Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Interview with Bill Houser, writer/director of Martin Gimbley's Escape

Do any of you guys listen to KCRW's "The Business"? If you don't, I recommend it... It's an NPR show out of Santa Monica, that you can podcast, and it's all about what's going on in the industry. If you're interested, you can find out more about it here. I was listening to an older episode where they talked to Danny Goldberg, a music executive, about the music industry and how it's changed, where it's going, etc. Obviously, I'm not going to go into detail, but basically they were saying that the big labels are no longer as relevant to musicians as, say, the concert promoters, video games or ad agencies are. Further, as it takes a lot of marketing dollars and work to build up an artist, the labels just don't take risks on new artists much... they can't afford to. Now, the music industry got hit hard by digital and the labels are making less than 50% of what they did just a few short years ago. As much as the studios think it has, film hasn't been hit that hard yet, but it will. So, I think what's going on in the music industry is VERY relevant to the future of film.

So, what does that mean for you indie filmmakers? Well, for one, don't expect a studio to take much of a chance on you... or anything, really. Every project they green-light will have been looked over by an army of accountants, executives and other people who don't know a thing about film. The art and craft of film are the LAST things on their mind. So, where do you turn? Well, first, you go out and make some shit. Then, you turn to the festivals and you turn to the internet. Seriously, if you have no money, write a script and enter it in festivals, submit it everywhere. If you can scrape together a bit of cash, go make a short, do the same thing. Sharpen your skills, leverage what you've got. Then, take that and leverage it again, and so on, and so on. It's a battle, but it's definitely a battle you can win.

Anyhow, I recieved an email from Bill Houser, who is fighting the same, afore mentioned battle that most of us are fighting, and he was looking to get a bit of promotion for his short film, "Martin Gimbley's Escape". A film that he made for nothing, for the sake of making it and sharpening his skills. The result is a very effective little short with a good story and a bit of gore. Anyhow, with everything I mentioned above in my mind, I thought... instead of just mentioning it fleetingly, I'll ask Bill a bunch of questions and find out, exactly, what he was thinking and what the process was like. That's what we're here for... if you've got a short or some project that you'd like to have people notice, let us know. We're more than happy to try to get you guys some promotion.

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

It's hard to know where to start when the path is as crazy as mine has been...Straight out of high school, that would be 20 years ago, I was accepted into a couple colleges for film studies. However, I ended up getting convinced that I should stay in my local area of Hannibal, Missouri and go to a community college. Film studies turned into criminal justice, and I ended up getting a Master's degree in CJ. I basically gave up the idea of filmmaking, and labored through my 'career'. While all this was going on I was also continuing with my hobby of paranormal investigation, and though it seemed completely unrelated to film, it actually is what put me back on the filmmaking course. Our investigation group, Show Me Paranormal Investigations, was/is a fairly conservative evidence driven group, and a couple years ago we ran into the wave of popular ghosthunting. We quickly discovered that the clients that were contacting us now didn't care about the evidence they just wanted us to confirm their ghost stories so they could be like the shows on TV. Paranormal investigation had become a part of the entertainment business, and I just kept thinking that if that's what it was coming to, then it was time to drop out of that arena and just make scary movies. Well, the thought stuck and all those dreams came flooding back on me until I reached the point where I was obsessed with filmmaking again. At 38, it's a little late for film school, so I basically put myself through a crash course. I read and watched everything I could find about film. I probably read thirty plus books in a year on directing, editing, and acting.

This short was basically my thesis film, and I'm about 80% pleased with it.

As for influences, my biggest in the horror genre would be John Carpenter. His films have something that you can't put your finger on that make them get inside you. The Fog is a good example, it's not a great movie, but I can watch it over and over again...and apparently a lot of other people feel the same way.

Tell us about "Martin Gimbley's Escape", where did the idea come from and what made you actually get out there and do it?
I'm not a big fan of short films. At least most short films that have no story, and are really just scenes. I wanted to tell a full tale that would work in under ten minutes, and I really struggled to find something that was right. I finally had the idea to do a modern fable. To revisit the story of the guy that thinks a pact with the devil is going to be a good thing.

Once the screenplay was finished, in June, I really pushed to get this project done by Halloween. I knew it was basically going to tell us what we might be able to do in the future.

