Film is a pretty funny medium, when you think about it. Although it is an "art", it's not really like other art. Things like paintings, photographs and even music are usually done solely by "artists". Music may be a stretch, but... I'm thinking more about live music. What I mean is, those "arts" require that the artist know nothing more than a specific skill, related to that art. A painter needs to know how to paint. A photographer needs to know how to take photos. A musician needs to know how to play an instrument. However, film is different.
Sure, you could make a film on your own... but you better be one talented motherfucker if it's going to be any good. You're going to need to know how to come up with a story, you need to know how to use the gear and you'll need to know how to edit it and put it all together. It's really a team effort... and this is why you get filmmakers from all different backgrounds. Some come from a film school background and they're all theory, some come from the effects department, some come from screenwriting, some come from wardrobe and some come from the camera department.
However, at the end of the day, we're all cut from the same cloth - at some point, we watched a film and thought, that's it. That's what I'm going to do. Then, we all take these different paths, but we all hope the path that we took, leads us to the same place. I think most people take the generic route, either by taking ANY job in the film industry, from working at Blockbuster to being a P.A., and writing scripts and doing their own projects on the side. That's why it was extremely interesting to talk with Jonathan Anderson, the writer and director of the indie horror, "Cromwell", as he actually went out and acquired a skill in the industry, camera operation. Where most people come from the theory side, he's coming from a more technical side and it's very interesting to hear him talk about the films that influenced him, but then discuss how he emulated them, technically.
His film, "Cromwell", is a massive achievement on a few levels. First and foremost, it's a very unique and entertaining look at the story a psychopath and it's done in authentic 70's, early 80's style. It also took him almost 10 years to make, from concept to completion. That's dedication. Aside from what I mentioned above, there's some other great reasons to check out the film. One main reason is, it's actually a "film". Most indie-horror films are done on DV now and, there's nothing wrong with that... my last three projects were on DV. However, you rarely see anyone with no budget use film. Reading through Anderson's answers, I was taken back to film school, where we were forced to shoot on super 8 and 16mm. It made me think about the fact that a lot of today's filmmakers have the luxury of using point & shoot technology and may not be aware of what it takes to shoot on film... and if you're one of those people, you need to read this interview.
So, if you dig gritty character horror's of the 70's and 80's or if you're a camera guy and you're into film, I highly recommend "Cromwell". However, if you're a budding filmmaker and want to know what it takes to actually shoot on film, I almost call this interview with Jonathan Anderson required reading.
First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into indie filmmaking?
I'd never picked up a camera till I got into film at O.C.A.D. after a few years of fine arts. I screwed up most of what I tried. It was very discouraging but I kept at it. Not much worth watching came out of my time in art school. After college, I volunteered on productions to get credits, then got into IATSE 667 as a Camera Trainee. After a year of that, I upgraded to a 2nd Assistant Camera. Did that for about 3 years. Picked everyone's brains who didn't get pissed of at me. Talked to DOP's before I realized it was frowned upon in my position then stopped. Read what I could. Started shooting, trying to emulate the basics they where doing but trying to get visuals that completely popped.
Got to train under (by pure circumstance) Bruice Surtees (he shot BAD BOYS with Sean Penn - if you haven't seen it you really should, great picture. BTW his dad shot Ben Hur and The Last Picture Show - talk about being in good company - Bruce told me I was going to be a director and that he had seen many like me before and knew that's what I would do. The operator was a bit pissed that a trainee was getting accolades. I never told anyone on that crew that was my ambition - His comments stuck with me. Moments like that help you carry on.) I also got to train under Clements Becker the steady cam operator on Gladiator (he let me try out his steady cam - a highlight for me for sure). Clements was the best operator I have ever seen. Bruce set the standard for lighting and Clements for operating. I feel far short of their skill but they really inspired my efforts on CROMWELL.
Since leaving the union, I've been writing screenplays full time (for six years now). Drama/Gritty Drama/Horror. I've completed 8 including Cromwell and can't even get a minimum wage job as I've been out of work for too long and look like a liability. That's even though I do a decent face to face interview and have responsible friends as references. Go figure.
