Tuesday, August 19, 2008

From Sesame Street to Indie Horror: Dead Harvey Interviews Adam Matalon, Director of, "Death On Demand"

Adam Matalon has loads of great advice in this interview. After reading his answers, I couldn't help but think to myself how all the filmmakers we've spoken with are a film school in and of themselves. What's even more awesome about Adam's interview is how varied his career has become. After all, he's gone from Sesame Street to indie horror. Talk about never having to worry about getting pigeon-holed into one genre.

Dead Harvey thanks Adam for this awesome interview! Now head on over to Amazon, buy yourselves a copy and support independent film making! And be sure to check back in with Dead Harvey for Adam's upcoming work. It sounds like he's got a lot of great stuff headed for us in the future.

DH: Tell us about your background. Where are you from and what got you into filmmaking?

AM: I started my life working in theatre and then moved into production in TV first in lighting and grip and then into work as an AD. I have always needed creative outlets so becoming an active indie filmmaker is a natural development. Writing and producing are very important to me but in an ideal world I would mostly direct. I love working with actors.

DH: Film school: yes or no?

AM: Never went to film school although I did a substantial amount of study in the areas of still photography and that taught me a lot about composition. I have picked up all my knowledge of shots, composition etc. from observation, discussion, trial and error and obviously being around production in other departments.

DH: What one film has had the most influence on you as a filmmaker and why?

AM: I think in recent times the film that has resonated with me most was Moulin Rouge. It seemed such a groundbreaking and daring mix of so many different styles. It’s a true Technicolor extravaganza, which could have been either a huge success or a miserable failure. It also opened the doors for so many other films, which have since had success, and created an awareness again of music and dance as an art form. It had commitment vision and lack of fear. In the areas of horror I’m a fan of the Final Destination concepts but am more drawn to films like Stigmata, which blend terror with true cultural fears.

DH: What was the main inspiration for the story behind, "Death on Demand"?

AM: You know the film was really created on a dare. “Can we make a film with next to no money and get it out there?” My producing partner Kevin Burke had worked on some Indie Horror films but I hadn’t, even though I have always been a fan of the genre. We put out notices for scripts that had single locations, small casts. And we got several interesting ones including a couple that we optioned but require bigger budgets. We decided on Brian O’Hara’s “Web of Horror” Although it fit into our budget criteria, it was only 60 pages and not really a feature script. It also had some character and plot points, which we thought stretched credibility too far, but basically we knew we could do something with it. So we got with Brian and agreed that Kevin and I would put work into it and change some characters, (originally the Goth lesbian panty fetishist Haydn was a nerd/geek called Herbert.) We also wrote a couple of extra plot points in and changed Sean the bad guy into an ice climber and not a mountain climber.

We always knew we were backing into a specific cash budget number and we refused to compromise on that end. Where we managed to add production value was in the post, music, and audio, where we got everything basically for free.

DH: You've directed a number of Sesame Street episodes, which is f'ing awesome, by the way. Why did you decide to switch gears and direct a feature horror film?

AM: Well I think the question maybe answers itself. After a lot of kids TV work I am looking for a big change. When you work in kids TV you gotta realize that most of your audience is still pooping their pants. Personally, I am interested in much darker subjects and harsher social issues. I will continue to have those interests and connections but right now my focus is on material, which suits me better, emotionally.

DH: What was your approach to the reality show/horror film?

AM: Well I wanted to make sure that we always related back to the college campus crowd, so that we understood that there was a certain amount of performance going on from all the players. There is a certain presentational style to the acting, which was intentionally heavy handed. The college kids know they are on camera, so they’re showboating for their friends etc. I also wanted to retain a kind of cheesy approach, which commented on Richard’s inability to actually do something really decent. I think this was a fine line, which I think many people miss on viewing. I wanted to represent all the archetypal horror characters in a film and make fun of them to some degree as well as providing us with some decent deaths.

DH: Describe your directing style?

AM: I am not a great fan of hand held camera work unless it is integral to the style of the film. I enjoy more composed shots. Static, Steadicam, small jib, low and high angle shots are things I like. That was the plan for the film. Budget restricted us to a very low shooting ratio. 3-4 takes per setup and a fast schedule, which demanded we shoot about ten pages a day. That is pretty hairy. We certainly compromised our plan as the production moved on. We had a decent set of prime lenses for the cameras we shot on but because the house had limited size in the rooms we often had to use zoom lenses so that we weren’t waiting on lens changes and to get the wider-angle shots.

