Did the writing come before the directing or both at the same time?
That’s a very interesting question. I write because I want to direct. It has always been easier for me to write my own stories to work on as a director, rather than spending money purchasing scripts to direct. However, when I first started out, the only thing I could do was write, so I took up screenplay classes in college and read a lot of books on the subject. So I suppose, writing came first for me.
From my experience, it’s always been about finding out a way to be the director. I never assumed anyone would hire me to be simply a director of a film, so I have produced, written and managed projects, just to give myself that opportunity. I love directing actors. I love shaping stories visually, so at its core, directing is my first love.
When you look back at your current work, what’s your favourite piece and why?
Honestly, the most fun I have ever had on a film was one of my least successful movies called You People. It was produced nearly a decade ago. It was a movie that offered me freedom from the concerns of making a fancy-looking film. The movie was designed to create a conversation about stereotypes and racism in society. The goal was never to look like cinema or to be commercially viable. The film looked like a video project, but it allowed us to explore and experiment without breaking our necks or bank accounts. It was a fun film that I met some really great friends. Plus the movie was successful in film festivals, winning several awards and being honored by a few activist groups on equality. To that extent, I will always hold that little silly movie dear to my heart.
You co-wrote Abigail’s Haunting, what is your writing process like when co-writing?
I wrote Abigail Haunting with my wife and business partner Charisma Manulat. We collaborate on many creative projects. However, she doesn’t care much for the development process, and oftentimes divests from the script once it hits a certain point. She allows me to further shape and mold the screenplay as it moves through development.
Co-writing can sometimes be a blessing and a curse. I think the folks involved have to be willing to trust one another, and there needs to be an environment of flexibility and compromise. Movie development and screenwriting is a community sport, but its important to be honest with your intentions before things get too deep. Everything has to be laid on the table.
What are the challenges with Indie horror films that you have encountered and overcome?
For any genre of moviemaking there is an expectation. Horror and sci-fi are sometimes the least forgiving. The biggest challenge working on an indie horror movie is time and budget. In a perfect world, you could do all the things Hollywood does and more. But with a low budget movie like Abigail Haunting, you have to make sacrifices and cuts to the movie that sometimes makes audiences feel disappointed. In a world like today where indies and blockbusters share the same shelves in video on demand, we are held to the same standard as multi-million dollar projects. It can be a let down for less educated audiences that find your film. Sometimes it just looks and feels cheap. Indies are oftentimes judged harsher.
Creatively what are the constraints or benefits when working on a low budget film?
I think the biggest challenge in doing a low budget film is racing against time. Every day is a massive expense, and the margin of error is so thin that you really have to manage the clock perfectly. That said, indie filmmaking is the most liberating creatively.
I direct commercials that cost more than my own films sometimes, and when working on bigger projects, especially when other people’s money is involved, you have lots of chefs in the kitchen. In today’s world, everyone thinks they are a director. You have project managers and line producers offering their opinions. You have EP’s and accountants dictating to you how scenes should look. It can be exhausting.
With an indie, you are the tip-of-the-sphere. You are the one that people celebrate if it’s a success and the one they destroy if it’s a failure. But being a self-funded indie offers the most creative freedom.
You directed “Dad’s Vietnam: The War Experience of Greg Schwarze”, I will be watching this very shortly. How emotional was this directing experience to yourself and your family?
Making Dad’s Vietnam was a catharsis for me. I really hadn’t the opportunity to know my dad growing up. Before he got sick with cancer, he was adamant about sharing some of his service stories, so we sat down and just filmed away for days. The entire process allowed me the opportunity to get to know my dad better, and helped answer many questions about why he was so distant from my family all those years.
Through that experience, I also met other veterans who had served with my father, and it helped him heal some old emotional wounds prior to his passing in 2017.
Do you think certain genres are more suited to ‘shorts’.
Overall, any genre can fit into the concept of short film. However, in recent years and with the growing popularity of episodic-based content, I think drama and comedy is a winning area. Short films, especially when it’s episodic, can allow the audience to get to know characters better. That within itself services comedy and drama, because getting to know characters and empathise with their circumstances is crucial. More crucial than horror, thriller, action and animation.
I also think documentaries are well positioned for short films as stand-alones. They can be programmed in various ways as a short film. If the stories are short and to the point, it can help you keep people’s attention better and build social engagement.
What types of scripts interest you enough to take them further.
I am interested in character driven stories, more than gimmicks. I love character development, and conveying stories through character’s actions, rather tha dialog. I like movies with simple concepts and high levels of character development. I also like scripts with less production fuss. Limited locations, small cast, etc.
When you assemble a cast, are you looking for what the script indicates or what your gut feel tells you?
Great question. I am always searching for interesting people. Sometimes the obvious actor may not be the best choice. You want to find actors that people can relate to. Life is NOT perfect. Heroes aren’t always the best looking, best dressed, best educated people in society. Heroes are nerds, marginalized people sometimes. Heroes can be an 80-year old woman, or a reformed alcoholic.
I approach casting with contrast. I like casting opposite of what the character may obviously call for.
So for example,
If the script says that TRAVIS is a battled-hardened Marine, you may think you need some manly-man all-American jock type. BUT, what if you went the other direction and found a thin, sickly guy? Or what if the character was a woman? By creating contrast, it offers more opportunities for you as the director and the actors.
What will we see from/Indie Film Factory you in the future?
Indie Film Factory will continue to perfect its micro budget filmmaking endeavors. My goal is to produce two features a year by 2025, and open the doors for more diversity in our industry.
Our studio has always been there for educating filmmakers by offering knowledge. I will also be expanding my teaching and writing on micro-budget filmmaking. We will host more workshops and lectures going into 2021.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and may I wish you all the best for the future.
Indie Film Factory: