Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Interview with Ryan Cavalline, writer/director of "Stockholm Syndrome"

There's a weird cycle that occurs in almost all industry... that is, there's major shifts in how industry works when one player breaks the rules and succeeds. Then, everyone starts emulating that one guy, until everyone is doing what he's doing... and then they all wait for the next innovation. However, the rule of thumb is, you have to know how the rules work before you can break them. So, those people who are looked at as rogues and innovators usually studied the shit out of how things work or worked for years in that industry already, then decided how to change things. Basically, there's no 'overnight success' - remember, 10,000 hours. This applies in everything, from manufacturing to entertainment. For example, Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, travelled the world, going coffee shop to coffee shop, before he came back to Seattle and came up with the idea for premium coffee... and that was after owning various small stands and seeing how that was all done. UPS changed the face of delivery when they switched to a 'hub and spoke' model. The same goes for film, take screenwriting... before you write some 'groundbreaking', messed up script, you better damn well know the rules of screenwriting. You better know the three act structure and how it works before you go out and try to write something like "Memento" or "Pulp Fiction", both which break the rules. That has to do with screenwriting, but what about the business of film?

Currently, I think there's two separate scenes going on and the gap is widening. You have the media companies and you have the indie scene. The big media companies have no desire to fuck around with, what I call, 'real' indie projects, as they don't see money in it. Indie guys don't have big media company experience, so they're fledgling forward on their own. There's a few guys that are starting to bridge the gaps, think Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, now running The Tornante Company, which specializes in niche, web-based productions. Then there's Lionsgate, which is picking up more and more indie films, but is still considered to be a major player. These guys are going top-down, but there's no reason you can't go bottom-up. You just have to know how the rules are played, then figure things out from there. It's easy to do, too. Just read. There's lots of books on the economy of Hollywood, such as "The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood" by Edward Jay Epstein, there's "The Biz: The Basic Business, Legal and Financial Aspects of the Film Industry" by Schulyler M. Moore or you could go the biography route, I particularly liked, "Ovitz: The Inside Story of Hollywood's Most Controversial Power Broker". The fact remains that there's major changes coming in the industry and we don't know what they are yet... and this all actually popped in my head while watching Ryan Cavalline's "Stockholm Syndrome". Here's why...

Cavalline's "Stockholm Syndrome" had all the horror of an early Wes Craven film, while pushing the envelope on the evils of humanity... and, trust me, it pushes the envelope. I truly felt for the characters and actually found myself repulsed by some of what I was seeing... and, oddly, I mean that in a good way, as it was obviously what Cavalline was trying to do. That's when I realized, how can this happen? The budget for this film is, honestly, about what a major production would spend on bottled water for one day... and it's good. Really good. I mean, it's not just good, it would hold it's own against any studio backed film in the same sub-genre. This is when I started thinking, there IS a change coming. Someone who knows how the industry works is going to figure out how to bridge the gap between indie and studio and change the whole scene. Chances are they're going to make a lot of money, too. Until then, we have to dig to find gems like "Stockholm Syndrome"... Anyhow, we had the chance to talk with Ryan Cavalline about the film.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into indie filmmaking?

Hello... I'm Ryan Cavalline... I've been making indie films for the past 10 years. Film Making has always been in my blood. When I was young I would do comics and to me that was like making movies. As I got older I got some equipment and continued from there. The one huge influences to me was the movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. From that point I wanted to be a Film Maker.

Film School: Yes or No?

No... You can learn all you need by picking up a camera and practicing. Read books on film making and practice. Save that college money and make a movie from it.

Where did you get the idea for “Stockholm Syndrome”?

I had just watched the film LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and I recall how real that film felt. It wasn’t about monsters or UFO people, but it was about humans doing bad things to other humans, which I find to be scarier then anything else. At the same time there was a new report about a few girls that had been kidnapped and forced into prostitution in a town that wasn’t far from where I was. It scared me to know that these things are happening in my own back yard. So, I did some research and read some horrible stories. My script then came from those stories.

What was the approx budget and how did you secure financing?

Budget for the film ran around five thousand and I produce all of my films, so the money came from my credit cards or savings account.

What did you shoot on and how long was the shoot?

We shoot the film HD (JVC) and it took about 10 days of shooting. Our shooting dates were not back to back. They were actually spread out over a two months span. We had some horrible weather, which caused huge delays and rescheduling of shoots.

I found the film to be reminiscent of “Hostile”, “Live Feed” and other, so called, ‘torture porn’ films and it definitely holds its own against them. Is this something that you were going for? If so, talk about creating the look and feel.

I really wasn't going for a torture porn type of film. I was more interested in the characters and what they were going through. I was aiming for a film that was more about surviving and what a human would do to survive a bad situation. The look of the film starts off with this white, snow covered parking lot and by the end of the film we are in a dark, rainy forest. So the entire film goes through this process of light to dark. The feel of the film had to be dark, gritty, and emotionally driven. I wanted the audience to feel what the characters were going through. Everyone from the victims to the bad guys.

One of the reasons that I think “Stockholm Syndrome” holds its own against other films in the same sub-genre is because you weren't afraid to go certain places… prime example, baby killing. Was this put in for the sake of pushing the envelope or is this just “part of the script”?

