides being an extremely talented advertising copywriter  and associate creative director at DBB in Chicago,* Kevin Goff provides another inspiring example: a very nice guy who makes it big.  Moreover, there are a couple of classroom moments from when he was in high school that I will never forget.  First, when we were doing an initial brief in-class project that is designed so that students can get their hands on the cameras and start getting used to filming, Kevin was in a group working at the back corner of the room, essentially a little closet that was about three feet wide.  In this cluttered, tiny spot, Kevin — who hadn’t really done much in video until then — directed this amazing little piece (and he was behind the camera) that immediately grabbed the viewer’s attention because he had a jaw-dropping sense of where to place and how to move the camera.  Later, his final project for this introductory course was exceptional: he created a take-off from the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider video game that was dynamic, funny, strikingly shot, and clearly the work of a budding ad man: the twist at the end was that it was a “Got Milk?” commercial.  And this was made well before the Lara Croft movies starring Angelina Jolie!

Here is the full interview with Kevin Goff, whose credits include internationally recognized projects for clients such as McDonald’s, Capital One, Budweiser, and State Farm (and another).

McDonald’s “No Fry Left Behind” ad won many international awards

What drew you to working in motion picture communications?

I’ve always enjoyed the art of storytelling- be it written, or on film. Advertising provides me with the opportunity to craft stories around a variety of products and human truths. Every day is different, with a different challenge and a different story to tell. As a creative, that’s a fun playground to be in.

What were some useful lessons you learned through your first experiences writing and producing motion pictures?

There’s no right answer. But there are countless wrong answers. And you’ll eventually find countless examples where that’s true. For example, a joke on a script that we’ve been laughing about for weeks, even through auditions, comes out flat when the camera starts rolling. The belly laughs are suddenly replaced by crickets. There’s no explanation for it, but it doesn’t really matter why it’s happening. Because it’s not happening. And you better start writing. Fast. I highly recommend going into a shoot with a good list of prepared alternatives. (They’re easier to write when you don’t have the client, director, producers, and entire film crew waiting on you to be funny.) You never know – an alt may be better than what was originally scripted. But you won’t know until the shoot, or even until you start editing.

What are the standard key positions and the basic work flow for a 30- or 60- second spot?

As a copywriter, a project begins with us getting briefed. We’re told what the assignment is for, the message we’re supposed to communicate, and how much time we have to communicate it – 15, 30, or 60 seconds. It’s then up to us to conceptualize and write an effective, memorable, and entertaining commercial that can be completed on time and within budget. Many scripts will be written, and should one sell, we begin the production process.

Working with a producer, we’ll look at directors and find three or four who we feel are a good fit for the job. We’ll talk to each director about the script, discussing what we envision. After the call, the director writes a treatment for the spot. It’s the director’s chance to present what he envisions the spot to be, and how he wants to tell the story. The agency will take each treatment, and each director’s reel and recommend one director to the client. Once the client buys off on the director, a casting agency the director works with begins casting. We’ll eventually go through casting tapes of actors acting out parts in the script, selecting who we’d like to see called back for another casting session.  Once at callbacks, the director has a chance to work with the actors and we all get a better feel for their abilities and can better judge if they’re the best actor for the role or not.  At the end of the day, or days, the director and agency selects a cast, sometimes with back-up choices should the client have an issue with someone.  We’ll also go over the director’s shooting board and shooting locations, as well as props and wardrobe.  Soon, it’s time for the pre-production meeting.  While the agency and the director are all on the same page at this point, the pre-pro is designed to get client approvals on everything.  Once the client signs off on everything, it’s time to shoot.

Come shoot day, the director runs the shoot.  But the agency makes sure they’re getting the performances and shots they need.  While a spot often evolves for the better, the client bought a script, and the agency needs to cover what was boarded and sold.  That said, I’m still writing new lines on set as the camera is rolling.  You have to cover what you sold, but options are good, and those options often turn up in the final cut.

Capital One Triple Rewards sold by “Barbarians”

After the shoot, the film is sent to an editing house for an editor to cut.  The editor will cut several versions of the spot to show the agency, and from there, the agency chooses a cut and starts tweaking- trying different shots, adding frames to shots, etc.  This is also when music becomes an issue.  We’ll use scratch tracks as fillers, and eventually either hire a music house to score a piece of music, or find a piece of stock music to drop in.  On occasion, we’ll license an artist’s music track.  With a spot assembled, we’ll bring it to the client to sell the cut.  With the client’s approval, we move on to recording company to record voice-overs, and mix the spot.  The sound engineer begins sound design, adding ambient sounds, music tracks, voiceovers, and adjust levels of all sound, while the agency tweaks and approves it.  With the spot mixed, it’s on to another post-house for the telecine.  Here, the agency works with a colorist to color correct the film, and then finish it, cleaning up the film by applying minor special effects, and adding any necessary legal copy.  With the client’s final approval, the spot ships, and it’s onto the next spot.

Can you cite an instance when you were able to find a visual solution to a storytelling issue?  

I was working on an assignment involving a movie promotion for a major restaurant chain. I needed to find a way to tell a story that linked together the restaurant chain with the motion picture, and do it in a way that would get people excited to go buy the food and go buy a movie ticket. Additionally, the spot would be running globally so I had to find a solution that didn’t rely on dialogue.  Not surprisingly, months went by where no one was able to sell a script. If one side liked a script, the other side didn’t. It’s how these promotions usually go. Eventually I sold a script that satisfied everyone. It was a purely visual comparison of the similar sensory experiences people would enjoy while watching the film and while eating the food. For example, I compared how someone watching an intense action scene in a theater might grip the arm rest of the seat their sitting in, the same way someone might grip their bag of food if they were worried someone was going to steal it.

How do you balance visual storytelling in your pieces with the importance of sound in establishing tone and style and in communicating key information?

There’s more than one way to tell a story. You can do it purely through visuals, without any sound. But you can also tell the same story purely through sound, without any visuals. The balance of visual and sound ultimately comes down to the story you’re trying to tell and how you want to tell it. Any stimuli you choose to include, or choose to omit, communicates something to your audience. It’s up to you to determine just the right combination of stimuli to communicate your story in the most impactful way.

Sound is important in every project I’m involved with. From the music and sound effects, to the dialogue and voice talent, sound is vital to the communication. Music can evoke a variety emotions, add energy- or remove it, and even set a pacing for the film. Sound effects simply help explain what you’re seeing on film, adding a texture to the visual. Voice talent can be a challenge. Male or female. Old or young. And all the different voice qualities you can think of- the slightest variation of which can mean the difference between feeling authentic or fake, and getting laugh or getting crickets. It’s common to audition as many as 400 or so voices just to get the right one. Because without the right voice, the spot might simply not work. Sound is a sensitive thing. It usually works or it doesn’t. And you don’t usually know if it works until you see it put to picture.

What have been some of your observations of the filmmaking process?

Have an opinion. And have a reason for it. Because everyone has an opinion- some good and some bad. Listen with an open mind. Then listen to your gut.

Once you start shooting, anything can happen. Actors you thought could act- can’t. Lines you thought were funny- aren’t. You go from being ahead of schedule, to 4 shots behind. And weather that’s sunny and 80, is suddenly a flash flood washing your set away. Filmmaking is a fluid process. You have to roll with the punches and find solutions- fast.

What have been among your most fulfilling experiences in promotional moviemaking?

Creating television commercials that make people think about something in a way they’ve never thought about it before. And in a way that doesn’t make them want to change the channel.

* Currently (2014), Kevin Goff is a Senior Copywriter at Arnold Boston, where he has produced work for Produced Work For: New Balance, Volvo, Carnival Cruise Lines, and ADT Security.  

