FINDING COMPOSERS

I think music can make or break a movie.  I’ve seen a lot of movies that have really crappy soundtracks and music that is, well, just horrible.  If you are hunting for a composer to do your score, make sure they are the right person sonically.  I mean, they might be a great musician but ask yourself if their particular style of music fits with the tone of your movie.

Johnette Napolitano, the singer from 80s band Concrete Blonde, did the score for my first film PEP SQUAD.  I knew she was the right person for the cheeky campy sound I was going for with that film, and she did a haunting vocal version of America the Beautiful she called “Amerika.”  It was her first film score, and it was fun to work with her on it.  I even came up with the idea to incorporate drum cadences, which were recorded by our local high school marching band.  Pleasant Gehman was working on a spoken word album with Kristian Hoffman at the time, and Johnette had a recording of Pleasant’s “Super Mega Zsa Zsa,” and played it for me.  As soon as I heard it, I fell head over heels for it.  The totally insane part was that when I placed it into the movie, the song fit the scene perfectly, beats actually happening on certain cuts, and ending at exactly the right moment.  Total synchronicity.

Different composers have different methods of working.  Johnette made several variations of each theme and left me in charge of where to place them in the film.  Whereas, Justin Durban and Lindsay Ann Klemm, the composers for my film FIRECRACKER, scored music to fit the actual scene or sequence in question.

Also working on FIRECRACKER was The Enigma (using the name Paul Lawrence).  The Enigma had previously made some music with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and composed some of the music for the carnival sections of the film.  My dad Clark played all the Chopin Nocturnes you hear in the movie.

Then I met the genius Rob Kleiner.  Rob is a talent beyond talents, and a great guy who is a total pleasure to be around.  Some of you know Rob from his work with Cee Lo Green, on the song they did for one of the TWILIGHT movies, which earned Rob a Grammy nomination.  Rob and I first worked together on WATCH OUT.  Then he did the incomparable score for STUCK! and then CASSEROLE CLUB, CULTURE SHOCK, and FAR FLUNG STAR.  Rob’s sonic brilliance comes into play as another character in each movie.  His music can be subtle or big, but always right in tune and in step with the rhythm and tone of each given film.

I’ve worked with dozens of other artists who have given me songs for inclusion into different scores.  THE WOODLANDS is Samuel and Hannah Robertson, who create absolutely breathtaking stuff.  Samuel also made a solo project called QUIET ARROWS, which is equally arresting, and a couple of his songs became part of the OCCUPYING ED score, which was composed by Kevin Peirce.  (Kevin appeared on my debut album Hypothermia, which was released in 1999).

Even if you don’t know famous musicians, it is totally possible to find super great music out there.  My advice is to keep in mind that the right music will make your movie awesome, and the wrong choices could make it horrible to sit through.

Also keep in mind that just because you like a song, doesn’t mean everyone else will.  So I encourage you to share the music with other people before including it in your movie.  Just in case.

TAKE THAT HAT OFF

To exist in The Industry where specialists reign, one must be the best they can be at one thing.  This is how it is in Hollywood, or at least major cities across the globe.  If you want to be a DP, or script supervisor, or line producer, or gaffer, and live in a major city, chances are the only way you’ll be able to do it for a living is by being a specialist.  This means that as you work and learn, you become very good at the one thing you know everything about.  And because of this, you’ll have no idea about anything else.

To exist in the rest of the world, to be an independent filmmaker, one must wear multiple hats and be many different things.  One day the line producer is also the gaffer, and maybe the next day the script supervisor is a camera assistant.  By having your crew wear multiple hats, it can save a lot of time and money.  Unless you’re making a studio movie, no one needs 30 people on their crew.  I don’t see any reason to have more than 10.  I prefer to keep that number under five, but on occasion I can see where eight or nine might be nice.

The trouble happens when you bring a specialist into a project designed for people to wear multiple hats.  The specialist will struggle with this, and the majority of the time will either be horrible to work with, or cause friction on the set.