I really didn't realize the depth of horror that was in the script until one of the actors asked me about it. This individual asked me if I was going for the shock value with all these nasty scenes and I really didn't think the scenes were that horrible. I felt that the scenes were needed to develop the characters and to show what they were willing to do to survive. In my mind it was still a movie about surviving. So, I really didn't go out of my way to make a film about pushing the limits. I wanted to show people surviving a bad situation.

The gore effects were very believable and really well done. Talk about some of your favorites and how they were accomplished.

I had a great F/X guy by the name of Frank Marano. He really took care of the F/X scenes in the movie. My favorite would have to the burnt body in the pit. Don't ask me how it was made, but it was great. It looked so damn real. My other favorite was head bashing by the creek. It was done with chicken meat and tons of blood. It looked and tasted great.

You had a lot of characters, settings and things going on. This is something that you don’t see in a lot of low-budget horror, mainly because it’s tough to do. You pulled it off. Talk about managing such a big story.

With any script, I will usually only write scenes that I know I have locations for. If I can't get a location for something, then it doesn't stay in the story. So, I really break down a script before filming and go over each section. I make sure the locations are in place and we start shooting. Now I've had locations fall out at the last minute and then I have to do re-writes or hope that I can find another location that will work. Its a headache to do at such a low level.

You put a lot of actors in compromising situations. As a filmmaker, talk about how you dealt with the actors and made them feel comfortable.

I really go over the scenes with the actors when they are reading the script. I make sure they understand the scene and I'll go over how it will be shot. I don't leave anything out because you don't want to surprise your actor at the last minute. Everything is discussed and agreed upon before shooting. I've had actors say no at the last minute and that can screw up everything. I also have them sign agreements and that they understand their character and the requirements.

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 have been budgets for a film, losing actors/locations at the last minute, having the police show up, bad weather, actors getting injured, and computer systems dying with the film in it. There are always a ton of hurdles to get through with each film. But, if you believe in what your doing, you'll keep going and push through it all. To other filmmakers: Keep Filming and don’t stop… Just don’t give up and keep filming. The best way to learn is to keep shooting. Keep your scripts simple unless you have some rich aunt who is willing to write you out a fat check for your production. Just write something that you can shoot. Develop interesting dialogue and interesting characters. You can find interesting characters and dialogue in every day life. Just observe the people around you. I write down any weird or interesting person, place, or action I see. You never know when you might use it for something. Also, remember that you’re in the business of entertaining so, entertain! You got to keep in mind, someone just bought or rented you film and they have their finger hovering over the fast forward button the entire time… So, you need to do you part and make sure that viewer is enjoying every moment of your film. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of practice. Just keep at it… Also, don’t dump your life savings or run up some credit cards to make your movie. Make a budget and stick with it. If you don’t have any money, then do what you can to make the film for next to nothing and keep building from that. Just remember there is nothing easy about making movies. It’s the toughest experiences you’ll ever go through and if you make it through it from start to finish, then you accomplished something magical. The sad part is that most of us crazy film makers find ourselves wanting to do it all over again. We enjoy the madness of making movies… You just need to keep pushing through it and stay focused. Don’t let anyone or anything get in your way of completing your vision.

Did you enter “Stockholm Syndrome” into any festivals? If so, how did it do and is the festival circuit something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?

I really haven't had a chance to enter any festivals. I plan to, but I'm so wrapped up in our new project that I haven't had time. Festivals are fun to do and I think any filmmaker should do a few. Its a good way to get your name and work out there. It might be easier to get a distribution company to look at your film.

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?

Distribution is the toughest road to travel for a filmmaker. There are so many sharks out in the water wanting to take your film and not give you a dime. Be smart about any deal you might get. My suggestion would be to get a lawyer to look over the paperwork. If you can't afford one, find a friend that knows the law. Don't just jump into a deal. Read each line and ask questions. I was actually contacted by a distribution company about one of my films and it kinda went from there. I've learned over the years and by mistakes in contracts. For film makers, do the research on a distribution company before jumping into business with them. Always remember that your not going to get rich from this but your work will get out there and hopefully one of the big boys will see it and then you can make real money from this. Its a tough area and I would suggested doing as much research and reading on distribution as you can. You might want to consider doing it yourself and that's always a great way to go.

Where can people find out more about “Stockholm Syndrome” or, better yet, buy a copy?

Brain Damage Films - BrainDamagefilms.com

Talk about the indie horror scene and indie horror filmmaking. Where do you feel it is now and where do you see it going?

Right now its kinda in a low stage and its basically because the economy isn't moving. People are not buying indie films because they don't want to take a risk with their hard earned money. In my eyes it can only get better. I do see a lot less DVD's being bought and lot more of VOD in the future. This will be a great outlet for filmmakers. I think more people would be more willing to watch an indie film if its VOD. (Video on Demand) There is less of risk for the viewer.

What’s next for you? Do you have any projects in the works?

At the moment, I'm neck deep in a new film called THE KILLING FIELDS. It is half shot and I'm hoping to have it finished up by June. Its a film about a serial killer and his life. Very dark material... That's it for now.

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