HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 4 of 4

Click here to read PARTS ONE, TWO, and THREE.

The STUCK! shoot was marvelous.

One of the best parts was the food.  See, when the cast and crew are only a handful of people it is possible to go to someone’s home for a dinner party.  You can eat superior food.  Feeding 42 people on a traditional crew likely means scraps and bulk-made meals.  And there is no intimacy about that kind of thing.  With a set like mine we eat homemade slow-cooked masterpieces every night.  We can sit around the same table.  It becomes a far more rewarding experience.

Like WATCH OUT, the STUCK! shooting days were just as efficient.  We’d work from 9 AM and wrap around 5 or 6 PM.  We worked every day with no days off.  It took less than two weeks to complete.

The reviews were amazing:  Film Threat writes, “Balderson just doesn’t make simple films, and this is no exception. It’s not in the words, or the plot or the story; but it’s in the air, it’s in the beat, it’s in the very soul of the work.” The LA Weekly said it was “Revolutionary.”  And UK Critic MJ Simpson writes, “Steve Balderson is the best-kept secret in American independent cinema. He makes his own films – which are unfailingly brilliant – and the rest of the world very, very gradually catches up with him.”

In February, 2010, the American Cinematheque hosted the LA Premiere of STUCK! at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.  The cast was there with me to present the film and do a Q&A after the screening.  One of the people in the audience mentioned that because all the actors were there, talking enthusiastically about this new way of filmmaking, it spoke volumes about the process.

I signed a deal with a sales agent who is selling STUCK! to buyers around the globe.

In the fall of 2010, I put together another top-secret film shoot and produced my film THE CASSEROLE CLUB.  A couple new stars joined the group for this shoot: namely Kevin Richardson (from the Backstreet Boys), Daniela Sea (from the L Word), and acclaimed stage actress Jennifer Grace.  We made the film in Palm Springs in exactly the same way we made STUCK! and WATCH OUT.  The entire experience is captured in director Anthony Pedone’s documentary CAMP CASSEROLE.

The shoot was a lot like summer film camp.  We rented a few vacation homes that would serve as the locations, and also would house all of us.  Staying together in the same place was magical.  Each day we’d gather to film scenes, and if any actors weren’t working, they would lounge by the pool, read a book, and basically turn their time on the set as a vacation.  This aspect of the shoot was the best.  I made sure that we’re doing the work we need to do, but it’s just as important for me to create an atmosphere that is a rewarding experience personally.

Each evening we would have a meal sponsored by one of the cast or crew, or friends and family.  Imagine being at summer camp and coming together over a meal and singing Kumbaya.  That’s exactly what it was like!  Only instead of singing Kumbaya, per se, several people would pull out their guitars and do an impromptu acoustic concert; or, there would be fun short films being made; or, night swimming and gazing up at the stars with a great conversation.

One of my favorite moments filming THE CASSEROLE CLUB came whenever we needed to do some exterior shots around the Palm Springs area.  We’d just jump in my car and drive around until we’d find the greatest place, jump out, film it, then rush back to the car and speed away as if nothing ever happened.  This is the kind of freedom I love work in.  It’s exhilarating.

THE CASSEROLE CLUB premiered at Visionfest`11 in New York City where we were nominated for 9 Independent Vision Awards and won 5: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Kevin Richardson, Best Actress for Susan Traylor, Best Production Design.  And the most overwhelming compliment came in 2012 when the U.S. Library of Congress invited the film to be a part of its permanent collection.

Making films in today’s distribution landscape is drastically different than it was even a few years ago.  It is very important to spend as little money possible to make your films.  If your film cost $200,000 that’s fine.  But maybe you could try to find a way to make two movies for $100,000 instead of putting all your eggs in one basket.

Be realistic when you’re planning your expenses.  Regardless of the storyline, regardless of the actors, stars or location, if you think your project will make $100,000 in sales, your best bet at sustainability is to make sure that project costs less than that.

These are just some of the ways the distribution landscape has changed the way films are made.