What was your budget for the film?

What's a budget? This was very much a no-budget short. We begged and pleaded to get this done. No paid actors, no crew, and I did all the post work myself. I wouldn't have done it any other way though, because I wanted the learning experience.

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

The film was shot on Canon HV20's (now HV30's if you're looking for one), and I can't say enough about this little cam. Having seen stuff shot on $10,000 pro cams and the footage from the HV20 for under $1,000...I'm sticking with the HV20. As with any cam, the picture quality is more about lighting. This is one of the big areas we'll be working on in the future. Also, I want to mention Andrew Kramer and, awesome sight for Adobe AfterEffects tutorials, and we used their Film Magic project to get the greenfilm stock filter for this short. We planned a three day shot, and ended up with a three day shot...but with an unplanned month off waiting to get access to a jail for a 20 second scene.

I thought it was very sharp, no messing around. Right to the point. Talk about putting together a short, from concept to completion.

Thanks. I think the biggest issue is understanding what your story is going in, and what it is expected to be coming out of production. The old rule of a screenplay page equals a minute of footage is pretty solid, so you easily get a good idea of what you're dealing with length wise right from the start. The biggest mistake I've noticed with a lot of indie stuff is that the director tries to edit in camera, and clearly doesn't give the editor enough choices. I think some of that comes from trying to storyboard every move, and believing that the finished film is really going to come out that precisely. Especially on a short, shoot coverage and more coverage and a little more coverage. There's no way to know what will work when you set down to edit. I also think that it's important to try to establish a mood. The colors of the film, music of the film, and the setting should all be trying to move the audience into a mood so they can be effected by the story.

What were some of your biggest hurdles in getting the film finished?

There's an old saying that a film is written at least three times: when the screenplay is written, when it is shot, and when it is edited. Okay, for an indie film you have to add in a couple more: like when you can't get kids to play the parts (the script was originally written with Martin being a child killer) so you have to rewrite it two days before you shoot so that the victims are women instead. I think the general rule is what ever you think will be hard...will be hard, and whatever you think will go easy...will be impossible. Also, the editor really needs to learn to be more organized...he's a hack!

Did you enter it into any festivals? If so, how did it do?

Martin Gimbley's Escape was finished in October this year, so we missed most of the festivals. We're still pretty up in the air about if we're going to enter it in festivals or not. Really more concerned with what comes next, and getting something feature length finished.

What was your goal when you set out to make the film? Was it more about honing your craft or were you hoping for it to open some doors?

This project was an absolute training exercise, and a bit of a recruitment poster. As I said, I'm not really interested in shorts. So my direction is definately to get a feature done, and recruiting the right actors is a big part of that. It's easy when they can see something that you've finished and get a feel for how you do things. This was a lot more about gaining the full support of my people for future projects than it was about attracting attention from others. Although we will take some attention...especially if it comes with money.

I am kind of interested in doing a web series. You know, a 10 part thing made up of 6 minute episodes to tell the whole story. Maybe Dead Harvey could run it.
(editors note: we're listening...)

Talk about the indie horror scene. What do you think about where it's at now and where do you see it going?

The indie horror scene is awesome now, because everybody has a shot. The only concern I have is I see a lot of multi-million dollar films trying to look like indie horror. Shot in HD with soap opera lighting...they are just painful. It's a bad thing if the standard slips to the point that anything will pass as acceptable because it's 'indie'. I know I'm not 100% satisfied with the production value of this short, and I would be screaming if I didn't know it would get better in future projects. Pretty sad that the people that have the means to make something look good don't have the skill or the will.

Where can people check out "Martin Gimbley's Escape"?

Martin Gimbley's Escape can be viewed and downloaded at:

It's actually on there in two versions, one with the greenfilm stock (the original), and one with the footage with out filter as it was shot with the HV20.

What's next for you? Any new projects in the works?

Confusion Films will be shooting BloodCache, our first feature this spring. You can find out more about it on our website. We may also shoot another short prior to the beginning of the feature. If so this will be with the cast from BloodCache, and will basically be a warm up so we can all get use to each other.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think the makeup looks pretty good. You should give cudos to that untrained person, they didn't do to shabby.