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Nash Edgerton with camera operator Sebastian Dickens shooting “Lucky”

The interview for Chapter 8, The Production Process, is with a filmmaker who has been involved in an amazing range of capacities of media processes: as a writer, actor, director, editor, and in the role that originally started his career, stunt artist.  Nash Edgerton has also played a key role in one of the most interesting stories in movie production of the past decade or so, which has been the emergence of the group of filmmakers who work through the partnership Blue-Tongue Films.   This collective of young Australian filmmakers has sustained a very interesting working relationship to produce work that clearly revolves around the stories, styles, and objectives that interest and inspire them personally and as a group.  Among the highlights of Nash Edgerton’s prolific career are the shorts Spider and Fuel, and his feature The Square; he has worked on the stunts of dozens of movies and served as stunt coordinator on the upcoming Wish You Were Here.   In addition, his shorts Lucky and The Pitch are featured on the DVD with Moving Images.  His next short, Bear – which is a follow-up to Spider – premiered in competition at the 64th Cannes International Film Festival.  As a couple of final notes, one neat aspect of connecting with Nash as a contributor to this textbook is that I have used one of the original Blue-Tongue collaborations, Bloodlock, in my media studies and production classes for many years, and this short provides many enlightening lessons on the roots of Blue-Tongue films, their stylistic approaches, and the dynamics of their collaborative.  Finally, it was such a pleasure to be able to work with Nash: he was very generous with his time, materials, and attention, and so keen on sharing his respect for his collaborators and his love for his craft.

Did you have any early inspirations to use moving images to communicate? 

I watched a lot of films when I was a kid.  Seeing something that totally affects you, like horror films – I think what surprises me now, working on films, knowing what goes into it, the make-believe, is that I still get affected by films when I see them and that’s what’s really powerful about them.

From the beginning of your career, you have worked as a stunt specialist.  How did you develop expertise in that type of work?

I kind of got into it and learned it in an old-fashioned approach, learning from people that had done it before.  I would get the concept by helping out, and then get training by working with different people.  I think one of the most important aspects of it is being adaptable because there are things that are always changing and things don’t always go to plan or you’re working against time or weather or various other things.  As you work, you can get better at finding solutions.  Having learned to be adaptable, as director you can get better ideas on that day when you’re in actual situations.  I think that’s what helped me most in preparing to be a director.

Nash Edgerton performing a stunt for “Lucky” featured as the short for Chapter 4 of Moving Images

Your background as a filmmaker is rather unique, having moved to the director’s chair from starting as a stunt specialist and actor.  How did your work as a director unfold as your career evolved?  Describe your initial experiences overseeing an entire production. 

By the time I started directing I had been on a lot of film sets, so just by being on film sets I feel natural and comfortable being around a crew.  It’s quite daunting running the show, so the fact that I was comfortable really helped.  I think it’s always kind of scary trying to get your head around how to tell the story.  You have to make sure you can do as much homework as you can so you have an idea of how you’re going to approach the day of filming with fresh ideas. Filmmaking is such a collaborative process.  You try to hire the right people to be around you because they’re going to bring something to it.  The combination of you all is going to help you get the best of your day.  What I like about filmmaking in general is that it does take more than just one person to do it.  It’s working as a team made of different people who all have different skills.  It’s a combination of these contributions that creates what it becomes.

What were some useful lessons you learned through your first moviemaking experiences? 

The best thing I learned is to be open to accidents, to things going wrong or not your way.  Instead of resisting it, maybe it’s meant to be that way.  If you’re open to things that change or don’t go your way, maybe you’ll find a better idea.  Rather than just being disappointed because it’s raining or because you can’t have this tool or something is broken, there is always a solution.  It’s good to have a plan, but ideas are always evolving and part of it is always out of your control.  Embrace the chaos!

David Michôd, Spencer Susser, Nash Edgerton, Luke Doolan and Joel Edgerton of Blue-Tongue Films

You have worked with a team of filmmakers throughout your career, and you have helped to run Blue-Tongue Films, an independent production unit. How have your collaborative relationships been fruitful to you throughout your career?

Yes, there’s a bunch of guys that I work with, what’s great is that we all work on each other’s films, in different aspects.  I’m not always directing, like at the moment I’m editing, or I do stunts on them.  Luke (Doolan), who edits a lot with me, he sometimes shoots on my stuff, he’s also been directing.  What’s great is you learn from each other, and we have a good shorthand with each other that makes it easier.  They have a good way of challenging you and asking why you want to do something a certain way.  It’s kind of like a healthy competition.  It helps you to be the best that you can be and next time you want to do something even better than that.  Then they make something better, and it makes you want to do something better.  I like working with my friends.

On some of your films, you have served as writer as well as director.  How have you experienced the process of seeing a project move from inception to release?  What lessons have you learned from that process?

I find writing hard, to put it quite bluntly.  Ultimately, making something you’ve written tends to be more satisfying. Going from what’s inside your head, sharing it with other people, going through the whole process, I like that a lot.  For example, Spider was my idea.  I’ll explain my ideas to one of my friends or my brother, because I know I will like their writing of it better.  So Spider was my idea and it took David (Michôd) to actually write it out and flesh it out a bit.  I like to see someone else’s take on the idea.

When you have directed from screenplays by writers other than yourself, what input or developmental contributions have you made to them?  Have you found that scripts evolve significantly during production or post-production? 

For example, for films I have made with my brother what will usually happen when I read it during the process and the different drafts is that I will be thinking about it as a director.  If I can see it when I’m reading it, then I know how to make it.  If I can’t see it, for a particular scene, if I can’t visualize it then I fear there’s something that’s not working for me in it so that’s how I talk about it with the writers.  Rather than telling them how to do the scene I’ll say there’s something about the scene that doesn’t work.  I know it’s not right because I can’t visualize it.  By the same token, I’ll say what scenes I like – it’s as simple as that.  If I can’t see it, there must be another way of doing it or it doesn’t need to be there.  I’d rather say it at that point than try to shoot it without any idea on how to.

Nash Edgerton at right directing The Square

What have been some of the greatest challenges you have faced in filmmaking? 

Usually on any kind of shoot day you get challenges, where you’re trying to get everything you need to shoot in that one day.  A lot of the time, I find that the start of the day is rather slow and the second half of the day you’re chasing your tail to get things done.  The challenge all the time is, if you have a plan like “the way I want to cover this scene is in five shots,” you have to be ready for complications.  There was a day we were shooting The Square in a small apartment, and we had gotten really far behind.  We were trying to get this scene, and my plan was to get five or six shots, and with the amount of time I had left, I was forced to try and cover the scene in one shot.  I think sometimes the pressure can help, and the way we ended up shooting it was way better than anything I had come up with before.  Because I was forced to do it in that shorter space of time, I got something better than I would have if I had all the time I wanted.  It’s funny because the pressure or the challenges you may face make you step up to it, or I’ve shot stuff where you try and figure out the best way to do it, and then you get home after the shoot day and then you figure it out.  Naturally, it can be pretty depressing because it’s too late, and you figured out how to solve it when what you should be doing is planning the next day.  Filmmaking is always ups and downs, but I find that there’s always at least one good thing that happens in a day, and it’s enough to keep you going.  Something good happened or something worked out how you planned it.  You try to savor that when other things don’t work out.

What have been among your most fulfilling experiences in moviemaking? 

The most fulfilling part for me is when you screen the film for the first time in front of an audience and it works. The actual process of shooting is always challenging and exhausting – and rewarding.  When you’ve written something, you’re thinking about it, you’re planning it, you’re shooting it, you start to forget the freshness and enjoyment of when you first write or read something.  When you’re making it, you start to lose sight of what it was, and it’s not until you see it with an audience for the first time that you’re reminded of how you felt when you first read something.  You get to see it through other people’s eyes and through their reactions.  A lot of times, the hardest thing is to complete something you start, and if you do go full circle that’s when you get the reward.  If it doesn’t happen, you get to learn what works and what doesn’t.

With storytelling and filmmaking, I always try and make stuff that I want to make.  I try not to make something just because I think other people are going to like it.  I try to trust in the fact that if I like it, there are enough people in the world that someone else might like it too.  Rather than trying to second-guess what you think, you try to create movies for yourself and put yourself in the audience.  Hopefully you’re not that weird and someone else will like it too.