CASTING: JUST LIKE COOKING

Casting and crewing a movie is the most challenging aspect of making a movie, and one that many directors and producers should reevaluate.  By casting and crewing your movie correctly, you can avoid having conflicts on the set, maintain a healthy atmosphere, and construct a positive environment in which everyone can thrive.

When I’m casting or crewing a movie, I think of it like cooking.  The movie is the dish we’re about to make, and each element that goes into making that dish becomes an ingredient.  Different locations, props, costumes, and people, each have their own unique color, flavor, energy, and thus each has a unique ingredient.  Like saffron, ginger, or cucumber.

I think it’s very important to make sure that all the ingredients work well together, both on screen and off.  If everyone enjoys being around each other, the atmosphere will be free of conflict.  And if any conflict arises, people who enjoy each other tend to handle conflict in a healthy, mature way.

So, think of people like food.  Try it.  Go on.

Pick someone you know and imagine what kind of ingredient would they be.  Are they volatile, or spicy, like, say, cayenne?  Are they sweet and rounded, and ordinary, like, say, a Granny Smith apple?  Would you pair them up together in the same recipe?  And if so, how would you do it?  Or, what other ingredients would be needed in order for the right balance to happen?  Or, if you picked the Granny Smith apple person, is there another contender who embodies an ingredient that might work better?

Sometimes this is very difficult to explain to other producers, actors, and directors.  Especially those who have been programmed into doing it the traditional way.  But, I’m telling you, this works.  It’s about understanding chemistry and really understanding a person.  It’s possible even to understand it, and use this information, without ever being in the same room with the person.  It’s also very handy tool to use when casting people together that need certain chemistry.

Some people use astrology in a similar way.  I understand that for the most part, people might not like this because it’s stereotyping.  Fitting everyone else into a box.  But, so long as it keeps working, I don’t care.  The goal is to cast and crew a movie, and to end up with a group of people who get along and shine on screen.

Even if a person is the best in their field, or the greatest performer, they might not be right for the particular dish we’re assembling.  It’s incredibly important to select the right combination of people to create the ideal environment off screen as much as on screen.  When people are living together in such close proximity to each other, and work and play morph together, it is imperative that each personality work well together—like creating the perfect recipe—each ingredient matters or could throw off the whole thing.

Would you rather be working for three weeks with a bunch of talented people who hate each other, or a bunch of talented people who enjoy each other?

In addition to taking a look at someone’s skills and talent, it’s also a good idea to look at how they see the world; interact with others, and how their unique ingredient might give flavor to the ultimate dish.

Ponder your own combinations.

Figs go well on their own, with fresh crisp foods, and even meat but I wouldn’t eat a bulb of garlic at the same time.  Some might, though.  That’s fine.

Got a fresh peach, or a plum, and a bossy steak?  Try them together, the fruit works surprisingly well on top of the steak.

Roasted beets taste like sweet corn, which is also great with arugula.  But I’d avoid pairing them up with gummy worms.

The adventure to Fäviken

Our whirlwind trek to Fäviken Magasinet isn’t about filmmaking, per se, but it had a sensory impact on me that will influence anything I make from now on.

Getting there is half of it.  Fäviken is in the middle of nowhere.  The depths of Sweden.  Like my home in Wamego, Kansas.

We were in London for the premiere of my film CULTURE SHOCK at the Raindance Film Festival.  The morning after the screening, my partner and I flew to Stockholm and changed planes to fly an hour north to Östersund, near the Arctic Circle.  Then we rented a car and drove another 90 minutes deep into Sweden towards Norway.

The drive in autumn is gorgeous.  Vibrant oranges, cutting yellows and boiling reds.

When you arrive at Fäviken there is no sign to tell you where to park, where to check in, or what to do.  Only 20,000 acres of forests and wild grasses, several buildings and a sense you have arrived.  Somewhere.  Somehow.  And, now.

You’ll knock at all the doors, like we did, and hear no answer.  Until you make your way to the big barn and simply walk in, hoping to find anyone.