DH: What was the budget and how did you go about securing financing? What, in your opinion is most important thing aspiring filmmakers need to know about raising money for a movie?

AM: The cash budget for Death On Demand was a very different number to the official budget because we got over 150K worth of free post services. So know what you need in both cash and services and then work from there to present a plan that looks good.

So my advice is have a clear business plan whether it’s a 10K or a 10Mil film. Take it seriously and make it clear that you want a retail presence for the film, and that your intention is to repay your investors. Nobody wants to invest in an unclear plan. We actually raised 50% of the budget from a European investor.

We went out to several sources and presented a film, which already had a worst-case plan for distribution as we knew we had a DVD deal with a small company going in. Because of that it was easier for us to present a decent risk scenario to investors.

What we got was a much better deal once we presented the finished film. I am under no illusions about the film. I think we did a great job with the resources we had, however, I also know that I will not do it again that way. The next horror flick we do will have at least double the budget and at least one name. That’s the only thing that makes sense right now in the market.

DH: What were the biggest challenges you faced while making, "Death On Demand"?

Money and time. This had several impacts. We never had the time to build up enough suspense in the film because we didn’t have the ability to do the longer tracking shots throughout the house to send the audience in the wrong direction.

We also made an early compromise that we would go with non-union actors because we didn’t think we could afford SAG actors. Although I really like the actors we cast, their inexperience under pressure created some uneven performances. It’s tough to know where you make your sacrifices and I think that one was a mistake on my part.

DH: What did you personally sacrifice to get the movie completed?

AM: Wow! There was a lot, but I think that is best summed up by giving up paid work to work on the film for nothing and to spend three months in post and getting the film ready for delivery for the price of lunch. I also lost 18 pounds during production because I was always too busy to eat.

DH: Your movie is in pretty much every video store I've been to around town. Describe your experience with distribution on this film and what tips can your pass on to people trying to get their movie out there?

AM: We knew we were making a DVD movie, so we were more committed to getting a strong retail presence for the film than making money. This film was about beginning to build a name for us as people who can make and sell a film into the market. We got several offers from the original screeners that went out but although we wanted to jump on the first offer we were very cautious. We tried to audition the distributors who were interested. Did they have output deals? What had past films done in terms of visibility? We cut a deal with one company who was to represent the film at Cannes Film Market last year, but we realized quickly that we had been wrong and then we made a momentous decision and we spent the entire advance buying ourselves out of the contract so that we could sign another one. We ended up with Barnholtz Entertainment, knowing that when it did release we would have some good presence but I have to say it has all been better than expected. MTI Home Video has been very supportive of the film and has been very good to us. We are looking forward to continuing the relationship.

DH: What's next for Adam Matalon?

AM: I just premiered a feature documentary about Jamaican migrant workers, which is narrated by Elliott Gould and I’m attached as director to a tween family film called Sparkle Serena! It’s a five million dollar project, which will shoot next year. Right now I am finishing up a rewrite of a college comedy I am producing with Kevin Burke, which will shoot next year. It’s called Drive-In and it’s a collaboration with Peter Scheer, who was the DP on DOD. He will direct it. Evil Twins, which is Chatsby Films’ genre shingle, has a teen horror project called My Sister Bites and a really sick, dark, psychological horror flick, whose title I’m not mentioning, just yet.

DH: If you had an unlimited budget, what would your dream movie be?

AM: It’s hard for me to answer that. I would like to be working on films where I have the luxury of not restricting my ideas because we can’t afford this or that. In specific I have a script that I wrote called Love’s A Drag. It’s a dark musically driven romantic comedy. It’s my script and for a number of reasons it’s a high budget film.

I would also like to do a high budget sci-fi thriller type film.

DH: What's the most important thing aspiring filmmakers need to know before they go out there and shoot their first movie?

AM: The most important thing is MAKE A FILM. So many people talk about it but never see it through. Even if it doesn’t manage to get out there you will learn so much. Understand that this is a business and that talent and vision are only a part of what is necessary. Stay focused and try to make the best damn film you can. Don’t question yourself too much – which is hard – I know, but don’t get fooled into thinking you can pick up a camera, shoot a film, and post it on your laptop. Understand what goes into delivering a film. Getting your film out there is the most important thing. It’s all about visibility. We already have a sense that things are going to be very different after the DOD release. Whether you like the film or not, it’s out there and it hit #414 on the star meter on IMDB the week it released, which is an astounding number for a small film like this. We have had inquiries from other companies about projects. We have already got some good development money on another project and have some decent open doors if we have the right projects.

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