Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Interview With A Slime Guy...

In case you're not aware of it, I am looking into trying my hand at a short film. Been doing lots of research on the topic while I try to scrounge for cash to fund this thing. I also happen to be a very lucky girl, and have some very talented friends. One of them, is the man I got a chance to interview recently: Greg Lamberson. If you don't know who Greg is, that's probably because you haven't seen any of his movies, or read any of his books. In that case, you totally should. The man has LOTS to enjoy. Recently, I have been totally in love with his werewolf books, but I am a werewolf fan. He's most famously known for Slime City, and Slime City Massacre. Two films that have a cult following. If you enjoy those, check out his other stuff. You won't be disappointed.

As for the interview I did, it was mostly just so he could educate me on how to make a movie. It's important stuff for a budding filmmaker to know! And he knows his way around the film process for sure.

What are ways you get funding for a new film? Do you think grants are helpful? Is funding needed at all, or does it depend in the film you're making?

You need money for every project.  You need to eat, your cast needs to eat, and your crew needs to eat.  I know more than one filmmaker who’s a trust fund baby, but that doesn’t describe most of us – money has value, and comes at a price.  Making a short and making a feature are two very different things in terms of financial needs, but I know people who have spent more money on shorts than other people have spent on features, because their end game is to get a nice feature deal in the future.  I’ve never tried to get a grant, because I make commercial films, and features; I’m sure they’re useful, but I know they’re also hard to get.  A friend of mine recently told me he’s spent the last year applying for grants, and it was harder than filing for bankruptcy.  Plus, I make horror. I think there’s less artistic discrimination toward horror in Canada than here.  All of my films have been funded through partnerships – a Limited Partnership or joint venture agreements.  I’ve never formed an LLC because it costs too much money, especially in New York State, where you’re required to spend $1500 publishing the names of your shareholders in a newspaper.

Do you think I should try Kickstarter? (please tell me why you are for it or against it so I can really contemplate the answer)

I just read that something like 80% of the films that played at Sundance were funded through crowd sourcing, as it’s called, so it’s hard to argue against it anymore.  I don’t like it; I have a hard enough time begging a handful of financiers for money, I don’t want to spend all day begging for dollars on social media.  I find it embarrassing, and a friend calls it “cyber panhandling,” which I like.  I’ve seen a few friends produce special promotional shorts, make all kinds of promise they can’t keep, and at the end of the fundraising period, they’ve made $1,000.  That’s bullshit to me, not worth my time.  I also know someone who’s raised $60,000 doing it.  The original SLIME CITY cost me $50,000 and SLIME CITY MASSACRE cost the same.  If someone could convince me I’d raise that kind of money so I could make the third film I’d have to consider it.  The best horror film I saw last year was ABSENTIA, and that cost $60,000 – raised through crowd sourcing.  I’d rather have a producer do the begging for me, though.  I also know someone who made a spectacular fool out of himself begging, and then threatening people to donate. If you do it, go with IndieGoGo, not Kickstarter; for Kickstarter you have to meet your goal to get it, and for IndieGoGo whatever you make, you keep, minus their cut.

What are the major obstacles someone might face when taking on a new project?

That would take a book, and I wrote one called CHEAP SCARES: LOW BUDGET HORROR FILMMAKERS SHARE THEIR SECRETS.  Every day presents new obstacles, and you can’t anticipate one.  If you’ve never been on set or location for a film, then you need to do that before you direct one.  Volunteer to help out on someone else’s film, and be there for every step of the process.  If you do that, you’re going to learn from your mistakes.  That’s okay, too; I think that’s the best way to learn – but this film that you want to make will not be the film you want it to be (they rarely are).

What should be considered important during Pre Production? Which things need to be top priority?