I also build model cars. And am a big fan of vintage customs cars from the 1950's and early 1960's. Everything I hear about model builders is their odd balls. Most I've met are odd balls. Stanly Kubrick build them for 2001. He's an odd ball so being so arrogant to indirectly connect myself with him, maybe I'm in the right company. I'm planning to use them as scale prototypes for real customs when I make it big (now I'm dreaming again - too much time by myself building models - I need to get some sun).
What direction am I coming from as a filmmaker? Scorcesse's early work which you picked up on in your latter questions, Natural Born Killers for look and heightened reality and A Clock Work Orange & The Shinning for wide angles and a world away form everything else. Lynch is a huge influence. I find he's hit and miss but when he hits man it's good. Mulholand Drive and Blue Velvet are my favorite. Man bites dog was a brilliant low budget picture that should be mentioned too. Really impacted me. Great direction on that project. Felt real.
Film School: Yes or No?
Sort of... I was excelling in fine arts as I was leaving high school so I applied to the Ontario College of Art and got in. I did fine arts until I met some guys who were into film and started realizing I might be able to do it. So I took a few film courses my second year then switched over to film full time for my third year on. OCAD didn't teach me much. I was a bit clueless about film as well so I missed some of what they where trying to teach me. I made a lot of mistakes. Tried to make a feature in my 4th year (I didn't think much of my time at O.C.A.D. but I will give them credit for this - they let me try a feature, fail as I did at it, they let me try almost unbothered by them). I ended up cutting it down to a 16 minute short from the salvageable footage. It came out alright.
Should a budding film maker go to film school. I don't know. You could learn it all form scratch yourself through a film co-op and books. Or from working on low budget crap for free where people will generally tell you quite a bit before getting annoyed. But it lacks structure, deadlines and external motivation. So if you need those things maybe it's for you. Then there's those in my category that didn't even know it was something they were interested in and found their way to it through happenstance and banging their head against the wall, half in film school and half in a practical environment, till they got it right.
Where did you get the idea for “Cromwell”?
I had finished film school and didn't want filmmaking to die for me so I borrowed a super 8 camera and started shooting scenes of a nut bar. I was originally gonna make a short and call it 'PERVERT'. I called up a girl I went to college with and asked her if she wanted to get murdered under a bridge. She was up for it. Then I called the only guy I knew at the time. And the only guy I knew that would come out and entertain my whim... Archie Cromwell. So the opening scene was one of the very first scenes shot for the film. When I got the footage back, I realized Archie could act and act pretty well. So even though I had to teach him everything about filmmaking as we went (even as I was learning most of it as well - as he knew nothing about acting or the process of actually making a film) I got really convincing results from him.
So with a bit of confidence built, I borrowed a 16mm Bolex and some lights and started in with that (and started to learn how to light - that process was so painful [didn't get it down in film school - being on pro film sets really starts to get the basic concepts into your head day in and day out though]) . By this time I was a trainee in IATSE 667. I was getting free film from all the productions I was working on (short ends around 100' mostly) and away I went. I never fog tested them and considered them throw away material and really went for it not even knowing where the project was going at that point.
We shot a bunch of small silent character scenes on the more extreme end like the one with the love doll and the one where he masturbated behind the crack house (which was done at Sherbourne and Dundas - for anyone who knows Toronto knows that is a sketchy area. Needless to say some 11 years later, I'm too old and too smart to shoot there again. BTW... While we shot that scene a Bell guy was fixing the phone line on the flop house next door. And the apartment building behind the house is known and reported on the news as running prostitution out of some of the units.)
I gathered up some more cash and gear and shot a few sync sound scenes with another girl I went to college with that played Morrisa. Processed everything that had been in my fridge for a while and then saved up money to get it all transferred.
It was pretty exciting seeing the material for the first time during the transfer. The material was all good not perfect but not bad in the least bit. No catastrophes. Quite a gamble to shoot about a third of my footage before seeing any of it (the whole thing was done that way actually - some wasn't transferred for a few years after shooting and processing).
I could light. That felt good. That felt real good. I called Archie up (BTW... he refused to watch a single frame till the film was done. I thought that was a cool and interesting attitude) and said listen, this stuff is really good. You're really good. Do you want to make this into a feature film with me? He just simply said yeah sure. And that was the beginning of Cromwell.