Of course some specialists out there can do different things, but my advice is to make sure these things are talked about before you start filming.  Once I had a guy from Los Angeles on my crew who refused to do anything except the activities in his job title.  There could be a sudden downpour, people rushing to get the equipment covered or inside, and he’d just stand around and watch everybody.  Why didn’t he help out?  Well, he’d say, I’m a focus puller.  That’s not my job.

Yes, sometimes specialists can come off being total jerks.  Which is why I prefer to hire aspiring filmmakers who have little to no experience.

Aspiring filmmakers or interns tend to work harder and have more passion.  They are also moldable, agreeable, and excited about all the aspects of movie making.  When someone is excited about learning, and thrilled to experience different things, the environment is always enjoyable.

If you do end up hiring an intern or aspiring filmmaker with little experience, be sure to show them how to do different things.  Teach them.  One day they can work in the art department, another day they can work with the camera, and the next day in production sound.  This way, they will leave your shoot a bit more knowledgeable about filmmaking.  It’s also possible they’ll learn more on your shoot than they would have spending thousands of dollars on tuition at a film school.  They may not understand the value of their experience right then, but later on they’ll be very thankful.

Creating a movie’s opening or closing credit sequence is the only bad part about having a small crew that wears multiple hats.  It’s nearly impossible to do traditional rolling credits unless you list each of the jobs and assign names to them.  Problem is, with just a few people on your crew, you’ll end up seeing the same person’s name a dozen times.  And that’s a bit exhausting.  Be proud of your work, but do people really need to see that you directed it and edited it, art directed it, organized costumes, wrote it, produced it, choreographed it, DP-ed it, sketched the storyboards, etc.?  No, they just need to know you directed it.  So keep that in mind.

WRITE A MANIFESTO

When I’m casting and crewing a movie, before I take a look at anyone’s skill level or talent, or resume, I insist they read and sign a manifesto.  Only after I receive the signed manifesto will I consider working with them.

This manifesto is a brief history of who I am, what I’m about, and what it’s like to work with me.  About 75-80% of people who read the manifesto are moved by it, and are more excited than ever to climb aboard.  But, the others walk away offended and irate.  Some have even written threatening letters to me in response to reading the manifesto.

It doesn’t matter who likes it and who doesn’t.  But what matters is I’m weeding out the types of people who I don’t want to work with, and the personality traits that simply won’t get along with people on the set.

This is why I believe it’s a good idea for everyone to make a manifesto.  Tell everyone from the get-go what it’s going to be like.  Be honest and direct.  This will promote clarity and focus and you’ll avoid all the problems later on.  There will be no surprises, and everyone is on the same page.

In my case, unless it’s absolutely necessary visually to the film or character, I insist that all the actors do their own hair and make-up.  It omits the need for a make-up artist, saving money, and will save hours of time each day on your shoot.  I explain this in my manifesto and anyone who is incapable of doing their make-up, but agree with everything else, will sometimes write and ask if there’s someone else in the cast or crew who might help them.  Those cases have happened, and I just tell the actor it’s their responsibility.  If they want a friend to do it, or if they want to hire a make-up artist to come and work on them personally, that’s fine with me.  I’ll even give them a credit in the movie.  But they won’t be on the payroll, and they’ll likely need to feed themselves.

Let’s say you’re doing a movie like CASSEROLE CLUB where you’re going to rent a house that everyone will stay in together.  You’ll want to explain that in your manifesto so that everyone knows they’re going to have to share a bathroom (or will they have a private one), or whether or not they’ll be sharing a room with someone else, etcetera.  I’ve known filmmakers who fail to explain this until their actors show up on location, and each time they tell me, “I’m afraid they’ll quit if I tell them.”  Which always confuses me, so I reply with, “Yes, but if they’re going to quit, do you want them to quit now when you have time to recast, or would you rather wait for them to quit when they show up at the set and you have no time to recast?”

Always be honest, and let people know what they’re getting into.  If they don’t like you, and don’t like what you’re doing, that’s okay.  It’s better to find out before you’ve invested any time working with them or getting to know them.  There are millions of people out there who would be great on your crew or in your movie.  Find them instead.

I also like to incorporate a questionnaire with my manifesto.  Some of the questions are, “Would you share a room with someone” or “are you on any kind of medication which affects your ability to drive a vehicle” or “do you have any food allergies?”  This will help pair people up who are okay to share rooms, and select single rooms for people who don’t want to.  It also helps to know if someone has a food allergy so when you’re planning meals, you can make sure to have something for them.  On that note, I think that food allergies are meant to be taken seriously, but if someone says they just don’t like to eat meat, even though they do eat it from time to time, there’s no reason to mark them down as vegetarian.

My manifesto changes for each movie, so I’m not going to post it publicly.  But if you’re interested in reading it, shoot me an email and I’m happy to share it.

ACTORS BUYING ROLES

Lately there has become a huge controversy about actors buying roles, thanks to certain perks on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  I understand the perspective of people who are against this sort of thing, but I can also understand the perspective of people who don’t think it’s a big deal.  Like me.

As an independent filmmaker (Happy INDEPENDENCE day, btw), I need funding in order to make a movie.  The amount of funding is irrelevant.  Even if you plan to shoot a movie for no money, or you aren’t paying anyone, you’ll still have to buy hard drives to store footage, and put gasoline in your car to move from one location to the next.  So when someone comes along and says, “hey, I can give you some money, but will you put me in the movie,” my response is, “Of course!”  If I said, “No, I’m morally against that sort of thing,” chances are I won’t be able to make my movie.  Or it’ll take longer to find the funding needed, and I’ll be wasting time.

I make sense of it by thinking about it as an investment.  Even if the person giving (ie. donating) money on a crowd funding website isn’t “investing” per se, they are investing in their careers.  How it is any different to spend $2,000 on headshots and acting classes when you can skip all that and just buy a role with it?

And in that same thinking, what’s the difference between that activity and someone like Jodie Foster creating a script for herself to star in?  I can’t think of one.

I know that if Stanley Kubrick was still alive and running an Indiegogo campaign, and for a $10,000 donation, I could go and be his script supervisor for two months on his latest movie, without being paid, fed, or housed, I’d jump at the chance.  And if I couldn’t afford it, I’d encourage any other filmmaker who could, to do it.  One would learn more than the best film schools combined, and it would cost a lot less.

If that scenario were true, some would say it’s unfair because all the script supervisors are out of work because I bought the job away from them.  I don’t feel badly about it.  After all, only one of them would’ve been hired to begin with.  A production doesn’t need to hire ALL of them.  So what difference does it make?

Likewise, when an actor buys a role, all the other actors out there who could’ve auditioned are now out an opportunity for work because somebody else bought their part.

I think it was the magnificent Rosanne who said, “Success isn’t something you’re given, it’s something you take.”

Going back to the Jodie Foster scenario.  Same thing.  Was she waiting around for someone else to develop and produce, and then cast herself as, NELL?  Nope.  She took the initiative and did it herself.  There are people out there who blame her because she has “privilege” because she’s a superstar, and all that.  How is her kind of privilege any different than someone who could afford to buy a job as script supervisor, or an actor who can afford to buy a role?  None so far as I can see.  Yet, why is it okay for celebrities to develop and cast themselves in parts, and it’s not okay for an unknown person to buy one as a perk?

Is the backlash directed towards the moral integrity of the person making these crowd funded movies?  Take me, for instance.  If I did a Kickstarter campaign, and offered a perk that for $2,000 you could be my script supervisor, would you call me a villain?  Would you say I’m out to take advantage of people?  I understand I’m not Kubrick, which is why my perk would cost a donation considerably less than his.  But I can assure you that the person who bought that perk would learn more on my set than spending $2,000 on seminars, books, classes, or anything else.  So isn’t that actually fair?  They’re helping me, and I’m helping them.  It’s a mutual arrangement, and one that I think is just fine.