And there they were to show us to our room.  You don’t have to stay at Fäviken, but I’d advise it as there is nowhere left to go.  And the accommodations are better than 4 star, except the shared bathroom down the hall (of which there are three, so although shared, they are located just outside of your sleeping chambers).  I know there were other people staying there, but never once did I see anyone when using the loo or shower.

Once settled, we went to the main room downstairs.  For champagne.

After all guests arrived (the dining room seats only 16 people per night) we were gathered in the lodge with fireplace swelling.

Here is a report, course by course, of the experience.

Amuse Bouche: Linseed crisps with blue shell mussels dip

Amuse Bouche #2: Just-made fresh cheese served in warm whey and lavender.

Fäviken amuse bouche

Amuse Bouche #3: Wild trout roe served in a warm crust of dried pigsblood pastry.

Fäviken roe and dried pigsblood

Amuse Bouche #4: Pigs head dipped and fried, topped with gooseberry and spruce salt.

Fäviken amuse bouche

Amuse Bouche #5: Crisped lichens with fermented garlic cream.

Fäviken lichens

Amuse Bouche #6: Cured pork belly.

Fäviken pork belly

After the parade of Amuse Bouche to prepare our palates, we were ushered upstairs into the rustic dining room.

dining room at Fäviken

I didn’t photograph every wine pairing, but this Mead is made at Fäviken and was delicious.

Mead at Fäviken

The fresh baked wheat sourdough.

The best butter you’ve ever tasted.

Fäviken butter

Then, the procession of main courses began.

Scallops from Hitra island served over juniper embers:

Fäviken scallop course

Scallop in shell with juice:

Fäviken

Poached trout with shallot:

Fäviken trout with shallot

Monkfish with kale cooked for 20 seconds and some kind of spruce sauce:

Fäviken monkfish and kale

Blue shell mussel with pea flower:

Fäviken mussel with pea flower

Turnips harvested while we ate, buried in autumn leaves:

Fäviken turnips in autumn leavesFäviken turnips with butter

Cauliflower in mushroom thing, mead cream and salted cod row:

Fäviken cauliflower

Then, Chef Magnus Nilsson came up the stairs carrying a large cow bone with his Sous Chef.  They put the bone on a stand between the tables and began to saw it ferociously.  You’d be able to see it better if it weren’t for the annoying Frenchman who felt he needed to stand over it to take a photo.

Fäviken and the annoying frenchman

Then, the Chef scooped out the fresh marrow and prepared a dish of raw heart and flowers, with the fresh marrow on top.  It was meant to eat with the bread.  Surprisingly it was delicious.

Fäviken raw heartFäviken raw

Then came the Goose with fresh lingen berry:

Fäviken goose with ligenberry

Black radish with reduced whey and cows milk cheese:

Fäviken radish

Wild raspberry ice and water soaked lingen berries with cream:

Fäviken raspberry ice

Frozen yolk over pine tree bark cookie.  Ice cream with field weeds:

Fäviken dessertFäviken ice cream in field weeds

Raspberry compote, duck egg, milk sorbet:

Fäviken delicious

Then, we were sent downstairs for wild herbs tea near the fireplace:

Fäviken wild herbs tea

And house-made wild herbs liquor and black currant liquor:

Fäviken Fäviken

And a finale of sunflower seeds, birch sap, dried reindeer meat:

Fäviken

Then, it was up to our room at the inn for bed.

Breakfast the next morning was equally brilliant.  House-cured ham, preserved trout, cheese, fresh eggs (we had ours scrambled):

Fäviken breakfastFäviken

Chef Magnus Nilsson worked in Paris before returning to Sweden to reinvent eating.  That’s right.  He has reinvented the idea of sitting down to dinner.  A new Viking legend, combining what we could forage for on the forest floor, and carve up to sustain life in Scandinavia.  And he’s done it better than any Michelin starred restaurant in Paris.  He’s done it because it’s natural.  It’s in his blood.  Like my films are to me, and the way I go about making them.  It’s what we have to do.  And what we most enjoy.