So I started scripting some real scenes (really creating who Ronald was, based on what we had and where I thought we could go creating a journey for him to go on), renting gear and getting this project turned into a feature length script. I couldn't get a feature script to materialize before shooting so I began creating one as I went with camera in hand. The narrative is a bit choppy in places for it, but I learned how one comes together through a very unique and risky approach and can write one with my eyes closed - from a structural point of view - now, which I couldn't even come close to before I made this film.
This approach is not something I'd recommend (scripting as you go) and I'd never go that way again. We wound up shooting over a 6 year period, sometimes with me really wondering if it would even get done. It all hinged around Archie. Had he backed out I'd of been finished. He came out for my sporadic shoots over six years, while the other characters came in briefly for a shoot or two (you can see a slight maturing of him in the footage).
What a commitment on his part (even my family wouldn't do that for me). Sometimes you make friend's who you have a special connection with who come through when they didn't have to, only cause they believe in you and you believe in them. My co-producer and wife is the only other person on the project or in my life that backed me all the way through. I'm a lucky person.
What was the approx budget and how did you secure financing?
The budget was around $37,000 Canadian which included an iMac and a MiniDV camcorder to use as a video tape deck along with a copy of Final Cut Express to cut it all in my living room. I had my footage transferred to Beta SP then dubs made onto MiniDV. I popped them into my camcorder and took them in via fire wire.
By this time I was a 2nd Camera Assistant in IATSE and was making decent bread. My wife was producing photo shoots and between the two of us we paid for the thing out of pocket. I applied to Canada Council for the Arts for completion money at one point but was not given a grant. No financing was ever secured. We shot when money accumulated and finished it the same way.
I usually ask, “What did you shoot on?”, but you obviously shot on 16mm. What kind of camera did you use and why the decision to shoot on film?
I shot on film for two reasons: One I hated the look of the video available to me at the time (keep in mind I started in 1997). And I love film, particularly the idea of mixing stocks and gauges. Getting that look on video takes a real brilliant hand. I'm really just a diehard film guy. People say they are but the proof is in the format. If you love film. That is what you'll shoot.
As far as cameras: For super 8 I used a Canon 814 XL-S and a Canon 814 Electronic. For 16mm I used a reflex Bolex (with a 5.9 Angeniux and a 10-120 Angeniux zoom), an Aaton (which are brilliant in their design) and an SRII which is also a very good camera. The last two looked after the sync sound duties (I also used a 16 BL with primes for one shoot - hated that camera but the images looked good, just very hard to manipulate and the blimped zoom lens is a nightmare that I never used). All with Zeiss primes.
I used only the 10mm and 16mm primes as I lit to shoot at f4.0 and the depth of field was so deep on those two lenses at F4.0 that I didn't need a focus puller (BTW, I just photocopied the depth of field charts from the American Cinematographer's Manual and taped the 10mm chart on one side of the mag and the 16mm chart on the other and kept a carpenters tape measure handy to work it out. The charts are dead accurate.
I also used a doorway dolly with a tripod held on with a car-roof rack ratchet strap from Canadian Tire for a few dolly shots. Living in apartments with smooth hardwood floors as straight as an arrow, you can get decent results.
I also used a Minolta spot meter for the beginning and then bought a Pentax spot meter (I bought it used and sold it for what I paid - they hold their value well) to finish the last 2 thirds of the film. I prefer them over incident meters. I can't quite get my head around the incident meters. But to each their own.
I followed some simple rules (hears a quick film school lesson for you folks!): In even white light (daylight for example), white skin comes up 1/2 stop over base, base is the F-stop you must set your lens at to properly expose an 18% gray card in a source of white light - which you determine according to the lights a film you have to work with, then set all your other lights or bounce cards around that F -stop (for example F16 for a sunny day with 50 ASA film at a shutter of 1/50th a second - a white face would come up at F 16 1/2), Black skin comes up 1/2 to 1 stop under. For the colored light on interiors I came up with a little scale I followed: White skin would expose at 2/3 over in yellow light, 1/3 in orange, red was at base (almost always F4.0) and blue and green were set at 1/3 under. It worked out great. Some colors just seem like they should look brighter on camera so I went for it and it worked. I veered off this when experimenting. Like overexposing back lights 2 or 3 stops so they would not show detail but rather just bright white on the back of heads etc. Or underexposing a full stop for effect in even light. As long as you don't have lights over 1 1/2 stops over your base (as you'll lose detail in your highlights) or 1 stop under on things you want to see clearly on medium speed color negative, you'll get good results. B/W and reversal are another beast and should be studied separately and tested in their own right before use.
The film had a very 70’s, early 80’s grindhouse-vibe, for me… which I really liked. Sort of “Taxi Driver” or “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”. Talk about creating that look and feel.
As far as editing goes, I just kept at it till I got the footage to ring true using any style of editing I could get to work. Also I like the end of reel frames and flashes you get on super 8 and some 16 films like the reversal stocks that added a texture I really loved.
For lighting, I used the old Star Trek method to deal with my interiors. Most of them were beige or off white walls with little atmosphere. So I lit them with the most saturated jells I could get from Lee Filters to color up the movie rather than spend the money on painting the walls (they used to do that on Star Trek as it was cheaper than painting the wall or flat needed for a particular small scene).
The actual film look in terms of stock was simply that I'm in love with Oliver Stone's mixed stocks and textures and efforts to use them with specific lighting to help accelerate atmosphere or in some cases chaos or specific emotions. I used 8 different 16mm negative stocks, 2 different color and 2 different B/W 16mm reversal stocks and Super 8 Reversal B/W (2 stocks) and their one color stock (T125 - forced 2 stops in the subway footage producing a wild effect).
It's funny that you sited Taxi Driver as it's one of my favorite pictures. I really wanted to give it that feel. Some of the best pictures came out of the '70s. Your very question suggests I must have gotten it in the ball park.
Now, I rarely say this, unless I’m talking about a funky killer or something, but the costumes really stood out. They were clashing, colorful, almost over the top. Is this something that was done on purpose?
It was all done on purpose. I tried to make the acting at moments mellow dramatic but dead serious in its execution and then went off the rails (with total abandon at first, then transitioning into great planning and calculation by the end) with the rest of the film.
The suit that Ronald Cromwell is wearing in that first super 8 scene in the opening of the film was in fact my grandfather's. He was middle management USA in the 70's and 80's. I got a box of his clothes he didn't want and liked that combo the best. (I even wore those pants to High School once. My friends told me I had guts. Guess I did...). I had saved them for many years in a box thinking they'd look really out there on film and when this idea came up they came out along with the jacket and shirt. Archie put the stuff on and we had a 'look'!
It made me think of A Clock Work Orange in the sense that everyone in the film should be wearing a costume of strong over the top flavor making you feel out of reality or a future that couldn't exist but more like an altered plane or parallel hyper reality. So I followed the theme of that suit through the whole picture on a shoe string budget via Value Village, dropping in periodically, shopping with the actors to get something on that vibe.
Basically I figured I was going to try and push the film to the extreme in every way possible. Costume, film, acting, etc. So it was all part of the philosophy that no one was looking over my shoulder so go for it on every aspect, every possible moment you can. Just keep it from getting silly...
The music was another high-point. It made some scenes very creepy, while filling in gaps in other scenes. How’d you go about scoring the film? Talk about the process.
This is funny. I have never cut sound other than fooling around with a Pro Tools for about 2 or 3 hours once. I knew the basic concepts and spent a lot of time refining my 'learn as you go' process till I had it sounding polished. All the sound was adapted or created from the sound library that came with my iMac iLife program (iDVD & Garage Band) and the 'Sound Track' program that came with Final Cut Express. I have a stereo with an auxiliary 1/8 inch jack. I connected my computer to it. Made a triangle of the two speakers and my chair, all 6 feet apart and mixed the sound that way. All in my living room.
I actually didn't like the Sound Track program that came with Final Cut because it didn't allow you to adjust the picture as you sound edited so I just took all the sound effects from the sources mentioned above and brought them into Final Cut Express and began going through them.
Now when I say going through them, I mean every single one. I listened to what felt like thousands (and I believe there are thousands) and began to annotate which I liked and began matching them to scenes till I had something that was working.
It's all canned sound I got with my programs. I put a lot of effort into making the sound track not sound like it came from a sound library. It took about a month of between 6 - 14 hours a day, sound editing, eating and sleeping in that priority. The previous 2 months taken to edit the picture where done the same way.
All and all I'm pretty happy with what I came up with. My wife helped me a lot in identifying what didn't work when my eyes were bloodshot and my head ached from sitting in front of my computer too long. A second set of eyes is good once in a while. You can get snow blind without them.
The Cromwell character was great. For me, he tied the film together. At certain points he seemed like a complete psychotic, while at other times he seemed almost submissive. Is this something that came out of the actor, came out of the writing or came out of your directing style?
I think he would qualify as a secondary psychopath due to his emotional responses that are generally absent in a primary psychopath as commonly understood or as Wikipedia tells me...
Archie is a complex guy and I gave him some challenging extremes. After we found the character, I wrote every single scene specifically for him and what I had learned he could do.
He's my best friend and I've known him for about 15 years now. I knew a good bit of his emotional range as he did mine and we paralleled on quite a bit at the times of shooting. Very explosive but very emotional as well. So I took that into each new idea I'd come up with. I would discuss the basic concept with him and if he felt he could do it, I'd script it and we'd shoot it. Very few occasions did I need to tweak something for him. He tried everything I gave him.
From a directing point of view, I took it so seriously it was painful for me and everyone else involved. I wanted the film to be perfect (which it isn't but the next one will just be that much better for it) and the demand I put on myself as well as the actors was the maximum I could.
To quote Donald Trump who I once thought was cool and know think I was in an altered state when I concluded that, wrote 'A team only works as hard as the leader' which is really true (and something he probably heard from someone else) and something to keep in mind when you want more from those supporting you... How hard are you working? (BTW... his real estate infomercials perplex me - fame can make even a billionaire make retarded decisions).
Being hardest on myself and Archie, our emotions were really heightened. We geared up for each shoot very seriously and I wanted to explore as much range as I could each time out to both make a great character and explore my own abilities. I was always thinking to make sure that even if our results were raw and not completely tight, it would be at least full of intensity and honest aggressive acting and directing that would grab you.
I was very hard on all the actors in the film pushing them to really show something complex (well complex for the armature level we were all coming from). I wasn't hard on them for the fun of it. It was just as hard on me to be that way with them. I just felt like it has to be the best or we've waisted our time and no one will watch this. At the end of the day I want to direct professionally and will try and maintain that attitude for my entire career if it ever gets off the ground... that white knuckle approach really effected what we got on camera.
The film was violent without showing an excessive amount of gore. Talk about creating that balance.
I didn't have the Internet when I shot the film. Just got it during post-production. I couldn't find any good books on FX at the library and had seen only a little on film sets while working (never thought of asking around at movie makeup shops at the time). So I just figured out what I could and incorporated it. It probably came out understated because it was the best I could come up with, that looked convincing and I didn't want to cross the line into silliness. Also since I was doing everything myself, it was the most I could handle. Perhaps the happenstance of it all worked out by the wording of your very question. All supplies came from Active Surplus, Canadian Tire and Hiscott's (for stage blood - very convincing on camera and worth the price!).
My favorite moment of gore is when Bert gets the lawn mower to the head by Ronald at the end of the film. I had read in Rodriguez's book about putting chicken parts in a condom with a squib etc. So we got a chicken thigh and cut it up with a razor blade and soaked it in stage blood. Took the blade off the lawn mower (for safety - those things can occasionally kick on on their own, its rare but possible especially with old ones when they're hot). Shot a master from overhead with Bert's legs kicking, head under the mower and chucked the chicken into Ronald's face on the close up. It's about as simple as it gets but remarkably effective. Two shots. If you look closely you'll see there is no blood in the master but they are so small in frame and the image so hard lit from low sun that you can't really tell.
Tell us about some of the hurdles you overcame to get the film done. Any advice you can pass on to other indie filmmakers who might be just setting out to make a film.
The biggest hurdles: Shooting the whole thing almost entirely myself with almost no crew. And casting my 5 major parts with people who could actually act. Not just show up. And finding people who would respond to demands rather than walk away from them.
Remembering to work with what I could gather, and make the best of what I could get to work was important. Let go of the small elements you can't get to come together and be happy that the bigger picture (the particular scene) is working.
Remember that at some point you're going to panic if you are taking your film seriously. Don't make any monumental decisions when you're panicked or tired (get some sleep, calm down and get rational first), don't work while your high and find folks who take what they do seriously as to only work while they are high or drunk if its for the performance. And that should be scrutinized carefully by you in advance for authenticity.
Don't choose people who fascinate you, who you think will bring some magic to the project as you've already put them on a pedestal and you'll surely have no idea how to find a peer level to negotiate with them on. And be prepared to negotiate. No one is you and won't be able to perform as per you imagination.
Just find something good that has the essence of what you wanted, just make sure it doesn't veer from the narrative and rings true.
Everyone has an ego and wants to be heard but always remember if someone thinks they know how the film should be directed, they should go and direct. If they know how it could be made better (key and subtle difference you'll need to feel out on a case by case basis) they should be listened to and considered then their suggestions accepted or discarded based on their fundamental merits.
I have learned all of these by completely screwing up and analyzing where I went wrong. You will screw up. You will need to figure out where you went wrong to get better. Directing is a subtext of control first, like pack animals once the hierarchy is established it acts as the ground work for collaboration. Read the ART OF WAR. There's a reason top corporations have it as their required reading for new executives. I got it from the public library so no excuses that you can't find it.
Use the crew size you can handle. My wife and I were a crew of two with only one extra crew member for 5 of our 24 shooting days over 6 years. It was what I could handle.
Even now, my wife story edits my screenplays before I send them out and I usually make major changes as I trust her and know she has my best interest at heart. Archie also reads my scripts and gives me input. Neither of them are screenwriters. That means nothing. They are both very smart and movie savvy. That counts. Archie is a cartoonist and writes constantly just in comic strip form and my wife produces photography shoots of major add campaigns Nike, Canadian Tire etc. and knows feasibility. They don't stoke my ego.
Make sure your ego's not being stroked. Mine has been at times and I've shot scripts that were garbage cause no one wanted to give input and most likely I didn't want to hear it.
Also be weary of folks who wait till the last moment to tell you your material isn't ready. Perhaps it isn't ready but question why they waited to tell you. Maybe they want you to fail or question yourself on their time line assuming you'll screw up anyway. These are folks to stay away from.
Get rid of those who will not follow your vision, but your not necessarily looking for followers as they will often have no contribution other than stoking your ego and letting you run free which always gets away on you.
Being in the union had a lot of frustrating and pointless days but two things come. You get to work with and see/study the best. And, especially being a trainee, you learn how to push back (as you are a real target) in a way (generally using the language that shit disturbers come at you with) that won't get you kicked of a set for fucking with your superiors. Remember, you can't and don't have to win every confrontation. Send people away wanting to stay away from you and moving onto an easier target (work smart, not hard - its the food chain).
I mention this for a very valid reason.
If you want to direct, the above principal is what you'll need to understand to stay at the top of the food chain especially when you're not paying anyone. They can walk away at any moment with no real effect on their reputation by bailing on your no-name project. A volunteer actor walking away is equivalent to a superior getting you in shit. You want to avoid this by challenging their sensibilities rather than their fighting instincts when they try to check you out (and they will try and check you out and where your lines are at). Brut reactions will only take you backward.
On the other hand, reward those who have come to help when they need and deserve it as well, offer support and encouragement and praise what is brilliant. Real compliments make everyone feel good. (Trust yourself and be honest with yourself about failings and successes and you'll master what you believe in...)
My lead actor Archie Cromwell, who's commitment to me is second only to my wife, came back for sporadic shoots over 6 years. Even my own family wouldn't do that. Something to think about. We started in 1997 and I finished Post in 2007, just shy of 10 years. Make sure you trust your own commitment and plan to carry it out till it's done. Legit people can smell it if you're just kicking tires. If your committed, good people will commit to you.
To show my appreciation for Archie Cromwell's commitment I named my lead character Ronald with the last name 'CROMWELL' and carried it over to the little of the film. I plan to show my wife my appreciation when the money wagon comes in (still waiting for it...)
And stop thinking about doing it. Go out and do it. Even if it means all day exteriors and no sound. Silent is good. Lots of Cromwell (especially the early stuff I shot) was shot silent. I've even written an entire horror film (Like the old James Whale pictures from the '40s and '50s) with some modern twists without a word of dialogue - 90 pages... Feature Length. It's a great script too. I hope to have the chance to shoot it one day.
Oh yeah... Always test your gear before you shoot. You never know. I had two different cameras on different occasions come up bad on me that would have wrecked two separate large shoots. Had I not tested and just shot, I'd never of finished the film due to the money loss that I wouldn't of been able to recover from, not to mention the kick in the teeth failure that would have been.
Did you enter “Cromwell” into any festivals? If so, how did it do and is the festival circuit something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?
I started with the philosophy that I had heard that you try and exhaust the festival circuit and if you can nab a distributor that way you'll get a better break. Well after over 40 rejections and another 30 submissions still pending, It screened once at the Zero Film Festival L.A. - 08 December 3 2008 (I finished the film in June 2007) to 5 people (including the lead actress - Eleonora Barna and her Husband and a few friends so one or two may have just come on a whim). Don't get me wrong I'm glad to have screened, I just hope to get another chance with a fest that's not just open to my project but also experienced at public relations as Zero was just getting its wings.
I spent a lot of bread on festivals. Lost count. I honestly don't know what to say on this one. I thought I'd hit better as I thought my film was pretty unique with decent production value for the money.
I am under the impression that most legit distributors wont be interested unless it has had some recognition or profile. Ones that will take it sight unseen should be avoided and they are out there. And distributors who show soft or hardcore porn are just a bad thing to be associated with. I certainly don't suggest going with distributors that deal on those avenues unless your film is sexploitation horror like a Troma picture.
I'm a bit baffled at what it takes to get screened. I am really under the impression that even the smallest of festivals are really focused on building profile with recognizable names rather than if a project really deserves to screen. I have though found many free festivals in my searches and would enter them without hesitation as they only require postage (see list below).
BTW... there are festivals like Tromadance which require you to sign their entrance from that gives them the right to do whatever they want with your movie in conjunction with their festival. I never entered because of this broad disclaimer you have to sign off on. Even though entrance was free, your footage could be cut into a pornographic trailer if they want. Unlikely? Yes. But a blank check is hard to write and few festivals ask for such clearance. I would have liked to see how my film fared with them too. But free isn't always good. Check out the sites of who you're dealing with. Google the individual names of the folks running it. Sometimes they are filmmakers who make complete crap. Do you want to screen at a festival run by folks like that? Food for thought...
Tell us about the process of finding distribution. How did that go and what insight could you pass on to other filmmakers who are looking for distribution?
NYC HORROR FILM FEST said they liked my film finding it fun and that I was definitely a film maker to watch but it simply didn't get enough votes to screen. Explaining that since they're there to help, they wanted to refer me to IndieFlix.com among a few others. I had no clue where to start in that respect so that actually helped me. After I looked over the list of 4 distributors they sent me I went with IndieFlix.com. I like their set up. It's not perfect but it's a real no strings attached operation. It gets your project out there and available while still in your hands. You're not going to get rich but you still have the room to pursue a studio style distributor while in their hands. And still enter festivals as you please. They are also completely transparent and courteous and must view your project prior to accepting it.
A distributor that will accept you project sight unseen is a major red flag to stay away. Just my opinion but I think it speaks for itself.
I did manage to get Turtles Crossing to look at it (they took on Cabin Fever). They will look at all submissions. Their reply was 'good cinematography' and 'entertaining' but no cigar. Nice folks though but that was my only card so after that decline, IndieFlix it was. I figured it was a good temporary home till a bigger distributor came along and if one didn't (and hasn't) it would be a good home permanently all the same. Still trying to figure out how to get the independent film Channel Canada to look at it.
Where can people find out more about “Cromwell” or, better yet, buy a copy?
DVD distribution of Cromwell is through IndieFlix.com, here, where you can view a clip, watch the trailer and read up on a review and some further info about the project. Anyone that stops by 'Ronald Cromwell' on facebook.com and mentions Dead Harvey sent them will be a friend of Ronald Cromwell and can view stills and clips from the film. You can also find the nuts and bolts at IMDB under Cromwell (2008).
Talk about the indie horror scene and indie horror filmmaking. Where do you feel it is now and where do you see it going?
I don't really think I'm a good person to answer this question but I'll give it a shot.
I don't really know if Cromwell accomplishes what I'm about to discuss. As it's a first feature, I clearly have a long ways to go to master the ideas I'm about to discuss.
But that aside, I'll go at it.
My brother was 5 years older than me so he was coming home with all kinds of horror in the '80s that I was watching way too young, along with the deliverance and lots of B- movies with half-naked girls in them. So it was pretty profound to a young 10-11-12 year old mind. Funny thing was most houses were like that and if yours wasn't you could find a friend's who's was.
I remember at 14, inviting a friend over to watch my favorite movie at the time 'MOTHER'S DAY' (the only Troma picture I like). My friend couldn't believe how whacked it was. It made me reflect on just what I was viewing. I felt kind of odd from his reaction. I thought everybody was on that page. Not him and is house though. In hind sight, years later it's clear how disturbing an influence that was on me that I never shook. It both scares me and excites me as it leaves a little twisted part in your head during your formative years that you can always go back to when you think the well has run dry. Still it kind of screws up some of your ideas as a kid. Like watching porn when you don't know anything about women.
I recently got another copy of 'MOTHER'S DAY' and liked it finding it bordering on a 'real film' in the sense of its buried insight and moments of convincing drama. It made me think that Natural Born Killers was like putting a brilliant director at the helm of the makings for a decent B-horror movie and getting something that transcends the genre and builds on the basic fundamentals with such insight that it becomes a masterpiece of cinema if not fully recognized by mainstream movie goers.
What I'm getting at is make your horror film but be a good director, get folks who can act and create characters and dramatic story lines that transcend all genres first and foremost then go and put your gore in after that. Very few shine through from the '80s in that way and very few shine through in that way now. Make people look at the genre even if they don't want to, simply because your movie is brilliant among all movies first, then a horror.
Good horror in general really has a specific structure that I'm still trying to get my head around, that works well and scares you and toys with you at pleasing intervals. I watch films sporadically in binges then not at all for long periods of time so am generally out of any mainstream loop. But of the indie horror I've seen, much of it functions in the way I outlined above, both successful indie and studio horror but I firmly believe that any film should have a strong dramatic thread that elevates it above the genre.
My best examples are the Shinning which was about a man loosing it before it was a film about him trying to hack up his family like the former innkeeper of the haunted hotel that's working him over.
Man bites dog is a documentary about and interesting and knowledgeable person first before it is about the sick things a serial killer does and the crews ultimate and disturbing incorporation into what he does through casual and inebriated participation.
The Others with Nicole Kidman is another good example.
A bad example is Death Proof where Tarantino seems to justify his results as stemming from the desire to be at the top of a genre in its specific language when he could have done those things while using his considerable directing talents to contribute a solid and plausible narrative all the way through the movie (parts of the narrative were good) to make it what the shinning is: a shinning star in the genre of horror for being a drama first, then a horror but a horror in it's very fibre with the drama and horror inseparable from the first frame to the last.
But I regress (digress) make up your own mind if you think I'm right or wrong but hopefully you'll consider these ideas before embarking on dropping all your cash on dreams of being the next big one which I'm still waiting to happen, I just need someone to look at my film first.
So buy my film. Tell me if you loved it or hated it. Just watch it.
Hopefully Dead Harvey (Ted and his team) will recommend you do that!
What’s next for you? Do you have any projects in the works?
Well I'm still writing. I am working on another low budget horror script (film) I could shoot myself (in the same manor as Cromwell - with a bit of a crew this time so I don't kill myself and on Super 16) and am still hacking away at an epic drama about the rise and fall of a cult leader. That one will require bread to make so it's for sale or for proposal/pitching once I establish a career (still working on it...).
I have currently pitched one of my drama's to several production companies in Toronto and was fortunate to have several who wanted to read the screenplay which they are in the process of doing now.
So if I make any money, get a real profile in this profession, and pay off my massive debts... I'll make another movie. And maybe get the opportunity to write and direct professionally for the bread and butter money and experience. Thanks for asking this question. It makes me feel like there is something next. Is there really... I guess I'll know in time.
Well that's my ramblings from my soap box (of hopefully helpful wisdom). Ted may have to edit this down and I'm an atrocious speller so please forgive. I do try. If you got anything form this, then it was worth writing.
'CROMWELL' - Love it or hate it... at least watch it!!!! See you on the battle field...
(Ted's note: Check out the shout out that "Cromwell" got on FRIGHTNIGHT. Here's the link.
FREE FESTIVALS (Most are pulled from the first link - there are more at the first link not listed - these are only the ones I've entered):
(Ted's note: the URL's here are correct, but the links aren't working. I'll fix this soon, don't have time right now)