Everything is pretty much equally important, because everything needs to get done: casting, scheduling, locations, catering arrangements, the works.  I’m in preproduction on a feature now, and it’s a bitch, because you have three weeks to go, and you’ve gotten a lot accomplished, but before you know it, you only have two weeks to go, and suddenly you’ve got way too much to do, and then the first day of shooting rolls around and you’re exhausted and trying to catch u[.  On my last film, two days before filming, I could see my assistant director and production manager were feeling the pressure, and I told them, “Okay, we’ve done everything we can.  The train has left the station, we can’t kill ourselves, and we need to get our minds into a creative mode.  Everything that needs to get done will get done…somehow.  In a worst case scenario, things will take care of themselves.”  And they do.

How does one create "Storyboards" properly?

I don’t storyboard, I think it’s a waste of time.  I storyboarded SLIME CITY and didn’t consult those drawings once.  Unless complicated special effects or complicated action are involved, what’s the point?  I find directing more organic than that.  Everything around you changes at the moment of shooting: how your location looks, how your actors interact with each other, how your director of photography sees a shot.  Adhering to storyboards is creatively stifling; Alfred Hitchcock storyboarded everything, and his films were great, but look at every photo of him on set: does it ever look like he’s having any fun?  He’s always half asleep, because in his mind he’s already directed his film.  His only fun was tormenting his actresses.

What should be considered when securing a location? Have you ever filmed outside and if so, what should someone keep in mind when doing so?

Plan your schedule like this: exteriors first, then interiors.  For every exterior day, have an alternate interior day planned in case it rains.  It must suck to get everyone together only to send them, home on account of rain.  If you’re shooting outside, you still need reflectors to get light on people’s faces, or they’ll become silhouetted.  And you’ll hear those airplanes every ten minutes that you didn’t see when you scouted the location; Mr. Softee is a bitch.  Where will people go to the bathroom?  What if you need internet for some reason?  How about electricity?  You need to imagine different scenarios and ask yourself, “What if?”

What is the hardest thing you have to deal with during Production itself?

Every day is about problem solving.  Every day is about dealing with the unexpected.  Every day is about compromise.  You have to thrive on solving these kinds of challenges, otherwise they’ll beat you to a pulp and you’ll take it out on the people around you, and you’ll end up with a shitty film… or an accidental masterpiece.

How long does it take you to shoot a film?

In Hollywood, they try to shoot five script pages a day, that’s a good goal.  It’s different if you’re only shooting on weekends, because you have to find your groove all over again.  But if you have a visually challenging film, don’t follow any kind of rule like that – you’re an indie, who do you have to answer to?  That’s the advantage to being an indie.  Take as long as you need, as long as you can afford to keep feeding people.  I’ve never taken more than 20 days to shoot a feature.  For an 85 minute movie with five minutes of credits, that amounts to four usable minutes of screen time for every day of production – about five screenplay pages.  I shot one feature on my two-week vacation, but the running time came up short and I did three days of additional shooting.  On SLIME CITY MASSACRE, we had “mercenary weekend” – the key extended action sequence of the film, with the titular massacre, tons of effects, and key dramatic moments.  The day before we shot it, I walked around the massive location with the script, and I figured out every scene in the sequence.  The next day we shot 60 setups, which anyone with experience will tell you is pretty remarkable.

Do you believe in being an "asshole director" as Lloyd Kaufman likes to put it, or do you just be firm and still friendly with folks. (basically, how do you separate friendship from business)

I don’t believe that at all; an asshole is just an asshole in my book, and if you can’t empathize with your cast and crew, you’re an asshole.  Nobody wants to work with an asshole.  The director sets the tone for the shoot.  What kind of tone can an asshole set, an asshole tone?  I’ve worked with Lloyd -  I was the director, he was the actor – and he was no asshole.  Maybe he is as a director, I don’t know – but I may find out.  As Roy Frumkes explains in a segment of SLIME CITY SURVIVOR on YouTube, a director has to be like a psychologist; you have to know how to motivate people, how to inspire them, and how to keep them working, juggling multiple people and personalities.  You only develop that skill through experience.

Have you made any short films? I know you've done full features, so I am curious if there are any short films out there and if you learned anything from them.

I made a bunch of Super 8 shorts in college, and dropped out because I didn’t like making shorts.  I made the JOHNNY GRUESOME short film/long music video in 2007, and learned that I could learn to like digital video.  And I watch a ton of shorts as one of the directors of the Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival.  Making a short and making a feature are basically the same process, you just need greater stamina and patience and emotional fortitude to make a feature.  It’s like being on track: you still have to know how to lift your feet whether you’re running the100 yard dash or the mile relay, but you need better stamina for the mile relay.

What's the best equipment someone can get on a low budget.

You would have to ask a director of photography that, and two different DPs may give you two different answers.  I’m not a tech person; I write, I direct, and I produce – I hire other people to fill the crew positions, and I depend on them to have the appropriate equipment or know what we need.  But I will say to avoid any camera that still uses tape.  Are you asking me because you want to buy it and shoot it yourself?  That would be a mistake.  You’re already going to be learning how to direct, why would you want to complicate that discovery process by learning how to shoot at the same time?  

What about Post-Production? What are some things that really need to be considered during Post?

Once you’ve finished your film, you have to assemble it.  You only have the material you shot to work with.  Your story needs to flow, and you don’t want it to be choppy.  Your sound has to be good, and if it isn’t, you either need to dub, re-shoot, or cut.  I’m opposed to directors editing their own work, unless they started out as an editor, and I’m opposed to the director sitting there looking over the editor’s shoulder.  People who want to edit make better editors than people who want to direct.  There are always exceptions, but I feel that directors are too close to their own material.  I co-edited my first feature, edited my second one, sat in with an editor on my third, and for the fourth I just left the editor alone and made some minor requests when he was done.  Guess which edit turned out best?

What editing software do you recommend?

I don’t edit anymore, so I can’t make that recommendation.  Find an editor, and that person will have his own software.  But if you have to edit yourself, either because you can’t find anyone to do the work for you (probably for free), then ask someone who has experience; it will probably be the first of many questions you have for that person.  You can also take a short term editing workshop and learn a lot.  But an editor is an artist unto himself, and as a first time director you’re going to make a lot of mistakes that only a good editor can fix.  An inexperienced editor editing an inexperienced director’s first film sounds like a recipe for disaster.

What is the most challenging thing about film-making and which part do you enjoy the most?

If any part of it isn’t challenging, you’re doing that part wrong.  My favorite part is production: being on set, working with actors, solving problems – seeing my script come together.  You make three films: the one you write, the one you direct, and the one you edit.  I like the one you direct, because you have other people around you to lessen the burden.

Do you find it difficult to find a good crew to help you make a film? Have you ever worked with new bees, or do you just work with seasoned film people?

That’s always hard, especially on a low budget or “no budget” film.  The financial restrictions require you to work with “newbies,” but sometimes they’re the most enthusiastic and the least jaded.  I’m the line producer and assistant director on a feature Debbie Rochon is directing next month, and I’m bringing on a lot of inexperienced people.  I’m looking forward to it, too; the best people are either inexperienced or experienced; the worst are the ones in between, who still think they’re experts.  I’ve heard and read more inane advice from people who have no business lecturing others than I care to track.

What is the lowest budget film you’ve ever made? How did that get off the ground? (I know you've made some awesome cult movies like Slime City, but is that the lowest budget indie film you've made?)

My third feature, NAKED FEAR, cost $7,000.  We shot that on Hi8 video in 1995, in 10 days.  Then the cut was too short, and we learned we had to dub the whole thing.  Then my editor shot his own feature, which cost $200,000, so everything was put on hold while he finished his project.  In the end, it took four years to complete, and I was so frustrated and depressed that I gave up filmmaking for almost ten years.  Last year I produced a film called SNOW SHARK: ANCIENT SNOW BEAST, which also cost $7,000 – it will be released on DVD this winter.  When I say “released,” I mean by a company that’s paying us an advance, that will author the DVD, and will spend money marketing the film; I don’t mean selling self produced copies on Facebook and out of a car trunk.

