Filmmaker Interview by Chris Olson
You're a writer and producer from Austin Texas. Why did you pursue these aspects of filmmaking?
Actually, I started out acting. I was in college at Texas Tech University and was cast in a commercial for The New York Bagel Cafe. That was the first time I worked in front of the camera. It was fun. We filmed at the restaurant and our second location was at a house in the suburbs.
The second time, I was cast in The Alamo with Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quad. That movie was shot in Austin, Dripping Springs area, and Bastrop. I was an extra and played a rich politician. On that film, I really saw the process and learning about big-budget filmmaking.
Growing up in Houston I would go to the cinema a lot during the weekends with my friends and family and always asked myself; How are these made? I knew there were actors and directors, but I wasn't thinking about me having a chance to write them. I was always good in English class and could write well. When I got to college, the professors taught us that there were different forms of writing. So, I began to write a screenplay. It wasn't the best, but I was learning how to craft a film script.
When I moved to Austin, I crafted a #shortfilm that got produced, people liked it and it was inspiring enough for me to continue writing. Producing was something I learned during the making of my first short film. I love the idea of overseeing a project. From the pre-production; funding, hiring actors and crew, making the shooting schedule and call times, marketing and post-production for a film. I found it all to be fun and it's all a learning process.
Having sold three short films and had movies sell internationally too, what's your process when trying to find an audience for a film?
This process can be a little tricky.
Whenever I speak with other #filmmakers about their projects, they always say to me that they want to go to Sundance or Cannes. I'm always encouraging, but really I'm thinking good luck. If you break it down, those festivals are the two biggest festivals in the world. Every filmmaker wants to take their projects there. So, for my films, you think of a strategy.
Why go to the biggest film festivals when you can go to the smaller ones and get in? Possibly even win an award?
That's where my thinking was. So, I made a list and we took our film to Worldfest - Houston, and a few other festivals. We got in and won awards for them.
My first two short films, Crisis, and The Last Catch, both very different movies, won a lot of accolades. I told myself If we have two awards, we're in the driver's seat. So, I ended up sending one of the films to a distribution company in Germany, and after two days, they told us no. I was fine with it. I knew there's a lot of distribution companies around.
I finally took Crisis to Shorts International. I didn't hear from them for months, so I kind of thought, okay this one is done. Before I knew it, Jenny Hayden, who was the acquisitions executive at the time, saw the film and really liked it. She made us a distribution offer on those two films, Crisis and The Last Catch. It was great to see your work get out there and the deal was to have it play on television on the Shorts HD network.
I would advise any producer to come up with a strategy to sell your film, but really know what type of genre your film is in. The moment the film wraps and marketing and post-production start. I would sit down alone and watch the first cut of the movie. Don't watch it with anyone else because people usually like to pass judgement on it. Watch it, know what you have, and come up with a selling plan.
Given the rise of streaming platforms, access to filmmaking equipment, and globalisation in general, where do you see the filmmaking business going in the next few years?
In the early days, it was harder to make a film. You would need access to equipment and most likely have to save up money from a job or raise it in some sort of fashion in order to have everything work. Now, in these times, cameras are everywhere. You can film an ad or a movie on your phone. If you still want the film to look slick with great actors in your movie, you would still need a budget.
The great thing is there's so many distribution outlets out there, right now, like airlines, streaming services, websites, television. We are in the information superhighway. They say the highest percentage of audiences right now are streaming services and that makes sense.
A lot of people love to stay home relax, have a bottle of wine, and put on a great movie. Will it destroy the movie theatre experience? Time will tell.
There's still a lot to be said for going out with your partner and seeing the movie on the big screen, with surround sound and laughing or crying with strangers there. Movie theatres make most of their income by concessions. In the next ten years, we'll see... There might not be as many movie theatres around because people are staying home to watch great content.
For the filmmakers, it's good for us because there are many different avenues to sell our movies and have them be seen.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out as a writer and/or producer?
For anyone who wants to be a writer or producer, is that you have to learn the process. There are many different forms of writing. If you want to write features, read scripts on features. My personal favourite to read and get a good sense of dialogue and structure is Good Will Hunting by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and Pulp Fiction by Quinton Tarantino. Both are amazing to learn from.
For TV scripts read pilots for one hour and sitcoms. Both are very different, sitcoms are broken down into a three-act structure and one-hour scripts for an episodic series is broken into a five-act structure.
Also, always keep writing, your first script will not sell, most likely, but the idea is your reading and writing scripts. It's working the muscle and practising. The more you practice the more you'll be better at it.
For producing, take a class for it, intern on a set, or become an assistant for a producer. Understand how a project gets off the ground and how to oversee it. You'll have to learn about managing actors' times and budgets, scheduling the shooting, lockdown locations, make sure the director gets his or her shots, and make sure to wrap the film on time and on budget. Producing is all planning and it's a race to the finish line, but if you learn to love it then it's not work, but really fun to do.
Why do you make movies?
Adrian Lyne once said I prefer movies that scar. If they leave the theatre and are still talking about the movie, he has done his job. That's how I feel.
I had a conversation with a filmmaker at a party and told him that if that audience leaves the film and they forget about it within seconds, I think I failed as a filmmaker, but if I can get them to have a conversation as to what the film was really trying to say, then I've done my job. There are many different genres, if you make a horror or thriller film, then the idea is to present them with what's bad in the world...make them feel scared, but they know their safe. If you're making a comedy, the idea is to make them get away from the pressures of life and get them to laugh and relax.
You're selling an emotion a feeling that hopefully the audience won't forget and could learn from.
What's next for you?
I'm writing my next script called; The Place That Bonds Us. It very much has to do with today's time. It's about a man and a woman who have been great friends since childhood, but one of them posts something political on social media and the two get into an argument. The next day, she invites him over and they talk through their problems. She takes him to a very special place. The place where they first met. We have a director and we're talking with actors. It's my tear-jerker of a film.
Where can people see your films?
Crisis and The Last Catch are playing on the Shorts HD network on DirecTv and AT&T U-Verse. Those films are playing in Europe, Middle East, United States, and Africa. The Eyes On Me is playing at streaming services for Xerb TV.
What would you say if you were a dolphin?
If I was a dolphin, I would say welcome to the sea, come watch a movie with us. Lol.