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Deborah Hoffmann, center, receiving a Silver Baton award at Columbia University (Charlie Rose at right)

For Chapter 6 of Moving Images — titled Recording and Presenting Reality — the Close-Up interview features insights from Deborah Hoffmann into the work involved in documentary filmmaking and the editing process.  Hoffmann has been working for the past few decades as a documentary editor and director, and her work includes the award-winning movies The Times of Harvey MilkComplaints of a Dutiful Daughterand A Long Night’s Journey into Day.  

Did you have any early inspirations to use moving images to communicate? 

When I was in college, I got very involved in still photography, and the one connecting thing – other than liking working with images – was that I got very involved with putting on exhibits, and I really liked thinking through the order of the images, so that viewers can have a specific type of experience going to the event.  That was the beginning for me.  It took a while for me to get from there to being involved in making documentaries, but I think that was where it began.

Describe the path you took to become an editor.  Did you initially plan on working as an editor?  Did you specifically choose to work in the documentary field? 

Things were not that well thought out for me.  A lot of my career was a bit of fumbling around in a series of accidents for me to end up where I ended up.  I did sort of fall in with a crowd of documentary filmmakers and because of my background as a still photographer, I initially was going towards being a cinematographer.  It just so happened that I developed a back problem, and I couldn’t deal with the equipment, so I shifted over to looking into editing, not realizing that sitting all day isn’t really that much better for your back.  Nonetheless, I found myself moving towards editing, and it was a really fortuitous change, because I love editing and am very well attuned to it.  So, slightly accidental, but I think it was meant to be.

During this shift to editing, what were your initial steps professionally? 

Because this was the 1970s, there’s a way in which my personal story doesn’t really translate to today. These days, I teach documentary editing at the graduate school level at UC Berkeley’s school of journalism. I never went to [film] school, I never studied documentary filmmaking, and I was able to find my way to make a career out of it.  I think that’s a lot harder today.  So, my path, I really don’t think, is what kids coming along today can do.  I began by volunteering as an assistant editor on a documentary in the mid-70s, and I got very lucky because very shortly thereafter I began volunteering on Dark Circle, a documentary about the anti-nuclear movement directed by Judy Irving.  They got funding very quickly after I began, and there I was, I had a job.  I worked as an assistant editor – and, again, this is dated stuff, because I was editing on film and I was doing a job that virtually no longer even exists.  I went from assistant editor to sound editor, and I was very determined and very devoted, and I was able to start making deals, “I’ll be assistant editor if you let me edit a scene.”  That happened on one project, then on the next project I edited enough scenes to be associate editor, and then I was off and running and editing film.

When you first started editing films for other directors, was there anything that surprised you about the process?  Any lessons that you learned from your early efforts? 

It’s a very delicate relationship. I remember very early on, when I was an assistant working with an editor, he said to me, “You know, the relationship between the editor and the director is more difficult than a marriage.”  And I’ve always remembered that, and there’s a lot of truth, not that it needs to be difficult, but it is a very complicated relationship, and of course when I became a director, now I’ve seen it from both sides.  Directors are handing over their baby, and that’s their point of view.  And the editor feels like, “I can really see what’s working and what’s not, and the director is too close to the material.”  So there’s that tension, and I think that this tension can be really helpful in film.  And when I teach the students that I teach, and they’re editing their own films, and I always tell them, “You are doing the most difficult thing possible.”  You go out, you round up the subjects, stand in the snow and rain to film them and go through all that, you become convinced you’ve got a masterpiece and every frame is wonderful.  And the person who didn’t do any of that and they’re just seeing what ended up in the footage – and not what the entire surrounding experience was – which can allow them to see more clearly.  So when you’re editing your own material, you have a unique challenge compared to when you’re editing someone else’s material.

Filmmaker Deborah Hoffmann with her mother, Doris

You have also directed documentaries.  What inspired you to do this?  Was your previous work as an editor helpful to your role as a director? 