What is the highest budget film you’ve ever made? Do you find it easier to have more money or less money involved?

My two SLIME films cost $50,000 each, my vampire film UNDYING LOVE cost $35,000, and NAKED FEAR cost $7,000.  I worked on two other films that probably cost $100,000 each, and I was assistant director on Frank Henenlotter’s BRAIN DAMAGE, which cost $900,000.  I’m producing another film next year, which I wrote, and the budget will be $7,000 - $10,000.  I won’t direct a film that costs so little, but I’m happy to produce them and let someone else bust their butt trying to get it done.  I choose my collaborators carefully, because there are so many idiots and assholes out there who call themselves filmmakers and aren’t, and I don’t want to be associated with anyone who’s an embarrassment; I’m talking about behavior, not ability. I just can’t work with any douche bags, life is too short for that.  Everyone on a set needs to pull together and work for the good of the film and get along; it only takes one wrong personality to screw everything up.

Do you have your own film company? Do you know what’s involved setting up a film company? (I'm trying to make an LLC, but is that necessary?)

If you look at the Facebook page of every Tom, Dick and Harriet who calls himself an indie filmmaker, you’ll find they list themselves as the CEO of a company which doesn’t exist outside of their head: no legal paperwork, no tax ID, no business phone, nothing.  It’s great big sham designed to impress people, to fool people… and it doesn’t fool anyone who’s worth fooling.  These people are delusional.  Every one of my films features the credit, “A Slaughtered Lamb Production.”  That company doesn’t exist, and I don’t call myself the CEO of a non-existent company – it’s just a credit I’ve been using for 26 years.  Each film I make has its own entity, because it has its own investors.  I file a DBA for $30.00, and then I can sign contracts using that business name.  I wouldn’t create an LLC for any film that cost less than $100,000 because it’s cost prohibitive.  You don’t need to be an LLC to get insurance or copyright your film or file the appropriate taxes.  Why would you create an LLC to make a short?  I’m glad we’ve had this talk.

What are some key pointers you’ve learned making films you wish you knew when you first started?

Sign contracts with everyone, especially your friends.  Don’t hire strippers, webcam performers, or anyone involved in the adult entertainment industry unless you absolutely need nudity and can’t get it any other way.  Back up everything you write and shoot and edit on an external hard drive.  Don’t spoil your movie on Facebook.  Don’t edit a trailer for your film until you’ve edited your film – there are no distributors or theaters waiting for this trailer because they know they’re opening your movie on Thanksgiving.  Here’s a big one: aim for originality.  I know a guy who’s very productive, but everything he does rips off someone else, and now he’s finally ripped me off.  It makes me angry that this flotsam thinks he can steal from other artists, and his sycophants will continue to drink the Kool Aid.  Another one: finish what you start.  People are going to volunteer to work on your film, the least you can do is finish it without losing interest or moving on to the next one – you owe them that much.
How about promotions. What are some pointers you can give about promoting a film and getting people out there to see it. (especially on a budget)

Make your film, then worry about promoting it. I mean it. Make the best film you can, then you’ll find a way to promote it. If you’re worrying about interviews and coverage while you’re filming, then your heart is in the wrong place: you want to e famous more than you want to make something of quality, and you’ll never be a real filmmaker. When your film is finished, submit it to film festivals like Buffalo Screams. When you’re accepted at a festival, you have something to promote; when you have a screening time, you have something else to promote, and so on.

I think those are all the questions I got at the moment. Thanks for your time! I really appreciate this! Feel free to link me to tutorials you find helpful or anything like that. I'm open to advice.

I wouldn’t know the first thing about finding tutorials – get set experience!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting interview--many things to consider with film-making, and some cool insights; great advice for aspiring filmmakers. Good luck with your short film!



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