Well, if I ruled the world, or at least the world of documentary film, I would make every director be an editor first, because I do think that you learn so much about what makes a scene and what tells a story by actually having to do it in the editing room.  So I felt it was really, really helpful that I had been editing before I was directing.  The first thing I directed was a personal film I made about my mother and Alzheimer’s, and that was almost not a decision, it was just an overriding need that I had to make that film.  So I did.  And then I thought, this is kind of fun, you get to make all the final decisions.  There was something very appealing about that, and so I thought of dividing my time between editing other people’s projects and directing.

As a documentary editor, what distinctive challenges do you face in contrast to editors of fiction motion pictures? 

Let me just say that I’ve never edited fiction features, so what I’m saying you can take with a grain of salt, but I think that a documentary editor has a much more thrilling job than a fiction editor because you really find a make the story in the editing room.  You do wonderful things as a fiction editor too, but you’re not sort of writing the story, and I feel that you really are doing that as a documentary editor.  It’s a wonderful thing, and you really can discover unexpected things in the editing room.

Could you comment on the process of editing documentary films and some of the ways in which you have experienced a particular project? 

Unless I was doing something historic that was mostly archival – and even then there would be current interviews – it was not a long time after the shooting process, and in fact, it was usually while the shooting process was still happening that I would be brought on.  So, I could start editing, we could see where the weaknesses were, and we could see what filming still had to happen.  I think that absolutely works the best.  I think this is also smart financially, for directors not just to film everything and see if they’ve got it later, assuming it’s not something where they’re halfway around the world and it’s a one-time thing.  But if the project is one in which you can go back and fill in the holes.

Long Night’s Journey Into Day, Produced for HBO Documentaries

Documentary filmmakers seek funding from a variety of sources, including institutional grants and foundations. Taking one movie as an example, how have you sought support for your projects? 

The biggest project we had to fundraise for was the film we did about South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called Long Night’s Journey into Day.  I made that with my partner Frances Reid, we started that in 1997 and it was 90 percent funded by foundations and the remainder funded by individual donations.  We sold it to HBO and that’s how we got our finishing funds. But 1997 was a very different time economically than now, it was sort of a peak.  Here we were making a film about reconciliation, which was a hot topic then. Fundraising is never easy, but that was one of the easier experiences I know about. In fact, there was one foundation that responded to our request and said, “Actually, we want to give you more.” We were very fortunate, and I think right now it’s very tough for documentary films.  But right now, documentarians can be a one-man-band.  A lot of my students, they go all over the world, they take one crew person with them, and they do everything incredibly cheaply, and then they edit it at home with Final Cut Pro.  The expenses have come down in a lot of ways, but it’s still tough in a lot of ways.

What has been your experience of the collaborative nature of the filmmaking process?  Are there particular relationships that have been fruitful to you in your career? 

It is extraordinarily collaborative.  I’ve been very, very lucky in that all of my collaborative experiences have been quite wonderful, in fact they are some of the most wonderful experiences in my life.  For instance, from the first major film that I was the editor of, The Times of Harvey Milk, the people I worked with on that have been best friends ever since then.  I’ve formed many long-lasting relationships, and I love that give-and-take collaborative.

What have been some of the greatest challenges you have faced during your filmmaking endeavors? 

Most of them are economics.  If you’re doing your own projects, the constant search for money can really beat you down.  If you’re working for other people and you want to be working independently as I always did – that you don’t want to be working for a TV station or the news – then you are constantly looking for work.  You can feel very insecure a lot of the time.  It’s grueling work, but it’s thrilling work, so until you get burned out, your problem will not be that you’re unhappy at your work.

What have been among your most fulfilling experiences in moviemaking? 

One thing I feel that I haven’t said is that sometimes I feel that there’s a selfish, cheating thing being a documentary filmmaker, because it was a way to go places and meet people that you would otherwise have no way of experiencing.  You have the excuse of making this film, and you meet the most fantastic people in the world.

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